Social adVentures

Social adVentures

Author: Dan Gregory, Head of Policy at Social Enterprise UK
Source: “China-UK Social Enterprise and Social Investment Case Studies” publication 

Social adVentures is a social enterprise set up to address public health and health inequalities in Salford, Manchester. It was created as Healthy Living Centre and has since ‘spun-out’ of the public sector to become jointly owned as a mutual and social enterprise by service users, employees and the local community. Social adVentures delivers a public health contract and is now growing and diversifying, earning rental income, working with other social sector organisations and has even bought a garden centre and a children’s nursery. The business is one of a group of newly formed social enterprises which are now operating independently from the state, often led by inspirational leaders with a desire to be more innovative and entrepreneurial. 

The problem

Health inequality remains a challenge in the UK. It has been recognised for some time that these health inequalities result from social and economic inequalities. Aside from social justice considerations, these health problems also mean productivity losses, reduced tax revenue, higher welfare payments and increased treatment costs for the UK.

Inequalities in male life expectancy by socio-economic status has increased in recent years. The difference in male life expectancy at birth between the most and least advantaged rose from 4.9 years in 1982–86 to 6.2 years in 1997–2001. From 2002 to 2006, life expectancy at birth for males whose parent(s) had an occupation which was classified as ‘Higher managers and professionals’, was over 80 years compared with those born to parents classified to ‘Routine’ occupations, which was under 75 years.

While health in Salford is improving, and life expectancy is increasing, the gap between those areas with the worst and best of health continues to grow both nationally and regionally. Those living in less affluent parts of Salford have an average lifespan of ten years less than those living in the more affluent areas. In terms of 'years of life lived without a significant health problem', people living in the more affluent parts of Salford live 16 more years without a significant health problem.

The solution

There has been increasing focus over the past decade or more on health inequality in the UK. This includes recognition that measure to address health inequalities should start in the early years, that employment and economic opportunity play an important role and that place is also a significant factor in determining health. While this requires a combination of actions from communities themselves, central and local government, the NHS and community groups, local action can play a constructive role in helping reduce health inequalities. 

Healthy LivingCentres were created in the last 1990s aimed at improvingthe public’s health. Social adVentures is a social enterprise which began life as a HLC and is now jointly owned by service users, employees and the local community. The business operates from three locations - The Angel Centre, The Creative Media Centre and Garden Needs. All the service aim to provide a range of activities to improve the wellbeing, health and happiness of the local population. All surpluses are re-invested in the purpose of the social enterprise and to improve the lives of the people of Salford. 

Social AdVentures aim is to inspire local people to lead happier and healthier lives, based on living a full and meaningful life and physical, mental and social well-being. The business delivers a range of services, including health improvement, smoking reduction, mental health and learning disabilities. Some of the services have been delivered in a similar way for up to 10 years. But the social enterprise is a relatively new, stand alone mutual, which ‘spun-out’ to be independent of the National Health Service. Social AdVentures prides itself on being a vibrant, responsive and innovative business. 

Over the past 10 years the organisations has worked to develop strong links with the community, including encouraging people to shape the governance of the business and to establish peer-led services.

Business model

The organisation delivers a public health contract in Salford, earns rental income and is increasingly diversifying its income streams. The team works with some of Salford’s most hard to reach groups. Services include healthy cooking classes, crisis management psychological sessions, arts and crafts and Zumba. There are 30 staff working for the organisation. 

Social adVentures also works in partnership with others, such as Salford Health Matters and the Big Life Group to deliver wellbeing services. The business started life an independent trading enterprise with revenue of around £400,000 and has sought to grow and diversify since becoming independent. It has since its income grow year on year. Alongside its service delivery, the enterprise now runs social businesses such as garden centres, managed workspace and community cafés and has turnover over £500,000.


The business was one of the first social enterprise spin-outs from the NHS. It was originally set up as The Angel Healthy Living Centre. The original Angel Centre was a healthy living centre set up by the NHS in the late 1990s. In 2005, the Board of Salford Primary Care Trust approved a proposal to develop The Angel Centre into a social enterprise and separate from Salford PCT. In 2008 the organisation was incorporated as a community benefit society (Industrial and Provident Society). In 2010, The Angel Healthy Living Centre was re-branded to Social adVentures to better reflect the growing and diverse business. 

Garden Needs is a garden centre which is jointly owned by Social adVentures and Mind in Salford. The relationship between horticulture and mental health are well known and the two organisations decided to buy the centre when it became available in 2009. The centre offers opportunities for clients with complex health needs, such as depression and anxiety to develop their gardening skills and enhance their wellbeing. Social adVentures describe how the centre “offers volunteers with complex health needs, such as depression and anxiety, the chance to work on a range of outdoor activities, reconnecting them to nature and each other for support and recovery. The setting up of this new social enterprise not only unlocks the potential to develop a quasi-commercial garden centre within the community, but it also frees both staff and clients to be innovative in their approaches.”


Social adVentures won the RBS SE100 Growth Champion Award in 2012, and is a Deloitte Social Innovation Pioneer. The team believe that there are many things with a value which cannot be easily captured in traditional economic terms. So the team worked with an external consultancy to undertake a Social Return on Investment (SROI) analysis of their ‘social prescribing’ project. SROI is an analytic tool for measuring a broad range of social, economic and environmental factors. This research suggested that participants were better able to cope with life events, improved in relationships with family and friends, and developed confidence to do things they had not imagined they would be able to do before. 

Nick Hurd, former Minister for the Third Sector in the UK commented on Social adVentures success, saying that “It’s fantastic to see a social enterprise winning this award that is also a Public Service Mutual. Social adVentures demonstrates how employee-led social enterprises have a key role to play in the way Public Services will be delivered in the future.”

Problems and challenges

Social adVentures, like many of the NHS spin-outs has had to wrestle with the complexity of leaving the public sector. This includes resolving issues around VAT, pensions and staff terms and conditions. One major challenge is also to diversify their income streams and become less reliant on public sector income in a time of fiscal austerity in the UK. The leadership of Social adVentures recognises that in the future, the organisations will have to generate more of its own funding by winning contracts and other income if it is to continue to offer innovative solutions to the communities they serve.

There is some debate in the UK health industry as to how services will be configured in future with some tensions between competing drivers, including fiscal pressures, a need for greater integration, a move towards more personalisation of services, the delivery of services closer to home and a focus on prevention and early intervention. While Social adVentures are well placed in many respects, the way in which NHS and public authority resources will flow in response to these pressures is still unclear. The business will need to remain nimble, entrepreneurial, embrace diverse partnerships and diversify.


Social adVentures believe that their sustainability will depend on the ability to diversify and grow. They are keen to assist other public sector organisations to develop their journey as independent mutual and social enterprises and so play a leading role in supporting the network of health and social care spin-outs that have emerged from the NHS and local public bodies over the last few years. 

With recent NHS reforms, local authorities have been given renewed responsibility for public health. It is not yet clear how this will impact on the funding environment for public health, healthy living centres and enterprises such as Social adVentures. But the business is expecting strong financial growth over the next few years as it expands and diversifies. With finance from Big Issue Invest and Natwest, the enterprise has recently acquired a nursery in the area which should improve its financial sustainability and help spread risks.


As an independent organisation, the leadership of Social adVentures now have to deal with a wide range of issues which a unit within the public sector would not have to consider. This includes VAT, HR rules, dealing with suppliers and managing payroll and cash-flow. This required external support and advice as well as the core team learning new skills and capabilities.

Culture has played a significant part in how the new social enterprise has taken shape and built confidence. Scott Darraugh believes this is linked to recruiting a good mix of personalities and capabilities, describing how in the public sector “there’s a cloning process – a certain type of person at management or executive level that’s repeated. When we spun out, we did a blank company culture exercise with staff and service users to design the culture of the organisation… This meant we were getting not clones of ourselves, but people with strong cultural values and attributes we could work with.”

The leadership of Social adVentures has also spent considerable time investigating the idea of social investment and seeking to understand how the UK’s growing social investment market can support their work. While this has taken a significant amount of time and has sometimes been frustrating, the business has now benefited from raising finance to help it grow and diversify. This journey, however, has not been without a cost in terms of money and staff time.

Founder’s perspective

Scott Darraugh is the CEO of Social adVentures. Scott has a long career in the NHS but a few years ago was ready to leave as he “didn't feel very inspired within the NHS”.  Scott says “What I found was that the NHS wasn’t able to respond quickly enough to make really sustainable responses to the challenges service users faced. In 2011, we were given the opportunity to set up one of the first social enterprises under the Right to Request programme. The process was tough, but I knew I wanted to create an organisation that was dynamic, free from red tape and that made those delivering public services accountable to those that used them.”

Scott says it was emotional to leave the public sector after 10 years of service but that somehow, things are now more productive with a cultural shift within the team. He says that “People are driven to make a difference to take ownership and I believe that has to be better for the people we serve.” Scott places significant emphasis on trusting his staff to do the right thing, for example with devolved budgets and staff entrusted to spend up to £250 without management sign-off. Subsequently, spend has gone down as “people spend the money as if it is their own and they spend it in the best interests of the organisation”. 


Edited by: The British Council Society Team

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