We were soaking up some winter sun with Metro Mayor Dan Norris on the roof of Bristol Beacon earlier this month to mark the launch of a new programme aimed at boosting the region’s social economy. With the cityscape glinting below us, Norris announced the start of a £1 million programme called Social Economy West, tasked with helping the region’s community-focused organisations grow through the provision of expert support on areas like finance and training. Speaking in front of BEC’s rooftop array of 348 solar panels, the mayor said that he wanted to see the co-op and mutual sector double in size in the region. “For traditional businesses, the first port of call might be the bank or a Chamber of Commerce. Now there is a new show in town to level the playing field for organisations that aren’t run primarily for shareholder profits”, he said.
There are around 2,000-plus social economy organisations across the West of England, focused on a huge range of issues from farming to furniture and, of course, energy. Co-founder and development director of BEC, Andy O’Brien knows how important good support for organisations like ours is in the early stages.
“When we set up our co-op 12 years ago it felt a bit scary, but we had fantastic support from a local cooperative development agency, and this made all the difference,” he said. “Even for an organisation our size, there are still challenges, not least when it comes to large-scale investment where support from a region-wide, resourced co-operative development agency would be vital.
“Today, community-powered businesses are needed more than ever, so it’s fantastic that Social Economy West is providing support needed to back the region’s brilliant co-operative sector.”
The West of England Mayoral Combined Authority has partnered with Business West alongside five other partners from the third sector to deliver the programme.
You can read more about how community-owned energy became part of Bristol Beacon’s inspiring story here.