Blow to social enterprises as guiding light goes out

Chief Executive Sarah Newton and staff from the Sheffield Community Enterprise Development Unit on Mowbray Street which is to close down on Feb 29th 2012
Chief Executive Sarah Newton and staff from the Sheffield Community Enterprise Development Unit on Mowbray Street which is to close down on Feb 29th 2012

A SHEFFIELD organisation that has helped hundreds of social enterprises across the city for 18 years is closing at the end of the month.

Budgeting and payroll advice, training, grant applications, childcare support, access to finance, research, meeting rooms and affordable managed workspace have been offered by Sheffield Community Enterprise Development Unit, which is based in Mowbray Street in Kelham Island.

In particular, managers estimate that they have secured £26.5m from different sources to help local groups, many of them working in disadvantaged parts of the city.

But now SCEDU is folding because its contract work and local and central government funding is drying up.

“It has been drying up for the last couple of years, but like other organisations we have run off our reserves for as long as we can. Now it has go to the point where we are having to call it a day,” said chief executive Sarah Newton.

Eleven SCEDU jobs will be lost, but skeleton staff are to remain at its building on a voluntary basis to ensure it remains operational with its 28 tenants, ranging from printers and web designers to a coffee business involving people with learning disabilities.

It is hoped that a Third Sector organisation can be found to take over running the premises, which are let on “easy in, easy out” basis to help the tenants as they try to gain a foothold in the business world.

After spells at the Science Park and The Manor, SCEDU moved into the Mowbray Street complex in 1999 after it was built with European funds, and went on to work closely with local authorities and public sector agencies.

“I don’t there has been a Third Sector organisation or social enterprise in Sheffield that we haven’t supported at some point,” said Sarah.

In the early days, it gave a helping hand to bodies such as Heeley Development Trust, Heeley City Farm, community regeneration charity SOAR and Manor and Castle Development Trust.

More recently, its services have been used by ESP, which provides IT support, Greentop Community Circus, Pedal Ready cycle group and the Under The Stars nightclub for people with learning disabilities.

Over the years, SCEDU says it has supported 992 clients, created 389 jobs and delivered 437 workshops.

Messages of support have flooded in. One supporter predicts the closure will have “a massive impact on all the most disadvantaged areas in Sheffield” and reflects on the organisation’s “knowledge and expertise.”

Sarah said: “We have had so many messages, with people saying they can’t believe it.”

She added she was sad SCEDU was reaching the end of the road but proud of its achievements and its committed staff – “We have 11 staff and only one has been here for less than five years” – and grateful to board of directors, especially chair Fergus Beesley.