Margaret Elliott's creation of a kinder, more compassionate care service started in the 1970s from a small shop on a Sunderland high street. She and six other women started a co-operative selling food portions to older people and opened a day nursery with support for young mothers. Every job was rotated, from bookkeeping to floor-washing.
Four decades later, she employs 477 people, providing 11,943 hours of care a week to elderly and disabled people from centres across the city, and all her staff own a stake in the social enterprise.
Ms Elliott's work will be recognised this week when she joins the shortlist for the title of Women's Champion at this year's Social Enterprise Awards. She will find herself alongside campaigners such as Safia Minney, founder of the ethical clothing business People Tree.
Ms Elliott's company Sunderland Home Care Associates is now the largest independent provider of domiciliary care in the city, but she has clear memories of setting up that first co-operative. It was a "fantastic experience", she recalls, and one that got her "hooked on that way of working". She says that she saw a change in the women she worked with as a result of sharing the business with them. "They seemed more self-assured and confident."
Although her organisation started as a women-only business, staff today are mixed and the service reaches out to elderly and learning-disabled men and women with complex needs. "Men like other men to help them with their baths and talk about football," she says.
A decade ago, Ms Elliott set up a service to propagate her co-operative model in the North and there are now similar care centres in Newcastle, Manchester and Liverpool.
In Sunderland, her business has continued to develop, providing care to tenants of social landlords, as well as spawning a host of micro social businesses that support people in their own homes, offering services such as car washing, dog walking and crafts.
Other women on the category shortlist include Theresa Burton, co-founder of the charity and social enterprise funding platform Buzzbnk, and Andrea Coleman, founder of Riders for Health, which brings healthcare to remote communities by motorcycle and reaches 14 million people across sub-Saharan Africa.
Karen Mattison and Emma Stewart, founders of Timewise, are both recognised for creating a business that finds flexible work for young parents. Also nominated are: Jane Davis, director of The Reading Organisation, which uses reading groups to build stronger communities; June O'Sullivan, head of the nursery provider London Early Years Foundation; Becky John, founder of Who Made Your Pants?, a lingerie company that fights the exploitation of workers in developing countries; Servane Mouazan, managing director of Ogunte, which helps single women to become social entrepreneurs; Gina Rowlands, managing director of Bevan Healthcare, which offers medical treatment to asylum-seekers, refugees and the homeless; Alison Hill, of Caia Park Partnership, which works across age groups with residents in Wrexham, Wales; and Maeve Monaghan, head of NOW, which helps young people in Northern Ireland move into employment.
Winners of the 2014 Social Enterprise Awards will be announced on 26 November. The judging panel includes Independent on Sunday editor, Lisa Markwell.Reuse content