Everyone’s Invited

Everyone’s Invited

Community is essential to human wellbeing. Real community can’t be designed from above. We have to do it ourselves. It’s about taking responsibility for doing things in your local area to build and sustain community. The instinct to be social animals can’t really be stifled. Community will always try to return.

Camp for Climate Action, Murton, Swansea (Pic: Climate and Community)

The cost of living crisis, rising energy prices, and supply chain issues may create a context where people are more likely to conserve materials, reuse items, share things, and create circular economies. So how do we build a sense of community around practical climate solutions?

From tomorrow, communities will come together for the Great Big Green Week, the UK’s biggest ever celebration of community action to tackle climate change and protect nature. And everyone’s invited! In this blog post we’ll look at some of the events during the week in South West Wales, where you will have the opportunity to learn new skills, reconnect with nature, and develop the circular economy. You can see details of some of the events here.

Throughout the week, Climate and Community will be hosting a Camp for Climate Action. They are setting up carbon negative food growing using woodchip as a growing substrate and biochar as a soil amendment. The growing area will be an alley cropping system, long beds and perennial beds where trees and shrubs are planted next to swales (shallow, broad and vegetated channels). The site is full of wildlife and needs work to lay hedges, control bracken, dig swales for water conservation.

The camp is open to any volunteers interested in working and learning new skills, eating together and talking with one another. Most of us have lost connection with the cycle of production of daily objects. By harvesting and processing natural materials, then making useful objects with them, you can experience the entire production process, with which comes a recognition of what it takes to make things and an appreciation of the value of resources.

You can learn how to scythe! Compared to machinery, you have no pollution, no fossil fuels, less embodied energy in the manufacturing process, a longer life, less noise and soil disturbance, and wildlife have more time to get out of the way! Scythes can be used in (almost) any weather. And with a good technique, it’s good physical exercise and can be meditative and peaceful.

You can learn to restore hedges! In the past hedges protected livestock from wolves and bears. Today they provide food for humans, food and shelter for wildlife, and blossom for pollinators. They store carbon and prevent soil erosion. In cities, hedges are also better than trees at combatting pollution, because their leaves are at exhaust level, rather than up in the canopy.

You’ll also have the opportunity to learn about tools and sharpening, basketry, spoon making, and field cooking.

How far could you go? Well you could build your own home! There are real savings from self-building, as natural materials can be obtained free or at very low cost. Simon Dale did just that, and it cost him £3,000. His beautiful earth sheltered roundhouse, Berllan Dawel, sits in nine acres of rewilded forest garden and a plant nursery, all powered by off grid hydro-electricity.

Berllan Dawel is part of the Lammas Ecovillage, which aims to demonstrate a thriving example of low impact development, pointing the way for the truly sustainable rural developments of the future. Residents explore alternative models for living on the land, broadly in line with the Welsh Government’s One Planet Development policy. The homes are private, but some residents will welcome visitors who come with an open mind to learn more about low impact sustainable living. During Great Big Green Week you will have the opportunity to visit Berllan Dawel, and Hafan y Coed, where Keith Burgess specialises in plants and growing furniture.

For many people, growing your own produce, building your own home, and living a low impact lifestyle is appealing, but daunting. Only sixty three One Planet Development applications were made between 2010 and 2021, of which thirty nine were approved. However, on the whole these developments, many of which are in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire, are over achieving in terms of their low impact objectives and have contributed to their communities through open days, tours and employment.

At any rate you don’t need a lot of space to grow your own produce. If you’ve got a wall, then you’ve got space for a vertical farm that can grow salad items and otherwise expensive herbs. You can pick (and donate) seeds at seed swap events. These events are important. It’s illegal to sell unusual seeds that are not on official national lists, so seed saving is a way of guaranteeing their survival.

And how about creating a community food garden?

The community of Monkton is no stranger to suffering and poverty. It’s in the lowest 5% in Britain in the index of multiple deprivation. But it’s in the top league for community power! At Dezza’s Cabin everyone skill shares at the weekly garden building club, whether it’s carpentry or cookery, healing, digging or food processing,. Recent learners teach onlookers. They are reclaiming a green future. If we want a world after fossil fuels this is where and how to start. To save the earth from being destroyed these young people will take the spirit of resilience and community shown by the gang of all ages and abilities, and none, building Parc Dezza, so that people might grow, eat and live.

Dezza’s Cabin was founded when a fourteen year old boy Dezza (Derek) hung himself at school. His mother founded Dezza’s Cabin within weeks. That was seven years ago. It now has shops and warehouses and a community centre. This is the community of Monkton’s first land claim. Many more young people have died, but a greater number have been saved by the actions of the Dezza’s Cabin volunteers.

And what else can we do to make local places work?

On September 27th, Dr Ben Reynolds, director of Urban Foundry, will share his expertise on twenty minute neighbourhoods. The goal is for cities and towns to be places that connect us to each other and what we need, where everyone can thrive without having to use a car, and quality of life is boosted for everyone. The idea is to ensure that it’s easy for people to meet most of their everyday needs by a short, convenient and pleasant twenty minute return walk. At a minimum everyday needs should include food, education, healthcare, financial services, employment, public open space, entertainment, a regular bus, tram or train service, walking and cycling infrastructure, and a mix of diverse housing types including genuinely affordable and social housing.

We’re passionate about repairing and reusing our everyday items. We believe that South West Wales must move away from our linear economy (make, use, dispose), closing the loop to conserve resources and ensure long term sustainability. A circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design. Because repairing and reusing means less waste is sent to landfill and we can all save money at the same time.

Repair cafes, run by The Environment Centre, The Stebonheath Centre, and the National Botanic Garden of Wales, will repair your bike, household items, gardening tools, clothes, jewellery, toys, ornaments, and even furniture.

There’s also a Zero Waste Scrap Store at The Stebonheath Centre. What have they got? Wool, ribbons, paint, material, ink, brushes, thread, papers, and lots more. It’s an Aladdin’s Cave of treasures for crafters and makers!

Fancy something more creative? Join Volcano Theatre’s Climate Change Action Community Arts Festival on September 24th, where there’ll be plenty of art, music and movement! You’ll have the opportunity to make a groovy belt, and a bug hotel from recycled items. You can also donate unwanted CDs to Beyond Recycling, which Smile Plastics turn into chopping boards, soap dishes, counter tops, and even furniture! They’re also looking for DVDs, batteries, corks, broken mobile phones, and wellies.

There’ll also be repair cafes and workshops, and opportunities to make better use of unwanted or seldom used items.

Swansea Library of Things is a new low cost borrowing initiative. Instead of buying a new item that ends up never being used again, members can pay a small fee to borrow it, use it and return it when they’re done with it!

Meanwhile, Matthew’s House will be collecting your unwanted good quality waterproof coats, trousers, socks and sleeping bags, and Swansea Underground Network’s Baby Bank will allow you to donate and receive baby items with no referral or paperwork.

And don’t forget, the XR Rebel Bus Tour comes to Swansea on September 28th. They plan to move about several locations talking to people, giving out leaflets and inviting them to a People’s Assembly at the National Waterfront Museum in the evening, where you can hear Ousmane Toure from Côte d’Ivoire talk about climate justice in West Africa.

Community is essential for human wellbeing. And everyone’s invited!

XR Rebels on the Bus Tour (Pic: XR Swansea)

Looking for support for your business?

Looking for support for your business?

Considering self-employment? Want to grow an existing business? Did you know there’s a range of support available for you?

So far ninety five grants have been awarded to pre-starts and new businesses (Pic: RODNAE Productions)

It’s not always easy to know what support is available for businesses. But if you’re in the Swansea area, Business Swansea could help you. Business Swansea is the new name for business support within Swansea Council.

Got a new business? Looking to start one? Business Swansea manages Start Up Grants. So far ninety five grants have been awarded to pre-starts and new businesses. You can get financial support of up to £1,000, with no requirement for match funding. This scheme is designed for you if your business is under two years old. And you can be in any sector, from dog grooming to high end manufacturing, and anything in between! The funding can be used for the equipment, as well as the training and consultancy, you may need when starting your new business.

And what if you’ve got a more established business? The Growth Grant came online earlier this year. This is the grant for you if you’re an established business that wants to grow. Funding is available up to £1,500, with a match funding requirement. There’s also a Green Innovation Grant, if your business is working towards net zero, and a Digital Development Grant if you want, for example, to improve your online visibility or undertake a digital marketing campaign.

Both the grant schemes will require you to produce a business plan and a cashflow forecast. Not sure how to do this? Don’t worry! Where appropriate, you can be signposted to support from Business Wales and/or Business in focus to help produce the documents you need.

And it’s not just grant schemes! Business Swansea also offers business support workshops, including a Start-Up Enterprise Club, which has engaged with over two hundred people. They also run “Power Hour” workshops, which have attracted around a hundred and fifty attendees. You can watch all the previous workshops here. The facilitators for the workshops come from local businesses, including Peter Lynn & Partners, Alan Brayley from AB Glass, Bevan Buckland, Urban Foundry, Purple Dog, DJM Solicitors, Real Inbound, and Copper Bay Digital.

And what if you’re unemployed? Business Swansea run an Introduction to Self Employment Course, which covers all elements of self-employment, including what the impact would be on your unemployment entitlements. The next course is coming up in November.

A key priority for Business Swansea is to collaborate with local stakeholders and partner organisations, to assist local businesses navigating the business support available. Part of this includes quarterly meetings with around twenty four business support organisations operating in Swansea. This means all partners know what other organisations are doing. It avoids duplication and ensures everyone is working together to signpost businesses to the right support.

Want to receive regular updates on the all various support and events for businesses across the country? You can sign up to the Business Swansea e-newsletter here!

Want further information on the grants? Please visit the Swansea Council website, or contact:

Business Swansea: business@swansea.gov.uk
Growth Grant: growthgrant@swansea.gov.uk
Start Up Grant: startupgrant@swansea.gov.uk

Want to attend a Business Swansea event? You can find details of their exciting upcoming events here!

Building the region

Building the region

At 4theRegion we’ve been very excited about the construction of Copr Bay. Phase one of this £135m project has brought Swansea an amazing new arena (where we hosted its first major conference!), a stunning new bridge, the first new park in the city centre since Victorian times, new apartments, and spaces for food and drink businesses.

Swansea Arena lit up for our Swansea City Centre Conference on March 17th 2022 (Pic: Adam Davies)

This has been a major boost for local workers and businesses. In fact, research has found the main growth driver for the Welsh construction sector is the £1bn worth of planned developments that will transform the centre of Swansea, which includes Copr Bay Phase One.

A report by Swansea Council and main contractor Buckingham Group found Copr Bay Phase One supported 8,000 person weeks of employment, apprenticeships and trainee placements. And it was good to see that 41.5% of supply chain spend stayed in the region, with 64% staying in Wales.

The development and construction sectors offer fantastic career opportunities, and we need to think about how we get more young people into the industry.

Why is that important?

A report by the Construction Industry Training Board has found, if Wales is to meet our projected growth prospects, we’ll need to recruit an extra 11,500 construction workers by 2026. If you, or someone you know, is interested in a career, the most in demand roles will be in bricklaying, the electrical trades, plumbing, heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

Regeneration is something we should all do together. So how do we ensure major projects are designed and delivered in a way that will provide long-term economic, social and environmental benefits for our region?

Some very exciting opportunities could come from the 20 year agreement Swansea Council recently confirmed with regeneration firm Urban Splash to transform the centre of Swansea with a series of £750m developments.

And last week, Urban Splash announced a joint venture with real estate developer Milligan to transform a 5.5 acre site in the area of St Mary’s Church. Early proposals include new office buildings, shared workspaces, apartments and an area for small creative businesses to make and sell their products.

Other ideas could include transforming the Civic Centre site into a mixed use destination, anchored by the beach, with new homes and a leisure and hospitality focus, and the residential led regeneration of a site in St Thomas featuring a new terraced walk providing direct access to the river for the first time in over 150 years.

And what other development projects could be coming to the region? We’ve taken a look at just a few of them.

Could a building feed us?

Bouygues UK have now started work on 71/72 Kingsway, which will include an urban farm style greenhouse set over four floors. Plants and vegetables will be grown in water and fed by waste pumped from fish tanks at the bottom of the building! This ‘living building’ will include green walls and green roofs, an educational facility, retail, offices, a landscaped courtyard, rooftop solar panels, battery storage and gardens. Set to accommodate 600 workers, 71/72 Kingsway will be made up of the former Woolworths and a new 13 storey structure. Pobl Group will manage 50 affordable apartments forming part of the scheme.

What about somewhere to spend quality time and relax?

Swansea’s Castle Square was once much greener than it is now, and is set to return to its former glory. There will be more plants, lawned areas and trees, as well two green roofed commercial units, and a water jet feature which can be switched on or off for different events at different times.

How can old buildings be put back into use?

Old theatres and cinemas, which are have lain empty for years, are being given new life as spaces for local businesses and communities. Swansea’s Albert Hall and Port Talbot’s iconic Plaza building will also once again be entertainment venues, while Swansea’s Palace Theatre will become a home for tech, start-up and creative businesses, with workspaces for over 130 people.

How Swansea’s new city centre community hub could look (Pic: Austin-Smith:Lord Ltd)

Oxford Street’s former BHS/What! building will become the new central location for Swansea’s main library and key council services, such as housing, benefits, employability, lifelong learning, and archives. Designers say the appearance of the structure, built in the 1950s, will have an impact appropriate to a public building, with translucent cladding backlit as a beacon to attract visitors.

It’s hoped Carmarthen’s former Debenhams will also be transformed into a hub to deliver a range of health, wellbeing, learning and cultural services. It could also become home for some of Carmarthenshire’s museum collections, an exhibition space, and a welcome point for visitors to the town.

How can a building generate its own power?

That’s happening with the Bay Technology Centre! The 25,000 square foot office and laboratory space in Baglan Energy Park uses innovative design and materials, including specialist photovoltaic panels made to look like cladding, to provide a sustainable building that’s energy positive. The design also means the ‘thermal mass’ of exposed precast floor slabs can store and transfer heat from the building, providing a cost effective heating solution. The plan is to convert excess energy into hydrogen at the Hydrogen Centre nearby.

The Blue Eden project will go even further than that! A 9.5km tidal lagoon will provide the energy for a manufacturing plant, a battery facility, a floating solar array, a data centre, residential waterfront homes for 5,000 people, and approximately 150 floating eco-homes in Swansea waterfront. Blue Eden will create over 2,500 permanent jobs, support a further 16,000 jobs across the UK, and create additional jobs during its construction.

The pandemic has changed the way people think about their living space, community areas, and the importance of work-life balance. So how could we be living differently?

St Modwen wants to expand the Coed Darcy neighbourhood in Llandarcy, Neath. The huge site, a former oil refinery, is set to be home to more than 1,800 new homes, a school and shops. It will be an ‘innovative and sustainable new 15 minute neighbourhood’, where everything that’s important would be within a 15 minute walk or bike ride.

What about our health and wellbeing?

The first phase of the £199m wellness and life science village in Llanelli has been given the go ahead. Based at Delta Lakes, this will feature a new leisure centre, hydrotherapy pool, clinical and research space, and education and business space. The project will eventually feature four zones, including assisted living accommodation and clinical recovery space, spread over 83 acres. The contract with Bouygues UK included ‘the highest level of community benefits ever prescribed’, including targets for sourcing through local suppliers. It’s hoped Pentre Awel will create just over 1,800 jobs when completed.

What about innovation?

University of Wales Trinity Saint David’s £9.3m Innovation Matrix will be home to small but growing businesses. It’ll be a digital space, but with a manufacturing centre, testing laboratories and 3D printing facilities in UWSTD’s IQ building next door. The roof would feature solar panels, and the environmentally friendly building wouldn’t require any gas.

What about transport?

The Welsh Government’s flagship £200m Global Centre of Rail Excellence (GCRE) will create a hub for rolling stock and infrastructure testing, innovation, storage and maintenance at the site of the former Nant Helen opencast mine and Onllwyn coal washery at the head of the Dulais and Tawe Valleys, straddling the border between Neath Port Talbot and Powys.

It’s expected to create over 100 direct jobs, and could create many more as academic and industrial partners are attracted to the site. Featuring the UK’s first net zero railway, GCRE will include the first comprehensive rail testing and innovation facility of its kind in the world, with capacity and capabilities for rigorous testing of rolling stock, infrastructure, and integrated systems from prototype to implementation.

And what about tourism?

The steel framework of the new Hafod-Morfa Copperworks clock tower is put in place (Pic: Swansea Council)

The Hafod-Morfa Copperworks were once the largest copperworks in the world. After lying derelict for years, work started to transform it into a new visitor attraction for Penderyn Whisky. Much of the new visitor centre is now up. The roof of the powerhouse, which will include an on-site distillery, is well advanced. And contractors John Weaver will recreate the powerhouse’s original clock tower. Plans also include a shop, tasting bar, exhibition space, offices and VIP bar in the fully refurbished grade two listed building.

Regeneration is something we should all do together. We need to ensure major projects are designed and delivered in a way that will provide long-term economic, social and environmental benefits for our region.

4theRegion are hosting our next Construction & Development Sector Forum on July 12th. Meet businesses and organisations from your sector to talk about opportunities to collaborate for the greater good in South West Wales. Hear from 4theRegion members and partners about their work in the region, their social purpose, and their ambitions for the future, emerging opportunities to collaborate and support each other across South West Wales! You can register your free place here.

A New App To Promote Local Suppliers

A New App To Promote Local Suppliers

A new app has been created to promote local sourcing, and businesses are being encouraged to sign up ahead of its official launch later this month.

4theRegion has created the app to promote “buying regional”, which is one of our six impact areas.

“Our members know that procurement and local sourcing are at the heart of our mission at 4theRegion, which is why we are excited to be able to release this new tool for businesses and buyers in South West Wales. We really want to see major organisations spending their money with regional businesses, in order to maximise the social, economic and environmental benefits of that spend,” said Dawn Lyle, 4theRegion cofounder.

Businesses are now being encouraged to sign up to the app and list their products and services. It’s free to register, and the aim is to raise awareness of the wealth of local suppliers that exist across the region, becoming a useful directory for organisations committed to relocalising more of their spending.

Click here to register on the app on your phone or web browser – no download necessary.

“Local businesses are embedded in their communities, they create jobs and give back to local places in a whole range of positive ways – and by supporting local firms we can create a thriving regional economy that benefits everyone in South West Wales,” said Julie Jones, Local Sourcing Champion at 4theRegion.

The app has been in development for some time, and will be formally launched in Swansea at a meeting with major regional organisations on 28th June, involving the big housing associations, local authorities, and major anchor institutions such as the Universities, the DVLA and others.

The initial roll out is supported through a partnership project with Swansea Council, funded through the UK Government’s Community Renewal Fund, aimed at “creating opportunities for local sourcing” among major employers across the county. It is hoped that the other three local authorities in South West Wales will get involved as the initiative moves forward, along with major buyers from across Neath Port Talbot, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire.

Click here to register for the launch event on Tuesday 28th June 2022, via Zoom (12pm-2pm).

How do we feed ourselves?

How do we feed ourselves?

The food and farming sector is different from every other sector because it’s vital for our survival. We need food for our health, continued life, and continued participation in our communities.

How can we take action to transform food and farming in South West Wales, making healthy local food accessible to all and good for the planet? (Pic: Pixabay)

Food can be a powerful force for good, reconnecting us with our natural world, with our local places, and with each other, and making us more resilient, as people and communities.

Food resilience has become ever more critical in the face of multiple threats, from the increasing cost of food and energy to growing global instability.

How can we take action to transform food and farming in South West Wales, making healthy local food accessible to all and good for the planet?

In 1984, Britain produced enough food to feed itself for 306 days of the year. By 2021, the country only produced enough to feed itself for 233 days.

In terms of meat, Wales produces mostly beef and lamb but eats mostly pork and chicken. Only 0.1% of our land is used to grow fruit and vegetables, producing 19,551 tonnes a year. That’s enough to give 3.5% of the population their five a day!

The war in Ukraine has made us even more aware of our reliance on imports for up to 40% of our food. Before the war, Ukraine was producing 12% of the world’s wheat and 46% of its sunflower oil. Russia is also a major producer of wheat and seed oils.

So what can we do?

In Wales about 400,000 tonnes of food are wasted each year. If only 1% of that is edible it would be enough to contribute to over nine million meals! Thankfully there are groups ensuring some of this food goes where it’s needed. FairShare Cymru distributes surplus food to organisations working to address poverty. Swansea Community Fridge provides surplus food to all on a take what you need pay what you can basis.

Sometimes farmers and growers have no choice but to leave some crops unharvested. The food gets left in the fields or is ploughed back in the soil. This can happen for a variety of reasons, such as unpredictable weather reducing demand, overproduction, and because crops don’t meet the cosmetic specifications required by retailers.

FairShare Cymru are looking at working with growers on a gleaning project. This would involve teams of volunteers salvaging fresh, nutritious food from farms and directing it to organisations such as homeless hostels and charities. Similar schemes in England have already salvaged tonnes of excellent but unharvested produce, including apples, cabbages, cauliflowers, spring greens and kale.

But we can also grow a lot more food!

Agroecology is the application of ecological concepts and principals in farming. We should be driving increased production of, and demand for, sustainably and regionally produced, nutritious, culturally appropriate foods as part of a green economic recovery.

In a world of increasing urbanisation, producing food in and around cities has the potential to improve nutritional and health outcomes, alleviate poverty, provide habitat for wildlife, create sustainable cities, and reduce food miles and transportation costs.

Not that long ago, market gardens were providing most towns and cities with a flow of fresh produce, so it makes sense to revive and improve upon this model. There are exciting opportunities to use the peri-urban fringe (land adjacent to urban settlements) to provide more agroecologically produced food and to connect urban and rural economies through food growing.

Research has found converting just 1.4% of land growing cereals and grassland around London to vegetables could produce an additional 1.3 million kilos of food for communities.

And peri-urban farming would provide a lot of additional social, economic and ecological benefits. It would generate goods and services that support community wealth building, provide jobs and training, give people access to green space and outdoor learning at the edge of built up cities, and support community development through community owned resources, events and volunteering.

Carbon capture and storage, above and below ground, through farming approaches that work with natural cycles would in effect create ‘carbon sinks’ surrounding urban space and would benefit natural capital assets such as flood risk adaptation.

We’ve said before that trees are great and we want to see more of them. However, there is a danger that corporations are ‘pricing out’ farmers by buying up land for tree planting. So how can we address this?

Agroforestry is a great example of agroecology. It means combining trees and farming and demonstrates how food production and nature can co-exist. Grazing farm animals under trees gives them shelter and food, while their manure enriches the soil. And planting trees on land normally used to grow cereal crops means you can provide another crop, such as fruit, nuts or timber. This provides another income stream for farmers and also protects soils from erosion, because the trees’ deep roots help create a healthy soil structure.

And what about within our towns and cities themselves?

Currently only 1% of urban green space is used for allotments, but research shows urban and under utilised green spaces could produce nearly 40% of the UK’s fresh fruit and vegetables!

A recent study found ‘citizen scientists’ in Brighton and Hove, who were growing fruit and vegetables on their allotments, gardens and balconies, were able to harvest a kilo of fruit and vegetables per square metre in a season. This puts their yields within the range of conventional farms! And some people were harvesting up to 10 kilos per square metre. This is just from insect pollinated crops, so it’s probably an underestimate.

The urban growers were each able to grow an average of £550 worth of produce between March and October. £380 worth of this was from insect pollinated produce, such as squash, courgettes, blackberries, tomatoes, apples and beans, weighing an average of 70 kilos. Berries were the most attractive crop to pollinators. Growers used less pesticides than conventional farming techniques, using them in under 10% of pest cases. If you’re wondering, the most common pests were slugs, snails and aphids, and the worst affected produce was soft fruit and beans.

Urban and peri-urban farming can further be supported by removing the current 5 hectare eligibility criteria for farming support. This would make it easier for small growers to produce sustainably grown nutritious local food.

We need to take action to transform food and farming in South West Wales, so that healthy local food is accessible to all and good for the planet. We believe food can be a powerful force for good. It can reconnect us with our natural world, our local places, and with each other, and make us more resilient, as people and communities.

On behalf of Swansea Council, 4theRegion is convening a Green Recovery Conference & Exhibition on June 16th to showcase the businesses, projects and organisations who are leading the city’s green recovery. Food will be a big part of that! You can register for free here, and if you’d like to be involved, please contact zoe@4theRegion.org.uk

Everybody’s Business

Everybody’s Business

At 4theRegion we want to ensure South West Wales is a welcoming and safe region where everyone has the opportunity to thrive and progress fulfilling careers. Building cohesive communities is about developing neighbourhoods, social spaces and workplaces where difference is welcomed and celebrated. This involves moving beyond narratives of ‘us’ and ‘them’ towards a greater sense of trust and a shared sense of belonging.

How can businesses play a role in supporting cohesive communities? (Pic: fauxels)

Building a more cohesive society is everybody’s business. We are all part of the social fabric, the strength of which can be an important influence on our wellbeing as communities and individuals. We all have a responsibility to build and maintain the relationships, connections and understandings which make up that social fabric. Cohesion is a shared objective, in which every person, community and organisation has a role to play.

So how can we support social cohesion?

A new report from Belong looks at just that! Everybody’s Business, produced in conjunction with the Intercultural Cities Network, sets out how businesses can play a role in supporting cohesive communities, and how local authorities can support them in doing this. The report draws its findings from a series of roundtable conversations with local authorities and businesses in a number of towns and cities across the UK, including Swansea.

Belong use the term ‘social cohesion’ to describe how well people from different backgrounds mix, interact and get along with each other. Those differences can be ethnicity, faith, social class, age, gender, sexuality, or a range of other differences that might potentially divide us.

There’s lots of potential to support community cohesion within a business! Research shows that workplaces can provide the opportunity for people from different backgrounds to connect in a way that leads to more positive attitudes towards diversity and higher levels of social cohesion. If you work in a diverse workplace you’re more likely to have friends from different backgrounds, although your interactions will need to be more than passing for the effects to extend beyond the workplace.

By their very nature, some businesses represent vital social infrastructure providing opportunities for people to meet and mix across different boundaries. And the experience of the pandemic has made clear the vital importance of these shared spaces! As ‘third places’, other than home and work, they provide a venue where members of the community can interact with one another informally, and where collective space can be provided for community initiatives such as charitable fundraising.

So how can you as a business help maximise the positive impact you have?

First and foremost, recruiting a workforce which fully reflects the diversity of local communities, across all functions and levels of seniority, is necessary for any business that wants to support social cohesion.

As a business, you can promote an inclusive culture through cohesion aware management. This means creating a climate of openness and trust, ensuring demographic attributes (ethnicity, gender, sexuality etc) do not overlap with functional roles and supporting meaningful interactions between people of all backgrounds across the workforce, are key elements of workplaces that support cohesion.

You can enable minorities and diverse groups to lead innovation. Ensuring that innovation is led by diverse teams and people from under represented groups enables better understanding of the needs of communities and increases awareness of market and product opportunities that might otherwise be missed.

You can invest in social infrastructure in the local community. What can you do to support welcoming, inclusive community spaces? This could be in the course of your everyday operations or, for example, through the innovative use of your commercial property.

Businesses can also deliver added social value by supporting community organisations and initiatives which build cohesive communities.

You can do this by partnering with a local community group or charity. Imagine if more businesses were regularly twinned with a local community group or charity as part of an ongoing relationship? This could involve sponsorship or support in kind, and would help deepen the connections between a business and the community around it.

You can provide direct support through employee volunteering. You can enable more employee volunteering which aids charities, community groups and hubs supporting community life and bringing people together. This helps to connect employees to the community and to people from different backgrounds.

You can localise your supply chain. By applying the ‘think local’ principle to as much of their supply chain as possible, businesses can extend more opportunities to the local community, and help to strengthen the networks of social and economic ties that can support cohesive communities.

And, wherever possible, you should evaluate the impact of work that you’re doing to support social cohesion.

It’s great to see the report citing our members Gower Gas and Oil as example of what businesses in the region are already doing! The heating services company has led a variety of initiatives to address social isolation. The #DontDanceAlone social media campaign, in partnership with The Wave and Swansea Sound, has raised awareness of isolation amongst older people and helped raise money for older people’s charities. Gower Gas and Oil also help coordinate the Gower Isolation Support Group, which helps ensure that isolated older people are visited regularly, with a view to ensuring positive social and health outcomes, which was particularly important during lockdown.

And what can local authorities do to support businesses to do all this? The report says they can provide leadership by being clear about how businesses can support local cohesion objectives and playing a coordinating role in helping them do so. They can incentivise businesses to act through highlighting cohesion outcomes in their approach to procurement and social value, and by recognising businesses that do this well. And they create an evaluation framework based on local needs, providing a robust and rigorous framework for evaluating cohesion oriented activity that businesses carry out, including shared measures and reporting.

Everyone has a role to play in building and maintaining cohesive communities. And it is particularly good to see a report which focusses on the often under appreciated role businesses can play in supporting social cohesion. If you’d like to find out more about how businesses can be a force for good, join us at the Introbiz Expo on April 7th!

4theRegion is an alliance of people, businesses and organisations across South West Wales, who love where we live and want our region to flourish. We connect people, share good news and enable collaboration, through our forums, events, projects and comms, for a future that promotes the wellbeing of people and planet. Support our movement and be part of the solution!