Conwy hailed as a social enterprise hot spot

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Conwy wins national Social Enterprise Award. Peter Holbrook, CEO of the campaigning body Social Enterprise UK visited social enterprises in Conwy. At TAPE he met Neil Dunsire. From left, Andrew Bowden, Peter Holbrook, Neil Dunsire, Fioan Young and Stuart Emerson.

The county of Conwy has been hailed as a UK hotspot for companies run for the benefit of the community.

Among the success stories is Sarah Griffiths, 33, who has brewed up a new career after working at a coffee shop that’s operated as a social enterprise.

Sarah was left jobless after being made redundant when the Woolworths store in Colwyn Bay was axed when their firm went into administration in 2008.

Now she’s been given a fresh start thanks to Porter’s Coffee Shop & Bistro in Station Road which was one of the star attractions during a visit by a team from Social Enterprise UK.

Conwy has become only the second county in Wales and one of just 16 across the UK to be officially recognised as a hotspot of social enterprise – a business which trades on behalf of the community generating their income by selling goods or services rather than through grants and donations.

To celebrate its accreditation as a Social Enterprise Place representatives from Social Enterprise UK, the national body which runs the scheme, spent two days visiting a number of Conwy based social enterprises who contributed to landing the accolade.

The group was headed by their chief executive Peter Holbrook and also included Andrew Bowden, chief executive of housing association Cartrefi Conwy, who chairs Social Enterprise Business Solutions, the influential think tank which co-ordinates the work of 10 successful social enterprises in the county.

Andrew Bowden said: “The Social Enterprise Place accreditation is only given to counties that are thriving and doing business and Conwy is delighted to win it.”

It was a message echoed by Social Enterprise UK Chief Executive Peter Holbrook who said he had been very impressed by all the examples he had been shown in Conwy over the two days.

Mr Holbrook added: “They show the dynamism that exists at the heart of this movement. Social Enterprise UK works to enable, help and support social enterprises to thrive and support the sector through our ‘buy social’ campaign.

“It’s also good to see social enterprises working with local authorities to reimagine the delivery of services at a time of increasing demand and diminishing resources.

“I have been thoroughly impressed by Conwy’s application for Place status and the way it has been tireless in promoting social enterprise.”

Porter’s had a fanfare launch by the then Secretary of State for Wales David Jones in 2014.

Set up by Cais Social Enterprises as part of a £1.4 million regeneration project, it occupies the former Judge and Jury pub on the ground floor of an elegantly refurbished Grade II listed building on Station Road.

Porter’s offers a range of snacks, meals, cakes and drinks and uses local suppliers wherever possible.

It is also one of the key providers of the training and work experience placements offered by Cais, which in the past five years have helped more than 25 people into jobs, had more than 50 participants and successfully delivered around 100 qualifications.

Sarah Griffiths is just one of the successes at Porter’s and has recently completed the 12-week Crew-IT course hosted by them and supported by Conwy Borough Council after finding out about the opportunity at Jobcentre Plus.

She is now due to start work as a general assistant at the new B&M store in Llandudno.

Sarah said: “It was great to get the qualifications from the course and it’s those which have really helped me to get a job.

“I did first aid and health and safety training at Porter’s and that worked in my favour.”

Sarah is so enthusiastic about her training that she’s still giving her time for free.

“I am volunteering in Porter’s and I might continue even after I start my new job,” she added.

“It’s really good to have it on your CV and it gets me out of the house. It gets me socialising and gives me purpose.

“Coming here has really helped to build my up confidence and got me used to working with the general public again.”

Liz Wilson, project manager for Cais, said: “As a social enterprise, we operate for the benefit of our community.

“We provide training and work experience placements for local people aged 18-plus seeking employment.

“Our training programme Crew-IT is very successful, and has already helped our volunteers gain numerous qualifications, and helped 15 people to secure jobs.”

Also visited by the team was TAPE, a social enterprise music and film company set up in 2009 in a former church building in Old Colwyn to provide a safe environments in which people can explore and develop their creativity.

TAPE supports people of all ages and abilities with their ideas using music, film, photography, drama, podcasting and other media, including TAPE TV, an online television channel reflecting community, arts and culture in North Wales.

Another social enterprise on the itinerary was Crest Co-operative, a community store based in a recently facelifted warehouse in Colwyn Bay which supplies good quality second-hand furniture and white goods at low cost to the community.

As well as providing permanent jobs for 27 people it also operates a successful programme of work placements.

Also visited by the team was the community-based Glasdir business and conference centre in Llanrwst whose mission is to promote and develop the economy of rural Conwy.

Another stop-off point for the visitors in Llanrwst was Golygfa Gwydyr, a social enterprise which runs a woodland management enterprise providing a range of services catering for public and private woodland owners in rural Conwy and surrounding areas.

The two-day tour was rounded off with a flagship Social Enterprise Place launch event for around 100 representatives of Conwy’s social enterprises and local authorities at the Y Morfa Stadium home of Conwy FC.

The club itself is a highly successful social enterprise after benefitting from the Vi-ability programme run by Kelly Davies, a former Arsenal and Liverpool ladies footballer originally from Abergele who won 36 caps for Wales during her professional career and was recently named Social Entrepreneur of the Year.

Vi-ability has attracted widespread acclaim for the way it has turned around the fortunes of a dozen football clubs in Wales and the North West of England which had been on the verge of administration.

Conwy FC has fought its way back to viability by using its new purpose-built HQ as not only a base for football but also a community hub rented out to local users such as slimming and camera clubs.

Kelly Davies, who was one of the keynote speakers at the launch event, described how she set up a successful social enterprise after coming up with the idea of Vi-ability while studying for her MBA in Football Industries.

Her strong message to the audience was: “When it comes to social enterprise, if you don’t join the journey it will be your loss.”

Andrew Bowden, chief executive of Cartrefi Conwy and chair of the Social Enterprise Business Solutions (SEBS) think tank for Conwy, said: “SEBS was founded in 2012 to enable social enterprises to come together and share ideas.

“It also aims to encourage local authorities to give social enterprises opportunities to compete for business.

“Social enterprises are a trusted set of organisations that not only give great value but also open up opportunities for training and work experience through which they give added value.

“All the enterprises we’ve seen on our visits are excellent examples of how to do business for the benefit of local communities and also how to work with local authorities.

“They are all operating in challenging environments but statistics prove that social enterprises like these are robust, sustainable and geared for the future.

“In Conwy county we have the full range of social enterprises, from multi million pound organisations like Cartrefi Conwy to smaller organisations just starting out like the woodland management scheme we saw at Golygfa Gwydyr in Llanrwst.

“I am absolutely delighted that we have won the Social Enterprise Place accreditation which  really puts Conwy on the map.”

Social Enterprise UK chief executive Peter Holbrook said he had been very impressed by all the examples he had been shown in Conwy over the two days.

“They show the dynamism that exists at the heart this movement and our role is to enable, help and support social enterprises to be the best they can,” he explained.

“It’s also good to see social enterprises working with local authorities to reimagine the delivery of services at a time of increasing demand and diminishing resources.

“I have been thoroughly impressed by Conwy’s application for Place status and the way it has been tireless in promoting social enterprise.”