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Volcano, courtesy RLM Arts

It’s good to talk

If anyone recalls the slogan from that BT advert with Bob Hoskins from the 1990s: ‘It’s good to talk’, it’s one that’s been ringing in my ears lately. I’ve been doing more talking than I probably ever have and, hand-in-hand with that, I’ve also been listening.  HOT’s Xaverine Bates reports on the recent inaugural gathering for local social enterprises and other social economy organisations.

On July 22 Hastings Works hosted a Social Enterprise Networking event, as previously mentioned here at HOT. I’ve always had a bit of a problem with the term ‘networking’, thinking that was something only people who dressed in suits did – business people, successful people, people who lived in a whole other sphere of existence. But I’m slowly realising (late development runs in my family) that networking is just a posh term for having a chat with someone, finding something out about them and telling them something about yourself. Not really rocket science, not scary and not really all that difficult.

Initiated by Hastings Works, Hastings Voluntary Action and Hastings Borough Council, the idea behind the event was to encourage social entrepreneurs, or rather, people who’ve come up with a really great idea to make our community better, to get together and share their ideas. We heard about projects that are well-known and well-established in Hastings & St Leonards:- The Hastings & Bexhill Wood Recycling Project, which recycles wood as well as people i.e. bringing people into work who may not otherwise be given the chance to do so; The Community Fruit & Veg Project, encouraging us to eat fresh & eat local; to newer projects such as Carbon Creative Arts, which uses the transformative power of art to generate change in the community, and a project which aims to give people on low-incomes therapeutic treatments provided by recently graduated students from South Coast College Hastings. Also there was Rebecca Lamont-Jiggens, a representative from UnLtd, a trust affiliated to the Millennium Fund, which funds social entrepreneurs to make their ideas a reality, funding anything from £500 to get an idea going, to £1m to more mature projects. I was recently lucky enough to have been awarded a Star People Award to set up aGender, which aims to challenge gender stereotypes through creative media via peer-led projects with young people in order to foster healthy relationships and stay safe from sexual violence and harm, hence my interest in the event.

Co-operation - Two MulesOther social enterprises and social economy organisations present were:- Littlegate Farm, Hastings Furniture Service, Hastings Conquerors, Economic Change CIC, AmicusHorizon Housing Association, The Pier Trust, Electric Palace Cinema, East Sussex Social Issue Network, Autism East Sussex / Cafe des Arts, Gensing & Central St Leonards Community Forum, Rother Voluntary Action, Bexhill Big Local, Hastings Trust and Jericho Road.

The feeling nowadays is that the machine is broken. The NHS, what’s left of it, has been slowly dismantled through the Private Finance Initiative and outsourcing core services to private companies. Our comprehensive education system is rapidly being sold off, school by school, to private companies under the guise of being run as academies, and free schools are forming at a similar speed. Neither academies nor free schools have to teach the National Curriculum nor employ qualified teachers. We no longer feel connected to our public services due to the current government’s stealthy approach of selling every last remaining service in aid of that elusive white elephant named ‘austerity.’ Meanwhile the elite 1% continue to draw their salaries and bonuses…

So social entrepreneurs, as distinct from private entrepreneurs, are people who have an idea for a not-for-profit, social model of doing something to meet a social need.  Many public sector workers who have been victims of recent local and national government spending cuts are taking the reins and meeting social needs that they know all too well still exist, but for which the funding has been removed and placed elsewhere.

It’s an exciting time, but also a risky one – how can a social enterprise be sure that the need they’re meeting is real and sustainable? That remains to be seen, but the presence of so many talented and motivated individuals to make our community a more vibrant, caring and dynamic one can only give the most cynical of political beasts that all-elusive element: Hope.

The next gathering for local social enterprises and social economy organisations will hopefully be in October and the organisers of the event are intending to develop an online networking tool. If you would like to be kept in touch with developments please contact one of the following:-

Dave Hinton, Hastings Works, 01424 205360

Steve Manwaring, Hastings Voluntary Action, 01424 444010

Cat Denning, Hastings Borough Council, 01424 451986

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Posted 17:50 Wednesday, Aug 7, 2013 In: Campaigns

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