SEUK has been helping HCT with its social enterprise champions programme, which aims to build awareness and knowledge of social enterprise amongst its employees. [you can read write-ups of part 1 in Leeds and part 2 in Bristol]. This third and final session was in London, and we had a busy schedule and timetable.

DAY 1: Having met successfully at Victoria, we took the tube and bus to near Brixton prison, for an opening visit to Connection Crew, the award-winning crewing company that also happens to be a fabulous social enterprise: providing employment opportunities to people coming out of homelessness. Charlie Dorman, one of the co-founders, chatted to the group for over an hour over lunch, detailing the enterprise’s 10-year history: from its charitable origins through to its new building and stellar track record. Things that came up in discussion included:

– the tension and balance between the commercial and the social
– how to grow impact: through training, through opening new branches, through expanding who they work with
– whether being a social enterprise helps Connection Crew win business from customers
– the operational realities and pressures of crewing (and how to support people in that environment)

Next, we went round the corner and into Brixton prison with Bounce Back Foundation, a social enterprise which trains up people coming out of offending in painting, decorating and scaffolding. They have an amazing training centre in the prison to help develop the skills and employment opportunities people need to stop them reoffending. We also stopped on the way at The Clink, a social enterprise restaurant within the prison walls, and Bad Boys Bakery, a bakery also providing skills for the outside. It was very interesting to meet with the men training up and gaining qualifications: and hear what they thought of the opportunity provided; many thanks to Fran and Rebecca for organising and getting us in (and out again). Things that came up in conversation included:

– how Bounce Back invites companies into the prison to recruit people directly from the training programme
– the different business models employed to support different parts of the work
– the impact a reduced reoffending rate has for victims, offenders, offenders’ families; but also in savings to the country
– what is a fair balance between punishment and rehabilitation

After that, we hot-footed it by bus to Liverpool Street, and then on to the Waterhouse restaurant, run by the social enterprise Shoreditch Trust. Waterhouse trains up young people who wouldn’t get the chance otherwise to get experience and employment in catering – and it was a fabulous meal to have a chat over with HCT colleagues who joined us.

DAY 2: Meeting up early in Liverpool Street (a few of us grabbed a quick coffee in Kahaila cafe – a social enterprise which I wasn’t familiar with: check it out), we got the bus up to HCT’s main depot in Ash Grove for a q&a with Dai Powell, HCT Group’s CEO, to hear from Phil Stockley (interim head of community transport) and for a depot tour (with Gary Dodds, head of performance). A great chance for those on the programme to ask questions about the company and where it is heading: and to get the leadership’s view on all things social enterprise. Amongst other topics, Dai let the group know that HCT had been working with Blue Sky Ventures to train up some ex-offenders as bus drivers, a pilot they hope to expand.

Finally, we headed back into town for lunch at the Cafe from Crisis near Liverpool Street. The cafe has been running there for about 13 years in different forms, and they still strive to find the balance between operating a commercially viable cafe with an environment providing training opportunities and support to those coming out of homelessness. Encouragingly, Crisis work with Connection Crew and Bounce Back already, showing how social enterprises can work together and collaborate. Thanks to Jeremy who joined us over lunch to share the challenges and future plans.

Then it was time for a final wrap-up session with the programme participants: what had they liked, what had they not liked, what would they do differently and so on. A short social enterprise quiz revealed how much more they knew now than when we had started; and, I hope, what it means to work for a social enterprise with a social mission at its heart.

Many thanks to all the social enterprises in Leeds, Bristol and London that we have visited, to Tracey & all at HCT for help in organising and, mostly, to the programme participants: Tanya, Esher, Rosetta, Jon, Harry, Sam, Richard, Neil, Pauline, Michael and Andy.