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Cash Injections Bring Boost to Ayrshire's Social Economy

As the sea-change in the way that the voluntary sector is funded continues to gain weight, one Ayrshire not-for-profit organisation is benefiting from a significant cash injection that will allow it to develop its activity in the burgeoning social enterprise field.

Maybole Community Social Enterprise, which is managed by Ayrshire-based training organisation, May-Tag Ltd, has just been awarded £25,000 by Futurebuilders to develop new social enterprises across South Ayrshire, which will lead to increased employment opportunities for disadvantaged people across the area.

The Futurebuilders cash has been awarded to assist the expansion of social enterprise activity in the area, specifically through the appointment of a development manager to widen and explore opportunities. Futurebuilders is an £18 million investment fund whose remit is to develop the social economy in Scotland. The funding proposal and forthcoming social enterprise activity centres on two main fields of activity; firstly the restoration of the 16th century Maybole Castle and its development as a community resource, and secondly a multi-strand community woodlands project, encompassing environmental, educational and regeneration activity.

All of the above activity will be based either in Maybole Castle or the surrounding Casillis Estate. The castle has been used both as a private residence and a community space over the years, including a period as office accommodation for May-Tag. Latterly the castle had fallen into some disrepair and this, together with constraints on the use of the building and a lack of disabled access, made letting the building a difficult prospect. A combination of these issues led former trustees, Cassillis Estates, to offer the castle to the community to develop as a local resource and asset. Now that MCSE has assumed responsibility for the castle Historic Scotland has pledged to fund roof repairs up to a sum of £450,000. A further £5000 has been granted by Awards for All towards the cost of architectural work and negotiations are underway with the National Lottery Heritage Fund to award phased grants for further restoration. Following essential repair and rescue work, May-Tag are spearheading a drive to turn the castle into the centre of social enterprise activity in the area, with plans to transform it into a multi-use community facility.

Peter Walker of May-Tag said, “There is a tremendous opportunity here to rescue Maybole Castle and to make it the hub for a range of community and social enterprises. Plans include restoring the fabric of the building, introducing studio space for local artists and office space for local businesses and community groups, and developing car parking and café facilities. The Castle will become the central attraction in Maybole, owned, managed and run by the Maybole Community Social Enterprise, meaning that its future and preservation will be assured, while ensuring that community groups have a growing opportunity to use the space.”

The second main strand of activity centres on plans to develop a range of community woodland-related social enterprises in the castle grounds.

Proposals include restoring and linking community woodland in the castle grounds by a programme of natural regeneration and new planting. Other plans include extending public access by developing the potential for new walkways, particularly linking Maybole Castle to nearby Culzean Castle. These projects, together with the introduction of a community composting scheme will be used to provide training and employment opportunities for long-term unemployed people in the area, as well as other people with a range of needs. May-Tag envisages that as the community woodland programme develops it will also provide a sustainable source of timber, increased biodiversity and increased opportunity for outdoor recreation. Finally, illustrating the synergy between the community woodlands programme and the management of the castle, there is a plan to establish a woodchip scheme to chip those trees which have no value, this woodchip then being used to fuel the castle’s heating system.

The community woodland activity will involve schools and local groups as a means of promoting environmental education and awareness, while local people will be involved in the day-to-day management of the woods.

As managing partner in MCSE, May-Tag will take the lead in developing social enterprise activities in the area. The other partners involved are Cassillis Estates, Maybole Community Council, Maybole Historical Society, Maybole Community Association, and Maybole Business Association.

The Futurebuilders award followed a detailed report prepared for MCSE by Community Enterprise in Strathclyde (CeiS), which identified wide-ranging opportunities for social enterprise activity on the Cassillis Estate. Local support for the proposals is high – several stakeholder and public meetings have been held to determine community feeling - and the resulting funding for a dedicated post to take the proposals forward is seen as a significant milestone in the bid to make not-for-profit organisations more significant players in the social economy.

Currently May-Tag operates a range of training programmes in South Ayrshire, aimed at assisting unemployed people to gain skills to enter the labour market. These programmes include IT and horticulture – the latter already providing small-scale commercial income whilst delivering training to unemployed people in the area. The organisation also runs the Maybole Access Point, which supports people to move towards employment and also the Maybole Resource Centre, which provides support, development and sustainability for local voluntary groups.

May-Tag is part of national not-for-profit organisation, Momentum. Momentum’s Chief Executive, Ian Welsh, said, “In common with most not-for-profit organisations across Scotland we are experiencing a shift away from grant funding and a push instead to generate more of our own income through commercial activity. May-Tag is an interesting example of how to develop social enterprise activity from a near zero base, as a way of offsetting falling statutory funding. By developing new, more controllable income streams, May-Tag will be able to continue to assist disadvantaged and unemployed people across South Ayrshire and to expand employment and training opportunities in the area to groups such as school-leavers and those who have been out of the labour market for some time. The expertise that May-Tag has already built up in the training environment will provide a solid foundation as it expands to encompass a range of more-than-profit activities which give local people greater chances to gain skills, jobs and a better quality of life.”

“Charities do not operate outside the mainstream. They are an intergral part of community life – assisting people to become active citizens, to gain skills and to gain or retain employment. Not-for-profit organisations are extremely well-placed to deliver key services and commercial activities which generate income and boost local economies whilst at the same time assissting more people to develop the work-related skills they need.”

An indication of the growing importance of the social economy sector within Scotland came last month (November) with the very first Social Enterprise Day and the inaugural Social Enterprise Awards.

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