Work being done to help Valleys ‘shape their own destiny’

A regeneration initiative investing millions of pounds in the South Wales Valleys has responded to a report describing their communities as among the most disadvantaged of all Britain’s former mining areas.

The State of the Coalfields study claimed that comparing their lives, job prospects and health with other former mining areas and the rest of the UK, Valleys communities were disproportionately socially and economically deprived.

But the EU-supported South East Wales Community Economic Development (SEWCED) programme says that while a great deal of work still needs to be done, much has been achieved in the past few years.

Funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government and run by a six-Valleys local authorities’ consortium of Merthyr Tydfil, Bridgend, Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Torfaen, SEWCED has invested nearly £6m in 120 social enterprises since it began in 2010, helping to create 97 full-time jobs.

“Although we accept the findings of the report, we are also keen to share the great work being undertaken in improving deprived communities all over South Wales by supporting social enterprises delivering key services by – and for – the community,’ said SEWCED Programme Manager Gareth Voyle.

“Local authority budget cuts are having a huge impact on the voluntary sector, and this will continue for years to come. Conversely, those cuts will also add to local demand for community and voluntary services. Further investment is therefore required to support social enterprises to take on and deliver sustainable services.”

One of SEWCED’s principal aims was to help sector organisations become less dependent on grants and generate enough income to be able to create jobs and expand.

“The sector need to be more resilient and adapt to take on and deliver new services, and huge progress has been made with engendering sustainability and income generation, as opposed to reliance on funding,” Mr Voyle added.

One example of a highly successful SEWCED-funded project is Rhymney’s The Furniture Revival. Set up in 1999 to sell used furniture and electrical goods to help people on low incomes, the business has seen a dramatic increase in sales and profile since a £90,000 award from SEWCED in 2012.

The social enterprise now operates out of a massive 15,000sq ft building, with another two pop-up shops and has a staff of 14, following capital and revenue funding towards the purchase of vehicles and employment of a new Business Development and Marketing Manager.

Kylie Bell, recently appointed to the role, said: “The funding from SEWCED has been fundamental in the growth of our social enterprise in the previous 18 months. We’ve increased both the services that we offer and doubled our staffing levels from seven in 2012 to 14. It has also allowed us to invest in new infrastructure, enabling us to attain our core environmental, social and community aims.

“Our core environmental aim is the minimisation of waste from landfill via the reuse of used furniture and electrical items, which is achieved by providing low cost furniture to people in need within the local community. And our community aim is to provide training and volunteering opportunities aimed at up-skilling local people to increase their employability prospects.

“Without the investment and continued support from SEWCED, this would not have been possible. I would greatly advocate the investment in projects such as SEWCED which are revitalizing the Valleys in such a positive way.”
Gareth Voyle said a new South East Wales strategic funding bid was being composed ‘to coordinate support and meet the needs of the sector in light of the current and evolving climate.

“As the cuts roll out over the coming years, projects like SEWCED will be vital in supporting the hardest hit communities in Wales to shape their own destiny and address their own issues,” he concluded.