20 May 2021

A chat with Social Enterprise UK's Peter Holbrook

Peter Holbrook CBE, Chief Executive of Social Enterprise UK

Peter Holbrook, CBE, is a big fan of our work at Result CIC. His role as Chief Executive at Social Enterprise UK (SEUK) has supported so many organisations and we are proud to be one of them. SEUK’s vision is of a more equal society and a belief that social enterprise is our best chance of creating a fairer world and protecting the planet. Their mission is to achieve that through creating a favourable environment in which social enterprises can thrive.

We are members of SEUK, Result CIC's values chiming perfectly with those of this fantastic and vital orgainsation.

We sat down for a virtual cup of tea and a natter with Peter to find out more about him and the work of SEUK.

Tell us 3 things about yourself, Peter.
I’ve had 18 different places I’ve called home. Does that seem a lot? I think it’s the nature of being a renter for most of your adult life in the UK. I’ve learned to be able to pack up quickly, and not hold onto too many possessions.  

I had a little taste of acting and singing in the west end of London when I was 13. It was thrilling and an entirely new world to me. Those memories have remained so strong in me even after all these years. I’d have loved to pursue that first love, but I was steered away from it by family and my school and I’ve always wondered what if? As a young gay man, the theatre felt like the only safe space I’d ever discovered.  I’m eternally grateful to my school teacher Miss Moore for making that opportunity happen in an otherwise miserable and unrewarding school environment.  

I love the outdoors and the beauty of nature truly amazes me. I feel alive and re-energized by the rain, by the sun or by the wind. In Britain, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. I studied Environmental Science to degree level and continue to have a strong affinity with the natural world.  

What drew you to becoming the CEO of SEUK?
Having transitioned from business into the charity sector, I had found myself working for very different causes, which all were focussed on tackling single issues of social or environmental injustice. I then started a social enterprise working across all manner of community development; poverty, ill-health, crime, housing, environment, work, education. The systemic and intersectional nature of all these things really struck me; how traditional approaches just left people failing and poor. I knew that things could change much faster, and perhaps only really change for people through systems or a systemic approach. SEUK enabled me to champion and support a sector I had come to love, but also to work on the systemic and structural reasons that keep people poor, marginalised, disempowered, and further threatens nature and the natural world.

How do you see the current climate for social entrepreneurs and enterprises?
It’s always been a tough gig to start any sort of business; even more so to successfully grow and develop it. Doing that and trying to make a difference in the world is even harder. But there is no doubt in my mind that it’s become a positive and increasingly popular movement for change. There’s more support, market opportunity and recognition of our work than ever before, but it’s still tough and full of hard decisions and stress is a frequent companion. It’s a fulfilling journey, but not an easy one.

What advice would you give to a social entrepreneur who has an innovative idea?
Absolutely go for it, but make sure you know what you’re letting yourself in for and surround yourself with people that both challenge and support you.  What I’ve learned is that, whether you succeed or fail with an idea, the learning that you’ll get will be so wide-ranging and formative, that in most cases it will be well worth the investment and struggles.  

What keeps you awake at night?
There’s this inconvenient truth that I have learned. Social enterprises can tackle many of the world’s most difficult and complex problems, but they can’t do this in isolation from tackling the wider root causes of injustice. We need urgent reform of our political, economic, and educational institutions if we are ever to achieve a fair, kind, and sustainable society. Progress is slow. Frustratingly slow. Sometimes we go through long periods of no progress or even regression. Why aren’t more people invested in improving the things that keep things as they are?  This troubles me and keeps me awake at night.

Peter Holbrook is CEO of Social Enterprise UK. Find out more about SEUK here.

Find out more about Result CIC here.

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We are Result CIC, a community interest company. We work with people who feel marginalised or excluded to become more confident about their abilities and to fulfill their potential. We also work with Directors, Managers and CEOs who need support to bring about positive change in terms of diversity and inclusion in their organisations. We each have personal experience of the issues affecting the people we work to support, including disability, immigration, mental health and sexuality. We have also worked in senior positions in industry and government.

Our vision is a society where every individual can achieve their potential, feel fulfilled and make a valuable contribution. 

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