Meaningful change for Plymouth communities

Plymouth is a social enterprise city. It has more than 200 social and community business that employ some 8,000 people.

It also has areas of deprivation and social inequality – and that’s what the Real Ideas Organisation is working to tackle, building upon the city’s social enterprise expertise.

“Our deprived areas experience a range of poverty driven issues including poor health, crime, low incomes and a low skill base,” says Ed Whitelaw, Head of Enterprise and Regeneration for Real Ideas. “You’ve got a lower business start-up and survival rate and significant disparities of income across the city.”

In addition to supporting local people and organisations to create and grow community businesses and social enterprises, Real Ideas has a particular focus on three specific areas: Devonport and Stonehouse in Plymouth and Liskeard in South East Cornwall. “We know it takes a long time to create lasting change. So we’ve made a long-term commitment to a commercially driven regeneration approach in these places,” says Ed.

Working with Plymouth City Council, Real Ideas is also behind the Enrich programme – an initiative to set up and develop community businesses in parks throughout the city. “It’s giving people opportunities to create new businesses for themselves while doing something for the city – helping maintain our green spaces and tackling other issues around health inequalities,” Ed explains.

A broad mixture of local enterprises have been created and supported by the Enrich programme, including honey producer Pollenize CIC; Snapdragons – who are developing a community creative kindergarten play area in one of the parks, and the Soap Box Theatre. “They’ve turned a disused mustard gas decontamination centre from WWII, which is a concrete block, into a children’s theatre space.”

Real Ideas is also working with partners on another innovative project – to turn a derelict market hall in Devonport into an immersive, 360° dome. “It’s essentially a virtual reality space for 150 people. It’s a visitor experience and a research and development space for the audiences of the future,” says Ed.

The Market Hall will have work space, a café and exhibition space – and involve local schools, colleges, the university and cultural and business partners. “Our aim is to create a pipeline of skills and potential and make it meaningful for the local community, as well as being a visitor attraction – bringing together need and opportunity.

“There is no other attraction of its kind in the country. So we have big ambitions for Devonport by putting a UK first in one of the more deprived areas in England. We’re turning a derelict market hall into something innovative, exciting and with great potential to be a catalyst for real strategic change. Locally, it has huge public support. It’s bringing belief, opportunities and jobs to an area that has been overlooked.”


Real Ideas is one of the catalyst organisations for the Empowering Places programme, that aims to demonstrate the role that concentrated clusters of community businesses can play in creating better places and reducing inequality in local areas. Funded by Power to Change, the programme is delivered by Co-operatives UK in partnership with CLES and NEF.

The Empowering Places programme is part of our Community Economic Development (CED) work, which supports organisations and networks in local wealth building, co-op development and engaging communities in economic development.