The energy and ambition you can pull together to improve a locality is amazing.
That’s the story behind Bristol and Bath Regional Capital (BBRC) and South Bristol Sports Centre, celebrating respectively their first birthday and the opening of their new five a side pitches.
BBRC is a band of people in common cause – to boost the social economy of Bristol, Bath and surrounds. Led by chair Richard Pendlebury and CEO Edward Rowberry, it includes activists from the local council, university, corporate and social sectors, alongside individual investors, all determined to make for a better place. To date they have acted as fundraisers and advisers – but soon, they plan to be a social investment intermediary as well.
The venue for the birthday was South Bristol Sports Centre. Originally the sports facility for Imperial Tobacco, it passed into local authority hands, became a loss maker, going downhill – until the new CIC took it over. Led by Ben Ferris, it stabilised, turned around, and then started to grow. The new five a side pitches will generate income which can support a wide variety of sports based activities, in a community which has a great deal of poverty, including a couple of local areas which have had major problems from unemployment to drugs.
Ben recognised the challenge of getting people of all ages to engage in sport, with all its value in improving health and social cohesion. He brought together a youth council to understand the issues. They surveyed their peers in the area – what held them back, what would make them join in? The result was a new approach, which is already bringing in young people by the thousand. Their mantra: young people taking practical action in order to create positive social change that is of benefit to the wider community as well as to the young people themselves.
The facility is for all ages and all abilities, from toddlers to seniors, including cardiac and other serious health recuperation programmes as part of the mix.
So how did Ben raise the £1m finance for the new pitches? He tried the banks with no joy. But BBRC helped suggest and follow through some new avenues. A local investor, a former company boss, put in the first cash. After that came support from the Rathbone Social Bond Fund, then Resonance’s Social Investment Tax Relief Fund, and the Bristol Credit Union. The mix was complex and layered, but it added up. And I’m proud to say that Big Society Capital helped cornerstone the Rathbone fund and has supported Resonance too.
Sat in an office surrounded by the challenges of State Aid rules, FCA regulations, due diligence, risk analysis, not to mention all the constraints specifically laid on BSC, it’s sometimes hard to focus on where the money is used and what it achieves. But here, seeing Ben, Lauren, Grace, Declan, Mel and Michael proudly describe their work as Youth Council members, and their ambitions for getting their peers healthy and confident – and knowing the sports facility they love is financially sound and secure – well that’s good, really good.
I reckon more and more cities will follow the kind of path BBRC are on – bringing together the talent and energy needed to improve their area. And more and more localities will benefit from social enterprises as vibrant as SBSC. You couldn’t say better than that.