Social firms to create hundreds of jobs in 2015

The social enterprise sector has the potential to create hundreds of new jobs in 2015 and boost East Antrim’s economic recovery.

That is the view of LEDCOM chairman Henry Fletcher, who told the enterprise company’s AGM last week that LEDCOM will continue to be at the forefront of promoting and developing the burgeoning social economy sector.

After reviewing LEDCOM’s activities in Larne, Carrickfergus and Newtownabbey in the past year, Mr Fletcher said: “The Departments of Enterprise Trade and Investment and Social Development have both identified social enterprises as having considerable potential for growth. We will be stepping up our activities to support more and more business start-ups in the year ahead.”

LEDCOM, which is itself a leading social enterprise, offers a full range of services providing social enterprise development at all levels, including the Social Entrepreneurship Programme (SEP) and the Northern Social Enterprise Hub, based at the Ecos Centre in Ballymena.

It also delivers the SEP in Larne, Ballymena, Ballymoney, Newtownabbey, Antrim and Carrickfergus. During the year, LEDCOM worked with 14 community organisations in those areas to set up nine new social economy businesses, creating 37 potential new jobs.

The company has recently added two new social enterprises to its group of companies. These are Heritage Experience – a cultural heritage tourism company developed in association with the Ulster Historical Foundation and Ulster Scots Community Network – and Business Led NI, which offers a full range of consultancy services including programme management and business consultancy.

Chief executive officer Ken Nelson said LEDCOM has developed a host of initiatives aimed at stimulating the social economy sector and wider economy.

“In an era of huge public sector budgetary pressures, social enterprises can provide value for money solutions to deliver public services. LEDCOM has been doing this successfully for local government for over 20 years.

“With the urgent need to rebalance the economy between the public and private sectors, the social economy is a proven way of helping to achieve that”, he added.

Mr Nelson reflected: “This year we opened the new Northern Zone Social Enterprise Hub at the Ecos Centre in Ballymena. This project provides support for groups from the community and voluntary sector who wish to explore and develop a social enterprise as a means of securing income.

“It has made an encouraging start and has 28 clients signed up for mentoring, training best practice visits and other support. Most of the clients engaged are new to LEDCOM.“

The company also developed and managed Advance – an innovative new pilot programme aimed at young people aged 18-26 not in employment, education or training. Funded by Lloyds TSB Foundation for Northern Ireland, Advance placed 40 young people in paid temporary posts with social enterprises across Northern Ireland and had a 91 per cent success rate in creating full time jobs at the end of the programme.

Through the year LEDCOM  mentored and assisted a wide range of businesses and social enterprises. helping them to achieve self-employment, employment, and employability development. This includes 91 business start-ups assisted by LEDCOM through advice, information, training, mentoring and other support, with around 95 jobs promoted;five social enterprise start-ups, with around 25 jobs promoted; 25 existing businesses and social enterprises; and 516 individuals assisted to improve their skills and employability.

“LEDCOM has continued to have a positive impact on economic development in Larne and across Co Antrim and Northern Ireland,” said Mr Nelson.