The Gathering: Conference Report 2019


We are pleased to present this special Report from The Gathering 2019, which took place in Leicester on 11-12 March.

During two days in Leicester, delegates participated in nearly 30 different sessions, including workshops, panels, discussions, debates, ‘challenges’ and ‘conversations for change’.

The report as well as the separate articles are also gathered into one collection, and it has been divided into the four key themes of the event: Connecting to the Social Sector, Prioritising Impact, Building the Market, and Future Gazing & Future Shaping, which are colour coded. The articles are also provided as a downloadable Conference Report, available in pdf format at the bottom of this introduction.

Executive Summary

What are the big questions facing the UK social investment sector? What challenges and opportunities does this emerging industry face? How can we work more collaboratively, using social investment, to solve the challenges our society faces?

These questions inspired The Gathering in Leicester on 11-12 March 2019, the second iteration of an event curated and hosted by the Steering Group to engage the UK social investment sector. This was an opportunity for 150+ active social investors to build networks, listen to new voices, and propose solutions to sector challenges.

The previous event, held at Dartington Hall in 2017, resulted in new initiatives to drive innovation and advance shared projects in social investment.

We present this report as a summary of the key discussions and actions at the event. The intent is to share the ideas and proposed solutions more widely, both with delegates who attended; the broader social sector; and investors, organisations or individuals who want to explore how social investment can be used to support and finance social change.

We invite you to read this report to grapple with the challenges and opportunities the UK social investment sector faces. This is a “warts and all” review of the issues an evolving industry grapples with as it reaches nearly 20 years of operation and almost £2.5 billion in completed transactions.

This was an event with ideas crowd-sourced by the sector, for the sector. During our two days in Leicester, delegates participated in nearly 30 sessions divided into four key themes: Connecting to the Social Sector, Prioritising Impact, Building the Market, and Future Gazing & Future Shaping.

To create space for open and honest discussion, many sessions were run on Chatham House rules. The coverage within this report respects the wishes of participants, so in some cases comments are attributed and in others they are not.

Reflecting on the conference, there are learnings and actions we want to highlight. Our objective is to nudge those individuals who committed to take action, to provoke positive solutions.

Importantly, 92% of the individuals who attended would like to see the conference held again in two years time. We hope that this record will both inspire and help to shape the next event.

What were the key points?

  • Flexible, Patient Finance -- A priority is to advance blended or flexible finance, tailored to the needs of high impact social enterprises. This requires greater risk-taking and product innovation to allow for a mix of funding mechanisms across a balanced portfolio.
  • Encouraging New Voices – There is an opportunity for the social investment sector to lead by example to adopt best practice in diversity, both in terms of who makes investment decisions, and who receives funding. A further concern for the sector is how to ensure the integrity of impact and allow end-user beneficiaries to be heard.
  • Building the Market – Shared market infrastructure is very weak. There is a need to continue to champion and resource the collective networks, local voluntary sector organisations, incubators and social enterprise support agencies that underpin a healthy social investment market.
  • Connecting to the Social Sector – There is an opportunity for social investors to foster better collaborations with public authorities as commissioning agents. Similarly, housing associations have the resource and experience to catalyse social impact in communities.
  • Place-based Investment – To be done well, place-based approaches require leadership, collaboration, clarity, willingness to fail, and the right skills and local organisations at the table.

The challenges we face as a society are large. We believe that social investment can play a role to make positive ideas happen. Can we provide enough suitable finance to enough high-impact social enterprises to make a difference? Opinions and solutions differ.

In the future, perhaps technology platforms or fintech apps will make social investment intermediaries obsolete. Crowd-funding can democratise finance, putting power in the hands of the people.

It is certain we will fail if we do not listen, collaborate and learn from our mistakes. Ultimately, the answer depends on the actions that each of us take. 

The Gathering was designed to build the professional networks and personal relationships required to galvanise social change. We will succeed if engaging with these ideas inspires and equips you take action to collaborate with other investors, charities, and social enterprises to build a better market.


You can use the following list to link through to individual articles in the report:

Connecting to the social sector

Prioritising Impact

The ‘Dan Show’


Building the Market

Future Gazing & Future Shaping


The full report is available as a pdf for download here:

The Gathering Report


The Gathering Steering Group 2019


Jessica Brown, Chair – Connect Fund Manager, Barrow Cadbury Trust

Daniel Brewer – CEO, Resonance

Natalia Fernandez – Investment Manager, Big Issue Invest

Holly Piper – Head, CAF Venturesome

Nick Temple – CEO, Social Investment Business

Julie Wake – Investment Manager, Northstar Ventures

Katie Fish – Big Society Capital (formerly)