Corporate social responsibility is more than just giving money to charity. Big firms are increasingly looking at innovative new ways of giving back to their communities. One scheme piloted in Sussex by a major employer was so successful it is being exported elsewhere for its second year. Business editor FINN SCOTT-DELANY reports.

Corporations wanting to be a good neighbour could do worse than looking to Legal and General for inspiration.

The leading insurer and major Brighton and Hove employer is pioneering a new scheme which goes beyond the usual expectations of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

Rather than simply handing money out the firmis looking to support social enterprises through their ‘teenage years’ with unique interest-free loans, mentoring and support from its experienced workforce.

Last year Sussex pilot project SEAssist helped three enterprises off the ground, the most notable being ethical supermarket hiSbe.

The scheme was considered so successful Legal and General have given it a wider roll out and are encouraging social entrepreneurs to apply for funding.

The April 10 deadline for applications is approaching with social enterprises able to receive a £10,000 to £30,000 interest-free loan.

Successful applicants will also get mentoring from a Legal and General employee and access to a bank of experts.

Bids to the £330,000 fund will be decided by a Social Investment Committee, which includes the Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex Peter Field, editor of The Argus Michael Beard and chief executive of Brighton and Hove Economic Partnership Tony Mernagh.

The scheme has the backing of the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) which has donated £150,000 to help social businesses get off the ground, thrive and drive regeneration in Sussex.

Frances Borrer, community investment manager for Legal and General’s Hove office, said: “This is a real opportunity for anyone who has a business idea that has a social purpose in the Sussex area, to receive excellent advice and interest free financial backing, to get their business off the ground.

“We had some excellent applications last year and some great successes. So any businesses cons i d e r i n g applying should get in touch with SEAssist now, particularly if they have any questions.

“They need to make sure they do not miss the closing date, which is Thursday, April 10.”

As well as hiSbe, Brighton antenatal class ParentSkool and Sussex Community Internet Project also received the loan.

Meanwhile Little Green Pig, a workshop for young writers, relieved mentoring last year and is expected to apply for the next round of funding in the hope of opening a ‘secret shop’ in the London Road area later this year.

With a lack of grants and commercial lending the scheme is meant to plug the gap for social entrepreneurs struggling to get off the ground.

Graham Precey, head of Corporate Responsibility at Legal and General, said: “We are so pleased to be supporting the SE-Assist scheme in Sussex again this year.

“We had no hesitation in being involved and offering further investment and ‘hands on’ support after such a successful pilot last year.

“The employees based in our Hove office, who were involved with the scheme last year, understand just how fantastic it is when the vision of a local business becomes a reality, with their help and our financial support.

“There is such a sense of achievement and pride working so closely with local businesses who in turn provide great benefits to the community.

“It will be great to see more local businesses have this exciting opportunity.”

The scheme is not all one way, with Legal and General mentors getting valuable experience of giving something back to the community.

Russell Reid, left, project manager and mentor, said: “I got involved as it’s doing something I’ve never been involved in before.

It’s a wonderful opportunity to meet new and exciting people who are likely to be very different to the types of people we normally come across working at Legal and General.

“The idea of being able to use the skills and expertise I’ve gained through working at Legal and General and help a social enterprise organisation within the local community is really exciting.”

Ross Jones, right, development director for individual protection, added: “Social enterprises are playing an increasingly important role in local communities and have huge potential to make a very real and significant positive impact.

“The SE Assist venture is a great way to support these organisations and I was keen to play a part in contributing to and supporting this programme, drawing on the varied knowledge, skills and experience of my time at Legal and General and the other organisations I’ve worked and volunteered for.”

The Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) is handling the finance on the twothree year loans.

Amy Clarke, head of advisory at CAF, said: “We’re thrilled to be rolling out the scheme in Sussex to support local social businesses. Social enterprises can make a huge difference to people in the community.

“There is a great spirit of innovation visible at the moment, but forward-thinking entrepreneurs are struggling to find the funding and the support they need to enable them to get their ideas off the ground. It’s great that we are able to provide local businesses in Sussex with an additional source of valued support again this year, thanks to the help of Legal and General and C2C.

“It would be great to see these kinds of partnerships between big companies and social enterprises become commonplace, so more local communities can enjoy the benefits that thriving local social businesses can bring.”


One social enterprise to win a loan last year was Brighton-based ParentSkool which provides antenatal classes for firsttime parents.

Founder Sarah Watkins, pictured right, created the course after her own experience of antenatal classes was unsatisfactory.

The idea is to make the parent-to-parent classes assessable to all, particularly those on low incomes.

Just nine months on the business has gone from a one-woman pipe-dream to award-winning enterprise with eight-staff and high approval ratings.

Sarah hopes to have 100 teachers within three years.

She said: “The program has been absolutely crucial to our ongoing success and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to any other social enterprise.

“It was really instrumental in what I was trying to do.

“The financial support I got from the SE-Assist program enabled me to create the necessary foundations for by business.

“When I first set out it was just me and a pipe dream. I’ve hired eight staff and a handful of volunteers.

“SE-Assist helped me develop a new brand and website so I could do online bookings. I also used the help to get through the kite-marking system.

“Legal and General were amazing and did so much stuff I didn’t expect when I applied.

“They loaned me boardroom offices in London so I could do interviews, they helped me with training.”

hiSbe - how it Should be

Another success story is ethical supermarket hiSbe.

The enterprise received a £5,000 grant to spend on consulting, a £10,000 interest-free loan and mentoring by L&G on financial issues.

SE-Assist was the first financial backing hiSbe secured, giving the business investment credibility and personal validation for founder sisters Ruth and Amy Anslow.

The £5,000 consultation grant was spent on research on a fresh produce consultant who specialises in linking small-scale producers to retailers.

Amy said: “Our successful application to SE-Assist was our very first step to getting the store opened, and everything snowballed from there on.

“We’re hugely grateful that we were able to kickstart hiSbe into being with such a supportive team behind us at SE-Assist. We firmly believe that social enterprises are the future of business, so we’re thrilled that SE-Assist will continue to do good work in 2014.”

Following the successful SE-Assist application Ruth and Amy launched a successful crowd-funding campaign.

hiSbe opened its doors on December 7 on Small Business Saturday.

It has recorded 2,000 transactions per week and started to break-even in January.

In February, 59p in every pound hiSbe took went to suppliers, 27p was spent on staff wages and the rest went into paying the bills to run the shop.

In contrast it is estimated that UK farmers normally receive only 9p of every £1 spent on food by consumers.

For 50p spent on a pint of milk at hiSbe 41p goes to the local dairy farmer.

British dairy farmers are often forced to sell their milk at below the cost of production.