For social enterprise, it's 'grin' up north

Manchester has a growing social enterprise scene, plus plenty of social challenges, making it an interesting venue for next week's SE100 Insight event. 

Manchester is one of the UK’s biggest cities with a population of around half a million. On top of this, the county of Greater Manchester, which includes densely populated areas such as Wigan and Salford, has a population of nearly three million. 

Salford itself is a city of more than 200,000 people and has a very strong social enterprise scene. It’s one of 15 ‘Social Enterprise Places’ identified by Social Enterprise UK (SEUK) as areas where social enterprise is thriving and boasts good support services such as Salford CVS and the Centre for Social Business at Salford University.

Given the geography, the number of people and delineation of areas, it’s tricky to paint a picture of the area with broad brush strokes but a few key contacts helped us understand the state of social enterprise in Manchester.

George Konsta, who will be discussing winning new business at the Insight event, has been running the Manchester Social Entrepreneurs meet-up for the last two years. The group has around 800 members and Konsta tells me it’s a real mix of people that suggests the idea of social enterprise is broadly attractive.

“One fifth of the people that come are directly connected in some way in social enterprise, either working for one or trying to start one," he said.

"Then there are many people that are looking for an opportunity in a mission-led business. We also have those who want to understand what social enterprise is or to be inspired. But we also get people who have a job and don’t want to change but are interested in spending some time with others who are interested in social or environmental issues."

This spread of interest mirrors Konsta’s own area of work with Social Growth, where he offers services that help purely commercial businesses to be more social and social enterprises to improve their business performance.

Social challenges in the Manchester area

Given the size of the area, there are of course plenty of social challenges to tackle. While Konsta mentions homelessness and NEETs (young people not in employment, education or training), Chris Dabbs of Unlimited Potential also mentions housing alongside health. Unlimited Potential is a social enterprise that fosters community action, helping with ideas and finance.

Dabbs describes the inequality of the conurbation as a kind of doughnut, with the city in the middle doing well along with some of the outer suburbs. In between are more deprived areas and Dabbs explained that hasn’t really changed since the second world war. “One of the major challenges for the area is how we can have larger social enterprises that reach areas such as Bury and Tameside,” Dabbs said.

But he also points out a significant reason for optimism as some local authorities have been supportive, such as Salford City Council’s support for Salford Social Enterprise City. Manchester City Council is also one of only 24% of councils that has both a sustainable procurement policy and a social value policy, according to SEUK. The Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce has backed Antz Junction, a network of social sector organisations delivering social and business impact in communities. There are also plans for a new Greater Manchester Social Enterprise Network.

Dabbs said he sees lots of opportunity for social enterprises through devolution: Manchester’s mayor will be installed next year and will make decisions on housing and health spending.

We are seeing a growth in interest, activity and the number of startups

One notable social venture in the area is community-owned football team FC United of Manchester, which we profiled in Pioneers Post Quarterly. Konsta namechecks the homeless network Street Support and for Dabbs, it’s the curiously named Cowherds vegan cafe, which encourages people to learn about healthy eating. (In case you’re wondering, it’s named after Reverend Cowherds, who started the Vegetarian Society.)

Martin Henery, lecturer and social enterprise champion at the University of Manchester, confirms that social enterprise is on the rise in the area: “We are seeing a growth in interest, activity and the number of startups.” 

Given all of the above, social enterprise in the Manchester area looks to be in rude health. The Insight event promises to further cement ties in the community and harness the energy of committed social entrepreneurs. 

The NatWest SE100 Social Business Club and Insight Event is taking place at Auditorium, 3 Hardman Boulevard, Manchester M3 3AQ on Tuesday 20 September. For tickets, click here.

Photo credit: Stephen