Centre for Rural Economy

Katie Aitken-McDermott

Katie Aitken-McDermott

Exploring the capacity for social enterprise in the rural communities of County Durham

Email: k.m.aitken-mcdermott@ncl.ac.uk

Supervisors: Prof Jeremy Phillipson, Prof Matt Gorton

Project overview

My research focuses on why and how individuals and groups establish and manage rural social enterprises.

Social enterprises have been promoted internationally as key components in efforts to address seemingly entrenched social problems, innovatively and efficiently. The UK is often presented as having a well-established social enterprise ecosystem.

This study of rural social enterprises in the UK should provide useful insights. This is particularly because in rural areas smaller and more dispersed populations make other enterprise models less attractive, and because increasingly communities are being encouraged to deliver local services themselves and to manage public assets.

The project includes two distinct phases of data collection. The first is to contextualise the concept of social enterprise. It involves a period of immersion in the field with individuals and organisations working to support social enterprises, and community and economic development.

This immersion stage should go some way to addressing the difficulties of working with this contested concept. They should also provide secure footings for the second phase of the research by making use of the expertise of local development practitioners.

In the second phase of data collection, 8-10 case studies will be selected and researched. This is with the aim of identifying the resources and networks that enable individuals and groups to establish and sustain different types of social enterprises.

Multiple perspectives on each case will be generated by interviewing founders, managers, employees, volunteers and partners to illuminate their social enterprise journeys. Bourdieu’s theory of practice and Granovetter’s theory of embeddedness will focus and frame the investigation.

This is a collaborative project with Durham Community Action. It benefits from their support and from links with organisations like Social Enterprise Acumen CIC, organisations influential in supporting social enterprises and social enterprise activity in the rural areas being researched.

The intention is that by grounding this research in the expertise of intermediaries, practitioners and social entrepreneurs, relevant policy implications will be identified and findings will inform tailored approaches to supporting different social enterprises, rural social enterprises in particular.