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Learning disability social enterprise Nickel Support crowned Britain’s best ‘Heart of Gold’ small business at The Small Awards

Nickel Support, a Community Interest Company from Sutton, which works with adults with learning disabilities and/or autism, was celebrated as best ‘Heart of Gold’ business at this year’s Small Awards for their work within their community with their trainees, and for the social impact they are having beyond their community, through their retail project Interestingly Different. Interestingly Different is a gift and homeware shop and online retailer selling products from 33 social enterprises all of whom support adults with learning disabilities or people facing other life challenges.

Nickel Support won the award which recognises the small businesses that contribute a bit extra to their local community. Working with other small businesses, local charities, schools, local councils or their local residents they have achieved great things.

Owners Nick Walsh and Elena Nicola, who founded Nickel Support in 2012, were awarded at a sparkling celebration event in central London, hosted by presenter, writer, actor and comedian, Sue Perkins.

Nick and Elena set up Nickel Support after they had become disillusioned by the learning disability sector as a whole. They felt that people with learning disabilities were being short changed by some of the more traditional services and that they deserved more. They set up Nickel Support with the goal of helping people with learning disabilities to lead purposeful and fulfilled lives. They focus on three  main areas: relationships, health and employment throughout all of the sessions and enterprises which they run.

Since 2012 the company has gone from strength to strength and now works with over 120 trainees across two hubs – one in Cheam and one in Carshalton. In January 2023 they set up a retail branch of Nickel Support called Interestingly Different, with the goal of providing a platform for the trainees to sell the products made in the enterprise sessions, including upcycled furniture, a popular range of jams and chutneys and jesmonite homeware pieces. The other main goal was to provide training and paid employment opportunities through the Interestingly Different shop. Not satisfied with just supporting the Nickel Support trainees, Nick and Elena took it one step further, and decided to use Interestingly Different to support other social enterprises working with marginalised groups, which in turn offers shoppers a place where they can shop in a conscious and purposeful way. Interestingly Different now has five trainees in paid employment and are hoping to increase that number in the near future.

Elena Nicola said, “We are absolutely delighted and honoured to have received this award. We are so grateful to have been recognised for the hard work that we are doing both within the learning disability world, but also further afield in our work with other social enterprises. We hope to continue to break down the barriers for our trainees and to see real and meaningful change in the perception of what people with learning disabilities are able to achieve.”

In its eighth year, The Small Awards is a nationwide search for the smallest and greatest firms in the UK, across all sectors. It is organised annually by Small Business Britain, which champions, inspires and accelerates the nation’s 5.5 million small firms. Ninety small businesses were shortlisted across 11 Small Award categories, from ‘digital stars’, to ‘high street heroes’ and mission-driven businesses with a ‘heart of gold’.

Nickel Support won the award alongside 10 other winning small firms from across the UK.

Nickel-Support-CIC-with-judge-Liz-Barclay-the-Small-Business-Commissioner-for-the-UK (002)

Nickel Support with judge Liz Barclay, the Small Business Commissioner for the UK, and Sue Perkins

“Congratulations to Nickel Support, who impressed our team and judges with their story of drive and innovation, and dedication to their community,” said Michelle Ovens CBE, Founder of Small Business Britain and the Small Awards.

“We are delighted to have celebrated with them at such a beautiful event that shines a much-needed light on so many extraordinary entrepreneurs, like Nick and Elena, and their fabulous businesses.” 

Minister for Small Business Kevin Hollinrake MP, who attended The Small Awards and presented the Small Business of the Year Award said:

“The Small Awards are a reminder of the innovation and tenacity that makes the UK’s small businesses the best in the world. I congratulate this year’s winners on their well-deserved awards and wish them every success for the future.” 

The Small Awards are judged by a panel of leading enterprise experts. Guests at the event were treated to a dazzling display of entertainment by Europe’s largest gay male choir, the London Gay Men’s Chorus, along with fine food and drink by independent caterers.

To find out more about the winners visit

About Nickel Support and Interestingly Different

Nickel Support is a pioneering, award winning, not-for-profit community interest company set up in 2012, which works with over 120 adults with learning disabilities and/or autism. Nickel Support is based in Sutton and now works across their two branches in Carshalton and Cheam. Nickel Support was a finalist in the 2022 National SME Business Awards as well as in the 2022 Social Enterprise Awards; and was shortlisted for the 2023 Small Awards. Nickel Support was one of Natwest’s Pioneers Post Top 100 Social Enterprises in 2023. Interestingly Different is part of their parent organisation Nickel Support. Interestingly Different sources and sells a wide range of products from over 33 other UK based social enterprises, all of whom are working with adults with disabilities or facing life challenges. Interestingly Different is open Monday – Saturday from 10am to 5pm, and their website, not only sells their full product range, but also offers a fantastic insight to the work that they do. They also work with corporate clients providing monthly subscriptions of office supplies such as tea and coffee, alongside making gift hampers for staff and clients .  Each and every purchase helps towards the greater goal of an inclusive society where adults with disabilities are able to meet their potential and live a purposeful and fulfilled life. Interestingly Different was one of the Small Biz Saturday’s top 100 small businesses in the UK in 2023, and has since also been named as one of Theo Paphitis’s Small Business Sunday Winners.