Business leaders with bold plans to create more employment opportunities for disabled people have won funding to grow and develop their ventures

17 social entrepreneurs from across the UK have won funding awards from £3,500 to £15,000 as part of a new programme which aims to close the disability employment gap through the creation of new jobs and skills development opportunities for disabled people.

Run in partnership by disability equality charity Scope and UnLtd – the foundation for social entrepreneurs – the Transforming Employment for Disabled People programme launched in April this year.

The programme invited applications for funding awards from people with business ideas that met certain criteria, including: to seek to improve employment or employability outcomes for disabled people; have a clear social impact; fulfil a need or demand in the community in which it operates.

Disabled people are twice as likely to be unemployed than non-disabled people, and while Government figures have shown falling unemployment rates in recent years, the disability employment gap – the difference in the rate of employment of disabled and non-disabled people – has stayed at around 30 per cent for the last ten years.

A Scope report found that a rise of five per cent in the disability employment rate would lead to an increase in GDP of £23 billion by 2030.

Eight of the 17 social entrepreneurs to win funding awards have a disability or impairment themselves, which in several cases has inspired them to start their business. Award-winners from the programme include:

The Woodpile CIC: The Wood Pile is a community interest company that reuses and recycles waste wood, turning it into a range of products that are sold online and from their premises in Durham. It provides employment and training for people with a range of disabilities, and helps people to develop skills such as woodwork, joinery, marketing and administration. In the last four years the business has worked with more than 160 disabled people intensively, with a total of 900 people taking part in activities and courses. The funding award will allow owner Karen Stubbings to provide more jobs and more training opportunities.

IvyBrew (Ivybridge Brewing): Simon Rundle is a marine biologist by trade, but after being inspired by the social entrepreneurs who run Ignition Brewery in London, he now plans to operate a brewery in rural Devon that employs young people with learning disabilities. Simon’s daughter has a learning disability and he is acutely aware of the lack of employment opportunities for disabled people. Simon has the support of local partner organisations to help set up his venture, and the funding award will allow him to develop brewing capability and start selling beer locally.

Deaf Business Academy: This venture has developed a programme of specialist business training in BSL (British Sign Language), which has trained 5,950 deaf people in business skills since 2014. Based in Wallasey, Merseyside, the funding award will enable co-founder Dionne Thomas and her team to expand the service further to secure new contracts. The team will also be able to offer a mentoring service to deaf people that are already self-employed.

BearHugs: Based in Sheffield, Bearhugs is an award-winning social venture that creates bespoke gift hampers. It provides employment opportunities for people with long-term health conditions and is led by Faye Savory. She was inspired to set up the venture by her own experiences of trying to find suitable work when living with a long-term health condition. After selling 14,000 hampers in the first two years of trading, the funding award will allow Faye to create more employment opportunities and cope with increased demand for her products.

ChangeMaker 3D: This Gloucester-based venture provides 3D printing and design services to a variety of customers. It reinvests 50 per cent of its business profit on providing a 10 week skills development programme specifically for people with hidden disabilities. The funding award from the Transforming Employment for Disabled People programme will allow co-owner Natalie Wadley to run further programmes to support more people.

Inyoni Bay: Paul Phillips has been awarded funding to set up a design agency that trains and employs young adults with autism. The Birmingham-based studio will create explainer videos and animation for various clients. Paul aims to take on six to eight young people each year, who will learn and work alongside experienced designers as part of a two-year skills programme, with employment within the studio upon completion. Paul, whose son has autism, has partnered with a local college to become a registered training provider.

Denise Ramsey, UnLtd Director of Awards, said: “It is fantastic to see such a range of social ventures that seek to create opportunities for disabled people to secure employment and learn valuable skills. Many of these award-winning social entrepreneurs have been inspired by their own experiences of the disability employment gap. At UnLtd we are committed to supporting them to make a real difference, so they can create lasting positive change in their communities and beyond.”

Lisa Quinlan–Rahman, Executive Director at disability equality charity Scope, said: “It’s brilliant to see such a diverse range of entrepreneurs and interesting businesses supporting disabled people to achieve their goals. With 8 of the 17 award-winners also having lived experience of disability, it’s a really positive step for disability equality.

“Too often disabled people face barriers in the workplace and Scope’s partnership with UnLtd will demonstrate that social entrepreneurship and investment can be a powerful part of tackling this inequality, and we’re off to a great start with these ventures.”

About UnLtd, the Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs

UnLtd finds, funds and supports social entrepreneurs that are tackling the key issues facing society. Since 2002 UnLtd has given out more than 13,000 awards of support and funding, direct and through partners, to social entrepreneurs to start up and scale their impact. We support individuals that are running ventures which are firmly rooted in delivering positive social change.

We are at the heart of a thriving movement for social change. Social entrepreneurs have solutions to some of the most pressing issues faced by society. Bringing together insight and innovation from across the world, we help social entrepreneurs to fulfil their potential to change the UK for the better.

Twitter: @UnLtd

About Scope

We’re a strong community, of disabled and non-disabled people, with a shared vision of equality for disabled people. We provide practical advice and emotional support whenever people need it most. We use our collective power to change attitudes and end injustice. And campaign relentlessly to create a fairer society. We won’t stop until we achieve a society where all disabled people enjoy equality and fairness.

Twitter: @Scope