Tag Archives: communities first

Keep Wales Tidy and Gurnos Men’s Project: Delivering social, economic and health benefits

Darllenwch y flogbost yn Gymraeg

Keep Wales Tidy are known for protecting our environment. However you might not know that they work in other ways to make our communities better places to live. For this post, Ena Lloyd talked to Jake Castle about the Gurnos Men’s Project.

I hadn’t realised until recently that the Keep Wales Tidy office was across the road from our Cathedral Road Offices in Cardiff.  I caught up with their CEO Lesley Jones, as I wanted to know more about the Gurnos project, which is about supporting men into employment. Were there also some health and social care benefits? Lesley said that it would be helpful if Jake Castle, the Senior Project Officer blogged about this really rewarding project that he is leading on.

Here is what Jake shared about the project:

I am the Project Officer for Keep Wales Tidy in Merthyr Tydfil. I work with community groups, schools and individuals to carry out practical environmental projects. One of the most rewarding (and often entertaining) of these groups has been the Gurnos Men’s Project.

The Project was formed two years ago to give a group of long-term unemployed men on the Gurnos Estate the opportunity to get together and take part in a range of activities to help improve the community and develop their own skills and learning. It merged new and existing Keep Wales Tidy volunteers and links to Communities First. At that time, over 90% of the people that were engaged with the local Communities First cluster were women and so there was a clear lack in provision and support for men.

A photo of 6 men who are working in the woods on Gurnos Men's Project

Gurnos Men’s Project

The group soon became dedicated to their work and carried out regular clean-ups, gardening and school grounds improvements. They also take part in basic reading and writing, horticulture and countryside skills courses. I meet with them every fortnight to help plan and deliver local projects and with the help of Communities First we regularly review their activities to ensure their own needs are being met while serving the wider community. I was pleased when I recently secured funding to organise formal training for the group; the combination of their ongoing dedication, hard work and this training has had such positive results.

As no one in the group had taken part in any accredited training for many years, they were all anxious about being tested. It was important that I support them and select appropriate training, six men have now successfully achieved NPTC Level 2 in Safe Use of Brush Cutter and Trimmer Operations. This formal qualification is hugely valuable as it doesn’t expire and the skills gained have helped to improve the confidence of the group and the standard of the work in the community.

All six participants (shown in above photo) are keen to pursue grounds maintenance work as a form of employment;

This has been great for me. I’ve been out of work for a few months now and this is the kind of work I’d like to get back in to. I know this ticket will be needed for loads of jobs and it shows I’ve been active and trying to better myself.

Antony Dunn, volunteer (shown second from the right in the above photo)

The group have been visited by elected representatives and were hugely grateful for the chance to talk about how the work and training had boosted their self-esteem, helped them manage mental health problems and alcoholism, provided them with lots of skills and helped the wider community. The wife of one of the group who is suffering from dementia also spoke of how the group had been a huge help to the both of them, easing the burden on the health and care systems.

It was acknowledged that there’s a real value in the provision for these individuals. Supporting people into employment is, of course, the goal and we are all aware that this may be a long-term process. This model suggests that the interim period (before finding work) can also prove valuable in several other ways.

It seems to me that success for this group has involved a healthy mixture of skills that benefit the individuals, and activities that benefit the community – not forgetting the occasional structured activity for routine and enjoyment! The community benefit is hard to measure; it goes well beyond litter picks as it brings a reduced demand on our health and care services.

In my opinion, the Men’s Project can help increase employment levels and improve Valleys communities. The focus for us all now is to quantify that wide-ranging contribution.

There are many more projects that Keep Wales Tidy are involved in, including Blue Flag, Eco Schools, Green Key. All our programmes are available on our website.

YMCA Plas: A vision for a better Roath

How do organisations develop a strategy for a community asset? Dyfrig Williams visited YMCA Plas (formerly Plasnewydd Community Centre) in Roath to find out.

A photo of YMCA Plas

YMCA Plas

Throughout my recent posts on asset transfer, I’ve visited organisations that have gone through the asset transfer process and are now on the other side. My final visit was a bit different, as it took me to an organisation who are developing their business plan for the site. I went to see the YMCA, who have taken on the old Plasnewydd Community Centre building on a leasehold basis for a hundred years from Cardiff Council. They are looking to redevelop the site, and originally wanted the building on a freehold basis to make the most of it.

Like all the other asset transfers in this series, it wouldn’t have been able to take place without working closely with the council. The transfer comes with an agreement for 25 years rent-free, without which the YMCA would not have been in a position to take the asset transfer forward. This has given them breathing space, and enabled them to put the right building blocks in place to encourage growth.

The price of property in Cardiff made it difficult to find suitable premises, especially with the huge increase in the area’s student market. But now the deal has been done, the move will enable the YMCA’s Youth and Community arm to get out from under the homeless remit that YMCA are widely connected to in the area.

The council didn’t want to restrict how the YMCA makes use of the site, but it has stipulated that it must maintain community usage. The Local Authority deliberately didn’t tie the YMCA into a restrictive agreement, and the only other condition is that they can only sub-let 33% of the site. The YMCA maintained throughout the negotiation process that they would be unable to take on the staff through TUPE, as they didn’t have the capacity to do so.

What is the strategy for YMCA Plas?

As the lease for the building is so long, YMCA Plas needs to be multi-use, so that if circumstance change the building can still be functional. Fewer and fewer people have been coming to the building as it’s been earmarked for closure for quite some time, so the YMCA are currently running events to re-engage the community, and are looking to consult on its future.

The aim is for YMCA Plas to be a community hub for local groups and people in the area. They want to develop a sport facility with space for a gym to generate income, which will give the centre a health and wellbeing focus.

The organisation are also developing a childcare strategy and a nursery. There is a lack of affordable childcare in the area, which they’ve identified through working with Communities First. Not many people know that the YMCA is the biggest childcare provider in UK, which the organisation can draw on to take this part of the plan forward. They are also looking to rent out rooms where possible and to rent spaces to organisations whose purpose aligns with their aims and objectives.

The entrance to the building is on the side of the street, so the organisation is looking to move the entrance so that it focuses on footfall from the street. This will clearly show that it’s open and accessible to the public, instead of relying on people to go down the side street.

Lessons learnt

Throughout the process the organisation focussed on the council’s timelines, which meant that the focus wasn’t always as intense on their own requirements. As staff were not transferred over to the organisation, embedding new staff whilst taking over a new facility was a big challenge. This meant that they couldn’t hit the ground running in the way that they would have liked, and the transfer involved so much work it was difficult to focus on what was going to happen afterwards. However the core message in the short term has been to maintain the current business, which doesn’t pay the bills but does contribute to it. Because of effective planning they are able to soak up the immediate losses whilst the business plan is being developed. The challenge now is for the organisation to continue to run the business whilst developing a path forward.

A vision for the future

I’ve lived in Roath for the past few years, and it’s a vibrant and diverse place to live. I’ve given blood at the centre a few times, but I must admit that I haven’t made the most of the facility that’s been on my doorstep.

The area has lots of people living side by side, but who aren’t always integrated. I’m all for anything that brings people together in the area, and I’m excited to see how the YMCA make their vision for the community centre into a reality by involving community groups and the people of Roath.