Social enterprises – trading in lockdown and beyond

Helen Oparinde, Development Officer in VAL’s Voluntary Sector Support team considers the impact of lockdown on the social enterprise trading model and ways forward for future sustainability.

The social enterprise trading model as outlined in the Social Enterprise Mark, is based on the principle of aiming to earn 50% or more of your income from trading within 3 years of setting up. At the same time there is a commitment to spending at least 51% of any profits on achieving social or environmental purposes, in contrast to commercial organisations who principally trade to maximise benefits for shareholders and owners.

Save Our Social Enterprises

A collaborative campaign called Save Our Social Enterprises by organisations such as Social Enterprise UK highlights the gap in current government support measures for our sector, and they have written to the Chancellor asking for such things as existing business grants being extended to include social enterprises. They highlight how social enterprises employ those furthest from the labour market, stating that many of of these workers will struggle to find employment if the social enterprises they work for close.

Following the Charity Commission guidance, many charities also lawfully trade as part of their mix of income. This is sometimes within their existing structure or with a trading subsidiary such as a charity shop or café, most of which have had to temporarily close due to the lockdown.

Therefore we recommend that the local Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector gets behind the campaign and adds their influence to it.

Entrepreneurial spirit

The people involved in social enterprises have the mindset and entrepreneurial spirit to adapt to change, which for many means they won’t let the pandemic stop their aspirations to making a difference to their communities.

For example, Warwick Bridge Corn Mill have put on hold their implementation plan to open a bakery and instead responded to COVID-19 by starting flour production.

VAL is seeing that spirit first hand and is promoting the support services during COVID-19 that are being delivered by local charities and social enterprises.

Embracing innovation and continuous improvement

A key part of entrepreneurial spirit is to embrace innovation and continuous improvement. We have come up with some suggestions to help you along the way.

Switching to an online service: Digital Socent has produced a virtual workbook which covers adapting and funding this change of approach to service delivery.

Refreshing your social enterprise business model: The Dragonfly Collective has carried out some research with Cass Business School to produce a social enterprise business model toolkit. It tips and tools include how to combine social impact and profit creation.

Raising new capital for a new trading idea: Stir to action, has a webinar on 24 June covering the topic Community Shares: Raising the Right Type of Finance For Your Community Venture.

Have some capital to tide you over: Social Investment Business has a Resilience and Recovery Loan Fund for social enterprises and charities who are experiencing disruption to their normal business model as a result of COVID-19.

Keep communicating: It’s important to continue to communicate as a board of directors or a trustee board. Our virtual trustee meeting blog might give you some ideas on how to do this.

Finally make sure you are signed up to our Voluntary Sector Support newsletter. We aim to keep you updated with new ideas and solutions. Send us a message if you would like help with your social enterprise trading model. Use the support for your voluntary organisation option in the reason for contact dropdown box.

Get support from VAL

If you are a charity or community group and you need additional support to deliver services during the pandemic, VAL is here to help.

We can offer advice on issues that affect charities, from fundraising to proper governance and managing volunteers.

You get can in touch via:
0116 257 5050

Helen Oparinde

Helen Oparinde is a Development Officer for VAL as part of the Voluntary Sector Support team. Helen is an expert in charity governance and provides face-to-face and telephone advice to local charities and community groups. You can contact Helen at