Sixteen seedling social economy businesses are putting down roots thanks to a enterprise development programme run by Belfast City Council.
“Social enterprises are businesses that combine their social entrepreneurial skills with a strong commercial aim, putting community concerns at the heart of their business,” explained Alderman Christopher Stalford, Chairman of the council’s Development Committee.
“The aim of the business is to make a profit which is either re-invested in the community or used to support employment initiatives, and the social economy sector is one which continues to grow organically from the grassroots level.
“For the past two years, we have been running a ‘Pre Enterprise Social Economy Support Programme’, supported by the European Regional Development Fund, under the European Sustainable Competitiveness Programme for Northern Ireland. Because of the ongoing funding cuts, we had a huge upsurge in interest in the programme, not only from community groups but from arts organisations, charities, individuals and even statutory bodies,” he added.
The programme, which was delivered on the council’s behalf by Work West Enterprise Agency, was aimed at groups and individuals at the pre-enterprise stage seeking to develop a new or existing social enterprise idea in the Belfast City Council area. The progamme helped them develop the skills needed to start a social enterprise and involves training workshops, one to one mentoring, best practice visits and peer mentoring/work shadowing.
New business ideas ranged from childcare to complimentary therapies, a taxi company to arts in schools and animal therapy to property development.
One new business that looks set to grow is Root Soup, a social economy business started by L’Arche Belfast – an international federation where people with and without learning disabilities choose to live together in the spirit of friendship.
“Our community has an allotment up in the Castlereagh Hills and we have more veg than we know what to do with,” explained Micah Loucks from Root Soup.
“Because it’s so windy up there we grow mainly root vegetables and we started to think about ways to use these fresh organic vegetables; soup is so hearty and nourishing that it just seemed the obvious choice,” he added.
The aim of the company is to enhance the relationship between people with disabilities, people who are homeless and the rest of society.
“We are changing the social landscape for all people in our society; in a world where many people feel isolated, afraid, despondent we are creating a future filled with hope and a society where everyone matters and can make a difference,” he said.
Through the programme delivered by Work West they had expert advice from a mentor who helped guide them through the process of setting up a social enterprise. When they found a natural partner in the Open Door Housing Association, which had an industrial kitchen that could be used to make the soup, Root Soup was born.
“The catering side has really taken off and we are providing food to events. It’s a great way to get the word out about our soups and what we are doing,” he said.