Young pretenders and old hands honoured in UK Social Business Awards

The annual NatWest SE100 Social Business Awards recognise the most outstanding achievers in UK social enterprise, with top awards in six categories this year. Who are the winners? Read on to find out...

Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus (81) or climate activist Greta Thunberg (18)? Euro 2020’s Golden Boot winner Christiano Ronaldo (36) or London’s Young Player of the Year Bukayo Saka (19)?

The challenge of judging the ‘best of the best’ from a diverse group of brilliant contenders is never a simple task – and for this year’s NatWest SE100 Awards, both veteran mastery and emerging talent have been able to shine through.

“It’s a tale as old as time… this was a really difficult category to judge because of the high standard of the finalists,” commented Mark Simms, CEO of P3 Charity and a judge for the SE100 Leader of the Year award.

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“The real highlights are at either end of the spectrum: larger, established organisations have benefitted from wise, dynamic, committed leadership that has seen them meet the challenge of survival through the pandemic, while agile, smaller, less established organisations have benefitted from being able to ‘pivot’.”

The result in the leadership category of the SE100 is the crowning of two winners: both June O’Sullivan from London Early Years Foundation and Pranav Chopra from Nemi Teas have been named as NatWest SE100 Leaders of the Year for 2021.

Above: June O'Sullivan of London Early Years Foundation, SE100 Leader of the Year. She not only ensured the survival of her own organisation over the past year, but also spoke out to ensure the whole sector survived (photo credit: LEYF)  

“June has not only ensured that her organisation survived during the pandemic, it thrived and raised its (her) voice to government to make sure the whole sector survived and was recognised for its underpinning support to our key workers through Covid,” said Simms, himself the winner of this category in 2020.

“At the other end of the spectrum, Pranav has pivoted in style, turning the lessons and hard times of Covid-19 into a business expansion strategy, thinking radically differently about how they can deliver their mission, bigger, better, quicker.

Larger, established organisations have benefitted from wise, dynamic, committed leadership that has seen them meet the challenge of survival through the pandemic while smaller, less established organisations have benefitted from being able to ‘pivot’

Simms added: “It’s been a thrill to have been amongst some amazingly talented judges for the SE100 Awards, and I have learned so much from reading how my peers have risen to the challenges of the last year – they are truly inspirational and worthy finalists.”


Innovative deals and impressive growth

Elsewhere in the awards, there was a similar mix of young pretenders and old hands. One of our ‘trailblazing newcomer’ enterprises, London-located Luminary Bakery, scooped the social investment award, while one of the UK’s most established social enterprise brands, Liverpool-based FRC Group – a previous SE100 winner in two other categories – was named as this year’s Growth Champion and also Highly Commended in the Impact Management category.

Megan Virrels, CEO of NatWest Social & Community Capital, commented: “It was a really tough decision to make, but Luminary stood out as an innovative deal with catalytic potential, that’s helping to deliver some great impact.”

Comic Relief made an equity investment in Luminary along with a number of private investors, which enabled it to open a second cafe in another location, expand its production capacity and increase its impact. In their application, Luminary said: “A household name like Comic Relief investing in a relatively new and small but scaling social enterprise with an innovative structure –for equity rather than debt – deserves recognition to help challenge the current social investment options which have high interest rates and do not provide the enterprise with as much flexibility.”


Above: Liverpool-based FRC Group, this year’s Growth Champion, is always looking at future opportunities to grow while managing risks; their social impact has grown in line with their financial growth (photo credit: FRC Group)

Commenting on FRC’s success, Hugh Swainson, partner at Buzzacott accountants, said: “FRC has grown into an established group of companies whose mission is to tackle furniture poverty. Their social impact has grown in line with their financial growth through focusing on measuring their social impact KPIs as much as their financial KPIs – something that can be hard to achieve. They are always looking at future opportunities to grow, whilst managing their risks by ensuring that each new venture is extensively analysed. They have demonstrated innovation and a responsiveness to the needs of stakeholders; they recently made the decision to plug gaps left by local authority contracts by expanding their business to specialised interiors such as care homes and a mattress cleaning service.”

  • Explore stories and insight from leading social enterprises in our SE100 Collection

Swainson, whose team carried out detailed due diligence in a number of SE100 awards categories, added: “The judges started looking at this year’s growth award with trepidation given the turbulence of the last 18 months. We were delighted to see so many organisations that had adapted and thrived despite these conditions. It was reassuring to see that social organisations could continue to grow during a period with so many social challenges across society. This resulted in one of the strongest lists of candidates for the growth award that we have seen.”

This was one of the strongest lists of candidates for the growth award that we have seen


Big impact – and ‘stickability’

Above: Climate Champion Toast Ale aims to tackle food waste – a huge contributor to climate change and biodiversity loss – by using surplus fresh bread in its beers and donating 100% of distributable profits to charities fixing the food system (image credit: Toast Ale)

Winners’ awards also went to Hertfordshire Independent Living, Bikeworks and Toast Ale, with three additional organisations achieving ‘Highly Commended’.

In the Impact Management category, expert judging was carried out jointly by Catherine Manning, David Thomas, Craig Foden and team at Social Value UK, and by Angela Schlenkhoff-Hus and Antonia Orr at Coalition for Efficiency. They commented: “We were delighted to work together for a second year to review the Impact Management Champion applications.

“The winner this year, Hertfordshire Independent Living Service (HILS), submitted a very strong application which demonstrated a comprehensive and thoughtful approach to managing and maximising their impact. We were particularly impressed by their involvement of service users and other stakeholders in the design of their impact processes as well as by the varied use and validation of evaluation tools. HILS continued to demonstrate the impact of their interventions during the crisis, producing evidence for public health partners which led to a better understanding of the needs within the community. Congratulations also to the runner-up, FRC Group, for their consistently robust social accounting processes.”

Lucy Findlay, CEO of Social Enterprise Mark, judged the Resilience category alongside Buzzacott. She commented: “We were very impressed with the ingenuity and genuine ‘stickability’ of the social enterprises that applied to this category. We were looking for those that could show a real track record of grit and determination over the years, not only over this current crisis. I would like to congratulate the winner Bikeworks whose team have shown this in spades, not only in terms of their trading and adaptability but also their consistently great social impact – in short, they have shown sustained social entrepreneurial flair.”

Above: Resilience champion Bikeworks demonstrated both long-term resilience and an ability to rapidly adapt during the pandemic (photo credit: Bikeworks)

Eddie Finch, partner at Buzzacott, said: “Bikeworks has demonstrated both a long-term resilience as well as the ability to rapidly adapt during the pandemic. The pandemic posed a real risk to the organisation’s aim of addressing inequalities in cycling. To combat this, Bikeworks were resilient by pivoting their activities, and within a matter of days had begun to utilise their cyclists as a service to deliver medicine and PPE [personal protective equipment] to the most vulnerable, reaching 11 of London’s boroughs over a period of just eight weeks.” 

He added: “Promoting inclusive cycling remained at the heart of their purpose. When lockdown was eased and activities for all ages and abilities continued, Bikeworks used cycling as a means of reducing the isolation and loneliness which many had felt as a direct impact of the pandemic.” 


Over a decade of outstanding social enterprises

The full list of winners and highly commended awards is below – and each of our winners will be sharing their reactions and top tips in video postcards which will be released over the next few weeks.

The NatWest SE100 celebrates the success of socially-driven ventures across the UK – by naming the most impressive 100 social enterprises of the year in a top 100 Index, and giving six SE100 Social Business Awards for the most outstanding achievers. It was created by Pioneers Post in partnership with NatWest more than 10 years ago and aims to support social enterprises not only through recognising their achievements but also by sharing their stories and expertise through articles, films and networking opportunities.

NatWest Social & Community Capital's Megan Virrels said: “It’s always one of my highlights reviewing the SE100 entries and seeing how many examples of resilience, courage and perseverance there are in our sector. The winners have all shown incredible dedication and commitment to delivering a positive future for some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged among us. I hope you all feel rightly proud in the difference that you are making to communities across the UK and beyond.”

  • Who was on this year's NatWest SE100 awards shortlist? Find our list of 2021 finalists here.
  • Explore the UK's leading 100 social enterprisese for 2021 in our SE100 Top 100 list, announced on 9 July.

The judges for 2021's NatWest SE100 were: 

Megan Virells, Tracy Thomson and team at NatWest Social & Community Capital
Eddie Finch, Hugh Swainson and team at Buzzacott accountants
Catherine Manning, David Thomas, Craig Foden and team at Social Value UK
Angela Schlenkhoff-Hus and Antonia Orr at Coalition for Efficiency
Lucy Findlay at Social Enterprise Mark
Fenella Chambers at Hogan Lovells
Jouja Maamri at Impatience Earth
Melanie Mills at Big Society Capital / Good Finance
Mark Simms at P3 Charity
Tim West at Pioneers Post


And the winners are...

Growth Champion: for social ventures that have experienced positive financial growth from one year to the next thanks to an entrepreneurial and sustainable business model 

Winner: Furniture Resource Centre

Highly commended: Good Loop


Impact Management Champion: for enterprises that take considerable measures to manage, demonstrate and communicate the social and environmental impact and value of their business, using this to improve their performance and win new business

Winner: Hertfordshire Independent Living Service

Highly commended: Furniture Resource Centre


Resilience Award: for social ventures that continually deliver positive social or environmental change and repeatedly achieve impact goals, successfully tackling challenges and overcoming difficulties – whatever the weather!

Winner: Bikeworks


Leader of the Year: for social enterprise bosses demonstrating excellent leadership, effectiveness and inspiration in taking the team on a mission-driven journey to success

Winners: June O'Sullivan, CEO, London Early Years Foundation & Pranav Chopra, CEO, NEMI Teas (our 'One to Watch')


Social Investment Award: for groundbreaking or innovative deals in social / impact investment

Winner: Luminary Bakery

Highly commended: Reall


Climate Champion: for pioneering organisations leading by example and inspiring others to work against climate change and towards a greener, more resilient future

Winner: Toast Ale

Highly commended: Reall


Keep an eye on our SE100 Collection for more updates, insight and inspiration from the UK's leading social enterprises. For questions, please contact


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