Survival, hibernation, diversification, transformation, and collaboration are some of the common themes that have emerged from a new report published on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the social enterprise sector in Wales.
Produced by Wales’ social enterprise support agencies, the COVID-19 report evaluates the response to the lockdown, the support the sector has received so far, the assistance it will need to re-build, and makes observations about future prospects and opportunities. Latest research for the sector shows there were over 3,000 social businesses operating in Wales in 2018/19, employing around 55,000 people and contributing over £3bn to the local economy.
Photo: Gwyn Roberts, chief executive of Galeri Caernarfon, inside the empty Galeri Creative Enterprise in the Victoria Harbour Area of Caernarfon.
Derek Walker, Chief Executive of the Wales Co-operative Centre and spokesperson for the Social Enterprise Stakeholder Group in Wales, said:
There’s no escaping the fact that the focus for the majority of established social enterprises in Wales during this pandemic, if not all, has been survival. A large number have had no choice but to enter ‘hibernation mode’.
Dealing with the consequences of lockdown has been a very stressful period for social businesses up and down the country, with some leaders finding it difficult to cope with the crisis, and it has taken its toll on their well-being.
Although we have all found the lockdown period extremely difficult, there have been a number a number of positive outcomes associated with this phase. We have seen people getting to know their local communities again and changing their purchasing habits with a more ‘buy local, buy social’ mentality.
We have also seen social enterprises managing to rapidly diversify their services and transform their businesses onto online platforms, developing online sales and payment systems; showing to all of us just how resourceful and innovative the sector can be in times of crisis.
Cardiff Salad Garden is a social enterprise which grows and sells high quality fresh cut salad leaves with the active participation of disadvantaged groups from in and around Cardiff. These mixed baby leaf salads are hand-picked to order, and normally sold to restaurants in Cardiff all year round.
Within days of the lockdown Cardiff Salad Garden had developed a new ordering system to enable the venture to survive and grow. They’ve been able to rapidly transform their business model and now the team are running a direct delivery service via bicycle to people’s homes. At the same time the social enterprise is maintaining a vital link between the vulnerable people that it supports, to look after their wellbeing.
The report found that many existing social enterprises had been able to access emergency funding and that business support had been readily available and well-coordinated. But there are many uncertainties and challenges highlighted within the report, with many social enterprises concerned about their future income. Emergency funding is likely to run out before income streams get back to levels seen pre-lockdown. As it stands, no one is certain how this gap will be bridged.
Galeri Caernarfon Cyf, established in 1992, is a not for private profit community enterprise operating as a development trust in the historic town of Caernarfon, Gwynedd. The company contributes more than £5 million per annum to the local economy. It employs over 50 members of full-time, part-time and seasonal staff and supports an additional 50 jobs in the local economy.
The Trust has also developed the flagship Galeri Creative Enterprise in the Victoria Harbour area of Caernarfon, housing a theatre, two cinema screens, 24 business office units, art space, rehearsal studios, conference and meeting rooms, and a café bar.
Galeri, like many other social enterprises in the cultural industries, has been significantly impacted by the Covid 19 crisis and has had to close all its facilities and offices. Most staff have been furloughed. It has applied for a range of interim grant and loan financial support through Welsh Government and the Arts Council of Wales.
Derek Walker added:
The Social Enterprise Stakeholder Group in Wales, which has come together to produce this report, will continue to work together to address the concerns raised by our clients and members about the ongoing impact of COVID-19. The group will continue to lobby and raise awareness of how critical social enterprises are during the COVID-19 crisis and how important the sector will be to rebuilding communities, as well as local, regional, and national economies.
What is clear is that in the longer term we need to ensure the continuity of funding for sector specific business support in Wales. The support provided should be flexible and pertinent to the needs of the social enterprise sector.
Input into to this report has been provided by the social enterprise support agencies that operate in Wales; Development Trusts Association Wales, UnLtd, Social Firms Wales, Coalfields Regeneration Trust, Welsh Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA) and Wales Co-operative Centre. Together these organisations provide a variety of general and specialist business support, mentoring and funding to the social enterprise sector in Wales and it is not unusual for social enterprises to access the support offered by more than one of these agencies.
The support agencies in Wales have all been in close contact with many of their members and clients during this time. A limited number of social enterprises have been contacted directly to obtain their viewpoint/concerns about what is happening on the ground and the support services that they have accessed.