Investment with a social mission
This is a guest blog by Mike Trace, Chief Executive of the Forward Trust.
We often talk about the entrepreneurial spirit and skills of ex-offenders, and organisations such as The Princes Trust and the School for Social Entrepreneurs have championed and demonstrated that potential. There are thousands of ex-offenders out there who have succeeded in pursuing a ‘career change’ – through setting up their own businesses, earning money, and employing others in the legitimate economy. These businesses range from sole trader operations to significant trading entities – my favourites are a major horticultural operation that supplies thousands of Christmas trees, and a catering enterprise that (amongst other things) sells burgers at Arsenal home matches and caters for posh Hampstead parties.
We at The Forward Trust run a couple of our own – a café in Hoxton and a grounds maintenance business in West London – and have plans to open a few more ‘recovery enterprises’ in the next couple of years. These are smallish businesses led and staffed by ex-offenders or people in recovery from drug/alcohol addiction.
But we have much bigger ambitions to stimulate the development of a greater number of these enterprises around the country by providing loan finance, business support and access to crowdfunding for ex-offenders or people in recovery with their own ideas. That’s why we have established the first social investment fund in the UK that is specifically focused on supporting businesses run by ex-offenders. It’s called the Forward Enterprise Fund, and was launched in 2018 with access to £2 million of investment funds, and a further £500,000 to fund business support. We aim to support up to 40 businesses over the next three years, and have already received 70 expressions of interest, and concluded deals for initial support with twelve businesses. Already, these entrepreneurs are busy working on their expansion plans and starting to coalesce into a network for personal and business support.
One such example is HMPasties, a not-for-profit social enterprise aiming to reduce re-offending by employing people with criminal convictions to produce baked goods, who have recently won the Heart of Salford Award for their mobile catering van that brings welcome food to local construction sites and other locations. Pink Umbrella Studios is another business started by an ex-offender that creates websites for UK registered charities and social enterprises at absolute minimum costs while training and employing prisoners. After receiving business support from the Forward Enterprise Fund, the start-up is about to take on investment.
We are constantly on the lookout for new applications from ex-offenders who need help with access to finance, or who just need the right business advice delivered at the right time by people who understand the challenges they face. Please get in touch – [email protected] – if you know of an individual business that may benefit from the fund or if you would like to organise a ‘roadshow’ event with us – at which those involved in the fund come to present its benefits to potential partners and beneficiaries.