In 2019, Cynnal Cymru, in partnership with Wales Co-operative Centre, won funding from the Co-op Foundation to take six community-led environmental organisations in Wales on a development journey. The aim was to deliver a bespoke programme of capacity-building support to help enhance the engagement, governance, business planning, income generation and other skills needed to sustain a successful community venture.
The six organisations that joined the programme were:
Each received a root and branch review of their skills and development needs. These identified common challenges around things like governance structures and resisting mission-drift amid pressure to generate income.
These insights were used to create a tailored 12 month programme of development support, complemented by virtual gatherings to share learning and experience. Sessions ranged from covering the basics – Financial Planning and Record-keeping – to the exploratory and aspirational – Rethinking Income Streams and Enterprising Leadership. Other topics included marketing, safeguarding, strengths mapping and business planning.
In order to maximise the benefits of the programme, each of the six ‘core beneficiaries’ were invited to bring along there other local community environmental partners to training and networking sessions. As a result, 15 other organisations were able to share in these capacity-building sessions with 102 training places being taken up by 40 staff members, councillors, project volunteers and trustees.
Although almost all of the programme had been expected to be face-to-face pre-Covid, inevitably the majority of the training, peer-learning and networking activities moved online. Some project visits and Open Days – the most eagerly-anticipated aspects of the Sylfaen programme – did take place however towards the end of the project.
Whilst feedback about the whole programme has been positive, The response to these visits has been the most inspirational, highlighting the importance of connecting environmental visionaries with others striving for similar aims and experiencing similar barriers.
“Thank you, Cynnal Cymru. I think it is a truly worthwhile project and one that I feel needs to continue.” Robbie Bowman, Coed Dylan
For these organisations, Sylfaen provided not only “..a renewed faith in humanity” (Melissa Dhillon, Llyn Parc Mawr Community Woodland) but “.. a sense that we are part of a larger group” which makes “travelling this, sometimes lonely, road a nicer experience.” (Robbie Bowman, Coed Dylan)
This joining-up of minds and actions is something that Cynnal Cymru routinely enables – whether it’s through our awards, newsletters, summits or networking events. This is because, as neatly summed up by another participant, “There are many people doing amazing things, often in isolation.”
Breaking new ground, undertaking pioneering projects, or even struggling to maintain tried and tested methods in the face of austerity can be daunting. Bringing people together, not only to share ideas but to remind them that they are not alone, generates a tremendous energy and refreshes the determination to continue. Cynnal Cymru has been delighted to be a part of the Sylfaen programme because, as another participant shares, it is initiatives like this that boost not only individual projects but progress towards sustainability at a national scale.
“One of the best aspects of the Sylfaen project is finding out about other projects across Wales that are contributing to sustainable development and meeting the people who are behind them.
If there is to be a greater movement across Wales towards sustainability, it is important that initiatives like Sylfaen continue to facilitate this bringing together of people … to work collaboratively towards a sustainable future.”Mara Morris, Denmark Farm
You can read more reflections about the Sylfaen project in the Resources section below.