Social investment – focusing on the social impact as much as any financial return – is not new to housing. From the likes of William Hesketh Lever developing a model village for his Sunlight soap factory workers in 1888 to the Cadbury brothers in Bourneville, this Victorian philanthropy – enlightened self-interest perhaps – spawned the social housing sector that we have today.
However, social investment is a phrase with a new lease of life and a growing profile across the not for profit sectors – social housing as well as other charities, voluntary sector bodies, community interest companies and the like.
In our latest challenge report, ‘Innovative Investment’ looking at social investment, Commonweal argues that rather than trying to meet general housing need and new housing supply, it should be focussed on supporting new innovative housing models and services. And we have looked specifically at the philanthropic or charitable end of the spectrum.
There is now little argument about the need for more house building but providing more homes in itself will not necessarily help those already at the margins, those facing social injustice through inability to access resources on an equal footing.
Organisations working to support such groups be they ex-offenders; those with physical or mental health needs; those escaping brutal regimes whether from abroad or within their current home environment; are constantly seeking to identify new ways to help those known to fall through the cracks in existing projects. These are the organisations and the issues where Commonweal seeks to work.
We know from our work on the supportive shared housing ‘peer landlord’ model and our latest project supporting those migrants with No Recourse to Public Funds – that social investment can and does make a tremendous difference. We work with investors that ‘get it’ – convinced that partners are taking steps to minimise the risk of failure and are capturing the learning to enable successful initiatives to be taken to scale. That is where the generous but finite social investment funding we think can and does make the biggest impact.
Who knows if that is what William Hesketh Lever of the Cadbury brothers would have done with their money today? I like to think it is, because they were developing new innovative housing models, not just creating more overcrowded slums, which was the predominant model at the time, simply to increase supply.
This blog was first published in the November 2014 issue of Inside Housing.
© Simon Cunningham