Fifty years of friendship and finance – meet Nick Temple

Today in our series of interview with friends and partners from our fifty years, we speak to Nick Temple, Chief Executive at the Social Investment Business 

I first came across ICOF while I was at Social Enterprise UK. We had a lot of cooperatives in the membership and we were working out what our member social enterprises and cooperatives needed. One of the finance options, and one of the organisations that we heard a lot about, that really understood social enterprises, because they came out of that movement themselves, was ICOF. It was great to learn about them and their role in the market, and understand how they compared to everyone else and what they could offer in terms of different finance options.

The ICOF team are great. They’re an organisation that comes across as one without an organisational ego, where the values that you read about on the website are actually lived in the people and your interactions with them. We find them very straightforward, very transparent, committed to the cause, as you might expect, but really easy to work with as a result. And I mean, that’s just nice, right? When organisations are what you would hope they would be and they live that in their operations and their communications and their dealings with you. The whole team reflect that, and as a result, our team really liked working with them. I know that the same is true for the organisations they support as well. There’s no grandstanding, they’re just motivated by getting the right finance to organisations at the right time in the right form for them to try and help them do more of their good work.

I started at SIB in January 2018 so I’ve been here for six years and SIB has been around for 20 years, but we have aspirations to be around for 50! We’ve worked with ICOF directly at SIB, both on the Reach funds, where we’re helping to provide a grant mix to allow projects to get investment ready, and most recently, and really excitingly, we’re working with them on the Thrive Together Fund which is a smaller loan fund with multiple partners. We serve as the infrastructure and the backing for it all but we’re working through and with specialist partners of which ICOF are one and we’re just delighted to be working in partnership with them really, tapping into their expertise to hopefully achieve more impact. The Thrive Together Fund has been hugely popular – if organisations are interested in that sort of finance, then it’s a great opportunity.

In some ways, ICOF is one of those slightly unsung heroes of their social investment space. They obviously came out of the co-operative movement, which is a big part of the wider social enterprise movement, and they’ve worked really effectively for many, many years. People sometimes assume social investment started in 2012, when Big Society Capital was established. We’re always keen to be very clear that there’s a longer history here and we’re building on the work of each other – we were an organisation that built off the work of ICOF. Locality was also one of our founders, and so, similarly, we came out of the movement of practitioners about community ownership – it’s that broader movement that we’re all hoping to support so we learned from them and built upon their work. ICOF are continually evolving and iterating what they’ve done over the years to meet the needs of the organisations they work with and support better as time has gone on, and we aspire to do that too. We’re supposed to be a learning organisation as well. It’s not just about the amount of money you’re getting out the door, but it’s the quality of it, how well it fits the needs of the organisations. And so I think social investment business, that’s the sort of learning we would want to take from an organisation like ICOF that’s been around for more than twice as long as we have.

There’s a really significant need for the sort of work ICOF does and hopefully the sort of work we do as well. That’s partly around the need for different solutions. Community ownership of assets, of spaces, of social infrastructure is really important. In terms of the finance, whichever government gets in is just not going to have as much money, so we’ve got a duty to make the money we have got go further. From our perspective, social investment used effectively can help that money, the scarce money we have, go further. I see an ongoing role for the sort of work we do, and possibly an expanded role, in the forthcoming years as well.

A big happy birthday to you ICOF. 50 years is a huge amount of time, something to be incredibly proud of. The ripple effect of all the work over that time is difficult to quantify, but has been huge and transformative not only for the individual organisations you have worked with, but also the communities that they’re based in. So here’s to the next 50 years and an even bigger cake with even more candles.