Social enterprise in the Outer Hebrides has had a major boost with the naming of the Isle of Lewis and the Uists as Scottish ‘Social Enterprise Places’. 

The recognition of the islands as hotspots for social enterprise will be officially announced in an online event on Thursday, January 21, hosted by Social Enterprise Scotland and attended by MSP Aileen Campbell, Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government. 

Community-owned renewable organisations played a key role in the areas being recognised as social enterprise hotspots, particularly the activity of the Point and Sandwick Trust in Lewis, which has previously won a number of awards for social enterprise, including the UK Environmental Social Enterprise of the Year in 2018, and stepped up with a programme of wellbeing interventions including food deliveries during the first lockdown last year. 

Social Enterprise Places are officially-recognised local areas where social enterprise activity is thriving, be they rural or urban and any size from neighbourhoods to towns to islands. Alongside Lewis and the Uists, the area of Govan in Glasgow will also be highlighted as ‘one to watch’ in 2021 as part of the Social Enterprise Places scheme. 

Alasdair Nicholson, the community consultant for Point and Sandwick Trust who sourced the funding for these wellbeing projects among many others, was instrumental in Lewis being named as a Social Enterprise Place. 

He warmly welcomed the news of the island’s official recognition and said it would help the development and expansion of social enterprise in the future.

Speaking for Lewis, Alasdair said: “As an advocate of social enterprise and on behalf of Point and Sandwick Trust, I welcome the recognition of Lewis as a Social Enterprise Place. This reflects the past and current development, leadership and entrepreneurship shown not only by Point and Sandwick Trust, but also of the other social enterprise actors, in Uig, Bragar, Carloway, Pairc, Galson and Tolsta, to name a few.

“As we look beyond the horizon we aim to create stronger communities, through further community -led opportunities, and by creating employment and improving infrastructure at local levels. There are now many good examples which other communities can see and Point and Sandwick Trust, for our part, are happy to share as we share from others”.

Social Enterprise Scotland, which launched the programme in November 2019, has been encouraging local areas to recognise themselves as Social Enterprise Places committed to developing and investing in their local areas. The programme aims to promote, raise awareness and build markets for social enterprises. While 2021 remains a challenging time, the pandemic has highlighted the role that social enterprises play in supporting their community and Social Enterprise Scotland want to make sure their work is highlighted.

Information from the 2019 Census revealed the extent of the social enterprise contribution to the economy of the Highlands and Islands. At that point in time, there were 1,270 social enterprises operating in the region, with 73 per cent of them in rural areas.

The sector supported 7,294 full-time equivalent employees and 76 per cent were paid at least the Scottish Living Wage. Furthermore, they had a total annual income of £320million and a net worth of £548million.

Alasdair Nicholson said the new announcement of the Social Enterprise Places in the Outer Hebrides “added to the narrative” that social enterprise development had an important role to play in such areas. 

“When we come out of Covid, the fact that there is this kind of recognition gives credibility to future ventures. It’s also then credibility for the staff and trustees of Point and Sandwick Trust as well as the other organisations because it’s their willingness to pursue social enterprise as a type of development, in terms of community ownership, that is underlined by this.

“We can always do more, we can always achieve more, and it’s about trying to maximise opportunities on behalf of the community.”

In Scotland, islands have the highest density of social enterprise per head of population – a fact pointed out by Thomas Fisher, director at CoDeL and Uist representative in the Social Enterprise Places scheme. 

In the Uists, there were more than 50 social and community enterprises, “from large to very small”, in a population of around 5,000.

Thomas said: “We are delighted that Social Enterprise Scotland is recognising the role social and community enterprises have been playing on Uist for four decades in delivering to community needs, building community wealth, and developing our islands as attractive places to live and work. They also generate 10 per cent of all jobs for people under 40 on the islands, enabling young people to return, stay or settle and contribute so much to our island communities.”

The recognition of these communities has also been welcomed by Highlands and Islands Enterprise. 

Margaret McSporran, Head of Social Enterprise Development at Highlands and Islands Enterprise, said: “Social enterprises are a vital part of our community and economy in the Highlands and Islands and bring far-reaching economic and community benefits across the region. They help create employment and skills opportunities, improve public services and support some of our hardest to reach individuals. We congratulate Uist and Lewis on becoming ‘Social Enterprise Places’ and welcome the recognition of these hotspots of social enterprise activity.”

Chris Martin, CEO at Social Enterprise Scotland, said: "Congratulations to the new Social Enterprise Places, all brilliant areas full of thriving social enterprise activity. Our local community groups and social enterprises have really stepped up to lead during the pandemic lockdown period and this scheme is a great way to share this learning and best practice.

“We know that across Scotland there are many other places waiting to be recognised as exemplars and we look forward to highlighting them as we build on the Places programme. We were also pleased to welcome Govan as ‘one to watch’ – noting that, while shining a light on our island communities, the scheme has also seen the impact of social enterprise in our largest city by population too”.