Launching a social enterprise and dementia product

The Creating Conversations activity kit : Gardening

The Creating Conversations activity kit : Gardening

I have had the privilege of working with Artlink Central for over seven years now and there have been many projects, many highlights. Occasionally there is a significant milestone where everything changes. There have been a number of these, from our first live arts programme led by adults with learning disabilities, to our first participatory arts service level agreement with NHS Forth Valley, to our drawing tent installation and Koestler Award wins in our Freedom to Create programme for women in custody.

But it feels like the next one is really a game-changer.

For the past two years we have been developing an idea that is going to change everything. We know our artists deliver amazing results in the settings in which they work and we know how to build the partnerships that make these programmes work. So the question is how do you bottle this up to reach a much wider set of stakeholders and still make a social impact?

We also understand that with government and funding cuts, we have to reach people differently. The recession hasn't finished for us in the Third Sector, it continues to grasp us tightly despite the headlines. We know that charities are under immense pressure, that funding is increasingly dependent on public voting and the reputations of charities is under threat due to media coverage of a handful of organisations. How are we then to forge a new path to success? Many charities are doing the same and many, like us, are turning to social enterprise models.

So we have designed a product. Nothing has been a more challenging nor difficult challenge so far on the road, and the journey only really begins now as we are on the cusp of trading. It has also been a fantastic learning opportunity and an exhilarating process. Everything we do now seems to slant towards a participatory design process. From the moment we decided to focus on a dementia activity kit we have been in new territory, but what interesting territory it has been.

From concept to design, from testing and prototyping, we have found new lessons around every corner. It has not been a straight road. Funding to make this change has not been easy to secure. We have had to get to grips with social investment models, with understanding that we might be an established social enterprise but that we are also now a start up. We have had rejections and successes in abundance and we have had the opportunity to change our thinking and processes many times to reach the point where we have a commercial product and plan.

Now we are two - a charity which continues to work directly with people who lack cultural and creative opportunity, facing more barriers than ever as welfare cuts and public funding continue to impact on people's lives and health; and a commercial enterprise, driven by a need to generate profit and to offer business solutions to social problems. The two cannot work without the other and each new creative idea Artlink Central is able to generate will now be tested for its commercial application; while each sale contributes to funding a new idea.

It is going to be like walking a tightrope as we find our feet and try to balance these two driving forces, but it is a walk worth making. Eyes up as we take our first steps on a new path we have chosen to take, one that we have chosen and designed for ourselves.

I hope to share more as we go on and that you might share the journey with me.

Find out about our new company and product launch below: