Monday, May 20, 2024

Whatever happened to Social Firms England?

When I first started working in the social economy (a time before the likes of Social Enterprise UK, Locality, and Unltd), there were already some well established bodies - including what become known as Social Firms UK.

It emerged in the 1990s, when there were a series of European funded programmes across the country that explored how businesses could create and sustain employment for people with a disability as part of their ongoing business model - at that time, a revolutionary concept.

And it its early years, it undertook pioneering research, lobbying, and policy work that's influenced the rules we see today that mean there's greater recognition and support in the workplace for people with disabilities; quality standards such as the disability confident employer; and also that bodies such as Social Enterprise UK now exist (Social Firms UK was one of its founding members).

Ultimately, it's responsible for the recognition that a legitimate purpose for any social enterprise is to create and sustain employment for people who find themselves disadvantaged and discriminated against in the labour market through no fault of their own or choosing (the 'social firm' model of social enterprise). It also amassed an enviable resource library of case studies, research, and guides, for any 'social firm'; were involved in some of the first national programmes to deliberately create social franchise models to help scale the reach and impact of the sector; and also developed one of the first national sector toolkits for reporting social impact.

But in recent years, its fortunes have waned - it launched its own accreditation standard, the Social Firms Star, which few enterprises adopted; and as part of the devolution agenda, separated itself into Social Firms England, Social Firms Scotland, and Social Firms Wales.

I realised recently that I'd not had anything land in my inbox from Social Firms England for a few months, so looked them up, only to find that it has been dissolved in March 2023 - with no announcement to their email list, social media pages, or any other media outlet. Looking at their last accounts, it seems that it had increasingly struggled financially to be able to maintain itself.

Across the other regions, Social Firms Scotland merged with SenScot (the Social Enterprise Network for Scotland) in 2021, although SenScot itself now seem to be struggling on the basis of their last filed accounts, and that their website domain is no longer is use?;

however Social Firms Wales still seems to be actively continuing to offer support to the social firms model of social enterprises.   

So I'm left wondering, whatever happened to Social Firms England - it was one of the pioneers of the modern landscape of the social enterprise ecosystem today, and also held a lot of valuable research, knowledge and learning that would still be of interest to individual ventures, as well as bodies looking to better support the sector as a whole.

Does anyone know where those resources may now reside, and why, unlike with other social enterprise infrastructure bodies, there was no announcement, reflection, or celebration of the impact it had had on the wider sector over its lifetime? 

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