The Good Enterprise Lab (GEL)

The Good Enterprise Lab: Real change through enterprise

March 2014
The Good Enterprise Lab (GEL)  brings together different kinds of business and organisation to tackle social challenges. Although recently set up, the Lab is already helping to spark ideas and initiatives related to health, ethical employment and sustainable food in West Lancashire. The Lab focuses on live issues and real action. There is no big strategy; no policy-making; no talk-shops. Rather, it’s about bringing passionate people together, sharing stories about what is really needed, and supporting collective action from the ground up.

Starting  on the Doorstep
There was a moment last summer that defines the Good Enterprise Lab. It was a conversation with Maureen Fazal, an inspiring, local social entrepreneur. Maureen described how – every morning – she sees unemployed people gathering at industrial estates, looking for temporary work put out by agencies. But every morning, many of them are turned away, without information, support or compensation. Many of them can’t even afford the transport home. These are folks for whom just a little bit of stability could make a huge difference in life.

As Maureen and others described this situation, something remarkable happened. Maureen’s eyes lit up, as did those of others around the table. The conversation shifted to action; to exploring what this group could do about it.  Within moments, there were ideas about setting up a new employment agency; one that took more responsibility for fair and balanced information and worked across sectors to offer joined-up solutions and support.

This is exactly the way of working we aim to support with the Lab. Work based on real needs and issues that we see on our doorsteps. And it comes at a time when business itself – in many forms – needs to find new forms of responsibility and commitment to community and environment. The Lab is about bringing the right kind of people together – people with an enterprising spirit and an attitude –  to make a difference.

Three themes for here and now
As the Lab has evolved we have formed a small ‘hosting group’ – made up of local entrepreneurs, development officers and researchers – and we have defined three themes to work with. The first is around ethical employment, which really developed from the conversation with Maureen. The second theme is health inequality. West Lancashire, like many other parts of the UK, is a place where the difference in average life expectancy for people from neighbouring areas can be greater than ten years. The third theme is sustainable food. West Lancashire is a large producer of food, yet incredible amounts of food are wasted, and at the same time many people really struggle to eat well.

In January, we hosted a day to work on these themes with thirty-five enterprises and organisations. It was a fantastic event. At the sustainable food table, large businesses such as Procter & Gamble worked with regional farmers, social food enterprises and passionate researchers from Edge Hill University. At the ethical employment table, prominent employers such as PepsiCo and Karla Valla, a vehicle repair group, worked with local Job Centre people, West Lancashire Council for Voluntary Service and, of course, entrepreneurs like Maureen Fazal. At the health table there was more of the same; large, small, social and not-for-profit sharing stories, assets and ideas for action. The feedback at the end of the day was extraordinary. One large employer described it as an exceptional way of sharing and being educated. The chair of a local enterprise said that in thirty years of working on regional development he had not come across something that felt like this. There was a great feeling of collaboration and breaking new ground.

Looking forward
Since the event, each working group has identified an exciting set of intentions and actions, and there’s a real desire to keep working together. New initiatives include plans to distribute food with less waste as a region; others to help employers connect with job seekers more effectively; others to raise awareness of cancer screenings. At the same time, a corporate partner is leading on setting up a new Corporate Responsibility forum for the region, bringing in other large employers. At the university, a number of new research opportunities have been identified. The business school is also looking at new student employability and training initiatives with GEL partners. All this, only a short time after the January event.

Over the coming months we will learn much more about the movements that have started. Over that period, each group will lead on their own ideas and actions. Of course, there will be highs and lows, but we are encouraging people to look at everything as experiments. The beauty of an experiment is that you cannot go wrong. As the hosting team, we will also offer support through a number of workshops (we are calling them ‘pit-stops’) on themes including action research, innovation models and funding scenarios. In June, we will meet as the wider group again to host a new cycle of collective sharing, reflection and action.

The conversation with Maureen seems a while ago now. What’s hard to forget is the flicker of possibility in her eyes. It makes you think that we’ve got at least one thing right with the Lab so far; the idea to focus on that which is real; that which lights people’s eyes up. Now that we’ve started like this, many more good things feel possible.

Andres Roberts, March 2014

The Good Enterprise Lab is currently being hosted by people from Edge Hill University, Institute for Creative Enterprise, the Business School , Latent Promise, Valued Care Solutions, Foodwise Training, community-I and West Lancashire CVS


April 2014
The Good Enterprise Lab (GEL) Videos: Click HERE


23 January 2014
Good Enterprise Lab Gathering
The Good Enterprise Lab aims to bring together businesses, entrepreneurs, employers and regional stakeholders to develop new actions, partnerships and approaches for positive social impact through enterprise. The gathering will focus on practical actions around specific social challenges. Briefing Pack
For more information, please contact Andres Roberts at: robertsa@edgehill.ac.uk


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