ABSEN conference takes place in Rothesay

The ABSEN Dragons' Den prize winners with judges Neil McLean and John Hughes.

The ABSEN Dragons' Den prize winners with judges Neil McLean and John Hughes.

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The annual conference of the Argyll and Bute Social Enterprise Network - ABSEN - is currently taking place in Rothesay.

The gathering kicked off on Wednesday evening with a competition based on the popular BBC television programme Dragon’s Den, in which ten social enterprises from throughout Argyll and Bute made their pitches for awards of cash, consultancy support and coaching from ABSEN to four specially-selected Dragons.

Bute has a track record in the ABSEN Dragons’ Den contest, the Bute Community Land Company having been selected as a winner in 2009 - but this time the top prizes went to two Oban enterprises, with Oban Phoenix Cinema taking the award for the ‘new social enterprise’ category, for their plan to reopen the town’s failed Highland Theatre cinema, and the MacDougall of Dunollie Heritage Trust winning the ‘business growth idea’ prize for their proposal to develop Dunollie House to the north of Oban as an intimate wedding venue.

A special extra prize, only put up on the day of the competition, of £250 from the InspirAlba social enterprise was also won by an Oban venture - Soroba Training, which provides hospitality training at Soroba House Hotel for yung, unemployed and disadvantaged people, while one of the judges, Jim Mullan from the KibbleWorks social enterprise in Paisley, was so impressed by the presentation from Argyll Voluntary Action that he offered to provide the organisation with direct support.

More than 40 delegates from all over Argyll and Bute are attending the conference, which lasts until Friday lunchtime and also includes visits to two social enterprises based on the island - Bute Community Land Company and Fyne Futures - and, on Friday morning, a case study presentation from the local Calum’s Cabin charity, set up to realise the dream of Rothesay boy Calum Speirs following his death in 2007 after a year-long battle with a brain tumour.