Pioneering £1m support scheme will put ‘rocket boosters under region’s vital social economy’

January 12, 2024

A programme to help the West of England’s 2,000-plus charities, third sector organisations, social enterprises and co-operatives cope with increased demand amid the cost of living crisis has been launched.

Called Social Economy West, the £1m initiative aims to make the sector more resilient and less reliant on one-off grants and short-term funding. It also has a longer-term aim of doubling the size of the sector in the region.

Tailored support to help the sector to grow will include helping organisations become more financially and environmentally sustainable, including moving towards net zero, as well as managing risk more effectively and broadening links with the wider economy and business community.

The scheme is led by the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) and delivered by a partnership of experienced third sector organisations which includes Business West – the organisation that runs Bath Chamber of Commerce – Voscur, 3SG, CVS South Gloucestershire, School for Social Entrepreneurs and specialist impact investor BBRC (Bristol & Bath Regional Capital).

They will collaborate to deliver five key support activities, including one-to-one coaching support, demand-led themed workshops, expert mentoring from social entrepreneurs and peer networks.

BBRC will also establish further repayable investment funds for the region.

Metro Mayor Dan Norris, who leads WECA, launched Social Economy West from the roof of recently reopened music venue Bristol Beacon, pictured above, where 348 solar panels have been installed by Bristol Energy Co-operative.

He said the scheme would put ‘rocket boosters’ under the region’s social economy with the aim of doubling the sector.

“In this cost of living crisis, people in the West of England need the help of charities, social enterprises and co-ops more than ever. But higher demand is putting the sector under a lot of pressure,” he said.

“What I hear consistently from these organisations is that they’re too reliant on grants and short-term pots of money.

“Social Economy West will help get them on a more sustainable footing and find longer-term ways of raising the cash they need. This will help keep them doing their incredible work for many years to come.”

Business West managing director Phil Smith, pictured, added: “Social enterprises are a crucial part of the wider business ecosystem and drive forward the ambition to make this region the best place to live, work and do business.”

Bristol Energy Co-operative co-founder Andy O’Brien said: “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.

“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.”

To be eligible for support, organisations must be located in the region covered by WECA and have a core social mission.

This could include organisations such as social and community enterprises, charities, voluntary and community sector organisations, housing associations, co-operatives and mutuals, informal self-help initiatives, social finance and support providers and alternative business models. The programme will run until 2026.

For more more about Social Economy West visit

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