A new £4m programme aimed at reducing poverty and inequality through the growth of social economies has launched with a call-out to social entrepreneurs and organisations to get in touch with their business ideas. 

LARCH, which stands for Local Access Redcar & Cleveland and Hartlepool, is part of a £33m enterprise development and blended social investment programme being jointly funded across the UK by Big Society Capital and Access – The Foundation for Social Investment.

It’s one of six areas to be chosen to receive a mix of support, grant funding and repayable investment to grow its local social enterprise and voluntary and community sector as part of efforts to increase prosperity, boost the local economy and ultimately, reduce inequality.

Local partners are now calling for anyone with a socially enterprising business idea – or an existing organisation that has potential to do more – within these two areas to register with LARCH to see how the funding and support can help.

Carol Botten, who is CEO of Voluntary Organisations Network North East (VONNE) and the independent chair of the LARCH Partnership Board, said the opportunity is unique because it’s designed to shift the social sector culture to one of self-sustainability: “The LARCH programme will support individuals and organisations at different stages of their enterprise journey, to develop ideas and business models through events, workshops, professional support and mentoring from other successful social entrepreneurs and organisations.

“In addition, organisations will be able to access small enterprise development grants and repayable finance to help them realise their idea or sustain or grow their existing earned income streams.”

“The programme will support organisations to become more enterprising, diversify and grow their income sources and in doing so enable them to deliver more impact for local people and communities in Redcar & Cleveland and Hartlepool.  With the funding landscape growing ever more competitive, enabling organisations to be self-sustaining and resilient through earned income and the delivery of contracts and services, is key to building a diverse, vibrant and resilient community and social enterprise sector.”

A social enterprise is a business established to create positive social change – it must have a focus on economic success; however, it differs from other businesses in that the money generated is used to tackle its social aims rather than to reward the business owners or shareholders.

Peter Gowland, who is a director of Hartlepower and is one of the voluntary sector organisations helping represent LARCH in Hartlepool, said “We urge anyone with a social enterprise idea to take up the LARCH offer, which is not just about providing funding for your project – welcome though that is – but good quality, continuing support throughout your enterprise journey. Hartlepool has a very rich tradition of people coming together to meet local needs -LARCH could be just the tool people need to realise their ambitions.”

Peter Gowland - supporting partner on LARCH at Church St Hartlepool
Peter Gowland – supporting partner on LARCH at Church St Hartlepool

Mike Milen, who is CEO of Redcar & Cleveland Voluntary Development Agency (RCVDA) is representing LARCH for Redcar and Cleveland, said: “Although we see a lot of positive economic news linked to Tees Works and the Redcar and Loftus Town Plans, this still remains a challenging time for many. We intend for LARCH to encourage and support the development of a complimentary social enterprise approach to regenerating Redcar & Cleveland.

Mike Milen -Supporting partner on LARCH at Redcar
Mike Milen -Supporting partner on LARCH at Redcar

“I would encourage anyone with ideas and a passion for the area to make contact. This is an opportunity for local people to lead on the development of services and products that can create employment and improve the local area.”

Ideas from organisations that qualify will be driven by social aims or goals, derive at least part of the income from trading, rather than from grant funding or donations, and will reinvest profits in the enterprise and its social aims.

Most often, social enterprises are set up to operate by directly addressing the social issue they aim to improve, for example a specialist cardiac rehabilitation service set up in response to the barriers faced by the local community in accessing the available NHS services.

However, they can also be profitable businesses which raise money to be used to tackle social issues, for example an accommodation letting agency purely to generate funds for a local charity.

Ms Botton said: “This is an opportunity to register at the earliest possible stages of LARCH; The process of recruiting a programme manager is currently in progress and we hope to announce that early in the New Year, followed by the launch of the LARCH website and development of the brand, to make it as accessible as possible to people.”

Interest is expected to be high – follow the link to register

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