Circle Collective’s Social Impact Journey

Anna Markland

Pioneers Lead

6th October 2020



With predictions that 1 million young people could be facing unemployment, now is a time when social enterprise can make even more of a difference.

The Circle Collective are one such venture, on a mission to help young people in London who are furthest from the labour market find sustainable employment. They do this through coaching and support from the Circle Collective charity, combined with hands on retail experience in their Dalston & Lewisham clothes stores. And they know what they do works … because they have been carefully tracking their social impact for over five years.

UnLtd asked their Head of Programmes, Matt Lewedon, to tell us about their experience of social impact measuring.

Q – How did Circle Collective start off in terms of impact measuring Matt?

It is fair to say we have been on quite the quest to create and improve our social impact reporting at Circle Collective over the past 5 years.

In 2015, we received investment from the Big Issue Invests Corporate Social Venturing Scheme, part of which was the offer of working with Northampton University to provide a Social Return on Investment (SROI)  report for us. Since then, we’ve worked each year with Richard Hazenburg, Professor of Social Innovation at Northampton University, to produce an annual report.

This relationship has now developed so that our SROI report has grown and expanded alongside our evolving contracts and the changing demographics of the communities we aim to support.

Q – Why did you feel measuring your social impact was important?

As a growing charity/social enterprise, we were excited to have access to a report that we could use to illustrate our financial and social impact to both our current – and just as importantly, to any potential – funders and partners.

It would support us with content for future bids (both statutory or grant funding) and it would pull together relevant data into a nice concise report. Up until this point, we were only able to give anecdotal evidence of our impact through our case studies and we did not have anything that brought together the financial savings we were creating for the state.

Q – What is the data telling you?

We now capture a range of data to be able to complete the calculation, covering:

  • Demographics of each trainee
  • Financial Info (benefits claimed per week prior to engagement with Circle)
  • Intervention Data (hours engaged per week; course type completed; qualifications gained)
  • Employment Outputs (job outcomes; earnings; hours per week, time in work).
  • Self-Efficacy (confidence of young people, before and after)
  • Anxiety (levels recorded before and after)
  • Wellbeing (levels recorded before and after)
  • In Work support (up to 6 months min) and guidance after graduating the programme
  • Ambassador scheme (for in-work trainees who want to support the Circle mission further)
  • Criminal Justice Interventions (length of sentence, nature of crime, time since last offence)
  • Partner Volunteer Value (number of volunteers, hours of intervention, value of intervention)

Using this rich data, Richard was able to provide us with a social value  amount that started at £186,000 in 2015, and has now grown to £1,365,000 in 2020! This means we create £4.64 of social value for every £1 invested in Circle Collective.

Q - Has measuring your social impact led to changes in the way you support young people?Richard’s academic viewpoint on the social business sector has supported new practices now embedded in our programmes, such as the completing of Hamilton’s Anxiety Scale, General Self Efficacy and Warwick-Edinburgh Wellbeing questionnaires with all trainees. This measures the trainees levels at the start and upon completion of our programmes. 

His collation of this data has proven the positive effect of our programme on a young person’s confidence, anxiety levels and wellbeing which ties with our mission to improve young people’s resilience and responsibility in preparation for the world of work.

With the changes in the world, even pre Covid-19, we think it is extremely important to look at the wraparound service and support a young person’s wellbeing.

Q: You mention that you hoped SROI would help you be more credible in front of partners/funders – has this been the case? Can you give an example?

Good question. Yes, our bid writer has stated that it is very impressive to our funders in the conversations she has. She has been the one pushing for the new SROI to be completed as quick as possible because we have large applications going in for Children in Need, and follow on funding for National Lottery which she believed the social value amounts as well as the figures for the anxiety, wellbeing and self-efficacy were essential.

Q: You’ve grown your SROI impressively (bravo!) – what do you think has driven that?

The growth is down to a few areas. We have grown the number of young people we have supported year on year which is the obvious one. Secondly, we have been recording better data for the amounts that young people claim in benefits and the various types of benefits rather than just UC or JSA.

And finally, we have added the cost to the state for young people who have a criminal background, and this has been a major addition. To put it in context, last year our number of job starts (people starting onward employment) did not increase. This is because those on our caseload were further from the labour market (eg we had much higher rates of young people with disabilities, especially autism). We still managed to overall achieve a much higher social value because of the way we recorded the impact information and our increased efforts for these young people leading to a greater depth of impact.

The last year was the first year of working with youth offender teams and their referrals were predominantly under 18 and unable to claim benefits, so we needed to see the monetary values associated with supporting this cohort.

Q: Any final reflections?

Every year we look forward to outcome of the data we share with Richard and his team, to see the amount of social value we have created and to see how we have positive effected the wellbeing of all the young people who have been on our programme, and I would suggest these outcomes outweigh the cost and resource that goes into it. We will continue to grow our charity and work with Northampton Uni to support us to how we present the ever-changing world we operate in.

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