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Plymouth’s annual Social Enterprise City Festival took place last week and had a particular cause for celebration, having recently been named as one of Britain’s first social enterprise cities by Social Enterprise UK.  It has certainly earned this title, having 150 social enterprises in the city, which collectively employ 6,000 – 7,000 people and generate £500m a year.

The festival is organised by the Plymouth Social Enterprise Network which has a number of Fellows on its committee.  One of these is Fellowship Councillor, Ed Whitelaw, who is quoted in the latest RSA Journal, where he talks about how a RSA Fellowship event helped get the idea of Plymouth being badged as a social enterprise city off the ground.

IMG_0719We continued the RSA’s involvement in this process by getting involved and organising a number of events that took place over the festival week.  The plethora of events started on Monday evening, where I ran an RSA Engage event.   Engage events are for Fellows to “meet, connect, share and grow” and we have been running these across the country.  In Plymouth I had a group of Fellows coming together to talk about the RSA’s involvement in local and national projects.  It also provided an opportunity for Fellows to meet each other and make connections, the breadth of the Fellowship shone out, with one Fellow tweeting  “(engaging with a) person who runs a quarry, Churchill Fellow, Chair of Pride, head teacher, artist, professor and more!”.  There was an inspiring talk from Colin Doctor FRSA the new head master for Sparkwell School, which has recently been re-opened as a free school, working alongside social enterprises locally to help teach the pupils.

(engaging with a) person who runs a quarry, Churchill Fellow, Chair of Pride, head teacher, artist, professor and more!


Tuesday saw an early start for Ben Dellot from the RSA’s ARC team, who spoke at the Plymouth Chamber of Commerce’s Social Enterprise Breakfast.  He spoke to a packed room at the National Marine Aquarium about research he has undertaken on young enterprise with RBS, around how young people become entrepreneurs.

— Ed Whitelaw (@EdWhitelaw) November 19, 2013

Wednesday was packed full of events, firstly I attended an interesting panel discussion around social enterprise and culture, that involved Lindsey Hall FRSA from the Real Ideas Organisation.   The debate bought together key organisations from across the South West, including the Eden Project and CoExist project in Bristol, with a lot of audience interaction and helpful areas of shared learning and coordination from these organisations.

The RSA then partnered with Plymouth Chamber of Commerce, Plymouth Social Enterprise Network and UnLtd in a fast paced speed networking lunch – it was strict(!), you only had one minute with each person.  Nick Parker (Chair of RSA SW) managed to speak to the 60 people in the room about the RSA in this time – a good effort!

IMG_0731Following on from this we ran an open space event with UnLtd which focused on sustainability in social enterprise.  There were a number of Fellows and UnLtd award holders who set their own agenda on the day – who got into small groups to discuss problems and issues.  I met with some inspiring local social enterprises; one was a small charity working with providing dogs for veterans and an asylum seeker who has set up the Give Back project which involved asylum seekers and refugees volunteering to help communities they are based in.

Thursday saw the Trade Fair and conference take place, we had a stall brimmed full of information about the RSA and talked to a whole range of students and local people about the RSA and its work.  Built around the day were a number of key note lectures, two of these were given by Fellows, Steve Coles who talked about the relationship between social enterprise and well-being and Sara Burgess who spoke about CiC’s and communications.

The week was a great success with over 1000 people engaging across the events that took place as part of the festival.  It also showed the impact the RSA can have when working in partnership.  I have created a Storify of the week event’s in tweets.

— Iridescent Ideas CIC (@IridescentIdeas) November 27, 2013

The RSA has a vibrant Social Entrepreneurs Network, please sign up and get involved.  I hope that in Plymouth we can work with Fellows more to get involved in the city, and with the Cornwall Social Enterprise zone about to launch – is the South West leading the way with social enterprise in the UK?

Lou Matter is the Programme Manager for West and South West. You can follow her @loumatter 


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