Analysis: 'Social Saturday will show how to buy in a better way'

A day in September has been set aside to increase public awareness of social enterprises. Mathew Little reports

A logo and other materials have been created to promote Social Saturday
A logo and other materials have been created to promote Social Saturday

In December last year, the UK's first-ever Small Business Saturday took place. In the US this has been a fixture of post-Thanksgiving shopping since 2010; the inaugural day of promotion for small retailers in the UK was backed by politicians and local authorities, and people spent more than £460m with small businesses on the day itself, the campaign's website says.

Small Business Saturday will be repeated this December, but it already has an imitator: 13 September has been designated Social Saturday, a day intended to raise awareness among consumers of the sometimes unsung social enterprises on their local high streets around the country.

"We would like to see Social Saturday rival Small Business Saturday in terms of penetration into people's lives," says Peter Holbrook, chief executive of the umbrella body Social Enterprise UK, which will organise the day. "It was certainly inspired by it; we see Small Business Saturday as a huge success and one that we intend to emulate."

SEUK is responsible for organising Social Saturday events, but the idea came from government. "They asked us to run Social Saturday as part of our Buy Social campaign, which was launched in 2012 to encourage corporates and consumers to buy from the social enterprise sector," says Holbrook. The event also has an antecedent in Wales: the Wales Co-operative Centre organised its own Social Saturday in September 2013 to drum up awareness of consumer-facing social enterprises.

Government ministers will visit social enterprises on the first Social Saturday. A Cabinet Office spokesman said in a statement: "Many people are not aware of the work that social enterprises do. Social Saturday can raise awareness and get more people buying from social enterprises."

The Cabinet Office and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are both going to promote Social Saturday through the media, and SEUK has written to all 650 members of parliament and several hundred peers to encourage them to visit social enterprises.

Campaign materials, such as posters, window stickers and flyers, will be mailed to social enterprises, retailers and shops that stock social enterprise products. A map of social enterprises in the UK will be produced and the hashtag #socialsaturday will be used as part of a social media campaign to promote activities. SEUK is also negotiating with two as yet unnamed corporate retailers about supporting the day.

One confirmed event will be a partnership between the social enterprise restaurant Brigade, in London, and the bottled water wholesaler Belu, which donates all its profits to WaterAid. On the day, Brigade will sell a special cocktail made with Belu water. "The idea is to encourage people to think about their purchasing choices and how they can use that money in a better way," says Gemma Massey, a PR agent and Belu's spokeswoman.

Many social enterprises are small and are therefore also the intended beneficiaries of Small Business Saturday. One such organisation is Cockpit Arts, a collective in London that comprises 60 small design businesses. It experienced a marked increase in the number of visitors and sales as a result of last year's Small Business Saturday.

Vanessa Swann, chief executive of Cockpit Arts, says Social Saturday will help to redress a dearth of knowledge of social enterprise among the public.

"If you went into the street, stopped people and said 'do you know what a social enterprise is? Have you ever bought from one?', I think you'd get quite a low response," she says. "This will give social enterprises more consumer awareness."

The first Social Saturday is unlikely to achieve immediately the impact of Small Business Saturday, which was assiduously promoted by one of its backers, the financial services company American Express, and offered myriad discounts to consumers. But Holbrook wants to build awareness gradually and turn the day into an annual event, staged in other countries as well as in the UK.

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