A Larne-based social enterprise company has scooped a £50,000 cash windfall to help make its lofty ambitions a reality.
Acceptable Enterprises Larne (AEL) – a service and manufacturing business which makes parts, accessories and components for a wide range of industries – scooped the top prize in the UK-wide Santander Social Enterprise Development Awards (SEDA).
The prestigious annual event aims to support social enterprises that have ambitions to develop their business, but need a financial boost to help them realise their ideas.
And AEL impressed the judges with its bold vision to expand its range of services by taking up residence in Larne’s Northern Regional College campus on Pound Street; transforming the under-utilized building into a thriving hub for the local community.
The NRC campus has now been renamed Centre Point and is a shared facility between the college, AEL and the Northern Health Trust.
The partnership allows AEL and the Trust to rent part of the premises from NRC, who will continue to provide further education courses on-site.
The arrangement helped secure the future of the building – which was at one time in danger of closing after it suffered a major drop in enrolment numbers – by ensuring it is used to its full capacity.
AEL chief executive David Hunter told the Larne Times: “The judges liked the fact that, in these times of economic doom and gloom, AEL took brave and ambitious steps to up its game and provide additional resources to those most in need.
“This £50,000 award is a massive boost for a local charity seeking to create employment for disadvantaged adults in the Larne area.
“It is also a tremendous recognition of the quality services provided by AEL.”
The cash injection has enabled AEL to employ a new manager for the cafe at Centre Point.
The funding boost will also be used to launch a new online lunch ordering system (lunchbox.org.uk).
This initiative will allow people across the borough to order sandwiches, salads and other items from the Centre Point cafe in advance, which can then be delivered to the customer or collected in person.
Mr Hunter added: “The grant award will allow us to double the size of our kitchen at Centre Point cafe, and make room for a new deli counter to facilitate our online ordering service.”
It is anticipated that the new service will be in place by the end of April, and AEL hopes to expand the scheme to other parts of the province further down the line.
AEL has a number of other ambitious projects in the pipeline, including plans for community allotments at the rear of the Centre Point, as well as the creation of Northern Ireland’s first social enterprise water-bottling facility at Magheramorne.