The plan was unveiled today (May 29) by Baroness Berridge in a House of Lords debate led by Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks about the role of faith communities in society – and the idea was welcomed by a government minister.
The new Cathedral Innovation Centre will use spare office space to create an environment where fledgling businesses can develop. New businesses will be offered a package including desk space, a start-up loan, administrative support and the chance to meet business leaders.
And business people from across our diocese and beyond will also be invited to act as mentors for new entrepreneurs. The centre will be based in Cathedral House, the offices on St Thomas’s Street behind the cathedral.
The project is a partnership between Portsmouth Cathedral, the University of Portsmouth’s Business School, and the Joint Venture – a new social enterprise that works with local government and community organisations to make the most of their assets, resources and people.
And it could be expanded to other cathedrals and large churches across the country to create a network of innovation centres. A building has already been offered in Southampton.
In today’s debate, Baroness Berridge said: “Perhaps the major contribution needed from our faith communities today is job creation. The new social enterprise the Cathedral Innovation Centre is being launched this week by the Dean of Portsmouth Cathedral.
“The cathedral had redundant, good quality office space which they agreed to make available for 14 job creation, start-up businesses at a peppercorn rent. This represents an in-kind contribution of over £50,000 across three years. The centre will offer highly experienced business mentors who are volunteers from Hampshire’s congregations, a micro loan fund from Parity Trust to back the ventures, as well as using the Chancellor’s SEED scheme so taxpayers who back a firm get 50 per cent tax relief.
“Both Portsmouth University Business School and the Royal Society of Arts have become partners. If all 61 cathedrals in England joined then the Cathedral Innovation Centre would be a movement which in the 61st year of the Queen's reign could see over 600 new businesses created. What a wonderful Jubilee legacy that would be.”
In reply, Baroness Hanham, minister at the Department for Communities and Local Government, said: “I hope very much the Cathedral Innovation Centre will succeed.”
And Francis Davis, the chairman of the Cathedral Innovation Centre, said: “When St Paul’s and other cathedrals saw the Occupy protests recently, there were very few practical alternatives being suggested. But the Church is in a position to help businesses to launch, develop and expand. This is a concrete response at a time of economic crisis, when talk is obviously not enough.
“We can only have growth in our economy if real firms are creating real jobs, and we can help to attain social justice if we are creating businesses that are run along responsible lines.
“We already have a list of those who want to move into the cathedral centre, where there are 14 desks available in the first phase. And we’ve negotiated £225,000-worth of start-up loans from the Parity Trust, a social bank, to share between those firms.
“Those new entrepreneurs will be invited to high-profile events in the cathedral and can meet the city’s business and civic leaders. Those contacts may be invaluable.
“I’d also like to tap into the expertise that’s available in our churches. We need to recruit 50 mentors from across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight who could give advice on all sorts of aspects of business – management, recruitment, marketing, human resources and so on. It will be a new way of volunteering for members of our churches.
“And in a new approach to philanthropy, we’re looking for 500 people to invest £300 to get these businesses off the ground. They would be helping people back into work and stimulating the economy.
“We’re also in conversation with other cathedrals and large churches about doing similar things there. Ultimately we’d like to have a network of innovation centres across the country and a national campaign to attract the best entrepreneurs to work there.”
Among the first businesses looking to move in are technology start-ups founded by local students, a healthcare firm spun out from the local hospital, and a community leadership and training foundation.
Another firm that has already signed up is the Turnaround Foundation, which offers management consultancy to small firms in trouble, and ethical businesses advice to firms facing insolvency.
The dean of Portsmouth Cathedral, the Very Rev David Brindley, said: “This is a creative response to some of the problems we face in the city. I’m very happy that we can offer some of our facilities and resources to help in this way.”