Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Survival of the fittest?

How's that for a sunset? As viewed from our front garden

We are in the cottage we have rented every summer for the last ten years, something I was reminded of when our youngest, Katie, wanted to swap rooms with our eldest, Joe, as we arrived. He dismissed her with, "You’re joking right? I’ve had that room since I was five.”

This is a magical place with views and sunsets that match any I have seen in my travels around the world. It’s a fishing harbour with constant comings and goings, and only really resembles a Cornish holiday-makers beach at low tide, when sand replaces pebbles and rock-pooling achieves its highest art.

After ten days of looking out to sea and living with the elemental sound of the tide, I am in a very different place than when I left London. I am able to digest yesterday’s Guardian headline about cuts to our sector with an objectivity it is hard to find when you’re in the eye of the storm. As Vice-Chair I am proud of the contribution ACEVO makes to the debate and wonder at some of the figures knocking about. Given SEL is small and yet has seen £millions go following the closure of Future Jobs Fund, London Development Agency, Government Office for London and the London Councils Grants Programme, I imagine the overall figure nationally will run into the £billions and not the £millions that third sector organisations are reported to be trying to manage without. These seismic changes radiating from Central Government mark an entirely new approach, one where ideas have to be commercialised and communities will be required to invest in their own regeneration. What we are seeing is the start of the era of self-help where only the fittest will survive.

I know social enterprise is vital in this new climate, with organisations like SEL nimble on their feet and in sync with the new entrepreneurial mood, but I hope we will also remain humane. I have always said that social enterprise is business that doesn’t leave anyone behind. This new era will be our toughest challenge yet because, to be honest, many of my members, represented by the SEL board, can and do give profit-driven business a run for their money, but it is helping folk who are less able to help themselves along the way that is both the motivation for what they do and the most expendable, least profitable element. To ensure being profitable in both the economic and moral sense, we need to agree what we stand for, why we make a difference and what that difference means to us. The timing is right as 2012 will almost certainly be a good year to talk about values and ethics with the world's gaze upon us.

In the meantime I am thrilled to be in my spiritual home, surrounded by friends and family eating fish my hunter-gatherers have snatched from the sea and fruit picked straight from the fields. My training for the big swim on Sunday is going well although my goal remains only to complete the Port Gaverne to Port Isaac swim, not to do it quickly. Every evening I have swum out alone to the headland seen above on the far left, at my usual stately pace (40 mins this evening), only to be joined in recent evenings by serious swimmers wearing 'equipment' and doing efficient, if noisy, front crawl that sees them whizzing past me. I think that’s what they call proper training.

The swim is in aid of both a social enterprise, the National Lobster Hatchery, and the Port Isaac Rowing Club, both great causes. In any event I am sure some people will approach Sunday’s race as just that, a race, but I will be enjoying the stunning views and will just chuffed if I make it up Port Isaac’s slipway without having to be rescued. Less survival of the fittest and more a minor victory for the bloody minded and buoyant.

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