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Barking and Dagenham community investors are tackling UK social inequality

Barking & Dagenham’s GROW Fund decision makers have chosen to invest in The Growth Impact Fund, to help social businesses grow their impact.

A social impact investment fund developed by Big Issue Invest (BIIFM) and UnLtd, has announced a partnership with Barking & Dagenham Giving (BD Giving) to invest in the local area.

Investors, including BD Giving, have provided a further £500,000 in investment to two social purpose organisations, taking the Growth Impact Fund’s total investments to £1m.

It is the second investment BD Giving’s Community Steering Group (CSG) has chosen to make. With its first investment into Snowball Impact Management, our CSG talked about power, pride, learning together, being a role model for their children, and their ambitions for scaling. A third investment will be announced soon. In each case, the investment choice meets the CSG’s vision of a rebalanced financial system. One where financial and social returns happen in tandem and are valued equally.

About the social businesses

Almost £260,000 was invested in chocolate manufacturer Harry Specters, which provides paid employment, work experience and training opportunities for young autistic people. Founded by Mona and Shaz in 2011 as a means of supporting their autistic son, the company now employs 12 Neurodiverse individuals and has provided over two hundred autistic people with free training and work experience.

Harry Specters meets consumer demands while making a contribution towards addressing employment needs for a significantly underserved community: 71% of autistic adults in the UK are unemployed. The company employs autistic adults throughout its organisation, and offers work experience to autistic young people at school and college to help them to access employment in the future. 

Zoey Clenshaw joined Harry Specters in 2021, working across the sales, customer services and admin functions. Despite her skills and degree in performing arts, Zoe struggled to find and maintain employment. At Harry Specters she has become ‘The Office Octopus’ handling a variety of different tasks.

Zoey said: “As a late-diagnosed autistic woman I had previously struggled to hold down a job due to sensory and social difficulties. Now after just over 2 years working at Harry Specters I have been able to leave an abusive marriage, live confidently by myself, and thrive in a working environment where I am understood and accepted for who I am.”

A further investment of £250,000 was made into Lightning Reach, a platform that has facilitated over £6m in grants to individuals in need of financial assistance and registered over 60,000 users. Data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) suggests that most deprived areas of England are the hardest hit by the cost of living crisis, with 58% of people spending less on essentials than other parts of the country. 1 By providing individuals with access to financial support, Lightning Reach is tackling the cost-of-living crisis head-on.

Nicole, a mother of two from Romford, accessed grant funding through the platform after finding herself facing financial difficulties. She said: “It relieved my stress; I was getting really stressed out about how I am going to pay. It reduced the number of days that I had to wait to top up the account to make sure the payment was made. The grant really helped me in that month to get me through.”

Investing in and for Barking & Dagenham

Now, the Growth Impact Fund is seeking to fund organisations based in Barking and Dagenham after receiving funding from BD Giving.

Sarah Faber, GIF Investment Director said “Growth Impact Fund recognises the potential that exists in the borough, just like BD Giving. We’re really pleased to be able to have the opportunity to be able to work alongside each other in order to bring money further into the borough”.

Irina, a Barking and Dagenham resident and Community Steering Group

member, said:  “We always knew that impact was as important as return. When we had about twenty investment proposals to consider, we started to realise that the potential for learning and the relationship we could build were more important than we had initially thought. We chose the Growth Impact Fund for our community because the investment felt more like a partnership.”

Irina, Community Steering Group Member

The investment into the Growth Impact Fund coincides with the launch of BD Giving’s podcast, 9 Miles East, which will share stories about inspiring local entrepreneurs and investable opportunities in the borough.

The Growth Impact Fund is a £25m evergreen fund, which means it is a long-term investment. Typically funds have a fixed lifespan of approximately 10 years, evergreen funds do not have a fixed end date. It is delivered by UnLtd: The Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs and BIIFM, to help create a more equitable Britain. The Fund has attracted close to £10 million of capital so far, including grant capital from prominent investors Access – the Foundation for Social Investment and Bank of America.

Social enterprises interested in the Growth Impact Fund can visit growthimpactfund.org.uk to learn more and register their interest or email enquiriesGIF@bigissueinvest.com.

Social enterprises interested in chatting further with BD Giving contact hello@bdgiving.org.uk for enquiries.

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