Northern Ireland

Social enterprises: Giving back to the community

Homeless man wearing Outside In hat Image copyright Outside In
Image caption Outside In works with people on the street to hear their story and offer hope and guidance

"I think there is a generation rising up that is more socially driven to fixing problems and they will use business to do that."

Those are the words of David Linton, founder of Craigavon-based Madlug.

It makes backpacks and other bags and works with children in care on a 'Buy one, Give one' approach.

Every time somebody buys one of its bags, another is given to a child in care.

It is one of a number of social enterprises set up in Northern Ireland to make positive change within communities.

Profits are made, as with any business, but with social enterprises money is reinvested to benefit others.

Image copyright Madlug
Image caption David Linton, Founder of Madlug, with some of the bags

"We want to be a company that employs care leavers and disadvantaged young people," Mr Linton said.

"We are trying to really draw an awareness to something that is unseen."

Mr Linton believes the term social enterprise will disappear over time and most businesses will start giving profits back to the community.

'Warmth and compassion'

He added: "We get regular comments through social media saying how much the bags have meant and we have a lot of support from young people in care - even those who haven't yet received a bag."

Image copyright Madlug
Image caption More than 3,000 bags have already been given out to children in care

One young person in care wrote: "I wanted to thank you as when I received a bag off you, with the handwritten note, and the clear thought and care that is embedded in your work, I felt a surge of warmth and compassion.

"I think sometimes people forget that every human being is deserving and should be shown love and compassion and value."

Social engagement

Joe Brolly, manager of the 4Rs Reuse Workshop in Londonderry, explained how they aim to provide economic and social benefits to the community.

They work in partnership with Derry and Strabane District Council to reduce landfill and give disadvantaged young people the opportunity to restore old furniture and gain skills and qualifications.

"It's not just a qualification, it's the social engagement aspect of things," Mr Brolly said.

Image copyright Tom Heaney/Nwpresspics
Image caption Young people working in the 4Rs workshop in Derry

"Then we look at other things that they might need, like improving their IT skills. They might have personal issues, like drugs and alcohol abuse, mental health and wellbeing, and we just look at things that help them into further education and employment.

"If we weren't delivering this, there wouldn't be anywhere for these people to go to."

The 4Rs make about £30,000 a year to put back into the social enterprise. It is funded by the Department for Communities and from the European Social Fund (ESF), alongside applying for small grants throughout the year from different organisations.

'Blown away'

David Johnston, founder of Belfast street clothing brand Outside In, saw potential in people who were often forgotten.

Image copyright Outside In
Image caption David Johnston, Founder of Outside In

"One day I was sitting down and starting to chat to them, and was blown away with how easy it was to become homeless, but not only that, how many skills these guys have and dreams they have and nobody knew them," he said.

Like Madlug, Outside In adopted an approach called 'Wear one, Share one' - an additional product is given to customers when they buy something to hand out to someone on the streets.

"I wanted to create something that actually got people joining a movement," Mr Johnston said.

John's story

John, 50, has been living on the streets for years and interacts with Outside In regularly.

He grew up in a violent home, was beaten from a young age and says he never learnt to cope.

He described life on the streets of Belfast: "Some people are friendly, others are snakes."

He has three daughters of his own: "I love them but with the way I am now I don't want them to see me.

"I want to come see them when I'm right and off the streets."

"People said 'don't do it you're mad, people won't give it out'.

"For me, the opportunity of somebody stopping in the middle of their day to actually speak to and give hope to these people was worth more than the risk of someone holding onto the second additional hat."

'Are we helping society?'

A year and a half later, they have teamed up with the Welcome Organisation to start employing homeless people.

Image copyright Outside In
Image caption With every hat you purchase, another is given to someone on the streets

"I think when you're starting a company or whether you are looking to revamp your company, the core thing that you're doing should be 'how do we give back to society? Are we helping society?'," Mr Johnston added.

"I am just hoping from what we do and what we set up, that other companies will be inspired by what we do, globally, and it will kind of shake up the market."

"I just want to be an example of what we can do and how we can actually get people off the street."

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