Giving something back

Social enterprise is about more than recycling and restaurants - as the winners of an awards scheme

Jamie Oliver's Fifteen restaurant may be the most famous example, but social enterprise is flourishing in Britain as never before - and once again the New Statesman's Upstarts Awards have turned the spotlight on the new breed of social entrepreneurs.

The awards recognise the core of social enterprise: its people. As well as being visionaries and business leaders, social entrepreneurs are employers. They are educators and mentors who pass on prac tical skills and social values to their employees. With this in mind, our 2006 awards focused particularly on employers who invest in training and employees who have benefited from learning on the job.

The winner of Social Enterprise Team of the Year, Hoxton Apprentice Restaurant, is an inspirational example of team effort, co-operation and community impact. Hoxton's apprentices are mainly homeless and long-term unemployed. The team provides a stepping stone in the transition back into the "real" world of work, with 80 per cent of the apprentices moving on to permanent positions.

Carol Hughes, who won the Trainee of the Year award, has overcome challenges that would deter many others. Juggling work and training with being a single mum-of-four, Carol has become the star trainee driver at a recycling company. Before this, Carol says, she had no confidence and no idea how to get back into work. A colleague gave an idea of how far Carol has come: "At first the men treated her with kid gloves . . . now she keeps them in line."

Social enterprise is not just about recycling and restaurants. Our other winners (see the panel below) are involved in some of the toughest and most competitive industries in the UK: clothing manufacture, construction and tourism. But it was the youngest entrants who won everyone's hearts. The judges decided to give a special commendation to a young set of entrepreneurs at Stonelaw High School. Working as a co-operative, they sell fair-trade goods everywhere from the school playground to local parish churches and markets. Since the co-operative started trading in 2003, sales have exceeded £25,000. All profits have been donated to a British doctor, Ruth Bland, who works in South Africa with babies and children who are HIV-positive or have full-blown Aids. Dr Bland wrote to say: "If it hadn't been for you helping so much last year, we might not have had the courage to continue."

The Upstarts Awards were presented by Ed Miliband, the newly appointed minister for the third sector, at a ceremony in London on 10 May. As the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, had explained just two days earlier, Miliband's job is to ensure that the government draws on and supports "the potential of the voluntary sector and social enterprises as partners in service delivery". In plain terms, this means the government will be working with these organisations and businesses to deliver government services.

Politically, it would seem that Blair is playing catch-up with David Cameron, who announced in January that the Tories would introduce social enterprise zones. But, in fact, Cameron's ideas were far from original. Social enterprise is nothing new; it already contributes more than £18bn annually to the UK economy and lies at the heart of the labour movement. Its heritage takes in the co-operative movement and fair trade, and the government introduced the Social Enterprise Unit to promote its growth back in 2001 - the same year the NS launched its awards.

Ed Miliband paid tribute when he said: "The Edge Upstarts Awards recognise some of the most innovative and inspirational social entrepreneurs in the country, and I wholeheartedly congratulate all those who have won. They have shown a combination of entrepreneurial flair and a passion to give something back to the community that both tackles key social and environmental issues and brings crucial benefits to the UK economy."

Further details about the award winners can be found at: www.edgeupstarts.org/awards

The winners

Social Enterprise Trainee of the Year

Winner: Carol Hughes, trainee driver at Bulky Bob's

Highly commended: Bernadette Wright, trainee at Proud City

Young Social Entrepreneur of the Year

Amy Carter, founder of Bespoke Experience, a fair-trade tourism company

Social Entrepreneur of the Year

Safia Minney of the fair-trade clothing company People Tree

Social Enterprise Team of the Year

Hoxton Apprentice Restaurant

Social Enterprise Mentor of the Year

Heather Wilkinson, founder of Striding Out

Highly commended: Barbara Phillips

Social Enterprise of the Year

Training for Life

The Edge Start-up Award:

MPS Training

Special commendation:

Stonelaw High Fair Traders Young Co-operative