Special report on social entrepreneurship: The golden legacy of the Copper Box

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Sarah Morrison hears a sports foundation’s plans for an iconic Olympic venue as it reopens this week

To sports fans worldwide it became known as the “box that rocks” and quickly became one of the most visually arresting venues of the London Olympics. But after the games, the legacy of the Copper Box was uncertain. Private companies scrabbled to secure the contract to run the third-largest indoor venue in the capital, which had hosted handball, modern pentathlon fencing and the Paralympic goalball competition.

But its fate will not rest with big, profit-hungry corporations. Instead it, and a healthy slice of the Olympic legacy, will be managed by one of Britain’s largest social enterprises. Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL), the largest provider of public sport and leisure facilities in the UK, will reopen the Copper Box on Saturday, and run it for the next decade. It will also manage the Olympic Aquatics Centre, in a contract that will provide more than 250 new jobs and 86 apprenticeships a year.

This is not surprising – GLL already runs more than 115 public leisure centres across the country, with 6,000 staff and 45 million visits to its centres each year. But what is unusual is the fact that this business calls itself a “charitable social enterprise.” In short, this means the profits from its £126m annual turnover are ploughed straight back into the running of the business; training its staff, providing new jobs and ensuring low-cost prices for the communities it serves. GLL is employee-owned and its staff – including lifeguards, directors and receptionists – can run its board.

It also runs one of the largest sporting foundations for young people in the UK – providing grants or training bursaries for 1,300 promising athletes across 28 regions. More than 50 of their athletes competed in the games last year.

Sally Gunnell, the champion hurdler and the GLL Sport Foundation’s patron, told The IoS that “all these facilities could easily have folded or crumbled”. “It’s expensive to join sports centres, or use facilities, and often young people can’t afford to,” she said. “What these guys [GLL] are doing is keeping people in sport at a really crucial point, at 15 or 16, allowing them to carry on.”

Peter Bundey, GLL’s deputy managing director and chair of the sport foundation, said: “The private sector cherry-picks the profit-making stuff [gym memberships] and leaves the non-profitable [athletics stadiums] to rot. This doesn’t provide a balanced outcome for sport and physical activity. We match social outputs with business outputs.”

GLL is not the only social enterprise in the park. A café will be operated by the Camden Society and Unity Kitchen – a chain that channels its profits into funding training and apprenticeships for people with learning disabilities. A spokesperson said: “We aim to show that social enterprise can make a serious contribution to the Olympic legacy.”

Help choose a worthy winner

The Independent on Sunday is sponsoring the UK Social Enterprise Awards 2013 and has its very own award to make: the Social Enterprise Champion Award. If you know an exceedingly talented individual working to improve society – either in a social enterprise or in a public or corporate organisation – then please nominate them at www.independent.co.uk/enterprisechampion and download the form, or send an email to socialenterprise@independent.co.uk before Friday 6 September. Your nominee could have created positive change in communities by demonstrating socially entrepreneurial skills or they may simply have shone a light on the sector and the work that it does. The award will be presented on Wednesday 27 November.

Click here to download the application form

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
New Articles
i100... with this review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam