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Small businesses play a big role in the Swansea Bay City Deal

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With nearly all the Swansea Bay City Deal programmes and projects now approved and in delivery, the contribution that small businesses to the success of the deal are said to be significant.

Saturday 4th December is recognised as Small Business Saturday; a day to celebrate the success of small businesses, encourage people to shop locally and recognise their support in local communities across the country.

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The first of the City Deals projects to be approved and complete is Yr Egin (pictured above) – a state-of-the-art digital and creative hub located at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) in Carmarthen. Anchored by S4C’s headquarters, Yr Egin is also home to around 12 small businesses who have flourished since co-locating at the centre– utilising the office spaces, networking at the hot desking areas as well as the advantages of being part of the University halo effect.  

Welsh Otter and Stiwdiobox are two companies who have grown since moving to Yr Egin and benefiting from the space that’s on offer. Welsh Otter are a family run business who aim to raise the profile of designers who work in Wales by showcasing the best of Welsh homeware, textiles and gifts that draw on traditional, handmade and heritage designs. Stiwdiobox offers up-to-date media technology services to engage with people, including radio workshops, voiceovers and podcasts. Both small businesses have goals that mirror Yr Egin, and the Swansea Bay City Deal – to inspire creativity and innovation, and foster local talented workforce for the future.

Kim Otterburn, Founder and Head of Welsh Otter said: “ Yr Egin has hugely benefited my start up business and helped us to network and grow.  I have been able to use the wonderful, flexible facilities as a hot desking office and for business meetings.  It provides a professional, collegiate environment ideally located in Carmarthen, and the staff have been hugely welcoming and supportive.”

Marc Griffiths, an experienced broadcaster, and the Founder of Stiwdiobox added: “Locating my business at Yr Egin has been a great decision and my facilities include a voiceover booth, a radio studio and YouTube area – all of which are critical to Stiwdiobox’s success. Being part of an interactive, digital community has been great for networking with others. Stiwdiobox continues to grow and I very much look forward to welcoming back local pupils, students and education practitioners who can benefit from the bilingual, digital activities Stiwdiobox has to offer.”

Gwilym Dyfri Jones, Provost of the Carmarthen Campus at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David said: “The vision for Yr Egin from the outset was to develop a creative and cultural hub in Carmarthen that would reflect commercial best practice within the creative sector linked to the UWTSD’s bilingual provision.  The aim was to create an accelerator to incorporate the key components of a sustainable, highly productive, and competitive hub that would contribute to the creative and digital economies of Wales and the UK. Yr Egin has delivered on that vision in the three short years since it first opened its doors to S4C and other tenants.  It has become a centre renowned for the excellent facilities it offers, as well as the creative bilingual community that has been established.  I’m delighted that such companies as Stiwdiobox and Welsh Otter are thriving within the centre.”

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Carys Ifan, Director of Yr Egin added: “The Centre is always looking for opportunities to support businesses and has a lot to offer with our thriving community of creative practitioners and small businesses who benefit from engaging with each other under one roof.   Yr Egin’s facilities, which include excellent digital connectivity, supporting meetings online and face to face as well as hotdesking facilities, provide the professional environment for our clients’ business needs. We offer a range of support services to assist businesses to grow or take the next step through our partnership with the Focus Carmarthen Enterprise Hub.  Yr Egin is a great place to do business!”

Supporting the growth of small businesses and start-up companies plays a very important role in developing the Welsh economy, and many parts of the Swansea Bay City Deal are focused on creating opportunities where small and large businesses, along with academia can work collaboratively to thrive.

Cllr Rob Stewart, Swansea Council Leader and Chairman of the Swansea Bay City Region’s Joint Committee, said: “I would like to celebrate the success of the small businesses already part of the City Deal investment and that are working with us to establish South West Wales as a perfect place to successfully grow and succeed. Many parts of the City Deal provide opportunities for small companies to work alongside large businesses, universities and healthcare, and each of these have an important part to play in the success of the deal. With 8 out of 9 projects from our investment portfolio of up to £1.3 billion now in delivery, we aim to create working environments that will mutually benefit businesses of all sizes across the region. This will drive economic growth and aid our Covid Recovery.”

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Fourth-generation Haverfordwest jeweller invests in 155 year old family business

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Fourth generation jeweller Paul Howells has completed the refurbishment of his 155-year-old family business, bringing an adjoining retail outlet back to life and safeguarding four jobs in the market town of Haverfordwest.

Established in 1866 by Paul’s great-grandfather, Howells Jewellers occupies a prime position on Quay Street in Haverfordwest.

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A six-figure loan from the Development Bank of Wales and funding from Pembrokeshire County Council’s Houses into Homes Empty Property Scheme, designed to bring empty properties back in to use, has enabled the refurbishment of the double fronted shop and creation of four new apartments.

Offering views of the river, each of the two-bedroom apartments are to be rented to local people looking for quality accommodation in Haverfordwest.

Paul Howells said: “We’re really proud of our family business and enjoy the job that we do; helping our customers to choose the perfect jewellery. However, our building was in a bad state of repair and needed refurbishing in-order to secure the long-term success of the business and give the property a new lease of life. The funding from the Development Bank and Pembrokeshire Council has enabled us to restore the building with a smart new shop-front and four new apartments, safeguarding our future and helping the town to prosper.”

Paul Howells, Howells Jewellers

Richard Easton is a portfolio executive with the Development Bank of Wales. He said: “Buying jewellery is still one purchase that most people want to do in person rather than on-line so there remains strong demand for high-quality high street jewellers like Howells.

“With a very loyal following, Howells has been an integral part of Haverfordwest for over 155 years. Our investment has helped to protect this legacy, safeguard jobs, create new homes and support a sustainable and successful future for a long-standing and highly respected local business.”

The Wales Business Fund is part-funded by the ERDF through the Welsh Government. It was created specifically to support businesses with fewer than 250 employees based in Wales and those willing to move to Wales with loans and equity packages from £50,000 up to £2 million.

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(Lead image: L-R Paul Howells, Howells Jewellers, Richard Easton, Development Bank of Wales)

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Over 70 exhibitors already confirmed for city centre conference at new Swansea Arena

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From small independent businesses to entrepreneurs, large companies and developers, over 70 exhibitors have already been confirmed for a major event taking place in the spring.

Being held at Swansea Arena on Thursday March 17 from 10am to 8pm, the Swansea City Centre Conference and Exhibition 2022 will give an opportunity for city centre retailers, regional businesses, social enterprises, community projects and not-for-profit organisations to raise their profile and make connections.

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Organised by 4TheRegion in partnership with Swansea Council, the event will also give an opportunity to celebrate the city and the region and find out what’s happening both now and in future.

Exhibitors and all in attendance will hear from decision-makers and city leaders, helping shape the vision for coming years. There will also be discussions, breakout sessions, workshops and a business hub for networking and masterclasses.

Cllr Rob Stewart, Swansea Council Leader, said: “This event – the first conference of its kind to be held at Swansea Arena – will celebrate everything that’s great about Swansea and the region, from our fantastic local businesses to the major projects that are transforming both the city and South West Wales as a whole.

“The combination of our businesses and entrepreneurs with the regeneration that’s either complete, under way or planned means we’re in a strong place to quickly bounce back from the economic impact of the pandemic.

“The Swansea City Centre Conference and Exhibition 2022 will enable everyone in attendance to network, raise their profile and find out more about exciting plans for the future that will deliver a city and region that combines world class facilities with high-quality jobs and opportunities to meet the aspirations of all.”

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As well as Swansea Council, Pobl Group and Coastal Housing are on board as the main sponsors for the event, which will feature five zones:

  • Development and investment, sponsored by Swansea Business Improvement District (BID)
  • Destination, travel and tourism, sponsored by Morgans Swansea
  • Circular economy, energy and environment, sponsored by Pobl Group and Coastal Housing
  • Creative economy, culture and digital, sponsored by the University of Wales Trinity Saint David
  • Connecting the region, sponsored by the Swansea Bay City Deal

Dawn Lyle, founder and chair of 4TheRegion, said: “Two years ago, we had to cancel this event when the world went into lockdown. After the difficult time we’ve all had since then, it’s time to come back together and look to the future of our wonderful city by the sea and all the exciting things that are happening here. 

“We can’t wait to showcase all the businesses, people, organisations and projects that make this city great – and we hope everyone will take this opportunity to come and have a look around the fantastic new arena too.”

Email zoe@4theregion.org.uk for information on exhibiting.

You can also visit https://www.swansea-arena.co.uk/events/city-centre-conference-4theregion to register to attend the city centre conference for free.

(Lead image: Copr Bay / Swansea Council)

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Neath based Ministry of Furniture unveils growth plans for 2022

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Its plans include a move to bigger premises, an investment in systems and streamlining its offering

Ministry of Furniture, the company which emerged from Remploy Furniture, has unveiled exciting growth plans for 2022, which include a significant investment in systems, a planned move to larger premises and the launch of a new product line.

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The business will also streamline and simplify its offering in line with its core skillset – the design, manufacture (and remanufacture), and installation of furniture. As such, it has completed the divestment of Ministry Graphics, its division offering graphics and signage, which has been sold to its original shareholder.

Ministry of Furniture first invested in Ministry Graphics, originally called Sign and Print Systems, in 2019. Having grown the business substantially, the company has been sold back to Matthew Anderson, the original owner and MD of that business. He will continue to develop the business, to be renamed Sign Inc.

The move will allow Ministry to focus on offering exceptional customer service around its core furniture and interiors offering. This approach will also allow it to expand that offering by launching a fitted furniture range in 2022, complementing the strong links it has developed with the commercial, construction and education sectors.

The company’s growth trajectory has also prompted it to seek bigger premises. In an exciting move for the company, it has signed heads of terms to move into part of the Metal Box Factory in Neath.

Ministry of Furniture plans to take a substantial chunk of the iconic 250,000 sq ft site, which once housed one of the biggest workforces in the area, has been regenerated in recent years by Neath Port Talbot Council and the J.G. Hale Group.

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In line with these plans, the company will also make a six-figure investment in a bespoke set of communications and workflow system designed to streamline the company’s working practices and enhance its customer service.

Ministry of Furniture has enjoyed a period of sustained growth since it was founded from the UK governments closure of Remploy Furniture in 2013. Now, it is eyeing growth and diversification in line with its values and aims as a company in 2021 – and is investing in the people, systems and skills to allow it to leverage that. This also includes anticipated growth in the commercial, construction and education sectors over the next 12 months.

Having realigned the company’s working practices and offering in the past 12 months, it now offers clients a seamless journey over the timeline of a big project – from concept to completion. In Wales, as a framework supplier for The National Procurement Service (NPS) for Wales, it can offer its suite of services to all public sector bodies.

Graham Hirst, Ministry Group CEO

Graham Hirst, Ministry Group CEO, said: “We are delighted to outline this set of exciting plans for the company as we commit to an ambitious vision designed to facilitate continued profitable growth for the business while also putting our customers first and committing to our core values as a company. While the plans will allow us to increase capacity and the scale of our offering, they also mean we remain focused on our core offering – doing what we do best for our clients.

“The move to new premises represents a very exciting new chapter for the business, as does the investment that will go hand-in-hand with that and our launch of a fitted furniture range. In terms of our divestment of Ministry Graphics, we feel that is the right move at the right time for both businesses.

“We’re delighted to have contributed to the growth of the graphics and signage business over the past two years and to be able to pass the business in great shape back to Matthew. Matthew is a good friend to the Ministry Group and takes the business with our very best wishes and encouragement for the future.”

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Lead image: CGI representation of the new Ministry Offices, created by the Ministry of Furniture Interior Design Team

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