On Wednesday 12 April Lucy Frazer, MP for South East Cambridgeshire and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport joined a tenth anniversary visit to Harry Specters, an Ely-based chocolate company which offers work experience programmes, apprenticeships and paid roles to young autistic people.
The event was hosted at the award-winning social enterprise’s chocolate factory in Ely, and was also attended by HRH Prince Edward, The Duke of Edinburgh KG GCVO.
Other leading dignitaries invited to try the chocolates and meet staff included the Mayor of the City of Ely, the Chair of Cambridgeshire County Council and UnLtd CEO Mark Norbury.
The Minister met with Harry Specters’ founders Mona and Shaz Shah who discussed how the enterprise is helping to improve the lives of autistic people. Since founding in November 2012, it has helped over 300 autistic people and 155 carers or parents.
Between 2018 and 2021, it provided almost 30,000 employment hours and over 1,800 work experience hours for young autistic people. It recently won an Aldi’s Next Big Thing on Channel 4, meaning its bars will soon be available on the supermarket’s shelves.
Also joining the visit was Stephen Muers, CEO at Big Society Capital – the UK's leading social impact investor - who spoke to the Minister about how socially motivated investment can be critical for enabling community businesses like Harry Specters access finance they are often not able to access from mainstream banks.
Harry Specters itself, which was founded by Mona Shah and inspired by her autistic son, Ash, first took on community lending to help scale from her kitchen to new factory premises in Ely after mainstream banks turned her down.
In 2018 the business then took on further social investment through UnLtd thanks to the Growth Fund – which helps charities and social enterprises access small loans, often combined with grant funding, to help scale their social impact.
Mona Shah, Founder at Harry Specters, said: “We were honoured to welcome special guests to Harry Specters today to see the important and (and delicious) work we do. We are proud of not just our great tasting chocolate but also the support we have been able to provide for young autistic people, and today was a fantastic celebration of both of those things.
“It’s also a pleasure to welcome our social investment partners, who were essential in helping us scale from my kitchen table to a fully functioning chocolate factory when mainstream banks wouldn’t consider us.”
Lucy Frazer, Member of Parliament for South East Cambridgeshire said: “Harry Specters is an excellent example of how social enterprise can make a real difference to our communities, and how to make great chocolate! It’s great to see local businesses in Cambridgeshire leading the way for our economy and our communities, and it was clearly vital the social impact investment was there to help them on their journey, supporting them to create lasting benefit will be critical.”
Stephen Muers, CEO at Big Society Capital, said: “Big Society Capital was founded with unused dormant assets from banks and building societies so it is wonderful to see such an enterprising small business re-using that money to make such a big difference in the local community. We are thrilled that the government will be allocating future dormant assets to help unlock this entrepreneurial energy and continue improving opportunities for local people.”
Mark Norbury, CEO at UnLtd, said: “We know that relatively small amounts of money can make a huge difference to organisations. Those who want to be more sustainable and expand the scope of their commercial activity should have the chance to access finance to help deliver this growth. Seeing the work done at Harry Specters reinforces this, and shows how social enterprises can use social impact investment to take their impact to the next level.”
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About Harry Specters
Currently a team of 10, Harry Specters offers work experience programmes, apprenticeships and paid roles to young autistic people, boasting strong links with special needs schools in the area, local mainstream schools and colleges, as well as the Jobcentre and the Department for Work and Pensions.
As a social enterprise, for every £1 of profit made, 60p is set aside for furthering the social aims of the business, providing social activities for employees and opportunities for their personal development. More impact statistics can be found in Harry Specters’ latest Social Impact Report.
About Big Society Capital
Big Society Capital’s mission is to grow the amount of money being invested in tackling social issues and inequalities in the UK. We do this by investing our own capital and helping others to invest for impact too.
Since 2012, we have built an impact investment market that has directed more than £2.7 billion into social purpose organisations tackling everything from homelessness and mental health, to childhood obesity and fuel poverty. The market has grown ten-fold in ten years and is currently estimated to be nearly £8bn.