What’s all this ‘social enterprise’ stuff then?

Posted by: on Aug 22, 2013 | No Comments

A funny thing happened on the way to, er, opening a bike cafe. We accidentally became a business-people. That wasn’t really the idea. The idea was to do something all fluffy and fun and, well, a bit Bristol. (As opposed to those bike cafes in fancy London and the like.)

But it turns out that no matter how important your values are, and how much you want to achieve something socially useful, if you spend more than you earn you will quickly disappear down the poop pipe. And you’ll be taking your investors’ money with you, which is not a good look.

Let’s have a little recap. Roll for the Soul is a Community Interest Company. That’s a type of limited company, but not-for-profit. So we try to make more money that we spend (on rent, wages, stock and all the rest), but anything we have left after paying the bills has to be spent on our social aims. (More of them in a sec.)  Unlike conventional limited companies there’s no owner. We have directors, who are responsible for all the legal stuff ‘n’ that, but we can’t take money out of the company no matter how well we do. We can only ever get our salary, and that’s regulated to make sure we don’t take the piss.

So we’re a social enterprise. That’s not a legal term, but one pretty widely accepted definition is a company that spends at least 50% of its surplus (or profit) on the social good. We’ll spend 100% of ours that way – when we make any – so we fit pretty neatly into that box.

So what is ‘the social good’? For us, it’s captured by our five social aims, and these are they.

  • Help more people enjoy the benefits of cycling, promoting it as fun, healthy, affordable and sustainable
  • Provide a home for Bristol’s cycling community, celebrating and supporting our unique cycling culture
  • Enable Bristol’s cycling community to advocate more effectively
  • Support other cycling social enterprises however we can, including financially
  • Pay a living wage in an excellent working environment, and offer employment opportunities to people who might otherwise struggle to find them

So when we occasionally manage to stop fretting about money and the billion little things that need improving, we think about how we’re doing on these things. And we try to remember that it’s a long game. We’ve only been open eight weeks and actually we’re doing OK. We have provided a job for someone who came to the UK as an asylum seeker. We’ve hosted Bristol Cycle Festival and a load of Bristol Cycling Campaign meetings, let folks know about cycle infrastructure consultations and sent people up to the The Bristol Bike Project.  Which must count as advocacy and supporting other social enterprises. You’d have to ask the rest of the crew about the working environment, but they seem to be enjoying it. And everyone’s earning the living wage. So that’s all good.

But actually we’ve realised that being a social enterprise is about a lot more than just those specific social aims. It’s about the whole way we ‘do business’ (eurgh). It’s about only using organic dairy. It’s about buying our energy from Ecotricity. It’s about buying our food from Essential. It’s about serving Fairtrade organic coffee. It’s about paying people for their breaks (nope, not everyone does). It’s about doing all those things that we might get called hippies for doing. Like we care. As the song says: ‘We’ve gotta be PC, we’ve gotta be cruelty-free’. That’s how we roll.

Anyway, don’t worry, we won’t bang on about this stuff all the time because it is a bit dull and worthy and probably all most people want is a nice cuppa and somewhere to chat about bikes. And that is bloody great in itself. But if you are interested, do come and quiz us, or give us ideas, or hold us to account, OK? Good.