Social Enterprise awards 2014: Recognising the champions of give, not take

A chance to celebrate the positive role business plays in society
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The Independent Online

She may be a businesswoman but June O'Sullivan is not motivated by profit.

As chief executive of childcare charity the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) since 2006, she has enabled thousands of the poorest families in London to get access to good-quality childcare, a key service for those struggling to escape the poverty trap. A report by the progressive think-tank the Institute for Public Policy Research earlier this year found that half a million mothers were unable to work because of the cost of childcare.

Under Ms O'Sullivan's leadership the LEYF has more than trebled the size of its operation to become one of the biggest social enterprises in the UK, with a turnover of £10.4m. It now plans to spread its childcare-for-all model across the rest of the country.

Her achievement was recognised last week when she was declared Social Enterprise Women's Champion at the 16th Social Enterprise UK awards, sponsored by The Independent on Sunday and presented by Sue Perkins. The UK now has more than 70,000 social enterprises, contributing more than £24bn a year to the economy. They are businesses with a social or environmental mission, ranging from consumer products to community services such as the LEYF.

"I was completely and utterly shocked," Ms O'Sullivan said. "I saw the shortlist of people and thought the idea of me winning is as far off as the man on the moon.

"I was, and still am, lost for words, but of course I'm humbled."

The LEYF was founded in 1903 as a central London-based charity but has expanded rapidly during the past few years. It now operates 29 nurseries across the capital, looking after more than 3,000 children – nearly half of whom receive free or subsidised places.

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The One to Watch Award went to Monwel Ltd, who produce signs and provides employment to people with disabilities

A 30th nursery opens in January and Ms O'Sullivan hopes to expand by licensing franchises in cities such as Liverpool and Birmingham.

"I think that would show social enterprises can be the way forward," she said. "A sustainable method which provides affordable childcare that doesn't entirely rely on government subsidies."

The success of the LEYF resulted in the Government asking Ms O'Sullivan for advice on devising its early-years childcare legislation. She has also been praised by Unicef for campaigning to improve child welfare policy.

Peter Holbrook, Social Enterprise UK chief executive, said the awards were "a celebration of Britain's very best social enterprises". He added: "Competition was tougher than ever this year and the shortlist was bursting with inspiring examples of how businesses can have a positive impact – the winners deserve to be widely recognised and celebrated."

The winners

Overall Social Enterprise of the Year (sponsored by RBS)

Divine Chocolate

The only Fairtrade chocolate company part-owned by its cocoa farmers, who invest some of its profits back into their communities.

One to Watch (sponsored by the British Council)

Monwel

Monwel produces signs and provides employment to people with disabilities, with 32 full-time employees on their books, 96 per cent of whom are disabled.

Social Impact Award (sponsored by PwC)

Furnishing Lives (FRC Group)

FRC Group redistribute unwanted, good-quality furniture to those in need and give people in poverty and unemployment the opportunity to change their lives by running a commercial business.

Buy Social Market Builder (sponsored by ExterionMedia)

City of London Corporation (CoL)

CoL spent over £800,000 with social enterprises in the last financial year.

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The Inspiring Youth Enterprise Award went to Firstport & Icecream Architecture, who help young people in Glasgow regenerate local high streets

Invest Deal of the Year (sponsored by the Co-operative Bank)

Ethex & PEC Renewables

Ethex and PEC Renewables rallied investors and local authorities to raise £600,000 in social investment, funding solar panel installations to tackle fuel poverty in Plymouth.

Health & Social Care Social Enterprise (sponsored by Bates Wells Braithwaite)

Social adVentures

The Salford-based group helps companies to deliver public-health and social-care contracts, supporting 3,000 of the local community's most vulnerable people last year.

Consumer Facing Social Enterprise (sponsored by Johnson & Johnson)

Belu

Belu is the UK's most ethical bottled water, donating all of its profits to the charity WaterAid. Its contribution helps the organisation provide access to clean, safe water for roughly 40,000 people in developing countries.

Education, Training & Jobs Social Enterprise (sponsored by Wates Group)

PM Training

This Staffordshire social enterprise provides work for young people. It is the largest provider of apprenticeships for 16 to 18-year-olds in the country, with 75 per cent securing jobs afterwards.

Environmental Social Enterprise (sponsored by SITA)

Kilsyth Community Market Garden, trading as Kelvin Valley Honey

Kelvin Valley Honey has helped increase Scotland's honey-bee population by almost 30 million, as well as providing 100 marginalised people with income and employment.

Inspiring Youth Enterprise Award (sponsored by Real Ideas Organisation)

Firstport & Icecream Architecture

Firstport supports start-up social entrepreneurs across Scotland. Together with Icecream Architecture, they help young people in Glasgow regenerate local high streets.

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