A social enterprise near Larne has had the ‘sparkle’ put into its business thanks to a £50k loan from Ulster Community Investment Trust (UCIT).
Clearer Water, based at Magheramorne, sources and bottles drinking water which is certified as among the best in the UK and Ireland.
The funds will allow the business to purchase a new automatic carbonator, enabling them to expand their customer base in the hotel and restaurant trade where sparkling water is more popular.
Production has grown to 10,000 bottles per day and the firm now operates additional shifts to meet demand.
Clearer Water, which employs 11, has created a relaxing working environment designed to help disadvantaged people who find it difficult to secure employment.
Clients include Shu, Ox, Wine & Brine, the Fitzwilliam and Lough Erne hotels, Titanic Belfast, Henderson Food Group and a number of up-market delicatessens in London.
Phelim Sharvin, UCIT’s Associate Director, said: “Clearer Water is a great example of what social enterprises can deliver - combining commercial success with a vision to improve local communities.
“Thanks to funding from UCIT, the company has been able to switch from a manual to an automatic carbonator. This has greatly improved production efficiency and allowed them to win new customers.
“The importance of social enterprises, community and voluntary groups to Northern Ireland’s economy continues to grow, generating annual revenues in excess of £1.2bn. Last year UCIT provided a record £14 million to 80 third sector organisations across the island.”
The social enterprise’s water is naturally purified through three limestone aquifers on the Antrim Plateau and has a pH of 7.8, putting it in the top 10 percent of UK bottled water.
Each bottle also contains a unique ‘Trace Code’ which allows customers to find out not just about the product, but also the person they have helped to support in employment by their decision to purchase Clearer Water.
David Hunter, co-founder of Clearer Water, said: “In the past year employment has more than tripled and sales have increased six-fold. As a company we’re focused on the idea that to be social, we need to be enterprising. This enables us to provide employment to people who previously had little expectation of holding down a job, and that has been life changing for them and their families.
“Demand for bottled-water is projected to increase by over 13 percent in the UK over the next decade, fuelled by the sugar tax and a greater awareness of diseases such as diabetes. As the market grows, we expect to increase production and provide further employment opportunities. The automatic carbonator will assist greatly in meeting the demand, particularly for sparkling, or as we call it, ‘With Bubbles’ bottled water.
“In addition to UCIT we’ve been supported by the Big Lottery, Rural Development Fund, Northern Trust, Housing Executive NI and Henderson Food Group, which is our distributor. Without them it wouldn’t have been possible for the business to grow as quickly as it has.”
The idea for Clearer Water was sparked by an 18-year long campaign to prevent a local quarry being turned into a landfill site.
During this time professional reports were commissioned to detail the quality of the water source, providing the provenance and certification Clearer Water would require to sell it as premium bottled drinking water.
Clearer Water is a partnership between Acceptable Enterprises Larne, which operates a number of social enterprises and training schemes, and Learning to Grow, a charity specialising in therapeutic horticulture.