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June 30, 2020

End of an era

Senscot was formed in 1999. Its founders – Laurence Demarco, Rodney Stares and Aidan Pia most prominent amongst them – believed a new voice should be heard within Scotland’s amorphous third sector. At first, the cause of social enterprise was resisted, both in government and from within the sector, but it’s now roundly championed (if not necessarily fully understood) by all. This week, ever the innovator, Senscot merges with Social Firms Scotland. Much of their work will continue through its grassroots network of SENs.. But some things will change. For instance, Laurence’s weekly words of wisdom (sic) are moving here.



Late in 1998, the Big Issue in Scotland hosted a gathering of community activists – which identified the potential benefit of some mechanism to keep them in touch with each other. This remains the core purpose of Senscot today – a national network to connect and support community activists and their social enterprises.

Along with informing, connecting and facilitating the development of social enterprise networks (SENs) – ever since 1999 – Senscot has also been working to put in place a support infrastructure for a strong and sustainable social enterprise community in Scotland.

But in pursuing this mission there has been a conscious determination not to create a large, centralised ‘intermediary’ organisation – and certain key principles have been applied: to let the ‘network’ determine what’s required next; to only take and develop initiatives in areas with no existing players; coalitions and partnerships wherever possible; relinquish ownership and control of new initiatives ASAP; unrestricted access to our materials on Open Source principles.

Senscot consistently seeks to resist growth beyond a maximum of ten persons; this reputation greatly assists our role in co-ordination of new developments.

Developing Support Infrastructure

2001    Established – with six other partners across the UK – UnLtd (The Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs) and Scotland UnLtd to provide seed capital in the form of grants to emerging social entrepreneurs and social enterprises. Scotland was the only part of the UK that had a ring-fenced awards budget and delegated staff and decision-making processes.

2002    Beginning the process of converting our small Edinburgh office base into a social enterprise incubator with a range of rooms for rent – on easy in/easy out licenses – along with common services such as kitchens, meeting rooms and Wi-Fi. Today we manage two separate spaces in Edinburgh and Glasgow – providing accommodation to eight separate organisations.

2003    Set up, with others, the Development Trust Association Scotland (DTAS) to support local communities in taking greater control and ownership of local assets via the creation of robust local ‘anchor organisations’. Some 250 communities across Scotland are now either full or associate members of DTA Scotland – with many owning and managing significant community assets.

2004   Working with CEiS and Scotland UnLtd, we helped establish the Social Enterprise Academy  to provide training and professional development to boards and staff in the social enterprise and wider third sector with action learning as its central feature. In the same year, we set up the Senscot Exchange as an in-house business advice and support service to social enterprises on a peer-to-peer basis.

2005    Acted as a founding member of the Scottish Social Enterprise Coalition (SSEC) which later evolved into Social Enterprise Scotland. Its original objective was to act as representative/umbrella body for the social enterprise community in Scotland.

2007    Formed Firstport  –  through merging of services delivered by the Senscot Exchange and Scotland UnLtd to create an integrated one-stop shop for funding and advice for start-up social entrepreneurs and their enterprise. Firstport has gone on to establish itself as Scotland’s leading development agency for start-up social entrepreneurs and their enterprises.

2009    Partnering with Social Firms Scotland and CEiS to establish Ready for Business LLP  – a web portal and advisory service – to deliver the Scottish Govt contract, – “Developing Markets for Third Sector Providers”.

2010    Taking a lead in creating standards for the social enterprise sector by trying to establish a Scottish version of the Social Enterprise Mark. Senscot withdrew its support for the SE Mark towards the end of 2010 when the Mark agreed to approve 50% dividends to shareholders. Also established additional premises at 43 Bath St in Glasgow as a base for a new subsidiary – Senscot Legal.

2011    Formally established Senscot Legal – to provide accessible and affordable quality legal support to the social enterprise and third sector in Scotland. Since it began trading in March 2011, Senscot Legal has provided services to almost 800 social enterprises and third sector organisations. 2011 also saw the emergence of the SE Voluntary Code of Practice  Steering Group.

2012    The SE Voluntary Code of Practice was launched in March 2012. Later that same year, Senscot began exploratory talks into the establishment of a community banking facility for and by the sector – in partnership with Airdrie Savings Bank.

2013    The Steering Group for the  Scottish Community Re:Investment Trust (SCRT) was set up – with the objective of recycling third sector financial resources for reinvestment within projects and communities in Scotland.

2014    Formally established SCRT and secured initial 12-month funding. Also, later in the year, Senscot convened the initial Steering Group for the SE Vision 2025 – the cornerstone of what became the Scottish SE Strategy (2016-26) – co-produced with Scottish Govt.

2015    Continued to convene Steering Group for SE Vision and also sector-led approach to SE Strategy. After 15 years in Manor Place, Senscot moved its Edinburgh operation (and registered office) to new premises at 21 Walker St.

2016    Launch of 10 year Scottish SE Strategy and supporting SE Action Plan. After running a two-year pilot, Senscot also received funding to establish a new service – Partnership for Procurement (P4P) – in partnership with Social Firms Scotland, the Scottish Community Alliance and Co-operative Development Scotland.

Since 2004, we have been directly involved in supporting and facilitating social enterprise networks (SENs) across Scotland.

The SENs is the name we give to our work with SENs- both thematic and geographical. SENs provide members with peer support, a vehicle for collective action and market development. The vision is of a growing community of frontline social enterprises across Scotland – connected and energised through a network of Networks.

Today, there are 17 locally-based SENs and six Thematic SENs. The local SENs have over 800 SEs as members or actively engaged. The thematic SENs have over 500 SEs actively engaged. None of the thematic SENs are constituted. Eight local SENs are constituted and have their own designated staff.

2004: Fife SEN; Argyll & Bute SEN; Aberdeen SEN

45 members or engaged with SENs

2005: Edinburgh SEN

65 members or engaged with SENs

2006: East Lothian SEN; Dumfries and Galloway SEN*; Borders SEN

140 members or engaged with SENs

2007: Dundee SEN; Health SEN

215 members or engaged with SENs

2008: Glasgow SEN; Clacks SEN*

280 members or engaged with SENs

2009: Cultural SEN; Coalfields SEN*; Moray SEN

410 members or engaged with SENs

2010: Sport SEN; Youth SEN*; Inverclyde SEN

530 members or engaged with SENs

2011: Stirlingshire SEN*; West Lothian SEN; Community Food SEN; Aberdeenshire SEN*

680 members or engaged with SENs

2012: Start-up SEN*; South Ayrshire SEN

760 members or engaged with SENs

2013: South Lanarkshire SEN*

890 members or engaged with SENs

2014: South Ayrshire SEN; Falkirk and District SEN; Renfrewshire SEN

970 members or engaged with SENs

2015: Perth and Kinross SEN; Employability SEN

1140 members or engaged with SENs

2016: North Ayrshire SEN

1310 members or engaged with SENs

2017: Tourism SEN

NB:  * indicates a SEN is either no longer active or is currently dormant.

2019: Angus SENRural SEN

1420 members or engaged with SENs

We have created a ‘virtual’ network via a weekly e-mail bulletin that now goes out to over 4,000 individuals across Scotland and the rest of the UK:

  • 48% social enterprises
  • 25% wider third sector
  • 27% public/private sector and others (academics/consultants etc).

Our website attracts around 6,000 hits per week – with an average of 2,000 individual visitors each week.