Home to an O2 Dome, an illustrious maritime history and a time zone, Greenwich is a storied town and now a major borough of Greater London seen as something of an up and comer if not a tourist hub.
We also believe it should be known as something of a social enterprise hotspot, given we have an estimated over 40 working across the borough – some of them substantial in size. GLL – widely known as “Better” in its 270+ nationwide leisure centres – is headquartered in the borough as is the University of Greenwich, for example, while we are supported by an incredible ecosystem of social innovation catalysts like the Royal Borough of Greenwich, South East London Chamber of Commerce and London South East Colleges. Together, we form a cluster delivering genuine change across fields as diverse as education, culture & leisure, and retail.
We are immensely proud of being a Social Enterprise Place, partly because it means we can network and share knowledge with great organisations across the United Kingdom. Moreover, we are proud to take part in a large initiative to get social enterprises recognised – particularly because we are an area with a long running history in the sector running back to at least the 1980s (we at GCDA formed in 1982), so we know first hand how impactful yet underpromoted this sector is.
We feel many do not realise how great the chasm is between what we want out of our local areas – places to gather, to work and to be proud to call home – and the reality of making that happen for as many people as possible. While government takes great strides and for-profit businesses provide so many of the services we depend upon, every community has needs simply not met – some more than others – and social enterprises are increasingly the entities stepping in here. In Greenwich, we provide skills and training to get that better job, provide physical spaces like community centres, and even bring entirely new products to market from underrepresented parts of society. Meanwhile, at GCDA we have provided over 250,000 meals to those most in need as part of our emergency food response, working with social enterprise partners across the borough to deliver.
We need infrastructure to make communities happen, and many do not realise much of the “social infrastructure” – the networks, the knowledge, the glue holding society together – comes from social enterprises today, as we are plugged into our places and know how to deliver on-demand. To do so within a resilient, financially viable framework as most social enterprises strive for is a brilliant thing, and we are humbled to see this movement truly come into bloom over the last few years. Wanting to continue promoting this sector is part of the inspiration for us joining together as a Social Enterprise Place.
Far from our National Maritime Museum and our leafy parks, Greenwich actually faces some of the highest inequality of any borough in London or England – with brand new developments for successful professionals and social housing estates often just metres away from each other. Together with large migrant populations and a relative paucity of businesses and jobs in this part of SE London, a key issue in Greenwich is job and opportunity creation. Thankfully, our local authority is acutely aware of this and together with partners such as social enterprises to remedy this in the coming years.
We face challenges further afield, however, and at GCDA we think awareness and cognisance of the sector needs to improve. We meet ambitious and incredible social entrepreneurs constantly through our business support and advisory work, and while they give us great hope we wish there was more support. If people knew more about this field, if we were discussed more in political spheres and if more funding and simply attention were given to this sector, we wager there would be far more entrepreneurial organisations neither beholden to profit margins nor constrained by boardrooms doing the genuine innovation that could solve so many of the social issues we face. Be it combatting climate change and poor air quality, integrating communities better or alleviating loneliness, we think good things will come from the sector but they could be so much bigger and more impactful if we gave social enterprises their rightful seat at the table in value creation for British society.
To find out more about Social Enterprise UK’s Places Programme click here