Sunday, January 2, 2011

In Scotland, program allows private business to become employment site for many disabled people

From The Scotsman:

A fruit and veg shop in Aberdeenshire has become the first business to be sold through an innovative programme designed to see private businesses become social enterprises.

Frances Ritchie, owner of the Fruit Mart in Longside, sold her business to Community Food Initiatives North East (CFINE), for an undisclosed sum.

The deal was backed with a £25,000 contribution from Aberdeenshire Fairer Scotland Fund, brokered by another organisation, Social Firms Scotland, which is running the new Acquiring Business for Good programme.

The Fruit Mart, which employs 17 people with learning disabilities, will become CFINE's operational base in north Aberdeenshire in addition to others in Aberdeen, south Aberdeenshire, West Lothian and Moray.

CFINE manages about 120 food outlets and this latest base will allow it to continue to provide healthy foods in rural Aberdeenshire at affordable prices.

Dave Simmers, chief executive of CFINE, said: "Longside is a small community, like so many in rural Aberdeenshire, which badly needs local shops to remain open.

"The Fruit Mart, which has been serving the village well for years, not only provides healthy fresh fruit and vegetables at low cost, but it also gives much-needed supported employment opportunities for people with learning disabilities.

"The previous owner, Ms Frances Ritchie, born and bred in the area, has a passion for her workers, the adults with learning disabilities, and we are delighted Frances will be able to continue as an employee with CFINE."

Social Firms Scotland's chief executive, Pauline Graham, said: "This deal epitomises the benefits of the Acquiring Business for Good programme: CFINE has acquired a profitable business and experienced staff in a new location and the local community has kept a business which provides much-needed services and employment for a variety of staff, including those with severe disadvantages."

As part of the shop's re-launch, the property was given a makeover by Aberdeen Foyer's Prince's Trust team and there are plans in the longer term to open a café which will provide a social focus for the village which has no pubs and only one general store.

The official opening of the new-look Fruit Mart by Richard Lochhead, Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, was originally scheduled for 10 December but was postponed because of the severe weather.

Social Firms Scotland's Acquiring Business for Good programme is funded by the National Lottery and aims to support the acquisition of eight to ten businesses.

The group targets family-owned businesses and presents itself as an alternative succession plan.

Graham said: "There are over 60,000 family-owned firms, employing over 50 per cent of the private sector workforce in Scotland.