Wales Co-op Centre hails the creation of 200 social enterprises in two years

The centre says the success of its business support programme shows that ‘social business is fast becoming the start-up model of choice’

Wales Co-operative Centre says its business support programme has helped to create 200 social enterprises over the last two years, a sign that “social business is fast becoming the start-up model of choice”.

Baobab Bach CIC in Bridgend is the 200th social enterprise to be officially incorporated since the launch of the Social Business Wales New Start programme – finance by the European Regional Development Fund – in November 2019.

During the first lockdown, its parent company Eclipse Wales Services set up Community Pantries in local communities, using food surpluses to help support people and venues through the pandemic. After a successful pilot, the numbers have grown to 12 community pantries across Bridgend County, with another soon to be added.

Alison Westwood, director of Baobab Bach CIC, said: “Clients use the pantry for a variety of reasons – usually they live on a tight budget but using the pantry means they can make their money go further. We deliver to clients who are unable to get to the pantry, such as those with a disability, reduced mobility, the frail and elderly or those with no means of transport.

A young visitor to Baobab Bach at Nantymoel Community Centre

“To date, over 6,000 bags of food have been distributed, amounting to more than 60 tonnes of food. The pantries are developing links with local support services and signposting and referring clients accordingly. A number of pantries also offer teas and coffees and the opportunity to stay and chat to help ease loneliness and isolation and improve wellbeing.”

The success of the project led to dialogue with Social Business Wales and its advisor Tom Addiscott to explore ways of developing the pantry network and sustaining it. They also formed a partnership with Linc Cymru, who worked with Baobab to gain funding from the Welsh government’s Food Poverty Grant.

Ms Westwood added: “We are very grateful for the incredible help and support given to us by Tom Addiscott and Social Business Wales with the set up of Baobab Bach CIC. The pandemic has challenged us all, but it has been very reassuring to work with Tom and Social Business Wales and to recognise that we are developing a sustainable, locally based service that will support the people of Bridgend County, and beyond, well into the future.

“We anticipate that Baobab Bach, with the continued support of Social Business Wales, will develop the Community Pantry network and wellbeing cafes into the future, while benefitting the environment by reducing the amount of food going to landfill and encouraging local growing projects.”

The Social Business Wales New Start team of specialist business advisors are located across the country to help with everything from business planning and board development to sales strategy and stakeholder engagement.

Carly McCreesh, project manager for Social Business Wales New Start at the Wales Co-operative Centre, said: “We are extremely proud to have incorporated 200 social businesses during this incredibly unstable and difficult economic period. We have helped some inspiring individuals and community groups get their business ideas off the ground and it has been an absolute pleasure to help them establish, create jobs, and do incredible things within their communities.

“In the wake of Covid-19 there has never been a more important time for communities to continue being innovative through business. From helping our most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in Wales, to tackling our climate emergency, we hope individuals and community groups continue to see social business as the business model of choice for years to come.”