Cameron’s Big Society is letting down community-minded entrepreneurs

The managing director of a much-loved musical hub is begging David Cameron for help, saying his Big Society is letting down community-minded entrepreneurs.

Housed in a rapidly deteriorating building, The Forum in Darlington needs £1.5m of refurbishments if it is to continue and grow.

However, its status as a CIC (Community Interest Company) means the team is finding it near impossible to attract vital funding.

Despite having saved the popular centre from closure and consistently meeting objectives, The Forum is struggling to attract investment and must plunge its own profits back into services for the community – leaving little for refurbishment.

Managing director Allison Mckay believes private investors are put off by the council-owned building and says investment available to other CICs is dependent on being able to prove the enterprise has a “social impact”.

She says proving the social impact of a music-based venture that serves a diverse range of people and offers a variety of activities is next to impossible, despite its undeniable community worth.

Applications for funding are regularly rejected because of difficulty in proving music has a social value.

 One rejection said: “…although you say music is a fantastic medium to engage young people, you don’t say why it is needed and what issues or problems it will address within your community.”

Ms Mckay said investors should visit CICs to see the work they do instead of relying on “box ticking exercises”.

She said the local authority did what it could to support them but more is needed to save The Forum.

She said:

“There are budgets in central government set aside for CICs but social impact is a massive thing and that’s very difficult for us to measure.

“Investment goes to social enterprises with specific criteria and we don’t fit that box.

“We need help with the building – we need new chairs for people to sit on but how do you measure the social impact of chairs?”

In a letter to David Cameron, Ms Mckay said:

“When everything pointed in the direction of sinking we kept the ship afloat but where is our so-called partner, the Big Society?

 “We’ve been let down– we did what we were asked and the helping hand has never been there.

“This [CIC] is no partnership between private and public, this is a take situation and the Big Society preys on people like us who are entrepreneurial and also want to make a difference.”

Source – Northern Echo, 15 May 2015

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