Community Learning Exchange to the Scottish Borders

Community Learning Exchange to the Scottish Borders

Tuesday February 4th 2020

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Community Learning Exchange to the Scottish Borders.

Tuesday February 4th 2020.


The learning exchange was jointly developed by Inspiralba, Senscot and Scottish Borders Social Enterprise Chamber. It was funded by the Community Alliance as part of it Community Learning Exchange programme.


Participants came from across rural Scotland – Fife, South Lanarkshire, Uist, Barra and Argyll and Bute. All spoke of the value of meeting the host organisations.


All the social enterprises were great at opening up to us and sharing their knowledge and experiences and it felt that there were a lot of similar challenges that we all face.

the inspirational and dedicated workforce and volunteers at each project where their passion, resilience and commitment shines through.

Also the value of meeting each other, sharing information about their work and the opportunity to reflect on the role of social enterprise in rural communities.

Our host

I drew two key things from the day. First, inspiration from individual organisations who were doing fantastic work, and from the overall experience that confirmed how much social enterprises can and do contribute to deliver critical services in rural areas. The vibrancy of the social enterprise sector, and its deep contributions to rural communities, including vulnerable groups, is striking.

Our Hosts

Works +

First visit of the day. Unemployed 16- 24 year olds supported to find their passion and build their confidence and skills to get into employment, go back into education or into training. Two inspiring films, made by young people, gave a feel of the creativity and innovation involved.

Support to 131 young people to date with 96% achieving a positive destination.

very inspiring

the fantastic value of creative activities (art, film and outdoor activities) in boosting confidence, learning, etc. as part of a ‘standard’ 10-week package of employability support

the willingness to let go of funders … when the burden of reporting to them, and the restrictions they may impose, outweigh the benefit of their funding.

acknowledged the intangible, often hard to define benefits; those of embracing art, media, the natural world and physical activity which we all know enrich life, but are rarely included in programmes designed to equip young people for employability. The design of the Works+ programme, three days per week over ten weeks, provides continuity and stability sufficient enough to have such a positive impact and recognition for the young people – as was evidenced. Very inspiring.

Just Cycle

Aims to encourage and support community involvement of people of all ages in the provision of re-used, recycled, affordable bicycles.

Just cycle

A fantastic array of bicycles all saved from landfill and available at reasonable prices. Links to local recycling centres and Bikes for Africa ensuring nothing goes to waste. Great team of mechanics all trained to national standards and able to train others.

Every Local Authority in Scotland should visit Just Cycle! Where to begin? reducing the number of bicycles destined for landfill, increasing affordability of bicycles within the community, subsequent impact on physical and mental health. For those working on the project, a fantastic upskilling environment with an ethos of social wellbeing.

The Just Cycle guys had a few similarities to us and their relationship with Borders Council was interesting and I’m looking to see if we can link in with the recycling centres for any tool reuse for our Tool Shed.

Just cycle

Looking hard at new or alternative ways of generating more income, but also rejecting those that do not fit with their purpose or local context, or would divert energy and human resources away from their core purpose.

Whistle-Stop Café

Light, warm welcoming café at the end of the Borders railway line. Training and work experience for adults with learning disabilities looking to access employment in their local community. Links to Bread Works – an artisan bakery using 100% natural ingredients and Green Works a gardening and woodwork service.

Whistle-Stop Cafe

A service which includes delicious soup and ciabattas! and in so doing, enables people to find their groove in supported employment. People will always need food, and with the increase in demand for local provenance of the food they eat, as well as the arrival of the railway which has brought people to the area thereby expanding their market, which has the potential to contribute to the project being less grant dependent.

Setting up social enterprise activity (café, bakery and gardening) as the primary vehicle for learning, training and employability support, and then adding accredited qualifications, as well as the ability to employ some of those who have been trained or who have volunteered.

Whistle-Stop Cafe

Stable Life

A working farm that uses a model of equine assisted learning to support young people experiencing social, emotional and/or behavioural issues. Pity we got there too late to have our planned session but inspiring to hear about the impact that this person centred approach working with horses can have on young people’s lives. Commercial livery operation and payment by some local authorities contribute to sustainability.

Whistle-Stop Cafe

Oh how I wish we could have had longer! So very, very inspiring…What a wonderful example of a Social Enterprise, by introducing the commercial arm, they have improved their sustainability and with 16 horses to keep, quite a commitment.

It was deeply moving to hear about the impact of the therapies which are delivered. Not only is there demonstrable impact of the therapies but accreditation which will be recognised in the world beyond Stable Life, which means the most vulnerable can progress into the world round them with both confidence and qualifications helping them to integrate with some parity of esteem.

Really impressed with Stable Life’s clear referral process for any agency, professional, young person or parent / carer seeking support for a young person and the tailored programmes they’ve developed to meet the needs of young people in different situations.

stable life

Wider issues raised by participants.

The vital contribution that social enterprises make to rural communities.

And we know that in rural areas public budgets are stretched when seeking to deliver to remote and dispersed communities, and social enterprises often take on an existential role in sustaining remote communities.

This vital contribution by social enterprise was confirmed by our exchange day.

The opportunities rural areas have to contribute to the well-being economy and retain and attract young people looking for a different quality of life.

the impact of nature and the links to well-being and quality of life are so important in our rural locations which we should be shouting about and from conversations during the visit I believe there is a sea change in opinions regarding this and this will become more and more important and therefore this must be an opportunity for rural social enterprises.

The extent to which the products and services delivered by rural social enterprises have the potential to be under-valued.

The passion and commitment from all the staff we met yesterday was undeniable and yet the final products appeared to me incredibly inexpensive. As all associated costs towards bringing the products to market are the same as other companies, with increased administration costs towards the educational/coaching aspects of their work- it should mean that at the sale point they should be the same or higher than benchmarked products/services…It’s a frustration that I’m not sure I have an answer to, but seeing so many orgs in quick succession that are financially unappreciated brought it home.

Will social enterprises in rural areas always need a mix of funding and, if so, is this recognised?

All the enterprises, while working to increase their revenue, relied on a mix of funding. Charitable Trusts were a major source of support and the same funders were mentioned by several of our hosts.

the constant need for funding to sustain their organisations which leads me to think that in rural areas this is always going to be the case and the current economic climate does not look like it is going to improve any time soon. So instead of this constant push for sustainability and growth which can be achieved in urban areas-it is never going to happen in rural remote areas and this will need to be addressed at a national level.

The value of learning exchanges:

I find these exchanges are so important regarding my own confidence and belief in what I am doing, so it is really valuable to spend time with like-minded and lovely people and when there is such positivity in what the sector is achieving. It is worthwhile being reminded of that when it is easy to feel very lonely and up against it with some of the challenges that we are all facing

This was very worthwhile and I hope that you can keep me in mind for any further explorations.

For us travelling a considerable distance, it I was certainly appreciated that we could experience such an insightful visit in the Borders.

Very worthwhile and I will promote all these excellent enterprises through my Third Sector Forum


For next time:

As visitors we learnt a lot about the social enterprises we were visiting. How much did they learn from us? Obviously they may have learnt from our questions, but there was no real opportunity for us to share our potential questions and insights with our hosts in a more meaningful way.  I don’t mean anything formal, but perhaps some kind of informal dialogue circle for everyone to feedback the most important insight they gained and the most important question it raised.

SR 02.03.20.

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