£150,000 injection helps nine NE social enterprises Think Big

A florist employing ex-offenders and recovering addicts, a wood re-use and recycling centre and a fleet of mopeds for people to get to work are just a few of the ideas that have earned 9 social enterprises or charities from across the North East a place on a new £150,000 social enterprise growth development programme to encourage them to Think Big.

The Think Big programme was launched on Tuesday 3rd July at Big Lottery Fund’s office, and will be delivered by GLT Partners, a new social support agency based in the North East on behalf of the Key Fund, with funding from Big Lottery Fund and the Virgin Money Foundation. The nine-month programme will offer one-to-one support from GLT Partners Directors, access to specialist mentors and attendance at five full day Masterclasses on developing a product, marketing, growth, investment and avoiding burnout. The Masterclass morning sessions will be open to other North East based social enterprises and charities looking to grow, launch new products or services and will feature guest speakers who are expert in their field.


The successful projects are:

Carers Northumberland ­– Northumberland, improves the lives of carers by responding to their needs, helping them access information, advice and support, reducing social isolation and empowering carers to have a voice. Their project: To buy a portfolio of holiday homes for rent to carers and the public, to generate income for the charity.


Chilli Studios – Newcastle upon Tyne, a creative arts studio based in Newcastle upon Tyne where volunteers, peers and staff support people with deteriorating mental health towards recovery. Their project: To support their business incubator ‘Chilli Seed’ project, where Studio Members develop start up creative initiatives to earn income for the Studio and access earned money through grants.


Cornerstone ­– County Durham, a charity that houses homeless people, helping them to stability through offering work in their furniture building workshop, which also trains young people excluded from or unable to attend school. Their project: They aim to expand and purchase their own warehouse.


FIRST Breakthrough – Gateshead, a new youth-led recruitment agency that will connect 16-30 year olds to work experience, entry level jobs and qualifications. Their project: They aim to launch the service and provide a sound operational base to expand from.


House of Objects – North Tyneside, collects good reusable waste from business, industry and the public and distributes this to 100’s of schools and community groups across the region, inspiring children’s creativity. Their project: They aim to scale up and increase their impact by creating a purpose-built regional centre.


Newcastle Wood Recycling CIC – Newcastle upon Tyne, offers volunteer and training opportunities in their local business waste wood collection service. The wood is sold on either for DIY and firewood, or after being turned into furniture & garden products in their workshop. Their project: They aim to improve their facilities including space to hire, offer more creative studio space and workshops; extend their volunteer programme and provide accredited training in woodwork, retail, admin, marketing & sales. 


Oasis Aquila Housing – Gateshead/Sunderland, a Christian homelessness charity that provides supported housing, crisis services, domestic abuse victim services and supports employability. Their project: They aim to geographically expand ‘Basis Beds’, which provides homeless people with a stable, suitable and high quality home environment and personal support to help combat issues causing their housing instability.


Recovery Connections – Middlesbrough, supports people with alcohol and drug addictions to recover and challenges stigma associated with addiction, employing staff and volunteers who are mostly in recovery themselves or family members. Their project: They aim to open a florist to provide work experience for the long-term unemployed and ex–offenders; and support their coffee bike project, which offers coffee in exchange for time and conversation, through selling their locally ground Recovery Roast blend, designed by their clients.


Wheels to Work – County Durham, provides mopeds to help people to attend work, college or training. Their project: They aim to buy or lease a fleet of 100+ mopeds to fund and expand their service.


Dave Thornett, business development manager, Key Fund explains why they are really happy to be launching the Think Big programme with support from Virgin Money Foundation and The Big Lottery Fund: ‘Starting a business is challenge enough without having to create social impact as well. The Think Big programme is designed to give organisations the best chance to succeed by giving them tailored support and guidance from the beginning.’                                                                                                                       

Nancy Doyle-Hall, executive director, Virgin Money Foundation explains why they are supporting the initiative, ‘We’ve seen that many charities have great ideas for developing income generating social enterprises, but they often require additional work and refinement to make them sustainable. The Think Big programme will provide this investment of time and expertise before a social venture is brought to market. We are very excited to be supporting the programme and look forward to watching the participants ideas take flight.’