PORTSMOUTH CATHEDRAL, in response to the economic crisis, is to help entrepreneurs launch small businesses.
The Cathedral Innovation Centre, based in unused offices close to the cathedral, will provide support including desk space, administrative assistance, and a start-up loan. It will also recruit 50 business leaders to act as mentors.
The chairman of the Centre, Francis Davis, 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.”
Financial help would come from a £225,000 loan negotiated with the Parity Trust, a not-for-profit organisation; and from a £150,000 fund that, it is hoped, will be raised from 500 philanthropic individuals prepared to invest in employment and stimulating the economy.
The mentors would be recruited from churches across the region. “They could give advice on all sorts of aspects of business — management, recruitment, marketing, human resources, and so on,” Mr Davis said. “It will be a new way of volunteering for members of our churches.
“The new entrepreneurs will also be invited to high-profile events in the cathedral, and can meet the city’s business and civic leaders. Those contacts may be invaluable.”
His team is discussing similar projects with other cathedrals and large churches. “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.”
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 resources.
Among the first businesses hoping to move in are technology start-ups founded by local students, a health-care firm, a community leadership and training foundation, and the Turnaround Foundation, which offers management consultancy to small firms in trouble, and ethical business advice to firms facing insolvency.
Details of the scheme were first disclosed by Lady Berridge in a House of Lords debate on the part played by faith communities in society. “If all 61 cathedrals in England joined,” she said, “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.”