London Early Years Foundation
LEYF runs community childcare centres for children aged six months to five years old across London where, despite its apparent wealth, extremely high numbers of children are classified as being in need.
The business is funded through a mixture of grants and trade, by selling high-quality nursery education both to the council and directly to families. LEYF, which is one of Social Enterprise UK's longest standing members, supports lower income families by providing subsidised services and helping parents to improve their parenting skills.
LEYF’s CEO, June O’Sullivan, says:
"I know its terribly clichéd but the reason I work for a social enterprise rather than a normal business is quite simply that I want to make a difference. I don't mean like Mozart or anything, it's not about leaving a legacy or being remembered, but its about changing society for the better in an immediate sense.
"For me the best bit about running a social enterprise is seeing the great results. Like when we've taken children and their parents, who are sometimes in a bad situation, and helped them grow and change for the better.
“And the biggest proof to me that we are doing something worthwhile is when the parents are so impressed by our work with them that they decide to quit their jobs, do the training and come to work for us, helping their own community.
We even have people who went through our nurseries as children and appreciated it so much that they want to work for us themselves.
“I would tell anyone considering starting a social enterprise to think carefully beforehand.
This is not something to rush into but if you are truly passionate about when you want to achieve then go for it. Don't be paralysed by risk but make sure you plan carefully and spend the necessary money on feasibility studies to limit the chance of failure.
“But make no mistake; running a sustainable social enterprise is hard. We are trying to support as many families as we possibly can, and it isn't easy. “ It is a challenging position to face both between commercial issues and public service competition.
We often find we are trying to meet the demands of two different markets at once which can be difficult. Also, unlike the huge charities or most commercial businesses, we don't have big marketing budgets or large reserves of cash.
"But I still find this an extremely joyful experience. When parents come up to me and say I would have been stuck at the bottom of the pile if it wasn't for you but look at me now all the other worries fade away.
"Of course you can't save everyone but if you can pull one family in every 20 back from the edge, I think that's pretty good. How many businesses can say they do that?"
LEYF also feature in our 'An Enterprising Future publication' which is a guide for anyone working to provide children and young people’s services in the voluntary sector and interested in finding out more about the social enterprise.