History of social enterprises in Plymouth

Plymouth is a hot-spot for social enterprise activity in the UK and is developing as a global ‘social enterprise city’. We have one of the most active social enterprise networks in the country and Plymouth University was the world’s first officially certified ‘social enterprise’ university, in fact, all three of our higher educations organisations are social enterprises! The local council – a co-operative council – is a strong supporter of social enterprise.

Current social enterprise landscape

According to our 2019 research, there are 200 social enterprises in Plymouth working in a huge range of sectors including in education, health, arts, environment, food, finance, housing, business support, sport, social care and many more. These businesses employ around 9,000 people and bring in an income of over £580 million. There are mega-social enterprises such as the University, Plymouth Community Homes, PLUSS and Plymouth Community Healthcare but there is also a vibrant economy of smaller businesses making real change on the ground. Two out of five of the biggest employers in the city are social enterprises and the sector is making huge strides in diversity; 56% of leadership teams are female and diversity as a key theme for many.

Key objectives

1. To stimulate social enterprise in the city and beyond.

2. To grow markets for social enterprise.

3. To create access to world-class business support for social enterprises in the city

4. To increase finance and funding for social enterprises.

5. To promote policy, advocacy and movement building.

We recently published our 5 year strategy outlining these and how we plan to make them work.

You can read it here.


Plymouth’s Social Enterprise City badge has helped to lever in over £6 million of investment and support for social enterprises in the city from national and local sources. It led to the Council developing commissioning and procurement policies for social value and has seen national organisations like Power to Change, Esmée Fairbairn, Rank Foundation and Big Society Capital coming to, and investing in Plymouth.

The Social Enterprise City concept has undoubtedly helped achieve a huge amount for the city but it is still a brand with more potential. Specific highlights:

  1. Plymouth City Council invested £2.2 million in 43 social enterprises helping them to grow and deliver more social impact. I think it’s safe to say it is unlikely this would have happened without the Social Enterprise City badge, which gave credibility and significance to the growing social enterprise movement in the city.
  2. Power to Change chose Plymouth as their first ‘Empowering Places’ area in the country. We were in the first year of a 5 year scheme that will saw up to £1 million invested to help the development of community businesses. Plymouth being a Social Enterprise City was a substantial part of their decision to invest here.
  3. Esmée Fairbairn invested £1.25 million in the city for ‘social economy infrastructure’. They have stated that Plymouth being a ‘Social Enterprise City’ was an important factor in this decision.
  4. The Seedbed social incubator provided £1.2 million in equity and loans for social enterprises in the area, Social Enterprise City was referenced strongly in the initial application.
  5. The £1 million EU funded ‘Enhance Social Enterprise Programme’ (for Devon and Somerset) went live in summer 2017 offering free business advice to Plymouth’s social enterprises. This business support programme was built on the recognition that social enterprise was a strong defining feature in the South West with Plymouth’s Social Enterprise City status being highlighted. As we now work for a wider legacy movement, Plymouth is referenced as a shining example for more widespread social enterprise support.
  6. Rank Foundation has been investing in emerging social economy leaders in the city. Supporting learning programmes, offering grants and additional internships and business support that has seen unprecedented growth for the supported organisations
  7. On the back of Social Enterprise City status, the British Council commissioned Plymouth University/Futures Entrepreneurship Centre to deliver a global study across 20 countries to explore the relationship between social enterprise learning and practice and higher education institutions. The university also worked with the British Council on the Newton Fund – a resource for scientific innovation with a social value.

Futures Entrepreneurship Centre (part of the Plymouth University Business School) has also developed a partnership with the Xavier Institute in India around exchange of expertise and information in social entrepreneur support and business incubation activity. This was stimulated by our Social Enterprise City status.

Stakeholder Group in Plymouth

  • Plymouth Social Enterprise Network
  • Plymouth City Council
  • Plymouth University
  • Social Enterprise Focus (Peninsula Enterprise)
  • Real Ideas Organization
  • Iridescent Ideas CIC

Live in Plymouth? Find out how you can get involved here.

Buy Social

Directory of social enterprises in Plymouth

Contact details

Website: Plymouth Social Enterprise Network

Email: hello@plymsocent.org.uk

Plymouth Social Enterprise Festival

Every year we run a Social Enterprise City Festival, running for over 10 years it is the biggest of its kind in the UK. During Covid-19 we took it online and welcomed even more people from other parts of the UK. Running the third week of November every year we would welcome you to be a part of it. Find out more on our website or sign up to our newsletter here.