Alston Moor may be a small community with just around 2000 residents and 995 households, but there is nothing small about its social enterprise scene boasting an impressive 20 enterprises at the last count. This is equal to one enterprise per 50 households something which is as yet unmatched anywhere else in the UK and the sector continues to grow with confidence.

Finding an alternative way to ensure Alston Moor has access to vital services

What means more than the amount of social enterprises is their individual importance to the community, as each plays a key role in providing a better quality of life for its residents in many small but significant ways. Vital services like shops, broadband, transport, leisure and tourism are all delivered through social enterprise solutions, many of which would otherwise not be accessible to local people.

In fact many of these businesses have been created in response to the various obstacles the community has faced in recent years, due to a combination of cuts in local service provision and the general economic recession. A key driver for those involved in social enterprise in Alston Moor is to find an alternative way to ensure the community still has access to vital services, which couldn't be sustained by other traditional means.

A booming business sector worth £1.5M to the local economy

It is estimated that the social enterprise sector in Alston Moor has a combined annual turnover of around £1.5M, with all signs pointing to it growing significantly over the coming years. Traditional businesses in the community also benefit from increased income thanks to the presence of these enterprises, particularly tourist focused businesses, such as the South Tynedale Railway, which runs England’s highest narrow gauge railway and attracts over 40,000 visitors a year to the area and the adjacent HUB Heritage & Transport Museum. It is estimated that there are approximately 60 people working in the sector who are supported by a further 200 volunteers.

Gaining national recognition

All this social enterprise activity could not go unnoticed for long and Alston Moor was soon attracting media attention, both locally and nationally. In November 2012, it received the ultimate seal of approval when the national body for the social enterprise sector, Social Enterprise UK, announced that Alston Moor had been named the UK's 1st Social Enterprise Town, beating off strong competition.

Alston Moor was commended by the SEUK judging panel as "a model to be copied in other small areas", "its great depth of engagement with its community" and for being a perfect example of "small is very powerful".

The award also launched SEUK's Social Enterprise Places Initiative, to recognise and celebrate places throughout the UK where social enterprise activity is thriving by granting these hotspots with the social enterprise town, city, village or zone status. As the winner of this award, Alston Moor became the first to receive this status in June 2013 making it the UK’s first ever Social Enterprise Town.

Peter Holbrook SEUK with Alston HUB Museum Classic CarGareth Thomas, Shadow Minister for Civil Society ,who had the honour of unveiling Alston Moor as the UK’s first ever Social Enterprise Town said: “Alston is providing inspiration for towns and cities around the country. It's showing citizens and government organisations what can happen when economic power is in the hands of the people.” 

Launching the Social Enterprise Places initiative in Alston Moor, Peter Holbrook, Chief Executive of Social Enterprise UK, said: “Alston Moor is a prime example of what enterprising communities can achieve in times of hardship, and it is testament to the grit and determination of local people that we are here today. We hope to see many more towns and cities celebrate their social enterprise status.”

Since Alston Moor received its status Bristol, Plymouth, Cornwall and the Isle of Scilly and Digbeth have all been granted the status of Social Enterprise Places.

Listen to Sue Gilbertson from the Cumbria Social Enterprise Partnership talking about Alston Moor becoming the first Social Enterprise Town.


Next week we begin getting to know the individual social enterprises on Alston Moor starting with one of the longest running and successful - Alston Wholefoods Workers Co-operative, who have built up a strong and vibrant business which is greatly valued by the community for its unique range of wholefoods, locally produced goods and its extensive and very popular selection of local cheeses  ...