Two years ago, a group of local social enterprises, working with the University of Northampton, decided they wanted to set up a new organisation to represent and develop social enterprise in Northampton. After a launch event immediately before coronavirus hit, they formed a new Community Interest Company or CIC and that became Northampton Social Enterprise Town (NSET).
Social enterprise structures remain a mystery for some. Lots of people who run social enterprises don’t know they are one. But, basically, a business legally structured so that they work for social good and where the profits are recycled into the company and the work it does, qualifies. At NSET we aren’t too insistent that everyone who gets involved is a CIC – we know that other models exist – but a social enterprise should be trying to trade goods or services for social good. That’s our loose definition. Our board contains people who run the trading arms of local charities, like the organisation I run, Northampton Hope Centre and its social enterprise, Hope Enterprises, right through to the Trilogy Leisure Trust, the University itself, and Goodwill Solutions.
We aren’t a membership organisation; we don’t request fees for engagement. We are here to develop our sector and to promote this way of working. We all passionately believe that the future of business is ethical, and that a commitment to social change is expected by customers and investors – and helps a company become more effective in tackling social issues or climate change, for example.
The Town designation came about because early in 2020 the partnership was formally recognised with this status by the national development body for social enterprise, SEUK. After an action plan was developed, they awarded this status – giving formal recognition to NSET as the body to lead social enterprise development locally.
The partnership has developed further since then. Obviously, COVID has not helped, but nonetheless the partnership has continued to work hard to engage other social enterprises, not least of all by a monthly networking event where a range of speakers talk and share valuable knowledge and advice. That includes national bodies like the accrediting organisation, the Social Mark; training organisations like the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) and SEUK themselves – as well as local social enterprises who describe what they are trying to do. We have a particular commitment to developing Black-led social enterprises.
Later this year there should be the opportunity to award funding to develop social enterprises locally, granted through Northampton’s successful application to government for a share of the Towns Fund. We are excited to see this move from the government’s initial ‘yes’ right through to the release of the funds. Look out for this.
Now, with the dawn of the new local authority covering west Northants, we have changed our company structure to become West Northamptonshire Social Enterprise Towns, or WNSET, covering that wider area. We are keen to engage social enterprises across the whole area, perhaps to join our board but certainly to join our advisory group, which helps shape how we work and what we focus on.
So, if you are thinking about developing a social enterprise, have started one, or already run one, we are keen for you to get involved. Have a look at our website and social media.
For more information visit WNSET