Traditional economic development and regeneration programmes have often failed to make any sustained impact on the problems of economic decline and social exclusion experienced in communities across the UK, including Bristol. Community based economic development approaches have emerged in response to the failure of prescriptive top down approaches. They emphasise the importance of encouraging local economic activity to ensure that investment can be drawn into priority areas and that the wealth generated from these activities can be retained within the community. In this way communities can be effectively supported in shaping their own futures within the wider economy.
The powerful contribution made to economic development by the social economy with this community-based approach is becoming recognised by government. Interest in the social economy has grown with the recognition of its potential to both promote successful local economic development and deliver valuable services. Social enterprises have become accepted as alternative ways of generating wealth and providing new routes into employment,
as well as developing and sustaining vital community services. The emphasis on the local delivery of these services has also been acknowledged as a method for promoting sustainable development.
Significantly, despite a relatively buoyant economy there are still many communities who suffer high unemployment, low income and poor capital wealth. In particular, for people with physical and learning disabilities or from ethnic minority groups this situation is amplified by multiple disadvantages. These groups experience numerous barriers to acquiring quality employment and access to capital.
Bristol’s communities have pioneered social economy development, often as a self-help approach to these seemingly intractable problems. The sector has already had a major impact in terms of creating jobs and wealth and promoting sustainable development. Sector organisations have been highly effective at contributing towards local empowerment, capacity building, as well as extending democracy, combating poverty and overcoming social exclusion. They have achieved these results on the strength of local knowledge, a strong focus on needs, innovative and collaborative working and massive contributions of time and skills from thousands of volunteers. The social economy has also succeeded in dealing with some of the major issues faced by the mainstream economy: For example, the competitive delivery of public services and the development of entrepreneurial skills within excluded communities.
As a response to this energy as well as the opportunities and benefits provided by the sector Bristol City Council has invested £400,000 in the Social Economy Bristol Development Project (SEDP). The approach has been to build on existing strengths by involving neighbourhood and support organisations in a major research and development programme to support the growth of the sector.
This report presents the results of the research and supports the progression of the development programme.