Travelling to Sheffield is a great way to start the week. It was with some relish that I travelled up by train early on a Monday morning with the prospect of meeting colleagues from around the country working on Connect Fund projects funded by Barrow Cadbury Trust.

My intent was to borrow, beg and steal as many ideas to use in Essex as possible. This proved to be relatively simple given the speed dating exercise allowing for a quick and to the point run-down of almost the entire gathering of projects. All before lunch too!

It was the next part of the day that really resonated with me – a discussion on the challenges of enterprise development.  Whilst there is a range of social investment available, it is clear that many of the social organisations we engage with need support to be able to think entrepreneurially. To be more focused on enterprise, social enterprises need to be more resilient and access much-needed support to achieve a sustainable revenue model so that eventually they can pay back finance loans.

Our Connect Fund project has been developing the necessary infrastructure for social enterprises in Essex. We have delivered a series of training workshops to help individuals and organisations to generate ideas, diversify their income streams, market their impact, grow their business and understand how to make their business sustainable.

Neil King of CERT Ltd shared with the group about their business counselling model and the long term support they are able to provide to social enterprises. He described how they work with others such as accountants and HR specialists to offer holistic support. This creates a genuine robust relationship with these organisations. This is a clear win-win situation and is a much-needed nudge for me to do the same.

People running social enterprises are short of time. This means that they need the right advice at the right time. This is not always easy. In Essex, the Growth hubs are the focus for business support and they offer good quality support to businesses.

Through our Connect Fund project, Growth Hub advisers are now more familiar with what the social enterprise model can offer and a better understanding of how social impact can take precedence over a drive for profit. Our project has also worked with the CVS’s in Essex to outline how they can support social enterprises. There is still much to do and webinars, podcasts and better use of technology is something that we as a project need to explore.

Elaine McCorriston is Service Manager at Social Enterprise East of England and is leading the Connect Fund project ‘Bridge to Social Investment’, which aims to increase awareness and understanding of social enterprise, and to create a social enterprise network in Essex.

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