News | Subscribe News

Sustainable small businesses could regenerate Cornwall

Eden Project in Cornwall

The Eden Project in Cornwall is already a social enterprises of national renown. Can these type of businesses help regenerate the county? Photograph: Eden Project


Powered by article titled “Sustainable small businesses could regenerate Cornwall” was written by Oliver Balch, for on Friday 13th December 2013 12.46 UTC

Tis a new fang‘, Cornish residents used to say when greeted by a new development. Today, the phrase is dying out. That’s perhaps not surprising. New developments haven’t been Cornwall’s trump card over recent decades. Poor business growth and low wages mean one in four households in the county are now ‘at risk of poverty’, according to recent research.

As new developments go, that said, it’s been a significant week for Cornwall. The UK’s most westerly county became the country’s first ever rural Social Enterprise Zone. The scheme has a simple but compelling vision: “Growing Cornwall’s economy and reinvesting the profit to maximise social impact.”

Sounds appealing, but will it work? Peter Holbrook, chief executive of Social Enterprise UK, a government-backed body, certainly hopes so. Cornwall now has a framework for “shaping the future” along sustainable lines, he said. There’s no new money, however. Nor much in the way of new support services, either. So a lot will depend on the county’s own wit and wherewithal.

Cornwall isn’t starting from scratch. In the Eden Project and Fifteen Cornwall (Jamie Oliver’s restaurant), it boasts two social enterprises of national renown. There are plenty more too. Some are relatively large, such as the Real Ideas Organisation, which runs programmes designed to teach employability and life skills in around 350 schools around the country. But most are smaller fry. The School of Cornish Sardines is emblematic of the grassroots innovation currently in evidence across Cornwall. The for-profit, mobile cookery school teaches people on low incomes about how to cook healthily. It’s the brainchild of Sanjay Kumar, a 37-year-old chef from Kolkata, India, who moved to Cornwall five years ago.

Kumar’s experience is instructive. First, he made sure he got the necessary business skills. A 12-month stint at the Cornwall School for Social Entrepreneurs – which holds to the “learning by doing” school of thought – gave him “a way of packaging (his) idea”. Second came financing. A £3,000 grant from social enterprise investor UnLtd helped him cover his core set-up costs. And lastly, networking. Making contacts with local business groups, councils and voluntary organisations sealed on-going financial support as well as facilitated client openings.

All these pieces – education, financing and network opportunities – will have to be in place if Cornwall’s ambitious social enterprise goals are to take shape. The early signs are positive. Cornwall College, for example, one of the region’s largest providers of further education, now includes a specific social enterprise element to its Unlocking Potential initiative – a business support programme run in association with the University of Plymouth that offers mentoring and other peer-to-peer learning opportunities for startup entrepreneurs.

Adult education is only part of the picture, of course. Social entrepreneurship needs to be integrated into the school curriculum as well, argued Lindsey Hall, co-founder of the Real Ideas Organisation. The Liskeard-based education provider has developed an accredited, practice-oriented framework to help school children learn how to set up and run a social enterprise. “If they’re doing that at 10 or 15 (years old), then they’re much more likely to be doing it at 25 or 30”, Hall said.

Moves to improve networking and collaboration between Cornwall’s existing social enterprises are also underway. A new European Union-backed project, the Engine Room, will see three ‘hubs’ set up around the region. Social entrepreneurs can visit these – all of which are located at existing social enterprises – to access advice, mentoring and other support services.

“Networking and being put in touch with the right people is absolutely vital … everyone is quite remote in Cornwall, so to have groups that organise everything and keep you in the loop is really important”, said Caroline Warwick-Evans, co-founder of the Cornish Seaweed Company, a social enterprise that harvests and sells dried seaweed.

Capital financing, as ever, promises to be the big challenge. An array of small grants does exist, but these remain few and far between. UnLtd is one of the better known grant-makers in the space. Less well known perhaps is Lloyds TSB. The UK bank offers a skills development and start-up fund of £4,000 to high-potential social entrepreneurs. Warwick-Evans, for example, is a former grant recipient. Run in association with the School for Social Entrepreneurs, the Lloyds TSB scheme covers business development training in addition to seed capital.


Pages: 1 2

Comments are closed.

A sample text widget

Etiam pulvinar consectetur dolor sed malesuada. Ut convallis euismod dolor nec pretium. Nunc ut tristique massa.

Nam sodales mi vitae dolor ullamcorper et vulputate enim accumsan. Morbi orci magna, tincidunt vitae molestie nec, molestie at mi. Nulla nulla lorem, suscipit in posuere in, interdum non magna.