Last month, USE IT! proudly supported the iSE facilitated CITY DRIVE week long programme of events to raise awareness, promote employment opportunities and encourage marketplace development for the amazing social enterprises across Birmingham.

The week saw 19 events take place in social enterprise venues and other key locations ranging from localised place-based networking such as the USE IT! Soho Social Enterprise Network at Soho House, a masterclass on women-led enterprise by Birmingham Royal Ballet CEO, Caroline Miller OBE, a retail masterclass led by Citizen Coaching CIC and an event to involve young people into social enterprise based apprenticeships with Evolve Café. Through social media alone, CITY DRIVE week reached 565,000 people [numbers seeing the posts] with over 956,000 impressions [people investigating the programmes] and over 600 people attended the event through the week.

The showcase event of the week was the Social Enterprise Festival on Thursday 26th April 2018 that saw 50 social enterprises come together in a marketplace event at Birmingham Council House and over 200 people attending – all interested to know more about social enterprise opportunities, the diversity of the sector regionally and how social enterprises impact the social economy. It was the largest gathering of social enterprises in Birmingham and clearly showed the vibrancy of a thriving sector and an appetite from public and private sector organisations to work and partner with social enterprises in their supply chains.

It was against this backdrop that Sarah Crawley, CEO of iSE CIC, was able to announce that Birmingham had successfully achieved recognition as a Social Enterprise City from SEUK.

Sarah says, “Through the best practice delivery of Digbeth Social Enterprise Quarter both nationally and internationally, the support and reach of the USE IT! project being delivered in Smethwick, Soho and Ladywood, and the commitment of several strategic partners* across the city, Birmingham has demonstrated it is ready to maximise the leverage gained from this accreditation. Social finance in the city is varied and available with great providers looking to invest in the growth of the sector – Birmingham has the largest contingent of social enterprises outside of London. Social enterprises are catalysing real change in communities and neighbourhoods through innovative place-based projects such as USE IT! and we have seen a rise in social enterprise tourism from towns and cities looking to localities like Digbeth with its inspirational and transformational initiatives. There is real optimism and opportunity for Birmingham to build social capital in the city and tackle long-term social issues such as poverty, deprivation, isolation and employment. It’s an exciting future with some hard work needed but we know through our social enterprise networks and enterprise skills programmes that there are truly talented and passionate social entrepreneurs in Birmingham ready to step up and develop innovative new products and services that can, and do, make a difference to individuals and the city as a whole.”

Peter Holbrook, Chief Executive Social Enterprise UK, shared iSE’s excitement by saying, “We are delighted to announce that Birmingham is now recognised as a Social Enterprise City. The Digbeth Social Enterprise Quarter was one of the first Social Enterprise Places in the country – showing how social enterprises embedded in their communities can drive renewal and opportunity at a local level. It is a testament to the ambition of the area that this ethos has now spread to the whole city.

Birmingham, like so many cities, faces multiple challenges from high levels of child poverty and youth unemployment to rising homelessness. Despite this, it is a city full of optimism and hope with a thriving social enterprise community dedicated to tackling these issues head on. Birmingham is showing us what the future of business can look like and we encourage other towns, cities and counties across the country to follow its example.”

USE-IT Project Manager for Birmingham City Council, Karolina Medwecka-Piasecka, gave her view, “We are very proud of our Social Enterprise Sector in Birmingham and are determined to support it and help it grow further. The Social Enterprise City award is a great recognition of our efforts and a wonderful opportunity to promote the SE sector further and educate both the public and private sectors about the importance of social value.”

iSE and the Birmingham Social Enterprise City partners are already planning a major social enterprise conference, including the formal announcement of the SE Place accreditation, to take place on Thursday 15th November 2018, as part of UK national #WhoKnew social enterprise day and celebrating Global Entrepreneurship Week