Well, it’s that time of year when we, like so many people, get the list [...]
Social Enterprise? Whatever is that?Created by Jane in Jane Lawson's Blog
When I first heard this term I had no idea at all what it might mean. And it’s actually a descriptor which covers a great variety of organisations. But, essentially, a social enterprise is a business which is designed to provide a social benefit to those who work for it and also to provide a good service or product to customers.
The business that I want to describe in this blog is called Riverwood. It is part of Mencap in Greenwich and was set up to use driftwood which had been salvaged from the River Thames. On average they recycle over 50 tonnes of wood a year. This wood is then planed, sawn, sanded and made into a variety of lovely things which range from benches to bird boxes and wishing wells to wooden wagons. Riverwood products have included frames for information plaques at the Thames Barrier Visitor Centre, benches for the private garden at Tate Modern and blocks used as plinths for sculptures at the Chelsea Flower Show. All these products are for sale to the public.
All the team members are people with a learning disability. Some of them have had to overcome considerable difficulties to achieve their woodworking skills and they have a huge sense of satisfaction when a lovely bench or picnic table is completed and sold to a satisfied customer. And instead of thinking of a ‘learning disability’ Riverwood sees an opportunity. An opportunity to change and enhance lives and see everyone as valued members of society each with their different gifts and abilities.
One project which Riverwood was particularly proud of was a commission to make wooden boat planters for the equestrian events at the Olympics. There was great excitement when they were glimpsed on the television last summer. And everyone benefitted, the team members, the local community and – a place on the world stage for all those who saw the triumphs on the equestrian fields.
And that’s not all they do. There’s time for social activities too and outings are organised throughout the year for team members and staff which everyone greatly enjoys. These range from meals out to trips on the River – the river which supplies the materials from which they work.
So, why am I writing about this particular social enterprise? Well, when my husband retired from a lifetime in business he was not one to sit around. So, he looked around for something to do and a friend recommended him to Riverwood. He volunteered at first and found that he got more satisfaction from this than from all those years in the business world. He’s now employed there three days a week and loves every minute. He says the satisfaction he gets from knowing that the team members have had a good productive day and achieved a tangible product at the end, is beyond price.
I’ll leave the last word to some team members. Peter said ‘I’m so proud of the blue tit box I made’. Mark commented ‘I like working in the workshop, I like cleaning up. I like going on trips, sawing and sanding’. And John said ‘I like coming, I like the staff because they help me’. And the last word goes to Christine who declares ‘I like making friends and working with them in the workshop’.
Satisfaction, all round.
by Jane Lawson