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 is the world’s first officially certified ‘social enterprise’ university. The local council – a co-operative council – is a strong supporter of social enterprise and is developing a range of initiatives to promote social enterprise in the city.

Current social enterprise landscape

There are around 150 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 7,000 people and bring in an income of over £500 million. There are mega-social enterprises such as the University, Plymouth Community Homes, PLUSS and Plymouth Community Healthcare but there is also a burgeoning economy of smaller businesses – 1 in 3 turnover under £50,000.

Key objectives

1. Raise public awareness about social enterprise.

2. Promote social value in procurement and use of the Social Value Act. Work with the public sector to spread understanding of this important legislation.

3. Hold an annual Festival of Social Enterprise and promote this heavily in national and local media. This will be a high profile, showcase event.

4. Maintain appropriate and specific social enterprise business support for pre-start, start-up and growing social enterprises.

5. Work with schools, colleges and the university to promote social enterprise with young people.


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 has 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 are in the first year of a 5 year scheme that will see 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 is looking to invest £1.25 million in the city for ‘social economy infrastructure’. They have stated that Plymouth being a ‘Social Enterprise City’ was a important factor in this decision.
  4. The Seedbed social incubator is providing £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) will go live in summer 2017 and offers free business advice to Plymouth’s social enterprises. This business support programme was built on recognition that social enterprise was a strong defining feature in the South West with Plymouth’s Social Enterprise City status being highlighted.
  6. Rank Foundation has expressed an interest in investing in emerging social economy leaders in the city.
  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 is also working with the British Council on the Newton Fund – a resource for scientific innovation with a social value.
  8. 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: Gareth Hart, Chair, gareth@plymsocent.org.uk, 07786 863206

Email: Ed Whitelaw, Co-ordinator, ed.whitelaw@realideas.org, 07973 813806

Plymouth Social Enterprise Week Town Drive

From 17th to 21st November Plymouth Social Enterprise Network and Social Enterprise UK celebrated Social Enterprise Week with organisations from across the region as a part of a town drive to raise awareness of social enterprises amoungst consumers, business and the local council.The week was welcomed by council, businesses, and press. Thank you to everyone who contributed to it’s success!