Thirty days of social enterprise

Alex Sobel is spending thirty days shopping only at social enterprises. Follow his progress here:

And then it was Waitrose

On Tuesday after posting my last post I went the University of Leeds for a meeting and afterwards I went to the student union to visit its shop for a snack, I was pleasantly surprised the shop stocks mainly co-operative group products as well as high st brands and the union’s own food which is branded with a great tagline ‘not for profit – just for students’ not only acknowledging its status as a social enterprise but proudly extolling their mission in just 6 words, go on see if you can do it for your social enterprise – I must admit I am struggling a bit.

I had meetings in Sheffield this morning and afterwards I used the opportunity to visit the region’s only Waitrose Petrol Station in Sheffield City Centre and as Waitrose is part of the John Lewis Partnership which is a workers co-operative , I popped into Waitrose to do some shopping and must admit I haven’t been to Waitrose for about 10 years. It is a much higher end supermarket than I am used too and although they had a great range of fair-trade products, I did linger in the chocolate aisle a bit too long, and niche artisanal type products made by small local producers there were not many actual productsmade by social enterprises apart from Waitrose own products and some Traidcraft goods. Where were the ONE products or SUMA goods inter-trading and growing the social enterprise supply chain is one of the main ways of growing the sector and something the 30 days challenge wants to focus on more closely. This was especially apt on the day I visited Waitrose as I had just met with the other stakeholders of Footsey – the social economy trade fair about how we get more large scale buyers whether public, private or social enterprise to Footsey.

On the Road

Well, I cycled in today for the first time, just avoiding 2 major rain showers and a hailstorm. The ride was much more pleasant than anticipated, however I need to try and get to Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative before 6pm when it closes to buy a pair of cycling gloves.

I am looking at a number of Social Enterprise share opportunities for tomorrow. I am thinking about Go Co-op shares as this challenge has already heightened my awareness of the need for more transport. Go Co-op aims to provide their own public transport services, although their shares cost £500 each!

Another option is Shared Interest who provide micro-finance for fair-trade enterprises in the developing world and shares go for £100 each.

Chapeltown Development Trust is my local development trust which has just started and I already have a members share for £10 but anybody can buy an inFolllovestors share for £100 and the investment will help fund our first project a community broadband system for the local area, I am not totally impartial as I am a director of the Trust.

Thanks to fledglings who have acknowledge receipt of my order for a jungle snoozy.

The challenge has started

Well its day two of the challenge and so far so good. Yesterday I took a slow and steady start to the challenge by buying an Observer from the Co-op Store on Harrogate Rd in Moortown and then read it while my son took a nap in the back of the car. The Observer is published by a Social Enterprise as the Guardian Media Group is itself a wholly owned subsidiary of the Scott Trust and the only newspaper group in the UK without a proprietor, the Scott Trust also has a charitable foundation funded by the Guardian’s trading activity.

I then hadto nip down to our allotments, the Gledhow Valley Allotment Association and pay our subs for the year and bought some Japanese Onions from the allotment shop to plant for harvesting in spring.

Later in the afternoon I went and collected my bike from its service at Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative and I had a set of lights and mudguards installed on it. Tomorrow I am cycling to work which does worry me slightly as the last time I rode a bike not for purely leisure reasons on a short journey was when I was 15 years old and still held some vestige of hope I might one day ride in the Tour de France – well tomorrow will be the Tour de Leeds rush hour traffic.

Today I have ordered a Jungle Snoozy for my son – suffice to say it is an aid to toilet training. I have ordered it from Fledglings in Saffron Walden which is a social enterprise supporting children with specific development and learning needs and sell products and offer advice to their families. I know Ruth Lingard who is director of Fledglings and an inspirational social entrepreneur who received the MBE for services to disabled young people. We spent two weeks together on a learning journey to India visiting Bangalore, Mysore and Mumbai where we saw some great social enterprises doing great work around social environmental systems and opened my eyes to the possibilities that exist within the sector .

Tomorrow I hope to start on my reading list and give some early reflections on the challenge.

Fledglings website can be found here –

Details of our learning journey from 2007 can still be found here –

If you are interested in going on a learning journey they are recruiting now-


The countdown to 30 days of Social Enterprise

Well the votes are in and I start my challenge on Sunday 1st November. For 30 days I will be exclusively purchasing from social enterprises. I have spent most of my time worrying about transport and how to get everywhere without being able to turn up at the bus stop or at the train station and buy a ticket, as well as the possibility of running out of petrol nowhere near a co-op or Waitrose Petrol Station. So I have taken a couple of steps to hopefully avoid being stranded. I am having my bike serviced on Saturday at the Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative which has a local branch in Chapel Allerton and so I will be going to most meetings in Leeds on my bike, maybe further afield once I get my bike legs!

I have printed a list of co-op petrol stations in Yorkshire which is surprisingly large and may need testing as I am not confident they all exist. Energy supply is another difficult area and I am transferring to EBICO who from what I can tell is the only social enterprise energy supplier and I have found it very easy to transfer so far.

I have had a few e-mails from people offering me services or goods to buy; so if I do buy something from you then you will be feature in this online diary of my 30 day adventure and maybe comment a little about your organisation or the product, although I am not sure I will list every single item on my grocery shop at the co-op unless you really want me too!

I am not taking a ground zero approach, so things I have already bought and own will be used. All new purchases will be from social enterprises and I will be trying to buy from as wide a range of enterprises as possible, including getting all my Christmas presents from Social Enterprises in November. I will also write about any challenges, difficulties or great experiences I have.

This challenge is partly about social enterprises and partly about consumerism, but also what we buy and the power of the individual consumer in our economy. I am going to be reading some books to help me think about what I am doing, these will be:

– Tescopoly by Andrew Simms

– All Consuming by Neal Lawson

– The first Robert Owen biography that I receive from whichever one of those generous people who keep offering to lend me Robert Owen biographies

Exclusive Trading

Reading a short biography of Robert Owen (by Stirling Smith, published by the Co-operative College) recently, a very short passage caught my attention:

‘…at this time great interest in the concept of exclusive trading, that is only shopping with retailers who supported progressive and democratic ideals. The chartists were particularly keen on this idea.’

This struck me as a great idea and one which could increase our own knowaledge of the sector; the products we buy; and consumerism in general. Could it catch on? Would it not need a more defined statement than simply ‘retailers who supported progressive and democratic ideals’? Perhaps instead: ‘retailers who have social and environment ideals and a form of social ownership’- or in other words-a social enterprise (Marks and Spencer need not apply!).

This idea, forged in the very early days of our movement, is one that may just be about to make a comeback. Would it be possible in today’s society to purchase exclusively from social enterprises?

This question tempts me to undertake an inverse Super-Size Me, a film in which Documentary Maker Morgan Spurlock just eats McDonald’s food for 30 days. Ian, our Information and Membership Officer, has put a poll together for the site. So here’s the challenge to you: I need 100 people take part in the poll and if the majority vote ‘yes’ then for a whole month I will try and purchase everything exclusively from social enterprises!

So how will this work? If I need a computer peripheral I could buy it from Airedale Computers; office equipment from Re-Work Furniture; food from the Co-operative Group; clothes at Arkadash. This list goes on. Doesn’t sound too difficult does it…! I will give it a go and blog about the experience, keeping records of goods purchased.


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