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How The Big Issue helped bring online laughter classes to locked-down Brits

Big Issue Invest will help deliver £16.3m to social entrepreneurs hit by Covid

The pharmaceutical industry spends billions every year vainly trying to discover a medicine better than laughter.

It’s a treatment that Manchester-based Robin Graham is no stranger to. Robin spends his time helping people to laugh in special classes.

The concept is simple: Robin laughs, and shows others how to laugh, all the while explaining the health benefits of doing so.

But last year, when face-to-face laughter was out of the question for the whole country, Feelgood Communities CIC faced a dilemma. It was solved when a £10,000 grant from the Social Enterprise Support Fund allowed them to take their classes online.

Now, anybody with access to YouTube can laugh along, and Robin says the innovation has taken the social enterprise to new frontiers.

“The new vision is strong, and the pandemic gave us time and space to create this,” he said.

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For the second year running, the Social Enterprise Support Fund will be taking applications and is hoping to help 500 social enterprises in England.

Over £16 million is being made available to help, with social enterprises hit by Covid able to apply for grants of up to £100,000.

Five groups including Big Issue Invest – the arm of the Big Issue which provides funding for social enterprises and charities – will deliver the fund.

Danyal Sattar, chief executive of Big Issue Invest said: “We get to back people doing the best work in the country, in our social enterprise and charity sectors, supporting people in the most difficult of circumstances.

“The community organisations we support are often led by women, or people from diverse backgrounds. The very nature of their being supports social equity and I’m proud to be able to back them with this new programme today.”

When the pandemic hit, Asperger East Anglia, which supports adults with Asperger Syndrome in the area, were forced to close their support groups and furlough more than a quarter of their staff, despite more people than before needing help.

It was a £35,599 grant that allowed AEA to bring staff off furlough and continue supporting those in need. A year on, they have rebounded from the worst of the pandemic.

“Bizarrely we feel that we are in a much better place than pre Covid times, it has made the organisation more resilient and in many respects positive changes have come from what initially presented as a totally disaster,” said Thecla Fellas, chief executive of AEA.

A grant of nearly £100,000 allowed Liverpool social enterprise Blackburne House to hire more staff and sustain a new catering business.

The enterprise runs in one of the most deprived areas of Liverpool and reinvests profits to support women.

Blackburne House staff with a food donation

Andrea Rushton, Blackburne House’s executive director of operations, said: “With your support we have navigated the worst of the Covid impacts and trade is building back week on week”

This year, over half the money – or over £8million – will go to Black, Asian, minority ethnic, and disabled entrepreneurs.

As the country begins to recover from Covid, the impact of the crisis will be most keenly felt by marginalised communities.

Entrepreneurs working to help those communities in turn felt the pressure, just as their work became more important than ever.

Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities suffered a drop in earnings almost three times larger than their white counterparts, with business shutdowns disproportionately affecting them.

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Key Fund, Resonance, the School for Social Entrepreneurs and UnLtd are the other partners dispersing the fund, which receives money from the National Lottery

Funding decisions will be made by a three-person panel, including at least two people who are Black, Asian and minority ethnic, disabled, and/or LGBTQ+.

Social enterprises with most of their beneficiaries in England and with an annual income of £20,000 to £1.8m in either of the last two financial years are eligible to apply. Applications open at 1pm on November 25th and all eligible social enterprises can bid for funding.

Mark Norbury, the chief executive of UnLtd, said: “Last year social entrepreneurs across the UK sprang into action to help their communities at a time when needs felt overwhelming.

“We are delighted that we can provide crucial support again at a time when communities are really squeezed and when social enterprises urgently need funding”

Alastair Wilson, chief executive of the School for Social Entrepreneurs, said: “This fund will provide essential finance to get social entrepreneurs back on their feet, so they can do what they do best: improving lives and transforming local communities.”

To apply, click here.

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