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New funding helps projects improve rural communities

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A range of new projects is about to make a positive difference to Swansea’s rural communities.

They include new training opportunities for volunteer tourism ambassadors and the creation of a honey bee garden.

Others will bring a new platform for young people to engage in environmental issues – and further studies into how fibres can be produced from the flax and natural dyes used to produce sustainable textiles.

All have been assisted by new funding from the Swansea Council-managed Rural Development Programme (RDP).

Andrew Stevens, the council’s cabinet member for business improvement and performance, said: “It’s so good to see these projects bringing new hope, inspiration and opportunity to our rural areas; they all exhibit a passion for these special parts of Swansea.

“They bring creativity and ambition to local communities and help maximise the potential these areas have now and for future generations.”

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The new initiatives are driven by trade association Tourism Swansea Bay, Pennard Community Council, Swansea YMCA and community interest company Gower Flax.

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Tourism Swansea Bay chairman Stephen Crocker said: “Our recent RDP funding will allow us to develop an online training programme and build new training packages to help our valued Gower Ambassadors provide visitors with an improved experience of our precious local environment.

“The Gower Ambassadors project began four years ago and now has around 60 volunteers who are passionate and knowledgeable about the area.

“They help at – and enhance – Gower events, meet and greet visitors and share knowledge, stories and details of hidden gems.”

Community Council environment committee chair Susan Rodaway said: “We’re thrilled to have been awarded an RDP grant and are incredibly grateful to its local action group for seeing the potential in our project. 

“We aim to create a fantastic community resource working closely with Pennard Primary School and the wider community.

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“Our gardd gwenynen – or honey bee garden – will be created by the collection and composting of household food waste.”

Swansea YMCA chief executive Anne-Marie Rogan said: ”We’re thrilled to have secured RDP funding.

“This will support our work to ensure children and young people across rural Swansea have a platform to have their voice heard and be actively involved in providing authentic, innovative and creative youth-led solutions to climate change and the climate emergency.

“Young people have the power to positively influence and change the world in which they live, and this funding will help to make this happen.

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“Our Youth Solutions Rural Swansea will provide a digital and face-to-face platform for young people.”

Gower Flax director Arwen Roberts said: “We’re so excited to secure RDP funding. It’ll enable us to continue our research into creating a regenerative textile system for Wales.

“Our community engagement programme will help raise awareness of where and how our textiles are grown – and the impact our clothes have on the environment. 

“We’ll share our journey of textiles and colour with the local community, groups, schools, colleges and universities.”

The RDP is a seven-year European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development programme funded by the European Union and the Welsh Government’s Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, ending in 2023.

RDP chair Hamish Osborn said: “This is an exciting selection of projects.

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“The Gower flax work combines innovative and sustainable approaches to agriculture and textile productions, the Gower Ambassador programme will improve interaction between visitors, the community and environment, the YMCA initiative will connect young people and help them support each other and the community – and Pennard’s gardd gwenynen will benefit local people and the environment in a number of ways.”

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Swansea RDP’s outcomes include an increase in community self-reliance, development that is less damaging to the environment and more support for biodiversity.

Key aims include building community resilience, maximising the local economy, increasing wellbeing of rural communities.

Successes of earlier funding rounds have included schemes that led to a plastic-free community group and to Wales’ first community solar farm.

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Additional projects like Cae Tan Community Supported Agriculture and the Coeden Fach community carbon offsetting feasibility study seek to find innovative solutions that serve the interests of the local community.

Community groups or not-for-profit organisations with an innovative idea that could benefit Swansea rural communities can now engage in a new RDP funding round. For more details contact the RDP team – https://www.swansea.gov.uk/rdp and www.facebook.com/rdpleader/

Lead image: Swansea YMCA members (Image: Swansea Council)

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Welsh and UK Governments agree to establish Freeports in Wales

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The Welsh Government has reached agreement with the UK Government on the establishment of Freeports in Wales.

Welsh Ministers have agreed to support Freeport policies in Wales following the UK Government’s agreement to meet the Welsh Government’s demands that UK Ministers provide at least £26m of non-repayable starter funding for any Freeport established in Wales, which represents a parity with the deals offered to English Freeports.

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The UK Government have agreed to meet a number of other demands – including that both Governments will act on the basis of a ‘partnership of equals’ to deliver any Freeports in Wales.

In addition, both Governments have agreed a Freeport will only be implemented if it can be demonstrated clearly it will operate in a manner that aligns with the Welsh Government’s policies on fair work and environmental sustainability, including the commitment to Wales becoming a net-zero carbon nation.

Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething said: “Following considerable engagement between our Governments, I’m pleased we have been able to reach agreement with UK Ministers to establish Freeports in Wales. The agreement we have reached is fair to Wales, and respects the Welsh Government’s responsibilities in devolved policy areas.

“However, we have made it clear to the UK Government that a Freeport will only be implemented if it can be demonstrated, using robust evidence and analysis, that it will support our fair work agenda and deliver long-term, sustainable benefits for Wales, and value for money for Welsh taxpayers.

“I very much hope that the UK Government’s willingness to work with the Welsh Government as equals on Freeports can provide a positive model for future co-operation between our governments on other initiatives.”

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The UK Government’s Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove said: “I am delighted that Wales is the latest area in the UK set to benefit from a new Freeport.

“The UK Government’s ambitious Freeports agenda will help to level up our coastal communities and create new opportunities for people right across the country.

“Together with the Welsh Government, I look forward to seeing innovative proposals come forward that demonstrate tangible benefits for the people of Wales.”

In addition, Welsh and UK Ministers have agreed that the UK Government will provide tax incentives for Freeports in Wales in parity with Freeports in other parts of the United Kingdom for the reserved taxes that have been designated to advance the policy aims. The Welsh Government will design tax reliefs from local and devolved taxes (Non-Domestic Rates and Land Transaction Tax) to support the policy aims.

Both Governments say they will remain open to the possibility of a multi-site Freeport in Wales. In recognition of Wales’ unique economic geography and the Welsh Government’s aspirations for economic development in Wales, the UK Government is willing to relax the 45 km boundary limit for a multi-site Freeport solution, should there be a sufficiently compelling case for doing so.

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Both Governments will also remain open to the possibility of allowing more than one Freeport in Wales, should they be presented with a sufficiently compelling business case.

As with English Freeports, a fair and open competitive process will be used to determine where the policy should be implemented in Wales. Both Governments will work together to co-design the process for Freeport site selection, and both will have an equal say in all decisions throughout the implementation process. This includes the final decision on site selection.

Both Governments have begun the process of designing the bid prospectus for the competition and further details about the timing of next steps will be released in due course.

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Swansea digital agency iCreate enters the metaverse with bespoke digital environments

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Swansea-based creative agency iCreate is entering the metaverse by creating 3D visual environments for Dubai-based NFT boutique Jumi – a new outlet for curated digital art.

The metaverse hit the headlines last year when Facebook’s parent company rebranded to Meta, reflecting the growing potential of the internet to offer an interactive virtual world through AI and 3D digital animation.

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The metaverse offers social connection through technology, interaction with brands and businesses, and online recreation.

It encompasses everything from online video games to virtual shops where you can digitally try on items before you buy them, and bespoke venues for online events of all kinds.

It’s expected to expand into an online world where people will have their own virtual avatars which they take from one virtual environment to another, purchasing virtual products for them and housing them in virtual homes.

This is where iCreate – which specialises in creating digital environments – comes in. The company provides CGIs, 3D flythrough animations, VR tours and marketing brochures to the off-plan property sector.

From interactive, customisable home interiors that enable buyers to plan every detail of their dream home, through to large-scale digital animations of new housing developments, iCreate is adept at creating virtual environments that look and feel like the real thing.

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Now it’s teaming up with Jumi and other partners to create digital environments that will never be built in the real world, but will exist in the metaverse, where people’s avatars can explore and socialise in them.

A key aspect of the metaverse is non-fungible tokens (NFTs): digital assets that can be bought and traded. These are increasingly hitting the headlines as everyone from independent artists to big brands creates and sells digital-only products, music, artwork and more.

Dawn Lyle (right) and the team at iCreate

Jumy, which completed a $1.2M seed funding round last year, is the ultimate NFT boutique marketplace for exclusive digital art. All artworks are curated from the world’s most creative digital artists, to guarantee outstanding quality.

The platform is the world’s first to offer a fully integrated digital art experience where visitors will be able to purchase pieces with payment cards, trade their NFTs, order NFT frames (digital frames for NFT art) and flex their NFTs on metaverse – all in one place.

By collaborating with Jumi, iCreate will make beautiful, exclusive digital environments for displaying NFTs in the metaverse. From here, it’s expected that a new market in bespoke virtual homes and offices will develop over the coming years, as more aspects of all our lives are lived in the metaverse.

Dawn Lyle, iCreate’s co-founder, said: “We’re delighted to have formed this new partnership with Jumi and to be taking our bespoke digital environments into the metaverse.

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“The metaverse offers such a wealth of possibilities, and over the coming years it will become increasingly common to play, meet and do business with people all over the world in virtual settings.

“We’re excited to be creating stunning digital environments in which these activities can take place; in the metaverse, there are no limitations and it’s possible to bring dreams to life, creating astonishing virtual places that delight and surprise. It gives us the opportunity to put all our creative skills to use in exciting new ways and we can’t wait to get started.”

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River Island launches its brand new Swansea concept store this weekend

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Fashion chain River Island is revealing its brand new concept store at Morfa Retail Park in Swansea on Saturday (7 May).

Located at the former New Look store at Unit 6 on the Brunel Way shopping centre, the new store is just a few doors down from its previous outlet, although promises to be an even bigger and better boutique shopping experience.

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Located across two floors, the 8,253 square foot store has been specially curated to the tastes of Swansea shoppers according to the fashion chain.

Set across one level, womenswear will occupy just over half the space, with the remainder split between menswear and kidswear, stocking kids, mini and baby.

To celebrate the new opening, River Island will be hosting a launch event weekend in-store on the 7th and 8th of May, where shoppers can expect to hear celebratory sounds with in-store DJ sets, whilst the first lucky 100 customers through the doors will receive a £10 gift card which can be redeemed in-store or online.

Frances Baker, River Island Property Director said: “River Island is thrilled to be relocating and open ing a new boutique store in Swansea, Morfa as part of our segmentation programme.

“We are excited to introduce our concept store to our existing loyal customers, with exciting opportunities to acquire new customers with our new look-and-feel store.”

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River Island say the store upgrade strengthens its 300 strong estate and solidifies its message of “standing by the high street”, a campaign set up in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic to show solidarity with other high street brands negatively hit by the effects of the pandemic.

The fashion chain say that by investing in finding ways to encourage and entice customers to return to in-person shopping it hopes to “enhance and improve the shopping journey for its customers”.

(Lead image: River Island)

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