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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”.



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.

If you’re a subscriber of this site, please note that blog posts will no longer be published here after January 1st 2015.

A new blog site will be launched on the same day, to help replace this site, details of which will be made available at the time.

If you wish to receive updates from the new blog site, you will need to select from a menu of subscription options. We hope this will improve your experience as a subscriber to our blog posts.

We will be publishing a final post on this site on January 1st, which will include links to the new site and how to subscribe to it. Thank you for your co-operation.

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

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

Centre announces second Tackling Poverty Fortnight campaign

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Tackling poverty is one of the Welsh Government’s top priorities.

With this in mind, the Wales Co-operative Centre is about to embark on its latest anti-poverty campaign. ‘Tackling Poverty Fortnight’ will run from 13th – 26th January 2015. The campaign will promote solutions that are helping people in our most disadvantaged communities. It will seek to highlight new approaches that could make a big difference to reducing poverty levels in Wales in the future.

The inaugural campaign, held almost exactly one year ago, received public recognition from AMs in the Senedd, with a series of blog posts demonstrating the ways in which the Centre’s work supports the wider tackling poverty agenda in Wales.

This time around, we will again be showing how our work provides co-operative solutions to tackling poverty but we are also doing something different and exciting. We are writing to a number of organisations around the UK, that are all involved in work that aims to reduce poverty in some way, to invite them to identify new ways of reducing poverty in Wales in the future.

We’re asking these organisations to submit ideas in the form of blog posts. Each idea needs to be something that is not already happening in Wales – at least not on a large scale. Ideally it should be something which is having a demonstrable impact in reducing poverty in the UK or globally but could be rolled out or adapted to work in Wales.

The blog posts need to be submitted by mid-December and will then be published during ‘Tackling Poverty Fortnight’ (13th-26th January). The publicity for each idea may, in itself, be enough to give it the momentum it needs to become a reality in Wales. We will gauge reaction from the ideas and are keen to work with interested parties to take some of the ideas forward.

Our campaign was first mentioned at this week’s ‘Towards a Wales Without Poverty’ conference, hosted by the Bevan Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Foundation. During this event, policy experts, researchers and practitioners led debates that largely looked at how poverty in other parts of the UK had a bearing on Wales and whether approaches that were being taken to reduce poverty elsewhere could work here.

During the conference, my colleagues Dave Brown and Matthew Lloyd ran a breakout session that looked at how digital inclusion work, primarily through Communities 2.0, was not only hugely relevant to the poverty debate but how it was helping to tackle poverty in disadvantaged communities.

The conference painted a bleak picture at times, paying particular attention to child poverty, in-work poverty and how issues such as the living wage, Universal Credit, food banks, equal pay, government strategies, piloting anti-poverty schemes, poverty in rural areas, valley areas and cities are all relevant factors that are very much in the melting pot when it comes to the issue of poverty in Wales.

We’re interested to see what kind of response we get to our invitation to organisations, to provide ideas to reduce poverty in Wales to help make some sort of improvement.

Written by Mark Smith

November 6, 2014 at 11:29 am

Digital inclusion and its role in tackling poverty #WalesPoverty

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Dave Brown, Director of Strategic Development and Performance at the Wales Co-operative Centre, examines the role of digital inclusion in tackling poverty in Wales…

“Today, the Wales Co-operative Centre is putting Digital Inclusion at the heart of the Tackling Poverty debate when we present at the Bevan Foundation / Joseph Rowntree Foundation conference “Towards a Wales without Poverty”.

The conference explores what we mean by poverty in Wales: in order to begin to solve the problem we must first be clear about what we mean by it. The Bevan Foundation argues that poverty means more than low income, though there is a pressing need to address this issue. Poverty is also about access to resources, such as housing warmth and food, and access to essential skills. Here, the Foundation single out digital skills and financial literacy as prerequisites for a Wales moving out of poverty and managing its consequences.

The Wales Co-operative Centre leads financial inclusion development in Wales. The Welsh Government support our Financial Inclusion Champions project which drives support at a strategic level. From this we spin out specific projects which directly benefit those living in poverty. We have recently been awarded Comic Relief funding to increase our work with private rented tenants.

Our focus at the “Towards a Wales without Poverty” conference is the impact of digital exclusion. The Wales Co-operative Centre runs the Communities 2.0 project, the Welsh Government’s flagship digital inclusion initiative, which has helped over 50,000 people get online.  Our workshop presentation today explores a recent editorial statement in the press:

“But being disconnected isn’t just a function of being poor. These days, it is also a reason some people stay poor. As the Internet has become an essential platform for job-hunting and furthering education, those without access are finding the basic tools for escaping poverty increasingly out of reach.”

Wales Co-operative Centre officers will look at our experience of leading digital inclusion in Caerphilly, where effective co-ordination and innovative delivery models have radically changed the lives of many in the county who live in poverty. We also have a stand at the conference and would love to talk to anyone interested in what we do.”

Written by Catherine Evans

November 4, 2014 at 2:29 pm

Posted in co-operatives

Developing Co-operative Housing in Wales

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Dave Palmer

Dave Palmer

Co-operative housing is a community-led approach to housing, where residents democratically control and manage their homes.

The Welsh Government sponsored Co-operative Housing Project aims to stimulate and increase the supply of co-operative housing in Wales. It supports the development of a variety of different housing co-operative models and aims to improve the skills and expertise of members of co-operative housing schemes in Wales to ensure their long term sustainability.

Here, Wales Co-operative Centre’s Co-operative Housing Project Manager Dave Palmer offers an update on developments in Wales.

There is an appetite for co-operative housing in Wales. Co-operative housing appeals to ‘reluctant renters’ – people who are currently priced out of the owner-occupied sector and who are unable to access social housing.

The Co-operative Housing Project initially focussed on general needs housing but is now also networking with providers in social services and health sectors. Housing co-operatives can provide more than just housing, they can also promote well being and provide care services for their members.

In 2012 the project started with eight pioneer schemes. There are now over 25 schemes at varying stages of development.

These schemes will deliver 124 completed homes before the project ends in March 2016. If all emerging pioneer schemes progress, there is the potential for over five hundred co-operative homes across the whole of Wales.

The project is supported by Welsh Government and three of the original pilot pioneer schemes, in Newport, Cardiff and Carmarthen, have received a total £1.9m social housing grant as work is progressing on site.

These three ‘Pilot Pioneers’ were identified early on in their development process, as having real potential for delivery of homes. They were encouraged to prepare business plans and bid for Welsh Government grant support.

In Newport, funding has been used to support Shared Ownership co-operative houses within a large mixed tenure ‘Garden Village’ style development called Loftus Gardens. As construction work progresses on site, the new co-operative is forming and currently there are four potential member homeowners. The aim is to recruit more members, in order to have ten member homeowners by Christmas and twenty members by June 2015.

In Carmarthenshire, funding has been used to support 27 co-operative Intermediate Rent homes being developed by the County Council in partnership with Gwalia Housing Association. These are designed in two rows of short terraces in Jobswell Road, in the centre of Carmarthen. Public meetings have been very well attended and members of co-op are being recruited. One of the homes will be shared housing with the support integrated into the community.

In Cardiff, the Funding has been used by Cadwyn Housing Association to support the delivery of a further 10 co-operative social rent properties within their ‘Garden Village’ style Ely Farm housing development. The plan already includes 31 homes for social rent and 41 Co-operative houses and flats. Members have been elected as Officers of Home Farm Village Housing Co-operative. As the homes are being built on site, members are looking forward to moving in as a Community in June 2015.

There are also several advanced projects that have the potential to deliver homes in the near future. These include:

West Rhyl Community Land Trust (CLT) – West Rhyl – A proposal for the refurbishment and conversion of properties to provide 4 apartments, a commercial unit and 8 new build houses has been submitted for planning by North Wales Housing Association, in partnership with West Rhyl CLT, who already have 3 co-operative refurbished homes. Work on site is expected to start with demolition in early December 2014 and completion of the scheme is expected to be October 2015. The Community Land Trust already has a waiting list of over 80 prospective tenant/members in place for these homes.

Beechley Road – Cardiff –Cadwyn Housing Association is proposing to develop a Tenant Led Housing Co-op in Pentrebane. The residential element will be new build with 11 houses and 2 flats. Completion will be in August 2015.

Gellideg Flats, Merthyr – A proposal has been submitted to Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council by Merthyr Valley Homes to form a Leasehold Co-op to refurbish some blocks of flats in Taff Fechan. This will be a special purpose vehicle (SPV), which will lease the properties to the newly formed housing organisation called ‘Gellideg Co-op’, and registered under the Co-operative Benefit Societies Act 2014.

‘Ty Cyfle’ Garndiffaith, Torfaen – Bron Afon Housing Association with ‘Afon Youth’ have refurbished a 4 storey block of 8 flats to provide separate flats, training and community rooms. The young people have been involved in the building works as apprentices 2 days a week and the project is nearing completion. The group is currently working on Terms of Reference for the Management Committee of this co-operative project.

Future Highlights

The Wales Co-operative Centre has received matched funding from Nationwide Foundation which will provide over 375 hours of support to these co-operative housing schemes, over the next 20 months.

Exciting developments are beginning to appear all over Wales with self-build schemes in Wrexham, housing association let schemes in Presteigne and Hay On Wye. Developments are planned in Lampeter and St David’s as well as the potential for a large scale Community Land Trust organisation in North Wales.

Finding affordable housing is difficult for people trapped in the gap between social provision and being able to afford to step onto the housing ladder. Co-operative housing offers a solution that many people find attractive as it supports ownership and encourages community. There is a massive untapped potential for co-operative housing in Wales and this project aims to develop real co-operative communities and bring the approach into the mainstream.

The success of the Welsh Government programme is evident in the number of new co-operative housing schemes being incubated. What has already been achieved in a comparably short period of time is remarkable given the standing start from which this work came.

The project is working hard to bring all the pioneers together to learn from each other and support each other through their development. Ultimately the aim is for these new pioneers to help support other new housing co-operatives in to the future creating a sustainable legacy for this project.

To find out more about the Co-operative Housing project visit the website or if you would like to discuss an idea for a new co-operative housing project, call Dave Palmer on 0300 111 5050.



Written by David Madge

November 3, 2014 at 9:06 am

Posted in co-operatives


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