International Women’s Day: Despite the recession five businesses founded and run by women in the valleys are thriving, thanks in part to support from Pen y Cymoedd community fund.

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From a skincare brand to an all-woman mountain biking event and a cider company to a family support service, these businesses, all founded, owned, and run by women in the heart of the Welsh valleys are booming, following investment from The Pen y Cymoedd wind farm community fund.

ThatCocoCompany, The Sisters of Send Festival, Luna Bell events, Resolven Building Blocks and Austringer Cider are just a handful of the organisations that have been supported since the fund launched in 2017. In the past five years, The fund has invested more than half a million pounds in championing new business ventures across the Welsh valleys, launched, owned and run by women. This has subsequently helped to create jobs, services, events, and products that have provided the Afan, Rhondda, Cynon and Neath valleys with the vital economic boost they needed.

Kate Breeze, Executive Director of the Pen y Cymoedd fund said, “We may be in the middle of a recession and a cost of living crisis, but the women we have supported to launch their new business ventures have thought outside the box and come up with innovative new concepts, products or events that are becoming established as widely recognised brands. Not only are they running their own businesses, juggling family-life and in some cases holding down another job, but they are also managing and growing what are now successful and thriving businesses, which are in turn helping the local economy to prosper.”

Meet the ladies behind the businesses:

Bridie Phillips, founder of ThatCocoCompany used the £5k she received to purchase the manufacturing equipment she needed to grow her business, after demand for her coconut-based candles and diffusers outweighed her supply capabilities. Since then, the business has gone from strength to strength and Bridie is now in the process of fitting out a larger retail outlet in the town centre to allow her to meet the businesses rapidly increasing orders. Not only is the business thriving but it is attracting people from outside of Aberdare to the area and helping to rejuvenate the declining high street.

Bridie said “The brand and our products have really taken off and business is growing at such a rate that we simply cannot keep up with demand. We have developed a strong customer base both locally here in Wales as well as across the UK, and that seems to be growing. I think people are increasingly looking for more natural, ethical, and sustainable products and are willing to travel to get them. I am grateful to The Fund for the boost it has given our business and allowed us to grow.”

Bianca Samuels, 29 from Afan, co-founded Austringer Cider in 2021 with her father, Phillip, and applied for a micro-grant of £5k to support the growth of the business. Following receipt of the money Bianca has purchased a carbonator to help her produce limited-edition varieties of the cider and commissioned a graphic designer to create labels for the brand. Since then, Bianca has gone on to win internationally recognised awards and is producing 7000 litres of their popular home-made cider from her uncle’s barn. The cider, which is made from 100% fresh pressed apples, can be purchased in a small selection of local retailers and bars in Afan and at local events.

Bianca said, “My father and I have been brewing cider at home for several years but when the pandemic hit, we were both made redundant from our full-time jobs. As a result, we decided to take the risk to plunge everything into our cider making and launch a business. Thanks to the support from organisations like Pen y Cymoedd, the brand is thriving, and demand is at an all-time high, so much so that we are currently looking for new premises to produce and bottle our product.”

Stephanie Davies, 38, from Glynneath founded Luna Bell Events in 2021 after receiving £5k from the fund. She used the money to help launch and grow the event design and décor business and since then has diversified into weddings. The business has gone from strength to strength, and is currently booming with Stephanie securing clients from all over South Wales. She is currently still juggling a full-time job, alongside a family, while running the business, but is hoping to secure more money from The Fund this year, to help her plunge everything into her events business and make it her single stream of income.

Stephanie said, “Without money from The Fund, I simply wouldn’t have been able to grow the business, as I wouldn’t have had the capital to purchase the products I needed to style and decorate the rooms. I am so grateful for The Fund helping me to make my dream of running my own wedding and events business a reality.”

Ceri Pritchard, 41, from Resolven co-founded Building Blocks in 2007, a charity providing vital support services to families in the Neath Valley in the form of childcare, workshops, and training. Following the pandemic, Ceri applied for £63K of funding from Pen y Cymoedd to support vital research into the support services required to assist with post pandemic-related mental health problems in children. As a result, Building Blocks, was able to generate a growth and mindset programme for young people aged between 9-12 to help with anxiety, self-esteem, self-worth and confidence. The 10-week programme has been taken to primary and secondary schools around the county and has received very positive feedback from both parents and children involved. Ceri and the team also generated a 121 programme for children with learning difficulties to help with emotional regulation, communication, and expression.

Ceri said “The pandemic had a huge impact on children mentally, and readjusting to life post-pandemic has been difficult, especially for those with learning difficulties where they struggle to cope with any sort of change. Without the grant from The Fund our vital research and subsequent mindfulness programme simple wouldn’t have been possible. The impact that the research and the programme has had on the mental health of children across the area has been phenomenal.”

Emma Hawkins, Jessica Strange and Ally Campbell, held the first ever Wales based female mountain biking festival called The Sisters of Send in the Afan Valley last year after receiving £16k from The Fund. All three ladies have a background in coaching, guiding and riding and what started as a simple ladies demo day turned into a two-day mountain biking festival that attracted over 200 female mountain biking enthusiasts from around the country to the Afan Valley. Emma, Jessica, and Ally all juggle organising the festival alongside other parenting and career responsibilities but are passionate about attracting women into the sport and raising the profile of the Afan Valley as a destination for mountain biking for people across Wales and the UK.

Emma said, “Mountain biking is predominately a male dominated sport, which can put women off from ‘having a go’. The festival is designed to be a place where women can receive coaching advice and support from female experts and have a go at the sport or try out new trails without being intimidated by more confident male riders. We couldn’t believe the success of last year’s event, but it just proved to us that there is a thirst for it. Thanks to The Fund, we are on our way to creating the foundations for a pivotal event in the mountain biking calendar and making a name for the Afan Valley across the UK.”