The Chapel at St John’s Foundation in central Bath was a serene, sunlit setting for a bustling room of attendees at Thursday’s “Opening New Doors” event. A variety of people from local businesses, charities, universities and the Council gathered to hear about the potential of ‘Social Finance’ to bring together the great and the good in Bath to improve the region.
The idea is simple enough: matching up local charities and social enterprises’ need for ever-shrinking sources of finance with local individuals and organisations who have spare capital to invest. Both parties reap the benefits of this direct funding link: mutually supportive investors and investees quite literally a stone’s throw from each other, motivated to work together to see the financial and social returns of the investment grow before their eyes.
Simon Cooper, BBRC Board Member and long-term Bath resident began the evening by tackling the question through the universal language of Monty Python: “What has Social Finance ever done for us?!” He succinctly introduced the vision for Bath: introducing social investment as a way to make Bath’s generous philanthropists’ money work harder, as local charities and social enterprises become sustainable enough to pay it back and recycle it into yet more worthy projects.
Speakers from local projects who are supporting vulnerable local people and growing community activity recounted their experience of the reality of receiving Social Finance.
Sonia Hutchison of B&NES Carers’ Centre told the audience how social finance had bought them time, allowing them to buy their building outright and realise an ambition which their trustees simply “wouldn’t have thought was possible” a few years ago.
Paul Harrod, founder and CEO of Bristol Together attested the value of having social investment as a fundamental part of their funding mix, as it provides their ex-offender employees with the motivation to excel in their construction training because they know that the quality of their building work is directly linked to the sales needed to sustain the company.
Finally Oliver Holtaway, Board Member of Bath City FC Supporters’ Society, spoke about the sheer levels of support and ownership that were rallied by the club’s innovative Community Shares offer in 2016. The raise has put Bath City on the map as a fan-owned club, and created a locus of community activity.
Joy Saunders and Ed Rowberry finished with a quick summary of Bristol & Bath Regional Capital’s role in supporting and convening organisations, investors, and regional institutions to create investment projects which work for everybody.
The conclusion of the event? In the words of Ms Hutchison, “Taking on social investment was terrifying, and exciting… and it worked!”. Speakers and attendees alike fed back that they could see “huge potential” for this approach, and were unanimous that it’s time for Bath to ‘short circuit’ reliance on national and international financial sources and start to join the dots within B&NES itself. There is a place for everyone in this new hyper-local agenda: businesses and residents with skills to offer, investors looking for tangible, real investment opportunities, organisations seeking a resilient future, and local institutions needing innovative new avenues to support the region.