Several of the inspiring entrepeneurs attended a parliamentary reception last night (7 March) hosted by Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell to celebrate their achievements and mark the conclusion of the Vital Spark programme, delivered by social enterprise development agency Firstport in partnership with local support organisation InspirAlba.
The three-year Vital Spark programme was set up by Firstport in 2015 to support local people in and around Dunoon, Rothesay and Campbeltown to provide practical solutions to social and economic challenges in their own communities.
The start-up social entrepeneurs met MSPs, funders and other guests at last night’s event. A new publication, Stimulating Social Enterprise in Argyll and Bute was also launched, including learning to inform future initiatives within Argyll & Bute and throughout Scotland.
Josiah Lockhart, Firstport chief executive, said: “We launched Vital Spark in Argyll & Bute as it is an area with outstanding natural and cultural assets and vibrant community spirit, but also facing tough challenges, including social and geographical isolation, youth migration and an ageing population.
“It was very much a partnership project. We joined forces with local social enterprise support organisation InspirAlba who co-developed the programme and delivered business support on the ground. We are very grateful to our funders Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Calmac Ferries, Scottish Government and the Kilfinan Trust, along with Unltd who provided grant funding to our participants.
“We now have 18 active early stage enterprises, 12 of these are actively trading and six have taken on premises. Twelve new employment and volunteering opportunities have been created, five of these in partnership with a local organisation, and over £125,000 of grant funding has been secured by these enterprises.”
Ailsa Clark, InspirAlba development manager, said: “Social enterprise plays an integral part in the fabric of our rural communities across Argyll and Bute, not just economically (contributing £87 million to the local economy annually*) but also socially, in terms of the essential services they provide and the significant social benefits delivered.
“Vital Spark has enabled us to raise the profile of social enterprise and stimulate new activity. We aim to continue to encourage social enterprise solutions and have secured five years of further funding support locally from Unltd.”
Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell, who hosted the event, said: “I was delighted to be able to sponsor a reception in the Scottish Parliament to celebrate the Vital Spark social enterprise programme. It was great to meet some of the inspiring particpants at the event and read about others in the new publication.
“Social Enterprise has a vital role to play in rural communities like Argyll and Bute. It can tackle local issues with strong local knowledge and good local skills and it often fills gaps in service provision which are inevitable at times of financial and social pressure. It also does so whilst creating employment and offering valuable volunteering opportunities.
“That is why I am so supportive of social enterprise and so grateful for the work that Vital Spark has done to raise the profile of the social enterprise approach as a way of doing business. It has helped both the participants and the wider community to understand what social enterprise means as well as illustrate the positive impact it can have.”
Note to editors
*Social Enterprise in Argyll and Bute Report November 2017
More information on Vital Spark at www.firstport.org/vitalspark
Firstport is Scotland’s development agency for start-up social entrepreneurs and social enterprise. We work with people to stimulate, test and grow their ideas into viable social businesses. We do this by providing a full package of support that includes seed funding, free business support, practical resources and connections to help them make their ideas a reality. We also run a number of place-based programmes, including Vital Spark, and Scotland’s only social enterprise accelerator, LaunchMe. www.firstport.org.uk