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A Social Enterprise providing community based support for adults with learning disabilities and/or autism in the South West
Social Enterprise Day 2019

Social Enterprise Day 2019

21 November 2019


#WhoKnew is the hashtag for Social Enterprise Day, which is Thursday 21st November 2019.

That's actually today! The hashtag seems appropriate because, well – who knew?

What is Social Enterprise?

Social Enterprise is a very different kind of business. It’s about doing business that has a demonstrable social or environmental benefit; in other words, it’s all about social profit as opposed to private profit.

Social Enterprise UK, of whom You First is a proud member, puts it this way:

“Social enterprises are businesses that are changing the world for the better. Like traditional businesses they aim to make a profit but it’s what they do with their profits that sets them apart – reinvesting or donating them to create positive social change.”

Changing the World for the Better

You First was established in 2014 with the vision of seeing people with a learning disability and/or autism build and grow their lives in a way that was meaningful and made sense to them. We are changing the world because we are seeing vulnerable people realise they are empowered and can take control of their own lives. It’s not about what we give to people because if we are giving then the control rests with us, rather it’s about enabling people to realise the individual gifts, abilities and skills they have and utilise these for their own benefit and the benefit of their local community. 

Personal Stories

We have so many accounts of people becoming empowered and taking control of their lives, for example:

S had been told historically that he would never be able to drive because of his learning disability. Through the support he has received from You First in terms of building those “soft outcomes” he has passed his test, owns his own car and his world has expanded beyond that of his wildest dreams.

E had been sectioned and as a result was living in institutional care. She was being staffed 3:1 which restricted her life and came at a huge cost to the public purse. Through working with her as an equal person with a relationship of mutual respect and through careful active listening and utilising mindful approaches E is supported 1:1, has a successful and expanding Avon round, delivers a module at You First staff induction, lives in her own home and has achieved many firsts such as attending medical appointments, helping You First as an Expert by Experience, being heavily involved in writing a specialist training programme on how she wants and needs to be supported for new staff and growing (and selling) her own organic veg. 

M came to You First after experiencing neglect. She was “stuck” in autistic ritual, was self-harming and harming others and her environment as she could not understand her world, her place in the world or what on earth was happening to her. Through the creation of a dedicated and bespoke team, one that has on-going specialist training and a high level of support M now leads a life where she can access and enjoy her local community, has hobbies and interests she likes to explore, gets involved in the running of her own home and enjoys positive and rewarding relationships. M communicates without the need to harm herself or others and is taking increasing control over her own personal care.

D had lived in a group setting and this was not working for him. He wanted his own place, a place he could call home. His family worked hard to locate a flat for him and D uses his personal budget to purchase support from You First. This supports him to maintain a level mood, feel good and positive about himself and view the world through an increasingly optimistic lens. Listening, engaging in sport, building connections and exploring his local community all form part of this. Only today in a review meeting D’s mother said “You First provide the best support ever!”

Z was leading a very lonely life within a residential environment. She had no social connectivity and this was not conducive to living life with a mental health condition. Z now lives in her own home and through support from You First is building a social network of people whom she trusts. She has recently enjoyed a weekend break, the first in many a year, with her best friend A, someone she met through You First supported activity.

You First is changing the world through enabling people to change themselves through personal empowerment.

So what’s a Community Interest Company (CIC)?

Not every Social Enterprise is formed as CIC, but the CIC legal structure is aimed specifically at Social Enterprise. One of the key and most important elements of the CIC structure is the Asset Lock, meaning that any assets and/or surplus belong to the organisation, not any one individual or group of people. So the Directors cannot wind the organisation up and divvy up assets or surplus as they don’t belong to them. To whom do they belong? The people who use the Social Enterprise, that’s who!

So what about the profit?

It is clear that You First exists to benefit people with a learning disability and/or autism and the way in which the organisation uses any surplus enables this. We work hard to ensure that our terms and conditions of employment are by far the best as we fully understand that quality support is intrinsically entwined with quality staff support. We invest in a number of platforms and schemes that are directly aimed at supporting staff for this very reason. It may seem strange that the first paragraph under reinvestment is directed toward staff but if we are serious about bucking the social care trend then investment in the primary resource is a fundamental element of this. A transient ad-hoc team cannot deliver personalised and individualised support that delivers real change. You First is committed to dedicated micro-teams that become increasingly self-managing and there will be a high level of investment in making this a reality in the early stages. This will enable people purchasing support to realise their personal goals and ambitions in very real ways.

We also reinvest our surplus to enable initiatives that benefit the wider learning disability and autistic communities; the Broadclyst Community Farm project is but one example and you will be able to read more about this in the coming months. 

Tackling social isolation is a key feature of our Social Mission and we use our surplus to invest in ways that people can begin to make real and lasting connections with their local community with the end result of paid support decreasing as naturally occurring social support grows and develops.

Why do this?

You First has grown from my personal commitment to social justice and equality, these are the two values that drive me and for me inform a valued way of life. Equality is something that is often misunderstood. Equality isn’t about groups of people wanting special favours, rather it’s about everyone wanting a fair crack at the whip, a level playing field, equal access to the opportunities life has to offer.

On a personal level I have experienced discrimination in both direct and indirect forms. I know what it feels like, I know how it disempowers and I know first-hand how it erodes self confidence and self-esteem. The outcome of this is that it lowers personal and professional performance with all the implications this brings. Discrimination in any form is utterly debilitating. 

Having lived with these experiences at key moments in my life I understand and can empathise with people who battle with such prejudice on a daily basis simply for being who they are. 

You First, therefore, seeks to readdress the balance, to see people taking their rightful place in society, living as full citizens and enjoying all the rights, freedoms and indeed responsibilities such citizenship brings.

So in summary

Autistic people and people with a learning disability are not being in need of support, they are people who, like you and I, want lives. Lives of meaning, lives of purpose lives that enable them to live as full citizens.

Autistic people and people with a learning disability are not people who need “care” in the traditional sense of the word. They are people who have unique gifts, unique abilities, hopes, dreams and goals, no matter the level or degree of disability. 

You First is a Social Enterprise, a “not for private profit” organisation that uses everything within its reach and power to support people to become empowered and enabled to unlock these personal aspirations and see them become a living reality. We exist to disrupt the norm – something else Social Enterprise exists to do!

Together with all this You First is a local Social Enterprise, staffed and managed by local people for local people in their locality. Our head office is local and we are not owned by any large national organisation. You First is, and always will be, a grassroots organisation. 








You First – changing lives, changing communities.