Common Market producer Samantha Moir explains how the public can make different choices about their purchases and feel good about where their money is going.
In times of global uncertainties – and there have been a few less than certain moments of late – it is more important than ever for local communities to support each other. Social enterprise is thriving in Scotland, with hundreds of socially-focused businesses supporting tens of thousands of people. It remains a frustration though that opportunities are being missed to combine the varied talents of local community enterprises to deliver greater national benefits.
The social enterprise I founded, Merry-go-round Glasgow, was born not long after my son Elliot. As he grew, it quickly became apparent that many of the things he was growing out of were still in great condition. Most mums and dads I knew had attics or cupboards full of things bought for their babies that were gathering dust. No one wanted to throw anything out, and everyone saw the potential for these things to help families who have less. So with my background in community re-use and recycling, setting up a social enterprise based around giving pre-loved children’s goods another life was an obvious thing to do.
For 5 years now we have been operating out of a boutique-style shop in the Southside of Glasgow. We want to make buying from a charity shop feel no different to buying from the ‘High St’, and our ethos is ‘second hand isn’t second best’.
We also recognise that having a baby can be a pretty lonely and isolating time, and Merry-go-round also aspires to be a welcoming social space for sleep-deprived parents to meet-up and share. As well as helping families save money by accessing low-cost but high-quality items, we also host dozens of parent meet-up groups – covering everything from musical classes, to breastfeeding support and cloth nappy information.
In the time we have been open, we like to think we have made a difference, but we also realised that more can be achieved when we work collectively with others. Recently we set up a partnership programme working with over 50 social agencies all across Glasgow. Together we are providing free starter packs to families in need, with over 300 delivered so far. With a growing number of families finding it difficult to provide the basics, there are social enterprises all over Scotland providing free or low cost household items to make a house a home. At Merry-go-round we are constantly surprised and enthused by the generosity of the local community, keen to pass on gently used items to families who need them.
In Scotland, social enterprises are well supported and championed at many levels. But it remains a source of great frustration that all too often people still don’t join up the dots to see all of the opportunities.
Take the Government’s planned Baby Box scheme for example. It is a fantastic idea to give each new parent in Scotland a box filled with useful, basic items which can be re-used as a crib for the baby and give children a better, more equal start in life. Finland has already shown this to be a success. I fully support it. However, there is also a huge opportunity here I hope isn’t missed. The money being invested in the scheme could go further if it was channelled through social enterprises like Merry-go-round and others like us across Scotland. There is an opportunity to not only fill the box with ethical, natural or re-used items, but to also create vital social value across communities at the same time. This would deliver Government policy, support social enterprises and help to create a more circular economy. Three wins for the price one.
There are many success stories in Scotland as well though, and the newly launched Common Market is a great initiative. We have a wealth of independent businesses, many of whom would also describe themselves as having an ethical or social conscious. For the first time, the public can make different choices about their purchases and feel good about where their money is going. Just like we see every day with donations of baby goods, people want to make positive choices, and now with common market they can feel they are making a real difference with their Christmas shopping too.
Social enterprises like ours are providing a vital service in the local community, and ticking environmental boxes to boot. Most of all though, we see ourselves as a business at the heart of the local community. If we joined the dots a little more often, and a little more wisely, we could offer a bigger heart to those communities. None of us is as smart of as all of us.
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