Grassmarket Project at forefront of new social enterprise strategy

Social enterprise leaders from across Scotland gathered at the Grassmarket Project in Edinburgh last week for the launch of the Scottish Government’s first-ever social enterprise strategy.

Angela Constance MSP
Angela Constance MSP, the Scottisdh Government's Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities, launched the first ever 10-year social enterprise strategy at the Grassmarket Project on Wednesday, 14 December

The 10-year strategy lays out plans to increase the number of social enterprises, strengthen their organisations and find new opportunities for social enterprises to succeed.

The strategy calls for new social enterprises in “early learning and childcare, health and social care, land ownership, broadband, transport, and more.”

It also promises government backing to find new ways to finance and build social enterprises.

The launch follows the first ever census of social enterprises in Scotland which documented 5,000 social enterprises across Scotland, one-third of them in rural areas.

One of those social enterprises is the Grassmmarket Project itself, which grew out of outreach work by Greyfriars Kirk.

“Social enterprises trade for the common good. They address social needs, strengthen communities, improve people's life chances or protect the environment.”

Created as a separate social enterprise by Greyfriars and the Grassmarket Mission in 2010, the project runs a successful café, a carpentry workshop which uses recycled wood, and has its own tartan, which it turns into scarves, purses, hats, bags and more.

Equally important is that through these commercial activities it helps vulnerable people develop skills and break out of cycles of homelessness and unemployment by offering work experience, education, training and support in a nurturing environment.

Already it has gained recognition for its work and was one of three runners-up for 2016 Social Enterprise of the Year.

An exciting time

Jonny Kinross, the Grassmarket Project’s chief executive, welcomed the strategy and said the launch heralds an exciting time with opportunities for growth, partnership and community empowerment.

“We are delighted to have hosted the launch of the Scottish Social enterprise Strategy 2016-2026. It is a really exciting time for the sector. We’re growing—there are over 5,000 social enterprises now in Scotland. It’s the first thing of its kind and shows that we have got the backing of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament.”

“We in many respects represent the sector and how it has emerged. We are less than five years old as a charity and less than three years in our wonderful building, the Grassmarket Centre, yet we are already 70 percent funded through our commercial activities.

“It has been a great learning experience for us as an organisation and for our founders that commercial activities when worked with a really strong value base, can achieve a huge transformation in the lives of the people who work for us and volunteer with us and get support from us.”

Angela Constance in workshop
Angela Constance MSP visits the Grasmarket Project's carpentry workshop with workshop supervisor Tommy Steel (left) and Jonny Kinross

Social enterprises empower communities

Communities and equalities secretary Angela Constance said social enterprises add £1.68 billion to the Scottish economy and employ more than 100,000 people. But they also play an important role in tackling inequality at the grassroots level, she said:

“While these statistics are truly impressive it is important to remember that they only tell half the story.

“The true value of social enterprise is in its capacity to empower communities to tackle entrenched social problems and to inspire more innovative and entrepreneurial activity.

"We want to release that potential and allow them to thrive.

The strategy says that social enterprises vary immensely in size and purpose and do everything from run community centres and childcare services to providing housing, health and social care.

Two out of three sell or market directly to the public, while about the same number also do business with government bodies.

What they have in common is that they are created to serve the common good, so profits are returned to the business at the same time that a community need is met.

The strategy calls for new social enterprises in “early learning and childcare, health and social care, land ownership, broadband, transport, and more.”

It also promises government backing to find new ways to finance and build social enterprises.