Housing Associations have a long history of helping social enterprise organisations to make positive change within communities.
Unfortunately, they are often unappreciated and undervalued regarding the benefits that that can be produced. However, shining examples such as Jamie Oliver's Fifteen* restaurants and John Bird’s Big Issue**, show what can be achieved.
Social enterprises trade to tackle social inequalities, improve people’s life chances and enhance communities or the environment. They make money by selling goods and providing services in the open market and then reinvesting profits back into the business, or the local community, to create further benefits.
Jamie Oliver's approach to using his commercial acumen, evangelical and inspirational personality could inspire housing associations to think outside of the box; to explore the potential of establishing a development arm that can add value and generate income for community investment.
Prince Bishops Homes is and does exactly that. It is the development division of major North East housing association, Derwentside Homes. Its ambitious and wide-ranging programme includes the delivery of 1,350 homes for sale, shared ownership or rent then buy, across the North East, over the next three years.
The team draws on years of experience in the commercial, private development house building sector to embrace the concept of making a profit, which is then invested in social initiatives. A range of enterprises - linked to supporting families and improving communities and work opportunities – are partners in the neighbourhoods where homes are being developed.
It is logical to take a holistic approach to social enterprise, supporting and assisting in a range of flexible ways. Helping the long-term unemployed with training and work experience is one key example demonstrated by the Social Housing Enterprise Durham (SHED) and Enterprise Durham Partnerships (EDP) initiatives.
Durham has an ageing population and understanding this, many of the homes that Prince Bishops Homes develops are for older persons or those with mobility problems. Through SHED, which provides a much-needed gardening and DIY service, we have linked the requirements of those who need training and employment to those of older people.
However, it does not stop there. The commercial expertise, entrepreneurial approach and marketing and communications skills that we have within Prince Bishops Homes adds value. In addition to the strategic direction and technical and management skills which are provided, the housing development programme is used to optimum effect.
For example, EDP procures and provides all the ovens, hobs and extractors required for the plan, generating profit and supporting business growth - which safeguards jobs.
A further initiative involves partnering with the charity the Smarterbuys Store. This venture provides a much-needed alternative to purely commercial shops, which sell furniture and white goods with weekly payments at high-interest rates to those who cannot afford to purchase outright.
Smarterbuys Store offers quality household goods at a competitive interest rate as an ethical alternative to the high street and online weekly payment stores. It lends responsibly, on weekly payment terms at a fraction of the cost of the well-known alternatives. Furthermore, this charity has the development of financial capability of people at its heart. The major objective is to help people to avoid the pitfalls of high-interest credit stores – or even payday loan companies - which have such a detrimental effect on young families and those on low incomes.
There is no significant marketing budget to support this type of enterprise, as all resources are invested in front line services and reducing the cost of goods. So Smarterbuys Store needs help to reach customers – competing against many less scrupulous organisations which have money to invest in advertising campaigns with expensive mainstream media. Communicating with the people it wants to help and support is a major challenge. Assisting with this is simply one of the ways that Prince Bishops Homes can provide assistance.
Similarly, the Prince Bishops Community Bank is backed. This credit union offers small loans at reasonable interest rates and debt consolidation assistance alongside support with saving for a mortgage deposit.
These are just a few of the social enterprises supported. They all share the objective of providing help to low-income families, which are often in the rental trap and unable to access home ownership. The link is obvious but what is not always clear is how they can take a cohesive and flexible approach, providing a varied range of support facilities.
A major part of securing a mortgage and achieving home ownership relates to credit rating, managing personal finances and finding employment. Our support for social enterprises makes this possible - adding value to the communities in which we work.
* Fourteen years ago Jamie Oliver recruited 15 young apprentices to train alongside a team of professional chefs and mentors in a London restaurant. He also set up a charity to receive funds from the restaurant and support further initiatives.
The success of the flagship restaurant led to two further ventures, in Amsterdam and Cornwall, both of which have their own local charities that receive profits. The aim now is to create a national apprenticeship to give more young people the opportunity to be part of the restaurant industry.
** The Big Issue initiative was launched by John Bird and Gordon Roddick in 1991. It offers people facing poverty and exclusion the opportunity to earn money and help themselves at a time of utter personal crisis. The charity works tirelessly alongside its magazine vendors to help them deal with the issues that challenge them - acting as the catalyst for change and an escape from their situation.
Nearly 100 people a week turn to the Big Issue, seeking the vital support and solutions that enable them to rebuild their lives.