The Northern Spirit of social venturing

Andy Daly

Is there a distinct Northern Spirit when it comes to social enterprise and social venturing? The answer, according to Shaftesbury Partnership’s recent straw poll in Manchester, is a clear resounding yes. There are whippets and flat caps, yes, but this spirit really seems to boil down to attitude, determination and an appetite for collaboration.

Not only is the Shaftesbury Partnership particularly active in the North of England, with two of our most high-profile ventures (FranchisingWorks and Nurse First) based in the North West, but I am a Northerner (and Mancunian) myself, so I was especially keen to join the debate at our annual event at Manchester Art Gallery last week.

We found a clear majority in the room agreeing that social venturing is indeed done differently in the North compared with the rest of the country. There was widespread agreement around the room that there's a passion and energy and a distinctive spirit of entrepreneurship in the North. There’s a unique sense of resourcefulness and community resilience, which has grown even stronger to make up for the way certain sources of public funding and support have dried up.

One of the clearest messages that came out was around attitude. To maximise social impact it is far more important to get the right people than to have the right design or idea, and a tip I particularly liked was to employ for attitude, as skills can be taught. Meeting a lot of people and working with them on mini-projects was recommended as a way of finding people.

Northern Spirit in three words

Finally, we invited guests to sum up this Northern Spirit in three words. Here are some of the responses:

  • Leading entrepreneurial change
  • Free independent thinking
  • ‘Can-do’ attitude
  • Against all odds
  • Mills, music, manic
  • Beer, whippets, flat-caps (this respondent admitted to having 2 of these 3!)
  • Confidence, hope, determination

My own reflections are that social action in the North is at its best when leaders, businesses and agencies from different sectors work together for the common good of their community. There is a huge appetite in the region for partnership and collaboration, and that this demand is nowhere near fully satisfied. Connecting individuals and networks is a very important part of our work at Shaftesbury Partnership, and we are very keen to build on some of the connections we made at the event, as well as holding more events like this.

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