Category Archives: Assets

Neuadd Ogwen: The Swiss Army Knife of Music Venues

Neuadd Ogwen, a community hall in Bethesda, has been transferred to the community. What can other groups learn from its flexibility and success? Dyfrig Williams went to find out.

As someone who loves live music, it’s been heartbreaking to see so many venues closing. I grew up in Carmarthen, where the Parrot closed (and has now fortunately re-opened after a successful crowdfunding campaign), and even in my new home of Cardiff venues like the Barfly closed due to lack of funds. If venues face problems in a city like Cardiff, what chance of survival do they have in a small town like Bethesda?

Well as it turns out, the chances are pretty good. Neuadd Ogwen has made the most of a Chairman and staff who are passionate about the culture of the town. And when we visited, the hall was getting set to host Sweet Baboo, Welsh Music Prize nominee and darling of 6 Music.

The Background

The venue has been a community hall for over 100 years, and in that time it’s been used for several purposes, including selling animals and concerts.

Picture of Neuadd Ogwen

Neuadd Ogwen

A couple of years ago the Tabernacle made a bid to take over the hall and make it a professional venue with good lighting, whilst focusing on the needs of the local community. As we’re living in a time where public funds are scarce, it’s likely that several voluntary organisations and Town and Community Councils will find themselves in similar situations.

What happened

Dyfrig Jones, the Chairman of the Tabernacle, did all the groundwork by taking care of the paperwork that made the dream into a reality. And although the building is now open, there’s still a lot of scope for the hall to host a wide range of projects. I spoke to Dilwyn Llwyd, the Hall Manager, about how they have made the building available for as many purposes as possible.

Firstly, they identified potential sources of income, because more activities means more use by the community. They created a questionnaire to source ideas and identify members of the public that might want to volunteer – about 50 as it turns out. The next step is for these volunteers to be fully trained, on food safety for example, so that they can boost the hall’s income by making as much use as possible of the cafe and bar.

The inside of Neuadd Ogwen

Inside the hall of Neuadd Ogwen

The results of the questionnaire also helped create the hall’s programme. People have brought their own ideas (like yoga) to the hall. There is also a market once a month, kickboxing, events for the elderly, concerts and Cawl a Chan (‘soup and song’) nights, as well as one-off events like birthday parties and weddings.

The hall also acts as a cinema – they show 3 films a month. Children’s films are especially popular, as the nearest cinema is quite a distance away. All of these activities increase the number of visitors, and the high footfall ensures that people are aware of what is happening on a regular basis. And of course because this is a community project, all the profit is re-invested back into the hall. The venue has a target of being open for 100 hours a week, which is ambitious. But it helps the staff to focus on how they can promote the use of the hall for the benefit of the community.

Staffing

It was interesting to hear how Neuadd Ogwen have made the most of the Jobs Growth Wales scheme to boost the capacity of venue staff. The scheme has allowed them to employ two members of staff to do the marketing, administration and to look after the facility. This has enabled Dilwyn to focus on the hall’s programme and the day to day management.

So the hall is not just looking to survive, it’s set to thrive. And because it’s looking at all the needs of the community as a whole, it is well placed to do so. I’m looking forward to seeing a gig there next time I’m in the North.

Asset Transfer: Everything you need to know

What were the key learning points from WCVA’s Asset Transfer event? The National Assets Working Group reflect on the day.

Asset TransferThe Asset Transfer event organised by the WCVA was a day of learning for all of us involved in community asset transfers – community groups, local councils and members of the National Assets Working Group (NAWG). For us in NAWG, it was an opportunity to engage directly with groups taking part in community asset transfers.

Setting out our stall

Sharing a stand with colleagues from the Welsh Government responsible for the Protecting Community Assets consultation, we brought our lifetime supply of Community Asset Transfers in Wales – A Best Practice Guide. By the time Lyn Cadwallader, Chair of One Voice Wales recommended the guidance, all copies of the English language version had gone (luckily, the internet never runs out!)

Our Welsh Government colleagues also offered up copies of their consultation on Protecting Community Assets (closing date 11 September 2015) – please have your say.

Opening Speeches

Jane Hutt AM, Minister for Finance and Government Business, outlined the Welsh Government’s support for community asset transfer and took questions from delegates. One question from the floor (with no easy answer) asked about funding for feasibility studies for community groups looking to take over community assets.

After the Minister’s speech, there were two speakers from the social enterprise sector; Louise Barr from Monwel, discussed their expansion as Wales’ largest signage manufacturer. The second speaker, Dinah Pye, from Cynon Valley Museum outlined their story in negotiating with Rhondda Cynon Taf council to re-open their heritage museum. She outlined the challenges arising from originating as a pressure group, then morphing into Trustees of the facility; namely that they had the correct skillset for the future and the importance of getting expert advice at the right time on contracts and employment law.

Workshops

We were as keen to learn from the event as we were to engage with people and attended different workshops to gain some coverage of the issues being discussed. These included DTA Wales’ workshop on establishing viability of the community enterprise/ service – exploring how if an asset wasn’t viable, then it could become a liability.

Empower delivered an interesting workshop on developing an entrepreneurial culture within the team – stressing the need to be clear in target setting for outcomes; transparency on why that was necessary (how much money would be required each month to stay viable); and the need for everyone involved to own the solutions. There were also some sobering examples of poor management and cost control, bringing charities to the brink of insolvency.

There was a lot of emphasis given to the need to be as prepared as possible – business plans, employment law and TUPE were mentioned as recurring themes.

Representatives of Unity Trust Bank (an ethical and social bank) and the WCVA funding programme talked through how and when to access the funding available to social enterprise and community groups for both the initial community asset transfer and following that, any capital investment that might be needed. The message to take away was that loan finance can actually help attract other grant funding as the bank welcomes being part of match funding with other funding partners. Applicants should not be afraid to consider a range of funding streams and be prepared to think outside the box. There is plenty of advice and help available, be brave they said!

Geldards talked delegates through the legal issues that can present when groups and individuals take up the challenge of pursuing an asset transfer. They helped navigate the potential steps from a germ of an idea through to a full incorporation as a charitable or social enterprise organisation, focusing on how the risk of personal liability for an asset can be managed.

Logos of organisations that contributed

Organisations that contributed to the conference

Reflections on the day

The event presented much needed access to information and professional advice, which can be provided by contacting the WCVA on their number: 0800 2888 329.

Whilst the work of the NAWG is focussed on the Welsh public sector, with the spotlight on community asset transfer, it was useful for us to discover the experiences of delegates, first hand. This will inevitably inform our work in this area and practically speaking, inform the development of our website and future guidance work. Engage with us at assetscymru@wales.gsi.gov.uk.

Services in a time of change

Welsh Purchasing Consortium

How can organisations plan for the future in a time of change? Dyfrig Williams looks at the work of the Welsh Purchasing Consortium and how they’re implementing a flexible cloud based software solution.

Reforming local government is a hot topic here in Wales. Whilst there were lots of interesting messages in the Williams Commission report, it was the call for fewer councils that made all the headlines.

In this environment of impending change, it’s important that councils continue to focus on their day to day work, whilst also keeping one eye on what the future holds. It would be far too easy to stay in a period of stasis whilst awaiting re-organisation.

It was really timely and interesting to hear then how the Welsh Purchasing Consortium has implemented a Public Protection Software Framework to improve collaboration and efficiency across Welsh councils.

The expense of bringing existing systems together meant that they procured a new system that has the potential to cover the whole of Wales. This means that the approach can be adapted when any mergers take place, whilst also making it easier to interrogate data on a national basis. Nineteen councils expressed an interest in taking part, so they plumped for a cloud based system. If you’re unfamiliar with cloud computing, you can watch Evan Jones outline the advantages of it in the below video from our Information Technology Webinar.

This Cloud solution will save server costs, and also release IT resources at individual councils. There is also more flexibility in the system, as it can be accessed on any device with a web browser.

If you’d like to learn more, you can find a case study on the work on our website. Obviously the nature of work changes from council to council and from service to service, but there are a lot of interesting things to learn from this work that could be adapted to suit your needs.

Meddalwedd Gwybodaeth Raffigol a Chydweithio

Yn ein blog diweddaraf o Wobrau Cymuned Gwelliant Parhaus Cymru Gyfan 2014, dyma Kevin Williams o Gyngor Bwrdeistref Sirol Castell-nedd Port Talbot yn disgrifio ei Feddalwedd Gwybodaeth Raffigol a’r pwysigrwydd o gydweithio.

Cyngor Bwrdeistref Sirol Castell Nedd Port TalbotMae staff ein hisadran TGCh, mewn cydweithrediad â swyddogion cyfatebol Dinas a Sir Abertawe, wedi ennill gwobr o fri yn ddiweddar gan y Gymdeithas Gwybodaeth Ddaearyddol, ac mae hon yn wobr ar gyfer sector cyhoeddus y DU gyfan.

Pan benderfynodd yr isadran TGCh gyfnewid ei Feddalwedd Gwybodaeth Raffigol ddrudfawr am ddewis amgen cost-isel, swyddogaethau medrus ffynhonnell agored, roedd nod y tîm yn syml; cynyddu’r graddau yr oedd GIS ar gael i staff a’n dinasyddion am lai o gost. O ganlyniad i’r manteision yr oedd y prosiect hwn wedi’u sicrhau, roedd awdurdodau cyfagos yn dangos llawer iawn o ddiddordeb gan gynnwys Abertawe, Sir Gaerfyrddin, Sir Benfro a Cheredigion. Arweiniodd hyn at brosiect rhanbarthol a oedd â’r dasg o nodi meysydd lle byddai cydweithredu trawsffiniol yn fanteisiol o ran nodi a chyflawni arbedion effeithlonrwydd, cynyddu’r defnydd o GIS a gwelliannau i’r gwasanaeth. Ariannwyd y prosiect hwn yn rhannol gan y rhaglen ranbarthol bresennol ac roedd yn gweithredu ac yn cael ei lywodraethu gan Fwrdd Cydwasanaethau TGCh Canol a De-orllewin Cymru.

Daeth canfyddiadau cynnar i’r casgliad bod pob awdurdod lleol yn bwrw iddi â’r un tasgau ond mewn ffyrdd ychydig yn wahanol, ac nid yw GIS yn eithriad i’r rheol hon. Pan ffurfiodd y grŵp gyntaf, daeth yn amlwg bod gan bob awdurdod atebion GIS gwahanol ond roedd gan bawb yr un broblem. Sut oedd ehangu eu systemau heb fod yn gaeth i werthwr masnachol gyda chostau cynyddol?

Ar ôl cwblhau’r prosiect, mae’n amlwg nad yw’r manteision a wireddwyd wedi’u cyfyngu i’r arbedion ar ffioedd trwyddedu a’r broses o ddiddymu cytundebau cynnal a chadw. Serch hynny, mae’r arbedion a amcangyfrifwyd yn hanner miliwn o bunnau dros gyfnod o bum mlynedd ac felly maen nhw’n sylweddol, ond drwy fabwysiadu ateb FfynhonellAgored yn ein hawdurdodau, mae’r defnydd o GIS yn ddiderfyn erbyn hyn. Gall symud cyfyngiadau ariannol rymuso unrhyw un i gael mynediad at ddata mewn dull gofodol, gan sicrhau y gellir gwneud penderfyniadau gwybodus yn gynt gan yn y pen draw wella gwasanaethau cwsmeriaid.

Mae cydweithredu ar y prosiect hwn wedi helpu i greu cysylltiadau gwaith newydd ac wedi helpu i chwalu’r ffiniau mwn perthynas â chreu cydwasanaethau rhwng awdurdodau lleol. Y gwaith hwn oedd wedi gwneud argraff ar y pwyllgor gwobrwyo, a arweiniodd at gydnabod arloesedd a gweithio traws-sector. Mae Kevin Williams, a fu’n arwain y prosiect ar gyfer Castell-nedd Port Talbot wedi’i wahodd, erbyn hyn, i ymuno â phanel AGI Cymru, gan gynrychioli GIS FfynhonellAgored.

Collaborative Graphical Information Software

In our latest blog from the All Wales Continuous Improvement Community Annual Awards 2014, Kevin Williams from Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council tells us about their Graphical Information Software and the importance of collaboration.

NPTCBCStaff from our ICT Division, in conjunction with counterparts from the City & County of Swansea, have recently picked up a prestigious award from the Association of Geographic Information, an award contested across the whole of the UK Public Sector.

When the ICT Division decided to replace its high-cost proprietary Graphical Information Software (GIS) with a low-cost, high functionality open source alternative, the team’s aim was simple; to increase the availability of GIS to staff and our citizens for less cost. As a result of the benefits this project delivered, a great deal of interest was shown by neighbouring authorities including Swansea, Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion. This resulted in a regional project tasked with identifying areas where cross-boundary collaboration would prove advantageous in identifying and delivering efficiency savings, increasing GIS usage and service improvements. This project was part funded by the existing regional programme and operated under the governance of the Central and South West Wales Shared ICT Services Board.

Early findings concluded that each local authority goes about the same tasks but nearly always in a slightly different manner, with GIS proving no exception to this rule. When the group first formed, it became apparent that each authority had differing proprietary GIS solutions but all had the same problem. How to expand their systems without being tied to a commercial vendor with ever increasing costs?

Having concluded the project, it is clear that the benefits realised are not restricted to the savings on licence fees and the elimination of maintenance agreements, although at half a million pounds over five years these estimated savings are substantial, but that by adopting the OpenSource solution within our authorities, GIS usage is now limitless. Removing the financial constraints can empower anyone to access their data in a spatial manner, enabling quicker and more informed decision making and ultimately improving council services.

Working collaboratively on this project has also helped forge new working relationships and assisted in breaking down the boundaries regarding creating shared services between local authorities. It was this work that the awards committee were so taken with, which resulted in the recognition of innovation and cross sector working. Kevin Williams, who led the project for NPT, has now been invited to sit on the panel of AGI Cymru, representing the OpenSource GIS.

Transferring assets to the voluntary sector

At the Good Practice Exchange we try to ensure that events we’ve held aren’t the end point for any topic we work on. We try and share ideas, resources and perspectives to hopefully start some conversations and encourage people to identify opportunities to improve their work.

We didn’t have long to wait before the first piece of practice was shared on Twitter during our Making Better Use of Public Assets seminar, as the Communities First Advice and Support Service got in touch to let us know about some interesting work that’s taken place in Cardiff to help a community organisation to take over an asset.

I was keen to learn more about it as it fitted neatly with Richard Davies’ workshop, which looked at the support needed by voluntary and community organisations to ensure a successful transfer. I spoke to Gareth Kiddie, who worked as a consultant to an asset transfer in Pentrebane, and Michelle Powell of ACE (Action in Caerau and Ely) who supported the process.

At the seminar Richard spoke about many of the challenges facing community organisations, with capacity being a key issue. Community organisations rely on volunteers, so it’s no surprise that Gareth said that the Competitive Tender process was a barrier to asset transfer, rather than an enabler. Gareth instead suggested supporting the organisation from an early stage so that they have access to the right knowledge and expertise and a real opportunity for success.

Gareth also highlighted the issue of capacity in a different sense, in that TUPE was also an issue for community organisations. Small voluntary organisations are not normally in a position to offer the same terms for staff as the public sector. Again, working with the community organisation at an early stage helped them to overcome this.

Richard Davies of GAVO / Richard Davies o GAVO

Richard Davies of GAVO

In my phonecall with Michelle, she mentioned the importance of flexibility to the process. The building was going to close imminently, but an expression of interest to the council meant that the organisation was given a license to occupy. This license gave Action in Caerau and Ely an opportunity to work alongside the organisation. This meant that they were able to build up a series of activities, which in turn helped them to put a business plan together and better forecast costs.

Michelle also mentioned how continual communication between the council and the community organisation was vital as both organisations knew where they stood. Communication has improved since the council appointed a dedicated officer, which will aid the process in the future. It’s also great that a Stepping Up Toolkit for developing and managing services and assets has been put together. I think the language used in the toolkit is great – it’s easy to get to grips with, which is a massive help as the process itself can be complex.

Public sector organisations are going to be under financial pressure for some time to come, so it’s likely that more assets will be transferred to voluntary and community organisations. It’s vital then that we learn lessons from each other’s approaches, so that we can ensure the best possible use of these assets for communities around Wales.

Dyfrig

Improving Your Space

Buildings Management Seminar

The theme of our shared learning seminars over the last year has been assets, and we’ve been working with the National Assets Working Group to share good practice between people who are working in the field of asset management.

A couple of the projects that we’ve been able to showcase have been funded by the Invest to Save Fund, which provides short-term funding to help public service organisations transform the way that they work. These have included the assets review that Carmarthenshire County Council have undertaken, which Jonathan Fearn spoke about at the Land and Asset Transfer Shared Learning Seminar. His presentation is available on our website and you can also see him discuss it in the below video from the seminar.

There are a range of Invest to Save case studies available on the Welsh Government website, including an interesting project from Bridgend County Borough Council, where they’ve rationalised their accommodation.

One of the interesting aspects of the case study is that although the rationalisation is about saving money as the funding dictates, it’s also about improving how the service is delivered. The approach has brought together services from a few different sites and made it much easier for different departments to work together.

Not only that, but by moving the building into the town centre it’s made use of a previously empty building to help regenerate the town centre. And by moving into the town centre, the council has been able to make the building a hub for the community as its customer contact centre there.
If this has started to get you thinking about the rationalising of buildings, it’s also worth having a look at the details of Antony Wallis’ workshop at our Buildings Shared Learning Seminar, where we heard about how of Natural Resources Wales is looking at its present and future needs as the offices of the Countryside Council for Wales, the Environment Agency and Forestry Commission Wales.

The striking thing about each of these projects is that they focus on the service’s role in enabling public services to deliver more, rather than navel-gazing at their own functions. It’s great to see how Bridgend County Borough Council have not just saved public money, but also improved service provision for the people of their county.

Dyfrig