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.