Melanie Bryan and the Big Society

WhyNotChange – a social enterprise which builds the confidence and capability of individuals and organisations to make a positive difference is the latest winner of the Prime Minister’s Big Society Award.

The founder Melanie Bryan has given her time to inspire and work with hundreds of women, young people, social enterprises, charities and businesses. Her achievements include setting up an enterprise event for women across the North West, providing practical enterprise support to students and setting up a consortium of charities and social enterprises to win public sector contracts.

The Prime Minister said on the award win:

“Melanie is an inspiration and clearly has great energy and passion to change people’s lives. Her work to support enterprise in the North West and help others get on in life is to be greatly admired. She is the embodiment of the Big Society at work, and while not everyone will have the time and energy of Melanie I hope it will inspire others to think about the small things they can do to make a big difference in their community.”

The founder Melanie Bryan said:

“This is a huge and very unexpected honour. It’s a fantastic accolade not only for us, but also for the amazing people and organisations who have joined us on our journey, generously giving their time, skills and experience. If everybody makes just one small change the cumulative impact would be phenomenal. We hope that our story will encourage you to believe that you too can make a positive difference and to start taking action today to make it happen. ”

I spoke to Melanie about her work and the award.

“The award is for people and organisations that embody society in action and WhyNotChange does just that.  We undertake a whole range of services for corporate and public bodies and the income is diverted to community projects.  This is the essence of social enterprise. It used to be that social enterprise was the preserve of hippies or was some misguided form of charity but what WhyNotChange shows is that social enterprise is real businesses trading for social impact.”

“There are lots of different ways that we create social impact. Lots of my work, for instance in schools and communities, brings young and older people together to generate ideas that will make a real difference to their communities. For example, today I have been in a community in a very deprived area of Manchester. The people in the community are disadvantaged in many ways and are reluctant to travel. The local church hall, a hub for many activities, was set to close and so we looked at ways to turn it into a social enterprise hub to build more opportunities for local people. We don’t do this for the people but we work with them; we equip the community so that they can make things happen for themselves.  The local people knew that they wanted to do something to save the hall but didn’t know what to do. We come in and generates ideas and help with things like grant applications. The first business to work from the centre is a young woman offering dance and drama classes. The local school has given her some of their show budget and she will help them with the production.”

“And we can work to help grow businesses. Smaller companies can tend to lose out on public sector contracts as they either don’t have the full skill set needed to apply or they are seen as being too small. By bringing together a number of small businesses to form a larger consortium they then can bid for these contracts. Once we help them to win the first one they realise that yes, they can do it and go on to bid for even more work. Working in this way allows people to think bigger. One project we are working on is a town loyalty card where people will get reward points for shopping locally and also earn points for volunteering in the local community. The rewards are also provided by local businesses, for example free seats at a football match.”

“I think that the Big Society is just a recognition of what people have always done. I grew up in a small village and it was commonplace for people to help one another out, to do the shopping if someone wasn’t well or helping to run the local football team for the children. We need to harness that willingness to get involved and to work to create a better local environment for themselves to generate enterprises with real social impact.”



3 Comments on Melanie Bryan and the Big Society

  1. Phil Birch // March 8, 2011 at 1:15 pm // Reply

    Inspirational work Melanie. I think alerting peope to social enterprises as being real businesses with a social impact is an invaluable point. We are not all hippies or charities ! Community engagement aligned with business professional expertise will be the way forward I am sure. I would love to understand how I can get involved and help with your current projects or how to establish similar schemes in and around my local area.

    • Melanie Bryan // March 9, 2011 at 5:15 pm // Reply

      Hi Phil, good to hear from you. I’d be delighted to meet for a coffee to exchange experiences and ideas, and to explore together potential collaboration opportunities. Happy to help in any way I can. If you’d like to drop me an email we can make arrrangements. Looking forward to it already! Best wishes, Melanie

  2. karen birch // August 15, 2011 at 5:44 pm // Reply

    Melanie has recently been voted
    Britain’s Best Real Role Model


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