Social Innovation Study Visit to London
Northern Irish delegates learning about Social Innovation at the Impact Hub, Westminster.

Social Innovation Study Visit to London

12 December 2013

As part of its work in Social Innovation, the Building Change Trust hosted a series of study visits to learn more about this exciting concept.

The first of these visits was to the Republic of Ireland, with the second trip seeing the Trust take a  group of 8 ‘enablers’ from community/voluntary, social enterprise and public sector organisations to visit London.

These enablers were aiming to hear about the institutional support and enabling environment for social innovation in the UK, as well as some examples of best practice.

Young Foundation was one of the organisations the group met with – they are one of the original instigators of social innovation work in the UK. For example, they contributed to the foundation of the Open University and Which? Magazine, and they continue to be at the leading edge of work in this field.

Participants heard about a number of different programmes the Young Foundation is currently working on including: The Accelerator - a four-month programme intended to propel and rapidly accelerate small but successful social enterprises, uniquely combining expert tutoring, business support and social investment.

They are also are involved in the use of ‘ethnographic research’, which uses deep interaction with people and immersion in real world settings to ensure that all of YF’s work is informed by a thorough understanding of people’s real needs.

Another interesting initiative is their Cities & Regions programme. The Young Foundation is planning to have an intensive focus on promoting social innovation in a select number of cities and regions over the next number of years with Belfast and/or Northern Ireland likely to be one of these.

This meeting took place in the Impact Hub, Westminster, itself a showcase of social innovation in action.

Indy Johar, Co-Founder and Executive Director, talked to the Northern Ireland delegation about the growth of the Impact Hub network from its first location in King’s Cross to a global network of over 7000 members in more than 40 locations.

Each Hub is a locally owned collaborative working space whose primary aim is to support organisations with positive social and environmental impact at the heart of their missions.

Impact Hub provide “flexible access to workspace and curate a supportive, collaborative environment for impact makers”.

Impact Hub Westminster also hosts “a continuous flow of interesting and relevant events and programmes providing a stream of learning and networking opportunities for its members".

The group also met with NESTA, the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts, which was established by the UK Government but is now an independent charity supporting social innovation across the public, private and third sectors.

Participants heard about a number of NESTA’s initiatives, including theCentre for Challenge Prizes – which makes awards for organisations that can find new or innovative solutions to social problems.

Also, the Centre for Social Action Innovation Fund – which makes grants to early stage innovations in specific thematic areas, such as working with older people and Innovations in Jobs. For example, the centre promotes learning and best practice amongst organisations taking innovative approaches to creating jobs and tackling worklessness, including through the website

The group also met with Glen Mehn of Bethnal Green Ventures and Social Innovation Camp, who told participants about their support to ventures using digital technology to address social problems.

For example, a phone app to help people suffering from panic attacks to control their breathing.

The Trust’s Paul Braithwaite, who headed up the trip, said: “All in all participants came away with lots of new ideas and feeling energised about the potential for social innovation in Northern Ireland.

“The next step will be turn the lessons learnt into concrete actions at the Trust’s action planning workshop on 16th December”.