- Posted by: Mike Hedges MS
- Category: Latest News
After over ten years of the Community First programme and many successes, it’s unfortunate that the only time most people have heard of Communities First is when problems have been reported to the police such as at Plas Madoc in Wrexham. Since becoming the Assembly Member for the Swansea East constituency in May 2011, I’ve witnessed first-hand practical examples of Communities First programmes that have made a significant difference to the lives of many people; this has ranged from helping people find employment, helping reduce their financial outgoings, to helping people improve their health and wellbeing.
One of the scourges of many of our communities is doorstep lenders and the high interest rate on line lenders. In Penlan, the Communities First team and LASA Credit Union attended the gates of a local primary school where they spoke to parents, mainly young mothers, about loans and savings, along with the benefits of being a member of a credit union. Following the visit, 21 Christmas loans were issued and 6 loans for young mothers with high interest doorstep lenders were consolidated. This initiative saved just under £8,000 in interest payments with the money now remaining in the hands of local families.
Whilst in the St Thomas Communities First programme, the “Change 2 Save” initiative supported local residents in reducing their energy bills by working with them to identify the best providers in order to reduce outgoings. The project promoted the use of energy efficient light bulbs, and trained residents in using online search engines to identify methods of saving on energy costs. Residents were also encouraged to take advantage of Welsh Government sponsored energy efficiency schemes by having cavity wall and loft insulation installed. To date, this project has seen 49 households in Swansea East helped and a total saving of £7,336 on water, energy bills and house insurance.
Following community members identifying the high cost of energy bills and fuel poverty as a major community concern, the Clase and Caemawr Communities First partnership set-up a project to address and raise awareness of this problem. Together with Swansea Council’s Housing Department and the Fire Service, fire hazard and energy audits were undertaken and householders were helped to develop an action plan to make their homes safer, warmer and less expensive to run.
One of the largest causes of concern for mothers of young children, aside from their safety and health, is the cost of continuously buying new clothes. In the Blaenymaes and Portmead area, a clothing shop at the Blaenymaes Drop-in Centre has been set up as a not-for-profit social enterprise to help young families deal with the financial strain. The Drop-In Centre has been running for eight years, is run entirely by volunteers, and the clothing shop provides low cost second –hand clothing to customers who mainly come from the surrounding areas.
The “Faith in Families” scheme which has centres in Bonymaen, Penplas and Clase, has helped to provide support for struggling families living in surrounding areas, such as day care facilities for children. This project is aimed at supporting disadvantaged families, many of whom are on low income or unemployed. It has helped build the confidence of young children and provide opportunities for those under the age of three so that they are better prepared for school. It has also saved many parents from social isolation and has helped build their confidence in order to enter or re-enter training and employment.
Improving health is another important aim of the Communities First programme, and we have seen action taken in Clase, Caemawr, Bonymaen, Morriston and Port Tennant to address this.
The project, “Tutti Fruity”, has been running for 6 years serving customers from Clase and Caemawr. It supplies bags of vegetables, salad and fruit all priced at £2.50 each. Customers can buy as many bags as they like, depending on their requirements, with most buying between 1 and 3 bags regularly.
The local shops have a restricted supply of fruit and vegetables and the nearest supermarket is at least a 30 minute walk away, so access to good quality inexpensive fruit and vegetables is limited. A price comparison with three of the big supermarkets, conducted in 2011, showed that the food co-op was the cheapest to buy from. The food co-op is currently run by four volunteers who take orders from customers, deal with the wholesalers and then bag and hand over the produce to the customers during Friday mornings at Clase Community Centre. .
The Bonymaen Communities First team have organized weekly “smoke free surgeries” in the community to support residents looking to reduce or quit smoking altogether. Over 15 people have attended each session and this has led to the promotion of smoke free homes.
The “Slim 2 Save” imitative is a healthy eating project held in Port Tennant, designed to encourage people to eat more healthily, exercise regularly and lose weight whilst saving money at the same time. This group holds regular taster sessions of low fat cooking, Zumba classes, and provides access to a range of other activities.
In Morriston Communities First programme, the team has worked close with the local secondary school to set-up and promote an after school bike club for young people; this has had 800 young people involved and participating in activities to promote cycling and healthy living.
Employment is one of the best ways of improving both family income and building up self-esteem. In the Penlan area, the Communities First team in conjunction with the Job Centre have previously held a community job fair for residents looking for employment, where local businesses and employers came along to chat with residents about job and training opportunities available in the Swansea area.
The job fair, which was attended by 171 people, saw 18 attendees gain employment as a result. A further event, based around interview preparation and advice, was subsequently organised by the team and has helped around 49 people enter into employment, training or undertake voluntary work.
It’s important to acknowledge that these are just a few examples of the outstanding work being done by the Communities First programmes in Swansea East. Since its launch in 2001 the programme has gone a long way in regenerating some of the most disadvantaged communities in East Swansea .In my experience the Communities First programmes, and more specifically, the teams and volunteers within the communities have made a huge difference to the life chances, living conditions and prospects of many people living in the area I sincerely hope that this worthwhile work continues in the future so that more people living in Swansea are able to benefit by finding employment, reducing their costs and improving their health and wellbeing.
Mike Hedges AM – Assembly Member for Swansea East