Case Study

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.”

ELITE Paper Solutions: Building bridges between the public sector and social enterprise

ELITE Paper Solutions is a social enterprise based in Merthyr Tydfil, specialising in document management storage and data shredding.  

As illustrated by its acronym – Equality Linked Into Training and Employment – ELITE aims to provide a fully inclusive workplace to support those traditionally furthest from the labour market, for example due to disability, health conditions or long-term unemployment, to gain skills and jobs. 

ELITE received a Challenge Fund grant to further develop its model to a point where it could deliver larger-scale contracts, which would in turn support more jobs, skills and volunteering opportunities. Part of this included influencing public sector stakeholders to change their procurement practices to allow them to place more contracts with social enterprises. 

The grant was invested in capital and revenue items to grow the team and build organisational capacity. This included an Employment Advisor to work with referral agencies and other support bodies to help individuals access and progress through ELITE’s training and work opportunities. 

These investments not only helped ELITE win 3 large public sector contracts but enabled it to respond quickly to the changing needs of its customers brought about by the Covid pandemic, increasing its revenue by £90,000 compared with the previous year. 

For example, one contract due to start on the cusp of lockdown increased its receptacles order by one third due to a pivot in ways of working which produced far more paper waste than first planned for. With its additional capacity ELITE was able to supply the extra collection bins required. 

At the other end of the spectrum, the move for many organisations away from the office environment, has led to a surge in demand for physical information to be made available online. The rapid rise in uptake of its confidential scanning services has allowed ELITE to hire nine new members of staff to assist its scanning section. 

ELITE is also proud to have increased other contracts, including for the NHS, in response to increased demand for the archive storage service that it provides, to safely store important records. 

Alongside its increasing commercial success, the grant has enabled ELITE to further develop its core activity of supporting those traditionally excluded from skills and work opportunities. Since 2015, the social enterprise section of the Charity, has worked with over 250 people, with a disability or disadvantage and believes that there is a job for everyone, regardless of their support need. 

As an example, ELITE CEO Andrea Wayman says, “Our scanning section is a fantastic place for people who are high functioning on the autistic spectrum, due to the need for attention to detail, supporting them to develop their social skills, which may have been a barrier to employment in the past. Their development has created a tremendous team.” 

In this regard, the Challenge Fund project also serves as a demonstrator of the role that social enterprises can play in the foundational economy. Andrea believes that the ELITE model can be adopted by any workplace, including larger SMEs and the Public Sector, to enable more diverse workforces, aid local economies and increase understanding of the contributions that can be made by people who are often overlooked.  

To support Challenge Fund grantees, Welsh Government also operates a community of practice to bring projects together to share learning and challenges. Andrea believes this has been a  

huge benefit for relationship building that has led to multiple new referrals as well as a new client. This has also been an opportunity for ELITE to speak as ‘the voice of social purchasing’ and positively inform and influence those who sit on the purchasing side of procurement. 

Speaking about the Community of Practice, Andrea shares, “I didn’t realise the bonus that the communities of practice would bring to us. I just thought it was something that had been thought about afterwards, whereas it’s been as important to us as having the grant itself.” 

As ELITE looks forward, its goals are to continue growing and promoting its model. This includes gaining more opportunities within the public sector – and paving the way for other social enterprises to follow suit. 

Simply Do Ideas: Helping Wales lead the way in public sector innovation

Simply Do Ideas is an SME based in south Wales. Its purpose is to enable large organisations to crowdsource ideas to solve strategic organisational challenges. A key tool is its award-winning digital platform, an end-to-end innovation workflow which makes the process of managing innovation quicker, easier and more effective. It does this by enabling organisations to shape and share live, media-rich briefs in a secure portal designed to capture focused solutions from employees or external suppliers. This is known as challenge-led innovation. 

>> How Simply Do Works << 

The company recognized that the time, cost and risk typically associated with innovation are the three key barriers for most public sector organisations when developing creative and innovative solutions to their problems. Confident that their model could help, the company put forward a proposal to test their approach in the context of the social and economic challenges facing public bodies and communities in the South Wales Valleys. 

A Challenge Fund grant was awarded to build upon their earlier work in policing, advanced manufacturing and financial services to connect foundational economy challenges with crowd-sourced entrepreneurial solutions from two key stakeholder groups; the first, local colleges and universities and the second, local SMEs. 

The project was delivered in two distinct phases: 

Phase one aimed to address a shared problem between industry, education providers and their students. Time poor, risk averse employers need new ideas to survive and thrive, whilst students need access to ‘real-world’ experiences to be ready for the world of work. In the middle, further and higher education providers are tasked with heavy employability targets and stretching curriculum outcomes. 

During this phase, students from 8 colleges and universities in and around the south Wales Valleys were presented with live briefs and supported to generate innovative solutions to key marketplace challenges. The briefs came from organisations across foundational economy sectors, including those in hospitality, transport, housing and construction. 

More than 400 students engaged in these challenges, enabling the client organisations to capture early-stage ideas that could then be tested in the marketplace. At the same time, the students gained essential experience of working on a real-time business brief, something not otherwise easily accessible to them. 

As Simply Do Ideas moved into phase two of the pilot, the company turned its focus to supplier-led innovation, which encourages organisations to work with the expertise in their supplier network in order to bring new and existing products and services to market faster. In Wales the supplier network is predominantly SMEs and the company was confident that its expertise could be harnessed to help bridge the gap to the public sector. 

Choosing to focus on the healthcare sector, the company partnered with Life Sciences Hub Wales, which aims to help make Wales the place of choice for health, care and wellbeing innovation. 

Whilst working together, the need for PPE rocketed due to the coronavirus pandemic and demand on manufacturers reaching an all-time high. A rigorous procurement process put extra pressure on the Life Sciences Hub team, who were manually sifting and sorting through an unprecedented number of product and service offers from industry in order to procure the necessary supplies. 

This was the perfect opportunity for Simply Do to deploy its digital product, allowing it to co-create a customised workflow that, through automation, significantly increased the speed by which diverse providers and products could be sourced, qualified and purchased whilst maintaining a robust procurement process. 

Not only did this solve a huge time barrier for Life Sciences Hub in sourcing appropriate products but it saved time for potential suppliers who could communicate their offer more quickly and easily via the purpose-built innovation portal. Moreover, innovative new suppliers, products and services were surfaced through this streamlined, challenge-led process that may otherwise not have been. 

The output was impressive, with more than £6million of PPE products procured by the NHS from suppliers engaged on Simply Do, resulting in an approximate GVA to the Welsh economy of £34 million. NHS Shared Services also became a net-contributor of PPE to the broader, UK-Wide effort to secure PPE during the pandemic. 

In total, the Challenge Fund has enabled Simply Do Ideas to engage with more than 1,600 SMEs generating almost 1,800 ideas in response to 13 externally-sourced challenges relevant to suppliers and commissioners in the foundational economy. The organisation’s Senior Business Manager, Joseph Murphy, believes that this demonstrates that challenge-led innovation has a real contribution to make in terms of progressing the way that procurement is done in Wales. 

 “There’s an opportunity here for Wales to be a global leader. Turning our size to our advantage, we can use our close proximity to one-another, our resources and public policy to ensure that we are at the cutting-edge when it comes to solving some of the biggest challenges of our time,”

Having concluded its Challenge Fund project with resounding evidence that this model works within the public – as well as private – sector space, Simply Do Ideas is looking ahead towards a new investment stage. Its aim is to continue working creatively, between and across sectors, to further cascade the benefits of challenge-led innovation. 

Vale of Glamorgan Council: Changing public procurement

With the help of Welsh Government’s Foundational Economy Challenge Fund, Vale of Glamorgan Council is changing how they procure to benefit the foundational economy.

Procurement is where an organisation acquires goods, services or works from an external source. Often it uses competitive bidding. Very simply it is the shopping an organisation does to deliver its aims and objectives.

The Council is the biggest spender in the Vale, spending £186 million per annum. Council staff believe they have a responsibility with that spend to ensure they deliver the best value to the area including skills, health, well-being, environmental benefits and employment.

When the Welsh Government’s Foundational Economy Challenge Fund was launched, the Council saw an opportunity to strengthen their procurement practices to help meet these aims, including better support for SMEs (small and medium size enterprises) which are recognised as the ‘lifeblood of the area’.

Funding was awarded for a project that aimed to grow local SMEs and to increase the number of these delivering Council contracts. Maddy Sims, who leads the Council’s foundational economy work, realised that this would also require changing unhelpful perceptions that the Council’s procurement was a closed rather than open process.

Recognising that dialogue was crucial, the project focused on listening to local businesses, the use of data and trying to ‘humanise’ the process of bidding for Council contracts so that more SMEs could benefit.

SMEs often don’t have guaranteed income at the end of the month. Because of this, Maddy explains, it’s important to remove barriers to the bidding process as businesses cannot afford to be constantly bidding for contracts that do not materialise.

Through the Council’s conversations with local SMEs they found that many faced frustrating – though easily rectifiable – issues that prevented them from winning Council contracts. Many had not heard of Sell2Wales (an initiative from the Welsh Government helping SMEs work successfully with the public sector) whilst others had various small but disheartening problems – such as not having codes set up correctly.

Central to resolving these issues has been a proactive approach to building relationships with local business and asking ‘what can we do to help you work with us?’ rather than just assuming that SMEs would approach the Council for information or advice.

The Fund has allowed the Council to engage with more than 1,000 businesses since June 2020 through events with Business Wales, Sell2Wales and others to help understand and resolve tendering problems.

The Council’s new conversational approach also works to take away the ‘waste of time factor’ and the overwhelming feeling many SMEs currently face when tendering. Maddy explains that these factors not only lead to some SMEs not bidding, but also rushing bids, making them less likely to succeed.

To help encourage and reassure local SMEs therefore, the Council are making case study films featuring some of the local businesses they’ve worked with, including a story of one who, after gaining confidence in tendering through providing vending machines to the Council, went on to win a multi-million pound contract with the NHS. 

An animation to make procurement look simpler and more exciting has also been commissioned and the Council has also increased the number of mailshots sent to businesses to grow awareness of the contracts available.

As a result of these efforts, 100 new local businesses have registered with Sell2Wales and the Council has taken other steps to make its contracts more accessible to SMEs – such as breaking up a large-scale contract into smaller ones that SMEs are more able to tender for.

Conversations with local businesses not only identified barriers to tendering and winning contracts but also allowed the Council to better understand the local supply chain and gaps in the market. This understanding is vital for the Council to support the local area with its procurement, for example potentially through a supply chain policy or proactive procurement to help stimulate activity in a supply chain void.

The project has also helped catalyse other new ways of working. The Council’s procurement is not centralised, and the procurement is devolved to different directorates. Currently, there is no centralised reporting about how much is spent locally which makes it difficult to measure the full impact of Council procurement on SMEs or the local foundational economy in general. The challenge here is the lack of data. The Challenge Fund project has highlighted this gap, which the Council recognises as a positive first step in overcoming and rectifying it.

An important learning point Maddy would like to convey to others doing similar work is simply to “put yourself in their (SMEs) shoes and consider what they’re going through”. She explains “it’s a lot of listening, talking and then finding out if you can change your processes to bring mutual benefit. Anybody looking to do this kind of project, talk to as many people as possible.”

Procurement is the main part of the Council’s spend and Maddy feels that the Challenge Fund project has really opened up the potential power of that spend to benefit the foundational economy. It has given the Council new insights into where they will go next, reshaping their procurement service, standardising it and measuring the locality of their spend in a more precise way.

Ultimately, the Council wants to support SMEs to deliver skills, jobs – and often many other benefits linked to a strong foundational economy. It also wants to give commissioners more confidence and awareness to spend with locality and value in mind.

This case study was compiled by Cynnal Cymru – Sustain Wales as part of supporting a community of practice of Challenge Fund projects sharing learning and collaboration.

Community Care Collaborative: Transforming Primary Care in Wrexham

The Community Care Collaborative (CCC) is a Community Interest Company that provides an innovative and integrated approach to healthcare in Wales.

Founded by Dr. Karen Sankey in 2018, CCC developed a very clear vision for primary care after realising that the current model was failing at several levels.

Through research and testing, it found that patients often visit a doctor with an issue that has a social or mental health basis, which it believes GPs are not equipped to deal with in the best way.

Added to this, it’s thought that the volume of patients that a GP is expected to see in a day on top of other duties such as medicines, makes it impossible to provide an adequate service to every single person.

The solution is a model which delivers “an alternative model of health, social care and wellbeing in which GPs (doctors) are able to focus on providing medical care, and where, through working collaboratively at a community level with other agencies and patients themselves, the social and emotional needs of patients are given equal priority to their medical needs”, as its mission statement shares.

“The Challenge Fund seemed to me to be very much about trying to do things differently and about taking a chance to really give something a go to find out whether it works or not.”

Before receiving a Challenge Fund grant, CCC had already secured contracts to trial this model at three GP practices in Wrexham and had been granted permission to take over its first practice in September 2019 with the second and third following in January and April 2020.

However, the Challenge Fund grant has been essential in enabling CCC to develop its ideas further and successfully set up and recruit in a vast number of different areas of health and social care over the last 12 months.

Alison Hill of Capacity Lab, who assisted in bringing the model to life said that, “The Challenge Fund seemed to me to be very much about trying to do things differently and about taking a chance to really give something a go to find out whether it works or not.”

Firstly, CCC recruited a permanent emotional wellbeing team which is present at all three practices and aims to provide a first point of contact for patients that are in need of wellbeing support directly after booking an appointment.

What commonly happens in these cases is patients are referred on to other mental health organisations and can bounce back, so a key focus of this team is to reduce onward referrals by providing services in-house such as support groups, medication reviews, memory assessments and psychotherapy.

The organisation has seen that utilising this model alone has seen onward referrals reduce by over 57% compared with the previous evaluation period (Apr-Sept 2019).

Not only does this mean that patients are being provided a more appropriate and immediate response, but the cost savings to other health and social care services are likely to be significant. A social impact evaluation of CCC’s Emotional Well-Being Team found that it had delivered social value worth more than £1million in its first 12 months to November 2020, representing a social return on investment of 6.42:1.

More important to those involved is that 33% of people supported within this model (who were asked for feedback), said that without support they may have taken their own lives, further demonstrating the positive impact that the model is having.

To support the referral process, CCC recognise that as first responders to calls, front desk staff play a vital role in the patient process so it invested in training to develop them into ‘Care Navigators’. People within this role now have the knowledge to respond to individual patient needs and signpost them towards the relevant team, rather than automatically referring them to a GP.

Due to the high level of demand during Covid-19 and the huge upheaval of a system that has been in place for years, the booking system is an area that CCC is still working to make as effective as possible through continuous testing and experimentation.

Alison says, “We tried eConsult (Lite), which didn’t work out so we changed it and adapted it…it’s improving, but that is something that we haven’t got right yet and we still need to work very much on.”

Despite the obstacles faced by the pandemic, CCC is really proud of its progress this year, although there are some areas where work still need to be done, especially in recruiting full time salaried GPs.

Although CCC has been able to employ some part time doctors, Alison explains that a huge obstacle primary care is currently facing is that many GPs are working as temporary doctors known as locums, which she says, “In terms of finances, it’s going to destroy primary care.”

As they move towards the goal of recruiting more full time GPs in 2021, the team is confident that this integrated model will prove attractive to GPs, as it gives them more opportunity to concentrate solely on medical needs and to patients as they will be able to access a much wider range of inhouse support.

As CCC looks towards the future, it will be concentrating its efforts on recruiting full time salaried GPs, and building partnerships from within the Welsh Government’s FECF Community of Practice, as well as other organisations that can help to replicate this model across Wales.

Public Health Wales and Orangebox save 134 tonnes of C02

Public Health Wales has embraced the three pillars of sustainability – environmental, economic and social sustainability and so this was incorporated in to the brief produced for furnishing the building. In order to achieve the retrofit PHW took a new and innovative approach to procuring office equipment, furnishings and flooring using as much reused and remanufactured equipment and products as possible.

As an organisation dedicated to improving public health and well-being, PHW felt that this should be central to activities, including procurement of goods and services, and the refit was identified as an opportunity to demonstrate this approach.

They already had a large number of quality furniture and fittings in their existing offices across Wales and it was felt that these items, with some cleaning, refurbishment and re-design, could be repurposed for use at the new office space in Cardiff Bay instead of being sent to landfill, and could be combined with other new or re-used items in a cohesive and functional style appropriate for the new office space.

It was also important that plans took in to account the sustainability challenges for the public sector in Wales including the Wellbeing of Future Generation Act 2015.

So PHW wanted to ensure the use of existing stock, including those which may need re-designed along with sourcing additional refurbished and pre-owned items. Sourcing of new items would only occur where absolutely necessary preferably using recycled content and eco design principles.

PHW took an innovative approach to finding the right supplier. A supplier day was arranged to brief potential suppliers who were given the opportunity to meet representatives from PHW and gain an understanding of the requirements. This new approach meant moving away from traditional procurement scoring where cost is usually given the greatest weighting to one where sustainability had the greater weighting taking up 70% of the scoring requirements.

The tender was awarded to a consortia made up of three companies, Rype, Greenstream and one of our premium members – Orangebox as their bid demonstrated the most sustainable approach.

The Outcome

The bulk of the furniture for the new office was either reused/re-manufactured from existing furniture or sourced from elsewhere. Many of these items had they not been reused would have been destined for landfill. In the refit 1,143 individual items were reused, these items were recovered and cleaned, in addition a further 1,270 pieces were re-manufactured (where parts are repaired, reconditioned, or replaced). Desk tops were repaired and chairs and soft furnishings being recovered with new fabrics. Around 2,563 items were used for the office refit overall with 45% of the items being re-used, 49% being re-made and only 6% of the items were brand new but encompassed sustainability credentials.

Our premium member Orangebox provided approximately 550 remanufactured office chairs for the project as part of their Remade programme. Orangebox Remade involves chairs that are near or past their warranty being returned to Orangebox and then collected by a local social enterprise, who remanufactures the chairs to as good as new condition. Each remanufactured chair saves 32kg of CO2, a 60% reduction in total compared to the new chair. 98% of parts are recyclable; components removed are either kept for reuse or returned to Orangebox’s locally based suppliers for reprocessing into new parts.

A mix of new and reused carpet tiles were used to carpet the offices floor areas. The flooring was designed to be accessible to all users with a number of the walkways designed with bespoke colour contrasts meaning that a greater percentage of carpet tiles needed to be sourced from new stock to meet the design needs. Although the ratio of recycled to new was lower than first anticipated the use of reused tiles, supplied and fitted by Greenstream, made a significant contribution to the project as it aligned closely  with PHW’s overarching aims and objectives of extended community benefits.

In total the project saved around 134 tonnes of C02 – the equivalent to traveling around 400,000 miles by car, or taking 41 cars of the road for an entire year.

Orangebox – is one of the UK’s largest office furniture manufacturers. Their in-house design team are committed to ensuring their growth comes from products and services that are as environmentally smart as they are commercially successful. This has included the design of the first office chair in Europe to be ‘Cradle to Cradle’ accredited, the set-up of an in-house recycling (take back) service and more recently, an Innovate UK supported project looking at adapting the business toward Circular Economy thinking. Looking forward their aim is to encourage their organisation, customers, distributors & suppliers to adopt a more holistic approach to product life-cycles and reduced environmental impacts.

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