Promoting Social Enterprise within the Built Environment
Short description
Through our work on the place-based USE IT project, iSE was delighted to facilitate a marketplace to bring together leading built environment providers with the innovative social enterprise suppliers at a March event, hosted at The Signing Tree Conference Centre. This key event in our USE IT 2018 calendar of activities, networking and workshops enabled over 25 social enterprises a unique opportunity to showcase the products and services directly to a number of decision makers from leading construction provider Wates Group along with Amey plc, Kier Group plc, Morgan Sindall Group, Mace Group, BAM Construct UK and Willmott Dixon.



We know that construction companies such as Wates are passionate about the work of social enterprises as part of their social value when tendering and building for public sector organisations such as local authorities, higher education, blue light services and social housing providers. But the passion goes further than that – many have a strategic commitment to bring social enterprises into their supply chains as they see the innovation, diversity and opportunity social enterprises deliver to their own communities of benefit and wider localities in which construction contracts are delivered. They form a natural fit in line with community investment, regeneration and transformation programmes across neighbourhoods, particularly in areas of deprivation.

Wates is a founding member of the SEUK national Buy Social Corporate Challenge, and Amey and Mace have now also joined. Collectively partners are targeting a £1 billion spend with the social enterprise sector by 2020. The SEUK year 2 report concludes that £45 million has been spent by corporate partners and the Challenge has directly or indirectly created 329 jobs at social enterprises. Through corporate contracts social enterprises have been able to reinvest £2.98 million into their social missions, thereby saving UK government multiple millions in reducing demand on public services, providing employment for those far from the job market, and increasing social mobility for individuals and so breaking the cycle of poverty and debt for many families.

These objectives to tackle entrenched social challenges are the fundamentals of the iSE USE IT 3 year project being delivered in Soho, Smethwick and Ladywood wards in Birmingham, and funded through ERDF.

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Developing marketplace opportunities can only work when we all work together. Partnership underpins all the work that iSE undertakes, whether through delivering funded contracts such as USE IT or engaging with stakeholders from public, private or third sector organisations. Our relationship with Wates is rooted in the #SeeingIsBelieving social enterprise tours we facilitate, and this enabled Wates and iSE to leverage social value connections and procurement decision makers within the construction sector to attend this 2 hour event. Josh Steiner, Social Value & Sustainability Manager - Scape Major Works for Wates summarises the sector potential and rationale for engaging with social enterprises in his recent article for Business Growth.

iSE invited a number (27 to be exact!) of social enterprises that had products and/or services that were resonant with the needs of the built environment providers. These ranged from larger, more established enterprises such as Clarity providing washroom products, Health Exchange CIC who can provide staff health benefits and Recycling Lives who provide metal and waste management services, through to smaller enterprises with a niche offer such Upcycle Birmingham a social enterprise committed to supporting local people by selling low cost, second hand furniture that has been given a new lease of life, and YMCA Birmingham who have developed a social enterprise training offer for young people, run a successful social enterprise café, Eden, providing employment for disadvantaged individuals who are re-skilling for the workplace and have conference and meeting space for hire.


Through some lively facilitation and mindful brokered introductions, there has been great value achieved on both sides of the ‘networking circle’ set up at the marketplace.

Commissioners of services have left the event with a better understanding of the immense diversity provided by social enterprises and recognised that low value/high volume spend within the social enterprise sector can bring gains well beyond contractual spend. They are also now armed with a wealth of social enterprise connections that were previously invisible to procurement departments who often have to manage more immediate priorities and so have little time to research unknown organisations. Wates has recently recognised that the added value achieved through £744,000 of spend in the West Midlands social enterprise supply chain yielded a £1.77 social return for every £ invested in contract spend.

For the social enterprises, they have a far better understanding of the procurement world and know what ‘contract ready’ means within the built environment sector. Equally, they have started having real conversations, about real contracts with real employment opportunities. iSE is currently evaluating the outcomes from this important marketplace event and will be issuing a summary report in July 2018 with our initial findings.

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iSE have recently asked the social enterprises that attended to provide us with some survey stats so we can understand better not just the ‘feel good’ factor of attending events such as the Built Environment, but the real opportunities that have emerged as a result of the day.

Here are a few highlights…

  • Mental health first aid courses have been booked for staff teams.
  • Venue hire of conference centre is in discussion.
  • Meeting space for a training event has been taken.
  • Conference room booking confirmed.
  • Specialist alcohol awareness staff training for an organisation.
  • Numerous successful connections with ongoing conversations about future purchasing and partnerships.

It’s amazing what you can achieve in 2 hours when you put your mind to it!

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