The Platform – helping put people back into work

The first of our Big Debate case studies looking at how co-ops can step up to solve problems in their communities

What is the social issue?

The unemployment rate is currently at the lowest it’s been since the 1970s. However, there are still more than 1.5 million unemployed people in the UK. The rise of zero hours contracts are leaving thousands more stuck in a situation where they’re technically employed, but may not work enough hours to earn a sustainable living.

An increasing number of people are choosing to set up their own business. Last year, there were 2 million more private sector businesses than there were in 2000. And some of those people are addressing not just their own needs, but those of their community as well. There are believed to be more than 60,000 social enterprises in the UK, employing some 800,000 people and contributing £24 billion to the UK economy.  

Related: The Big Debate – how co-ops show concern for communities

A social enterprise is a business with a clear social or environmental aim. Most of its money comes from selling goods or services, like any other business, but the bulk of its profits are invested back into the business, or used to help the enterprise to achieve its social aims. In short, social enterprises benefit both the people working in them, and the wider society. Social enterprises tend to be co-operative in nature, so it’s no surprise that many operate within a co-operative structure.

While the sector is booming, launching a social enterprise can be challenging. Publications and online guides can only go so far. Sometimes what you really need is advice and support from people who have already been on the journey.

The team at The Platform includes chief executive Julie Rossiter (centre) and Fiona Ras, business development director (far right)
The team at The Platform includes chief executive Julie Rossiter (centre) and Fiona Ras, business development director (far right)

What are co-ops doing?

The Platform is a multi-stakeholder co-operative based in Brighton and Hove. It helps social enterprises to set up and grow, and offers catering, venue hire and office space. This year the hub launched The SEEK Project, which will help unemployed people to start a social enterprise.

Sara Osterholzer from The Platform explained: “Often people who have lived experience of social and environmental issues are well placed to find solutions, but may have complex barriers to achieving them. The SEEK project is a multi-partner project that looks to support people who are out of work within the Coast to Capital area to set up social enterprises. It has received funding under the Building Better Opportunities Programme, which is jointly funded by the Big Lottery Fund and the European Social Fund.”

The SEEK Project launched in January 2017, and is being delivered in partnership with Unltd, the University of Chichester, Croydon Council and Start Up Croydon. The first applicants were given help to develop their ideas, before pitching them to a small panel. 15 people were then selected for the first programme, which will start in July.

Sara told us, “We have met some inspiring people with powerful stories that we are eager to support. Their personal inspiration to make change happen is at the heart of each of their businesses and this is vital to their success.”

“There is an even split between men and women, and the ages range between 27 and 52. We will be sharing details about participants’ ideas and journeys from mid-July, but can share that in Brighton the key themes are around mental health and wellbeing, and in Croydon themes focus on engaging young people in their local community, young offenders, and providing work opportunities.”

Over the course of each six month programme, participants will benefit from:

  • A 1-week intensive training course
  • A £500 StartUp fund
  • Help with planning
  • A business mentor
  • Monthly workshops
  • Four days of work shadowing a social enterprise leader
  • Peer-to-peer support
  • Networking
  • Travel and childcare costs

Following the programme, participants will also be able to access a package of ongoing support.

What is the impact?

Over the next three years, the project is aiming to support 45 people across Brighton, Croydon and Chichester to set up social enterprises. Those social enterprises could then benefit hundreds more people within local communities.

Sara told us, “We are measuring a number of indicators, such as numbers of social enterprises that are established, as well as the participants’ own personal development. We believe creating knowledgeable, problem-solving entrepreneurs, who are confident in their abilities, is the key to creating a thriving social economy.”

How can other co-ops learn from The Platform?

The £500 StartUp grant is relatively small, but it’s money that many of the participants may not have been able to find otherwise. The advice and support they’ll receive is worth far more. They’ll meet other social entrepreneurs, build relationships, and be put in touch with organisations that can help them on their journey.

What skills and advice could your co-op share with people who are struggling to find meaningful employment? Could you offer mentoring, work experience or networking opportunities? How could you inspire your members to address issues in their own communities?

According to Sara, co-operation with participants and other stakeholders is key. She explained, “This is a multi-partner project and that is a huge strength. We have had strategic and programme input from a range of experts, to ensure the project is robust in meeting the needs and aspirations of the participants. Co-creation with the participants is key to developing a programme that works, as is the willingness to learn and experiment with new ideas and services.”

• Find out more about The Platform and The SEEK Project: at

  • If you’re attending this year’s Co-op Congress in Wakefield, join us for our Big Debate on Friday 30 June at Unity Works (2.30pm) or read the report after the event:
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