our year in impact

Following this extraordinary year, we've looked back on some of the key pieces of work, best stories and important learning that have stood out for us.

A note from Mark Norbury, CEO of UnLtd

It's too early to tell what change will be driven by this year of lockdowns, global activism and economic gloom. But we do know that social entrepreneurs have proven their resilience. They have been on the frontline in communities, supporting the most vulnerable of people. They have shown that they have a critical role to play in the UK's recovery if we are to create a fairer and healthier society.

As an organisation, we too have weathered extraordinary change. In March we shifted our staff of 70 to a remote working environment. Over the course of the year we backed 650+ social entrepreneurs, running over 170 online workshops and giving out over £13 million in funding. We revamped our application process and brought in a more equitable approach to grant making. Following the summer's Black Lives Matter protests, we looked hard at our own approach to inclusion and made new commitments while strengthening others.

Like most in our sector, during 2020 we experienced burnout, isolation, anxiety and everything in between: but if there is one overriding emotion that describes how we closed out the year it is pride. Pride in our social entrepreneurs for their resilience and ingenuity. Pride in our staff for going above and beyond in extraordinary circumstances. Pride in our partners for backing us and flexing to ensure we could deliver what was needed, and providing the resources to do it. Pride in the frontline services that have cared for us and our families during this incredibly difficult year.

We have never been more certain that social entrepreneurs are a cornerstone in a just society. As we enter another a year of uncertainty, we commit to fighting harder than ever for our sector and their potential to create the change we so desperately need as we build a more just world.

Of the £13.2M in grants UnLtd distributed, £11.7M specifically supported social entrepreneurs to deal with the effects of COVID on themselves and their communities

UnLtd held over 200 events for social entrepreneurs, including workshops, peer support sessions, and celebrations.

42% of award winners identify as being from Black, Asian, or minority ethnic backgrounds, and/or having a disability.


Cleaning Up


Cleaning is often the first thing people do in the new year, and UnLtd started our year with the story of Radiant Cleaners, graduates of our Thrive Social Accelerator for 2019.

Radiant Cleaners supports people into work who’ve faced employment barriers such as experiencing homelessness, addiction, mental health issues, or disabilities.

The work of UnLtd & Radiant Cleaners was recognised at the 2020 Social Value Awards in the Decent Work Category.


Gemma Hallet, Chief Mobiliser & CEO of miFuture App.

Kirsty Woodard


When social entrepreneurs see a social issue, it’s in their nature to try fix it. The impact may come straight away, or further down the line.

Social impact isn’t linear: the honest challenges of being a systems-changer shares Kirsty Woodard’s experience trying to transform later life for people without the support network of children.

Social enterprise isn’t easy, and despite having a clear problem and research-backed solution, Kirsty struggled to find funding. As a systems changer, Kirsty is using these lessons to inform how she can take this work forward.


Kirsty Woodard, Ageing Well Without Children


By creating access to employment at a living wage, Radiant Cleaners creates an estimated social value of £211,406 for the UK per year.

Scaling Up


Support Manager Laura Marney shared ‘The 10 pieces of the growth puzzle (and how Thrive can help you put them together)’, introducing Thrive while also sharing advice on how to prepare for growth and futureproof your venture’s sustainability.

While many of these tips are best business practice, they’re also elements that social entrepreneurs don’t have the time and capacity to build into their ventures. Laura shares the successes of participants in Thrive who’ve used this advice, including Offploy, Evenbreak, and Spiral Skills.


Kirsty Woodard, Ageing Well Without Children

Thrive: Access to Employment
We celebrated our Thrive: Access to Employment 2019 cohort with an event at Portcullis House in Westminster. The 17 participants shared a 30-second pitch about their ventures to partners, funders, sector voices, and politicians, asking to be supported, contracted, or consulted. The evening was full of inspiration and fun, and guests who believe in the power of business with purpose.
Thrive: Solutions for an Ageing Society
We hosted our first Conference on Healthy Ageing in Kings Cross, bringing together sector stakeholders, social entrepreneurs, funders, and experts to discuss the innovations social entrepreneurs are providing for healthy ageing.

In addition, we launched our next cohort of Thrive: Solutions for an Ageing Society cohort, including ventures based on sport, intergenerational room-sharing, and a co-operative care platform. The ventures are all unique in what they do, and offer solutions for issues such as social isolation, dementia, nutrition, social care, or fitness – all issues which impede the ability of people in later life to stay healthy and active.

In September, we celebrated this cohort’s work with a virtual conference. The cohort included Keiron Sparrowhawk who founded MyCognition to grow cognitive fitness and health, especially for those in later life.

Read more about his app and experience with Thrive here.
Danna Walker, Founder of Built By Us, sharing her 30-second pitch as part of our Thrive event at Parliament (above) and speaking with guests (below).
In June, with thanks to UBS, Thirty Percy, City & Guilds and the disability charity, Scope, we launched our next cohort. We announced 18 incredible ventures from across the UK, improving employment opportunities for people facing complex barriers. This includes ventures like Second Shot Coffee, The Intrapreneurs Club, and Page & Bloom – whose work you can read about in our previous blog post.
Visiting Ventures
Harry Specters meeting with Minister Justin Tomlinson at the launch of their shop in Cambridge.
Ministers Mims Davies and Justin Tomlinson strengthened their relationships with social enterprises, seeing how they create employment pathways for people. Through venture visits and round-tables, the ministers learned more about what social entrepreneurs do and how the government can support them to create greater social change.
Write Back
In early March we shared the story of Write Back, a social enterprise on the East End Connect Programme, in partnership with UBS. Write Back is a collaborative effort that highlights the potential for young people to achieve amazing things when given the opportunities to come together.
End of Financial Year
In April we looked back on the past 12 months (financial year April 2019 - March 2020) and the support we gave social entrepreneurs
Two students at a Write Back workshop, part of the East End Connect programme.
Student participating in a Write Back workshop.

£1.8M in early stage funding was awarded

80%+ of our social entrepreneurs felt more valued and understood, and able to act for social change as a result of our support

Our support was rated a 9 out of 10 by 86% of social entrepreneurs

453 social entrepreneurs were supported to start or scale their ventures

We worked with a sample of 5 ventures tackling the disability employment gap, finding that they annually created £19.8M in social and financial value

The ventures sampled in our cost-benefit analysis improved the wellbeing of their users by 15-52%

Our Thrive access to employment social entrepreneurs created just under 5,000 jobs and training opportunities, exceeding their three year goal of 3,000

Responding to COVID-19
Social entrepreneurs needed targeted support, and clear, relevant guidance during the pandemic for their ventures to continue to shape a society we can all thrive in.

Our CEO Mark Norbury shared the organisation’s initial thoughts and preparations, including dedicated financial and non-financial support, investment fund repayments and extensions, and advocating for social entrepreneurs in decision-making spheres. We created a resource hub, refreshed daily with government updates, social sector support, relevant funds, and networks to join. We also shared a guide on how to prepare for emergency funding pots.
#SaveOur SocEnts
The Chancellor's first budget was announced while Coronavirus grew in urgency. Our Policy Lead Kevin Armstrong analysed the budget and what it meant for social enterprises, urging for more long-term support.

We later joined 10 sector organisations in writing to the Chancellor to #SaveOurSocEnts. We asked for support to: extend grants to include social entrepreneurs; adjust the delivery of loan finance for social entrepreneurs; offer emergency finances for social enterprises supporting people on behalf of the state; and business support for social entrepreneurs. The Chancellor responded, leading to funding that later became the Inclusive Recovery Fund.
£85M was released by the government to support the social purpose sector. Charities and social enterprises could access over half of this through emergency loans
The government later announced that they would be releasing £85 million to support the social purpose sector, including £45 million in emergency loans for charities and social enterprises - welcome news for all those behind #SaveOurSocEnts.

Kevin also outlined how the Chancellor’s Comprehensive Spending Review could include the UK’s social ventures. Our key spending proposals included a ‘match trade’ scheme, improved sector support for new social enterprises, backing for social entrepreneurs to do more in their communities, and the creation of Community Entrepreneurship Zones.
Every policy change we’ve achieved has been informed, enabled and motivated by exceptional people called social entrepreneurs. Looking back to the dawn of this hugely challenging pandemic, I still marvel at the fact that over 1,000 social entrepreneurs gave their time to complete our surveys and support our campaigns.

Kevin Armstrong, Policy Lead
Learning while Leading
Our Head of Investment, Mathu Jeyaloganathan, joined us a few months before the pandemic, quickly having to adapt while utilising her past experience in global development. She shared three things she learned in her first six months: The importance of diverse leadership, Using your emotions, and balancing speed and due process in crisis. This piece was also published by Pioneers Post.
Making PPE
Social entrepreneurs, with their inherent purpose-driven mission, quickly pivoted to support the community during COVID-19. This included textile-based ventures making PPE, both for the NHS and vulnerable people. Patrick Grant of Community Clothing, an UnLtd Impact Fund investee, turned his Blackburn factory into a production line for medical scrubs; while ‘Grow it’ Award Winner Alison Matthews pivoted her sustainable period product-making venture, mobilising sewing communities and sending out pattern and fabric kits for local hospitals.
Changing Places
If someone had told me that six months into my new role at UnLtd I’d have to steer our social investment portfolio and investment team through a global pandemic I would have laughed. But six months on, here we are.

Mathu Jeyaloganathan, Head of Investment
Blackburn-based clothing social enterprise, Community Clothing, producing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the NHS.
Thanks to players of People’s Postcode Lottery, we were able to support social entrepreneurs across North Staffordshire, the South Wales Valleys, Brighton and Dundee as part of our Resilient Communities work. We visited these social entrepreneurs with a film crew in late 2019, to film the communities their work supports. We launched the Changing Places documentary in May to tell their stories.
Participants in the Manor Gym, a revitalised community space that is removing barriers to sport in Brighton.
We're not just supporting people with award money, but there's a shared value that underpins everything we do.

Alex Phillips, Support Manager
Mental Health
For mental health awareness week in May, we shared highlights from our internal discussions on prioritising your mental health during lockdown. The post covers anxiety, parenting, adjusting to the new norm, and avoiding screen fatigue.
The 4 P's
Our research team put together the 4P’s – a framework for thinking about how social entrepreneurs responded to COVID-19. These were Proceed, Pivot, Pilot, and Pause, and shaped much of our thinking about designing our social entrepreneur support throughout the pandemic.
Racial Equity
As the world faced a global health crisis, the ongoing decades-long racism endured by Black communities all over the world reached a crisis point too. We recognise that while we have tried, we have not done enough. Our CEO Mark Norbury addresses this, reflecting on both our history and where we have to travel to be a truly anti-racist organisation.
Mona Shah making award-winning chocolates at Harry Specters
When I pulled together the 4P's research, it really demonstrated to me the ingenuity and adaptability of our social entrepreneurs. While the framework has helped us shape our thinking internally around support, I really hope it has also been useful to our social entrepreneurs, helping them to think about how they have adapted their businesses to working in the pandemic.

Alice Oldfield, Senior Researcher
He also shared his thoughts on how we can truly create racial equity, in a blog post reflecting on what it means to release power to Black, Asian and ethnic minority leaders and redistribute the power in the hands of “white male CEOs”
National Employability Day
In celebration of 2020’s National Employability Day, Support Manager Cat Chrimes wrote about how urgent the need is for social entrepreneurs to tackle unemployment. The day she wrote her post, it was announced that 600,000 people had lost their jobs between March and May. She spotlighted the work of accessible recruiters Evenbreak, Radiant Cleaners, and Transform Lives Company.
The Social Enterprise Support Fund
We were delighted to announce the Social Enterprise Support Fund to provide over £18 million in essential financial support grants, with 5 social enterprise support partners. This fund was aimed at social enterprises in England supporting people at high health risk from COVID-19, or facing increased social and economic challenges as a result of COVID-19. The SESF was made possible thanks to The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK.

Racial equity was a high priority in SESF, and we set ourselves a 50% target for the grants to go to people from minoritised communities. Head of Investment Mathu Jeyaloganathan shared how UnLtd reached our goal - 52% of our grants went to people identifying as Black, Asian, from a minority ethnic background and/or disabled.
UnLtd awarded Social Enterprise Support Fund grants, totalling £6.3m worth of funding for social entrepreneurs.
Support Fund
Vibe Youth CIC
Karen Creswell & Jake Henry - Vibe Youth CIC.
Together in Wales we have created an action plan for 10 years which will enable the sector to rebuild and in the longer term achieve its potential. Social enterprise empowers communities to come together to address issues that matter to them.

Jane Ryall, Wales Manager
of the funding went to to support enterprises targeting Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, disabled communities, and LGBTQ+ communities
of UnLtd’s grants went to people identifying as Black, Asian, from a minority ethnic background and/or disabled.
Pranav Chopra
Pranav Chopra - CEO of NEMI Teas and SESF grantee
Thank You
Social enterprise stakeholders in Wales launched the New Vision and Action Plan for Social Enterprise in Wales, supported by our Wales Manager Jane Ryall. The publication took two years of work from the stakeholder group, with a very strong statement of intent.
Inclusion Strategy
In early 2019, we set ourselves a target of making 30% of our core Millennium Awards Trust funding going to social entrepreneurs who have lived experience of the issues they are seeking to solve, growing the diversity of the people we award to.

We realised that this target wasn’t high or explicit enough.
With reflection on emergency grants such as the Social Enterprise Support Fund and our path to being a truly anti-racist organisation, we set our target for 2020/21 to have 50% of our awards to go to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds and/or disabled people.

We also committed to reporting on the proportion of awards made to people aged over 50 in recognition that those in later life have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. We look forward to being held accountable to this target, and welcome feedback on how to remove the barriers to access for these communities. We started an Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging network for staff as well, focussing on the internal, external, and equity audit work.
Socially distant showcase
In August, the UK Secretary of State for Work & Pensions, Rt Hon Thérèse Coffey MP, also made a safe and socially-distanced visit to an East Belfast social enterprise. Specialisterne NI supports autistic people to start and develop their careers, and supports employers to recruit and develop the talent of autistic people. The venture works with Northern Ireland Support Manager Nuala Smith, who helped to make the visit happen - one of the first to take place post-lockdown.
New Application Process
In September, we publicly launched something we’d been working on for 3 years – our new application process. After research, feedback, and working with our tech partners, we launched a new application portal designed to foster stronger relationships between social entrepreneurs and UnLtd, and make the application as simple as possible.

You can visit the new application at unltd.org.uk/portal
#Untap Solutions
The #UntapSolutions campaign we ran during the 2019 General Election to put social entrepreneurs on the agenda of local MPs was shortlisted for a National Campaigner Award.

Research found that 1 in 10 UK adults had an idea for a social venture that they hadn’t yet actioned, and the campaign called for MPs to commit to meeting us after the election to untap local solutions to local problems. Through social enterprise Hart Club, we commissioned 8 neuro-diverse artists to create portraits of social entrepreneurs such as Personal Alarm Watch, Find Your Voice, and Bundlee.
We released our evaluation for this programme, highlighting that 89,500 older people benefitted from our Transform Ageing Programme, shared in our evaluation
The Inclusive Recovery Fund
In partnership with Comic Relief, we were delighted to announce the Inclusive Recovery Fund offering social entrepreneurs grants from £10,000 - £500,000.

The IRF was designed to offer both financial and non-financial expert support for social ventures over the next two years to support them into recovery and long-term resilience. The partnership with Comic Relief was part of £85 million matched funding through the Government’s Community Match Challenge scheme, from a £750 million support package for charities.

The IRF distributed £4.75M in grants to 124 social entrepreneurs, and:
Fact 1

63% of those awarded funding, identify as Black, Asian or from an ethnic minority background and/or are disabled entrepreneurs.

72% of awards went to leaders with lived experience of the issue they are trying to tackle.

Fact 2

1:1 application support sessions were run for the Inclusive Recovery Fund

Portrait of Adi and Ewan, Founders of Personal Alarm Watch by Bulent Absologu.
Healthy Ageing
Between March 2017 and September 2018, we partnered with the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation to create the Solutions for an Ageing Society (SFAS) programme. We shared our learnings from the evaluation of the programme, and how they seemed all the more relevant during the pandemic. The Transform Ageing Programme was delivered across the South West for 3 years, finishing in September 2019. We released our evaluation for this programme here.

The impact of the programme included £3.7M generated, and 197 jobs created.
Minh Dang
Inclusive Recovery Fund recipient Minh Dang, Founder of Survivor Alliance.
The Inclusive Recovery Fund grantees include Minh Dang, Founder of Survivor Alliance. Survivor Alliance is run by and for survivors of human trafficking and modern slavery, putting survivor-led interventions at the forefront of support. This unique project creates space for survivors to be heard in the anti-slavery field, while also building community and providing leadership development through experiential education.

This IRF grant supports their 'Survivors Leadership, Engagement, Advocacy and Development (LEAD)' programme, offering education and leadership development for survivors to contribute lived experience expertise, offer peer support, and find their purpose in life.
I've been constantly inspired by the stories of social entrepreneurs and their response to the pandemic, and so proud to have been the Project Manager for The Inclusive Recovery Fund to support their work. I know they will continue providing both hope and critical lifelines to their communities now and in the recovery. It’s an honour to know these grants are a part of that, and witness their transformational power.

Laura Marney, IRF Project Manager
Recovery Fund
Circular Impact
Hackney clothing store Circle Collective supports young people into unemployment. Their Head of Programmes, Matt Lewedon, shares with us their experience of social impact measuring, and how critical it has been to building their venture and quantifying their Social Return on Investment.
Circle Collective trainees
Spaces 4 Change
For the past 5 years, UnLtd has been working with young social entrepreneurs across the UK to take under-utilised spaces and turn them into social ventures. The Spaces 4 Change programme was part of the Our Bright Future programme led by The Wildlife Trusts. Funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, we were able to give our support and £300k of awards funding to 85 young social entrepreneurs. Despite the pressures of the pandemic, we safely filmed a documentary to visit ventures in Bradford, York, Glasgow, and Sheffield and share their transformations.
Black History Month
October marked Black History Month, a month to recognise and celebrate the stories of the incredible Black people and communities who have shaped the UK.

We wanted to use the month to celebrate Black social entrepreneurs and the way they’re currently making history for the UK too.
Sharla Jane-Duncan
Sharla Jaye-Duncan, Founder and CEO of The Intrapreneurs Club
This blog post rounds up a few of our award winners who identify as Black, and shares educational resources for non-Black communities to educate, inform, and practice allyship.
Natasha Benjamin
Natasha Benjamin, Founder of Free Your Mind CIC.
Mobi-Game supports wellbeing and fitness for people in care, by giving them opportunities to socialise and get moving in team sports. Modified games of dodgeball, tennis, football, netball, or other nostalgic games create an accessible way to improve physical wellbeing and mental health. Venture Manager Sam Alford shares more about the venture, how they’ve been supported on Thrive, and how they pivoted to continue delivery for a particularly vulnerable group during lockdown.
Natwest SE100
The NatWest SE100 awards for 2020 was announced by Pioneers Post, with a list of trailblazing newcomers too. The annual NatWest WISE100 Awards also recognise “the most inspiring and influential women in social enterprise, impact investment and mission-driven business.” For 2020, instead of the annual WISE100, they celebrated with a Women of Inspiration list to acknowledge the achievements of women leading the way in adapting to COVID-19.

We’re proud of our award winners - and staff - recognised on the lists, and their contributions to social impact.
OOmph! Workshop (above) and Rob Oyston, Co-Founder of Mobi-Game engaging in an interactive session (below).
Zinthiya Ganeshpanchan, Founder of Leicester Community Benefit Society and WISE 100 Women of Inspiration nominee.
Social Entrepreneur in
the Community (SEIC)
SEIC is a pilot partnership with two of our Pioneers, Alex Smith and Immy Kaur, focussed on collaboration and connection. Alex and Immy invited grassroots social entrepreneurs in their respective sectors to apply for SEIC funding, specifically reaching established social leaders UnLtd has not yet engaged with. To foster strong relationships and help social entrepreneurs grow their impact, Alex and Immy are delivering the programme’s wraparound support, utilising their wealth of expertise and experience.

Immy’s SEIC cohort of 11 are focusing on resilient communities, while Alex Smith and the Cares Family have recruited for their programme, called The Multiplier, which you can learn more about in this video.
Over the next five years, the partnership between The Cares Family and UnLtd will support 50 leaders who are building connections across divides in their neighbourhoods to adapt and grow, building capacity and changing lives. In this first year, the eight-month programme will include leadership workshops, coaching, storytelling and networking for 10 inclusive, thoughtful, ambitious Multipliers.

Alex Smith, The Cares Family Founder
Our UnLtd Investment offering supports social enterprises ready to grow their impact and organisation, specifically ventures in England creating opportunities for employment. Our social investment team delivers investment, grants, and dedicated support from a Portfolio Manager.
Financial Trends Handshake Paperwork
Black Pound Day
Black Pound Day, which started in June, is “a solution-based approach to support the growth of the UK Black economy”.  By spending with Black-owned businesses on the first Saturday of each month, individual racial awareness can be sustained and translated into direct action. We collated a list of UK Black-owned businesses to support on both Black Pound Day, and every other day too.
2020 presented many challenges to our Investment team and our ventures, and the communities being supported. We offered more flexibility to our ventures, including a six-month repayment freeze and fund extension for the entire investment portfolio. Thanks to the Access Foundation, we were also able to offer grant funding to several Impact Fund ventures in the summer of 2020.
Anike Mlemchukwu, Founder of Lapapo Special Needs.
UnLtd Connect
COVID-19 and the challenges this brought to our social entrepreneurs resulted in a definite increase in demand for the Connect services. However it was heartening to witness our network of volunteers and partners responding to the increased demand and many proactively coming forward to offer even more of their time and support.
Pro Bono
148 Pro-bono legal connections were made, with 75% of social entrepreneurs feeling like they were better able to act for social change as a result.
A note from Nicholas Farhi, Chair of the Board of Trustees
2020 was among the most challenging years most of us have ever faced, and the work of social entrepreneurs this year will forever leave me inspired, astounded, and proud.  I have no doubt that these actions have changed lives.

The human stories which drive UnLtd remind me why I am honoured to chair the UnLtd board.

And while it is social entrepreneurs that UnLtd exists to serve, it’s also worth taking a moment to reflect on how the organisation responded to a year which has forever changed the way we work. Staff at UnLtd went to phenomenal lengths to support social entrepreneurs and the sector, in a year where their own professional and personal lives were severely disrupted.

Launching the Social Enterprise Support Fund and the Inclusive Recovery Fund involved coming together, breaking out of job remits, standing up for social entrepreneurs, and changing processes at speed.  We made important strides towards equity and inclusivity and learned how much more we have yet to achieve. I look forward to seeing us move even further on the journey to being a fully equitable and anti-racist organisation.

We enter 2021 as an organisation committed to continuous improvement. We have learned much about how to connect across the digital divide; and the importance of networks and community as we collaborated with others across the sector to campaign for the needs of social entrepreneurs.

Community is what drove, enabled, and inspired UnLtd throughout a tumultuous and difficult year, and it is what will continue to be at the heart of the organisation for many years to come. And while social entrepreneurs come from almost every walk of life, they are united by a shared belief that better things are possible and a commitment to make them happen. These are just some of the lessons we hope to take with us as we face the challenges and opportunities of a new year.

Thank you to everybody in the UnLtd community, and welcome to all who are yet to join us.
Thank You
From every member of staff and our Board, we want to say thank you. Thank you to our social entrepreneurs, partners, and donors for helping build a future where enterprising people are transforming our world for good. We truly cannot thank you enough for your contribution to shaping a just society, both right now and in the future.