Wales Co-operative Centre

Canolfan Cydweithredol Cymru

Welsh social businesses make ‘Top 300’ list

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Would you be surprised to know that the latest edition of a list, charting Wales’ top 300 firms, contains a number of companies that are, in some way, social businesses?

Well, that’s the case in this year’s Top 300 list, published by The Western Mail in association with the University of South Wales.

At least eight businesses on the list work to social objectives, in different ways, with one in the top five. On turnover alone (£736.5m), Dŵr Cymru Cyfyngedig is the leading operating social enterprise in Wales.

There are two mutuals on the list – Principality (18th) and Monmouthshire Building Society (106th). Other social enterprises in the top 300 include the Wales Millennium Centre (267) and Cartrefi Cymru, which supports adults with learning disabilities and autism (290).

Shaw Healthcare

Shaw Healthcare

Shaw Healthcare is the leading co-operative on the list, at 64th. Dulas, which is a worker co-op in the renewable energy sector, comes in at 299.

You’d be forgiven for overlooking Swansea City AFC, which occupies 92nd place in this particular table. The Premier League football club is part-owned by Swansea City Supporters’ Trust, which is a form of co-operative.

It’s also encouraging to see the Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA) in the top 300, at 281, as the umbrella organisation for the voluntary sector in Wales.

To make the list is no mean feat. To quote David Pickernell, professor of economic development policy and director of the Centre for Enterprise, University of Wales School of Business, “To be included in the Top 300, companies have to have a significant and identifiable management and trading presence in Wales. The order of the list is determined by the last recorded turnover”. While highlighting that five of the top ten in the list are ‘home-grown’ companies – including Glas Cymru Cyfyngedig (the parent company of Dŵr Cymru Cyfyngedig) – Professor Pickernell goes on to make another important point that is relevant to the social business sector: “Many of the companies in this year’s Top 300 would have started out as small businesses. We therefore also need to focus on developing entrepreneurial mindsets, behaviours and skills in our young people so that they can meet and overcome the challenges that lie before us all, and more importantly help Wales retain the talent which will put us at the forefront of the coveted knowledge-based, creative, growing economy that we all wish to see”.

Dulas

Dulas

This point was perfectly complemented by a special feature in the Top 300 supplement, published by the Western Mail last week, which highlights the winners of this year’s Social Enterprise Awards Wales. That particular list of winners includes Monwel Signs Ltd, which took the ‘One to Watch’ prize at the recent UK Social Enterprise Awards.

It is essential that social businesses are seen as part of a mixed economy in Wales, offering opportunities for growth and sustainability just like any other form of business. Let’s hope those that have made this year’s Top 300 help to inspire more social businesses to make the list in 2015.

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Written by Mark Smith

December 16, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Happy birthday to Gwynfi Community Co-operative

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Yesterday, I was lucky enough to be invited to visit Gwynfi Community Co-operative, an independent co-op that has

been serving the valleys village of Blaengwynfi for 30 years and was celebrating an important anniversary.

View of outside of Gwynfi Community Co-operative

Gwynfi Community Co-operative

The shop was set up during the Miners Strike in 1984 and its ethic of providing an essential service to the community is still very much in place now. When it was set up, the intention was to ensure that it was sustainable and offered paying jobs in the community it served. Today they employ eight people.

Two things struck me about the celebratory event. First was that the shop is run by an extremely enthusiastic group of people, both staff and board members. Their commitment to the co-operative went well beyond the shop and deep into the community of Blaengwynfi.  They are constantly looking at the services the community needs and how the co-operative infrastructure can serve them. The shop offers a meeting place for teenagers and the co-operative are looking to take on other services in the community and base them from the shop.

Gwynfi Community Co-operative celebrations

Gwynfi Community Co-operative celebrations

This year the co-operative is offering a community fund to help groups and individuals in the community. It’s a relatively small amount but it will help people in the community who need it directly. In 2015, they are embarking on a drive to update and recruit new members – I wish them luck with that but I have a feeling they won’t need it!

The other thing that struck me was the interest from other communities in investing in setting up community shops and pubs in their own villages. I met a group of people looking to set up a community shop near the Welsh border and, if that worked, to take over a pub in their village at some time in the future too. Another group were looking at starting up a small community shop, while a third group also wanted to take over their village pub. They have realised that the pub is just an element of what is needed for their community hub, and they have started to look at what else could be offered to their community from that base. Things like a small shop, pop up libraries and rooms for health care and beauty services were discussed.

Many communities have the ability to run their own community hubs, be they pubs, shops, community centres or even leisure centres. Many of these can provide sustainable employment. All of them can provide services to a community as well as acting as a strong glue that can keep the community together and ensure that it is able to look after the individual needs of its members.

Congratulations to Gwynfi Community Co-operative, which is an outstanding example of this.

Written by David Madge

December 12, 2014 at 3:02 pm

“Young People Helping Young People” – A co-operative approach to managing accommodation provision

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Duncan Forbes is Chief Executive of Bron Afon Community Housing. Bron Afon is a social enterprise and registered social landlord.

In this blog post he talks about an innovative project to develop co-operatively managed accommodation for young people who would otherwise be at risk of homelessness.

When Dr Peter Mackie, from Cardiff University told our youth forum that by 2020 there would be a housing crisis for young people it spurred them into action.

Bron Afon owned a derelict community centre and we were looking at demolishing it. But, thanks to the young people involved with the youth forum’s ideas and research, eight new starter homes with support have just opened.

 innovative accommodation for young people

Ty Cyfle is the first completed project by Bron Afon’s Own 2 Feet Living service which provides innovative accommodation for young people

The project created a chance to put the young people’s innovative and creative ideas into action.

Bron Afon Community Housing staff and internal trade teams refurbished the block that is for 16-24 year-olds, who are in, or aspire to be in, education, employment, training or volunteering.

Ty Cyfle is the first completed project by Bron Afon’s Own 2 Feet Living service which provides innovative accommodation for young people.

Young people have taken the lead with this initiative and provided each other with mutual support, helped by our skilled youth team and our volunteers. Working in this way the group has dramatically changed the lives and life chances of many of its members for the better, including young people who have previously fallen down the gaps between other support and care services.

The project created a chance to put the young people’s innovative and creative ideas into action

The project created a chance to put the young people’s innovative and creative ideas into action

This service is unique, as it is led by young people who know the combination of accommodation and tailored support will help their peers succeed.

Our team help the tenants to stand on their own two feet and move on into their next tenancy within two years. During that time they get help with budgeting, cooking cheap meals and being a good neighbour.

Our Own 2 Feet support package has been running for a few years and not a single tenant who has been through it has failed in their tenancy.

Afon Youth has set up a management committee for Ty Cyfle with the tenants. It has set some simple ‘house rules’ and self-manages any low-level issues.

Ty Cyfle is a fantastic example of how co-operative working leads to outcomes that you can never imagine, by not following a traditional ‘we know best’ or ‘this is how we’ve always done it’ approach.

An Afon Youth member

Suzy Sorby, has been a member of Afon Youth since the start and now works for Bron Afon. She said:

“We are passionate about the problems that young people face when getting housing and this includes the perceptions of homeless young people. Over the course of three years we filled up two large folders with our research. We all knew that what we were doing was something unique, something that no one else was doing, and we, the young people were given the opportunities to do it for ourselves. This was young people helping young people.

“Afon Youth is made up of a diverse group of young people, including some who had experience of being homeless.

a fantastic example of how co-operative working leads to outcomes that you can never imagine

“a fantastic example of how co-operative working leads to outcomes that you can never imagine”

“It was identified that there was a big gap from living in 24 hour support to floating support once a young person was successful in managing their own home and finances. It was highlighted by the young people who had gone through Own 2 Feet that there was something extra needed for young people to be ready for independent living. This is how we got our idea for Ty Cyfle.”

Ty Cyfle and the local community

Ty Cyfle has two community rooms where residents in the local area will be able to access services like computer training and job hunting. We will also run our various work programmes under the ‘That Works’ banner, which has already helped many people into training and work.

You can contact Bron Afon Community Housing on 01633 620111 and follow Duncan Forbes on Twitter @forbes_duncan

 

Written by David Madge

December 9, 2014 at 11:17 am

Posted in co-operatives

Learning lessons from the Tackling Homelessness through Financial Inclusion (THFI) Project

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THFI Project Manager, Jocelle Lovell, takes some time to reflect on the launch of the project’s legacy report, which took place this week, on Wednesday 3rd December

I was going to write a blog on the day in the hope of capturing all of the passion, enthusiasm and interest in our work, but then I decided to take time to reflect on the event:

The project has been a 3 year roller coaster ride with plenty of highs and lows, and having to constantly evolve to reflect changes outside of our control. The biggest challenge being, the lack of detail early on regarding the roll out of Universal Credit.

The event was very kindly hosted by the Huggard Centre, which for me sent a very poignant message. Our work is very much focused on the prevention of homelessness, whilst the work of the Huggard Centre is trying to break the cycle of homelessness. Prevention projects, like ours, are vital if we are to reduce the number of people who end up living on the streets, sofa surfing or living in temporary hostel accommodation.

We were very grateful to have Lesley Griffiths AM, Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, speak at the event, where it was recognised our work brought together all the elements of her portfolio.

The event was not only an opportunity to thank the project’s funders, Welsh Government and the Oak Foundation, but also to showcase our work to our new funders, Comic Relief, who found the event very informative and gave them insight into our thinking and methodology.

Attendees came from local authorities, credit unions, funders and third sector organisations. Whilst most were familiar with our work, and had been active partners, the event highlighted new opportunities, with many attendees requesting follow up meetings to see how we can work together in the future.

There is still so little we know about the Private Rented Sector, and so much more work to be done, but now is as good a time as any to get started…….

You can find the full report here.

We tweeted live from the launch using #THFI. Below is what some attendees had to say:

Full house @WalesCoOpCentre #THFI report launch ‘Need to engage with #PRS 2 improve #housingWales & #Financial Inclusion
#thfi manager Jo Lovell – ‘thfi’s ability to adapt and evolve to environment, has been key to success’ #THFI

@WG_CommunityMin: Spoke at @WalesCoOpCentre #thfi launch about the role of financial security in preventing homelessness & helping people live fulfilled lives

Written by Ieuan Nash

December 4, 2014 at 4:56 pm

The definition of poverty – the income conundrum

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Whilst government and political parties will no doubt be debating their record on poverty in advance of the general election, next year, is it time for a rethink on how we define and measure it? It’s something that we’ve been considering at the Wales Co-operative Centre, given the ways in which our work supports the wider tackling poverty agenda.

Many of us working in this field have, over the years, disagreed with the relative nature of its definition. This, in my view, is one of its fundamental flaws. To cut through the technicalities if Mr Jones’ income was low enough, he would be defined as living in poverty. If his income remained the same but the rest of the nation’s income fell, he would be lifted out of poverty. He would still have the same income and the same bills to pay, but he would no longer be officially hard up. This is because Mr Jones’ status of living in poverty is related to his income compared with everyone else’s, not how well he is able to live on the money he has coming in. poverty envelopes

‘A new approach to reducing poverty should adopt a clear definition of poverty, which is based on resources and household needs, not just a narrow measure of relative income’ says a new report published by the Bevan Foundation. Its report, ‘Rethinking Poverty – Implications for Action’, points to three clear required actions; raising incomes, meeting minimum needs and essential skills.

This wider definition includes some important elements but the issue of income and money still troubles me. Why? The reason is that I have worked with many people who, on the face of it, have a moderate income but because their outgoings are so high, their disposable income is extremely low….so low sometimes that they can’t feed themselves or their family. Back to Mr Jones; if his employer starts paying the living wage, he may not be lifted out of poverty, it depends on everyone else’s income. Whether he can feed his family is immaterial.

This is where financial inclusion and financial capability are critical. Every person needs to have a safe, secure and flexible place to manage their money and the knowledge and confidence to manage it well and make the most of what they have coming in. This means access to responsible financial products and debt advice when things go wrong. Credit unions are a great starting point for many people who have been excluded from these essential services for far too long.

Teej Dew is Programme Director for Financial Inclusion at the Wales Co-operative Centre

Written by Katija Dew

December 1, 2014 at 2:41 pm

Shocking poverty figures provoke call for more digital inclusion support

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Nearly a quarter of a million people in Wales want a job but do not have one.  More than 8,000 households were homeless in 2013 and 79,000 people needed food aid.  One in three children lives in a low income family. This is the stark backdrop to the Bevan Foundation’s new report “Rethinking Poverty – Implications for Action”, which is of great interest to us at the Wales Co-operative Centre and the work that we do that supports the wider poverty agenda.

The report argues that digital and financial skills are essential to help people out of poverty, or at least mitigate its impact.  About digital inclusion, the report says:

“Digital skills are an important adjunct to literacy and numeracy, as more and more services are either available only online, or offer time and/or cash savings if accessed online. The shift towards online benefit claims is a particularly strong driver of change. People without access to the internet and without the skills to use it are disadvantaged. There is a marked income-effect in digital exclusion – in 2013, only 1 in 10 (9%) of those in managerial and professional occupations did not use the internet compared to more than three in ten (31%) of those who had semi-routine and routine occupations.

“It is very welcome that digital skills have a relatively high profile in the 2013 Tackling Poverty Action Plan.  The plan includes the Digital Inclusion delivery plan’s targets, the targets for which have mostly been met.  The commitment to digital skills and inclusion should continue, with challenging targets for people in low income groups, with programmes of sufficient scale and impact to achieve them.”

The Money Made Clear Wales website is a great example of where people can get financial advice online

The Money Made Clear Wales website is a great example of where people can get financial advice online

The achievement of the targets in the Digital Inclusion delivery plan was due to the Welsh Government’s Communities 2.0 programme, which is led by the Wales Co-operative Centre.  How is this going to work then when Communities 2.0 comes to an end in March next year?  Well, we need everyone in Wales working to tackle poverty to take digital inclusion seriously.  Our experience is that the current practice is too patchy.  And to get this consistency we need a strong, lean leading digital inclusion project  to help all front line services deliver effective digital skills support.

The Bevan Foundation report is blunt about the nature of the challenge.  For the last eight years, there has been no improvement at all in the number of Welsh people living in poverty.  And that number is set to rise.  Yes, we need an informed debate.  But we also need action.

Dave Brown is the Director of Strategic Development & Performance at the Wales Co-operative Centre

Welsh social enterprises losing out on digital boom

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New research from Lloyds Bank shows that many SMEs are missing out on the benefits of being online, and that community groups and social enterprises are lagging behind.  As Director of Strategic Development & Performance at the Wales Co-operative Centre, I’ve looked into what the study means for social businesses here. soc ent comm 2 point 0

The Lloyds Bank research gives a snapshot of how SMEs, including social enterprises, use the internet.  The backdrop is that business is increasingly being done online: this year, UK consumers are forecast to spend £107 billion on the web, an increase of 17% year on year.

And it’s not just buying that’s going online, it’s giving too.  Charities that can accept donations over the internet, saw a 27% increase in the number of contributions they receive. In 2013, £2.5 million was raised online from 3.7 million Tweets through social media service Twitter and Just Giving. This was an increase of 448% on 2011.

And yet the facts in the Lloyds Bank UK survey are stark:

  • Around a third of SMEs and social enterprises don’t have websites
  • Social enterprises are much less likely to be online than for-private-profit businesses
  • Just 28% of community groups and social enterprises have the skills to transact online
  • A quarter of community groups and social enterprises feel that the internet isn’t relevant to them

The Wales Co-operative Centre’s experience of running the Social Enterprise Support and Communities 2.0 projects is that an effective ICT strategy is integral to the success of flourishing social enterprises.  The Welsh Government funded Communities 2.0 project has supported over 800 social enterprises and community groups, conducting ICT reviews and supporting investment in new systems to increase revenue, create jobs and improve business efficiency.  For example, the Wales Co-operative Centre’s support to Canolfan Soar in Merthyr Tydfil has helped the enterprise increase the proportion of their income that comes from trading from 35% to 65%.

Independent analysts Booz and Co. estimate full digital take up, with everyone online, could add £63 billion value to the UK economy.  The danger is that community organisations and social enterprises will continue to lag behind the rest of the economy.  They will lose out.  Our Social Enterprise Support and Communities 2.0 projects have had a huge impact already, and Wales needs specialist ICT support to social enterprises to continue.

Written by Dave Brown

November 24, 2014 at 4:29 pm

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