A social enterprise in Ayrshire has been deemed the best in Scotland by the Royal Bank of Scotland’s Social Enterprise 100 list
With a population of just under 7,000 the North Ayrshire town of Beith probably escapes most people’s radar.
Often overlooked as a commuter town for Glasgow, barely anyone outside of its boundary would have noticed when its run-down football pitch closed as part of the local authority’s cost cutting measures in 2009.
But for the local community, the council’s decision to lock the gates of Meadowside Park felt like nothing short of ripping out the town’s heart.
It wasn’t as if the astroturf pitch was underused.
Every day training and matches involving the town’s 15 youth football teams, not to mention its amateur and pub teams, took place there.
Without it nearly 400 players, coaches and supporters became nomads and were forced to leave Beith every week to play elsewhere.
When someone hands you the keys to a brand new football pitch how would it be if you had to hand it back to the local authority and say you couldn’t do it. You have to make it work.
Then when a study found hiring pitches outside of the town was costing the Beith footballing community £40,000 a year it was decided something had to be done.
The answer was simple. Campaign to get the pitch reopened, fixed up and moved into community ownership.
Beith Community Development Trust was set up as a social enterprise in 2010 to do just that.
“The amount of money going out of the town was ridiculous,” Jane Lamont, development manager of the Beith Community Development Trust told TFN.
“We, the collective footballing consciousness in the town, thought if we could save that money we could renovate the pitch and that’s when we started asking North Ayrshire Council to give us the pitch in its derelict form.”
Following much wrangling with red tape, pleas to local councillors and a £2,000 grant feasibility study from Oxfam – gained on the basis that the opportunity to play with friends is a rite of passage for young people – a decision was made in 2011 to hand the pitch over to the trust.
With £80,000 of in-kind work donated from local businesses to money found by the council in its budget and a contribution from SportScotland, the pitch was renovated at the cost of around £280,000 and opened in 2012.
But that’s not where Beith Community Development Trust’s story ends.
What happened next transformed the trust from a sports group to Scotland’s number one social enterprise – that’s according to the Royal Bank of Scotland’s social enterprise 100 list.
With the pitch’s future secured and a grant from the Climate Challenge Fund the trust set about turning the facility into something for everyone – not just the football players.
Basing itself in the changing room block, the trust now employs just over 20 people at any one time – made up of full and part-time staff as well as people on work placements, from Community Jobs Scotland, Duke of Edinburgh participants, modern apprentices, graduates and disabled interns.
Roles include pitch hire, cleaning, administration, marketing, ground work and helping run some of the other projects developed by the trust – such as drama, music, and carbon reduction (see below).
More than just a club ...
Outdoor fun including den building, crafts and sport isended every Wednesday night with a pot of soup, donated bylocal residents, being cooked on an open air fire.
Planting and growing in the children's garden area. This club also helps look after the resident chickens and animals and build arts and crafts out of recycled materials.
Week long music activities during the summer holidays. Young enthusiasts attend and learn a new instrument or improve their technique and perform a concert on the last day.
Pop Up Beith
A group dedicated to making the most of the Beith community using whatever is at its disposal to have fun. Last summer the group built an open air swimming pool for one day only by strapping hay bales and tarpaulin togther.
Hosts simply volunteer to have a party for neighbours to get to know one another and the trust supplies decorations, garden furniture, a BBQ, games and a £30 food voucher.
Help for people looking to update their CV, gain interview skills or gain experience through voluntary work.
The Trust hosts First Alliance Credit Union and trained advisors help residents open an account and start saving.
Coaching and Leadership
As well as sports coaching and leadership qualifications that anyone can study for, it also offers the Arts Award which is an SQEF national framework accredited qualification.
Weekly physiotherapy sessions with a bit of pampering thrown in. Players and fans can even get a wax.
Such is the growth of the non-football side of the business, the pitch now only funds 20% of the trust’s work, with the remaining 80% achieved through grants.
“The football pitch is sustainable on its own but the rest of the stuff is grant funded,” Jane continued.
I like making a difference to people’s lives. For me I like seeing people go from being a volunteer with little confidence to being someone who has a qualification and gets a full-time job
“I can’t see the football pitch ever supporting it all, and nor should it. But being a social enterprise means we are not solely dependent on grant funding – we have a bit of leeway to try things out. Failure is not an option here though.
“When someone hands you the keys to a brand new football pitch how would it be if you had to hand it back to the local authority and say you couldn’t do it. You have to make it work.”
Jane, who is from Beith, comes from a charity background. She worked at Save the Children and has spent a lot of her time working in community development.
Her philosophy is that everything a community needs to be successful is on its doorstep. It is just that people haven’t always got the resources, equipment and opportunities and assets that they need to maximise their own potential.
To help instil this potential in Beith, Jane is helped by her fellow development manager Alex MacFie.
Alex comes from a background of getting hard to reach people into formal learning, having previously helped young offenders do their Duke of Edinburgh award.
Unlike Jane, Alex doesn’t live in Beith but stays on the coast in Largs.
This doesn’t mean she is any less committed though.
On occasions after working a 12-hour-day or longer Alex sleeps outside in her campervan.
Why does she do it?
“I enjoy it. It’s good fun,” she says. “I like making a difference to people’s lives. For me I like seeing people go from being a volunteer with little confidence to being someone who has a qualification and gets a full-time job. I just find that enormously satisfying.
“We try to build up people who have no qualifications.
“Everybody who comes in is learning and getting something out of it and it obviously benefits us.
“It doesn’t matter what the engaging is as long as they get something out of it in the end.”
The Royal Bank of Scotland’s Social Enterprise 100 list charts the growth and impact of the UK’s top social enterprises. More information can be found at https://se100.net/