It’s Your Swansea

It’s Your Swansea

Last week we hosted our It’s Your Swansea Conference. Let’s have a look back on an incredible day showcasing everything that’s great about Swansea and hearing from the people, organisations and businesses who are making change happen.

Swansea Arena playing host to our It’s Your Swansea Conference, 7th March 2024 (Pic: Innovation Photography)

The conference opened with exciting announcements and updates from key local partners, exploring how Swansea is addressing the challenges of our time and embracing opportunities in 2024.

Cllr Andrea Lewis, Joint Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Service Transformation at Swansea Council, gave an exclusive insight into the schemes that will make Swansea an even better place  to live, work and socialise. She said “Swansea is a real city of opportunity. These are exciting times.”

These opportunities include a major new high tech sustainable office development at 71/72 Kingsway, linked to the “living building” at Picton Yard, one of the greenest buildings in Wales; the transformation of a former BHS store into a new community hub; redeveloping the Civic Centre site for leisure and hospitality; redeveloping old buildings such as the Palace Theatre and Albert Hall; transforming Castle Square to be greener and more welcoming; and much more!

Perhaps the most exciting thing is the £4bn renewable energy project, potentially including a tidal lagoon, a battery farm to store renewable energy generated, a floating solar panel facility, an oceanic and climate change research centre, eco-homes anchored in the water, and a hyperscale data centre.

Cherrie Bija is CEO of Faith in Families, who have been providing skills and opportunities such as free breakfast and sports for kids for the last twenty five years.

Faith in Families have been approached by Amazon with opportunity to run a warehouse which was something they had never done before. They take Amazon’s surplus goods and give them to people, such as shirts for interviews. In fact they can provide pretty much everything you need for a home. Parents aren’t buying things like toothpaste because of cost of living crisis, so Faith in Families can provide them with dignity. 

They have launched Cwtch Mawr, Wales’ first multibank, which aims to identify and help forty thousand familes this year. Giving them brand new items says to them “You’re worth it, we believe in you”. Forty thousand items were given out on two days over Christmas. They put coats out and said “Please take a coat because we need the space”. It was several days before people were actually taking them, but they gave out fifty coats, as well as things  like brand new football boots for children. They can provide all the things that turn houses into homes.

Serena Jones is Executive Director of Operations at Coastal Housing Group, who provide safe, affordable, quality homes that meet sustainability targets. She said they are “working hard to address the deepest housing crisis I’ve seen in thirty years. The systemic challenges are real and biting, but it’s good the Welsh Government understand link between housing and climate change.” She believes “Sustainability is also about people.”

Coastal Housing have installed hybrid heating systems in their properties leading to a 70% reduction in energy bills, volumetric water cylinders resulting in a 38% energy decrease (which can be overriden for hot water if needed), solar PV with sensors to see their impact, and apps to monitor carbon monoxide and general indoor air quality.

Professor Ian Walsh, is Provost (Swansea & Cardiff) at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, which is currently ranked as the top university in the UK for active graduate businesses. It was a fascinating update. Did you know work at the university has transformed the way we repair windscreens on cars? UWTSD”s latest building, the Innovation Matrix, will be as close as possible to net zero, but can’t get there completely because of the computers. It already has about a 70% occupancy and will be opening in June, providing an ecosystem where businesses can thrive.

We heard from young people who are seizing the opportunities on offer here in Swansea, and inspiring others to do the same.

Amy Tanker has volunteered with a number of organisations. As a Psychology & Criminology Student at Swansea University, she was particularly keen to volunteer with Families and Friends of Prisoners Swansea. Not all prisons have family services like this, so volunteering with them meant she had social policy research opportunities and was able to get an internship.

Saadia Abubaker, Founder of Saadia Speaks, wants to empower the next generation of leaders. Born in Sudan, she moved to Swansea age two. Growing up, she experienced a lot of racism, but seized all the opportunities she could. She joined the Youth Sports Trust to encourage more girls like her to do sports, and now uses the same approach to build her brand. She said “People are not always supportive of my ideas, but if one organisation says no to me another will say yes.” She asked “Will you join me in inspiring the next generation of leaders?”

Fatima Lopes said “I grown up here my whole life. In school I couldn’t wait to leave because I didn’t know the opportunities that were here.” She said working as Student Union President at Gower College Swansea has made her aware of of those opportunities, and she will be going to Swansea University.

She said “During Covid, I was in year 10 and 11, and this is when I’d normally do work experience, so I didn’t get this. Students are now more hesistant to embrace opportunities because of lockdown.”

She’d like a sector wide approach on business and schools linking together, similar to Cardiff Commitment. She said students are very passionate and this can be harnessed with clubs and societies. She’d like something similar for people in work. This should be combined with mental health support for people in work and education.

She chose to go down an academic route, but if she’d done an apprenticeship, believes she would have faced stigma and a lack of knowledge, and this needs to change.

In celebration of International Women’s Day, we also welcomed four women to share their stories of overcoming challenges and embracing opportunities in Swansea.

In school Alison Vickers, Managing Partner at Bevan Buckland, knew she wanted to be an accountant (or a detective). In 1986 she got a three month trial with Bevan Buckland, earning less than £400 a month. She rose up through the company and in 1996 joined the board of what was still a very traditional practice. One of her first acts was to end the ban on women wearing trousers! Bevan Buckland now employs a hundred and twenty people and are the biggest independent accountants in Wales. Alison said being based in Swansea hasn’t held them back. She’s learnt everything new is an opportunity, prepare well, and enjoy it!

Joy Ogeh-Hutfield, a Transformation Coach and Leadership Consultant, sees opportunity everywhere. She said “Sight is seeing things as they are, but vision is seeing how things should be. Having a vision means the city has something to give back to you. Gain more clarity by thinking about how your vision can bring change. My greatest joy helping clients understand their true authentic self. Invest in you, because if your cup is empty you have nothing to give. Enhance what you are and what you do.” She added “Teachers open the doors but you must enter by yourself.”

Eight years ago Amy Price, Director at The Social Butterfly Marketing, was a job jumper with bad mental health. She’d never learnt about self employment in school and was in in-work poverty. She said it was very strange attending her first networking event while still working in a call centre, it was “lonely being the youngest business woman in the room, but I’ve grown and I pick up awards in front of those people.” She feels she now lives a good life and doesn’t want to sacrifice more.

Her advice is “Stay in your own lane. Life is full of unique challenges, some days are harder than others, but just try your best.” She believes women are more resilient and risk adverse than men, and have a lot of side hustles but don’t see this as business. She said “I still have imposter syndrome and accept anxiety is a part of me. This year I finally felt I run proper business. I say yes to any opportunity Swansea presents to me and know this helps my mental health.”

Everything Kim Mamhende, Chief Officer of The CAE, does is about empowering people. For her it’s about change in the community, and underpinning that is equity and ensuring everyone has opportunity to do what they want.

She believes everyone has right to live their dreams, and the Welsh dream is achieving what you want without having to move, which is also being about equity and opportunity. She said “Opportunity is about creating. You can’t wait for a seat at the table sometimes you need to create your own table. Entrepreneurship is about adding value, creating your own opportunities and enacting positive change. It’s not always an easy journey.”

This year, we’re exploring even more of the region where we’ll be welcoming everyone to the following It’s Your… Events, so make sure to save the dates!

It’s Your Pembrokeshire, 8th May, Queens Hall Narberth

It’s Your Carmarthenshire, 11th July, Yr Egin

It’s Your Neath Port Talbot, 12th September, Blancos Hotel

Making (energy from) waves

Making (energy from) waves

We have a first class floating offshore wind industry ready to go in the region. It has seen the fastest growth in the Welsh marine energy sector, adding £11.6m to the economy last year, with the potential to generate £1bn over the next five years! It offers a once in a generation opportunity to build a new pioneering industry both for the region and the whole of the UK.

Blue Gem Wind is developing plans for Wales’ floating wind farm, called Erebus. It would be the third floating offshore wind farm in the UK, but the estimated 100MW generated is more than double the other projects. It will house seven 14MW turbines on floating platforms and provide enough low carbon energy to power ninety three thousand homes (Pic: Blue Gem)

While traditional offshore wind turbines are built into the seabed with fixed foundations, floating turbines sit on large floating steel structures which are then tethered to the seabed. This allows the turbines to be placed further out at sea in locations with higher winds, such as Pembrokeshire.

The Crown Estate has announced details of leasing opportunities that are expected to be the first round of developing floating offshore wind in the Celtic Sea. They will work to catalyse and accelerate the UK’s energy transition, and de-risk developments to speed up their deployment. Three Project Development Areas (PDAs) of roughly equal size are being proposed, each with a potential capacity of 1.5GW. This means the overall capacity for the leasing round will be 4.5GW, an increase from a possible 4GW from the four PDAs of varying sizes originally proposed. Overall this will generate enough clean energy capacity to power over four million homes.

The Crown Estate says the leasing round will be used to drive broader social and economic value. This includes requiring developers to set out specific commitments to ports, as well as establishing binding commitments on wider issues such as enhancing skills, addressing environmental impacts, and delivering community benefits.

Ultimately the Crown Estate believes there is the potential to generate 20GW of energy from floating offshore wind in the Celtic Sea.

Marine renewables are crucial in combatting climate change and achieving a diverse and reliable energy mix for current and future generations. And the Welsh Government has said floating offshore wind farms will create thousands of high quality, long-term jobs. It is quickly becoming a proven technology with the potential to deliver sustainable sources of energy and enable us to make the transition to net zero. It generates more power per megawatt than any other renewable source, and the UK’s unique wind resource and shallow seas mean it has been the central technology in plans to end our reliance on fossil fuels.

However plans for the first floating wind farm in the region stalled after no developers bid at a crucial government auction.

There were bids for onshore solar, wind and geothermal schemes as well as tidal however these generate on a lower scale to giant offshore wind farms.

Blue Gem Wind is developing plans for Wales’ floating wind farm, called Erebus, which they say would create ten thousand jobs. It did not bid for a contract because they said the government was not providing enough support through its “contracts for difference” scheme in which it steps in if the market price for electricity falls below the agreed level.

Erebus, due to be commissioned in 2026 and built twenty five miles off the coast of Pembrokeshire, would have seen the region kickstart the floating offshore wind industry. It would be the third floating offshore wind farm in the UK, but the estimated 100MW generated is more than double the other projects. It will house seven 14MW turbines on floating platforms and provide enough low carbon energy to power ninety three thousand homes. The project will provide jobs for biologists, ornithologists, ecologists, geologists, skippers, boat crew, port staff, crane operators, divers, engineers, welders, electricians, technicians, logisticians, administrators and project managers.

The UK Government has since said it will increase the contracts for difference from £44 per MWh to £73 in the next annual auction.

And of course, Erebus isn’t the only floating offshore wind projects planned for the region.

Floventis Energy’s Llŷr 1 and 2 developments will power about two hundred thousand homes with 200MW of clean energy once operational by 2027-28. With an operational life of twenty five years, each of the Llŷr projects will have six to eight turbines, all of which will produce over 12MW.

And Gwynt Glas (a joint venture between EDF Renewables UK and DP Energy), RWE, and a collaboration between Hiraeth Energy and Magnora are all aiming to secure at least 1GW of installed capacity, to be developed throughout the 2020s.

A key aspect of Hiraeth Energy and Magnora’s initial project, Môr Glas, is community ownership. The aim is to establish a wealth fund providing returns for Welsh communities. This is inspired by fossil fuel funds in oil rich countries, such as the £1tn fund from oil and gas revenues generating returns of nearly 6% a year for the people of Norway.

Ports are expected to play a key role in the manufacture and storage of the numerous components needed for floating offshore wind farms, including foundation assembly, cabling and placing the turbines on top of the floating foundations. The ports must be relatively close to project sites so that the turbines can be floated out to their final locations.

The massive turbines float on a thirty metre high base the size of a football pitch. On top of that is a turbine over three hundred metres tall, that’s as tall as the Eiffel Tower! Because they’ll require a lot of materials, Port Talbot is seen as a perfect location because it’s next to the steelworks.

Milford Haven is likely to be a centre for early phase testing, fabricating anchors and anchor chains for floating wind platforms, high speed transfer vehicles and robotics.

Port Talbot and Milford Haven are part of the Celtic Freeport, which will help create tens of thousands of new, high quality jobs in the green industries of the future. The Welsh Government hopes freeports will focus on low carbon technologies, such as floating offshore wind, hydrogen, carbon capture, utilisation, and storage and biofuels.

Of course we don’t always know when the wind will be blowing, but the tides are always predictable!

Tidal stream generators draw energy from water currents in much the same way as wind turbines draw energy from air currents.

Four turbine developers linked to Morlais in Anglesey, were awarded contracts for difference. The Marine Energy Test Area in Pembrokeshire, the only pre-consented, pre-commercial test facility of its kind in Wales, recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Morlais to address common challenges, encourage business and research collaboration, and exchange knowledge and best practices.

Tidal lagoons are power stations that generates electricity from the natural rise and fall of the tides.

A large volume of water is captured behind a fabricated structure which is then released to drive turbines. Tidal lagoons are a more efficient way of producing energy than traditional offshore wind farms, and their operating life is estimated to be about four times longer.

Mark Drakeford has said he wants to “make Wales a world centre for emerging tidal technology”. At least three research projects, announced next spring, will be receiving £750,000 in funding to help address the barriers preventing the development of tidal lagoon technology.

A tidal lagoon could also form part of the £4bn Swansea Port Development Project, formerly Blue Eden, in SA1. The plans, which will encompass the best in sustainable technology, could also include floating and onshore solar facilities, a hyperscale data centre powered by renewable energy, an oceanic and climate change research centre, eco-homes anchored in the water, a district heating system, a green energy transport hub with a hydrogen manufacturing station, and a facility manufacturing batteries to store renewable energy for worldwide distribution. It would also act as a catalyst for further innovation in renewable technology.

Tomorrow we’re hosting a major regional conference and exhibition, bringing together projects, businesses, organisations and key stakeholders in South West Wales’ green economy, together with people of all ages and from all walks of life, for an unmissable day of connecting, showcasing and knowledge sharing, with the goal of getting everyone working together for a resilient, sustainable future for the region. Book your FREE tickets here.

Businesses urged to prepare for new recycling rules and explore greener business models

Businesses urged to prepare for new recycling rules and explore greener business models

Businesses in Wales are being advised to prepare for the new requirements under the Welsh Government’s new Workplace Recycling Wales laws, which come into force in April 2024.

Recycling experts discussed the upcoming changes in one of a series of roundtable discussions being held online in the run-up to the Green Economy Conference and Exhibition, which will take place at Swansea Arena on November 22.

Explaining the laws, Andy Rees from the Welsh Government said they will impact all non-domestic premises in Wales, requiring them to separate out their waste recyclables. Unsold items such as electrical equipment and textiles also have to be separated out so that they do not go to incineration or landfill. All wood waste will also be banned from landfill.

He added that as circular economy thinking increases, many businesses need to reconsider what they make and sell, and the lifecycle of those products.

“Recycling is good, but there’s a lot of other things we need to do to try and reduce the amount of resources that we use,” he said. “The planet only has a finite amount of resources, so we need to be a lot more clever about how we design products, goods and services and where we derive our happiness from: is it through buying lots of stuff, or is it through doing something else, for example enjoying services?

“Businesses need to really think about the sort of product that they’re selling – whether they can lease it, hire it, or rent it. It’s important that we keep products and materials in productive use for as long as possible.”

Sean Gallagher, managing director at Carmarthen-based Cwm Environmental, welcomed the incoming laws.

“We’re well underway on gearing up for the new collections,” he said. We’re speaking to lots of businesses; advising customers is key.”

Andrew Wright, commercial director at Griffiths Group, described the new laws as “a positive change”, adding that there is still time for unprepared businesses to get ready for them.

“Although the changes are big, in the cases of what the individual businesses are going to have to do, they’re not that significant,” he said. “It’s just a case of pre-planning, and getting the right waste contractors in place to ensure that they’re compliant for you as a customer. Over time this is going to make a big difference to the Welsh circular economy.”

He also highlighted the need to improve the waste recycling infrastructure in Wales, welcoming the news that Jayplas, a leader in plastics recycling, is to establish a facility at Gorseinon processing at least 100,000 tonnes of flexible and rigid plastics a year, doubling Wales’ plastics recycling capacity.

“It’s a hugely welcome addition to the Welsh infrastructure,” he said. “It’s something that’s desperately needed. When you look at the waste streams which businesses are now going to have to segregate, I think a large proportion of it will be reused or be able to be reprocessed in Wales. Continual investment is needed in order to reuse these materials in Wales, and particularly to reprocess them.”

The conference aims to bring together businesses and organisations to discuss the growth of the green economy in South West Wales. It is organised by 4theRegion, a membership alliance working to bring about positive change in the region. 4theRegion also organises the Swansea Conference, which took place at Swansea Arena earlier this year. The Green Economy Conference and Exhibition will follow a similar format, with panel discussions, networking opportunities and an exhibition hall.

The roundtables held in the run-up to the conference aim to begin key discussions that will continue at the conference. The Materials Roundtable addressed the potential impact of the Workplace Recycling laws, featuring key players from the sector: Sean Gallagher; Andy Rees, head of waste strategy for the Welsh Government; Andrew Wright, commercial director at Griffiths Group; Gareth Thomas, head of marketing at Griffiths Group; Owain Griffiths, director at Circular Resource Specialists; and Diane Thomas, waste strategy and policy officer for Carmarthenshire Council.

Dawn Lyle, chair of 4theRegion, added:

“It’s clear that the Welsh Government is not shying away from making some difficult decisions that prioritise the well-being of future generations, which is of course what this is all about. I hope that discussions such as this one will inspire people to consider how all of us can encourage more circular economy thinking across our organisations and across our communities.

“The community sector is also leading the way with lots of plastic-free initiatives and small community-based innovations around circular economy thinking and community-based reuse, repairing and recycling. It’s an exciting sector with lots happening, so come along to the Green Economy Conference on November 22 to talk about all this and more. We’ll be joined by CEIC, the Circular Economies Innovation Communities project and can expect lots of interesting and inspiring discussions.”

The next pre-conference roundtable is the Food Roundtable on November 7.

To book to attend the Green Economy Conference and to attend the roundtable, visit: https://www.4theregion.org.uk/green-economy-conference/

Green Economy Conference

Green Economy Conference

EVENTS  > GREEN ECONOMY CONFERENCE

Green Economy Conference

Swansea Conference
Swansea Conference

WEDNESDAY 22ND NOVEMBER | Swansea Arena | Free to Attend

The first Green Economy Conference and Exhibition at the Swansea Arena was an incredible opportunity for businesses and organisations to share knowledge and make connections, with the aim of co-creating a resilient future.

Be sure to save the date for the next Green Economy Conference, taking place again in the Swansea Arena on the 19th November 2024.

In Partnership With

Swansea Council
Celtic Freeport

Headline Sponsor

CEIC

Media Sponsors

Green Economy Wales

Event Sponsors

RLSP
Gower College Swansea
BIC Innovation
Edmunson Electrical

CONFERENCE AGENDA

Throughout the day in the upstairs Auditorium, we hosted several themed panel discussions.

10AM

Renewable Region
Renewable Region

11:30AM

Renewable Region
Renewable Region

1:00PM

Renewable Region
Renewable Region

2:30PM

Renewable Region
Renewable Region

4:00PM

Renewable Region
Renewable Region

5:00PM

EVENT CLOSES

Exhibitors

Exhibitors

Regional Green Economy Roundtables

In the run-up to our Regional Green Economy Conference & Exhibition, we brought together experts for a series of roundtables based around the conference themes.

Buildings

Supporting Local

Supporting Local

At 4theRegion we’ve always been passionate about supporting local.

Swansea City Centre Conference 2023 Photos

When we spend our money with big businesses, most of it leaves our local economy and lines the pockets of distant shareholders. When we spend our money with a local small business, it creates benefits for local people, and recirculates in our economy, where it has a much more positive social impact.

Perhaps the most important thing for supporting independent retail in Swansea is for more of us to make the effort to support local whenever we can. How can people, businesses and organisations across Swansea collaborate to promote the cause of our local businesses?

This is why “Supporting Local” is the theme for our Swansea Conference. Last year we hosted the first major conference at the newly opened Swansea Arena, and we’re so excited to be back there once again on March 29th!

We’ll have a regeneration update from Rob Stewart, leader of Swansea Council, and major partners, about all the exciting development projects currently underway and coming soon. This’ll include news of the successful Leveling Up bid that will see significant investments in the Lower Swansea Valley and an update from Urban Splash, the development partner on the Seafront and other strategic sites across Swansea.

Swansea Council has said it wants as much work from regeneration projects go to Welsh businesses as possible. And it was good to see a regional firm like Ministry of Furniture be one of the first businesses to benefit from a project to redevelop Oxford Street’s former BHS and What! store into a new city centre community hub. Ministry of Furniture has been appointed to design the furniture and fixtures scheme, working on the contract with the council and main contractors Kier Construction. Ministry of Furniture worked for the council on the most recent fit out of the Civic Centre, largely with remanufactured furniture. As a boost to the circular economy, they aim to move the majority of that apparatus to the new hub.

Many people across our communities are struggling to afford healthy food for their families, an unacceptable situation that’s been compounded by the cost of living crisis. So what needs to happen to make healthy, affordable and locally produced food available to everyone in Swansea? How can we connect people to where their food comes from, and how to grow and cook it?

GRAFT is a garden and workshop, based at the National Waterfront Museum, working with local communities, schools and adult learners to grow food, preserve seeds, keep bees, and learn cooking skills in a clay oven. Volunteers are invited to join an intergenerational curriculum of outdoor learning, wellbeing and making connected to food. All of the garden’s infrastructure has been built by the team and participants who are learning woodwork and metalwork skills, alongside horticulture.

Farmers across our region face a huge number of challenges in a vulnerable and uncertain sector. The farming industry needs to substantially change to address the climate and nature emergencies, but farmers often feel unfairly blamed or misunderstood by people in towns and cities. How can proactively engage with local farmers to understand their challenges and how they can be better supported? Creating links between farms and local communities and customers is essential to relocalising our food supply chains and creating a resilient food system for Swansea.

Public sector procurement is often recognised as a key lever for change, with the potential to provide a steady and reliable market for locally produced food and drink. The Welsh Government has launched a new initiative meant to encourage more local spending on food by the NHS, schools and local government. But change isn’t happening fast enough. What are the challenges around putting more local food on the public plate – in hospitals, schools and other settings – and how can we overcome them?

At the Swansea Conference, Bwyd Abertawe, a local community based food partnership, will be launching the Swansea Food Charter, as part of their effort to get everyone working together towards making Swansea to become a Sustainable Food Place, where healthy, local and  affordable food is available to everyone, promoting the wellbeing of people and the planet.

At 4theRegion we believe that the creative industries present a huge opportunity for jobs, entrepreneurship, regeneration and wellbeing across Swansea. By investing in creativity we can breathe new life into our high streets and town centres. How can we make sure there are opportunities here in Swansea for people to develop rewarding careers, and build successful businesses, in the creative, digital, arts and cultural sectors?

People in Swansea have an amazing mindset and willingness to help each other out. Elysium have over 100 studios they can rent out across 4 buildings in Swansea. They started off in messy art painting and now have photography studios, TV broadcasters and other creative industries using the space. If you look at creative projects in other cities, there are lots of disparate studios that are always competing. We don’t seem to have that as much in Swansea. Of course, not everyone knows what’s here! How can we better promote and connect all the good stuff that’s happening, to strengthen the sector and engage more people in the arts?

How can we make sure that Swansea retains (and develops) a vibrant and diverse mix of independent retailers, in the face of huge competition from big name brands and online shopping? To survive and thrive as an independent retail business, entrepreneurs need to adopt innovative strategies that set them apart from the global competition. So how can local businesses in Swansea embrace technology?

Russell Greenslade, Chief Executive of Swansea BID, has said the majority of the independent businesses Swansea BID has supported in opening in the city centre in the past 18 months have a very strong digital channel presence.

He said “The strength of the independent business is being nimble enough to respond to trends and situations with instant decision capability. They can be better placed to find their niche, innovate, have more power over profitability, provide a personalised experience, and be their own boss.

“As businesses, we operate in different and more challenging environments since bouncing back from a global pandemic and now the cost-of-living crisis. The challenges include staying relevant as customers evolve, embracing online shopping and harnessing the power of digital to help overcome challenges. Using technology to analyse our customer data, we can adapt accordingly to put customers first and use digital, data, technology and the intelligence they provide to improve the experience and anticipate customer needs enabling business growth.”

The Swansea Conference & Exhibition is going to be an unmissable day. If you haven’t yet booked your free ticket, please take a moment to do it now! There’ll be over 120 exhibition stands showcasing local businesses and community organisations, interactive exhibitions from the universities, Oriel Science, and Plantasia, opportunities to meet local companies, and a Youth Voice area celebrating some amazing young people. Find out about local job opportunities, meet new suppliers, pick up lots of free goodies, and feel proud of the people and organisations that make Swansea great! There’s something for everyone!

Where does our food come from?

Where does our food come from?

We believe that access to locally sourced food is more important than ever. The last couple of years has demonstrated the weaknesses in global supply chains, and with the uncertainties around climate change and the political landscape, this isn’t going to get any easier!

Barbecue chicken breast served with spiced wedges and seasonal vegetables as part of our Gower Field to Fork project

Our grandparents knew where their food came from, and probably produced at least some of it themselves. But somewhere along the line we lost that connection. How do we get back these connections to our food? How do we get healthy, sustainable, locally grown food to local communities?

How can we reconnect young people with farming and the land?

Our recent Gower Field to Fork project looked at just that. Working with Bishopston Comprehensive School, Castell Howell, Gower Farmer’s Market, Red Media, Western Slade Farm and Little Walterstone Farm, we brought Welsh food to Welsh school plates.

Gower has a proud history of being self-sustaining in farming and food production. Not long ago, “everyone” had a garden and grew vegetables, kept chickens and so on. But over the last hundred years this has dwindled to the point where only one farm was able to produce the quantities of food needed for our project.

Castell Howell ensured farmers got a fair market price for their produce in the hope that they will be encouraged to continue growing, keeping local farmers and future generations of local farmers working and shortening our supply chains.

Locally sourced potatoes, beetroot, cauliflower, leeks, and honey were converted into delicious, fresh, nutritious meals, chosen by pupils for pupils, with beetroot brownies for dessert! The pupils were amazed food in supermarkets is flown half way around the world, when much fresher and more nutritious food can be grown on their doorstep.

The new curriculum allows schools in Wales to access more creative and holistic resources, so any lesson could be themed around sustainable food and farming. Learning about food means children are more likely to try new food, have better diets, have a better understanding of nutrition, learn life skills, and accept responsibility.

School gardens restore the soil, and help children learn in authentic contexts, connect with nature and their communities, boost their immune systems, reduce obesity, moderate moods, reduce anxiety, develop empathy, and practice risk.

All these things apply to adults too, and research has shown gardening will also reduce your risk of health problems such as stroke, depression or Alzheimer’s. There’ll always be a benefit from growing your own food, even if it’s just knowing that for the next few days you don’t need to go to the supermarket!

So what can we do to feed ourselves and be as self-sufficient as possible?

Local networks and community activism are a key driver for change, putting the issue of healthy local food on the agenda and leading grassroots initiatives. The Sustainable Food Places movement believes a transition to a healthy, sustainable and more equitable food system requires not just strong national policy but also collaborative action between local policy makers, businesses and communities.

Bwyd Abertawe, whose interim chair is 4theRegion’s Co-Founder Dawn Lyle, is seeking to make Swansea a Sustainable Food Place. It has recently secured Welsh Government funding to grow the Good Food Movement in Swansea, which will build public awareness and active food citizenship around good local food.

Bwyd Sir Gâr Food is also a member of the Sustainable Food Places Network, and is beginning its own very exciting journey to make Carmarthenshire sustainable by ensuring equitable access to healthy, high quality local food.

Access to land is reportedly the biggest constraint to growing more food locally. What if we created a directory of available land, and called on businesses and landowners to lease it at peppercorn rates? What if new developments included community allotments and green space? A lot of public land is unused because no one knows who owns it. If in doubt, surely just make the land available?

Community supported agriculture (CSAs) are partnerships between farmers and consumers in which the responsibilities, risks and rewards of farming are shared. They offer a guaranteed fair income for growers throughout the year, because households subscribe in advance and growers know that whatever they produce, they have a market for. Locally grown food is provided directly to households with a very low carbon footprint, and the money spent is retained locally, creating worthwhile employment for local people.

Cae Tan CSA has successfully proven over the last few years that growers can create an economically viable business, produce a good amount of food, and have a wealth of benefits in terms of community cohesion, the environment, and education.

Cauliflower mac ‘n cheese as the vegetarian option for our Gower Field to Fork project

And of course we also need more urban and peri-urban farming!

Room to Grow are already repurposing tired old concrete gardens and under used land and turned them into vibrant “Grow Your Own” spaces packed full of nutritious herbs and vegetables. They will help build and maintain your garden planters and raised beds, share the produce and even learn some great new recipes to help you get the best from your garden.

Meanwhile, Biophilic Living Swansea will feature two south facing greenhouses on the roof of a mixed use development. The largest greenhouse will be serviced by an aquaponics system designed to produce up to 4.5 tonnes of fruit, vegetables, salad and herbs a year. The aquaponics system will create a continuous cycle where waste produced by fish, living in onsite tanks, adds nutrients to the water which feeds the greenhouse plants. The water is then filtered and recirculated back into the system. The plan is that residents will run the farm as a social enterprise.

Finance can also be a barrier to growing local food. The Sustainable Farming Scheme will only finance farms that have more than three hectares in production. This would exclude many CSA schemes. A recent study by Food Sense Wales has shown small scale investment can have a significant and positive impact on horticulture businesses, with sales of vegetables increasing on average by 74.5%. Food Sense Wales is calling on the Welsh Government to create a new infrastructure grant scheme for small scale horticulture that would speed up the growth of the sector and lead to more sales of locally grown vegetables.

And what about more traditional farms?

Many farmers don’t like CSAs and see people growing their own food as doing it for fun. But we don’t feel farms are in conflict with CSAs. In fact, farmers in Pembrokeshire have already given access to growers. And with fifty hectares of land needed to provide a community with the horticultural produce it needs, clearly there’s going to be a need for larger farms. How do we proactively engage with existing local farms and farmers to understand their challenges and how they can be better supported? It’s clear we need more and better facilities for processing locally grown produce, such as abbattoirs, bottling, washing, packaging, distribution, processing and manufacturing facilities.

Community food hubs are another way to connect people to where food comes from. It’s a great model for suppliers and producers, because it creates a guaranteed marketplace that will generate vital incomes. Food hubs can’t compete with supermarkets on price for some foods such as pasta, but you’ll find your overall weekly shop should cost less. And it’s more nutritious! Despite this food hubs have experienced difficulties getting people to shop there. FarmCo found they needed to spend a lot of time and effort on marketing and customer retention, and ultimately market themselves as an online food shop, rather than a hub.

What can we do to support local producers?

Swansea Food Partnership aims to create a vibrant and prosperous food offer for Swansea, strengthen and shorten supply chains, enhance food tourism, and bridge the gap between rural and urban food. They have also carried out a feasibility study to map local produce and shorten supply chains, run in partnership with Urban Foundry and Afallen.

The Welsh Government has also launched a new online resource, “Buying Food Fit for the Future“, to encourage more local spending on food by the NHS, schools and local government to help support Welsh producers, create more jobs, and boost prosperity in local communities.

If you’re a business, do you serve locally sourced, seasonal food on your menus and promote its provenance? Do you have an ethical purchasing policy? Do you have land that can be made available for community growing?

As an individual, do you still shop at supermarkets or do you buy as much as you can from local retailers and producers? When you go to a restaurant, do you ask them whether the food is local? Whether the gin is local?

And we could go further. The Scottish Government recently passed the Good Food Nation Bill, which commits to making Scotland a country where people from every walk of life take pride and pleasure in, and benefit from, the food they produce, buy, cook, serve, and eat each day. Is this something we should be campaigning for here in Wales?

Access to locally sourced food is more important than ever. Our grandparents knew where their food came from, and we need to get that connection back!

On January 17th and 18th we’ll be hosting Food for the Region, sharing updates, explore emerging projects and encourage collaboration on all things relating to growing, producing, distributing, sharing and caring about food in South West Wales.

If you eat, grow or buy food, this event is for you! We’re inviting farmers, producers, distributors, processors, caterers, retailers, public procurement, regulators, communities, campaigners, and people who care about what we eat and how it’s produced, to come together once again to talk about what we want for our regional food system. You can register here

 

Gower beetroot brownies for dessert!