The Phone Co-op is to invest £500,000 in transport social enterprise HCT Group, to help grow its business and boost its social impact.
HCT Group runs a series of services, including London red buses, social services transport, school transport and park and ride car facilities. It has its roots in the Hackney Community Transport, founded in 1982 by 30 local community groups in the London Borough of Hackney to provide low cost minibuses. From a small community transport organisation, HCT Group has grown into a social enterprise with a fleet of 500 vehicles and a turnover of £43.7m. It includes ten depots across London, Yorkshire, Humberside, the south-west and the Channel Islands.
The deal, backed by impact investment advisory firm ClearlySo, meets the Phone Co-op’s environmental policy by supporting public transport and minimising car use.
Chief executive Vivian Woodell said: “At the Phone Co-op, we like to ensure that the way we invest surplus cash means that it is working in support of our values, so that it is not just us who earn a return but society as a whole. This is why we have chosen to invest in HCT Group – a social enterprise that runs bus services across the country. HCT will use our investment to grow and increase their social impact.”
The investment follows efforts by the Phone Co-op to lower the environmental impact of its transportation. Employees are provided with bicycles which they use free of charge for commuting and business journeys.
Mr Woodell said: “In 2012-13, 91% of our business miles were done by rail, bus, tram/metro, cycling or walking. Few businesses could claim that. We’ll earn a return, but so will society.
“We believe that all organisations with a social mission should look to invest not just with a view to maximum returns, but with a view to the positive difference their investments can make.”
The Phone Co-op is also helping to grow the co-operative movement. This year it helped establish the first student-housing co-op in the UK by purchasing a property with the capacity to house eight students in Birmingham. The house is being leased to the Birmingham Student Housing Co-operative. The Phone Co-op is currently discussing a similar arrangement with the Sheffield Student Housing Co-operative.
As well as supporting student co-operatives, the Phone Co-op has made several investments in renewable energy co-ops, including Wedmore Community Power Co-operative and Drumlin Wind Energy Co-operative Limited. Since 2007, the Phone Co-op has run a sustainability fund to improve its environmental performance.
Dai Powell, HCT Group Chief Executive, added: “We’re delighted that the Phone Co-op has chosen to invest in us – we want to work with investors who share our values. We also want a world where co-ops and social enterprises buy from each other, invest in one another, building a new business ecosystem based on values and ethics.
“We’ll be able to put the Phone Co-op investment to good use, growing our business and increasing our social impact. When you borrow, you are, in effect, buying money. When we borrow, we want to buy social.”