From grant funding to loan investment - The Disability Resource Centre's journey

Social Investment Business

The Disability Resource Centre (DRC) is a disability charity which operates in Birmingham, Solihull and the wider West Midlands. Founded in 1992, its mission is to support the lives of disabled people and those with long-term health conditions, enabling them to seek out opportunities and achieve their full potential as individuals in mainstream society.

The majority of DRC’s board (80%) and current workforce (65%) are disabled or have a long-term health condition. This user-led organisation has a unique perspective of disability and strong personal connection to the experiences of its clients.

They also provide a variety of services through their two key brands ‘Smart Office Solutions’ and ‘Accessibility for All’ which includes training, meeting room hire and access audits. As well as its B2B offering, the organisation has recently launched consumer products, such as insurance, equity release and legal support.

Faced with a growing elderly population, the closure of care centres and a reduction of local authority disability support, DRC approached a Big Potential provider to help it overcome the challenges ahead.

Working with Cogent Ventures, DRC was first able to receive a Breakthrough preliminary grant of £26,420 which helped them develop their new ‘Help at Home” service model and produce a marketing plan to help grow the service. The grant was also used to develop a financial forecast for the charity as a whole and ascertain investment requirements.

They were then awarded a second Big Potential Breakthrough investment plan grant of £20,860 to provide further support for their governance, business strategy and financial modelling. A particular focus of this work involved approaching investors for the required £100,000 loan needed to develop the ‘Help at Home’ service and starting a chain of ethical coffee shops. 

While primarily boosting DRC’s processes, the two waves of grant funding also improved their awareness of their market and inspired commercial confidence. The support enabled the charity to obtain a £100,000 loan from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation to help them scale up. Their success has alleviated the strain on local authority disability services and helped employment in the region.

Jim Brooks from Cogent Ventures commented, “Working with DRC has impressed on us the challenges faced by ventures as they first begin their investment journeys, especially when looking for unsecured debt. It’s not easy out there to try and convince funders when you don’t have security to offer, even when your plans are solid.  We are delighted to have been able to help secure funding at the low end of rates on offer in the social finance market and in particular to see DRC working with impact focused Esmée Fairbairn”.

DRC now has ambitious plans to growth over the next three to five years with a turnover target of £1 million+ within the next three years.