The UK Social Enterprise Awards took place at the end of last year, shining a spotlight on some of the country’s leading social enterprises. The winners were a real reflection of the strength and diversity of the social enterprise movement, which continued to deliver for people and planet, in spite of the pressures placed on businesses by the ongoing cost of living crisis.

One of the 15 awards categories was  for the social investment deal of the year, recognising the important role of social investment in supporting and growing the social enterprise sector. The Award was won by the Refugee Better Outcomes Partnership (RBOP) and Bridges Outcomes Partnership for a social outcomes contract supporting people seeking refuge out of the asylum system and into communities. RBOP is a social enterprise which co-ordinates a partnership of delivery organisations that  support people on the programme  with employment, housing and community integration.

The positive role of social investment was by no means limited to the organisations which were shortlisted for the Social Investment Deal of the Year with many award winners having made use of social investment to grow their businesses and increase their impact. We spoke to three winners about their use of social investment and what it has helped them achieve.

Hey Girls – winner of the Tech for Good, Technology Social Enterprise of the Year 

Hey Girls CIC

Celia Hodgson – Founder and CEO

Tell us a bit about Hey Girls 

Hey Girls is the UK’s only social enterprise donating every penny of its profits to eradicating period poverty. We are all about levelling the playing field and improving period dignity while achieving period equality. Our work with partner businesses has helped us donate almost 30 million boxes of period products to vulnerable people since 2018. 

What kind of social investment have you taken on?

Social investment is hugely important to not-for-profits like us – and so we were very pleased to receive support through Big Issue Invest, Social Investment Scotland and UnLtd to help us achieve our growth goals.

What did taking on social investment allow you to do?

So much of our growth comes thanks to social investments like these. The UnLtd funding in particular helped us open a second pack and dispatch hub in England, helping further our reach and support more people across the UK. Having loan support from Big Issue Invest to fund our manufacturing pipeline and acquire new stock and fuel further growth is a huge help in achieving our mission.

What’s your top tip for an organisation looking to take on social investment?

Be prepared to have all your numbers in a row and be able to ask and answer robust financial questions. Take your time as these investments are so important.   

People Place and Participation Ltd – Flo’s the Place in the Park - winner of the place-based social enterprise award

Flos in the Park

Annie Davy – Founder 

Tell us a bit about Flo’s?

People Place and Participation Ltd was formed on the back of local campaign in 2018 to keep a decommissioned children’s centre in community use.  The vision was to create a Community Enterprise Hub that would support the local economy and provide a place for people to Meet, Eat, Learn, Play and Connect.  Four years on this community hub has become the much loved ‘Flo’s – the Place in the Park with a  thriving café, nursery, refill shop and rooms for a range of community services  or for local people to hire. Over four years we have created 46 new local jobs, provided childcare for over 250 families and increased our turnover from £25K in year one to over £1 million in 2023 – that’s £1 million that stays in the local economy employing and serving local people!

What kind of social investment have you taken on?

Our social investment was a £50K community shares raise which also produced the first members of our Charitable Community Benefit Society. We worked with the funding platform ETHEX. Coop UK ‘boosted’ our share offer with £12000 investment. The shares are unsecured and are withdrawable.  We have been paying 2% annual interest. The majority of the funds came from 80 members with most investments being between £100 and £1000. 

What did taking on social investment allow you to do?

The social investment gave us some working capital to get going – without it or an alternative source we could not have done it.  As a community enterprise hub it was really important to engage the community actively in shared purpose and ownership - and the share offer really helped. Now the shares help us maintain a reasonable reserve.

What’s your top tip for an organisation looking to take on social investment?

Do lots of research and think about match for your form of governance and purpose.  As a charitable community benefit society, we have an asset lock which means some investors won’t consider us. A community share offer is a lot of work and not without costs but in our case it provided great benefits. There are lots of new ways to raise social investment these days and some great agencies who can help – and Good Finance website is great place to start! 

Low Carbon Hub winner of the Environmental Social Enterprise of the Year award 

Low Carbon Hub

Saskya Huggins - Social Impact Director, Low Carbon Hub

Tell us a bit about Low Carbon Hub?

The Low Carbon Hub is a social enterprise that’s out to prove it is possible to meet our energy needs in a way that’s good for people and good for the planet. 

What kind of social investment have you taken on?

We raise investment in the form of community shares to fund the capital costs of installing community-owned renewable energy in Oxfordshire. Between them our 1,755 investors have entrusted us with £10.2 million. Combined with a combination of short- and long term loans, plus grant funding, this has enabled us to install over £25 million worth of renewable generation projects including 48 rooftop solar arrays, a hydro on the Thames, and Ray Valley Solar, the largest community-owned solar park in the UK.

What did taking on social investment allow you to do?

Our portfolio can now generate over 24 GWh of green electricity each year – enough to power over 8,000 typical homes. Much of the electricity we generate is sold at a discount to the organisations that host our arrays on their roofs. Over the lifetime of our projects, we estimate that this will save our hosts £1,954,000 on their electricity bills – money that schools can spend on education rather than electricity. The installations also generate a sustainable income stream – an anticipated £15,500,000 in financial surpluses that we can use to support further carbon-cutting action on climate change over the lifetime of the projects.

What’s your top tip for an organisation looking to take on social investment?

People invest with their heads and their heart. You need a combination of both a robust business case and a compelling story about the difference you can make with their investment to get people passionate about your mission. 

In addition, auticon was the winner of both the Social Enterprise of the Year Award and the Social Enterprise Building Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Justice Award. Interestingly, they took on a loan from the global auticon group, alongside grant funding from Esmee Fairburn to kickstart their organisation. 

Explore more fantastic examples of social investment in action via our recent casestudies

Shehan Perera is the Content Manager at Social Enterprise UK