Social business programme launches across the Highlands and Islands

Dr Sam Harrison, from the The Shieling Project working with local kids
Dr Sam Harrison, from the The Shieling Project working with local kids

People with a business idea that will benefit their local community or environment will soon have access to a new programme of support, being launched across the Highlands and Islands.

Known as the Social Start-Up School, the innovative programme will be delivering four locally focused initiatives. The first, in Sutherland, is open for applications, others will be in the Outer Hebrides, Wester and Easter Ross.

The Start-Up School is open to anyone with a social business idea, regardless of age, education or employment. The School will support individuals to develop their social business idea, providing them with the business knowledge, skills and most importantly the confidence to take it forward.

The Start-Up School is part of the Support Network for Social Entrepreneurs (SuNSE), an Interreg North West Europe partnership project. The School is funded by Interreg North West Europe, run by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and delivered by the Social Enterprise Academy.

Helen Lavery, senior project manager at HIE, said: “Social businesses are a really progressive model. They trade like any other business, but at their core they have a social purpose, trading for social, community and environmental benefits. Our Start-Up school is all about taking support to our rural communities, harnessing and supporting enterprising activity, it will be really exciting to see the range of business ideas that develop over the project.”

“The expertise, experience and network that Social Enterprise Academy and SuNSE bring to the Start-Up School is an invaluable resource, one that will drive ideas and businesses forward.

“A programme like this is beneficial to not just the individuals taking part, but also to the wider community.”

Social enterprises are big business. Over 80,000 jobs are supported by the sector in Scotland and it contributes £2bn Gross Value Added (GVA).  Around a third of Scotland’s social enterprises are in rural areas. There are more than 1,100 in the Highlands and Islands. Start-Up School aims to encourage individuals to look at social business models that will allow them to create ambitious enterprises within their local communities.

The overall SuNSE programme will result in a unique transnational network of collaborative organisations from the UK, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and France, all working together to support social entrepreneurs and each other, a partnership that will continue well beyond the lifetime of the project.

An existing social entrepreneur, who is at the forefront of community driven economic activity is Dr Sam Harrison. He founded The Shieling Project in Struy near Beauly in 2013.

Sam said:“Social businesses are a great model that allow you to contribute to your community while also operating a business. It gives you a strong sense of purpose and is truly rewarding when you see how your community benefits from your work.

“Often social entrepreneurs begin with a real passion but are less clear on the business elements.

The Shieling Project is a social business success story: in 2015 revenue income was just over £3,000, and now, in 2019 it is reaching a revenue of just under £100,000.

Sam continued: “Being given support and advice to ensure you are on the right track is vital. Start-Up School is something that will steer people in the right direction and make sure what they want to achieve has a viable future.”

The fully funded, 18-month Start-Up School aims to retain and attract ambitious people, by offering them supportive learning environments in areas such as business planning, sourcing investment, market awareness and commercialising opportunities, essential skills required when setting up a business. The resulting enterprises not only create career opportunities for the people taking part, but will regenerate communities, through job creation and delivery of products and services vital the community. 

Participants will receive 1-2-1 support from social business experts and will become part of a Europe-wide network of peers. The 18-month journey with Start-Up School will leave the social entrepreneurs with a well-developed business plan, appropriate commercial skills, market awareness and a network of support agencies to help them into the future.

Applications are now being accepted for the Sutherland School, classes begin in October 2019.

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