A Conversation with Cletwr

We recently popped in to see Karen at Cletwr after hearing great things through the grapevine about the work they’re doing with the community of Tre’r Ddol in Ceredigion. We’re in the very early stages of planning an event showcasing how services are being delivered in rural communities and wanted to share this conversational blog ahead of this event.

We’re all ears to innovative projects and different ways of delivering services, no matter the organisation or sector. Get in touch if you have something you’d like to share about the way you’re doing things differently.

What is Cletwr?

We’re a not-for-profit organisation set up to bring the community together to safeguard vital facilities and services in this rural area. First and foremost: Cletwr is owned and run by the community. We like to think of Cletwr as a “turbo-powered” village shop!

I listen to the community – if people ask me to stock something, if they want to buy it, I’ll stock it. If it runs out of date, then I know it’s not what they want and won’t get any more. It’s important to us to be responsive to what our community wants.

What inspired you to create Cletwr?

First thing –  it wasn’t me who created it – it was the community. Our building was a shop and petrol station, and it had been closed since 2009. This meant there were no services in the village at all.

The owners of the premises approached the community and asked whether we wanted to open a shop – they gave us the site rent free for a while to trial it. Huw and Sue supported Cletwr all the way and we can’t thank them enough.

What was the most challenging part of starting up Cletwr?

Dealing with people’s expectations. Everyone has different expectations so managing this can be a challenge for us.

What makes you proud about Cletwr?

For me it’s the inclusivity – it’s quite warm and belonging here. When you walk in it’s a beautiful atmosphere. We are like a little family – so many people say that. We love that Cletwr has brought the community together.

What impact has Cletwr had on the community?

It really has brought everybody together. Previously, either people didn’t even know their neighbours, or they knew their neighbours but didn’t know what skills they have. When they come to Cletwr, they end up sharing skills and ideas, build relationships and the community has grown as a result. For example, our knit and natter group has enabled people in the community to teach each other and brought everyone together. It’s made a community!

The impact that Cletwr has had on things like loneliness has been really fantastic. We’ve seen the impact of things like knitting groups, mens sheds, all kinds of groups, on social inclusion. It’s great to see.

We’ve donated toilets to 3 schools in the area, using the toilet twinning scheme. You make a donation towards to project and your toilet is twinned with a toilet in a third world country, and people can make donations to the upkeep of their toilet. We raiased around £2000 in 12 months!

Another scheme we’ve started is a Welsh books honesty library. We have a library of around 500 books. One of our volunteers looks after the library where people can take the book out for a month for free. It’s one of the ways we’re encouraging people to engage with Welsh culture and language.

In terms of produce and goods, we support the local economy as much as we can. We are trying to create “Super Local Saturdays” where people can come here on a Saturday morning and buy local things from local people. Lots of people like to know they’re supporting local. We’ve got local people who grow their own fruit and veg, and if they’ve overgrown then we buy it off them, we get runner beans, rhubarb, cucumber – they’re only going to go be composted otherwise!

Biggest pleasure for me is seeing just how much impact Cletwr is having on others locally. For example, our strawberries supplier has had to add in a new tunnel because of how much we were purchasing; we just buy so much from her. Another of our suppliers has 1000 hens – we had talks & she told us she can’t keep up. Her free range eggs are so popular at Cletwr that she is having to buy more hens in the summer!

We have 70 odd suppliers for our little village shop – it’s so worth dealing with invoices and payments, when you see what comes out of it, and knowing the money goes back into the area. It is harder, but I have so much more job satisfaction. Also, when we had lots of snow, all the shelves in supermarkets were empty…but we had all our deliveries. We didn’t miss a single delivery.

What plans do you have for the future of Cletwr?

We had our strategic reviews with the board last week. We came to agree that we do so much together, now we need to consolidate and look at what we’re doing well, and continue the work we’re doing, developing our staff and volunteers. We do so much already – it’s time to breathe and just focus, and ensure what we’re doing is continued to be done.

We’ll always be responsive to the community – if you want to do something, if you want to try something, we’ll do it! We’ve done music events, like when we closed the carpark and had bands playing outside – it was a massive piece of work, and we had never expected it to be so busy! But the beauty of that is now we have monthly music nights as a result. This is just how we are responding to the community.

We recently ran IT courses – these were basic laptop courses, free to our volunteers, and for those who live within a 10 mile radius we offered them the course at half price. It was a complete sell out, and the feedback we have had was just excellent. One volunteer who came along said “I feel safe here, it’s my comfort zone”. She told us she would’ve felt out of her comfort zone going elsewhere. Here is her safe place. Having the trainer come here made a huge difference. It’s the little things you might not think about that often are the most impactful.

What plans do you have for the future of Cletwr? If there was one piece of advice you’d give to someone looking at starting a similar project, what would that be? 

Listen to your community.

It’s very difficult to order something you don’t like but I will – I utilise all the people here – I’ll even just ask my son! So I would say, listen to your community. We accommodate everyone as best we can, no matter what.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but make sure you learn from them. That is crucial. 

With thanks to Karen Evans from Cletwr

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