Why A Social Enterprise?

cck team 2012 alana

You may not think of Coffee, Cake & Kink as a social enterprise. We didn’t, either. Over time, we have come to see that social enterprise has always been at the heart of our work. Alana Cassidy, one of CCK's founders, talks about what it means for us, and the community we serve.

When did you start associating the term 'social enterprise' with Coffee, Cake & Kink?

To be honest, it came out of our frustration with the prejudice we have encountered looking for new premises on the high street and having to explain ourselves again and again, only to never hear back. We needed something that landlords, and others, could understand and associate us with. When we started looking closely at what it was we were doing, and invited third party advisers to help us look at things with fresh eyes, it was suggested to us that we might be a social enterprise.

We then started looking at other organisations, seeing what they were doing and thinking ‘yes, we do that’. We looked at social enterprise websites and saw the other social enterprises that were out there, and the work they were doing in their communities. We started to see that you could act like a business and do social work at the same time. At the same time, given our name and the nature of our work, a ‘social enterprise’ association both strengthens the organisation by opening doors, and helps us fulfil our barrier-breaking mission by taking the word ‘kink’ into the mainstream.

Why a ‘social enterprise’ and not a charity?

For a long time people had been saying to us 'You’re acting like a charity' but we knew we were running a business, and had a business head and mentality. We also knew there was unlikely to be any funding out there for a kinky charity, and previous organisations in the community had found it difficult to survive just on community donations alone. So, after discovering the social enterprise business model, we realised it was the one to go for.

Where have you been getting support and advice about being a social enterprise from?

We have always worked hard on the Coffee, Cake & Kink business, as well as on its social side. To this end, for years we underwent annual Business Link reviews, regularly scoring well above 'an average UK SME'. It was through a Business Link contact that we were first introduced to the idea of a social enterprise and started to have diversity discussions with anyone from the London Development Agency to the Lord Mayor’s office. In one lengthy meeting at City Hall, we went through the social enterprise criteria which existed at the time, and were found to tick all the boxes. We were then introduced to GK Partners, the specialist business advisers who piloted a Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) project to develop and provide Social Enterprise (SE) business support in London and who have also been advising individuals and groups from social entrepreneurs to academic institutions to FTSE100 companies for decades. We were subsequently introduced to Social Enterprise London, who facilitated our participation in the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) Future Jobs Fund. We have been lucky - and knocked on enough doors - to meet great people who have supported us, kink and all, and indeed have repeatedly put their reputation at stake in order to do so.

Has identifying yourself as a social enterprise influenced the way you work?

Yes and no. We are doing the same things we have always been doing, with the same spirit and pretty much the same key people. However, opening up to the mainstream does mean following mainstream standards in the way you do business, and conduct your affairs. Again, this is something we have always aspired to, and even in CCK1 we did things such as working with the LDA or providing staff with vocational training, NVQs and so on. But playing the game officially, with access to DWP programmes and such, has meant that we have had to up our conduct, and have been held accountable for things such as key objectives, deliverables etc. We attended some 'Measuring Social Impact' workshops, which helped us to articulate and illustrate the difference, if any, that we’ve had on people’s lives. We have also had to upgrade our internal processes at a breakneck speed, and not without hiccups, to be able to do all the reporting and monitoring required. I am pleased to say that we have managed to sneak a few kinks into that too, and people continue to raise eyebrows - this time at how things can be both chilled AND efficient! So now we are being approached for advice on employee engagement, or flexi- and home-working by people who would never have made it to the Endell Street CCK. This makes us very happy indeed - and puts the word 'kink' on more desks, in more emails, in front of even more people!

Have you experienced any kink-related prejudice in the social enterprise world?

Prejudice, no. Raised eyebrows, all the time! Come to think about it, little wonder, as insofar as we know, we are the only kinky social enterprise around. Despite being unprecedented in our mission and the community we serve, we have been able to access programmes and initiatives that would normally be closed to an organisation of our background. We have also discovered a whole new way in to further our mission, working behind the scenes with decision-makers, putting the 'kink' word into national databases and answering numerous questions from anybody from business partners to government officials.

Do you think social enterprises are part of the longer-term solution for the problems in wider society?

Social enterprises have always been there, though they have not always been called that. There are things happening now that give them recognition and a place in the society. I do believe that you can’t just take take take, it’s not good for the soul. Social enterprises remind us that you can give something back, and stop people falling into the take-take-take trap. Although few see themselves as political organisations - we certainly don't - social enterprises do send a message that things can be different.

A lot of charities are huge now, and they’ve grown to be so big that some end up abusing the trust placed in them. They’ve got the same bills as any business and are sometimes driven by that. Whether they are actually effective in their work depends on what percentage of funds is spent on their operational costs, weighed against their social returns. Small charities, on the other hand, often struggle to attract sufficient funding to be able to do their work or even survive.

Social enterprises can have the best of both worlds. They are not reliant on donations, but on their own profits, which they can use to do their work. They have few reporting obligations or legal requirements, are not stifled by red tape, committees or boards, and have the freedom to evolve and adapt quickly to their environment.

What do you hope to achieve in continuing down the social enterprise road?

We hope for the recognition of our social agenda, and for that to help us get back into premises.

We also hope to give other people in the community a chance to think ‘Well, Coffee, Cake & Kink is a social enterprise - I can start a business for the benefit of the community, and so I, too, can get some help and sit at that table’. Maybe some are even thinking that already but we don't know (We would love to, though!).