The enigmatic regional geography of social enterprise in the UK: a conceptual framework and synthesis of the evidence



Social enterprise (SE) has attracted increasing attention from policymakers, practitioners and academics over recent years and it has often been argued that there is a strong geographical dimension to social enterprise growth. However, a lack of reliable and extensive quantitative data about these organisations has prevented any rigorous analysis of their geographical distribution. This paper offers an exploratory theoretical framework for understanding the causes of geographical variations in SE, focusing on the relations between capacities/resources and demand. It then examines what can be learned from existing national surveys about the regional geography of SE. It is argued that these datasets are difficult to compare because of their different sampling frames, and in most cases the regional findings are only provisional and indicative. However, when considered in concert, some consistent themes emerge: London, for example, has a disproportionately high share of SE activity, as to a lesser extent do the South West and North East regions. It is concluded that regional populations of SEs are the product of often countervailing forces in supply and demand that act to level out the degree of regional variations. These totals are also likely to mask significant differences in their characteristics in different places and more pronounced spatial variations at smaller spatial scales (e.g. between inner city, suburban and rural areas).