The increasingly centre-stage role of Scotland's social enterprises

Social enterprises are a growing part of Scotland’s business landscape – and, in contrast to more vulnerable sectors, have been found to show “enormous resilience and adaptability” to the challenges of Covid-19.

The Remakery has focused on refurbishing electronics to help those suffering digital poverty and social isolation. Picture: Lee Live.
The Remakery has focused on refurbishing electronics to help those suffering digital poverty and social isolation. Picture: Lee Live.

Indeed, one has described such organisations’ role as increasingly “the glue holding community economies together”.

Key social enterprises from across Scotland were recently featured in a Digital Showcase highlighting their contributions as the pandemic took hold.

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The venture was organised by Social Enterprise Scotland, whose chief executive Chris Martin praised the many examples of “enormous resilience and adaptability as they stepped up to offer support, often changing their business model with speeds never envisaged before”.

The Edinburgh social enterprise says its outlook for 2021 remains very positive. Picture: Iain McLean.

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The event attracted around 100 participants and speakers, including Michelle Carruthers, chief executive of Food Train.

She said 2020 had highlighted how much the organisation’s older members value the “regular and reliable” access to groceries it provides.

“Nine months on from the first lockdown, we are still providing more than 50 per cent more deliveries than in previous years ... we’ll continue to make sure in the weeks, months and years ahead that our older members can eat well and live well in their own homes.”

The Digital Showcase also shone a spotlight on The Remakery in Edinburgh, which said it had “significantly” revamped its long-term strategy as a result of coronavirus, and continues to do so.

Marketing and events manager Stephanie Bowring said the organisation had adapted to ensure it could keep going as a social enterprise, but also to maintain its services and support “to members of our community who need them the most, whilst also doing our bit to reduce waste and prevent pollution”.

As a result of lockdown, it temporarily closed departments unable to function within new restrictions, such as its second-hand furniture repair and retail arm, and instead concentrated on refurbishing second-hand electronics to gift to vulnerable groups, to help tackle “the widening digital divide that became apparent as a result of lockdown”.

Looking to 2021, the aim is to grow its education department to offer creative, skill-sharing workshops, but also to begin to offer opportunities to build employability skills through work placements, internships, volunteering positions, and more to help combat increasing unemployment.

Ms Bowring said The Remakery's outlook for 2021 “remains very positive”, and the support it had received from the general public since March “has been overwhelming and, I hope, will continue to grow”.

Another social enterprise featured in the showcase – Isle Develop – only came into existence as a result of Covid-19.

It aims to help grow economic resilience, innovation and diversity in the Scottish islands.

“What the pandemic has done is shine a light on where the gaps are in island resilience ... I'm hopeful that 2021 will bring loads of opportunities for new ideas and innovation,” said founder and director Rhoda Meek.

Social Enterprise Scotland said that in 2019, there were more than 6,000 such firms in Scotland – and others to have adapted during the pandemic include Social Bite, which last month launched a brownie delivery service, and Hey Girls, which has debuted period product home deliveries.

Ms Carruthers said social enterprises were “fast becoming the glue holding community economies together ... the sector has shown itself to be responsive, flexible and right at the heart of every community in Scotland”.

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