Pioneering projects awarded for helping Wales lead the way

Community businesses helping make life better for people in Wales and beyond have been recognised for their groundbreaking work at a national awards presentation.

Five projects employing between them almost 100 people, turning over hundreds of thousands of pounds and providing goods and services to thousands of customers and clients picked up trophies at the EPIC (Enterprising People in Communities) Awards at the Vale Resort, Vale of Glamorgan.

The initiatives have all been supported by the EU-funded South East Wales Community Economic Development (SEWCED) programme, run by a six valleys local authorities’ consortium of Merthyr Tydfil, Bridgend, Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Torfaen.  SEWCED has invested £8m in 126 social enterprises since it began in 2010, helping to create 22 social enterprises and 113 full-time jobs.

There were seven award categories, with the ultimate accolade of best overall Social Enterprise 2010-2015 being shared by Ebbw Vale-based road traffic sign manufacturer Monwel and Bridgend ‘glamping’ and woodland education venture Cwm Tawel. Monwel Managing Director Leslie Barr also won the Women in Enterprise category.

EPIC Award winners 2015

Small Social Enterprise, supported by Rob Morris Groundworks

Cwm Tawel, which started out in 2010 as a community group promoting traditional rural crafts and foraging, has turned into a luxury – though still eco-friendly – campsite offering ‘glamping’ accommodation in Mongolian yurts and tipis, highly praised on UK-wide travel review websites.

Rated no 8 out of 143 specialty lodging in South Wales, no 1 for Maesteg and no 2 for Bridgend county, photographs of a recently added wood-fired hot tub attracted 1,483 views in the first two hours after being posted on Facebook.

Having originally offered training to local groups, as well as taking part in environmental action such as litter picks, fly tip clearance, habitat improvements and rural crafts workshops, Cwm Tawel set up the glamping site as an income generating arm to support these activities.

More than 1,120 guests visited the site in 2014, while a dedicated woodland education and growing space for courses completed during the year has seen 10 schools and two community growing groups having worked there.  Attracting tourists has also helped to support other local businesses such as local pubs, restaurants, taxi firms and shops.

The social enterprise is now 100% sustainable after only three years of trading, without the need for further funding, employing two staff full-time and providing volunteering opportunities for almost 800 people through various community projects and events. 

Social Entrepreneur, supported by Valleys to Coast Housing (V2C)

Professional guitarist Daniel Fitzgerald founded RecRock in Caerphilly in 2013 after support agencies failed to help him gain employment as a guitar tutor.

Today, the highly successful social enterprise’s team teaches music to individuals, schoolchildren and community groups through bespoke workshops incorporating cutting edge touchscreen technologies such as iPads for DJing and beatmaking. 

As well as currently supporting two jobs, the project has provided volunteering experiences for 30 people and engaged with more than 1,000 people over its lifetime in schools, mental health projects and community engagement projects. RecRock has worked with some of the hardest to reach in the community.

“When I left university I wanted to follow the path of being a musician or music teacher, but the support simply wasn’t there,” said Daniel.  “I want to share my knowledge and enthusiasm for doing what I love – what makes me happy – with others; and there’s a gap there for people to help you do what you want to.

“I’m not in this to make millions – I’m in it to make sure I can pay the bills, help others, but ultimately to do something I love doing.  I would take minimum wage doing this over £30k working in a bank any day of the week.” 

Large Social Enterprise, supported by United Welsh Housing

Monwel, which employs 32 local disabled people and those furthest from the labour market, has grown from a loss-making public sector service to a profit-making social enterprise in the space of just over a year.

Originally run under the control of Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council, since it was externalised when the authority was on the verge of closing it down, the company has turned a loss of around £250,000 to a projected profit of £136,000 and become the leader in its field in Wales.

Winning many large contracts has helped Monwel to develop other areas of the business such as a new street lighting/ installation team to complement the manufacturing side of the operation, making it a one-stop shop for all signage requirements. 

Major contracts secured include the Heads of the Valleys Road duelling project, worth £414,000, and one for £150,000 with Caerphilly County Borough Council, as well as extended contracts with Carmarthenshire and other local authorities to provide them with highways signage. 

“We have also won projects in Doncaster with Carillion, showing that we are not just competitive in the Welsh market but the UK market – and we’re building on this,” said Managing Director Leslie Barr.

Innovation, supported by BIC Innovation

From humble beginnings in 1993 as a helpline manned by two volunteers for just two hours a week, Merthyr Tydfil-based rape and sexual abuse support group New Pathways has grown into a business recognised across the UK as a leading organisation in its field.  Today, the social enterprise has offices throughout Wales, currently employing 58 staff and with more than 80 volunteers.

New Pathways provides a range of services for women, men, children and young people, working with clients as young as three and adults up to the age of 90-plus who have been affected by rape and sexual abuse. This includes supporting them through the criminal justice system when they make a report to the police.

In 2005 New Pathways opened its first Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) in Merthyr Tydfil.  Not only was this the first SARC in Wales, but it was also the only SARC anywhere in the UK not run a by a statutory organisation.

A SARC is a one-stop location where people can receive medical care, a forensic examination and access to police services while being supported by specially trained crisis workers, rather than having to go to a police station and/or hospital.

The opening of another three centres in Risca, Swansea and Carmarthen followed, with a further two due to be opened in Aberystwyth and Newtown later this year.

As well as counselling and advocacy services, New Pathways also runs other specialist projects including the Liberate Project, which supports victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.  This work is highly regarded and New Pathways is one of only a few non-statutory organisations in the UK officially authorised to complete referrals on behalf of the UK Human Trafficking Centre.

Recent high profile sexual abuse cases in the media have led to a sharp rise in demand for the services offered by New Pathways and last year alone, it received more than 2,500 referrals, which is set to increase again this year.

As well as providing direct client services, the company also provides unique bespoke specialist training courses including accredited training for counsellors wanting to specialise in working with people affected by rape or sexual abuse.  The training team recently secured Lottery funding worth £432,000 to deliver specialist mental health first aid training throughout Wales over the next three years.


Women in Enterprise, supported by Glenside Commercials

Leslie Barr managed a production line at a textile manufacturing unit in Scotland and ran her own bridal and evening wear and children’s clothing businesses, so she had the experience to help Monwel become a social enterprise away from local authority control.

 Joining the company as a stores assistant, she gained qualifications in business administration and accountancy and gradually worked her way through the departments to become interim Manager.

 In 2012, Leslie was announced a winner in the Leading Wales Awards, and then – as Managing Director – helped steer Monwel to independent success.

“Monwel’s key goal is around offering employment opportunities for people with disabilities or those furthest from the labour market, and we currently employ 32 people from the local community, 86% of whom manage some form of disability,” she said.

“My motivation to succeed is the passion I feel knowing it helps provide meaningful and paid employment to those who would otherwise struggle in the open labour market.  This brings its rewards to me personally.”

New Enterprise, supported by Rhymney Brewery

Mobile app development agency Big Click was established in 2014 by Rhondda regeneration initiative Penrhys Partnership, which has been working with disadvantaged communities for more than 23 years. 

The trading arm was set up to support the public and private sector in developing technology to meet specific needs for communities, as well as provide experience for young technology developers through employment, work placements and technology workshops in schools.

Last year, the project won a Welsh Government contract to develop three mobile apps for young Welsh learners to practice numeracy and literacy skills, working closely with two primary schools in the Rhondda.  Its first three apps have been downloaded more than 14,000 times, establishing Big Click as a market leader in Wales for high quality mobile app products.

“We’ve also positioned ourselves as a champion for developing new technology for micro-markets, the Welsh language being a key example,” said Digital Technologies Manager Ben Treharne-Foose.

“While most of our competitors are aiming to conquer the world, we’ve identified minority communities as being underserved by technology development, opening up a wide consumer base, which is often forgotten.  As a result, we have been approached by organisations around the world interested in exploiting technology to serve small communities.

“Our current team of four people will double to meet our clients’ demands, with every schoolchild in Wales using at least one of our apps in the classroom.”