Transition Network’s REconomy Project has just published a fantastic new report entitled The New Economy in 20 Enterprises. Pulled together by Michelle Denton (below, right) and Fiona Ward (below, centre), it opens like this,
"Welcome to the UK’s top twenty ‘Transition oriented’ social enterprises. Combined these enterprises have a turnover of £3.5 million and provide paid employment for more than 100 people. We think they’re rather brilliant examples of people just doing stuff…".
So, hopefully, will you, once you’ve had a look at this inspirational report.
I talked to Fiona, and asked her first how the report came about.
The 20 initiatives were chosen from a list of 120 enterprises from across the UK, whittled down to produce a list of enterprises that could be replicable in any community, a kind of ‘Transition Town Anywhere’ if you like. What distinguishes them is that each of these enterprises demonstrates a different way of working from business as usual – they are sustainable, offer some social benefits and have shared ownership, while providing essential goods and services for the community in which they make their home.
They provide jobs for local people, as well as volunteering opportunities, and they buy from other local independent businesses. Most have emerged from a local Transition group or have links to Transition in some way.
Individually they are great examples, but the transformative potential is really clear when we picture them all operating together in one place… The report suggests that these enterprises meet our basic needs including food, energy, transport and housing. They illustrate what a new kind of community-led, place-based economy might look like, and show that the building blocks – the viable business models – are already in place and highly replicable.
The report provides working models for the kinds of enterprises that can turn this opportunity into reality. It is hoped that this report will serve as a stimulus for government, funders, the Transition movement and other community groups and entrepreneurs to see the enormous potential in the community enterprise sector. I asked Fiona what, for her, were the key learnings from the report:
Each of the top 20 enterprises brings something different to the party. For example, in the world of the Big Lemon, bus travel is fun, friendly, affordable and sustainable. Ismooth Community Café, set up by a group of parents and carers, provides training and purpose for young people with learning difficulties and is so successful they quickly outgrew their original home. And, at the Bristol Bike Project, you can learn how to repair a bike, and, then own one; they are helping people from all walks of life, including those with mental health problems, set out on two wheels and for it to be an inclusive and empowering experience.
Then there are relatively big players like Bath & West Community Energy whose plan is to raise £10 million over the next 3 years to fund more local renewable energy projects. There’s innovation in addressing our housing crisis as shown by DotDotDot Property, who place ‘property guardians’ in London’s empty buildings to provide a service to the owner, while the guardians get an affordable place to live and volunteer in exchange, so making a meaningful and measurable contribution to the communities where they live. And at the very practical Uig Community Shop, in Scotland, you’ll not only find your weekly shop but a launderette, a post office, a meeting room and a spot to have a coffee and a chat. Having looked in detail at each of these, and others, I wondered what insights Fiona felt she had gleaned into what constitute the ingredients of success for such enterprises?
The New Economy in 20 Enterprises argues that these types of enterprises could be the building blocks of a new local economy, and they help demonstrate the potential value of re-localising our economies, i.e. where as many goods and services as possible are bought from local, independent businesses. We know that money spent with these kinds of enterprises has greater local impact than the same amount of money spent with chain stores and corporations due to the ‘local multiplier’ effect, meaning that most money spent with local businesses typically gets re-spent in the local economy, not just on wages and local suppliers, but also on services like accountants, marketing, printing, insurance, distribution, cleaning and so on.
However, large chains tend to only re-spend locally on wages, as they generally have central contracts with national suppliers and service providers. What, I wanted to know from Fiona, does the report tell us about where the economy could go from here?
The report, like the three Local Economic Evaluations/Blueprints published recently, demonstrates how in this time of austerity, community economic development represents a sizeable opportunity for economic regeneration in a way that produces more resilient communities. It shows that this approach is already working. But what, I wondered, would it look like if government got behind and supported this approach? What might such support look like in practice?
You can read the report in full here. Finally, here is the full list of the 20 Enterprises (not in any particular order):