Toby Johnson
30 April 2014

Steps to Success

The ESF-funded project Steps to Success

1. Background: social enterprise sector, institutions and policy in North-West England
In response to changes in public procurement and the need to minimize overheads, the move towards larger scale contracts has been emerging for a number of years and advisors for the sector have been working with Social Enterprises to ensure that they are “Tender Ready”. This advice work which focuses on developing consortia, mergers and partnerships as well as the specific organisations requirements such as relevant qualifications, insurances, cashflow requirements, is bringing social enterprises up to contract readiness status.  However, there is still a significant gap in the development of public procurement and the lack of linkage and awareness of the added value social enterprises can bring to these contracts and services. Traditionally, public sector contracts have been based on the lowest price and not on the wider impact that contracts can have on local communities, local jobs and strengthening local services and supply chains. This situation started changing with the Social Value Act being introduced in early 2013; however, there is still a lot that needs to be done in order to make Social Enterprises ready to access the tenders, i.e. support consortia building.
Merseyside, England contains the highest number of Social Enterprises (56%, 2508) with North West home to 4,480. The primary sectors that Social Enterprises work in are: Community Development, Education, Social housing and Transport. Over 71% of social enterprises surveyed in December 2012 reported that they expected to see growth in their business in the following year. This has been further mirrored in a recent survey to explore the need for social finance for the sector undertaken in September 2013.
Within the Northwest Structural Funds Programme, Merseyside has transitional 'phasing-in' status and a ring-fenced resources to tackle the issues of high unemployment, low skills, worklessness and poverty.
ESF support of the Steps to Success (S2S) programme enabled support to front line social enterprises in developing consortia. ESF has also been used to support a national programme to provide consortia development to work with the National Offender Management programme. ESF have supported a National Alliance of Social Enterprise Organisations which is now drawing membership from front line social enterprises in order to establish local delivery. Social Enterprise North West (SENW) plays an active role in the process.

2. Context and history of how it developed and policy framework, including funding
Social Enterprise North West (SENW) submitted an ESF application in 2009 and were successful in securing £1,850,000 (€2.2m) to run the “Steps to Success” (S2S) project aimed at supporting unemployed people from Merseyside, England to gain jobs in the growing Social Enterprise Sector.
The original ESF funding for the S2S project ended in September 2012; however, SENW managed to secure new ERDF funds for the ‘Big Enterprise in Communities’ programme to continue an extended support based on the same principles. The aim is to engage with, provide training and opportunities for these individuals to enable them to consider either setting up or working for Social Enterprises and ultimately acting as a route to employment, self-employment or establishing new social enterprises.
S2S example has been chosen for the peer review because it is a simple and replicable concept. The fact that the project started before Social Value Act was introduced and still remains relevant after its implementation demonstrates that the idea can easily be replicated in different contexts (different legislation) with different funding streams.

3.  Summary of main characteristics of Steps to Success
The delivery of S2S was provided by a range of third sector and enterprise local partners. The Mayor of Liverpool was also supportive of the project and keen to ensure that the work could be sustained post completion date providing a written endorsement. The delivery partners had local knowledge and experience of working with diverse communities within Merseyside and having the expertise to engage with these individuals, cultivate ideas, provide skills and training and demonstrate a commitment to partnership working.
The project provided pre-employment support, post-employment support, mentoring, new social enterprises developing partnerships and  consortia, as well as specialist workshops in franchise and financial diversification. The project designed support into a range of Steps that enable engagement at different levels including:
Step 1- Activities that take individuals from Non-Awareness to Awareness of Social Enterprise
Step 2 - Activities that take individuals from Awareness to Activity
Step 3 - Activities that take individuals and social entrepreneurs from Activity to Growth
Step 4 - Supporting social enterprises and entrepreneurs to move from acting alone to building consortia
Step 5 - supporting individuals and social entrepreneurs to move away from traditional Income Streams (i.e. grants or limited contracts) to Financial Diversification.
Social Enterprise North West (SENW) – Applicant Body and Deliverer. SENW co-ordinated and delivered a range of social enterprise related activities primarily delivering Step 5 activities; development of mentors to provide mentor support to emergent social enterprises, hosting of conferences to promote social enterprise and new forms of social enterprise such as social enterprise franchising etc. SENW has also played the pivotal role supporting the development of a new social enterprise (Foundation for Future) that will provide a vehicle for the development of new social enterprise franchise hotels in Merseyside and the UK.
Social Enterprise Network (SEN) – played a delivery role providing work experience opportunities in local social enterprises and the provision of a drop in service to aspirant social entrepreneurs. SEN has also played a role in the ongoing development of Foundation for Future, a new consortium that was established during the life of the project.
Social Enterprise Lancashire (SELNET) – co-ordinated a small number of diversification workshops that have supported social entrepreneurs and social enterprises to consider how to diversify income streams and develop new markets. Their work supported the delivery of Step 5 activities.
CHARA Trust – is a community based organisation that has extensive experience and knowledge of engaging with and supporting workless individuals from disadvantaged or vulnerable communities, both geographical communities but specifically BME / BRM groups. Chara Trust provided a central role in engaging workless individuals, especially those from BRM groups and providing a range of personal development training programmes that both developed the skills and confidence of individuals who were workless and introduced them to the concept of social enterprise. Their activities supported the delivery of services to enable Step 1 assistance. Although as a result of the project it undertook some Step 3 and 4 assistance, helping a small group of participants to establish a community co-operative (Biddi).
SAFE Productions – is a social enterprise that has extensive experience of working with workless individuals, especially those that are supported by organisations providing community based mental health support, and providing support to those wanting to establish a social enterprise, especially in the arts and creative industries. Through the Steps to Success project SAFE has provided a range of support and services including IAG, awareness raising, training, mentoring and other support, essentially the development of creative industries consortia and supply chains. As such SAFE Production provided support, in a specific sectoral context, that supported Step 1-4 activity.
MEH – working closely with its social enterprise delivery partners, School for Social Entrepreneurs and South Sefton Development Trust, delivered a number of structured training and development programmes that supported individuals who were unemployed or at risk of redundancy to develop a business plan and develop the new skills and knowledge required to establish and operate a social enterprise. The delivery of these programmes enabled a number of individuals to access Step 2 provision and support.
Over the four years 636 individuals were supported who either fell into the category of workless, inactive from the labour market or at risk of redundancy. 113 individual secured employment and 41 Social Enterprises were created.
In total 217 existing social enterprises were supported to explore opportunities for diversification and growth:

  • 77 Social Enterprises were supported in exploring “Shared Growth” looking at Social Franchise, Replication and Social License.
  • 44 Social Enterprises organisation were supported in developing new Consortia and Mergers
  • 96 Social Enterprise organisations were supported through a bespoke mentoring programme.

4. Evidence/Justification for Good Practice
There are several reasons why this example should be considered as good practice:
1.       For the first time S2S has enabled a number of service providers to work together more closely and provide a longer term programme of support that is wrapped around their needs and which is more likely to support their long term growth and development, New partnerships emerged from this process and new consortia formed which included some of the new social enterprises resulting from the S2S project.
2.       Consultation with service users suggests that there are real differences in the way partners have approached the delivery of support and that this was an improvement on the way support has been delivered in the past.
3.       The programme also encouraged innovation and innovative activities at a number of levels.  At an institutional and partner level, individuals suggest the S2S programme has had a major impact on the way the partner organisation has worked together to offer and deliver more.  The project has transformed the way 3rd sector organisations work together to promote and develop social enterprise and has resulted in the partnership securing a £7m (€8.4m) plus programme of investment to support social enterprises over the period 2011-2014.
4.      The project demonstrated the value of partnership and collaboration not just in operational but strategic terms. Thanks to ESF support the partners have laid the foundations for a flag ship new social enterprise (based on social enterprise franchising principles) to be developed for the first time in Merseyside (becoming a part of the Le Mat social franchising chain).
5.      The Steps to Success delivery coincided with a time of significant economic uncertainty and a rise in unemployment. Despite this the project supported a significant cohort of service users, including assisting some to establish a social enterprise or secure other forms of employment. The project also supported individuals by, helping them to build their confidence and make positive steps towards securing employment with a number of them going into education or training or becoming volunteers.

5. Outcomes (for different stakeholders)
A post programme evaluation identified that:

  • The engagement process worked well enabling individuals at different stages in their own development to access the right level of intervention from the most appropriate partner providing the right level of training and support. Whilst social enterprise was not ultimately a career option for everybody supported by Steps to Success, the partnership and project has put in place a continuum of support that has enabled individuals and aspirant social entrepreneurs to access structured and timely support that enabled them to move from considering establishing a social enterprise to setting one up and growing it. There is evidence that suggests that some service users made use of the continuum, have been referred from one partner to another and have accessed a range of support. Accordingly, partners have worked where appropriate to offer wrap around support to enable social entrepreneurs to grow and develop. The project has therefore been innovative in that it has changed the way in which individuals have been able to access support, no longer placing the burden upon  individuals to access next stage support rather organisations assessing their needs, providing support and then referring service users onto other partners for other forms of assistance.
  • Development of new capacity – training and development was offered to a cohort of potential social enterprise mentors (which led to the award of Level V qualifications). These individuals have provided advice and development support to individuals and social entrepreneurs supported by the project and now provide a legacy for the investment made by Steps to Success. A network of highly skilled mentors continues their work post ESF project.
  • New Social Enterprises were created (41) in creative industries, health and social care, environment and training sectors.
  • The promotion of social enterprise franchising – visits by the Steps to Success partners to organisations across the EU and visits by partner organisations in Poland and Italy and Le Mat Gothenberg to Liverpool have been used to showcase the potential of social enterprise franchising and replication, improve local understanding of social enterprise hotels which has led to the development of a new social enterprise (Foundation for Future). The activity undertaken to date has resulted in the City Mayor, Joe Anderson, endorsing the concept of a new social enterprise hotel as part of the City Region’s wider support for and investment in the Visitor Economy.

Additionally, as a result of the S2S success, new consortia were created including the BEiC consortia to deliver business start and support. The consortia included original partners and some of the new enterprises to deliver a Social Enterprise Academy (the original Social Enterprise Academy is based in Scotland and SENW is replicating the model in the North West). Delivery will include individuals from the S2S programme as the model is based on peer learning and the beneficiaries from S2S have real experience and practical examples to share. All 636 beneficiaries supported through the S2S programme have been contacted and offered further support through the BEiC programme. All social enterprises created have also been contacted with the offer of additional support through the BEiC programme.
The consortia opportunities continue to grow as more and more public sector contracts become available. The partnership continued to work together and apply for other contracts. In September 2012 SENW was awarded a £3.6 million (€4.3m) ERDF grant from the Department of Communities and Local Government to run a £7.7 million (€9.3m) programme providing the above stages of support to individuals from Merseyside who are from disadvantaged groups or areas and existing social enterprises.

6. Strengths and weaknesses
The programme cannot be seen as a quick fix to all the problems of unemployment, disadvantage and in equality, each participant’s journey is unique and the needs of each social enterprise vary. The public sector have viewed the programme as a positive contribution to the local growth of the Social Enterprise Sector in Merseyside and its contribution to reducing unemployment in one of the most deprived areas in the UK.
The findings of this programme informed the next steps of delivery “BEiC” and secured further European investment (ERDF) to increase delivery. However, the delivery of the new programme is restricted by the ERDF criteria whilst supporting business advice the outputs are measured by increase in turnover and jobs created; ESF would enable more training and development for individuals and social enterprises the same results would incur but the delivery would enable more “wrap around” support and opportunities. Whilst ESF funding would be ideal to continue the work, the ESF in England is managed nationally and restricts opportunities to apply for bespoke programmes of this nature.
New partnerships, consortia and alliances continue to be developed through building on those initiated through S2S and then through BEiC creating strong organisations with the relevant skills, track record and acumen to deliver public service contracts and to engage with opportunities resulting from Public Sector spin outs. However, the policy on payment by results and proven defrayed expenditure is having a negative impact on the Social Enterprise Sector to successfully  deliver these contracts should they be awarded. The need for working capital has never been greater as a solution to this. Social Enterprise North West and Social Investment Business will be running a pilot local Impact Fund that will, as one of the products on offer, provide working capital to ensure that the opportunities to tender by these new consortia, partnerships and alliances is not lost.

7. Comparisons with other experiences (alternatives or complementary - in same territory or elsewhere)
The need for bespoke support for Social Enterprises was identified by the sector in the North West themselves in a series of workshops and surveys undertaken in 2010 supported by Capacity Builders.
This research found that existing business support provision did not have the range of expertises and understanding of the nuances of the Social Enterprise Sector in particular:

  • Legal Structures
  • Governance
  • Target Market
  • Consortia
  • Policy
  • Finance

Ensuring that support to the sector is undertaken by specialist advisors is key to lining up the relevant expertise to the Social Enterprise need.  As part of the quality assurance of support to front line Social Enterprises, SENW contractors must be accredited by an appropriate awarding body not only in the area of business support but also of advising Social Enterprises.

8. Overall assessment
The S2S programme is replicable in the structure of delivery, the different steps of support and the different expertise and knowledge held by partners can be built up through local networks and contacts. Original partners in the steps to success project successful won significant value delivery contracts via a full and open Official Journal of the European Union tender process to become part of a panel of 16 contractors providing support on the BEiC programme. The new programme of support builds on the interventions provided through the S2S programme and includes the following delivery stages:
Stage 1 Pre-pre-start-up support to individuals (4 hour workshops)
Sage 2  Pre-start-up support to individuals (12 hours workshops and action plans)
Stage 3 Create new businesses (12 hours support, develop business plan register the company)
Stage 4 Provide intermediate support to existing social enterprises less than 3 years old (2.5 days)
Stage 5 Provide 5 days of support for existing social enterprises to identify new products, services, contracts and to demonstrate real growth in jobs and gross value added
The S2S model and evaluation is accessible on the SENW website along with other materials including the original findings from the Capacity Builder research.
The Big Enterprise in Communites will be undertaking its interim evaluation in December 2013 which will also be available on the SENW website.

Capacity Builders programme “Peer to Peer Mentoring”, Consortia Development, Finance Diversification”:
S2S Executive summary and case studies:
Survey on Investment Demand among Social Enterprises in the North West:
ESF Works case study of S2S:
Safe Productions Ltd: