Challenge Academy scales new heights with £150,000 funding

Grant to help with country park learning opportunities.

Social Investment Tax Relief funding is helping a Black Country social enterprise embark on the next stage of its adventure.

Challenge Academy, which provides accessible outdoor learning opportunities to corporate clients, local communities and hard to reach groups, has secured £150,000 from the Resonance West Midlands SITR Fund, making it the Fund’s largest investment to date.

Bosses at the community interest company will use the investment to build new classrooms, activity areas and adventure courses at its base at Baggeridge Country Park with the view to increasing the number of people it can support from 10,000 to 20,000 by 2021.

This will immediately lead to four new jobs and will help it double revenues that can be reinvested into the facilities and outreach training courses it delivers nationwide.

“The Resonance investment is a real breakthrough moment for the business and allows us to put our ambitious growth plans into action,” explained Mel Ellis, who runs The Challenge Academy with Learning and Development specialist Greg Brookes-Clayton.

“Over the last few years we have seen a major increase in the number of people looking to use outdoor adventure facilities to deliver learning, teamwork and personal development experiences and we wanted to build on this trend by increasing our adventure courses and creating dedicated learning spaces.”

He continued: “To turn this vision into reality, we needed to raise finance and that’s not the easiest thing to do as a social enterprise. This is where Resonance and its Social Investment Tax Relief Fund has really come into its own, giving us access to £150,000 through an affordable, unsecured loan.

“This means we are able to start building work shortly and will have the new facilities in place for Spring when the season really picks up pace. We can also focus on growing the enterprise free from the pressures of immediate high repayment terms.”

Challenge Academy, which boasts one of the region’s best aerial rope courses, was supported throughout the investment process by Resonance Investment Manager Grace England, who led the due diligence and helped Mel and Greg with stress testing their proposal, as well as articulating and measuring their social impact.

“I’m delighted that we’ve been able to support the growth of Challenge Academy through our West Midlands SITR Fund, especially when you consider the services they provide to hard to reach young people across the region. It will be great to see how the investment will transform the already impressive facilities and learning space at Challenge Academy’s Adventure Hub.

“The courses and activities they offer are proving incredibly impactful for vulnerable groups, including those that may have been excluded from mainstream education, young offenders and people on ‘back to work’ programmes. Feedback has been extremely positive, especially around boosting mental/physical health and improving self-esteem.”

Big Society Capital, which improves the lives of people in the UK by connecting social investment to charities and social enterprises, has launched the GET SITR campaign to help raise awareness of what SITR is and how you can access it.

The idea of SITR is to encourage individuals to support charities and social enterprises by helping them access new sources of repayable finance, with backers receiving a 30% tax break when investing into an eligible organisation.

To date, more than fifty organisations have successfully been able to secure over £10million through SITR, but with more investors coming forward and the threshold of what you can raise rising to £1.5 million, there could be a larger pool of finance to tap into.

Mills & Reeve will be hosting special SITR 1:1 Support Surgeries for charities and social enterprises on 13th December, with five sessions available in London or via Skype.