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The Big Idea: Unleashing religious spaces and communities to create jobs and encourage entrepreneurship.

The Cathedral Innovation Centre is a new type of place. Part innovation centre and hub, part religious and local business partnership and part community share offer - it is a business, a charity and a cause. It also offers a forward thinking model of using established buildings and communities to address pressing social needs.

Samuel Kasumu, Penny Mordaunt and Francis Davis FRSA
Samuel Kasumu, Penny Mordaunt and Francis Davis


It started as a conversation between RSA Fellow Francis Davis and a Canon about some unused office space in Portsmouth Cathedral. Francis was concerned about the lack of social innovation centre in the area and had long argued that the faith communities should act as social labs in response to economic and social challenges of the day. In 2012 fourteen desks in the Cathedral were made available for local start-up businesses, and the Cathedral Innovation Centre began to pilot its idea.

Six months on and it is more than an enterprise hub located in an unusual building – it has quickly evolved into what inventor Francis Davis calls “the front end of a movement”.

Part innovation centre and hub, part religious and local business partnership and part community share offer - it is a business, a charity and a cause.

The project so far

So far there have been a number of significant developments.

  • Launched in April 2013 by Baroness Berridge and Mark Hoban MP (Min of State for Work), the Cathedral Innovation Centre is facilitating a thriving partnership between Portsmouth Business School, the religious communities and local councils.  New volunteers from across the private, public and voluntary sector are coming forward all the time.
  • They’re working with twelve start-up ventures in the Portsmouth area, and looking to replicate the model in Southampton, Havant, Reading and Dagenham.
  • Partners Portsmouth Business School have given two full MBA Cathedral Innovation centre Scholarships focusing on social responsibility and innovation (and are looking for applicants now for October 2013).
  • They’ve launched the first community share offer of its kind. The first shareholders include Mark Hoban MP, Penny Mordant MP, John Denham MP, Baroness Berridge, the CofE Bishop of Portsmouth and folk in the Midlands, Herts, Lancs and London as well as local individuals, parishes, clubs, societies and firms.
  • They’ve created the ‘Faith In Enterprise Awards’. Announced by Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP and endorsed by the Archbishop of Canterbury these awards offer a £200,000 micro-loan fund (£2.5k to £7k loans) for start-ups led by those aged 18 to 30 and five Chairman’s awards comprising free office space wherever you live, a circle of mentors, a £10,000 interest paid loan, and a small grant.
  • And, as an RSA-Catalyst supported initiative, they’re working with the support of several RSA Fellows across the region to grow their work (so far ten have come forward to mentor businesses including a Chief Executive of a local economic partnership, governors of FE Colleges and local entrepreneurs).

What next?

After a busy pilot phase, they are launching further initiatives including:

  • A leadership programme for rising stars in regional firms, government and social sector.
  • A series of seminars and events nationwide focused on public and social innovation.
  • A parliamentary summit on the role of faith communities in creating jobs and backing those out of work.
  • Bringing 1000 school age children through their programmes in the first development phase.

Francis says “This is the very first Cathedral Innovation Centre. We need to be more innovative about how we use our public space and this is our solution to the problem. We want to encourage local enterprise and we will always meet every person that approaches us to discuss their idea”.

Portsmouth Cathedral Innovation Centre team
Portsmouth Cathedral Innovation Centre team


How you can get involved

If you live nearby:

If you live around one of the key regional areas (the Solent / Reading / Dagenham) then you can help get the idea moving in a number of ways, either by becoming a mentor or by sharing other skills.

If you live elsewhere:

Plans are underway to develop the UK's first micro finance (low cost) business degree with a strong social responsibility dimension. Get in touch if you’re an academic or business person or thought leader who could contribute some pro-bono help to design deliver and launch it.

A second national initiative is looking to develop fresh models of support for carers of those with severe and long term conditions or illness. Get in touch if you’d like help develop this idea.

You can also help by buying a community share at

For any of the above, or if you’d simply like to know more about it, get in touch with Francis Davis FRSA

Alice Dyke is Regional Programme Manager at the RSA. Follow @imAliceD on Twitter


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