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Harnessing the innovation in social entrepreneurship in Lancashire

Harnessing the innovation in social entrepreneurship WEB

The most rewarding part of being a specialist social enterprise business adviser is the unique and wonderful ways that people come up with to tackle social problems. 

Here, Boost business adviser Alistair Clarke MBE, who has supported hundreds of social businesses during his career, offers insight into the values and purpose of social enterprise businesses.

Societal issues including food poverty, access to services and unemployment have been present for decades, but the growing popularity of social enterprise businesses across Lancashire is helping to bringing novel solutions designed to help local communities tackle these problems.

My job is to harness that enthusiasm, build on it, introduce these businesses and entrepreneurs to other people with a similar passion to help others and to give the client the best possible chance of being sustainable in the long run as a social enterprise.


There are all sorts of myths and legends about social enterprises. People hear the phrase ‘not-for-profit’ and assume that the organisation has to run at break-even. Quite the opposite, a social enterprise needs to be profitable so that the money can be reinvested back into the business and do more good for the local community.

In this scenario, the words ‘not-for-profit’ mean not for the profit of the directors.

Benefitting Lancashire communities

I was with a social enterprise in Wyre recently which had generated £11,000 through crowdfunding and grants to put on the first ever 'event of joy' in their local area. Such was their passion for shaking off the misery of Covid that they were determined to give local people something to smile about.

Another social entrepreneur is using his talents as a fighter to engage with young people and keep them safe on the streets. 

One of the standout social enterprises in Lancashire is two teachers who came to me for business advice as they wanted to set up a social enterprise to help improve educational attainment of disadvantaged young people. They were both willing to give up their well-paid jobs in pursuit of this social cause. 

I still see them regularly and they jokingly remind me how I gave them a hard time when I was helping them to set up. I was desperate for that project to work and made sure they considered every option available so that their new trading entity would make money and be successful.

They are now achieving their social mission, generating the same level of income as when they were teachers and feel far more rewarded in their work.

Growth potential

One common misunderstanding is that social enterprises are small and parochial, just helping people in their local area. Yet 10 per cent of the world’s workforce is employed by a non-profit cooperative company. For example, Welsh Water is run as a not-for-profit, the Big Issue, selling a product for a social benefit, is a multi-million-pound social business, so too is the Cooperative Bank. 

In Lancashire, we’ve social enterprises working in a range of sectors including care and employment support, with turnover in the millions of pounds. 

The county has a thriving social enterprise sector, spurred on by the Social Enterprise Lancashire Network, SELNET, the delivery partner for Boost's Flying Start programme.

Its annual awards ceremony attracts around 300 social entrepreneurs, the largest event of its kind outside the main national sector awards that are held in London.

There is an old saying about making a living from what you earn and making a life from what you give, and social enterprise can be hugely rewarding.

However, I would always advise potential social entrepreneurs to access the services of a business adviser through Boost’s range of services, to guide your new business to the best possible outcome. 

By having that potential to grow a social enterprise, so it stands a much better chance of being sustainable, taking on more staff and achieving more in society.

About the author

Alistair Clarke Selnet 400Alistair’s career began in radio broadcasting, where he enjoyed advising creative companies about marketing, communication, and effective use of social media. He is an accredited, specialist social enterprise business adviser.

As a Boost Flying Start business adviser, Alistair sees himself as a business friend that aspiring entrepreneurs can talk to, and to help ease their worry and stress of starting a new business. Through his professional experience, Alistair can help business leaders to gain the confidence to get out there and make their business work.

If you’re looking to grow, scale or start your business, use Boost; Lancashire’s Business Growth Hub. We offer a range of funded business support services. Call our Business Support Helpdesk on 0800 488 0057 to find out more or complete our enquiry form.


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