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!

Making Hope Happen

Making Hope Happen

At 4theRegion our mission is to co-create a happier, healthier South West Wales with a thriving economy. And what do we mean by ‘thriving’? For us, in the truest sense of the word, thriving is about wellbeing.

What do we hope for? (Pic: Engin Akyurt)

We’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of hope. Amplifying hope is a big part of what we’re trying to do, because when people are hopeful about the future they are happier and healthier. We took the title for this article from a book by Shane J Lopez. Drawing on the largest study of hopeful people ever conducted, he argues that hope isn’t just an emotion, it’s an essential life tool!

We believe all conversations should start with what’s working well. We call this asset based community development, which we ground in social purpose and underpin with wellbeing. We engage with people, businesses and organisations who want to see South West Wales flourish.

So what do we hope for?

We want to see the region leading in making new ways of living, working, and organising our society and economy, so that it’s more visible, accessible and relevant to everyone who lives here. And there’s so much to feel positive about here in South West Wales! An amazing natural environment. Caring communities. A brilliant quality of life. We want to make South West Wales the UK’s first wellbeing region. Imagine if we made wellbeing our unique selling point, our regional identity, and our shared purpose?

So what can help us understand wellbeing?

Neo-liberalism has promoted the idea that we are in competition with one and other. This view leads to an increased sense of social isolation, which impacts on individual wellbeing. However, recent developments in wellbeing science have seen a move beyond just looking at ourselves as individuals, and instead taking a broader view that encompasses the wellbeing of people and planet.

The Covid-19 pandemic meant we all started to think more about wellbeing. It gave us increased opportunities to work from home, and gave us a greater awareness of how work stresses impacted employees than we had before the pandemic. And it showed our capacity for hope! Research shows we protected our wellbeing by learning to understand there can be hope and meaning in life even in the midst of pain and suffering. This is what psychologists call ‘tragic optimism’. Of course, this wasn’t all. Other things that protected our wellbeing included gratitude, our physical health, social cohesion and identity, and connecting with nature. At a biological level, there’s now compelling evidence for the interconnectedness of physical and mental health. Our wellbeing has a causal link with our health and longevity.

Academics at Swansea University have developed the GENIAL framework which explicitly links wellbeing and health. This covers individual wellbeing (including a balanced mind and a healthy body), collective wellbeing (social connectedness), and planetary wellbeing (connection with nature). It recognises that individuals must first understand how to care for themselves in order to then care for others and care for the environment. The capacity for individuals to promote their own wellbeing will be greater than their capacity to promote collective wellbeing, which is greater than the capacity to promote planetary wellbeing. Nevertheless, there is massive potential for us to promote our individual wellbeing alongside larger collaborative efforts such as community partnerships, collaborative working, and activism to address various societal challenges such as climate change.

So how are the academics doing this in practice?

They introduce their students to the concept of sustainable happiness and wellbeing. This is about placing happiness and wellbeing within the context of environmental sustainability. This means strategies to promote wellbeing that don’t involve the exploitation of other people, the environment or future generations.

They also recognise people living with chronic conditions have tremendous potential for wellbeing. Surf therapy, for example, brings together people with acquired brain injury and their families to engage with nature based exercise, facilitating wellbeing, and hopefully encouraging pro-environmental behaviour.

At 4theRegion we want to co-create a happier, healthier South West Wales, with a thriving economy in the truest sense of the word. Thriving is about wellbeing. Let’s make hope happen!

We think it’s important to be forward looking, which is why all our events and conversations start with what’s working well. We want people to appreciate the good things about South West Wales, and celebrate the beautiful corner of the world where we live! Positivity is at heart of everything we do, with the Swansea City Centre Conference being no different! We’re celebrating and showcasing what we love about the regional capital. Join us in Swansea Arena on March 17th. Register here for your free tickets.

What is green recovery?

What is green recovery?

When the coronavirus pandemic hit global economies, governments pledged to rebuild, create jobs and spark growth. But many people recognised we can’t just go back to doing things the way we did before. So what would our rebuilt economy look like?

Three Cliffs Bay

We need to think about the problem of “growth”. Traditional ideas of economic recovery have focussed on growth, but wouldn’t it be better for us to be aiming for wellbeing, whether or not the economy grows?

Economist Kate Raworth has said “Mainstream economics views endless GDP growth as a must, but nothing in nature grows forever and the economic attempt to buck that trend is raising tough questions in high-income but low-growth countries. That’s because today we have economies that need to grow, whether or not they make us thrive. What we need are economies that make us thrive, whether or not they grow. That radical flip in perspective invites us to become agnostic about growth and to explore how our economies—which are currently financially, politically and socially addicted to growth—could learn to live with or without it.”

Green recovery means accelerating development along a more sustainable path. Natural Resources Wales says this means reducing carbon emissions, increasing resilience to climate change, reversing the decline in biodiversity, connecting people and nature and tackling unsustainable levels of production and consumption, while ensuring job creation, skills development, new markets and vulnerable groups are prioritised.

The region will need £4.3bn in investment by 2035 to tackle climate change. We’ll need to reduce carbon emissions by 58% in the domestic heat and power sector, 56% in the commercial and industrial sector and 51% in road transport. This means more wind and solar farms, more electric cars, a tidal lagoon, and the creation of around sixteen thousand new jobs!

Some of the most exciting proposals so far are in marine energy. The Blue Eden project, led by DST Innovations, would see a battery factory, data centre and thousands of homes powered by a new tidal lagoon. It would create two and half thousand permanent jobs. Meanwhile, Hiraeth Energy and Magnora Offshore Wind just announced proposals for two offshore windfarms in the Celtic Sea, which could power half the homes in Wales.

We need to move away from just making, using and disposing things, and instead conserve resources and ensure long term sustainability.

Ministry of Furniture recently fitted out the WLGA’s new offices with chairs made from recycled PET plastic bottles and desks, lockers and planters recycled from the WLGA’s legacy furniture! They also provided new 100% biodegradable bar stools made from hemp and resin.

The Welsh Government has pledged to use more Welsh wool as insulation, after it dropped in price during the pandemic. Wool insulation also forms part of a project by J.G. Hale Construction and SO Modular to build and retrofit flats in Aberavon. Using innovative insulation materials doesn’t stop with wool, they’re also using mushrooms and wood fibre!

Would you like your own tree?

Trees are great! They give us shade, clean our air, capture carbon and support biodiversity. They also provide timber, which is a more sustainable than traditional building materials like cement. The Welsh Government has announced that every household in Wales will get a free tree to plant. At 4theRegion, we welcome the commitment to more tree planting and recognise the importance of ensuring the right trees are planted in the right places.

And what about food?

We once had a thriving oyster trade, which gave Oystermouth its name. The population collapsed in the twentieth century, but now millions of oysters are being put on the seabed in Swansea Bay, in a process likened to growing a forest. In addition to being food, oysters store carbon and improve water quality.

New oyster bars are exciting, but we want to see affordable, nutritious, locally produced sustainable food available to everyone. 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! And urban food production is just as productive as conventional farming. Obviously we don’t want to see our parks ploughed up, but there is clearly land in towns and cities where we can grow useful amounts of fruit and vegetables. There are already plans to develop a “farm” near Morriston Hospital. Giving local people the opportunity to grow and eat healthy locally sourced food will help reduce pressures on the health service. It would also reduce the hospital’s carbon footprint, with fresh food literally coming from across the road!

What about jobs and skills?

Retrofitting, for example, requires electricians, plumbers, surveyors and builders. What if all contracts included a condition to take on apprenticeships? This would provide real life experience in areas like renewable energy, retrofitting, energy and water efficient technologies, and building techniques using non-traditional materials.

Last year, nearly six hundred and fifty homes in Swansea benefitted from the largest energy retrofit scheme of its kind in the UK, as part of a partnership between Pobl Group and Sero. It meant the community could generate up to 60% of its electricity requirements, reducing energy bills and carbon emissions! A wider roll out will see seven thousand homes retrofitted and three thousand three hundred homes built as “Homes as Power Stations”.

In the past, we have aimed at growth, whether it creates wellbeing or not. Instead we should be aiming for wellbeing (especially in light of the Well-being of Future Generations Act), whether or not the economy grows. Green recovery means we can reduce our carbon emissions, reverse the decline in biodiversity and tackle unsustainable levels of production and consumption while creating jobs, developing skills and protecting vulnerable groups and communities.

Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming conference on green recovery! Join our mailing list to be the first to know.

 

Planning approval and first occupants announced for Swansea’s City Centre Community Hub

Planning approval and first occupants announced for Swansea’s City Centre Community Hub

Proposals for a new central Swansea location for the city’s main library and other key services have taken a big step forward.

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

Plans for the hub reveal a striking fresh design just yards from a new-look Castle Square Gardens, Kingsway and Wind Street. It’ll be a short walk from the Quadrant bus station and other public transport services.

The plans, for Oxford Street’s former BHS/What! building, were given the go-ahead by planners.

Work can now start in earnest to convert the building to offer people convenient access to key services from across the council and other organisations.

Council leader Rob Stewart said: “The transformation of this building is hugely exciting.

“It will create a fantastic new library and local services hub in the city centre, right next to the new Castle Square Gardens.

“There will be tangible benefits for the community and the council through the relocation of the library as well as a number of other key public and third party support services into a single building with an open and welcoming environment.

“The project will be a fine example of sustainable city centre redevelopment, reinvigorating existing buildings, and reducing carbon use in the fight against climate change.”

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

Designs by architects Austin-Smith:Lord Ltd – on behalf of Swansea Council – reveal a new look for the former BHS/What! building.

Designers say the appearance of the structure – built in the 1950s – will have impact appropriate to a public building, with open and active shop frontages to maintain vibrancy to Oxford St and Princess Way.

The ground floor exterior is largely windows and that upper floors feature large glazed openings to show activity and a welcoming ethos.

Cladding will give the building a more consistent look than at present. Translucent cladding could be backlit to act as a beacon to help attract visitors.

There will be a green wall and planting on a roof area.

Inside, the library will act as a “spine” and there’ll be a feature grand central staircase.

The Swansea city centre building being transformed into a community hub. Pic: Swansea Council

Contractors began preparatory work on site in October – and the building could open in its new guise next year.

It will offer easy access to council services, including the library that’s set to move from the Civic Centre. It’ll be joined by a range of other services.

The hub, along with other city centre work hubs, is designed by the council to protect or create jobs and increase footfall in the city centre over the coming years. It will be visited by thousands of people every week.

The over-arching vision for the hub project is to:

  • create an innovative, flexible and sustainable community hub promoting community cohesion, opportunities for self-development and growth, support digital inclusion, improve well-being and unite and strengthen the city’s diverse community;
  • achieve access to all and provide a range of services in a welcoming environment where people can meet and participate in social activities, learning and support groups;
  • encourage a coordinated approach in supporting the community in finding and delivering solutions to improve quality of life.

The public have been consulted on the project.

Swansea Council has also revealed some of its services that could soon be accessed by the public at the city centre’s planned community hub.

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

The aim is for the building – which could open in 2023 at the heart of the city centre – to be a welcoming base for services delivered by the council and other organisations.

Council services being considered to relocate there include Swansea Library, the West Glamorgan Archive Service and the Contact Centre.

All are now accessed by the public at the Civic Centre which is due to be redeveloped as part of the city’s council-driven £1bn regeneration.

Other services due to move to the hub include the council’s Revenue and Benefits service, Housing Options and Tenancy Support Unit (TSU), Employability, Life-long Learning and Local Studies and Family History services.

Staff have been told. They and the public will be kept up to date on plans. The council continues to consider options for their future locations of other Civic-based services.

Council leader Rob Stewart said: “This announcement is an important step for our community hub plan.

“This first group of customer-facing services illustrates how useful the hub will be to the public.

“Many services will be easier to access in a more welcoming environment – and no services will be lost in the move.

“The development will bring increased footfall for city centre businesses, creating and maintaining city centre jobs; it’s a key factor in our aim to regenerate Swansea.”

Inside the Swansea city centre building being transformed into a community hub. Pic: Swansea Council

Swansea Council

Research looks at 4theRegion’s unique approach to community engagement and focus on wellbeing

Research looks at 4theRegion’s unique approach to community engagement and focus on wellbeing

We are delighted to have featured as a case study in a paper exploring wellbeing as the basis for regional development post-Covid.

How the researchers conceptualised 4theRegion’s approach

4theRegion is a movement to co-create a happier, healthier South West Wales with a thriving economy that serves the wellbeing of people and the planet. We want to see our region leading the way in making new ways of living, working and organising our society and our economy so that it is more visible, more accessible and more relevant to all those who live here.

The case study looked at 4theRegion’s unique approach based on community engagement and the close cooperation of a range of stakeholders in a local network, all of which is underpinned by wellbeing.

The paper, written by researchers Beth Cummings, Samantha Burvill, Robert Bowen, and Leonie Themelidis from Swansea University, has been published in RSA Magazine. It was based on interviews with our directors Dawn Lyle and Zoe Antrobus, and ten of our members, which the researchers then thematically analysed for data.

The researchers felt 4theRegion’s business model of connecting people in the region through events, projects and forums, with a focus on our six Impact Areas including The Wellbeing Region, was unique. They therefore undertook a detailed case study to understand our approach and analyse its benefits and possible ways it could be improved.

The researchers said their findings “underline the unique approach taken by 4theRegion, centred on an asset-based local development grounded in social purpose. This approach is influenced by well-being and seeks to engage with a wide variety of community stakeholders to derive holistic flourishing”.

They felt that “4theRegion are instrumental in bringing together the ecosystem of South West Wales towards a focus on purpose and well-being.”

They said everyone in this ecosystem was “linked by a social purpose in achieving sustainable development and well-being”, which also stemmed from the overarching focus on the Well-being of Future Generations Act in Wales.

In 2015 Wales became the first country in the world to bring wellbeing goals into law. The Well-being of Future Generations Act emphasises the need for policy to be founded on the seven principles of a prosperous Wales, a resilient Wales, a healthier Wales, a more equal Wales, a Wales of cohesive communities, a Wales of vibrant culture and thriving Welsh language, and a globally responsible Wales.

The Well-being of Future Generations Act (Image: Welsh Government)

The researchers noted how South West Wales was a largely rural area based around a regional city, Swansea, and felt that their findings on 4theRegion would “contribute to wider knowledge about the impact of regional development on places with similar demographic and geographic characteristics”.

They said “These findings could support organic sustainable growth within communities, which is recognised as an important aspect in the post-Covid recovery.”

They noted how our approach was based on cooperation between various stakeholders from across the region, including local businesses of all sizes, every local authority in the region, Swansea Bay City Region, local community groups, charities, social enterprises, schools, colleges, universities, “and all individuals in the regions who could play a role in local development”.

This, they said “Aligns with a bottom-up approach to regional development that is promoted within more recent literature, advocating networks and clusters through entrepreneurial ecosystems, and engagement across the triple helix of industry, government and education”.

The researchers said “The findings from the case study of 4theRegion underline the value of cooperation among relevant local stakeholders to identify, conceptualise and seek solutions to specific issues that impact the local economy.”

They added that 4theRegion also play “an important role as an enabler, organising events, leading discussions and engaging the various stakeholders in order to achieve impactful outputs”.

The researchers concluded by saying “The emphasis on prosperity, resilience, health, equality, cohesion, cultural value and global responsibility represent important aspects in ensuring sustainable economic development that could have a positive impact on everyone. These principles could provide a valuable foundation for a more inclusive recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, supporting opportunities for businesses to develop resilience, promote environmental sustainability and enhance productivity through a better work-life balance.

“This emphasis on well-being was highlighted during the Covid-19 pandemic by increasing capabilities to work from home, and a greater awareness of how work stresses impacted employees before the pandemic. While discussions on well-being and regional development gain traction, further research is needed to explore this in different contexts, however, the example of 4theRegion and Welsh Government policy implies that the principles of well-being could support more inclusive regional development in the post-Covid recovery.”

First design proposals revealed for city centre local services hub

First design proposals revealed for city centre local services hub

Proposed designs have been unveiled for a new central Swansea location for the city’s main library and other key services.

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

The drawings by architects Austin-Smith:Lord Ltd – on behalf of Swansea Council – reveal a new look for the former BHS/What! building.

They appear in a new document that supports a council application to change the use of the building from shopping to a community hub.

The design document says that the appearance of the new-look building – built in the 1950s – should have “impact” appropriate to a public building, with open and active shop frontages to maintain vibrancy to Oxford St and Princess Way.

It is proposed that the ground floor exterior is largely windows and that upper floors feature large glazed openings to show activity and a welcoming ethos.

It is planned that cladding will give the building a more consistent look than at present. Translucent cladding could be backlit to act as a beacon to help attract visitors.

There are proposals to have a green wall and planting on a roof area.

Inside, the library would act as a “spine” and there’d be a feature grand central staircase.

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

The design is the latest step in the project where contractors began preparatory work in October.

In under two years the building is due to be a local services hub. Current proposals are that it will offer easy access to council services, including the library that’s set to move from the Civic Centre. It’ll be joined by a range of other services – and the hub could potentially offer access to the West Glamorgan Archive Service.

The hub, along with other city centre work hubs, is designed by the council to protect or create jobs and increase footfall in the city centre over the coming years.

The proposal for the local services hub – currently including a new central library and other key services – is being developed by the council. When open in 2023 it would be visited by thousands of people every week.

The Swansea city centre building being transformed into a community hub. Pic: Swansea Council

The architect’s design statement says: “The transformation of the former BHS building is hugely exciting.

“There are numerous very tangible benefits for the community and the council through the relocation of the library and archive as well as a number of key public and third party support services into a single building with an open and welcoming environment – aiding communication between services and providing convenience and clarity for users and staff in a purpose-built redevelopment.

“On a wider scale the project has the potential and ambition to be an exemplar for sustainable city centre redevelopment, reinvigorating existing building stock, and reducing carbon use in the fight against climate change, aligning closely with local and national government policies and helping to address the council’s climate emergency declaration.”

The over-arching vision for the project is to:

  • create an innovative, flexible and sustainable community hub promoting community cohesion, opportunities for self-development and growth, support digital inclusion, improve well-being and unite and strengthen the city’s diverse community;
  • achieve access to all and provide a range of services in a welcoming environment where people can meet and participate in social activities, learning and support groups;
  • encourage a coordinated approach in supporting the community in finding and delivering solutions to improve quality of life.

The change of use application will now be considered by Swansea planners.

The public, who have already been consulted about the original concept, can have a say on the change of use plan here – www.bit.ly/HubApplic

The Swansea city centre building being transformed into a community hub. Pic: Swansea Council

Swansea Council