Jenny Pupius – Action for Business

An interview with Jenny Pupius, CEO of Action for Business (Bradford) Ltd – from the Prowess archive.

Can you explain the main activities of Action for Business?

ABL (Action for Business Ltd) is a social enterprise and a development trust.  It is a community led regeneration organisation based in the Manningham district of Bradford, an area that ranks highly in the government’s Index of Deprivation.   Our aim is, quite simply, to make this disadvantaged area a better place to live and work.

Our core business is the ownership and management of Carlisle Business Centre in the heart of Manningham.  This is a managed workspace of 36,000 sq ft consisting of almost 100 work units, currently occupied by over 50 small businesses, charities, community groups and statutory bodies employing 300 people.

We also have quite extensive meeting and conference facilities.  Last year CBC welcomed 40,000 visitors from across the region to events as diverse as business seminars and networking events; training programmes in first aid, IT, ESOL, drugs awareness, community safety and many other topics; women’s groups; dance classes; choir practices; playschemes and homework clubs; mendhis, wedding parties and other family celebrations.

ABL has also managed and delivered a number of grant-funded programmes via, for example,  SRB and ERDF.  We currently manage the Manningham Healthy Living Initiative.  This is a £1m, 5-years programme funded by the Big Lottery that aims to improve health and well-being through a variety of initiatives .

When was Action for Business started?

Following the closure of the mills in the 70s and 80s there was a great deal of unemployment and hardship which aggravated racial tension (the Manningham population is 70% BME) and resulted in the well-publicised civil disturbances.  ABL was set up in 1992 by local people who recognised the need for social cohesion and economic development in Manningham.

Enterprise was recognised as a unifying factor and so the new community organisation worked in partnership with the City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council to redevelop the derelict Carlisle Mill which opened in 1996 as the modern  Carlisle Business Centre, initially owned by BMDC and managed by ABL.

In 2003 with support from the Adventure Capital Fund and a commercial loan from Barclays Bank, ABL was able to purchase CBC from BMDC thus becoming a significant asset-based and income generating social enterprise.

If we can prove by September 2008 that the Social Return On Investment is greater than the amount borrowed from the ACF, then that money (£300,000) gets commuted to a grant. We are well on the way to achieving this, with CBC now recognised as a local focus for social and commercial activity.

I joined the company 6 months ago as CEO with a remit to achieve a stable and sound financial basis for the further expansion of ABL’s community interests and activities; and to explore both commercial and community development opportunities.

What motivated you to work in the social enterprise sector?

Many people consider social enterprises to be “non-profit making”.  This is simply not so.  We might have strong social objectives but we all want to make as much money as we possibly can.  It’s what we do with those profits that’s different.

I have a background in business, and I am motivated by social values.  Enterprise is essential for the regeneration of our cities.  But to ensure long term sustainability our communities need to get the benefits too, and this is why social enterprise is so important as profits are re-invested in the community served by the business rather paid out as dividends.

Is it difficult to balance your need to be a sustainable organisation with the expectations of client companies?

I will do everything possible to support a company at our centre.  Our success and their success are mutually dependent.  Yet our clients have to understand that we are running a commercial business ourselves and that we cannot subsidise them.   However if a company is facing a difficult spell we may be more sympathetic than a private sector landlord and try to reach an arrangement that can help them out, offer practical support and signpost to business advice.

What more do you feel the government could do to support social enterprises?

Social enterprise and community organisations are now firmly part of the government agenda.  Yet recent reports have highlighted that existing mainstream business support services do not generally meet their needs.  Many of us often feel that the traditional providers of business support have so little knowledge or experience of the sector that they are unable to establish any appropriate or meaningful support strategy.

Learning from other social enterprises, peer support and mentoring is a preferred way forward for most people.  Maybe the government could help support the co-ordination of this within the sector through organisations like the Development Trusts Association, NCVS or the Social Enterprise Coalition.

Also, setting-costs are often high for social enterprises – it’s not like setting up your own business where you can work from home for a while!  Access to finance can be a problem.  There are some sources of help available such as the Adventure Capital Fund, or via the RDAs.  However some help with working capital would be valuable.

Do you think there will be more social enterprises in the future?

Yes, certainly. I think social enterprise is a natural way forward:  operating a commercial business but with the values and ethos of the third sector.  A (hopefully winning) combination of socialism and capitalism.  A shift in values is taking place, people are recognising that society is richer and all of us individually are richer when the rewards of entrepreneurialism are shared.

What advice would you give to other people thinking about starting a social enterprise?

Be very clear about your objectives and why you are doing what you are doing .If you have started a social enterprise so as to make money to invest in a social objective then make sure you don’t loose sight of that overall vision in the drive to generate income.

This article is from the Prowess archive 2003-2008








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