Six communities win places in £33m impact investing experiment

Six ambitious community partnerships have been given the go-ahead to join a £33m experiment that aims to turn around their fortunes through a mix of grants, enterprise and investment.

Bradford, Bristol, Gainsborough, Greater Manchester (Bolton, Oldham, Stockport and Wigan), Hartlepool, Redcar & Cleveland, and Southwark in London will now begin developing detailed funding and investment plans as they set off on a “journey to tackle inequality through boosting their social economy”.

The programme, entitled Local Access, is itself a partnership between the Access foundation and its big brother, Big Society Capital, which have a remit to build the social investment market in the UK.

The six English communities, selected from a shortlist of 12, will receive a mix of support, grant funding and repayable investment to grow their local charity and social enterprise sector.

Of the £33m, £25m will be to enable local charities and social enterprises to access loans and other investment products to help grow their enterprise activity, become more resilient and enable more local people to benefit from their work. A further £8m of grants will support organisations at an earlier stage of growth to develop their enterprise plans and support social infrastructure.

In each place, over the last six months, a partnership has come together and developed a widely shared vision for the growth of the social economy. These partnerships are unique to each place, but commonly represent social enterprises, local authorities and local sector infrastructure organisations.

Responding to the announcement, James Murphy, joint CEO of Lincolnshire Community Foundation – and one of the leading lights behind the Gainsborough bid – told Pioneers Post: “The news that Gainsborough is one of the six places to go forward in the Local Access fund development process is as fantastic as it is timely for the town. With positive impact for people, a culture of equity and fairness driving the collaborative work ahead, the next decade in Gainsborough is a truly unique opportunity to tackle long standing issues and injustices here.”

This announcement ensures the social economy in Gainsborough has the chance it deserves. Creating openings, encouraging innovation and growth within its small and emerging community groups, charities and social enterprises.

He added: “This announcement ensures the social economy in Gainsborough has the chance it deserves. Creating openings, encouraging innovation and growth within its small and emerging community groups, charities and social enterprises.”

READ: All to play for: one community’s bid for £1.5m to kickstart a new future

Seb Elsworth, CEO of Access, said: “We all know charities and social enterprises do good work in our communities, but the sector’s power as an economic force, one which can help reshape local economies and in so doing tackle the most entrenched inequality, is often overlooked.”

The sector’s power as an economic force which can tackle the most entrenched inequality is often overlooked.

Cliff Prior, CEO of Big Society Capital, said: “Where you were born should not affect your opportunity to live a happy and fulfilling life. But there are many areas in the UK that have experienced high levels of deprivation for many years, and even in relatively prosperous areas there can be pockets that reveal huge levels of inequality.


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“We believe the Local Access programme offers an innovative approach to levelling up the disparity between places through developing the social economy. Crucially it is a pilot programme, and so we look forward to gathering the learning emerging from each of the places as the programme progresses.”

In March 2019 twelve places were invited to apply. In the end, 11 applications were submitted at the end of October as two places merged. Each place was visited by a team from Access and Big Society Capital during November and December 2019.

Elsworth added: “Each place we had invited to apply has done a huge amount of work to bring a partnership together and develop a vision for how grant and investment capital through Local Access could help grow their local social economy. All were compelling, but the ones we have chosen are where we feel that the tools we bring can make the most impact.”

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Photo: courtesy of Lincoln Pride and Think2Speak, an award-winning social enterprise in Gainsborough, one of the Local Access winners. Think2Speak focuses on "empowering people to make life decisions with confidence", and has already worked with the Access foundation to prepare for social investment.