Alternative Business Models


How do we create sustainable business models with real social impact?

In the wake of the COVID pandemic there’s been a widespread ambition to “reset the economy” and “build back better”.

In 2021 we partnered with Plymouth City Council as a delivery partner on the Interreg funded C-Care programme. This programme was focused on supporting communities and businesses to adapt to the post-Covid world. As well as leading the Meanwhile Use high street pilot we started to consider how Covid has changed the way we live and work. In particular we noticed a growing desire to do business differently and to find models of working that were fairer and more sustainable.

We believe that these types of innovative social and community business models are already emerging in Plymouth. As such there are some excellent foundations on which to continue to build and share best practice examples of businesses and initiatives driven and structured for positive social and economic impact. 

Listen to our podcast series

In April 2023 Plymouth Culture invited alternative business model experts John Newbigin and Sian Prime to look at aspects of entrepreneurship focused on how to make a positive impact on planet, place and people. They’ve gathered some inspirational people from around the world to discuss what alternative business models might look like, what is already working, the challenges involved and the positive impact being felt.

This short podcast series sees inspirational people sharing their stories of what they have done differently and the remarkable impact and success they have seen. We have provided some further background information and useful links below, as well as some prompt questions to help you think about how the stories might relate to your work. As we have already mentioned, we know that outstanding and innovative work is already happening across Plymouth so we have tried to highlight some local heroes in each example who you may also want to explore further and support where you can. We hope you enjoy listening. 

Please note that these recordings are taken from Zoom conversations and are intentionally informal and conversational. They are not of professional broadcast quality but we invite you to grab a cup of tea, get comfortable and listen into the conversation.

Episode Guide

Presented by John Newbigin and Sian Prime

McOnie Company

McOnie Company was created to celebrate the notion of what a Theatre-Dancer is and holds audiences at the centre of its creative mission. The company is committed to creating exhilarating dance-led productions for today that push boundaries. With inclusion at the heart, the company presents titles reimagined, alongside brand new original works for stage and screen. Drew McOnie, the company’s Founder and  Director talks about the lessons learned from starting the company, and how they can be more broadly applied.

Ask yourself:

How do you centre the culture of the organisation at the heart of a company? How can disruptions, such as the pandemic, serve as a moment to reflect and evolve an organisation?

Instinct, intuition and inspiration can be the quietest voices, so how do you create quiet to hear them?

Duration: Approx 10 minutes


ApparelXchange is a Glasgow-based social enterprise that encourages the re-use of childrenswear. Through their shop that recycles and repairs and their educational workshops, they are encouraging the understanding that sustainable fashion is for everyone. Izzie Eriksen invites you into her shop and talks about her values-based journey from Zoology to sustainable fashion.

Ask yourself:

How might it be possible to consider a circular fashion economy at a city level?

Knowledge is empowerment, so how do we ensure sustainable initiatives focus on educating so that young people can be empowered to make informed decisions, and change consumer habits in the long-term? 

What needs to change at a systems/policy level for the social circular economy to thrive? 

Local heroes:

Duration: Approx 9 minutes



Furtherfield organises for inclusivity and equity in art and technology and advocates for their use in imagining and building real social change and positive environmental impact. Since 1996 Furtherfield has created online and physical spaces and places to open up the tools and debates of art and technology for collective action for collective good.

Furtherfield Gallery and Commons are based in the heart of London’s Finsbury Park, serving as a hub to connect and activate local and international communities of artists, technologists, thinkers and doers. They run a programme of gallery-based and touring co-creational projects with a distinct focus on placemaking, by working directly within communities and platforming the people and place of Finsbury Park.

Ruth Catlow, the co-founder with Marc Garrett and co-director with Charlotte Frost, of Furtherfield, talks about how it got started and how it runs now.

Ask yourself:

How might we use art and technology for economic, and social change? 

Using the principles of place-based community and cultural democracy, how can public space be used to test co-creation models? 

Taking the concept of ‘radical friendship’ how might resilient networks of creative practitioners be built without financial exchange? 

Local heroes:

Duration: Approx 12 minutes

200 Million Artisans

200 Million Artisans is an Indian NGO that describes itself as “an impact-first, ecosystem enabler championing India’s artisan economy.  We partner with organisations to generate insight, inform strategy, and inspire action that will benefit the 200 million-strong community directly or indirectly dependent on craft for livelihood”.  They argue that what governments dismiss as ‘informal work’ is, in fact, the ‘new formal’ – the way most people scratch a living – but all our tax, benefit, social protection and legal structures refuse to recognise it.  Priya Krishnamoorthy is the inspirational founder and director of 200 million artisans and talks about what she and her colleagues are doing.

Ask yourself:

If we acknowledge that our economic, social and cultural lives are interconnected, how might you restructure your project/organisation to reflect this?   

Where does creativity sit in mainstream conversations when we talk about sustainable development? 

How do we demonstrate the potential for the creative economy to drive climate action and gender equality?

Using the handmade craft example, how might networked communities and geographies enable scale-up to happen in a decentralized model? 

Who or what are the bridge builders within your community? 

Local heroes:

Duration: Approx 16 minutes

Newbigin Community Trust

Newbigin Community Trust is a faith-based community organisation in Birmingham that describes itself asan embedded, community-based organisation which aims to provide a place of welcome, inclusion and social cohesion for neighbours in the Winson Green and Handsworth area”.

Amongst the many other initiatives that it has enabled/spawned/managed are two social enterprises – ‘Animal Encounters’ and ‘Flavours of Winson Green’, but the strength of the Trust is built on its many interlocking initiatives and networks. 

Created by the energy of Anji and Ash Barker, both of whom are ordained United Reformed Church Ministers, it is engaged in a multiplicity of ideas and programmes in the Winson Green neighbourhood, underpinned by the faith of its founders and supporters. Ash and Anji will talk about how it works.

Ask yourself:

Working with an asset-based community development model, how might you seek to unlock people’s passions and talents to ‘Look for what’s strong within a community to fix what’s wrong’?

How do you learn to get comfortable in the ordeal stage in order to get to the ideal? 

How do you move from just including young people to empowering them to lead? 

Local heroes:

Duration: Approx 14 minutes