A trip to Skelmersdale to pick up some pre-ordered planters 100% recycled from furniture, washing machine drums and old mattresses unearthed even more treasures.
Exsel CIC has a rather corporate sounding title and unassuming location but what it delivers is a long way from either. It is easy to see on stepping through the doors that Exsel (see Exsel's blog on the visit), a true social enterprise, has great environmental and social credentials and is working hard on the financial side to make sure it has a long-term future. It takes on other folks seconds – new and preloved – collects, sorts, cleans, remanufactures and sells on to the public at affordable rates. Its social goals include "regenerating disadvantaged areas, empowering local communities and delivering new, innovative services at all levels to meet the needs of those communities", which, from what I saw on the day, means building the self esteem and skills of volunteers and paid staff alike, having an enjoyable time, creating something often from nothing and offering great products at great prices. Not only that, it's creative too. A sister enterprise, Total Reuse produces amazing planters and tables (and more items are planned) from what comes through the doors...this is where the story started for me. After spotting a tiny photograph of a washing machine planter, on the shell of a stand at the SENW fair in November 2010, I got in touch to see if we could get one or two for a Lottery funded community project in Manchester called 'Celebrate your Alley Gates'. We now have four and everyone who sees them wants one too – we will be buying more!
You would be forgiven thinking I had shares in these enterprises, I only wish I did. To my mind, this is exactly the sort of business that would benefit from a cash injection from local and interested people in the form of community shares. I've been interested in the co-operative Industrial Providential Society (IPS) model for some time and recently attended an informative event in Kendal, delivered by Co-operative's NW and others, exploring the topic. With football clubs, shops, pubs and renewable projects realising the benefits, it's gaining greater recognition as a way forward for true social enterprise. I can't help thinking that IPS terminology is a little hard for most people to get their heads around, and can seem a little old fashioned somehow. This maybe makes the job of promoting it harder. Clearly though, names aren't everything and the more this model of co-operation is used, the more interested the uninitiated will become and the more the name just won't matter. Co-operators must spread the word...whispers can turn into revolution don't you know. I optimistically continue to dream.
Check out the Co-operative Enterprise Hub for potential free support on setting up an IPS.