Celebrating community businesses

20 Dec 2021

Screenshot of online programme graduation - lots of smiling faces!

There are some benefits of online events.  Our teams brought together 54 community business leaders from across England to celebrate completing our Community Business Trade Up programme.

In its fifth year, the Community Business Trade Up Programme, run in partnership with Power to Change, has been transformative for over 300 community businesses so far. The programme supports community-focused organisations in their early stages to grow their impact and resilience. It aims to help them diversify and increase income from trading, be less grant dependent and become sustainable. We do this through a learning programme and Match Trading grant of up to £10,000.

  • Over three quarters of the community businesses in the 2021 cohort are working in the 30% most deprived communities in the UK.
  • Half are run by or are working with people from marginalised, racialised or minoritised communities.

In true School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) style, we involved our talented bunch of community business leaders in the online celebration. It was an opportunity to reflect, celebrate impact, share learnings, and thank our students, staff, funders and partners.

Impact of the programme

Fouzia Ali, from Roshni Community Cafe gave us a brilliant review on the impact the programme has had for the 54 business leaders who took part.

“We have increased our trading income by more than double in this year to date. We have gone from a team of 2 to 5 and are now running a third more workshops that we were, even during pre-pandemic times!”

Ari Cantwell, Coexist Community Kitchen (Bristol)

“We have increased from 12 to 16 staff members, and we have increased our turnover over 80% from our highest ever year (in our 17-year existence)!”

Rebecca Friel, OddArts (Manchester)

“Participating on the CBTU programme has really helped us define and now shape our business so that we can get on with building upon our impact. We have been able to step back, review and focus. We didn’t realise how powerful this could be.”

Caspar Kennerdale, ClearCommunity Web (London)

Action Learning insight

Keiran Leigh Oliver, from Human Roots Community Garden, gave us a great insight into how Action Learning has improved resilience and given people the chance to step outside the business.

“What I liked the most is the sharing of experiences between the organisations participating and trying to suggest solutions to some of the problems.”

Sundus Aljomaat, An-Noor Arabic Language School (Plymouth)

New sector-specific learning and networking days

Fin Irwin, from Into Bodmin, talked about the sector specific learning and networking days that took place on this year’s programme.  Groups included health and wellbeing; community centres, sports and activities; all around the food; creativity and communication; and supporting growth.

Fin said: “Being able to share ideas, network and be inspired by people working in similar sectors across the country was invaluable.”

Mixing poetry with grant innovation

Michelle Kelly, from A Father’s Child Services CIC, gave a unique insight into Match Trading®, the incentivised grant that students get as part the programme, using the power of poetry.

She recited several poems including this limerick by Jamie Gratton, Staywell Derby CIC:

There once was a CIC who wanted to learn about trading,

A new social enterprise that needed aiding,

The weird and wacky team from SSE

Jumped in for support,

And now they have an increase in trading.

The magical value of the cohort

Shelly Quinton-Hulme, Friends of Victoria Park, Stretford, told us how the support from the group gave people confidence, friendship and how we need community and people to collaborate.

Shelly said: “It gave us a forum to share knowledge and our experience in a supportive, friendly way.  It was a pick me up and an affirmation of what we are doing.

“Since the start of, and directly because of the programme, I have gained over 15 new friends who have become a fantastic support network for this business.”

Ali Wilson, SSE chief executive said:

“Congratulations to a wonderful group of people who are driving change across the country.  It’s tough building a community business and you’ve built bonds for life and will no doubt continue to support each other.

“Graduation point can be a bit scary.  But this isn’t the end of your relationship with SSE.  When you graduate you become an SSE fellow where you benefit from future learning events and funding through our Social Partners scheme.

“Stay networked with each-other and with SSE.”

Tim Davies-Pugh, Power to Change director of strategy and programmes:

“Our partnership with SSE is so much more than a funder relationship, it’s a partnership that runs deep. We want it to continue and develop over future years.

“The Community Business Trade Up programme encapsulates the essence of Power to Change – that communities have the power to transform where they live and they do this via sustainable community businesses”


We ended with a singalong, led by Rachel Waite, from Holistic Harmonies CIC, a Liverpool based choir.  Fortunately, Rachel was kind enough to keep us all on mute whilst we sung our hearts out.

The song When we come into our calling, by Laurence Cole was about finding your purpose.  A perfect end to a memorable event.