Social Enterprise NI, an organisation promoting and supporting social enterprises across Northern Ireland, hosted the Social Enterprise NI Awards on Friday 27 October at The Stormont Hotel, Belfast.

The awards, presented by UTV’s Paul Clark, recognised and celebrated the excellence in social enterprise and the outstanding achievements of social entrepreneurs to deliver social impact.

Ashton Community Trust, won the coveted award of NI Social Enterprise of the Year, as well as being highly commended for their social impact. Established in North Belfast in 1991 with a mission “To promote positive change and improve the quality of life of the North Belfast community”,  Ashton is committed to improving community relations and delivering economic as well as social benefit to all communities across North Belfast. As of 2017 they employ over 200 staff, has business to business relationships with over 600 suppliers and in the last 6 months has created three new social enterprise start-ups which in the long term will help safeguard the future of the organisation.

“We are delighted to be named as Social Enterprise of the Year and to be highly commended for our social impact”, said Paul Roberts, CEO of Ashton Community Trust. “These awards collectively recognise how hard staff work towards Ashton’s mission of improving the lives of local people and making North Belfast a better place to live. Working in partnership with our colleagues in the community, voluntary and statutory sectors underpins all of this work. Ashton’s heart is in the community. We are grateful to everyone who has worked with us in recent years as this award provides recognition of the benefits of that team approach.

Speaking about the future Paul Roberts added: “A robust asset based approach and sound financial management underpins our corporate strategy. Working collaboratively, sharing best practice and keeping a community development ethos to the forefront guides all of this work. Looking to the future we plan to remain on being sustainable, regenerating where possible, keep jobs and keep on making meaningful change.”

In addition to the recognition of social enterprises at the awards, Social Enterprise NI showcased a wide range of social enterprises through its supply chains for the event. This included bottled water on tables from Clearer Water, a social enterprise based in Larne; filming of shortlisted candidates by Slack Press, a social enterprise filming company, table centres from Moxie Makes and Awards booklets provided by Mugshots.

Colin Jess, Director of Social Enterprise NI said, “We have been overwhelmed by the interest in this years awards, with 300 guests attending, made up of social enterprises themselves, and also a large number of interested parties and stakeholders from the private, public and educational sectors along with a number of MLA’s.  It is great to see the passion, energy and enthusiasm within the room. More and more public and private sector organisations are keen, and willing, to understand the social enterprise business model.  We look forward to increasingly working with all sectors and political parties to continue this momentum and to position the social enterprise sector as a strong contributor to the mainstream NI economy.”

Sponsoring the awards and showing support for the sector on the night were an impressive list of public and private organisations including Ulster Bank, Department for Economy, Department for Communities, Hays Recruitment, Ulster Community Investment Trust (UCIT), Housing Executive, Edwards & Co. Solicitors, NILGA, Business Led NI, Go for It Programme, Irish League of Credit Unions, and Architectural Heritage Fund.

Cara Marks from Hays Recruitment said, “Hays Specialist Recruitment are honoured to partner with Social Enterprise NI. As a judge for this year’s awards I have had a preview of some of the work and achievements of the Social Enterprise Community.  The commitment, drive and skills in the sector are admirable. From talented individuals to innovative and forward thinking organisations .Hays are delighted to support this growing and valued sector.”

Megan Peat, CEO of Ulster Bank Social and Community Capital also commented, “Ulster Bank is delighted to support these awards because we understand the importance of social enterprise to the economy of Northern Ireland and want to help showcase the great work of the sector.  We want to see social enterprise flourish and through our new partnership with Social Enterprise Northern Ireland we are looking forward to hosting our first event in November.”

For further details on the awards and social enterprise sector in Northern Ireland visit www.socialenterpriseni.org or follow the organisation’s Twitter page @socentni.