Royal British Legion Industries’ two social enterprises, Britain’s Bravest Manufacturing Company (BBMC) and Scotland’s Bravest Manufacturing Company (SBMC), are the UK’s leading factories providing direct employment and upskilling opportunities to disadvantaged military veterans and people with disabilities.
Together, the two factories employ more than 130 people – more than 70% of whom are disabled military veterans or civilians. Whether facing daily challenges due to physical disability, such as amputation, or hidden disability such as post-traumatic stress disorder, those working at RBLI’s social enterprises are given the tools to change their own lives.
However, in addition to the factories’ outstanding delivery of social value, they are also genuine industry-leaders operating in the road and rail signage production, pallet production, bespoke engineering, and print, mail and fulfilment industries. Through their activities they work to champion social value within their own sectors and across all of industry.
The enterprises pride themselves on being commercially-sustainable, socially-thriving businesses. Through providing first-rate products they are able to succeed in their mission to support those who need it most.
Together, both sites, which are based in Aylesford, Kent and Bishopton, near Glasgow, boast an annual turnover of £6.5m. As social enterprises, they reinvest 100% of their surplus to provide greater opportunities to the beneficiaries they support directly – as well as the activities of their parent charity, RBLI, which supports more than 11,000 people annually, through employment, welfare and accommodation support.
Whilst Royal British Legion Industries may have been providing employment, welfare and accommodation support to the country’s most disadvantaged individuals for more than 100 years, it’s within the last 12 months that its two social enterprise projects have had the most substantial impact.
Continuing sector-wide adaptation following Britain’s departure from the European Union left some in industry hesitant to commit and, due to potential regulatory changes, suppliers have often been unable to offer reassurances. This, coupled with the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, left RBLI’s social enterprises having to rapidly adapt to the new climate to ensure its leading delivery of social value continued.
However, both BBMC and SBMC were quick to respond, going above and beyond their normal day-to-day operations to support their own beneficiaries and wider communities.
Their teams contributed to the pandemic response by manufacturing Covid-19 safety signage for the NHS hospitals, The Prison Service, and the Scottish Ambulance Service.
In addition, both social enterprises have been resilient in their approach to growth, ensuring that their beneficiaries have the greatest employment opportunities possible.
Recent investments, including a state-of-the-art Cannon printer in the signs’ graphics department, has increased print production five-fold.
Whilst people may think this decreases the need for employees, it has instead seen the employment of more veterans, as the roles can only be done by trained hands.
Meanwhile, BBMC have continued their multi-million pound work as the sole provider of track-side signage for Network Rail, which has seen six physically disabled Gurkhas secure permanent employment.
During this challenging period, RBLI’s social enterprises have not only concentrated on securing significant business to further their direct social value. They have also worked hard to influence industry leaders and decision makers to place greater weighting on social value across industries.
In February 2022, they brought together industry leaders from the highways infrastructure sector to discuss what more the industry can do to increase social value across their business practices.
The outcome for this is not only new business worth up to £100,000 for the factories, but developments are now in advanced stages for a new national framework procurement model which will provide a greater weighting to social enterprises delivering social value.
These developments will not only mean substantially more business for RBLI’s social enterprises, but will also provide all enterprises delivering social value with an easier route to the infrastructure market, supporting disadvantaged communities many times over.
This, in the highways infrastructure procurement space, would be the first of its kind in England.
Meanwhile, RBLI’s factories also celebrated a landmark milestone with long-standing partner Amey Plc.
The relationship between the two organisations dates back to 2014 and has seen £2.5m of road signs produced for major infrastructure projects. November 2021 saw the 20,000th sign made as part of this leading partnership. The landmark sign was made by former Gurkha Anil Gurung who joined RBLI in 2014 after stepping on an IED days before the end of a tour in Afghanistan. Anil has since become an expert sign maker and said it was a privilege to create the milestone sign.
Anil said: “It was an honour to create the sign. I have been at RBLI since we first started making road signs for Amey – I don’t know where I would be without them.”
Last year, SBMC celebrated having supported 91 of the country’s most vulnerable veterans, providing them with the direct employment they need to take the next step in their life. Underpinning this is a dedicated welfare team offering tailored support which progresses individuals at their own pace towards working independently in the civilian manufacturing workface.
In the last year, alongside their unwavering commitment to Social Value, the factory has also generated sales of £1.13 million – a staggering growth on the previous year’s turnover of £312,000.
The factory has now also achieved SQA-approved centre status. Thanks to £300,000 of financial support from the Forces in Mind Trust, veterans and people with disabilities will now receive accredited training and formal qualifications whilst gaining practical and marketable work experience.
This will not only provide direct support to the factory’s beneficiaries through meaningful manufacturing opportunities, but will also make SBMC a substantially more attractive proposition for prospective business partners due to the heightened skill of the team, thereby further encouraging Social Value with business supply chains.
Glasgow Caledonian University will conduct an independent evaluation to examine the impact of military veterans attaining such recognised qualifications on long-term job prospects, work readiness, employment and mental health.
This will play a vital role in influencing RBLI’s social enterprise’s ‘move-on’ Social Value model, with a view to replicating the most effective aspects of the model in other social enterprises nationwide.