Bigger premises for Able Radio

A Pontypool radio station set up nine years ago by volunteers wanting to help disabled and disadvantaged people is celebrating its growth by moving into bigger premises.

Believed to be the world’s first radio station for disabled people, Able Radio is to move from its current home in Hospital Road, Pontnewynydd, into a disused Cwmbran primary school which shut a decade ago.

Work has just begun to refurbish the former Upper Cwmbran Infants’ School (known as Nant Bran), part-financed through an award of almost £59,000 from the EU-backed South East Wales Community Economic Development (SEWCED) programme.

Supported 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 £8.9m in 126 social enterprises since it began in 2010, helping to create 22 social enterprises and 123 full-time jobs.

at work in the studio
Able radio presenters at work in the studio

Able Radio was founded in 2006 to offer disabled and disadvantaged people opportunities to build confidence, learn new skills and become radio presenters.  Most of the employees, trainees and volunteers have a disability or long-term medical condition preventing them accessing the same opportunities elsewhere in the labour market.  

As well as live on-line broadcasts, the social enterprise provides a range of training services, video production, digital photography, music coaching and creative writing – both for clients and as part of its training portfolio.

Achieving financial sustainability by 2013, the station has grown considerably and increased trading turnover from £9,600 in its first full year to £130,000 in 2014, and now has five full-time and five part-time staff.

Torfaen County Borough Council agreed to transfer the school to Able Radio last year and recently granted planning permission for work to redesign the interior of the two school buildings, which is expected to be completed this autumn.

The new site will also provide a base for Cwmbran mental health charity CMIG – formerly Torfaen Mind – and the Alzheimer’s Society, with a community hall available for hire by individuals, clubs and other organisations.

“We’ve outgrown the site we have in Pontypool and the new premises will allow us to continue expanding,” said General Manager Rob Symonds.  “We will have two charity partners in the building and are going to make space available for community use as there is a lack of such facilities in the area.

“Our new home is going to create fantastic opportunities for us, our staff, trainees and volunteers, as well as for local residents in need of a community hub.”

Torfaen Council Social Enterprise Grants Manager Samantha Sollis said: “Able Radio was founded by a group of volunteers passionate about improving the everyday lives of disabled people.  Since then, it has seen growth in every area and developed ways in which to become fully self-sustaining. 

“The services offered to the disabled community are unique to the area, with participants travelling from as far away as Cardiff.”