Social enterprise reap UK sector awards

THE strength of Northern Ireland’s social enterprise sector has been underlined by wins for two local business in a national awards programme aimed at highlighting the achievements of organisations across the UK.

Retail access group Shopmobility Belfast and community based recycling initiative Orchardville Bottle Sorting, also in Belfast, have each been awarded £50,000 under the Santander Social Enterprise Development programme to help expand their work.

Shopmobility Belfast Shopmobility Belfast has more than 8,000 members and offers a free short-term loan service of wheelchairs and scooters to people with mobility difficulties and disabilities.

Orchardville sorts more than 30 million bottles each year using a manual process which ensures minimal breakages so the maximum number of bottles can be re-used.

The social enterprise offers employment to people with learning disabilities from around the area teaching them practical skills in a growing industry.

The award will allow the former to buy 10 new scooters and a van to transport the vehicles to events and remote communities previously unable to access the service. A part-time maintenance manager will also be employed to carry out vehicle and equipment repairs.

The aim of the Santander Social Enterprise Development Awards is to support social enterprises looking to grow their business and benefit the community by providing employment or training opportunities and Orchardville will use its award to grow the business and offer their services to new customers.

The businesses were two of six social enterprises to win an award in this year’s SEDA which saw a total of £210,000 distributed to organisations across Northern Ireland as part of a UK-wide £2 million prize fund.

“At Santander we are committed to investing in and supporting communities in Northern Ireland,” said relationship director Brendan Cunnane. “Shopmobility provides an invaluable service in our towns and villages and the award will enable more people to benefit from their specialist support.

“The win will help Orchardville not only to expand their business but in turn offer employment opportunities to many more people with learning difficulties in the area.”

Shopmobility director Ann Collins said: “We’re so pleased to have won the SEDA award as it will help us to increase the number of mobility vehicles available to communities in rural and ‘harder to reach’ areas, giving people with disabilities the freedom to travel and participate in more events and activities.”

Orchardville chief executive Alan Thomson said: “We currently have contracts with two major drink providers in Belfast and this win will enable us to take on more contracts.

“This will ensure we can continue to provide employment and training opportunities for the community and increase our bottle sourcing recycling commitment.”