Taking on social investment has been challenging, but valuable as it has required us to review our business strategy and financial discipline.
Portsoy Community Enterprise started life 25 years ago as the annual Scottish Traditional Boat Festival. Wanting to provide the community with something more than just a weekend event, the committee initiated a programme of traditional music tuition and boat building for primary and secondary school children. Both programmes proved very successful. It was then decided to develop an asset base which would make sustainability more of a practical reality. The organisation first obtained and restored the Salmon Bothy (now a highly successful museum and community facility), then a derelict building by the town’s harbour, restored to create the Boatshed (to house the ongoing programme of traditional boat building). It now also operates the town’s caravan park on a 60-year lease with Aberdeenshire Council and is about to open a 25 bed bunkhouse – The Sail Loft, developed in partnership with the North East of Scotland Preservation Trust at a cost of £1.8 million.
This all adds up to quite a significant social enterprise “business”. Now a limited company and registered charity, to meet the requirements all that entails, the board grew to include retired and working professionals with commercial and social backgrounds – a mix of skills which has proved highly effective. In common with many social enterprises, the board recognised the need to consider other routes than the traditional funding sources, including the high street banks and thus the exploration of social investment.
Ensuring we were making the right decisions
It must be said that the board’s collective knowledge of this route was minimal, but the help and advice given by Social Investment Scotland ensured swift understanding of the benefits – and the challenges. The key was recognising the need to have absolutely stringent control of the organisation’s finances and ensuring that every activity being undertaken was contributing to healthy sustainability. In other words, there was a need to have a refined business plan with clear strategy and tactics in place. There had been plans previously, but moving into social investment demanded that they were even more robust – and constantly reviewed. Having ensured this was all in place, the actual decision to proceed proved to be relatively straightforward.
Some advice based on our experience:
- Strive to have management which includes the right mix of experience.
- Ensure full understanding of what the social investment route entails: in common with all funding, “read the instructions” – and read them carefully.
- Undertake a review of your whole operation: what is sustainable and what isn’t; what is contributing effectively and what isn’t – and make decisions accordingly.
- Obviously pay attention to day to day needs - the tactics, but don’t take your eye off the long term – the strategy.
All horribly obvious, but not easily adhered to – and quite hard work! But without question, the increased discipline which social investment requires has made Portsoy Community Enterprise a better and stronger organisation.
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