On 24th April, enthusiastic delegates gathered in Chelmsford for an event focused on taking forward the social enterprise movement in Essex.  There was a great mix of active social enterprises, those looking to start up, support providers and commissioners.

Speakers John Niland from Provide CIC, and Sonia Shaljean from Lads Needs Dads shared their own reflections on starting and developing local social enterprises from very different starting points, and their thoughts on the value of networks and connections on this journey.

An update was also shared on an Action Research activity currently being undertaken, bringing together a group of local authority commissioners in Essex, with a focus on gaining a shared understanding of some of the challenges and barriers to buying from social enterprises and proposing new ways forward.

Insights or aspirations for the future…

The event was also focused on gathering insights on aspirations for the future of the network and its early impact on the sector in Essex.   Participants were invited to fill in a “postcard from the future” envisaging their thoughts looking back from one year in the future.  Postcards were also sent to all network members who had been unable to attend the event to ensure they had an opportunity for their ideas to presented too.

The postcard provided 3 prompts to guide thinking.  An analysis of the postcards demonstrated a pleasing number of shared themes, the strongest threads being drawn together below:

I’m really pleased the network has enabled my organisation to:

  • Build partnerships with other social enterprises
  • Better support social enterprises in Essex, making them stronger, better connected and easier to identify, particularly by commissioners
  • Develop new income streams, measure social impact and create a shared experience for those starting and growing
  • Become more embedded in Essex and support its development as a place to live and work

“Connect with other similarly minded organisations that support each other to achieve goals (mutual/ new/ shared)” (Tania Munro, Phoenix Homes Colchester)

“Identify new opportunities for future projects and to find new partners and funders” (anon)

It’s great that the network has done this for the Social Enterprise sector in Essex:

  • Supported it to grow, be more visible, have a stronger voice and be better understood.
  • Acted as source of support, advice and information

“Worked as a central point of connection and information” (Kara Thompson, Creative Generations)

“Publicised the work of Social Enterprises in Essex” (Jane Herd, Orb8)

“Helped it to grow and have a more powerful voice” (Rob Groves, Friends of Hardie Park)

“Supported growth of new social enterprises and created a platform for peer support” (Sarah Troop, Maldon CVS)

“Established public and commercial confidence” (Christopher Blomeley, Repair, Reuse, Recycle)

The most valuable event or activity for me or my organisation was:

  • The sociable networking gatherings, allowing conversation, connections and the opportunity to share information about my organisation’s work
  • Events with speakers on relevant topics
  • Technical training events

“Socials to share what I do” (Michelle Shavdia, Find Your Spark)

“The Only Way is Social Enterprise Conference to keep us up to date on work and support” (anon)

“The regular networking with expert speakers on relevant topics” (Teresa O’Keefe, Riverside Community Big Local)

“Talks by people who’ve gone through the process” (Naomi Andrews, Marketfield Farm)


What’s next?

Following this event, there are now further opportunities planned to connect and learn together – see our latest events here

The network is growing and all those interested in supporting the Essex movement and staying up to date as new events are announced, are encouraged to join, with an additional opportunity for the work of trading social enterprises to be showcased in the Essex Social Enterprise Network Directory