Social enterprise looking how it can become sustainable

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THE financial sustainability of an organisation which caters for the over 50s was put under the microscope by councillors.

Suffolk County Council’s scrutiny committee debated the development of social enterprise Suffolk Circle, which fell short of its membership target.

The authority is investing £680,000 over three years in the organisation, which provides social activities and practical help.

Bosses say it will be self-sustainable if it has about 3,500 members by the end of the third year. However, at the end of its first year membership was 362 – short of the 404 aimed for.

Cllr Sandy Martin asked about the sustainability of Suffolk Circle ‘when the grants dry up’ at the end of the third year. Cath Dillon, enterprise director for Participle, which has developed the Circle model based on similar work in Southwark, said: “The objective is for this to be sustainable. We’re learning all the time through other circles about what works and where we can make improvements.”

The committee heard from two members who spoke positively about the organisation’s impact.

Recommendations suggested by councillors included giving thought as to how to attract members in villages, spelling out the benefits in its marketing and ‘improved communication with the rest of the voluntary sector’.

Speaking after the meeting about the membership, Damien Ribbans, general manager of Suffolk Circle, said ‘a 10 to 15 per cent variation on targets is not unexpected’ in the first year.

He said the second year ‘consists of a significant marketing strategy’ with ‘growth into Ipswich, the surrounding villages, widespread and persistent presence on the ground at local events and using the support of existing members who are keen to spread the word’.

He added that a ‘dialogue with other organisations has always been in place and is ongoing’.