A trio of entrepreneurs from Sunderland are turning their attention to helping tackle the issue of homelessness with solutions to bring about long-term change.

Matt Blair, Emmanuel Lewu and Mia Fang already run a number of businesses focusing on property management, guesthouse accommodation and holiday lets and have now launched a Community Interest Company (CIC) to make a difference to Sunderland neighbourhoods.

Working with the social enterprise team at the North East BIC, they’ve launched Social By Oceander CIC to offer supported living accommodation along with mental health and wellbeing services to tackle the root causes of homelessness and help break the cycle for those impacted by it.

Co-director Emmanuel said: “Working in the property sector, we’ve seen a lot of private companies providing accommodation who are profit driven and we wanted to do something different. We want to help people to live better lives.

“Our model as a CIC puts the person we are supporting at the centre of the service, addressing the reasons why they are homeless in the first place so they can get back on their feet, gain independence and a sense of belonging within their community.

“Each person’s circumstances are unique so it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. To bring about a permanent change, our staff take the time to get to know what each person needs and then engages therapies, services and recreational activities accordingly.”

The company currently runs two facilities in Roker supporting up to eight service users at a time, employing nine staff and operating contracts from local authorities. Expansion plans aim to double these numbers in the next 12 months and the decision to structure the business as a social enterprise aims to strengthen this ambition.

The team, which recently moved to Innovator House at the BIC, has worked closely with onsite business adviser Anthony McDermott to plan how the next phase of development can reflect a strong social purpose.

The BIC’s social enterprise support in Sunderland helps the development of the social economy within the city through the Wear Together Initiative, working with local residents and groups to start a social enterprise or co-operative and help the city’s social enterprises to develop and grow.

Co-director Matt said: “This was originally set up as a private company – like our other businesses – but Anth highlighted to us that as we are driven by purpose and not profit, we could consider setting up as a CIC.

“It’s been a great move because we have much more flexibility in the sector and have access to many more avenues which will serve to support our aims and maximise our purpose. We want to run workshops, skills building and learning opportunities to the services we offer.

“Anth has spent time with us to really understand what we’re trying to achieve and is constantly helping us to build on what we do with introductions to useful people and signposting to what’s available.”

Anthony McDermott said: “Addressing homelessness isn’t just about providing shelter; it’s about restoring dignity and that sense of belonging within communities. Social By Oceander CIC, driven by purpose, not profit, is pioneering a new approach. By placing individuals at the heart of their service, they’re not just offering accommodation; they’re offering pathways to independence and holistic support. It’s a reminder that business can be a force for good, guided by empathy and a commitment to lasting change”.

The Wear Together Initiative has received £312,000 from the Government’s UK Shared Prosperity Fund Programme which is managed in Sunderland by Sunderland City Council on behalf of the Sunderland Partnership.