RWM had for the first time this year a dedicated social enterprise zone. One of those organisations exhibiting was REalliance. Emma Hallett operations manager reports.
Social enterprises are businesses that trade to tackle social problems, improve communities, people’s life chances, or the environment. In the UK an estimated 900 social enterprises, community groups and charities work the field of resource efficiency, they include: community composters, furniture reuse organisations, scrapstores, wood recycling projects and a whole host more, all working to use resources more efficiently and maximise their environmental and social value.
This year, In the zone were seven organisations who are, or work with, social enterprises in the resource arena. While many exhibitors at RWM provide environmental services, social enterprises are among the few who also have explicit social objectives - creating jobs, helping people return to the workforce or providing low cost goods to those in need.
With the introduction of the new localism and social value acts there are many opportunities for real partnerships between sectors
The network of Scrapstores support reuse of resources for community benefit through the diversion of clean reusable scrap waste materials from businesses. Their national network, Scrapstores UK was an exhibitor at RWM - a practical outcome of the event for us is the role that Birmingham PlayCare Network (BPCN) played in the exhibition clear up.
A team from the BPCN scrapstore collected items that were no longer needed including merchandise, parts of their display, signage and exhibition staging. It is hoped that this will be an ongoing relationship with i2i and the NEC for future exhibitions.
Haven Recycle, a Glasgow based WEEE reuse and recycling enterprise which employs staff with physical and learning disabilities. Ewan Fisher Haven’s commercial manager who attended the exhibition says, “I found RWM to be extremely worthwhile; as a social enterprise we always have to try a little bit harder to establish our viability as a supplier to potential new customers, so the opportunity to exhibit at RWM helps to reinforce our credibility within the waste industry.
“The event also offers unrivalled networking opportunities, and I have made some good contacts which I am confident will turn into business.”
FareShare, the national UK charity supporting communities to relieve food poverty by redistributing surplus food is used to dealing with the food industry at Food events but less so the waste industry. “The event opened up a new world to Fareshare,” says director of operations Jim Trower. “Although I wouldn’t claim to have gained millions of contacts, I did get a few very useful contacts at a level of seniority capable of making things happen.
“It was also useful to work alongside other not for profit organisations[in the social enterprise zone] and understand how they operate.”
Social Enterprises in London were represented by the London Community Resource Network and its ground breaking trading arm the London Reuse Network. “Our experience at RWM was a positive one,” says Julian Halse of LCRN. “We made a number of new useful contacts, both for ourselves and our membership. Due to the focused nature of RWM, though the quantity of new contacts could be higher, the quality was very high.
“The octagonal stand in the Social Enterprise Zone was very useful, allowing visitors to make links between the exhibitors.”
The other social enterprise zone participants were the Community Composting Network, the Furniture Reuse Network and REalliance.
REalliance, which supports and represents social and community enterprises across the UK that are working to use and manage resources sustainably, valued the creation of an integrated space. Visitors could have all their questions answered about social enterprise and charity resource organsiations. We made new contacts with potential partners in the private, public and third sectors.
REalliance was surprised at the breadth of interest in the social enterprise sector and encouraged that most delegates knew at least something about social enterprises in resource management.
With the introduction of the new localism and social value acts there are many opportunities for real partnerships between sectors and the level of interest bore this out.