Meet the Buyer Workshop

On Tuesday 23rd February, we’ll be hosting a workshop with Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council. This will be a chance for connectors to meet the council’s Procurement Team and take part in a Q&A session. 

For any businesses wanting to build relationships with the council and keep an eye on upcoming work, this is an invaluable opportunity. 

If you’d like to take part, please email louise@practicesolutions-ltd.co.uk by Monday 20thFebruary. 

How to Make the Most of Sell2Wales

Between January and March 2021, Connect4SuccessRCT is holding a series of training and engagement events for our members. The first session will be a How to Make the Most of Sell2Wales Masterclass on 26 January, from 12.30-14.00.

The session will include information on:

  • How accessing Sell2Wales can help your business
  • How to improve your company’s profile
  • What’s come up from the public sector buyers
  • How to improve your chances of winning tenders

We’ll also have a procurement officer from a local public sector organisation attending, who will take questions on what local companies can do to improve their chances of securing contracts.

If you’d like to attend this session, use the sign up form below by midday Monday 25 January. We’ll send over the meeting link and all the information needed to join.

Masterclass sign up

How to support your community through collaboration

One of the driving ideas behind Connect4SuccessRCT is how local businesses can collaborate to improve their community. A great example of this is Play It Again Sport, a social enterprise in Rhondda Cynon Taf , who work alongside the Too Good to Waste charity to make sport more accessible. We spoke to Enterprise Manager Natasha Burnell on how their relationship works:

Play It Again Sport was founded in 2016 by Steffan Rees, a karate instructor from Ynyshir, Rhondda.  He knew children weren’t attending his (or other sports) classes due to the financial costs of the kit required. He also knew that many, many people have sports kit and equipment gathering dust at the back of their wardrobes: outgrown, unwanted or simply not used any more.  

There was the solution to the problem: take donations of no longer needed sportswear and sell it at an affordable price for everyone.

Four years later and Play It Again Sport is now operating out of Too Good to Waste in Ynyshir, where white goods, furniture and bric a brac are donated, diverted from landfill, sold and given a second lease of life.

The relationship between Play It Again Sport and Too Good To Waste works symbiotically: the donated washing machines and driers need to be tested rigorously, whilst washing the sports clothing which has been donated to Play It Again Sport.  

The result? Safe washing machines and clean clothes.

As a social enterprise, Play It Again Sport would be unable to afford a commercial space to sell from. Working with Too Good To Waste enables a perfect space while providing product diversity to customers.

Our objective is to remove barriers to participation in sport, whether running, football, gymnastics or whatever it is that gets your heart beating! Sport is so important, not only for physical health, but also mental health and wellbeing. It provides opportunities to alleviate loneliness and social isolation for people of all ages.

We rely on donations from local people and businesses of items that are no longer required. We’ve gratefully received water-damaged stock from Cardiff City Football Club, sample items from Quatro gymnastics, team kits from Cambrian, and more. These items would have ended up in landfill, or shipped over-seas as ‘Cash for Clothes’ (increasing carbon footprint and damaging local textile industries). By diverting this stock to Play It Again Sport, it not only benefits the environment, but supports the foundational economy as well.

We have donation bins in all RCT leisure centres, in Cwmbran & Pontypool leisure centres, and also at Sport Wales HQ in Cardiff. Please visit our website http://www.playitagainsport.wales/ for more information and to find our contact details. 

What opportunities are available with housing associations?

Written from an interview with Steven Cranston,
Foundational Economy Lead at United Welsh Housing Association

As a housing association, we require a wide range of services, but not everyone knows what’s available.

We own a lot of housing stock, so the primary areas are planned and reactive maintenance services: planned is any work we know needs doing in the next five years; and reactive is any new work that needs dealing with immediately. 

But people might now know that we also have a lot of smaller contracts available, including communications, stationary, clothing, design services and filmmaking. These are all important to the work of United Welsh.

Working with companies that share our values

One of our biggest contracts is for food services. We recently opened two developments, each which needed a restaurant providing up to 100 meals a day for seven days a week, 365 days a year. 

When researching what kind of business we wanted to partner with, we visited some schemes in England and we weren’t impressed by what we found. Although some of the restaurants looked good, it was either frozen microwave meals or poor quality, old fashioned food. Some residents were actually malnourished – the food was there, but they didn’t want to eat it. 

So we asked how we could do this differently. Who did we know that provides food services and shares our values?

We found a partner in Vision 21, a Cardiff-based social enterprise who provide a range of services around learning disabilities. We visited their Chief Executive Barry Shires at Sbectrwm, and he showed us around their kitchen. He explained how they approached food, the community feel of the venue, and we were impressed by what we saw.

Vision 21 are now the restaurant provider for both schemes, and it’s been a great opportunity to work with a social enterprise.

Creating a sustainable future

All housing associations in Wales are being set tough targets to de-carbonise our homes within a ten-year cycle. This means changing the insulation and potentially turning to renewable energy.

We have a partnership with all four housing associations in Blaenau Gwent (TaiCalon, United Welsh, Melin Homes and Link Cymru), so we’ve decided to run a pilot to retrofit our homes ready for the de-carbonisation deadline.

This is an exciting opportunity to build relationships with local businesses that either are already retrofitting homes, or interested in moving into this area in the future. We’re starting conversations now, and supporting businesses so they’re ready when contracts become available.

Piloting is absolute common sense, but we believe it doesn’t happen anywhere near enough. We’re identifying around 50 properties each, so about 200 across Blaenau Gwent, with a mixture of properties and locations. For example, we may choose homes built after 1990 with a cavity insulation, while others may choose flats built in the 60s, or pre-war terraced houses.

By working together with the different housing associations, local authority, and local businesses, we’re saving ourselves so much time and money! Usually, you’d just get stuck in and make expensive mistakes. This way, we can share our learning and all benefit.

And it’s not just the housing associations that will benefit. In ten years’ time, there will probably be more incentives for owner-occupiers and private landlords to de-carbonise their homes too. By working with local businesses now, we’re ensuring those companies and skills are here in Blaenau Gwent for the future.

To find out more about how United Welsh are making a difference in their community, you can read Steve’s first blog

How housing associations in Blaenau Gwent make a difference in their community

Written from an interview with Steve Cranston
Foundational Economy Lead at United Welsh Housing Association

In 2017, all four housing associations in Blaenau Gwent (Tai Calon, United Welsh, Melin Homes and Link Cymru) formed a partnership to strengthen our local economy. Between us, we own around 20% of all homes in the county. This is a large physical footprint, but we also employ a lot of people, have large supply chains, and provide many services beyond housing. Together, we can play a significant role in the prosperity and wellbeing of our community.

The Problem

It all began back in June 2017; the Welsh Government had just announced it would not financially back Circuit of Wales, the proposed race track in Blaenau Gwent that would seemingly change the fortunes of the area.

This bad news came the same day that foundationaleconomy.com and CREW (Centre for Regeneration Excellence in Wales) launched the What Wales Can Do report. By studying the local economy in Swansea Bay, they found that multi-million-pound investments (like Circuit of Wales) create no more than 5% of jobs in the area – and you can be pretty sure that very few housing association tenants would be in that 5%.

These investments were compared to Swansea Bay’s foundational economy, which is all the stuff you need to live a good life: health, education, wellbeing, housing, social care, food, retail, infrastructure and so on. Here, they found that over 40% of jobs in the area were directly connected to the foundational economy. 

So, this got us in Blaenau Gwent thinking – Circuit of Wales isn’t happening, and even if it did, it wouldn’t have delivered the regeneration it promised. What next? How can we, as housing associations, make a real difference to our local economy?

The Solution

We came together to discuss what areas were important to us, and identified strong, local supply chains as a key point for collaboration. We want to be procuring more services from local businesses. 

At the moment, there are companies in Blaenau Gwent making door frames and windows, and exporting them to the Midlands, while driving past companies from the Midlands coming to install windows in Blaenau Gwent. That’s clearly bonkers!

In the past, we’ve focused too much on value for money over locality and reliability. But this recent crisis has highlighted how long supply chains carry more risk and potentially higher costs. By having a supplier just around the corner, it’s easier for them to fulfil their services, and they have a greater investment in the community. If they’re on the other side of the world, we’re just another number to them.

We also believe we can’t be decent landlords if there’s poverty all around us. By supporting local businesses, we’re keeping the money in Blaenau Gwent. In-work poverty is one of the biggest challenges our tenants face; some people are holding down three jobs just to scrape an existence. That’s not right. By investing in local supply chains, we can provide decent, fair-paying work for our community.

The Measures of Success

The main measure of success for us is hard cash – how much more money are we putting into local businesses? This is important, because this money goes into the pockets of local employees, and most importantly, our tenants.

The second measure is the quality of our relationships with businesses. Are these healthy partnerships that enable both sides to develop and play to their strengths? We want to move away from transactional, one-off deals and towards long-term relationships.

We’re also committed in the notion of fair work. Unfortunately, some of the foundational economy sectors in Blaenau Gwent are characterised by insecurity and poor terms and conditions. We want to be raising a fair work agenda in Blaenau Gwent, and get companies signed up to a fair work charter.

Finally, looking forward, we want to get more local businesses in a position to tender for work. Traditionally, the turn around time for our tenders means many businesses aren’t ready to apply. We want to support local businesses by removing those barriers and nurturing our relationships so they’re able to take advantage of future opportunities.

The Future

We believe this collaboration between housing associations can make a real difference. We already have relationships with other public organisations such as the local authority, health board, police and more. By working together and using our existing resources, we can make significant changes to the community that we support.

To find out more about the opportunities available to local businesses, you can read Steve’s second blog

How Hensol Castle Distillery thrived by adapting to changing demands

Hensol Castle Distillery in the Vale of Glamorgan was due to open the doors of its gin-making visitor centre in March this year. The family-run distillery, based in the dungeon of the historic Hensol Castle, began trading its own blend of gins in August 2019 to retailers, and was on the verge of becoming one of the first distilleries in South Wales to invite the public behind the scenes. That was until the Covid-19 pandemic forced it and many thousands of businesses across the globe to temporarily cease operations.

Managing Director, Andy Mallows said the company was faced with the decision to either furlough the factory, or to respond positively to the crisis by drastically changing its product line to make much needed hand-sanitiser for frontline workers. The company’s strong sense of social responsibility and its close-knit management team meant they were able to quickly decide on the latter course and began producing hand sanitizer to clients nationwide.

“My son and I set about opening up a new supply chain,” explained Andy. “It was one of the hardest things we’ve done, but we persevered and succeeded in doing. Within two weeks we started producing sanitiser. 

“Initially we wanted to source ingredients locally, but our aim was to make the hand-sanitizers as accessible as possible to public services so we had to go further afield within the UK to achieve the right volume and costs.”

Impact

90,000L

hand sanitiser produced per week

150,000

100ml bottles per week, to clients including the Met Police

3900%

increase in impressions on social media due to raise profile

Utilizing Local Resources

With contracts coming in to supply hand-sanitizer to large organisations including the Welsh Parliament, the MET Police, Transport for Wales, the Vale Hotel, John Lewis, local authorities and health boards, the company found they were unable to cope with the high demand for product. Using their connections to the local high school, they enlisted the help of several teachers who were not working due to the lockdown to fulfil the large orders.  

Since then, the distillery has gone on to create more than 12 additional jobs, employing high school students aged 17-18 to continue to help meet the demand. This employment has given the teenagers opportunities to stay occupied through this unsettling period and has allowed them to make some earnings for their lives post-lockdown.

“We’ve worked 16-hour days, seven days a week for the last six weeks,” said Andy. “But we’ve got on and done it because people need it on the frontline.

“What we’ve learned is to be agile and flexible in our approach. When adversity comes, think creatively and openly about how you can deploy and repurpose yourself. There’s always opportunity, you just have to find it; and being a small, tight-knit team enables us to react nimbly to changes in the marketplace.”

The Result

Though there have been some significant costs incurred as a result of adapting the business (such as the need to service the distillery equipment which has become disrupted by producing sanitiser), the company has also seen real benefits to the short-term changes it’s made. 

By turning its attention to manufacturing a product that has been in such critical demand, the company has raised its profile nationally, and consequently increased demand for its gins and liquors. The rate of sale for its gins currently on the market has increased, and the distillery now has 6-8 weeks of full production orders waiting for when it returns to gin-making in the near future. 

The company isn’t taking for granted the goodwill it’s created as a result of working to support frontline workers, and plans to ensure this spirit of social responsibility feeds into the company’s ethos when distilling spirits of the gin variety become its main focus once again.