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15 Minutes with Digby Chacksfield, CEO of Eastern Enterprise Hub

The Essex town of Thurrock is to get its own School for Social Entrepreneurs programme, which will be run by the Eastern Enterprise Hub. Chief executive Digby Chacksfield talks to New Start about the area’s entrepreneurial spirit.

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Why open a School for Social Entrepreneurs in Thurrock?
Thurrock is quite an entrepreneurial area. We have worked in the past with a couple of entrepreneurs from there – Rob Groves, who runs the Hardie Park social enterprise was a student of the London School for Social Entrepreneurs and we have worked with Neil Woodbridge from Thurrock Lifestyle Solutions over the years as well. So Thurrock has always been of interest because those two have based their operations there. They are also huge advocates for Thurrock as having potential to transform itself. I think the School for Social Entrepreneurs is about supporting people from all sorts of different backgrounds to create social enterprises, which can directly benefit their local communities.

Thurrock is quite an urban area, with rural pockets as well. There are massive businesses in Thurrock. I think it’s pretty unique in the country and to me, as a creative social entrepreneur, I see opportunity in that. I see the potential for people there to pull together.

‘Ninety per cent of young people we worked with on a straight

enterprise programme were looking at social enterprise ideas’

Thurrock council will fund the programme for 16 social entrepreneurs, which will start in the autumn and be run by the Eastern Enterprise Hub. The project will run for 14 days over a 12-month period, starting in September.

What can people who take part in the programme expect from the school?
Participants will meet people who might be willing to mentor them, invest in them or open up a wider network to support them to become confident leaders. Underpinning all of this is the idea that the best people to solve any challenges that are faced by a community is the community themselves. It’s a very bottom-up approach to economic development and regeneration.

What other programmes have you been involved with?
We run a programme which finished earlier this year, called Back to the Future, which was for unemployed parents in Thurrock. It looked at how we can use some of the entrepreneurial processes and skills to help them become more employable. We worked with a small number of people and most of them ending up getting some sort of job. More importantly, they also gained a confidence and belief in themselves that they could begin to do something. We have this approach where you work with people to support them to flourish and get them to a point where they think ‘I could have a go at that’.

Any there types of business which lend themselves to social enterprise more than others?
At the moment, we are seeing a number of small, micro-enterprise care businesses being set up. The care sector is struggling like crazy with its traditional model of agencies and private care companies. But a small social enterprise, or one person who acts as a personal assistant for people who need care, can earn a living. We helped some people in Southend last year, and they have now set up a little cooperative, which they did in the face or three or four care homes closing a day around the country. The other area where there seems to be a huge gap is the youth sector. Many councils have been cutting their youth support services, which has created a gap in provision for people who are struggling in those areas.

Do you see a bright future for social entrepreneurs in this country?
I think it should be on the every career adviser’s list of things that people could do. Here in Ipswich, we work with one of the further education colleges and support young people to do straight enterprise programmes. But I would say 90 per cent of the young people in the last group we were working with were all looking at social enterprise ideas. Bright young things want to work for a company that they know has an ethical quality, even if it is a giant corporation. We have a programme sponsored by Lloyds Bank and another by PwC and they understand employees want to understand how the company is helping the local community.

As consumers we are making a shift in how we buy food. We want it to be healthy and be locally sourced. It is becoming the new norm. People will also want to work for companies like that. Social enterprises show you can start something up which can benefit the whole local community.

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