Trailblazers in the UK voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector
Companies who are bringing social and environmental value to the local economy, helping to create an economic recovery.
What is a VCSE organisation?
VCSE stands for voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations, this can also include cooperative businesses. These are not-for-profit businesses who create local jobs, provide services and sometimes sell goods for their community. Because VCSE organisations are based in their local community, their employees spending power in turn continues to help grow the local economy.
What are the benefits of VCSE organisations?
VCSE organisations help to build stronger local communities. They are usually organised around local needs, employ local staff, and give the added value of local knowledge. Many benefit from volunteers working as directors, expert advisors or service providers. Public authorities and institutions who contract local VCSE organisations are using their spending power to support the local area. The end long-term result is resilient thriving local communities.
VCSE organisations can be found across many sectors including care, food, transport and printing. We’ve highlighted some UK trailblazers in this blog, including some in our local county of Devon.
The Care Sector
NEDCare is a Devon-based care provider and charity, focused on North East Dartmoor. It was founded in 2015 in response to a significant lack of availability in the local area. NEDCare focuses on providing personalised care from carers who live in the same community as their clients. As well as adding 1000 hours per month of regulated care availability in their rural area, NEDCare has improved their clients’ care experience and created good quality jobs in the community.
Founded as a Community Interest Company (CIC), NEDCare changed to a Charity Incorporated Organisation in 2020.
Valley Care co-operative is based in the Colne Valley. Registered with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) they focus on their immediate community with a projected client base of around 100. Any surplus profit is reinvested in the company, ensuring the best care and providing staff with good pay, training and working conditions. Profit is also used to develop replicated services across the larger area of Kirklees. Because it’s a co-operative, all members have a voice in how Valley Care is run.
The Food Sector
The Devon-based Food in Community CIC collects, sorts and redistributes fresh produce that would otherwise be composted or thrown away by local farmers and producers. The produce is then sorted into boxes and delivered weekly to local charities, primary schools and nurseries, refugee support organisations and more. This work is all done by volunteers.
Food in Community also runs pay what you feel lunches as a catalyst to bring people together. As well, they run community cooking clubs and workshops where they teach healthy eating on a budget, and how to adapt dishes to the ingredients available.
Food Exeter is a local charity focused on enabling sustainable and healthy food for all in Exeter. As well as working with other organisations on a city-wide food strategy, Food Exeter has run initiatives including Grow, Cook, Eat summer holiday sessions for low income families and providing seeds to those who want to grow their own. Creating dignity in the whole process of providing food to those who need it is an intrinsic part of their strategy.
A similar organisation can be found in Plymouth, at Food Plymouth.
Can Cook was set up in Liverpool in 2007, dedicated to feeding everyone well. They started by teaching people to cook and have taught over 16,000 people to cook fresh meals at home. This developed into catering for schools, nurseries and care homes.
In 2019 they set up Well-Fed in Flintshire in partnership with Flintshire County Council and ClwydAlyn Housing Association. It provides commercial catering services to nurseries, schools and residential schemes in North Wales. Well-Fed is also committed to stopping food poverty by feeding hungry people fresh meals for free. With their new production kitchen, Well-Fed has so far provided over 200,000 free meals to struggling families.
Can Cook Well-Fed uses local suppliers where possible, supporting local businesses and protecting local jobs.
The Transport Sector
The Devon-based Co-cars is an exciting example of a co-operative social enterprise. With a network of electric cars that stretches from Falmouth to Salisbury, their members can use any car in their network from £5 an hour. They also operate Co-Bikes in Exeter, a docked, on-street electric bike hire network. It has built links with local businesses including the University of Exeter and various local authorities in Devon. In 2022 Co-Cars was mentioned in a Department of Transport report calling for local authorities to support car clubs. Co-Cars is a Living Wage employer.
The Printing Sector
Calverts is a design and print cooperative based in Bethnal Green, London. Founded in 1977, company decisions are made collectively and whatever their job, every employee earns the same wage. They provide services to organisations including local businesses, the public sector, universities and charities. As well as its own environmentally and socially beneficial policies, Calverts independence allows it to choose ethical clients. Printing a board game about the UK asylum process - fine. Taking on a job from Cuadrilla Resources, the fracking firm - no thank you. A joyfully detailed article on Calverts is available at https:// bethnalgreenlondon.co.uk/calverts-print-and-design-cooperative/
The Devon-based Paperchain Co-operative was founded in 1990 as a community based office paper recycling scheme. Since then it has expanded to offer a range of recycling services and over 600 businesses in the Exeter area uses its services, including schools, hospitals, local authorities and private individuals. The co-op offers equality of pay and status, which of course in turn supports the local economy as the staff have money to spend in local shops.
If you feel inspired after reading these stories, you might consider starting up your own co-op, social enterprise, charity, or community organisation. Or perhaps you’re already involved with a group which could establish itself as one of these. We are keen to help, so please take a look at our website and follow us on social media. We often run workshops, free or for a small charge, to help VCSE organisations, and would love to help you.
Lots of start-up help and business advice for the VCSE Sector is available in Devon, including support to decide what form of organisation will best suit your project or enterprise. Start-up funding is sometimes available. Visit our the Community Business section of the New Prosperity Devon Knowledge Hub for links to your local social enterprise networks and more. Our Knowledge hub has links to how- to- guides, support organisations, webinars, talks, free training, reports, case studies and more to help and inspire you to help grow a resilient and regenerative economy here in Devon.
Get in touch on our Contact page and we can point you in the right direction. At New Prosperity Devon, we are working to inspire, catalyse and amplify the new economy in Devon. We set up to share good practice, create connections and spark initiatives that provide for both people and the environment.
About the Author
Amanda Gibbins is a Devon based copywriter and owner of Daffodil Copy. A fan of plants and a liveable planet, she uses a combination of storytelling and sales techniques to help ethical and sustainable businesses succeed.