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Small businesses are on the fast track with finance from the Development Bank of Wales

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An 18th Century Inn, a Spanish tapas bar and an African food store are just some of the 73 Welsh businesses that accessed over £1.3 million of fast track micro loans from the Development Bank of Wales in the financial year to date (April to December 2021)

Small businesses, sole traders and social enterprises that have been trading in Wales for over two years can apply for a fast track micro loan of up to £25,000 from the Development Bank of Wales. Decisions on qualifying customer loans can be made within two working days.

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The  figure of £1.32 million represents an increase of more than 30% compared to the same period in 2020 when fast track loans totalled £986,000 , demonstrating the appetite of small businesses for growth capital to invest as the economy recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic.

A fast track loan of £25,000 has helped Carmarthen-based Cutting Edge Mechanics to take advantage of new dealership opportunities with the purchase of stock and a trailer. Established in 2016 by owner Alun James, the business is an independent stockist and repairer of specialist arborist and gardening equipment.  

Alun said: “The opportunity arose to take on a new dealership. It was a great move for us but we needed to invest in new stock and a trailer in order to take advantage of the opportunity. £25,000 is a lot of money to find as a small business so getting a quick decision on a loan from the Development Bank of Wales was just what we needed. It was an easy and straight forward process which meant that I could get the order placed with the dealers and agree the purchase of a new trailer quickly. The excellent service meant that we could get ready for the new season and now look forward to growing the business further.” 

Ele’s Little Kitchen is a catering company based in Gorseinon providing traditional Spanish cuisine. Run by Elena Pardo who is originally from Murcia, the business was first set-up from home to cater for parties, business events and weddings. An £8,000 fast track loan from the Development Bank has enabled Elena to relocate to new restaurant premises on High Street, Gorseinon. The popular tapas bar now offers both take-away and delivery.

Elena said: “I am passionate about cooking and love Mediterranean cuisine. Our secret is based on traditional Spanish flavours with a modern twist and it’s so good to now have our own little tapas bar here in Gorseinon. It really is a dream come true thanks to the support of the Development Bank.”

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African food store SunBim Foods is based in the heart of Newport. Owner Sunday Omuju sells a wide variety of African food products, some of which are now made on site after he secured a £12,000 fast track loan from the Development Bank which has been used to purchase an industrial oven so customers can now enjoy freshly baked goods.

Sunday said: “Our family business is going from strength to strength as we invest in our products and the range of fresh food that we can offer our customers. Access to finance has been really important for us as we couldn’t invest in the business without the support of the Development Bank. We’re also very grateful that they made the application process so easy and quick. It’s made a massive difference.” 

Elain Molloy and Peter Maull own Tafarn y Waen, an 18th century inn near St Asaph. A fast track loan of £20,000 from the Development Bank has been used to help diversify income by transforming the popular but remote pub into boutique guesthouse accommodation with hot-tubs. A small caravan site has also been created.

Elaine said: “We would never have survived this last 18 months let alone be thinking about future growth and success if it weren’t for the loan from the Development Bank. The money has enabled us to diversify and future-proof the business with investment in our accommodation. We’ve created an attractive destination that will secure the long-term survival of Tafarn y Waen as an historic, rural establishment.”

Nicola Edwards, Development Bank of Wales

Nicola Edwards of the Development Bank of Wales said: “Providing much needed community and social support, our fast track loans are certainly making a big difference to small businesses and traders the length and breadth of Wales with many telling us that they really appreciate the simplicity and efficiency of our application process plus the speed at which the funds are received.”

“Now more than ever, businesses need quick and easy access to sustainable and flexible finance to help them invest in the future. Those in catering and hospitality have had a particularly difficult time over the last two years while many tradespeople are looking for funding to help their recovery and growth. It’s testament to the dedication and future ambition of business owners across all sectors in Wales that so many have come forward to get the funding that they need to invest in their businesses, scale up and accelerate growth.”

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The £30 million Wales Micro Loan Fund is financed entirely by the Welsh Government. Loans between £1,000 and £50,000 are available with repayment terms ranging between one and ten years.  

(Lead image: Cutting Edge Mechanics)

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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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