Social enterprise champion honoured

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THE woman who set up social enterprise in the Borders was honoured with an MBE in the New Year’s honours list.

Champion of the voluntary and disabled sectors, Margaret Simpson, pictured right, is the chairperson director of Scottish Borders Social Enterprise and was given her award for services to social enterprise and to the community.

Mrs Simpson said: “At first I wondered what people would say, but I have been so touched by the amount of cards and emails I’ve been sent, it’s been beautiful and now I’m loving it!”

She was instrumental in setting up the Scottish Borders Social Enterprise Chamber five years ago. The body represents local social enterprises, community businesses which distribute profits for social aims rather than individuals. And it came about after voluntary sector research showed many businesses were already doing their own social enterprise.

“We wondered if we could help each other out. Scottish Enterprise and the council got involved and we got European funding. We wanted to do something long-term and practical, and we wanted to send a strong message that we really have got to be business-driven, that there was no room for the pearl and twinset image, that we are serious. We will take as much profit as we can get.

“David Cameron goes on about the big society, but we have been doing that here in the Borders for years, we just don’t shout about it.”

Mrs Simpson, 58, moved to St Boswells with her husband John nearly 30 years ago. The couple have two sons, Michael and John, and a granddaughter Cyrelle, 16.

Mrs Simpson also has rheumatoid arthritis. She was diagnosed 30 years ago and next week will be trialling a new drug for the auto immune condition.

“It was developed from cancer drugs and brings your whole immune system down and hopefully kills off the rheumatoid arthritis.”

The former businesswoman has a degree in business management and explained: “When I became disabled I couldn’t work full time but I wanted to give something back.

“I got involved in the voluntary sector and I felt passionate about it, I always wanted to contribute.

“I haven’t got the physical body to do things, but there’s nothing wrong with my brain. I want to help people. Everybody needs to give something back and this is my way of doing it. Everything I do is voluntary. I really don’t do this to seek awards.”

The chairperson of the Joint Equality Access Team (which looks at access issues for the public and staff within NHS Borders and Scottish Borders Council) is a former vice-convenor of the Borders Disability Forum.

A past convener, now vice-convener, Mrs Simpson has been involved with the Borders Voluntary Community Care Forum, which represents local people in community care for 14 years.

A member of the NHS Borders public governance committee, she is also on the governing board of the Scottish Accessible Information Forum which aims to make information for the disabled and their carers more accessible and advises the Scottish Government on issues relating to disabled people and their carers, and their right to access information.

She is the chairperson of the Central Borders Access Panel – and she got herself on a licensing body once to campaign to make pubs more accessible to disabled people.

She said: “People could go into the pub, but they couldn’t go to the toilet!”

She has chaired the Disabled Persons Housing Service in the Borders for the last 10 years, working with registered social landlords on housing for the disabled, and she is a member of the Patient Public Forum

She joked: “It started with going to that disability forum meeting all those years ago. I knew I shouldn’t have gone to that meeting!”

Her hobbies include a love of information technology and music, holidays “when I can” and her family.