"Welcome to God’s country", said one delegate to me over lunch, and I did feel welcome indeed. I’ve been meaning for a while to write down my reflections on the Footsey 100, officially the largest Social Enterprise Trade Fair in the UK. Held in York, at the racecourse, this was the 6th Footsey (the ‘sey’ of which stands for social enterprise yorkshire) and it has increased in profile and numbers each year. This year, over 100 organisations were represented, with nigh on 6-700 delegates depending on who you spoke to.
Generally, the event had a great dynamism to it. Whether this was because it emphasises the ‘trade fair’ rather than ‘conference’ aspect of the event, or simply because there is so much going on in the region, I can’t say. But the buzz was palpable, and it was great to see the range of organisations and ventures on view: social firms, student-led initiatives, local-authority backed projects, regional CDFIs, CICs, development trusts of all sorts, shapes and sizes. Practitioners far outnumbered support agencies, funders and policymakers, which makes a big difference (learning, perhaps, for other large scale social enterprise events who shall remain nameless)…and the focus was on business and networking, not lectures.
Highlights for me? The Dragon’s Den, which is now seemingly a feature of every social enterprise event, was done as well as I’ve ever seen it. Genuine cash on the table (from Adventure Capital Fund), heavy metal music to whip up the atmosphere, and a presenter/host who took great (almost unhealthy) pleasure in announcing "THE NEXT VICTIM" at many decibels. The panel grilled effectively, and the pitches were varied and interesting (a dog-walking social enterprise was a new one on me)….congratulations to Pit Stop, who won the day for their re-use/regeneration of a plot of land for their alternative educational activities.
I also enjoyed running into Mike Chitty of the Progressive Manager’s Network, who’s doing some really interesting work at the Goodwin Development Trust (who’d won an Enterprising Solution award in London the evening before; amazing organisation simply getting things done). And Chris Hill and Kristy Swift at the Camberwell Project…I’d met their colleague Todd Hannula (and linked to his blog a few times), and it was great to hear about the building-related projects and activities they’re developing. And much more networking besides….
It was interesting to note that, despite the size of the event, no politicians were present (though Ed Miliband appeared through the power of video). But, in a sense, this was in keeping with the day: the event embodied a maturing, vibrant regional movement, and was a celebration and recognition of that. It needed no political figure to endow it with authority or credibility on the day.
Lowlights were few and far between, although the tannoy was capable of deafening a rhino at 50 paces at times, and lunch briefly threatened to turn into a scrum before the doors opened. But those were minor blips on a really encouraging, enlightening day. It provided a very different view, and refreshingly grounded contrast, to the awards the previous evening in London. This movement, though, encompasses and includes, in all regions of the UK, and is all the stronger for it.