An organisation that campaigns for better public procurement has won a 2021 Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the promotion of opportunity through social mobility category.
For 17 years Aspire Community Works has been pursuing a better deal for local people, firstly as a charity and latterly as a community business.
In the last year, the organisation, based in the East End of London, has taken its efforts to new levels with the #BetterForUs 2020-24 campaign which argues that organisations that maximise their public good help to reduce poverty and inequality within communities.
In turn, Aspire says this brings public services closer to the people they support and helps to build public trust in public institutions and services.
Last month Aspire published a guide on how public bodies can use their purchasing power as “a force for the community”, because it shapes local markets to the needs of people, strengthening public services and promoting inclusive growth.
For the first five years of its existence Aspire Foundation – as it was then – was a charity dedicated to finding training and employment opportunities for homeless and disadvantaged people.
In 2009 it was forced to pivot with the disappearance of its national funding and needed to develop a new strategy for survival.
Its objective was to build upon the strong links it had with housing associations and create a trading business where people could stay, develop and grow with the business. It would train local people up to provide the essential estate services that associations provided within their communities.
Central to its ethos was building a business for good, one that provided quality conditions and quality pay, including the London Living Wage. By 2015, a new Community Interest Company was formed with new Board Members committed to a social entrepreneurial mindset.
Aspire won a number of public procurements competing not only with housing associations, but also with the private sector, obtaining horticulture and grounds maintenance, window cleaning and other cleaning contracts.
However, just as many were lost usually on price, because in the age of austerity others chose to undercut them by paying their employees below the Real Living Wage.
Turning this tide is what Aspire is all about and to support individual and community aspiration, according Katharine Sutton, Director of Aspire: “Treating people decently and with equal respect is the key to promoting social mobility, as too is challenging discrimination and identifying the root causes of disadvantage.
“In losing out on procurement tenders we have witnessed how local people can also lose out on service quality, something that they don’t deserve. So, our #BetterForUs campaign is designed to add our voice, the voice of lived experience of the procurement process.
“Our campaign helps shape the procurement markets rather than respond to them. We believe strongly that treating people fairly and with respect leads to better quality services and we want to work with all organisations that seek to maximise their potential to reduce inequality and poverty within communities.
“We are delighted that our efforts have been recognised in this way. It really is a testament to our frontline employees who have worked tirelessly every day to make our community business a success.
“Here and across the country, there can be no let-up in the fight for real living wages nor in ensuring that quality services are inclusively designed and delivered.”