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Environmental Management Systems: A guide for Welsh SMEs

Environmental Management Systems – A guide for Welsh SMEs

Consuming electricity and water, producing waste, operating machinery and processing natural resources – these are just some of the ways that businesses interact with the environment at operational level and through their supply chains.  

Businesses of all sizes are realising the need to understand, manage and improve their environmental impacts to ensure they can operate and grow sustainably. An Environmental Management System (EMS) proportionate to the size and activities of the organisation is a key framework for helping businesses to do this. 

However, it can be more challenging for SMEs to measure, manage and report on climate and environmental goals, due to constraints of time, cost and human resources. So, what are the options? Do you need to comply with the internationally recognised ISO 14001 or are there alternatives? 

We hope that this guide will help with understanding (i) the key elements of an EMS, (ii) the benefits and opportunities they bring for SMEs and (iii) provide an overview of the different certification standards for EMS implementation and support for SMEs in Wales. 

Remember, there are many benefits to gaining an EMS certification but it is the journey towards it that counts in terms of practical actions and outputs. All certifications will require resource. If this is not possible for your organisation right now we hope that this guide will still be valuable to steering you towards meaningful actions.    

1. What is an EMS?

An EMS is a structured framework of policies, procedures and practices which help organisations assess, manage and improve their environmental impact.  

The primary goals of an EMS are to ensure: 

  • Compliance with environmental requirements (for example, under an environmental permit issued by Natural Resources Wales) 
  • The efficient use of resources 
  • Waste reduction and minimal pollution 
  • The continual improvement of environmental performance 

(see: https://www.iso.org/climate-change/environmental-management-system-ems)  

A core strength of any EMS should be enabling continual improvement of environmental performance. Continual improvement as defined in ISO 14001, refers to recurring activities to enhance environmental performance. For example, organisations can identify improvement opportunities through audits and monitoring progress against objectives and targets.  

For an SME, this could be implementing behaviour change initiatives to support carbon reduction and nature related goals, such as eliminating deforestation. However, from a wider perspective, continuous improvement might look like an increasing number of business areas or processes being covered by the EMS, or an accumulation of knowledge and skills in dealing with environmental issues. Overall, it’s about a move from operational management of the environment to a more strategic approach.  

2. The benefits of implementing an EMS for SMEs in Wales

  • Manage and improve environmental impacts: by integrating environmental considerations into their operations, SMEs can minimise their ecological footprint and reduce negative impacts on the environment. 
  • Risk Management: The tools within an EMS provide a systematic approach to identifying and managing environmental risks and help SMEs to future proof their business and avoid potential liabilities and disruptions. 
  • Cost savings: Implementing efficient resource management practices can lead to cost savings for SMEs. By optimising energy and water usage, reducing waste generation, and implementing recycling initiatives, SMEs may see reductions in utilities bills and other financial benefits from more efficient and innovative processes. 
  • Compliance with regulations: An EMS helps SMEs comply with environmental regulations and legal requirements. By staying up to date with environmental legislation, SMEs can avoid penalties and legal issues. 
  • Enhanced reputation and competitive advantage: Demonstrating a commitment to environmental sustainability is important for many potential employees and customers. Increasingly, it is also a requirement for public sector buyers to take into account the sustainability of their contractors. For example, in Wales, the Social Partnerships and Public Procurement (Wales) Act introduced a Socially Responsible Procurement Duty and at UK level,  PPN 06/21 mandates that carbon reduction plans be taken into account in major government procurement contracts. 
  • Improved access to finance: An EMS can help SMEs to identify and manage steps they can take to fulfil requirements under Business Wales’ Green Growth Pledge. It can also act as the catalyst for innovation financing, for example, the Green Business Loan Scheme from Development Bank of Wales. 

3. EMS Standards and Certifications

When starting out to create an EMS, there are a number of standards available for SMEs in Wales. The main ones covered in this guide are: 

  • ISO 14001:2015 (Environmental Management Systems – Requirements and Guidance for Use)  

The most widely used voluntary EMS standard globally, providing a holistic framework ‘encompassing all aspects of an organisation’s environmental management and offering tools for continuous improvement’. Certification is available for organisations that have implemented the requirements of ISO 14001.  

  • ISO 14005:2019 (Environmental Management Systems – Guidance for a flexible approach to phased implementation) 

This standard provides guidance for a phased approach to establish, implement, maintain and improve an EMS. It may be particularly useful for SMEs as it provides flexibility and allows organisations to develop their EMS at their own pace. Full implementation of the guidance will result in an EMS that aligns with ISO14001.  

Note that BSI’s earlier guidance standard for SMEs, BS8555, which also provided a phased approach to EMS implementation has now been withdrawn and replaced by ISO 14005.  

Green Dragon is a UK based environmental accreditation awarded to ‘businesses that take action to understand, monitor and control their impacts on the environment’. It operates on a staged based system over five levels, allowing a business to progress in its own time.  At Level 5 the Green Dragon standard is equivalent to ISO 14001.  One of the advantages of Green Dragon is its recognition and support from Business Wales and its acknowledgement in Welsh Government procurement processes. 

Green Key is an eco-accreditation awarded to businesses operating in the tourism sector. Green Key certified businesses meet a set of high standard environmental requirements across 13 areas including environmental management, staff involvement, energy and water conservation, waste management, and food and beverage. In Wales, Green Key is operated by Keep Wales Tidy on behalf of the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE).  

EMAS is the EU’s voluntary scheme applicable to all organisations in the public and private sectors who want to evaluate, manage and improve their environmental performance. EMAS is broader and more rigorous than ISO14001 (as explained below) but ISO 14001 satisfies the requirements for the EMS component. Following Brexit, the UK no longer has a ‘competent body’ responsible for EMAS, however, organisations doing business in the EU might find EMAS Global registration useful and we have included information about the main requirements and links to further information in this document for completeness. 

It is worth noting that businesses do not need to adhere to a certain standard for their EMS and might decide to design a bespoke system. However, using one of the available standards might well be less resource intensive and can help to ensure a robust EMS that provides reassurance to stakeholders.  

The following sections of this guide provide a bit more detail about the above standards to help you identify which might be the right approach for your business.   

Please note this is a guide based on a summary of available online information. Please check the web links given for the most accurate and up to date details. 

4. International EMS standards

ISO14001:2015 (Environmental Management Systems – Requirements and Guidance for Use) 

ISO 14001:2015 is an internationally recognised, holistic framework for an EMS, encompassing all aspects of an organisation’s environmental impact and offering tools for continuous improvement.  

What is involved? 

The basis of ISO 14001 (as with other EMS standards) is the management system process Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA). The PDCA cycle is applied to the overall EMS, as well as individual processes, and enables organisations to achieve continual improvements to their environmental performance through improvements to the EMS. 

The Guidance describes the requirements for setting up and implementing an EMS including: 

  1. An environmental policy: A statement that outlines an organisation’s commitment to environmental sustainability. 
  2. Planning: This involves identifying environmental aspects and objectives of an organisation, setting targets and establishing programmes to achieve them. 
  3. Implementation: This stage involves putting plans into action, allocating resources and assigning responsibilities. 
  4. Checking: Regular monitoring of performance against objectives and targets is critical to ensure the timely implementation of corrective actions. 
  5. Management review: A formal review of the EMS supports its continued effectiveness and suitability. 

EMS Plan-Do-Check-Act Model (Source: Westcon,2017, online) 

Costs, Certification and Training  

The standard can be purchased from the ISO website for approximately £130 and businesses can choose to implement the standard without the costs of certification. There are also various free and IEMA accredited training modules to assist with implementation. 

As mentioned above, certification is optional but can provide both organisations and their customers assurance that ISO 14001 has been implemented in a robust manner.  

Costs of certification from organisations accredited by The UK Accreditation Service (UKAS) vary but online quotes without commitment can be readily obtained. 

Certification is typically awarded for three years, subject to annual surveillance visits. The standard itself undergoes revisions periodically (typically every 5-10 years).  

ISO 14005:2019 (Environmental Management Systems – Guidance for a flexible approach to phased implementation) 

Whilst ISO 14001 is applicable to all types and sizes of organisation, the full implementation of an EMS at the same time might be prove challenging for some organisations and particularly SMEs where time, cost and human resources can be limited.  

At international level, a phased approach to implementing an EMS was therefore developed (previously the BSI standard BS8555:2016 which has been subsumed by ISO 14005) to encourage and guide SMEs to meet the requirements of ISO 14001. 

What is involved? 

The phased approach in ISO 14005 is designed to provide flexibility for an organisation to develop their EMS over a number of phases to ultimately meet the requirements of ISO 14001. 

The number of phases an organisation chooses to implement at any one time is flexible and can be determined depending on resources and priorities. Each phase is broken down into six consecutive stages to be completed over time. SMEs can monitor progress using the maturity matrix in Annex A of ISO 14005 and the free supporting documents provided by ISO 14005. 

The Assessment Sheet (on the supporting documents page) provided by ISO is a helpful tool that enables organizations to monitor and record progress through five levels of maturity corresponding to each EMS subclause. An EMS that satisfies the maturity Level 1 (Column 1) through to full maturity at Level 5 (Column 5) meets all the requirements for a particular clause of ISO 14001:2015. 

Costs, Certification and Training  

The Guidance can be downloaded from the ISO website for approximately £130. As the aim of ISO 14005 is to assist SMEs with reaching 14001, there is no separate certification for this standard. However, it is a good reference to turn to for ideas and practical examples on how to make your implementation of ISO 14001 more effective. 

5. Alternative EMS standards recognised in Wales

For SMEs based in Wales, there are alternatives to the above standards that are administered by national organisations and recognised by the public sector in the procurement process.

5.1 Groundwork Green Dragon Environmental Accreditation

The Green Dragon Environmental Accreditation is a comprehensive standard administered by Groundwork, a UKAS accredited inspection organisation. It is awarded to businesses that take action to understand, monitor and control their impacts on the environment. 

What is involved? 

Similar to ISO 14005, the standard operates on a staged based system (Levels 1-5), allowing organisations to join at any stage and progress their EMS in their own time. 

The five levels are: 

  • Level 1: Commitment to Environmental Management 
  • Level 2: Understanding environmental responsibilities 
  • Level 3: Managing environmental impacts 
  • Level 4: Environmental Management Programme 
  • Level 5: Continual environmental improvement 

Organisations can choose which level is appropriate to the nature and scale of their activities and upon completion of each level they will receive a certificate. At level 5, the Green Dragon standard is equivalent to ISO 14001. 

Groundwork provides several useful documents on its website to accompany the standard, including an Environmental Review Workbook. There is also a list of organisations across Wales who have achieved Green Dragon accreditation.   

Certification and costs 

To achieve and maintain the Green Dragon Environmental Standard, an annual audit with Groundwork is required. The cost of the audit varies depending on the level, with Level 3 being the most common entry point for organisations and costing.

5.2 Green Key – A sustainability standard for the tourism sector

Green Key is an international environmental certification programme for the tourism and hospitality industry. It has been awarded to more than 3,200 businesses from across the sector in 65 countries and is open to businesses from across the sector.  

Globally, Green Key is operated by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) who work with national partners on certification. In Wales, the Green Key certificate is managed by Keep Wales Tidy. 

Green Key promotes sustainable practices and recognises businesses that meet specific criteria related to environmental management and sustainability. Criteria are set out over 13 thematic areas including energy and water conservation, waste management, sustainable procurement, and environmental education. 

The FEE has developed criteria and explanatory notes for businesses in six different categories (hotels and resorts, small accommodation, campsites, restaurants, attractions and conference centres).  

In each category, there are ‘imperative’ and ‘guideline’ criteria. For example, creation of a sustainability policy and interaction with stakeholders are imperative criteria, whilst a target to reduce carbon footprint is a guideline criteria.  Each organisation applying for a Green Key certificate must achieve all imperative criteria and then for each subsequent year that they apply they must meet an additional 5% of the guideline criteria.  

In addition to the general benefits of EMS implementation, Keep Wales Tidy highlights that travellers and tourists are increasingly keen to support sustainable businesses and that investment in a Green Key certification is a key market differentiator. Keep Wales Tidy has collated case studies of organisations across Wales who have invested in Green Key. 

Certification and costs  

The application process for certification consists of three parts: 

  • Sending the application documents 
  • Receiving on-site audits 
  • Decision by an independent entity (third-party verification) 

More information about the application process in Wales can be found on the Keep Wales Tidy website. 

Keep Wales Tidy aims to keep certification costs affordable and to ensure Green Key is accessible to all tourism providers. Investment levels therefore vary depending on the size of the business: 

Costs are paid as part of the application prcess and then annually following updated verification (for more information see https://keepwalestidy.cymru/our-work/awards/green-key/).

5.3 Seren Scheme

The Seren Scheme is based on BS8555 and follows the same phased approach. Organizations can choose to use the Seren Scheme to achieve other EMS standards such as ISO 14001 or EMAS, or register at a phase that aligns with the nature and scale of their business and remain at that phase. 

The Seren Scheme is applicable to both large and small organizations and places a strong focus on continuous improvement. 

BS8555 is divided into 5 phases: 

  • Stage 1: Leadership, context, and commitment 
  • Stage 2: Ensure compliance 
  • Stage 3: Plan and develop the EMS 
  • Stage 4: Implement the EMS 
  • Stage 5: Check and update the EMS 

As long as organizations pass an annual inspection, they can stay at that particular phase indefinitely and use their EMS to demonstrate their commitment to environmental management to stakeholders and customers. 

The Seren Scheme is administered by a private company called Tarian Inspection Services, which conducts inspections in a friendly, down-to-earth, and highly practical manner. They ensure that companies have a robust Environmental Management System that enhances their credibility, good management, and cost savings. 

Further information can be found at http://www.serenscheme.com/. 

6. EU’s Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS)

EMAS is a voluntary environmental management scheme designed by the European Commission. Its overall aim is to enable continuous improvement in the environmental performance of companies, language similar to that in ISO 14001. However, ISO 14001 aims for continual improvement of the system itself hopefully leading to improved environmental performance of the organisation. EMAS requires improved environmental performance of the organisation to be assessed through indicators relating to six core areas – energy efficiency, material efficiency, emissions, water, waste and land use with regards to biodiversity.  

EMAS is more rigorous than ISO 14001, however, ISO 14001 satisfies the EMS component of EMAS requirements.  

Registration with the scheme requires the following steps: 

  • Conduct a preliminary environmental review – this will be the baseline for improvement 
  • Adopt an environmental policy and programme in which you involve employees and external stakeholders  
  • Establish and implement an EMS 
  • Prepare an environmental statement  
  • The EMS and environmental statement to be verified and validated by an environmental verifier. 

Recognising the challenges faced by SMEs, EMAS has amended rules for SMEs to encourage participation in the scheme. These include verification every four years (rather than three) and publication of the environmental statement every two years, rather than annually. There is also financial support available in some Member States and a number of tools and guidance to assist SMEs. 

For more information, please see: 

In summary...

SMEs increasingly need to demonstrate an understanding of environmental impacts and a strategic approach to minimising climate and environmental impacts to satisfy potential customers and to future proof their business. 

In light of the prevalent tick-box culture in environmental matters, many organisations are seeking broader and more engaging systems, examining the impacts on their staff, communities, and supply chains.  

Regardless of the framework used for environmental, biodiversity, sustainability, or ESG reporting, businesses still need to adhere to similar concepts: focus on leadership and staff ownership, understand impacts, prioritise, plan, communicate, implement, and review. 

If you need further support or advice with any of these activities please reach out to our sustainability advisors.  

Environmental Management Systems: A guide for Welsh SMEs Read More »

New Foundational Economy online learning resource

New Foundational Economy online learning resource

Welsh Government are delighted to announce the launch of a new eLearning module on Community Wealth Building and the Foundational Economy. This engaging online resource aims to build understanding of what the Foundational Economy is; the benefits it can bring; and how it can be strengthened.

Jeremy Miles, Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Energy and Welsh Language explains:

“This online eLearning module is an excellent tool to better understand Community Wealth Building and place-based approaches, which can support and nourish the Foundational Economy, central to our Economic Mission. We all interact with the Foundational Economy (FE) every day, from the food we eat, the buildings we live and work in, and the services that we use. It is inseparable from our communities and our country, representing roughly 40% of the economy.

Building the necessary capability and skills to embed FE objectives across the Welsh public sector is crucial. By doing this we can maximise opportunities for our indigenous suppliers and build resilient, highly skilled supply chains – keeping the Welsh pound in our communities.

To do this, we recognise the need to provide the necessary toolsets and support for our public sector partners and practitioners.

I am pleased to announce the launch of this eLearning module and hope it is widely used to strengthen understanding, commitment and know-how to help our foundational sectors thrive.”


How long does this eLearning module take?

There are eight sections to this course. We recommend completing the module in one sitting, which will take between 30 – 45 minutes.

Who is it for?

This module has been designed for anyone to take, whether interested citizens or those working in public, private and third sectors. We particularly recommend it to those who are involved in developing economic policies and projects, as well as those working in public sector procurement. The short course is designed to leave learners feeling more informed, confident and energised!

No specialist knowledge is required to take this module and it has been designed for anyone who is interested.

Where can I find out more?

Links to further reading can be found at the end of the module, which is available on the Learning Wales website.

New Foundational Economy online learning resource Read More »

Foundational Economy in Action: Excellence in Public Sector Food 

Foundational Economy in Action: Excellence in Public Sector Food 

The Foundational Economy is the backbone of everyday life in Wales, providing essential goods and services to everyone. These include health and social care, food, housing, energy and utilities, construction, retailers on the high street, and tourism. The Foundational Economy is supported by a range of businesses, from small and medium-sized enterprises to large companies such as privatised utilities, mobile companies, and major supermarkets. It is estimated that the Foundational Economy provides employment for four out of every ten people in Wales and contributes to £1 out of every £3 spent in the country. 

A strong foundational economy ensures that essential human needs are available to everyone, regardless of their location, income or status. Supporting the foundational economy is a top priority in the Welsh government’s mission of economic resilience and reconstruction, which aims to create thriving communities and businesses throughout Wales. The Welsh Government’s Economic Action Plan encourages collaboration to address inequalities, promote inclusivity, and drive economic development, supporting business decisions. Building on the success of the 2021 Welsh Government’s Foundation Economy Challenge Fund, the Backing Local Firms Fund aims to support local businesses in delivering the products and services required by the public sector, creating better job opportunities closer to home. 

The Welsh Government’s “Backing Local Firms Fund” has financed various projects in the food sector to increase the amount of Welsh food served on public plates. The grant aims to support local food producers and suppliers in providing local, sustainable, and healthy food to schools, hospitals, and other public sector institutions. By promoting the production and consumption of local food, we can reduce our environmental impact and encourage sustainable practices in Wales. 

Cynnal Cymru is showcasing three of the public sector food-focused projects, all aiming to strengthen Wales’s Foundational Economy. To learn more, please see the case studies below:

Castell Howell Foods

Velindre University NHS Trust

Can Cook

Foundational Economy in Action: Excellence in Public Sector Food  Read More »

A person stands with a bag full of vegetables among crates of carrots and other vegetables.

Foundational Economy Capability Networks: Velindre University NHS Trust

Velindre University NHS Trust 

Enabling a FutureGen-ready food system  

The link between healthy food and patient recovery may seem an obvious one, but in 2023 staff at Velindre University NHS Trust (Velindre) set out to explore this relationship in more detail – and to find ways to maximise the benefits that a healthy food system can bring to patients, hospital staff and beyond. Chris Moreton, Deputy Director for Finance at Velindre, explains more. 

The Challenge:  

The current food system in Wales is facing multiple challenges that affect everyone. These include climate change, nature loss, a declining rural economy and food security. 

Agriculture in Wales is currently responsible for about 14% of Wales’s greenhouse gas emissions, whilst the move towards more intensive farming processes, to accommodate changing diets and consumer demand, reduces land fertility, contributes to negative impacts on surrounding air and waterways and is a key driver of biodiversity loss.  

Years of intensification in agriculture have left rural communities poorer and less stable, negatively impacting the well-being of farming communities. In addition, an over-reliance on an increasingly fragile global food system has contributed to rising food prices, food poverty and inequality.  

This in itself has knock-on effects for the NHS, but Wales is also seeing an increase in diet-related disease, exacerbated by a lack of affordable, accessible, fresh produce being eaten in the home and workplace. These diseases include Type II diabetes, cancers, cardiac and vascular diseases, strokes, and joint problems. 

The Opportunity:  

The Welsh public sector spends £97m on food for schools, hospitals, and social care, with Velindre’s annual food budget alone standing at c.£22 million. 

Chris believes that the NHS in Wales has the opportunity to lead the promotion of environmentally and socially responsible public sector food sourcing. By supplying local, good quality and sustainably-produced food, it can improve the health and well-being of patients, staff, and their families, as well as reducing ecological harm and supporting a fairer and more resilient Welsh food sector.  

This mission aligns with the goals of the Well-being of Future Generations Act, the Welsh Government’s ‘Buying Food Fit for the Future’ initiative, Velindre’s duty of actioning Socially Responsible Public Procurement, and contributes towards the ambition of reaching Net Zero by 2030.  

These mutually-reinforcing ambitions are contained in the project’s objectives: 

  1. Increased access to healthy and affordable food will lead to better health outcomes. 
  1. The food supply chain will be shorter, more resilient, and will have minimal environmental impact while providing value for money. 
  1. The Trust will have more spaces where people can learn about and enjoy food. 
  1. There will be a reduction in food waste and the ecological footprint. 
  1. Partnerships will lead to the development of vibrant local food economies and communities. 

Velindre aims to make food a well-being priority for its patients and staff through increasing access to healthy food options at a reasonable price both inside and outside of work. This includes the introduction of “Well-being Wednesdays” and a veg box scheme – which proved successful during the pandemic – to promote healthy eating habits.  

Menu redesign will be evaluated, starting with the restaurant at Velindre Cancer Centre, to explore opportunities to integrate seasonal and organic ingredients, using tools such as meat reduction and use of non-branded projects to help maximise budgets.  

By working directly with suppliers, the project aims to ensure that ethical sourcing and fair-trade options will also be explored where Welsh produce is not available. Skills, training and education will be a key pillar in the project both in terms of roles linked to food – from cooks to procurement – to broader staff engagement to help staff make informed decisions about food in work and wider life. 

Beyond that, by providing visible leadership through its food mission, Chris hopes that Velindre can lead by example across the public sector in Wales to help drive regional collaboration and alignment around food sourcing, promoting agroecological food production and unlocking opportunities for innovation. 

A person stands with a large bag among crates full of carrots and other vegetables. A board on the back reads Greengrocer.

Next steps:  

The project has been developed with the support of Welsh Government’s Backing Local Firms Fund that supports the development of key foundational sectors such as food.  

Staff buy-in for this project is already high, with staff workshops indicating near-unanimous support for the food mission. This provides a key resource for consistent messaging around the benefits of the proposed changes.  

Chris explains that “Clear, consistent messaging and collaboration with suppliers, producers and partners such as Cwm Taf Morgannwg’s Central Processing Unit will be critical to creating the conditions that allow people to commit to change.”  

An Action Plan is currently being developed to help operationalise the project’s goals and embed them into Velindre’s operations. Whilst some performance indicators exist and can easily be measured, such as percentages of food coming from local suppliers, food waste reduction, staff accessing veg boxes and average days for patient recovery, others will need development, including a Patient Reported Outcome Measure for food and the Social Return on Investment for the local food economy. 

Chris believes that this whole-system approach is necessary both to tackle the challenges within the current food system and to demonstrate the full range of benefits that can be delivered by values-based healthcare. We look forward to reporting more as the project progresses. 

Foundational Economy Capability Networks: Velindre University NHS Trust Read More »

Foundational Economy Capability Networks: Can Cook

Can Cook 

Well Fed – MealLockers / Plastic-free and Net Zero Programme 

 “We all want a food system that wants to feed children and people good food. Ultra-processed-free has everything to do with people’s health, we match the price and impove the quality.” – Robbie Davison, Director of Can Cook. 

Can Cook, a social enterprise, is tackling food poverty and unhealthy eating habits in Wales by providing fresh, nutritious cooked from scratch meals at affordable prices. Their “Well Fed” programme includes initiatives like Cook-at-Home meal boxes, mobile shops, and Meals on Wheels.  

With support from Welsh Government’s Backing Local Firms Fund, a recent focus has been to develop and improve 3 new aspects of delivery: plastic-free vending machines (eatTAINABLE) ‘MealLockers’  and a Net Zero emissions-reduction programme with solar energy integration. 

The Challenge 

One of Wales’s key public health challenges concerns food poverty and rising childhood obesity rates. 1 in 4 children born in 2022 will be obese by age 5 in Wales and over 50% of the UK population cannot afford a shop based on fresh produce. Ultra-processed foods (UPFs) are prevalent in the average weekly shop and also dominate school meals.  

Robbie explains that the project came about after identifying that, despite meeting nutritional standards, the majority of food eaten by children at school is ultra-processed. “If ultra-processed foods help schools meet nutritional standards, then we are in the wrong place.” he concludes. “Our primary concern is feeding children well. We are looking at everything in the supply chain to eliminate UPFs and preliminary the big issue in cooking at scale is the stocks, gravies and sauces” 

Having identified the main ingredient to change in their meals – stock – the Can Cook team went about developing a UPF-free alternative. The solution is a stock made from mushrooms, sourced from a local farm, that can be cooked at scale, stays within budget, and with the same taste and properties as commercial alternatives.  

This demonstrated to the team that the elimination of UPF ingredients is possible. All the meals provided by Can Cook are now UPF-free and the project helps others avoid these in their wider diet also by teaching people how to cook from scratch. 

Another challenge concerning the Can Cook team is that isolated communities often lack access to fresh, nutritious food options. Traditional catering methods can be impractical for these areas.  

Can Cook’s solution includes an initiative to dispense fresh, healthy pre-prepared meals to isolated communities through MealLockers located in public spaces. They are also developing a plastic-free vending approach dispensing meals in returnable, microwavable stainless-steel containers – an innovation targeting workspaces and is convenient and accessible to customers, whilst also reducing waste and energy in reheating.  

To help reduce thier own carbon footprint, Can Cook is moving their production kitchen towards Net Zero through the installation of solar panels by June 2024 to reduce reliance on non-renewable electricity by 60%. 

Looking forward: 

For the future, Robbie notes that continued efforts are needed to identify reliable suppliers of UPF-free ingredients for large-scale production. He also believes the MealLockers model has huge potential to expand to efficiently deliver healthy meals to more locations, including schools, hospitals and rural areas, which public sector commissioning could support. He explains: 

“To truly benefit public health, it is vital that public sector commissioning moves towards encouraging and protecting quality and social value. We believe that a social food model for public sector contracts is needed now, to make sure everyone can eat well, regardless of income.” 

The Can Cook team believe there is huge potential for initiatives like these to make a significant contribution to public health in Wales and further afield. We at Cynnal Cymru are excited to keep you informed about the progress of this work. 

Robbie Davison – Director of Can Cook 

Foundational Economy Capability Networks: Can Cook Read More »

Lessons from Scotland on free school meals

This commitment has been broadly welcomed but its implementation brings to light many challenges currently faced by local authorities, catering staff, suppliers and others involved in school meal provision. These range from inadequate kitchen and dining facilities in schools not designed with universal school meal provision in mind, to the disconnect between what pupils learn about food and nutrition, and the experience of their school meal.  

To better understand how these challenges might be resolved, Cynnal Cymru is convening a series of roundtables to bring together those working in the different policy and operational areas of school meal provision. Our first, in May 22, was held primarily to learn from the experience of implementing universal free school meals (uFSM) in primary schools in Scotland, where the commitment is for all primary school children to have free school meals by August 2022. 

The speakers were Prof. Mary Brennan, University of Edinburgh Business School and Chair of the Scottish Food Coalition and Jayne Jones, Commercial Manager at Argyll & Bute Council and Chair of Assist FM –a non-profit association working to promote the facilities management services of all member local authorities in Scotland. The roundtable was chaired by Prof. Kevin Morgan from Cardiff University.  

Below is a summary of some key points shared by the presenters and attendees. The full meeting notes are also available. 

uFSM must be seen as a vehicle for multiple policy objectives 

The role that school food has to play in enhancing public health and well-being must be looked at in a context extending far beyond just provision of nutrition and calories. School food matters to many cross-cutting themes and is at the heart of a ‘good food nation’. 

Dining together in schools helps children develop important, but sometimes overlooked, eating and social skills, where new tastes and food combinations can be introduced in a safe environment and norms around use of cutlery and avoiding waste can be set. Social eating also provides an opportunity for relaxation that aids afternoon learning.  Alongside the immediate benefits, these things will also help shape future food and lifestyle choices. 

In terms of the wider school community, the experience in Scotland suggests that universal provision benefits all families including those with time or knowledge constraints, as well as financial ones. 

Universal provision can also provide local economic multipliers particularly if there is investment in building links with local businesses.  It can be a driver for high quality farming and fishing, enhancing animal welfare and supporting and creating new routes to market for food businesses. It can also be an opportunity to trial methods of procurement and production compliant with Net Zero and nature recovery ambitions.  

Mary Brennan argues that what is needed is an annual forensic analysis to understand how uFSM provision is contributing to other policy areas in Scotland but this has not so far happened. 

It is essential to develop systems thinking capacity to understand how school food can deliver across different policy areas 

One of the biggest challenges in Scotland has been getting Ministers and officials to understand the operational realities and challenges that school catering staff face. The school canteen is a relentless and demanding operational environment and staff are usually not employed outside term-time or food preparation/supervision/clean-up times. There is therefore no time or space for strategic thinking to review, reflect or plan. The same is often true with local authorities with very little resource, which can lead to paralysis and a default to doing things the way they have always been done rather than trying to maximise or diversify policy outcomes. 

In Scotland, Assist FM argued for investment in management as well as frontline staff to aid the transition to uFSM in recognition of the need for this thinking and planning time and to ensure they weren’t spreading already stretched management staff too thinly. 

It is not just the food that should be valued  

The key role of dining staff in school has also been recognised in Scottish research. The extent of many of the benefits of social eating in schools – particularly around the amount of time spent eating (and therefore producing less waste) – was found to correlate directly with the amount of dining supervision available, yet the hours and numbers of dining supervisors are often vulnerable to cost-cutting.  

This links to another obstacle in expanding uFSM provision – the recruitment and retention of supervision and catering staff. Scottish research suggests that recognising more overtly the insights and contributions from these staff can expedite successful uFSM implementation, through staff development and providing space for learning and professionalisation of school catering. Attendees agreed that the whole food sector – from farming to catering – needs to be understood and promoted as a career path. 

Conclusions and next steps 

Implementing uFSM may involve complex trade-offs but there is also the potential for multiple co-benefits from a singular investment. In Wales this is a key opportunity to look at food through the lens of the Well-Being of Future Generations Act, incorporating net zero, nature recovery, equality, foundational economy and other aims. 

The clearest outcome from this session was that the ‘cost’ of school food needs to be reframed as an investment in better health and environmental outcomes and an investment in our learners (as opposed to just investing in the learning itself). We hear of redefining ‘value’ in public procurement to include the social and environmental value created from spending public money. With the publication of the Social Partnerships and Public Procurement Bill this shift should now be at the forefront of government’s mind. The provision of uFSM is an opportunity to put this into practise. 

Future sessions will consider how this investment can be made and how other operational challenges raised but not included in this piece can be resolved. These include how to increase flexibility within menu design to be able to cope rising food prices, uncertainty of supply and other ‘what if..’ scenarios; the challenges faced by schools with insufficient or no catering facilities; and how this policy aim can also support a more diverse and progressive food system in Wales, including links with the Community Food Strategy. 

If you would like to join future roundtables or have ideas or comments around this or future themes, please contact Clare Sain-ley-Berry clare@cynnalcymru.com. 

Lessons from Scotland on free school meals Read More »

Grow your Own – The Hywel Dda approach to building local skills and well-being

In 2019 Hywel Dda University Health Board took a bold step to start an Apprenticeship Academy. This was partly in response to the increasing financial costs of using agency staff to make up for the shortfall in employed Adult General Nurses. It was also, however, in recognition of the opportunity that the University Health Board had, as an anchor institution, to improve opportunities and well-being in its local area.

Recruitment had been a long-standing problem. There is no nursing college in the local area and those that have studied elsewhere, and begun to make lives for themselves, often prefer to find work in the same place. Recruitment from within local communities has therefore been a challenge, as even those students originating from the UHB area may not always choose to return once qualified. The UHB was also conscious that recruitment practices that simply attracted staff from other health board areas would just create problems elsewhere. A programme that could nurture and develop skills amongst the existing local population was seen as a more pragmatic, sustainable approach and one that would fit with the UHB’s values. The Apprenticeship Academy was therefore born.

The initial apprenticeship programme included two pathways: Healthcare and Patient Experience. This has already expanded to include many other pathways including areas as diverse as Engineering and Corporate Governance. The Healthcare Apprentice Programme, however, which can develop individuals from entry level to Nurse registration within seven years, remains its flagship. Its aim is to develop a future nursing workforce through targeted skills development, working with local employment organisations, educational institutions and youth organisations to promote and tailor apprenticeship opportunities. 

The establishment of the Academy has, of course, faced challenges, not least in the unprecedented number of applications and onboarding of apprentices. In 2021 alone there were over 600 applicants, with only 40 places on offer. The high standard of applicants, however, did provide the UHB with confidence to increase the places on offer to 57.

A secondary challenge was integrating the apprenticeship programme within the culture and working practices of a large, established workforce. To help navigate this, a ‘Reverse Mentoring’ scheme was put in place that has allowed apprentices to share their experiences and ideas through providing mentoring and guidance to members of the Health Board. Apprentices were also invited, with the Board’s support, to present at the 2021 Nursing and Midwifery conference, in recognition of their achievements. This gave members of the apprenticeship programme another opportunity to share learning first hand with those that might also find themselves working with apprentices, or even be thinking of starting programmes themselves.

One example of the value that this programme has brought was highlighted when the Academy Team was able to offer additional support to the Directors responsible for the staffing and implementation of Mass Vaccination Centres throughout the Health Board area.  Andrew Cavill (Job title) explains that the 2021 apprentices “have stepped up and stepped forward to support the vaccination effort, undertaking additional training to offer immunisation and administrative support to patients across all counties”.

The programme has also contributed to wider and longer-term benefits. The Academy has a principle of not taking on an apprentice unless there is a job available for that person at the end of the apprenticeship programme. This has encouraged services to look at their future staffing needs and start to plan early for how these can be met. On this basis, 100 apprentices have already been taken on with a pledge to deliver 1,000 apprenticeships by 2030 – an ambition that will not only grow local job opportunities but help to provide better health care, training, skills and well-being in the local foundational economy.

Grow your Own – The Hywel Dda approach to building local skills and well-being Read More »

Bocs Bwyd – an inclusive career pathway in the Vale of Glamorgan

Bocs Bwyd is a catering enterprise, run by Ysgol Y Deri in collaboration with the construction industry. Funded by the Welsh Government’s Foundational Economy Challenge Fund, it provides a vocational learning environment for learners with Additional Learning Needs (ALN), enabling Ysgol Y Deri to develop the Bocs Bwyd Traineeship. The project aims to develop skills, confidence and demonstrate the ability of young people with special needs, helping them develop independence and enter the workforce, from which they are often excluded.

Ysgol Y Deri is the special education school for the Vale of Glamorgan, working with students aged 3-19 across a full spectrum of conditions including higher functioning autism, emotional, behavioural and mental health issues and profound multiple learning difficulties.

The school focusses on catering as a vocational pathway to learners aged 14-19 who have the potential to be economically active. Replicating the work environment, the school has a professional spec training kitchen and on-site barista style coffee shop. Many students leave with industry recognised qualifications in Food Hygiene and Entry Level and Level 1 catering and employability qualifications including BTEC. The school also provides work experience opportunities in catering settings such as Costa and Farmhouse Inns.

However, despite vocational experience and qualifications, many students struggle to meet the entry requirements to access catering courses at college due to their academic abilities. There are also few opportunities for them to receive in-work support from potential employers so that they can engage in the career pathways that Ysgol Y Deri has prepared them for. Thus, despite gaining the competencies to engage in work, many students leave without the prospect of finding real jobs.

In order to address this difficult situation, Ysgol Y Deri applied to Welsh Government’s Foundational Economy Challenge Fund and received funding for their Bocs Bwyd project.

Bocs Bwyd is a catering kitchen, launched in 2019, servicing two new school build sites in Barry, both of which are part of the Vale of Glamorgan’s 21st Century Schools programme. Other than a catering manager, the kitchen is wholly staffed by Ysgol Y Deri pupils and their support staff.

With the support of the construction companies Morgan Sindall and Bouygues UK, the physical kitchen was assembled; Morgan Sindall providing the shipping container and Bouygues relocating it at an agreed handover time. Challenge Fund monies were used to support additional staff.

After a delay due to COVID, Bocs Bwyd started service on site in September 2020, in line with Welsh Government’s and Ysgol Y Deri’s COVID secure working. The kitchen is divided into four work stations, allowing pupils to develop skills from service through to prep and wash up, with a focus on quality, value and nutrition.

Bocs Bwyd was something new and innovative for Ysgol Y Deri; a sustainable catering enterprise run by, but with its own separate identity from, the school. This allowed Ysgol Y Deri to create an authentic work environment for learners, who were supported and valued as co-workers, rather than students. In this vein, it was also important for the Bocs Bwyd team that Bocs Bwyd was seen as just a café, rather than a ‘special needs café’. 

Bocs Bwyd has enabled Ysgol Y Deri to address the issue that many pupils cannot access college or employment after leaving them in ways that they could not previously. Areas of focus were developing The Bocs Bwyd Traineeship and to help pupils and their families believe in their ability to enter the workforce. 

The Bocs Bwyd Traineeship combines Essential Skills Qualifications in Literacy and Numeracy linked to Catering and Employability Awards at Entry Level / Level 1 leading to a Certificate size award overall plus City and Guilds Food Hygiene Level 1 or 2. The Traineeship also includes a guaranteed 120 hours minimum work placement at Bocs Bwyd.

Bocs Bwyd has been key in the school developing the traineeship – it not only allows the school to provide a guaranteed work placement, it also allows them to tailor the placement to ensure learners get to experience all aspects of catering and provides additional support where needed. This is a step change to the work experience that Ysgol Y Deri has historically been able to provide to students.

Another benefit of the traineeship is that it prepares and qualifies students for work in catering at a higher level than Ysgol Y Deri has been able to offer previously. Usually, young people working at Entry Level cannot access Foundation Apprenticeships with its  5 GCSE entry requirement . However, the Bocs Bwyd Traineeship provides a unique way to achieve similar vocational qualifications for young people but working at Entry Level, something Ysgol Y Deri has not been able to offer as a package before. 8 learners have now completed the Traineeship. Charlie, a trainee at Bocs Bwyd has been accepted onto a catering course at Bridgend College starting September 2021 while others have also been able to secure places on specialist courses at Level 1 in industry sectors other than  Catering. All have developed a belief in a pathway into paid work which previously  they thought impossible.

The authentic work environment of Bocs Bwyd allowed pupils to develop and showcase their talents out in the world to paying customers. This, and the supported employment model (where learners are supported and valued as co-workers, rather than students) provided a space where pupils could develop their self-belief and confidence in entering the workforce. This was bolstered by Job Coaching, including Person Centred Planning creating a vocational profile and pathways into work.

The project’s success in this area can be seen in the views of pupils, parents and carers.   

“Working in Bocs Bwyd, has increased my confidence when participating in a work environment and improved my interpersonal skills.” Sam, Bocs Bwyd trainee.

All carers and parents strongly agreed that their child became more confident as a result of participating in Bocs Bwyd and agreed or strongly agreed that their child is more hopeful about their future and is positive about getting paid work. Parents and carers also agreed or strongly agreed that they too were more hopeful about their child’s future and more confident of them getting paid work.

Notwithstanding the successes of the project, its innovative nature means some challenges remain unresolved and require more work into the future.

Some of these are governance and constitutional problems around a school running a business. It was important for Bocs Bwyd to be separate from the school for educational reasons outlined above and to create a model whereby Ysgol Y Deri could operate a project such as Bocs Bwyd on a cost recovery basis. However, schools trading is problematic in Wales due to the Welsh schooling system not being academised as in England, where it is easier for schools to convert to being an academy which have less stringent regulations regarding trading. Ysgol Y Deri are supportive of the non-academisation of Welsh schools, however it makes a school running a business quite difficult.

Working with Social Firms Wales, Ysgol Y Deri developed a constitution to run Bocs Bwyd as a Social Firm (enterprise) which functions like a CIC, but instead of being registered at Companies House, is overseen by a constituted committee and governed by robust rules within the school. The long term viability of this solution is yet to be seen as there are questions around liability for the committee which are being addressed by Vale of Glamorgan Council.  If the model does work however, it provides a new vocational education model (which could be used wider than catering) which partly or wholly funds its costs. Currently, the school ‘subsidises’ Bocs Bwyd through back office support and provides teaching staff. However, the team would like to move to costs being covered through grant aid or a service level agreement, with the Social Firm structure allowing Bocs Bwyd to apply for a wider range of grants compared with a school.

Another challenge is the growth and sustainability of the project into the future. The project is running, however project lead Sue Williams recognises that often getting such projects off the ground is done “on a wing and a prayer”, and wants the project to remain functional and to avoid burn out of the project team. For 6 months Bocs Bwyd ran two sites in parallel, straining the team but demonstrating the ability for the project to grow.

Bocs Bwyd are interested in two aspects of their growth; developing a sustainable business model  and the educational impact. Commercially, they wish to become a mainstay of the local construction industry, providing food for construction workers and becoming a material part of the conversation around social values in the sector. Educationally, the team are exploring if they could host self-funded placements and whether they could provide work placements to smaller special schools enabling them to develop their own traineeships or apprenticeships.

Finally, despite the additional skills and qualifications, the route for Bocs Bwyd pupils into work or further education is still not always clear. Sue explains that after leaving Bocs Bwyd, learners will have all the skills they need for the catering industry, the issue being that they require a little extra support in the workplace that the vast majority of employers do not provide. The team are thus exploring partnering with a big public sector organisation, working with them to upskill their ability to support those with special needs and perhaps providing a job coach in return for committing to taking on a certain number of Bocs Bwyd pupils as staff. Bocs Bwyd are also exploring funding a continuation programme for NEETS and eligibility for the DWP Kickstart programme, which pupils are not currently eligible for as they will not have been on Universal Credit when they leave Ysgol Y Deri.

These challenges however do not take away the real positive impact on learners. Sue says she was “blown away by the change in mindset of the young people we had joining us”. A mindset change where work became possible, created in a public facing environment which challenged learners, and in doing so, allowed them to grow.

From September 2021, Ysgol Y Deri are planning to create a designated Bocs Bwyd class with teaching and support staff funded by the school’s core budget. Additional costs from operating the business will be recouped through trading activity.

Projected 12 month trading figures to the end of August 2021 suggest a gross profit on sales – meeting the additional operational costs of running a catering enterprise for Ysgol Y Deri. In collaboration with the private sector, Ysgol Y Deri have created a financially sustainable business providing a unique and holistic vocational learning environment for their pupils .  This in turn has boosted their drive and belief in their ability to work and equipped them with a higher level of skill and qualification than the school has been able to previously.

Bocs Bwyd – an inclusive career pathway in the Vale of Glamorgan Read More »

United Welsh: “Change happens at the speed of trust.”

United Welsh, Linc Cymru, Melin Homes and Tai Calon are four housing associations that manage all the social housing in Blaenau Gwent – equating to 20% of all the county’s homes. In 2019 they embarked on a project to explore if the power of their collective spend could better benefit the communities around them.

Previous collaboration had identified building and maintenance supply chains as a key area where coordinated spend could be targeted to help support the local economy, with opportunities for training and skills development, business growth and local job creation. However mapping these supply chains, and making links between the four organisations’ budgets and workplans, required careful analysis and dedicated resource, something that was difficult to find amongst existing demands and priorities.

The partners applied to Welsh Government’s Foundational Economy Challenge Fund to help accelerate this collaboration and a grant was awarded in recognition of the potential impact that this could have on the area’s foundational economy businesses. The approved project would map the supply chains across the four organisations, identify key opportunities to strengthen local spend and suppliers, build better relations with social enterprises and SMEs and connect them with existing business support networks.

One of the first key steps was gathering and collating supply chain data over the four partners. To do this, the planned maintenance budgets of all four housing associations were compiled and combined, producing a 10 year forward work programme worth £90 million. This was then used to start conversations with local businesses about how this work could be delivered locally, keeping as much of the spend in Blaenau Gwent as possible.

This sort of intelligence, about the value and scale of future potential work opportunities, is of huge benefit to business planning, particularly for smaller or more specialist suppliers. Knowledge of future opportunities can be critical in deciding for example whether to take on an extra staff member or to invest in training for a new type of installation or product.

Another unanticipated benefit of the project has been its potential to reduce the ‘boom and bust’ cycle of work that the partners were sometimes inadvertently creating. For example, rather than one housing association having an SME replace all their windows one season (boom) and then there being no similar work for months until another housing association did the same (bust), the housing associations can now coordinate programmes of work to ensure that a steady pipeline is always available.

As well as collating maintenance and supply chain data, the partners also shared ideas and existing programmes in place to support local community organisations. This led to a further combining of the partners’ resources – this time to support community spaces and initiatives better through the disruption that COVID-19 has caused. Working with CLES, The Wales Cooperative Centre and The Federation of Small Business, the project has also worked to set up a Social Enterprise Network in Blaenau Gwent, that they hope will continue well beyond the grant timeframe.

As well as achieving the original objectives of the Challenge Fund application, the closer partnership working that the grant enabled is influencing wider work also.

Like many housing associations, those in Blaenau Gwent are working on plans to decarbonise homes through retrofitting. Although this will be challenging, and means that maintenance plans already in place will need to change, it also provides another significant opportunity to support new, well paid, green jobs in the area.

The partnership believes that the new collaborative ways of working established during the Challenge Fund project will enable them to plan and deliver retrofitting in ways that – because of its scale – could deliver even greater benefits than the original project. The pooling of budgets and work programmes could even go so far as to help catalyse a new local retrofit industry through being able to guarantee a steady pipeline of work, geared towards smaller local suppliers.

This will include using the relationships built during the project with local colleges, SMEs and academia to explore how any training and skills gaps for the planned works can be addressed to ensure that work can be delivered locally. This could be an important contribution to building up the skills base in the county, which like many other post-industrial areas, has higher unemployment levels than the national average.

The partners are starting by retrofitting 200 homes, funded by a separate Welsh Government grant, which will be a source of learning about how to retrofit in a way that works for the people living in the homes and delivers the works through local SMEs.

An important spin-off to complement this work is the Blaenau Gwent Climate Assembly – the first of its kind in Wales. This citizen’s assembly will allow local residents to help shape the decarbonisation plans not only of the four housing associations but also Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council and other local decision makers, ensuring that they align with the aspirations of local people. It forms one part of the new community engagement approach that the 4 housing associations have developed during the project.

Steve Cranston, The Foundational Economy Lead from United Welsh, believes that the initial project has therefore expanded into something much wider that will have a long-term influence on the way the partners work together, allowing them to better serve their residents and the local communities around them.

Steve has two key insights for others doing this kind of work. In building collaboration across organisations, he cites trust as a key driver, explaining that “change happens at the speed of trust”. How to develop trust? Openness, transparency and listening.

Another insight is maintaining focus on what the foundational economy is about – people. Providing people with good services backed up by good jobs. Steve explains how having regular conversations with local people and communities and focusing on listening to their views is vital to ensure resources really go to where it’s needed.

Steve says the best part of being part of the Foundational Economy Challenge Fund has been “having time to build trusted relationships with partner organisations. Trust is the most important currency and we have opened up opportunities for long term mutual benefit.”

United Welsh: “Change happens at the speed of trust.” Read More »

Torfaen Council: Supporting the foundations

Like other post-industrial areas, the town of Pontypool suffers from empty shop units, run-down high streets and above average unemployment. These problems have become common following the decline of traditional industry but have been exacerbated in Pontypool by other factors, such as organisations or people with no connection to the area buying up commercial property as investments.

The Council recognised that many people in the town had small businesses, or wanted to start one, and set up shop in the town. Efforts were often hampered however by a lack of appropriate support and a disconnect between what was offered by national programmes and grants and what small, often micro-, businesses needed on the ground.  

The Council applied to Welsh Government’s Foundational Economy Challenge Fund to help rectify this and put in place a pilot providing place-based, hyper-local support to small businesses. This included mentoring, test-trading opportunities, meantime space, training, small start-up grants and marketing support.

The pilot project, Foundational Economy Torfaen (FET), began in February 2020 from a new ‘work-hub’ in Pontypool Indoor Market. Despite the impact of Covid it has already contributed to visible positive change in the area.

FET Project Officer Alyson Jones believes that the only way that nurturing and catalyst support can be offered to these small ventures is by really seeking to listen and understand their issues. Her first step was to be proactive in phoning businesses to get a flavour of the community and the support that was needed.

This led to a range of support measure ranging from the ambitious and complex – such as exploring the development of a local procurement system – to the basic but absolutely essential – such as signposting sole traders to the right Council websites.

An early challenge that was identified was the high shop unit rents often commanded by out of town landlords with little motivation to lower prices or to split units into more affordable spaces. Whilst local landlords were more accommodating, FET also provided another solution through offering space in the indoor market at low-cost (£5/day) or, during COVID, no-cost rates.  This proved crucial in enabling several innovative start-ups, such as Woolfall’s 3D Printing, to get off the ground. 

The project has also provided bespoke, one-to-one mentoring to help businesses navigate systems and processes and to build the confidence and capacity to grow.

From support with accessing finance or sourcing local accountants to provide free consultations; to help with business plans, furlough or diversification in response to Covid, FET has sought to provide a tailored approach for each beneficiary. Focussed on ‘making the service work for people’, this has included phone calls to those who are digitally excluded and mentoring at a distance for those who cannot afford to travel or are self-isolating.

A huge range of social media events on marketing, local procurement and Business Doctor sessions have also been organised.

One beneficiary of FET support is High Street Fitness, a community interest well-being and fitness organisation. Set up by a group of qualified trainers and a doctor, it provides a low-cost gym to the community (discounts for those out of work) as well as mental health support and a training and qualifications programme.

FET supported High Street Fitness with start-up mentoring, working with Social Business Wales to provide specific, targeted support in developing a social business.  FET further assisted in financial solutions necessary to fund setup, including finding them space in a unit New Look had recently vacated, overcoming potential challenges with the Local Development Plan which was focussed on retail, and linking the owners up with the Local Education Authority and the NHS, allowing them to take social prescriptions. High Street Fitness is now able to provide a much-needed community resource in the centre of town and is looking to develop a full NVQ scheme that could support more foundational economy skills and jobs in the area in future.

With an eye on this broader picture, FET has also worked with local anchor organisations to help develop local supply chains and explore local procurement, particularly in areas such as decarbonisation where future need is guaranteed.

Work with RSL Bron Afon identified skills gaps as a key issue and FET is now working with the University of South Wales to explore how these could be filled to enable local manufacture of solar panels and heat pumps.   

13 months in to the project, Alyson – FET’s sole dedicated member of staff –  has spoken to over 375 local businesses and worked with a wide range of cross-sector partners. Alyson believes it is the project’s hyper-local, human approach that is the root of its success.

You have to build up relationships and trust with people, you have to become a trusted adviser. It is also not enough to provide support at a national level if local business does not have the confidence or knowhow to access it.” she explains.

Providing this level of human contact – Alyson also phones business regularly just to check in, whether or not the business has flagged they need support – demands enormous dedication and can exert an emotional toll.

One example was hearing from a sole trader who had set up a mobile vehicle-repair business in 2019 to ‘take herself off Universal Credit and make a better life for herself and her children’. As a non VAT- registered start-up without premises, she fell through the gaps in Covid-related support and was left with the stark choice of asking Alyson ‘Do I feed my children or pay my supplier?’

This experience was shared and escalated up through the Council to Welsh Government, adding to the calls for micro-businesses – the lifeblood of Pontypool and many other towns in the county – to not be forgotten in the Covid response.  This trader eventually received support with FET’s help some 3 months after making initial contact.

This example highlights another crucial, intermediary role played by such projects in supporting local livelihoods and the families that depend on them. For Alyson, this – and seeing the ‘massive difference that FET has made’ –  has been the most rewarding aspect of being part of the Challenge Fund community.

The feedback from local business has been amazing – people are so appreciative they have someone physically there they can speak to and who they can get to know.” Alyson explains. It seems the local person is key, the human element providing confidence which a website cannot.

For more information, please see Foundational Economy Torfaen’s social media channels:




Torfaen Council: Supporting the foundations Read More »

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