Case studies

Real Ideas Organisation – Growing the social economy in the Southwest

At the heart of the Plymouth social economy is Real Ideas Organisation – a social enterprise based in the city which works across the Southwest and beyond. Its mission is to solve problems and create opportunity for individuals, organisations and communities. It does this through a variety of programmes centred on helping young people into careers and employment, supporting the growth and development of social enterprises and acting as a hub for community, business, and cultural activity.

Turning a cherished local asset into the heart of Plymouth’s social enterprise sector

Real Ideas is based in the Guildhall in Devonport, a part of the city that, following decades of deindustrialisation, became one of the poorest parts of the country.  Devonport Guildhall, a magnificent Regency era building, became symbolic of this decline gradually falling into disrepair. Real Ideas took ownership of the building in 2007 in a community asset transfer from Plymouth City Council, securing £1.8 million to refurbish the hall from the Community Assets Fund. This was no ordinary building restoration – the social enterprise took ownership of the Grade I listed Guildhall to turn it into a space that gives back to the local community.

Devonport Guildhall reopened in 2010 as a space for social innovation – a place which brings people and businesses together to help build a sustainable and inclusive economy in the city. It has incubated a number of local community sector organisations, is home to a few established ones too, and has helped new food businesses to set up and grow during the pandemic by sharing access to the commercial kitchens and bakery facilities there.

Most recently, Real Ideas renovated the Grade II listed Market Hall in Devonport, a £7.6million project which opened in the summer of 2021 as a new space for immersive technologies, complete with contemporary co-work and a 360-dome environment. 

As well as Devonport Guildhall, Real Ideas also runs Ocean Studios – a space for arts, culture and making, with resident artists, shared making spaces and creative co-work. Real Ideas is also the Arts Council’s Bridge Organisation for the Southwest of England and works with schools, youth and cultural organisations to connect young people with art and culture.

RIO 3 - Markethall social enterprise uk

The renovated Market Hall

Growing the local social economy

A core part of Real Ideas’ work is growing the local social economy through the development of community business. Its Empowering Places Programme, funded by Power to Change, has supported over 15 community businesses to start-up and thrive through a mixture of hands-on business support, training, tailored expert support and seed funding.  The programme has developed a focus on renewing high streets as well as in protecting parks and green spaces.

Real Ideas has also supported thousands of young people take the next steps towards their future career, delivering employability projects in Cornwall funded by ESF, ERDF, National Lottery Community Fund and the Department for Work and Pensions.

Environmental sustainability is woven into the business’ operations, underpinned Real Ideas’ One Planet Living’ approach. It runs a range of programmes with this focus. For example, the Enrich programme, part of the Plymouth Green Estates Management Solutions Project (GEMS), specifically looks at how social enterprises and community businesses can be used to find positive solutions to sustaining the city’s parks.