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The Social and Solidarity Economy and Local Development

A Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) is a model of society based on harmonious local development and fair commercial relationships. Researchers from Queen’s University’s School of Natural and Built Environment were asked to explore the potential of the SSE in Belfast as an alternative site of community mobilization and inclusive economics.

Research Challenge


Recent global economic and political instability has underlined the shortcomings of our current development system and further confirm the necessity for an alternate or complementary development paradigm. As poverty, exclusion and segregation become a more significant feature of the urban age, Queen’s researchers explored the social and solidarity economy (SSE) as a viable solution to re-balancing economic, social and environmental objectives.

Our Approach

Asset based development

Our researchers were commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation to lead a review of Community Asset Transfer; a process that allows a community organisation to take over publicly-owned land or buildings  in a way that benefits the pubic.

The research evaluated the importance of land, commercial property and housing transfers in tenant-led regeneration using secondary data, Geographic Information systems (GIS) analysis and case studies. The findings demonstrated how asset-based development and community anchor organisations have turned estates around, created jobs and new services and (in the context of Northern Ireland as a conflict affected society) produced significant cross-community outcomes, especially in (religiously) segregated areas.

Alternative aging

As ageing is a significant economic, community and spatial challenge, this research also explored the role of the social economy as an alternative way to address poverty and strengthen Non Governmental Organisations to deliver services to the most excluded old, critically reviewing the nature of political and policy advocacy and how social economics might support a more independent sector, better able to provide services to an ageing population.

Integrated urban regeneration

Queen’s University’s Professor Brendan Murtagh was Principal Investigator on the Social Economics and Ethical Development Social Investment Fund which delivered the North Belfast Ethical Investment programme to support asset-based local economic development. This is a partnership between the university and the social enterprise LEDCOM (Local Economic Development Company) to use a range of research methods (market analysis, global best practice, social value measures and impact evaluation) to scale the social economy in the inner-city. The research informed a three-stage investment programme with small, medium and large grants, together with technical support to develop particular sectors.


The research had direct effects on investment decisions of charities, donors and government agencies.

What impact did it make?


The work leveraged capital investment, improved the supply of social finance, supported the growth of community businesses and helped to develop new policies and investment programmes. This has in turn, strengthened area-based strategies, sectors, practice and infrastructure to sustain more inclusive forms of urban regeneration and local development.

These effects include leveraging £12,500,000 in investment; supporting the start-up or growth of 62 social enterprises; and creating 165 full time jobs. This was taken forward via a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Ashton Community Development Limited (ACDL) in Belfast, which has added £1,100,000 in commercial income to this social enterprise.

The research had direct effects on investment decisions of charities, donors and government agencies. For example, the Atlantic Philanthropies Social Economy Ageing Programme led to an investment of £2,240,000 that created Tier 1 capital investment of £500,000 in Charity Bank (NI); an Investment-readiness programme for NGOs; Intermediary Labour Market for Older People (GEMS); a social enterprise Handy-Van project for older people living at home (Bryson Charitable Group); Time Bank volunteering for older people (Volunteer Now); and a social enterprise start-up programme (UnLtd).

Our impact

Impact related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Learn more about Queen’s University’s commitment to nurturing a culture of sustainability and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through research and education.

UN Goal 13 - Climate action
UN Goal 03 - Good Health and well-being
UN Goal 07 -Affordable and clean energy
UN Goal 09 - Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

Key Facts

  • Leveraged £12,500,000 in investment
  • Supported the start-up or growth of 62 social enterprises
  • Created 165 full time jobs
  • Northern Ireland
Brendan Murtagh
School of Natural and Built Environment
Fundamental rights, equality and social justiceIntelligent manufacturing and service deliveryPeace, identity, conflict and social sustainability

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The project is a collaboration between Queen's University Belfast and the following: