Social enterprises, like the West London Collaborative, are businesses with a difference. They trade to tackle social problems, strengthen communities or improve people’s life chances, not just to make money. Like ordinary businesses, they make their money from selling goods and services. But they reinvest their profits back into the community to benefit local people.
If you have ever bought the Big Issue, paid for tickets to the Eden Project or shopped at the Co-op, you have helped a social enterprise help others. Social enterprises are becoming more and more common and can be found on nearly every high street – from coffee shops and cinemas, to pubs and leisure centres, banks and bus companies.
The origins of West London Collaborative as a social enterprise dates back to 2013. It was recognised then that service user involvement at West London Mental Health Trust was not working. An independent report found that involvement was failing because of a lack of dedicated funding and organisation. In response, the trust’s board committed to support effective and independent service user involvement long-term. Service users and carers agreed co-production was the future of service user involvement. They then voted in favour of a social enterprise – and more specifically a Community Interest Company or CIC – as being the best vehicle for ensuring an independent voice. West London Mental Health Trust was the Collaborative’s first client.
A CIC is one of a number of different possible legal frameworks for companies seeking to trade with a “social purpose,” rather than to just make a profit. They are normal companies with safeguards to prevent them being exploited for personal gain. But they are free from some of the burdensome regulation charities face when trading.