Social enterprises that have received investment from our Somerset Social Enterprise Fund reveal a wider story about the course of the coronavirus pandemic.
On the one hand, the community-owned shops and pubs that we have supported in Roadwater, Oake, and latterly Stoke St Gregory, and the food box scheme organised by Root Connections in the Mendips, have provided invaluable services to their communities. By stepping up and taking ownership of their local services when they were under threat, these communities have ensured that vital support and social contact has been possible at a time when it has never been needed more, and we are proud to have been part of their story.
However, the other side of the coin can be seen in the organisations that we have invested in that rely on other forms of retail or give people access to arts and culture.
The arts organisations we have invested in have important social roles in their respective communities, but they rely on bringing people together, often in large numbers. For the past twelve months (March 2020 - March 2021) they have not been able to function in their normal ways, and while many have found ways to bring the arts to people in their own homes, it has been very difficult to generate any income.
The arts will have a vitally important role to play in our lives as we increasingly return to normal. We are lucky, in Somerset, to have such a vibrant arts and culture sector.
With the support of the Access Foundation’s Growth Fund, funded by the Big Lottery Community Fund and Somerset County Council, we are pleased to have been able to provide almost £40,000 of financial support to help a number of our investees. This, and our willingness to suspend repayments for the hardest hit investees - which has saved them over £35,000 since March 2020 - is helping them move towards a brighter future. In fact one social enterprise told us that our support has made the difference between “sinking or swimming” while another used our grant to provide services to hundreds of young people in a local town, services that would normally be subsidised by their trading profits.
As we rebuild our communities and our economy, social enterprise will have an increasingly important role to play in Somerset. As the leading local social investor for our county, we know how important it is to do what we can to help nurture and grow the sector for all our futures.