Optimism surges among UK social enterprises as pandemic recedes

The proportion of social enterprises expecting to grow has doubled since July 2020, and their levels of uncertainty have dropped, a new report by Social Enterprise UK reveals.

UK social enterprises are reporting a surge in optimism as the country emerges from the worst of the pandemic, according to a report from Social Enterprise UK (SEUK) published today.  

The proportion of social enterprises reporting that they were expecting to grow in the next three to six months has almost doubled between July 2020 and February this year – from 17% to 30%, the study shows.

In total, 65% of enterprises surveyed said they expected to grow or maintain the same level of activity, compared with just 38% in July. Meanwhile, levels of uncertainty are dropping, from 38% to 29% over the same period.

The report, One Year On: the effect of Covid-19 on the social enterprise sector, uses publicly available data as well as SEUK’s Social Enterprise Advisory Panel survey – a monthly survey of social enterprises in the UK, which has been running since June 2020.

The number of community interest companies (CICs, one of the legal entities for social enterprises in the UK) has continued to grow during the pandemic – a 15% rise since June 2020. In comparison, the number of businesses overall, as registered in Companies House (the UK’s registrar of companies), has only grown by 2%, according to the report.

The UK has seen the virus recede in the past weeks, with new cases dropping to 28 per 100,000 inhabitants over the past seven days, and more than 60% of all adults living in Britian have already received their first dose of the vaccine. In England, schools reopened last month and non-essential shops and outdoor hospitality have been allowed to reopen since Monday.

These businesses which focus on social and environmental impact, not just profit, have huge potential to change the country

“The pandemic has made the past year incredibly tough for communities across the country, but as we look forward there is cause for optimism,” Peter Holbrook, CEO of SEUK, said. 

“New research has found that people have answered the call to build back better from Covid through setting up social enterprises at a rapid rate. These businesses which focus on social and environmental impact, not just profit, have huge potential to change the country.” 

Setting up a social enterprise has been a way for people who lost their jobs because of the health crisis to find employment. For example, after losing her job at an events management agency, Pamela Benitez founded a social enterprise, The Virtual Events Experience, an agency which specialises in managing virtual and hybrid events.

“I lost my job due [to] the pandemic, and opening a social enterprise was the way I found to help others, plus I strongly believe this is the business of the future,” she said, quoted in the report. 

“I want to help and facilitate corporate companies to use their budget in events that create social impact, improving communities. Every event created gives back immediately and promotes a great cause, that way not only final clients but participants can get involved and spread the news about it!”



Just 1% of social enterprises that responded to the survey reported having already closed, and another 1% said they expected to shut down (compared with 11% of businesses as a whole).

I lost my job due [to] the pandemic, and opening a social enterprise was the way I found to help others

Social enterprises have also proven adaptable, with 82% saying they were running a different business model compared with pre-pandemic. As of October 2020, 29% provided new products or services and 30% were delivering new or additional support for those in need due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Almost half said they increased their operations online.

One such example is the Edinburgh Remakery, a social enterprise that repairs and reuses  electronics  and furniture and teaches repair skills. As the pandemic hit and lockdowns were imposed, the enterprise changed its activities to focus entirely on repairing IT equipment to benefit community members who couldn’t afford a digital means of communication. Meanwhile, the enterprise also changed its revenue model to rely more on grant funding. “As we emerge [from the pandemic], it will be the Edinburgh Remakery, but not as you know it,” CEO Elaine Brown told Pioneers Post in November.

Social enterprises have also been agile in changing the way they work: 67% of respondents have increased home working for their teams and 34% reported using more video calls.

The ability to pivotto deal with the huge changes created by the Covid-19 pandemic is a trait social enterprises are demonstrating worldwide, as shown in a global survey published in December by the British Council, SEUK and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. More than half of the surveyed social enterprises said they had changed their business model, 55% increased their activities online, and a third said they now provide new products and services. 

Top picture: the Edinburgh Remakery has pivoted its operations, focusing its activities on IT repair

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