Spotlight on Cunninghame Housing Association and CFINE

Posted: 10 December 2014, in Member Spotlight

In the spotlight for two weeks (17 – 30 Nov) is Frank Sweeney and Cunninghame Housing Association – a social enterprise based in Ardrossan & operating across North and East Ayrshire, that works in social housing and a wide range of innovative support services. Get in touch with Frank on 01294 606000 / and check out Connect with them on Twitter.

How do you do it? Over 10 years the Association has diversified into the area of social and economic development and now has its own Community Regeneration Team. We have also set-up two subsidiary companies, Citrus Energy Ltd and Cunninghame Furniture Recycling Company Ltd, that offer training and work experience which includes City & Guilds and SVQ Level II and III qualifications. Similarly, in 2010 in partnership with North Ayrshire Council and other social enterprises we began our North Ayrshire Housing Trainee Programme, which provides 16-24 year olds with paid work placements and SQA qualifications. Since 2010 a total of 43 young people have either moved into full-time or part-time employment or went on to further education.

What’s your personal motivation for being a social entrepreneur? To provide training and employment opportunities to a wide range of individuals and in doing so provide them with an opportunity to change their lives and contribute in their own way to society.

What are your current projects? The award-winning Citrus Energy Ltd, a social enterprise formed in October 2013 provides both domestic and commercial switching services. Citrus Energy’s switch platform ensures every available domestic energy price is at its disposal. The Citrus service is phone based, ensuring the most vulnerable have the opportunity to switch without requiring internet access. The Citrus Commercial Team offer energy brokering services to housing associations, charities, community and voluntary organisations, social enterprises and SMEs to enable them to make substantial savings on their energy bills and earn a percentage share of the commission earned by Citrus Energy. This service is funded entirely from commission earned from energy suppliers. To date (end October 2014) Citrus have helped 102 businesses with 479 separate gas and electricity meters. Citrus have saved them just over £1.2m over their contract term, a saving of over £2,500 per energy meter.

What exciting things do you have coming up? We await a final decision by North Ayrshire Council on a ground breaking Public Social Partnership (PSP) between ourselves and the Council to set up and deliver ‘Care & Repair Extra’. This innovative initiative will help to create 5 full-time jobs, a trainee post and 4 Craft Apprenticeship posts. In addition, we are further growing our Cunninghame Furniture Recycling Company at their new premises in Irvine.

Who do you want to work with more? Like minded social entrepreneurs, partners and stakeholders.

What’s your biggest challenge? Continued access to funding streams and maximising the outputs given our tight staff resources.

What top tip would you give to other social enterprises? Have a strategy and realistic Business Plan with 3-5 years financial projections. Employ committed individuals who ‘live and breathe’ the business and ensure that relationship and reputation management are key cornerstones of your social enterprise culture.

In the spotlight for two weeks (1 – 13 Dec) is Dave Simmers and Community Food Initiatives North East (CFINE) – a social enterprise based in Aberdeen that works in community food, regeneration, jobs and other services for disadvantaged and vulnerable people. Get in touch with Dave on 01224 596156 / and check out Connect with them on Twitter.

How do you do it? CFINE make affordable fruit, vegetables and other food accessible to our priority communities through around 100 Community Food Outlets. We recruit, train and support over 100 volunteers plus 30 adults with learning difficulties/mental health issues on work placement/in supported employment. CFINE is the lead partner in the Food Banks Partnership Aberdeen and through the delivery of FareShare, has distributed 200 tonnes of produce since April 2014 and saved 100 tonnes of carbon emissions. Our own food bank supports around 140 beneficiaries per week.

What’s your personal motivation for being a social entrepreneur? I started work as a community worker in Aberdeen’s poorest community in 1976 and what I do now is what I was motivated by and committed to then. Working with the vulnerable to make them less vulnerable, making the powerless more powerful and those least well off better off. Indeed, a social enterprise needs to be committed to the vulnerable, the powerless and least well off if it is to be true to its ethos and, further, this has to be tied to the triple bottom line of social, economic and environmental action.

What are your current projects? Community Food Outlets located in sheltered housing, community centres, church halls etc. We work with a fantastic volunteer body and while volunteering is altruistic, it is also concerned with confidence building. A ‘feel good factor’ of skill acquisition and involvement with social networks which all improve health and well-being and employability. Volunteers are the backbone of our organisation, as is (genuine) partnership working, which features in every activity we are engaged in. Food banks in themselves are not useful activities – it is when other support e.g. money advice, debt management, employability and health to support people out of their dependency come into play that food banks become meaningful.

What exciting things do you have coming up? Many! On the social side, some fantastic evolving partnerships that will expand and strengthen our social/community activities and outcomes. On the enterprise side, we will sell £800,000 worth of fruit, veg and healthy snacks this year. The goal is to double this over the next 1.5 years. We’re negotiating with fruit co-ops in European countries and working collectively with community food partners in Scotland and the UK, to reduce produce costs using collective purchasing. This will allow even more affordable prices for social customers and a more competitive position and improved trading margins. CFINE remains committed to local produce for social, economic and environmental reasons but bananas are not grown in Scotland yet!

Who do you want to work with more? CFINE works with a huge number of partners in the voluntary, public and private sectors and we want to develop and grow these for mutual benefit, the only basis for effective, genuine partnerships. If we are serious about social enterprise contributing to a fairer and more just Scotland, then we all need to think imaginatively to forge links and consider where closer working and mergers will strengthen our sector and our capacity to tackle poverty and inequality. To position ourselves to win local and national contracts e.g. operating in silos, simply protecting our individual power and position is unacceptable – the effectiveness of tackling poverty should be the guide to organisational and resource arrangements.

What’s your biggest challenge? Cashflow! And achieving development and growth of both our social and enterprise activities. Social enterprise depends on an effective fusion of the community and the business. Whilst maintaining and growing both is challenging, one without the other is no use.

What top tip would you give to other social enterprises? Social enterprise’s raison d’etre is to deliver on our social outcomes; commercial trading has the sole purpose of ensuring we can maintain and grow our social outcomes. Lots of money and profit, in itself, is of no interest. Stay true to the underpinning ethos and the asset lock is sacrosanct. Strength in the collective, together to the future.