What is a ‘social enterprise’?
The definition of a social enterprise is the subject of some debate, but in essence, social enterprises are businesses that trade for social or environmental purposes, and usually for the benefit for a clearly-defined community. They can be any sort of business, with any legal structure, providing any kind of commercial goods or services; but they exist principally to promote their social or environmental projects, not to make profit for shareholders. All, or the majority of, profits from the business are invested back into its social or environmental aims.
As of 2013, the Government estimated that there were about 68,000 social enterprises in the UK, contributing £24bn to the economy and employing 800,000 people. This figure is likely to keep increasing throughout 2014.
Various surveys, notably the 2009 State of Social Enterprise Survey, have consistenly found that social enterprises appear to be weathering the recession well and are much more optimistic about the future than other businesses. Social enterprises exist in many different business sectors. However, we believe we are the first and so far the only social enterprise working for the kink community, and one with rock-solid credentials.
How is Coffee, Cake & Kink a ‘social enterprise’?
Coffee, Cake & Kink was founded to make a comfortable space for the kink community to inhabit, a space that people could use to find out information, meet new people, learn to accept themselves or help others accept them; all with a good cup of coffee and some divine cake. We all have social needs - shelter, a place to belong - and kink and alternative communities have always struggled to claim their own. Coffee, Cake & Kink helps to create these spaces, physically, online, or just within people's minds and souls. If that's not a social aim, we don't know what is!
Moreover, we have never been an organisation that’s just about profit. Although we need to make a profit to be able to do our work, it is not our purpose. We also have multiple bottom lines.
Can you give some examples of Coffee, Cake & Kink as a social enterprise?
When we first opened we knew there would be quiet times in the space, when all the bills and staff were paid for but the space was available, so we donated this to the community, and others. Most places close when it’s quiet and there are not enough people coming in, but we felt this was a waste so we encouraged people to form groups and have meetings. We often supported them with coffee and cake on the house, and also encouraged non-kinky groups (such as AA meetings on Sundays).
Books played a big part in our mission to inform and to educate. Some people weren’t able to take the books home, so we encouraged them to read while at CCK. We never rushed anyone, even if that meant a person sitting at a table for hours with just a glass or two of tap water. Very quickly we had people coming and saying what a fantastic idea that was, and how much easier it was to explain their kinks to people. Some were so appreciative that they bought books, read them and then donated them back to ‘pass on to the next one who needs them’.
The third key thing we did was to encourage art. A lot of artists we featured were shunned by art galleries because their work was too controversial. We started with Ray Learning, who set a very high benchmark in terms of quality, but then we introduced new artists to give them an opportunity to get their first show. Artists were coming in thick and fast, many more than we could exhibit, so we put together art portfolios which then lived in our lounge as another way for artists to show their work to people. We had well over 30 artists who came in regularly to read the comments left for them and keep their portfolios up to date. Some were better than others, and so some feedback was pleasing while some rather harsh - but they all got a chance to hear back about their work.
We also tried to put risque art in context, and show that one could bring this world into one's space and life. We made it fit with the sofas and the coffee and the cake so that all our customers, from the old ladies drinking their tea to the businessmen and students, could enjoy it. And if they really couldn’t take it home, they could experience it at CCK and maybe learn something about themselves in the process.
We have always made a point of being all-inclusive, so one month we would please one group of people - say, with corsets and heels art - then the next month another, which some may find more challenging. We also ensured we challenged ourselves, and stepped out of our own comfort zone, too. We put on two ‘high risk’ exhibitions, one by Ulli Richter (the only one of its kind in the UK in the last 20 years), which would not be touched not only by any of the mainstream galleries, but no LGBT spaces, either) and ‘Your Extreme Porn Needs You’ as a reaction to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 (although cartoons, it did get seen by people who count). We only regret having to close before we had a chance to exhibit China Hamilton's work - we were saving this one for when the Act comes into law, and were willing to test the proposed initial ‘artistic or educational merit’ exception.
In our post-Covent Garden years, our biggest work has been in areas of work skills, helping long-term unemployed kinksters and other folks to develop, and thrive, in challenging economic times (please also see below).
So what are Coffee, Cake & Kink's key social impacts?
Our biggest social impact is freeing people from the ‘I'm a weirdo’ burden many carry, integrating those who may have felt isolated for years into a wider community and helping them to build stronger, healthier relationships. In our cafe days, we were that place where people brought their mothers and fathers and friends to have difficult conversations, and also help them understand their world, and we have continued that work in other ways. We have also saved a marriage or two, we hear!
Behind the scenes, we have put the word ‘kink’ in front of thousands of people across the country through our participation in JCP's Future Jobs Fund (one benefit of working through national institutions is scale!). In thousands of job centres across the country people were able to find, and get referred for, Coffee, Cake & Kink placements, on an equal footing with all the other opportunities and employers. This certainly raised a few eyebrows, yet it was a key milestone in our work to have kink considered as a valid lifestyle choice, an acceptable form of expression and a hallmark of tolerance and diversity. This work is much less known, as it wasn't the community that was the benefactor, but the non-kinky others, the other side of the bridge that we are building to connect those identifying themselves as ‘alternative/kinky’ with broader society. We legitimise kink and give it a place at the social enterprise, business and SME table.