East Belfast Mission has won the highest award at the prestigious annual UK Social Enterprise Awards in London.
It received the prize of UK Social Enterprise of the Year for its work in providing vital jobs and community services through Skainos, its flagship social economy village in the Ballymacarrett area.
It was a night of double celebration for the Northern Ireland Social Economy sector as the Belfast-based Music Theatre 4 Youth won the award for Best Youth Led Social Enterprise.
Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said: “I am delighted that, for the second year in a row, the calibre of Northern Ireland social enterprises has been recognised at a national level. Both East Belfast Mission and Music Theatre 4 Youth are examples of social enterprises making a real difference in supporting local communities and growing our economy. I offer my warmest congratulations to both award winners.”
Audrey Murray, Chair of the Social Enterprise Awards Northern Ireland Committee said the dual success showed that Northern Ireland was leading the way in Social Enterprise development.
“The award winners are great examples of local people meeting local need without any financial gain for themselves. Congratulations to both East Belfast Mission and Music Theatre for 4 Youth, beating the competition in an UK sector with 68,000 individual enterprises.”
Both social enterprises received their awards at a glittering ceremony at Lord’s Cricket Ground in Marylebone from comedienne and presenter Sue Perkins, star of the Great British Bake Off. Paul Roberts, Chief Executive of Ashton Community Trust was highly commended in the Social Enterprise Leader category.
The judges praised the scale of East Belfast Mission’s work in producing a fully self-sustainable, innovative social economy hub.
They stated: “Based in an area where there’s high social and economic deprivation they provide a future to all those in need, regardless of background or belief. They operate a range of businesses – 11 shops and two workshops and a range of community services including employment support, housing support and youth services.”
Anne Walsh, East Belfast Mission’s Director of Business Development, added the award was recognition of its work in providing services to some of the most vulnerable members of the community.
“East Belfast Mission is delighted to receive this accolade in recognition of all the work we do in East Belfast. The awards recognise the value and impact social enterprises such as ours create for the economy and in the communities they serve”
Meanwhile, Music Theatre 4 Youth was singled out by the judges for providing young people from all backgrounds with access to top quality musical theatre, training and performance. The company has engaged 2,000 young people in the last seven years with all profits being reinvested into the business.
Jenny Cooke, Music Theatre 4 Youth’s Chief Executive, said they were delighted to receive the award.
“By winning this award at national level we now feel as a local charity we have at last put to rest the perception that Music Theatre 4 Youth is only about those who can afford to pay.
“The charity strives to be open and accessible to all and over 25% of our members are on full bursary support throughout the year. The aim of the charity is to offer our young people from all backgrounds interested in working in the performing arts industry opportunities on Irish soil to get training from internationally acclaimed professionals working across Europe without having to leave the province. The charity is not about privilege but about inclusiveness the main aim being to find, train and nurture our Irish talent from across the island of Ireland,” she added.