Transformative £2.5m investment programme empowers Bristol’s social enterprises and unveils further £1.3m investment fund

An innovative programme created to develop stronger and more sustainable social enterprises in Bristol is poised to launch a second round of funding and support, injecting a further £1.3m into the sector over the next 12 months.

First launched in 2021, the Bristol Local Access Programme has played an important role in supporting the growth of social enterprises in the city, providing around £2.5m funding in the form of small grants, repayable loans and business support to around 130 locally based social enterprises. 

Recognising the challenge faced by social enterprise models in securing traditional investment, the programme was established with funding from Access: The Foundation for Social Investment, aimed at rectifying this disparity and fostering more equitable access to finance.

It is managed by award-winning impact investment experts BBRC (Bristol & Bath Regional Capital) and underpinned by a partnership of five local organisations bringing a combination of expertise and support: Black South West Network, School for Social Entrepreneurs, Voscur, Ashley Community Housing and Street2Boardroom.

The programme works by creating bespoke investment packages comprising affordable repayable finance, small grants and tailored business development support and training. Its flexible and dynamic approach is tuned to the unique needs and growth trajectories of the individual enterprises.

As the programme embarks on its second phase from April 2024 to March 2025, there is a further £1.3m of funding available, also to be deployed as a mix of repayable finance and business support provided by the partners. Each of the partners has specific targets for the next year, which include:

  • Black South West Network will support 12-15 black and minoritized social enterprises to incubate, accelerate and increase the investment-readiness of their social enterprise
  • The School for Social Entrepreneurs will support 35 Bristol social enterprises, carry out diagnostics and needs assessments with 18 social enterprises, provide ten places on its nine-month Enterprise Learning Programme, and offer a match-traded grant of up to £5k
  • Voscur will provide a broad range of support including one-to-one bespoke support for 40 organisations, quarterly drop-in sessions for early-stage community enterprises, relationship brokering between organisations for mutual support, and a programme of learning and skills training.

Ed Rowberry, chief executive of BBRC, says: “Bristol is renowned for being an enterprising city with a vibrant business culture. However, it also grapples with significant inequality and unequal wealth distribution, exacerbating social issues in some communities, such as poverty, health disparity, inadequate transport connectivity and lack of housing.

“The Bristol Local Access Programme was conceived to recalibrate Bristol’s economic landscape, making it more equitable and inclusive, rather than just bigger, by investing in enterprises doing good particularly in areas grappling with the greatest inequality. By nurturing the city’s social economy, we aim to address these challenges head-on.

“We’ve seen great success with the first three years of the programme, and we’re delighted to embark on the next stage with a further £1.3m of investment and package of business support. We’re keen to hear from social enterprises in the city with ambitions to grow and a commitment to addressing Bristol’s inequalities.”

Organisations supported in the first phase include:

  • Bristol Digital Radio CIC: A Bristol-born start-up social enterprise. It has been awarded spectrum by Ofcom to operate digital audio broadcasting (DAB) radio multiplexes covering the greater Bristol area to protect access for community radio. Supported through the LAP with funding of £70k to purchase and install digital audio broadcasting radio transmission infrastructure.
  • Ambition Community Energy CIC: A fully owned subsidiary and project of Ambition Lawrence Weston. It was created to develop and build a large-scale community-owned onshore wind turbine, thereby helping the generation of renewable energy with additional community benefit. It was supported with early stage funding of £750k into the project, of which £150k has been fully repaid.
  • All on Board Bristol CIC and Eco First Bristol: Both the brainchild of a local social entrepreneur supported by the Local Access Partnership, specifically through the Social Enterprise Incubator programme run by Black South West Network. The programme has provided them with a nine-month customised programme of support and 1:1 mentoring, networking and desk space at the incubator hub. 
  • True Talk Africa CIC: It seeks to develop holistic narratives about Sub-Saharan Africa in England and Wales, particularly to children and young people. It has also been supported through Black South West Network’s Social Enterprise programme, providing business development and planning support, as well as connecting it with other likeminded CICs.

Anyone interested in finding out more about the Bristol Local Access Programme can visit the website at https://bab-rc.uk/local-access-programme/  or email [email protected].

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