It’s a year since we interviewed Labelled CIC on behalf of School for Social Entrepreneurs Australia. Darlington-based social enterprise Labelled supports young people with additional needs by creating opportunities for enterprise, self-employment and skill development. They’re one of our UK case studies on SSE Australia’s National Disability Insurance Scheme Accelerator Program. For the first time, here’s the case study in full:

Nestled amongst a neat row of terraced shops on a busy Darlington street; you’d be forgiven for not realising you’re standing outside one of the North East’s most up and coming social enterprises for young people with learning disabilities. As far as founders Gill Walker and Marj Newman are concerned, looking like any other shop is key to the success of their award- winning social enterprise which is designed to provide young people with a real customer-facing job in a real environment.

Labelled CIC was born of frustration. Gill and Marj were frustrated by the lack of real employment environments for young people, especially those with learning disabilities, who faced exclusion from real work and found themselves trapped in day centres or a hopeless cycle of short term, one off taster sessions. “Day services for people with learning disabilities were known to be a little unimaginative”, says Gill, who worked in local government for thirty years, as a headteacher and assistant director of Children’s Services. “We knew that young people with learning disabilities could spend years weaving baskets in day centres whilst other young people were out there getting jobs and getting on with their lives.”

As head of the local authority’s youth, community and careers services, Marj too was disillusioned by the limited employment options for young people with learning disabilities so, when the two would-be social entrepreneurs were made redundant from their local government roles, neither felt it was the right time to stop. If anything, with services for young people being dismantled in the wake of the biggest public sector cuts in a generation, and with disabled young people already furthest away from the labour market and left particularly vulnerable, it felt very much the right time to start.

The Business Model

Labelled CIC started life as a high street eBay shop selling second hand fashion and evolved to become a skills hub for young people with learning disabilities who are actively engaged in running the shop, in addition to taking up accredited training and learning opportunities.
Young people make and develop their own products onsite, from printed T-Shirts to art and photography, to growing vegetables in the yard outside. Labelled CIC is the second social enterprise established by Gill and Marj and was developed in response to the needs of young people identified by their first social enterprise, Patchwork People, which was set up to share good practice and was the main driver behind raising a £100k loan investment to replicate.


In addition to selling stock, Labelled CIC is an accredited training provider and sells learning and skills opportunities for young people with learning disabilities that can be purchased by the local authority or by individuals using their personal budget. Under Patchwork People, Gill and Marj delivered services to young people in ad hoc venues, which limited their offer. A cold, wet night working with young people outside sports centres in the North of England would have even the hardiest social entrepreneurs dreaming of a place to call their own and the pair had time to consider how they could make a shop sustainable. Those cold evenings paid off; in just three years of trading, Labelled CIC reduced its grant dependency from 70% in year one to just 20% in year three and achieves an annual turnover of £64, 000 – not bad for a shop that only opens three days a week.

Social Impact

All young people with learning disabilities supported by Labelled CIC have gone on to positive futures, work or further training and the social enterprise is proud of its 100% retention and completion rates for courses. Labelled CIC has created nearly 500 day opportunities for young people with learning disabilities, which include shop work, gardening and working at markets and festivals. Their latest social return on investment calculation is £2.59 for every £1.

Labelled’s approach to sustainable social impact has gained significant recognition in the sector. The social enterprise won an UnLtd Big Venture Challenge Award in 2013 and, in the same year, was named Trailblazing Newcomer in the Royal Bank of Scotland Social Enterprise 100 Index and Best Social Enterprise in the North East Female Entrepreneur of the Year awards. A raised profile, combined with incessant networking, has opened a number of opportunities for Labelled; including early support from Greggs, the national bakery chain, who helped develop the business model with sustainability and replication in mind and the organisation featured in a promotional film about social investment, by the UK Government’s Cabinet Office.


Young people chose the name Labelled because they felt labelled by society and this was especially apparent when trying to find a shop landlord willing to have young people as tenants. It took a local newspaper appeal to find a socially conscious landlord, who Gill and Marj describe as their angel. Labelled pay monthly rent up front and have never missed a single payment. The relative freedom of social entrepreneurs was a culture shock for two people coming out of local government after 30 years. Gill recalls taking a box full of policies and procedures to a market event “just in case anyone asked to see them”. They found themselves on a steep learning curve too, with none of the corporate, financial and legal support they were accustomed to. A current challenge for Labelled CIC is identifying new partners to replicate the business model under the Labelled CIC brand.


Unusually for a new business, Gill and Marj built replication into the Labeled CIC model from the start with the vision that they could extend its social impact by supporting others to develop their own shop for young people under the Labelled CIC brand, and increase sustainability via social franchising. Franchisees are required to pay a one-off licence fee and a small monthly fee for ongoing support and development, a model which increases cashflow for Labelled and lessens their risks. The first franchise was sold to the YMCA, who are opening a shop in nearby Newcastle staffed by people with learning disabilities and further franchises are in negotiation with organisations across the North of England. Cafes, bicycle repairs and baby clothes are all being considered by potential franchisees; all of which will come under the Labelled CIC brand.
It’s an impressive accomplishment for two social entrepreneurs who thought their careers had were ending just three years ago and Gill says it’s still young people who drive them both forward,

“It didn’t make any sense to accept redundancy as the end of the line. We figured that as long as there are young people out there who need our support then we’ve got a job to do, so we’ll let them decide when we’re redundant, thank you very much!”

Want to be NDIS ready? SSE Australia are recruiting for the second round of their NDIS Accelerator programme, aimed at preparing the disability service sector to overcome obstacles and embrace opportunities ahead of the NDIS roll out. The next programme kicks off in October 2015 and expressions of interest are now open – register your interest today.

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