Thought Leadership

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Case studies for VCSEs

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England® is a social enterprise with a vision to improve the mental health of the nation. It will achieve this through its mission to train one in ten people in mental health knowledge, awareness and skills – the tipping point for lasting societal change.   With most adults spending a third of their lifetime at work, MHFA England focuses much of its efforts there, to change how society deals with mental health now and in the future. Its training, consultancy and campaigning is paving the way for positive mental health in the workplace and beyond. Through its work over the last 16 years, with more than 20,000 employers of all shapes and sizes, it knows that each organisation's culture is unique and the key to maintaining a mentally healthy workplace is understanding the people within it. In February 2024, MHFA England celebrated the phenomenal milestone of reaching a million people with its training, which equates to one in 38 of the population. Social enterprise working with government The government has committed to bringing more voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations into public sector supply chains. VCSE sector expertise means they are often uniquely placed to help create and deliver compassionate and responsive services, and government research has shown there are barriers VCSEs face in entering public sector markets.[1]       We spoke to Vicki Cockman, Head of Client and Training Delivery at MHFA England, to find out more about the social enterprise’s impact and its strong relationships with government. How does MHFA England work with central government departments? MHFA England works with a range of government departments including the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the Cabinet Office, the Department of Education, the Home Office, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Our flexible training and support offer can be tailored to support each department’s unique needs. For example, we have worked with DWP to train Instructor Members, who then train their staff. There are now more than 400 MHFAiders® at DWP. As part of our bespoke offer for the department, we also support quarterly sessions to look at the impact of MHFAiders and identify areas where further support is needed. This works well for DWP, but each department has its own approach, depending on its needs. For example, in 2024, we began work with Ofsted on a programme to train all their inspectors in our Mental Health Awareness course. This had a positive impact on those undergoing the training, and aims to create a ripple effect through the schools inspected. The contracting process varies between departments. The majority approach us directly, due to our proven track record, while others put out services to tender for which we apply. MHFA England is listed on the government’s procurement learning framework: a due diligence process allowing organisations to be listed as a preferred supplier. What would you say to commissioners who are debating working with social enterprises? There are lots of benefits to working with social enterprises. As well as meeting your own organisation’s needs, you are supporting businesses who deliver social impact to workplaces, communities and wider society. When it comes to working with MHFA England, the impact can be huge. Improved awareness and understanding of mental health create happier and more productive workplaces. We give people the skills to spot the signs of poor mental health, the confidence to start a conversation, and the knowledge to signpost to support. This can be lifechanging and lifesaving. We know how to work effectively in the public and private sector. When people work with us, they are not only creating social impact - they are getting a partner that meets their needs, provides market leading training and consultancy, and delivers a phenomenal service. What top tips do you have for VCSEs looking to work with government departments? There’s so much opportunity in working with government departments. We have worked with some brilliant individuals who are willing to invest time and energy in creating great relationships. The impact you can make is huge. We recommend getting your business in front of them as much as possible. When you are going through the procurement and contracting process, be willing to ask lots of questions. Don’t compromise on what you do as a business and don’t think that government doesn’t want to hear from you or work with you. For more information about MHFA England and its training and consultancy, visit: mhfaengland.org [1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-role-of-voluntary-community-and-social-enterprise-vcse-organisations-in-public-procurement/the-role-of-voluntary-community-and-social-enterprise-vcse-organisations-in-public-procurement

29 Apr

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4 min

Member updates

Waste to Wonder Worldwide announces  a ground-breaking Sustainability Cookery School in Gambia

Expanding Educational Outreach Through Culinary Arts to Promote Sustainability and Self-RelianceWaste to Wonder Worldwide, a leading force in global educational and sustainability initiatives, is proud to unveil its latest project the, ‘Sustainability Cookery School,’ set to open its doors in Gambia. This innovative project extends the impact of the organisation’s acclaimed ‘School in a Box’ program, which has already furnished 1,400 schools across more than 40 countries with essential educational resources.The Cookery School aims to nurture vital skills in Sustainable Cooking, Agriculture, Hospitality, and Tourism among the youth; positioning them at the forefront of an eco-conscious future. Spearheaded by the esteemed Chef Conor Spacey and in collaboration with the Global Orphan Empowerment Academy, this project aims to empower the local community with sustainable cooking and agricultural best practices, ensuring a self-sustaining future that will transcend generations.This pioneering project is more than a culinary school; it is a beacon of hope and a testament to the power of education in transforming lives. By integrating sustainable cooking techniques and the use of locally sourced, sustainable ingredients, the Cookery School is directly contributing to the United Nations Sustainability Goals, particularly emphasising responsible consumption and production patterns. The goal is clear: to significantly curtail waste and foster a culture of sustainability that can be a model for communities worldwide."The Sustainability Cookery School program combines Waste to Wonder Worldwide’s 20 years of Sustainable Development experience, supporting some of the most disadvantaged communities in the world and world leading Food Sustainability and Food Security Systems experience of leading chef Conor Spacey. The programme will up-skill a generation of young people out of poverty, fostering resilience and driving change in the Gambia and Beyond!" - Michael Amos // Managing Director // Waste to Wonder Worldwide CLICK HERE TO WATCH A VIDEO INTRODUCTION TO THE PROJECT The Sustainability Cookery School is not just an educational institution; it is a movement towards a more sustainable and equitable world. Waste to Wonder Worldwide invites everyone to join this journey of transformation and progress. For more information on the Cookery School and how you can support or get involved, please click here.As a proud member of Social Enterprise UK, Waste to Wonder Worldwide is committed to driving social change through innovative and sustainable solutions. About Waste to Wonder Worldwide Waste to Wonder Worldwide is a leading social enterprise dedicated to providing educational resources and promoting sustainability across the globe. Through initiatives like the ‘School in a Box’ program and the Sustainability Cookery School, the organization aims to empower communities, foster self-reliance, and contribute to a sustainable future. If your organisation is interested in sponsoring the development of the school there's more information in this video. wastetowonder.com/cookery-school

26 Apr

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2 min

Member updates

Dental nursing on a mobile dental unit supporting people who are homeless

By Anita Woods, Dental Nurse Community Dental Services CIC (CDS) is an employee-owned social enterprise and a referral only dental service, providing special and paediatric dental care and oral health improvement across much of the East of England and the East Midlands. CDS brings dental care to people who cannot easily be treated in general dental practice; its patients typically have learning disabilities, mental health issues or severe anxiety.  CDS has been piloting a treatment programme for people with Severe Multiple Disadvantage (SMD) and/or homelessness. The pilot is a partnership between CDS and the East Midlands Primary Care Team, working on behalf of five Integrated Care Boards in the Midlands. The CDS Mobile Dental Clinic has been visiting locations in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire that offer established services for people who are homeless. Patients are supported to attend appointments in an environment they are familiar with for check-ups and follow-up treatment. Here, we catch up with Anita Woods, a Dental Nurse of 46 years, who works for CDS in Leicestershire and is involved with the pilot. “I began working in a dental practice when I was 16. I attended college part time to do my dental nurse qualification, which I completed aged 19, passing the NEBDN examination and became a Registered Dental Nurse. I started work in the Maxillofacial unit at the Leicester Royal infirmary and then in 2002, I began working for the community dental services in Leicester and since joining CDS have undertaken my inhalation sedation training. I always wanted to work in a health setting and was drawn to the community dental service as it was an area of dentistry I had not worked in before and I felt that working with its patient group would be very rewarding. I also knew it would offer me the variety of working in different areas of dentistry and the opportunity to improve my skills. I enjoy working with my team members in CDS Leicestershire. We have so many lovely, highly skilled, hardworking employees, who I enjoy learning from every day. The care we give to our patients makes me proud and I like the excellent training that CDS prioritises, as well as the many extended support services they offer employees. Because we provide such a wide variety of services, every day can be different. From assisting the clinicians in the surgery to visiting schools as part of the epidemiology survey team and working on the mobile unit out and about in the community. I was excited when I received an email about this project and that the mobile unit was going to be doing some sessions in Leicester city and Leicestershire supporting people who are homeless. It was a service that I had not worked in before and was very interested, so I put my name forward to nurse on the mobile unit. Once successful, we all had a thorough induction on the mobile unit to make sure we were familiar with the clinic environment. People experiencing homelessness face many barriers to accessing oral health care and experience higher levels of dental carries and periodontal disease than the general population. Poor oral health is linked to a decreased quality of life among these patients, and people who are homeless can often feel ashamed and embarrassed to attend a dental practice full of people, fearing that they will be judged as well as facing difficulty finding and registering with a dentist without a fixed address. I wanted to be a part of CDS’s pilot, designed specifically around the needs of this patient group, with the mobile dental clinic attending places they are already familiar with and trust. We have not used a mobile clinic to treat people who are homeless in Leicestershire before, and I think it is a very worthwhile and much needed service that enables people, who have  difficulty in accessing mainstream dental surgeries for a variety of reasons, the opportunity to receive the dental care they need to progress with their lives. The dental nurse on the mobile unit plays a vital role. The nurse and dentist work as a team to deliver treatment to people who have no other way of accessing a dentist. The unit is very well equipped, and we are able to provide most dental treatments. The biggest difference between working in clinic and on the mobile unit, is that we are working in a much smaller confined space! The dental nurse and dentist must be able to multitask as there are just the two of us on the session, so, as the nurse, I do all the admin and decontamination of instruments as well as assisting chairside and even mopping the floor at the end of the day! We are welcoming to all patients that attend the sessions. We are kind and caring and put them at ease. We offer a translation service if they need it. We also give them the opportunity to ask questions about the treatment that we are providing. At the end of the appointment, we ensure that clear after care instructions are given and we provide them with emergency out of hours contact numbers and oral health advice. I find it extremely rewarding, especially as the patients are so appreciative of the dental treatment they are receiving. Some of the challenges I face whilst working on the homeless dental unit are language and literacy barriers and extreme behaviour. We are required to obtain a full medical history and because English is not the first language for a lot of patients that we see, we use LanguageLine on most of our sessions. The overall process can be time consuming, meaning we can then run late. Many of the patients we see are not able to read or write and they are usually unaccompanied. We overcome this by asking them the questions and filling out the medical history form for them. Very occasionally patients could be intoxicated due to alcohol or drug use and their behaviour can be erratic and even aggressive. However, the skills I have developed through my many years of dental nursing with a variety of people in different settings – including good communication skills; calmness in pressured situations; kindness and empathy; adaptability; positive attitude and a good sense of humour (!) come into play, and the patient care we provide remains excellent and no different from our clinic setting. I very much enjoy working with the Leicestershire mobile unit team. It is a small team that consists of the driver, Anna the dentist, Tracy who is also a dental nurse and me. We all bring a wide range of experience to the service. Although we have only been working together for a short time, we work and communicate well as a team to provide positive outcomes for all the patients that attend. I have been proud to be part of the mobile unit team working on this project as we are providing a much-needed, vital and worthwhile service here in Leicestershire and I hope it will continue a long time into the future.” So far, the mobile clinic has seen over 145 patients at twice weekly sessions which are also an opportunity to signpost to other services, such as smoking cessation and drug and alcohol support. The mobile clinic is equipped to provide a full range of dental treatment. Feedback from patients has been overwhelmingly positive: “I think this service is invaluable to me. I have not been to a dentist for several years. My teeth are a state from years of drug abuse and being beaten up while living rough on the streets. The dentist was very kind and put me at ease while looking at my teeth and guided me through the process/appointments. This is the beginning of the new me. Thank you so much.”  “I cannot thank the dentist enough for the support they have shown me. The dentist was non-judgemental towards me, as I was living in a tent in Derbyshire for over two years. To be honest, my teeth were the last thing on my mind, but looking back, my teeth are one of the first things other people see. I know that I would have never gone to a dentist surgery as I am far too embarrassed.” The one-year pilot is set to continue until June 2024.

26 Apr

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6 min

News

How can combined authorities support the social economy to fix regional economies? – a discussion with Tracy Brabin

As a partner in the Future Economy Alliance, we were proud to host a roundtable with West Yorkshire’s Metro Mayor Tracy Brabin, bringing together social enterprises and other mission-led organisations for a discussion of how combined authorities can support them to fix regional economies. With ‘local power’ being a key pillar of our Future Economy Alliance campaigning, the event was an opportunity to show the importance of mission-led organisations to grow local economies and address the big challenges facing communities. Discussion centred on how West Yorkshire can become a beacon for mission-led organisations - which are vital to creating jobs and opportunities, delivering public services and creating safer communities. With valued community assets such as shops and pubs under threat, the role of mission-led organisations in saving these institutions was also discussed, as well as their role in spearheading schemes to protect the environment though running programmes such as recycling schemes. Some of the challenges discussed included the need to get mission-led organisations a seat at the table on key local bodies and to support them to access procurement opportunities. One solution offered was to create a local or regional version of Social Enterprise UK’s Buy Social Corporate Challenge, where big businesses commit to bringing social enterprises into their supply chains, using their everyday spend to create positive social and environmental impact. There was also a call for more long-term support for the sector including making sure mission-led organisations can access suitable finance. Tracy Brabin was keen to find out more ways she could help the growth and development of mission-led organisations and asked for further details on what concrete steps she and the combined authority could take to support the sector. It is great to see the West Yorkshire Mayor, as well regional mayors in Greater Manchester and the West of England Combined Authority, leading the way in recognising the power and potential of mission-led organisations. We now need others to follow suit nationally. We would like to thank everyone who joined the roundtable, especially social enterprise, Shine, who kindly hosted the event. To find out more about the Future Economy Alliance and our Business Plan for Britain visit >> https://www.futureeconomyalliance.co.uk/

24 Apr

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2 min

News

Business with Purpose: How social enterprises build a more resilient economy

We hosted an event with centre-right think-tank Onward this week to explore how social enterprises and other mission-led businesses can strengthen not only our economy but wider society, as part of our Future Economy Alliance campaigning to push our way of working up the policy agenda. Our Alliance chair Arvinda Gohil OBE joined a lively panel discussion including the Minister for Enterprise, Markets and Small Businesses, Kevin Hollinrake MP; Conservative Party candidate for South Norfolk, Poppy Simister-Thomas; CEO of NatWest Social and Community Capital, Victoria Papworth; and Executive Chairman of the social enterprise Community Shop, Gary Stott. The event was chaired by Adam Hawksbee, Deputy Director at Onward. Panellists discussed the power of mission-led organisations to address pressing challenges and the barriers keeping the sector from realising its potential, with a number of common themes emerging from the debate. You can read key insights below or watch a recording of the whole session here: Social enterprises are businesses Social enterprises form a key part of the business landscape, with Minister Kevin Hollinrake pointing out that there are more than 100,000 of them in the UK making a significant contribution to GDP. He stressed that “business and social enterprise are indivisible”, and the support available for traditional businesses should be relevant for those set up for a social or environmental purpose. Arvinda Gohil cited the huge impact of mission-led businesses, which now represent around 5% of UK businesses, creating 4 million jobs and re-investing more than £1bn of profits into communities. With 22% of social enterprises working in the most deprived areas in the UK, they are creating opportunities and reducing inequalities in the areas which need them most. Social enterprises are at the heart of local communities The discussion highlighted how social enterprises, co-ops and community businesses are vital to growing local economies - often running community assets and creating jobs or other vital opportunities for residents. Poppy Simister-Thomas talked about how social enterprises can “defy some of the economic constraints that big business has”, focusing on their strong community links and how many run local institutions like shops and pubs at a time when many businesses are shutting. She was also critical of the ESG efforts of some big corporates, which can appear as just a “nice to have” whereas social enterprises bring a “clarity of purpose” to their operations. This emphasis on community was brought to life by Gary Stott explaining how his social supermarket is reducing food poverty, bringing people together and supporting them to transform their lives.  A business set up to “build strong individuals and confident communities”, its shops sell discounted products for those receiving welfare support and run community kitchens with food at low prices, as well as delivering personal development programmes to help people find work. All their 12 stores are in areas of high deprivation and 53% of members move on within a year, as their model is fundamentally about supporting people to thrive independently. Access to finance is key Whilst Community Shop has built financial resilience funded by its members, the panel pointed out the importance of access to funding. Victoria Papworth talked about how NatWest Social and Community Capital exists to give funding to mission-led organisations who have been rejected by mainstream finance, highlighting the importance for funders to build relationships with the enterprises they are looking to support. She also hinted at the power dynamics inherent in the investor/investee relationship, stating that “social enterprises need to be ceded power and agency by funders” and acknowledging how “challenging and worrying” questions around debt and loans can be for social enterprises. The Minister agreed that access to finance was “the number one issue” for small businesses, mentioning the Government support that exists in this area and pointing out the importance of alternative finance providers such as community development finance institutions. This was picked up on in the Q&A session, with discussions around how we transform banking through ideas like a Community Investment Act and regional banking systems. Issues around procurement The barriers social enterprises still face when applying for public sector contracts was another key theme. Poppy stated that “procurement processes are often slow and difficult for small businesses to engage with, resulting in the domination of big players like Serco and Capita”. She outlined an issue raised by our Social Value 2032 Roadmap, whereby scoring penalises bidders with core purpose delivery against those adding it for bid purposes, and spoke of social enterprises being used in supply chains as ‘bid candy’.The Minister highlighted features of the 2023 Procurement Act designed to make it easier for small and mid-size enterprises, such as streamlining processes around things like indemnity insurance so that organisations only have to put this in place if successful in winning a product.

18 Apr

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4 min

Member updates

Find out how the Washing Machine Project will help transform thousands of lives with 10,000 manual washing machines

Global collaboration will help unlock millions of hours for women and girls to improve quality of life, saving time for learning and income-generating activities. 15 April 2024 The Washing Machine Project, a grassroots organization that provides off-grid manual washing machines to people in low-income and displaced communities, announced today it is collaborating with the Whirlpool Foundation to deliver 10,000 manual washing machines to communities and households across the world over the next five years. The work is expected to impact an estimated 150,000 people and address a significant barrier to their advancement and quality of life. Recognized by The Washing Machine Project and the Whirlpool Foundation as the ‘Global Washing Divide,’ this collaboration will focus on the estimated 60% of the world’s population–or 5 billion people–that rely on washingclothes by hand. This new collaboration with Whirlpool Foundation will expand the reach of the innovative Divya manual washing machine and alleviate the burden of hand washing clothes for communities across India, Latin America, Mexico and Africa. The new partnership will enable The Washing Machine Project team to install over 10,000 Divya manual machines in 6 countries, impacting 150,000 people. In its first five years, the collaboration will help unlock approximately 17 million hours for women and girls to improve quality of life and halve overall water usage, bringing efficient and sustainable washing solutions where they are needed most. According to the World Health Organization, 70% of households worldwide depend on women and girls for water collection and laundry, which is amplified by the estimate that up to 20 hours each week are spent hand washing clothes in underserved communities globally. The collaboration will help save time and create opportunities for learning, income-generating activities and more time with family. “We are honoured to partner with the Whirlpool Foundation, whose legacy as a pioneer in home appliance innovation is only superseded by their passion to foster community development and improve life at home for people around the world," said Navjot Sawhney, founder and CEO of The Washing Machine Project. “This collaboration is a testament to what can be achieved when compassion meets technology. Together we are set to revolutionize laundry practices globally, paving the way for a more equitable and prosperous future for hundreds of thousands of people.” Divya Washing Machine Impact At the initiative's core is the Divya Washing Machine, the world's first flat-packable manual washing machine that allows users to wash their clothes without electricity or a connected water source. Its simple design reduces the prolonged physical effort usually required to hand wash clothes, replacing it instead with a simple manual machine that can be used frequently and safely, saving the user up to 76% of the time compared to hand washing clothes. As a portable unit built with commercial-grade components and stainless-steel construction, the machine is easier to fix remotely and has the potential to be recycled at the end of its life. Divya, the machine's namesake, is named after Navjot Sawhney's former neighbour, whom he became close friends with during a work assignment in India engineering cook stoves. He was struck by how much time Divya would spend doing back-breaking chores, including hand-washing clothes for hours each week. At that time, he promised to return to Divya with a manual washing machine and help makeher life a little easier. In March 2024, in a joint trip with the Whirlpool Foundation, he did just that. “We greatly admire the mission and work of The Washing Machine Project and see an opportunity to help impact more lives collectively than either of us could individually," said Pam Klyn, Whirlpool Corporation executive vice president, corporate relations and sustainability. "Driven by shared passion and purpose, Whirlpool Corporation employees are lending their time and talents to help make this long-term vision a reality, recognizing that this initiative goes beyond washing clothes. It is about reclaiming time and improving lives for these individuals who will now spend much less time doing laundry, which opens the door to new opportunities.” In the first five years of its collaboration with Whirlpool Foundation, distribution is planned for underserved populations in rural and urban areas in India, Mexico, Brazil, the Republic of Congo, Kenya, and Uganda. Implementation will be tailored to meet the partnering regions' specific cultural, economic, and environmental conditions, ensuring the solution is effective and relevant in local contexts. Since The Washing Machine Project was founded in 2019, the organization has conducted ethnographic research in 13 countries and interviewed more than 3,000 families in India, Uganda, Jamaica, Nepal and the Philippines to gain insight into their clothes-washing tendencies. In addition to completing successful pilot studies, The Washing Machine Project has distributed Divya washing machines to families and communities in India, Iraq, Lebanon, the United States, Mexico, and Uganda. In 2024 The Washing Machine Project plans to scale across numerous countries, partnering with organizations like the Whirlpool Corporation and international development and humanitarian organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Save The Children, Oxfam, Care International, and Plan International. About The Washing Machine Project Founded by Nav Sawney, The Washing Machine Project is a grassroots social enterprise based in the U.K. aiming to alleviate the burden of hand washing clothes and empower women by providing remote, low-income and displaced communities with an accessible, off-grid washing solution. The Divya Washing Machine - a manual, off-the-grid washer-dryer helps save up to 50% of water and 75% of the time compared to hand washing clothes. About Whirlpool Foundation Since 1952, the Whirlpool Foundation has been making real, positive differences in local communities where Whirlpool Corporation families live and work. Whirlpool Foundation shares our vision that communities and displaced people everywhere should have access to sustainable washing solutions; improving lives by reducing the physical impact and reclaiming the amount of time it takes to simply wash clothes. thewashingmachineproject.org

15 Apr

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4 min

Member updates

Unity Trust Bank reports record £1 billion social impact lending

Unity Trust Bank, which supports organisations to deliver positive social impact around the UK, has reported a record level of lending in its annual results for 2023. Exceeding £1 billion for the first time in its 40-year history, almost half of Unity’s financing last year (45.3%) went into areas of high deprivation.  Overall lending increased by 21% to £1.01 billion (2022: £836.6m) while after-tax earnings rose to £48.9m (2022: £22.8m), resulting in a strong CET1 capital ratio of 19.7% (2022: 18.3%). Colin Fyfe, CEO at Unity Trust Bank, said: “Surpassing £1 billion in lending for the first time is testament to the principles that Unity was founded on 40 years ago – that a bank can deliver social purpose as well as sustainable commercial returns. “Our 2023 objectives were achieved against a backdrop of turbulent economic conditions, and supporting our customers continues to be at the core of our strategy. “The higher bank rate environment, alongside balance sheet growth, increased financial returns for Unity in 2023 and enabled us to continue to advance our purpose and our investment in customer services.” By only using customer deposits to lend to organisations that deliver quantifiable impact in local communities, Unity’s funding in 2023 helped to support 1,458 care home spaces; 572 day care and education spaces and 7,143 jobs. It also provided affordable homes for 1,225 households and 452 properties benefited from retrofitting activities. Unity continued to strengthen its support to customers in 2023, introducing a new digital banking platform and establishing sector specific customer hubs. Committed to developing the way it measures and manages its own contributions to people and planet, the bank joined the Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials (PCAF) and released its first financed emissions reporting; strengthening its commitment to understanding its role in supporting customers facing the impacts of climate change. Unity also maintains its carbon neutral status for its own emissions through continued engagement with the Housing Association Charitable Trust’s (HACT’s) award-winning Retrofit Credits programme. Colin added: “Unity’s vision is to become the market leader in ethical banking in the UK and we will continue to help improve the lives of local communities into the next 40 years through responsible financing.” In 2023, employee-led Unity & Me initiatives continued to make Unity a great place to work and support positive outcomes for customers and communities. Unity increased its discretionary donations fivefold from 2022, supporting 26 organisations to deliver positive outcomes for the most vulnerable in society. It also maintained its partnership with the Prince’s Trust and volunteered with 123 young people throughout the year and increased its overall staff volunteering days by 2.5% compared to 2022. About Unity Trust Bank Unity Trust Bank is an award-winning, independent, commercial bank that uses banking to improve the lives of UK communities. Living by its principles of banking with integrity, Unity’s purpose is to help create a better society, not simply maximise profits. Now in its 40th year, it has supported like-minded organisations that share its values and address social, economic and environmental needs. With offices in Birmingham, Manchester and London, Unity offers a range of banking services, including current accounts, savings accounts and loans. Unity is a Real Living Wage Trailblazer and Disability Confident employer, holder of the Investors in People Gold standard and a member of the Global Alliance for Banking with Values, and its memberships ensure it’s engaged with best practices in the UK and globally as a bank with a social conscience. Visit www.unity.co.uk for more information. You can also follow Unity Trust Bank on Twitter and Facebook, or go to its LinkedIn page.

28 Mar

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3 min

Member updates

Excitement and hopeful anticipation for adults with learning disabilities at Interestingly Different

The award-winning service for adults with disabilities, Nickel Support, and their unique retail project, Interestingly Different, have started a brand new, revolutionary and bespoke retail training programme in order to address the shocking situation around employment opportunities and support for adults with learning disabilities and Autism.  Meet Charlie. Charlie is an amazing young woman with not only a smile for everyone she meets, but she also has a huge amount of potential, with a strong drive to work and have a purpose. However, Charlie also has a learning disability - which means that her ambition and goals are often met by hurdles and challenges. When Charlie started attending Nickel Support 9 years ago she struggled with confidence in communicating, and lacked support to achieve her potential. Throughout her time at Nickel Support, Charlie has grown in confidence and in her self belief, and has proven just how much adults with learning disabilities can achieve when they are given the chance to shine. She is now one of the trainees who is in paid employment at Interestingly Different, which forms the retail branch of Nickel Support.  Interestingly Different re-launched in 2023 opening their beautiful shop in Carshalton and introducing their online shop. They are a gift and homeware store with a difference - selling an incredible selection of high quality gifts, homewares, gift boxes and corporate gifting options from more than 30 social enterprises. However, Interestingly Different’s core goal is to provide training and employment opportunities for their trainees, all of whom have faced the same hurdles and barriers as Charlie, and to enable them to lead a purposeful and fulfilled life.  Since the re-launch, the team realised more needed to be done to provide training and employment opportunities - especially as government initiatives such as the Access to Work scheme, have lengthy, climbing waiting lists. Hence they set about creating an adaptable training programme to ensure that trainees gain necessary skills for employment. The programme was created in-house, and incorporates a variety of visual, written and audio materials in order to break down the barriers seen in mainstream training. It is delivered on a one-to-one basis, by trained Support Workers who not only understand learning disabilities, but who get to know each trainee, meaning they can tailor the training to their individual needs.  The training course has been set up with a true sense of urgency, as the employment situation for adults with learning disabilities and autism is shocking. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions recently comissioned The Buckland Review, in order to identify the barriers to autistic people securing and fulfilling employment. Published in February 2024, the report found that  “despite their wish to work, the latest official statistics show that only around 3 in 10 working age autistic disabled people are in employment.” And worse yet, we know from other sources that only 5.1% of adults with all types of learning disabilities in England are in paid work.  The Buckland Review found what Nick Walsh and Elena Nicola, co-founders of Nickel Support have long known - there is a wide range of potential barriers to work for autistic people [the same applies to people with any learning disability]. Even after finding work, maintaining long-term employment remains a challenge. Many do not receive the necessary support or adjustments to enable them to fulfil their role in the face of inaccessible sensory and social environments.  The current reality is sad and shocking, but Nickel Support and Interestingly Different are proud to see a positive impact even in the early stages of this project. When asked how she feels about the new training programme, Charlie commented, “The training I’ve already had has given me the self belief and confidence to work. I used to find it hard talking to customers, but now I feel confident to do that.  I am excited to start the new training programme because I think it is going to help me and the other trainees to learn new valuable skills”. There are currently five Interestingly Different trainees in paid employment, a number they intend to increase as they roll out the training programme.  Seeing Interestingly Different trainees embark upon their training is truly a wonderful thing - you can really sense that this is a place where they are valued, and are being equipped with vital skills for the workplace. Elena Nicola, says, “Seeing the trainees being given the opportunity to expand their knowledge, gain skills and move on to potential employment is so exciting, especially when all the evidence, and our first hand experience, shows that this is not something that is currently happening regularly in society. Sadly our story should not be news, but currently what we are doing really isn’t the norm. We eagerly look forward to the day when it is, and will not stop working to achieve that.”  Interestingly Different sources and sells a wide range of products from over 33 other UK based social enterprises, all of whom are working with adults with disabilities or facing life challenges.  Interestingly Different is open Monday - Saturday from 10am to 5pm, and their  website, https://interestinglydifferent.co.uk/ not only sells their full product range, but also offers a fantastic insight to the work that they do. They also work with corporate clients providing monthly subscriptions of office supplies such as tea and coffee, alongside making gift hampers for staff and clients. Each and every purchase helps towards the greater goal of an inclusive society where adults with disabilities are able to meet their potential and live a purposeful and fulfilled life. Interestingly Different was one of the Small Biz Saturday’s top 100 small businesses in the UK in 2023, and has since also been named as one of Theo Paphitis’s Small Business Sunday Winners. 

28 Mar

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4 min

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