Why we're a social enterprise (and what is that anyway?)

So Bloom Blog is back, after a break last week for a quick nip down to the Kent coast to breathe in some sea air… we’re now fully back to the sights and sounds of Lewisham. Bloom really is racing its way into the final weeks of the year: our training courses are coming to an end, we’ve got Christmas market appearances galore, and of course our crowdfunding campaign is still going strong. We’re just about keeping up with ourselves!

But in today’s blog I wanted to share a bit about one of the things that’s really important to Bloom - and that’s being a social enterprise. We’ve talked about Bloom this way ever since the early days and, when we do, one of the frequent questions we’re asked is ‘What does that mean?’ Are you a charity? Are you a business? Do you make profit? etc etc etc…

Well - I’m not going to pretend to be any kind of expert on the world of social entrepreneurship. If you want to learn more from people who know a LOT more than me then I’d recommend checking out Ashoka, or Unltd who support lots of very cool social enterprises. But today I just wanted to share a little bit about what being a social enterprise means to us and why we think it’s the best way for Bloom to do what it does:

1. We believe in a better way of doing business

Often people ask us whether we’re a charity or a business? We want to say upfront that part of the reason we’re a social enterprise is that we want to blow away the misconception that you’re either one or the other. In essence, most things in life are ‘business’ of sort, they gather resources (financial or otherwise) and they use those resources to carry out some form of business. In our traditional understanding: charities raise funds, usually from donors, and use them for the 'business' of their designated cause. ‘Companies’ sell some form of product for a price and use the income to cover their costs, and pay their staff and shareholders.

But really, there’s no reason why those distinctions must remain. Since business, commerce and trading are all around us - why can we not use these models to create opportunities for social change? There’s many ways to do that - whether it’s how we use our profits, or our employment principles, or the kind of suppliers we use… or many other ways. But the point is, once you start thinking, it’s not too hard to see how business and enterprise can really be used a tool to tackle some of the most pressing problems in society.

And why would any of us not want to know that when we buy our coffee, our cakes, our socks, our shoes…. whatever it is… that our purchase is doing something to contribute to a better world around us?

So at Bloom, we aim to provide great products, that are highly competitive within the market that at the same time make a different to people facing unemployment. We do this by reinvesting 100% of our profits in training local people, and in the future hope to create employment opportunities within our commercial arm for people finding it difficult to access employment elsewhere.

2. We want to be financially self-sustaining

All of the board of Bloom have experience of working within the traditional charity model, reliant on grants and donations to get the job done. Now that’s not all bad - and in some cases really is the best model for a project or organisation - but in our experience, we’ve found it can limit the impact you want to create. You might have a great vision for a project, but there may only be funding available for something that serves a slightly different group of people. Or you might get three-year funding to carry a project out… but what happens when that funding comes to an end? Being reliant on funders often means it's difficult to do the work you want to do, when it’s needed, to serve the people who need it most. It also often makes your future quite uncertain, not knowing what funding is round the corner.

By trading our products and services, Bloom is working towards financial self-sustainability. As we start, we’ll still be subsidised by grants and donations, and we’re so grateful for that. But we’re working to generate at least 50% of our own income through trading in 2018… and working towards at least 80% self-generated income over three years.

Our hope is that this model will mean that we’re able to build something that lasts, supporting people facing unemployment in our community, over the long-term.

3. We want to create real opportunities

Creating opportunity is one of Bloom’s central aims, and we believe we can do this more effectively as a social enterprise. Our aim is to grow our trading arm significantly over the next three years. This will allow us to generate more income to scale our training programme, but, at the same time will also allow us to create genuine opportunities for people graduating from our training.

As our catering arm grows, we want to create apprenticeship and paid jobs for graduates from our training programme. We want to offer jobs that suit the needs of people facing barriers to work - part time jobs that fit around caring for young children, jobs where it’s ok to take time out if your anxiety gets the better of you temporarily, jobs where we understand that just because you might not have the perfect CV or work history, that it doesn’t mean you haven’t got amazing gifts and talents to give. Those are the kind of jobs that we want to create.

This week, as our 10 week training programme comes to an end, we worked with our trainees to create 400 bakes in 7 different varieties to sell at Blackheath Village Day. In our break time I asked one of our trainees what his favourite session on the course had been: ‘This week, definitely’, he said, ‘Because we’re making something with a purpose. This is a good day.’

We want to power ahead towards growing this vision in 2018, by expanding Bloom into the lunchtime catering market. This will allow us to start creating these kind of opportunities, and will also help us to start generating more income and work towards financial self-sustainability. At the moment, Bloom is 100% volunteer powered, but this expansion is only possible with a paid member of staff who can run our kitchen and supervise our trainees and graduates.

This is where our crowd fund comes in. Every business needs finance to get going, even a social business. We’ve raised a significant proportion of what we need already though trading and small grants - but through our campaign we’re looking to raise the rest money we need to start Bloom as a fully fledged enterprise.

Once we’re out of the starting blocks, we believe we can start running hard towards our vision of creating a sustainable social enterprise supporting people facing unemployment in South East London.

We've raised over 75% of our target already. We need to raise just £2000 more to make this a reality. So please, if you can, do pledge to our campaign today and be part of making it happen.


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