Welsh technological revolution sparked in the Rhondda
A Rhondda community regeneration charity is boldly positioning itself at the forefront of Wales’s drive to become the technology hub of Europe.
Penrhys Partnership’s Big Click project is gearing itself up to help meet the target of 20,000-plus new IT professionals the Welsh Government believes the country will need in the next five years.
The initiative has been awarded £25,000 from the EU-funded South East Wales Community Economic Development (SEWCED) programme towards safeguarding the post of its Digital Technologies Manager to investigate new business opportunities.
Ensuring Big Click’s sustainability will mean it being able to help young people from the South Wales Valleys to meet the increasing demand for skilled workers who can create and develop technology.
Supported by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government and run by a six-Valleys local authorities’ consortium of Merthyr Tydfil, Bridgend, Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Torfaen, SEWCED has invested £6.4m in 110 social enterprises since it began in 2010, helping to create 18 social enterprises and 100 full-time jobs.
Penrhys Partnership has been working with disadvantaged communities for more than 23 years. Its Big Click trading arm grew from a digital inclusion initiative started in 2011, and last year it won a Welsh Government contract to develop three mobile apps for young Welsh-speaking learners to practice numeracy and literacy skills, working closely with two primary schools in the Rhondda.
The business provides advice and training in social media, website and mobile app development, also showing clients how to create their own apps to generate income.
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In the past year, staff have helped more than 30 SMEs get online and trained more than 60 young people in technology development, including robotics and coding. The business is also developing app products to sell through iTunes and Google Play.
“Our mission is to champion social enterprises, small businesses and groups to become creators of their own technology,” said Digital Technologies Manager Ben Treharne-Foose. “We want to provide an example of what can be created in our communities and how even small organisations can challenge the status quo of technology development, bringing it into the heart of the Valleys.”
Mr Treharne-Foose said that while the Welsh Government estimated that more than 20,000 new IT professionals would be needed in the next five years, current levels of graduates leaving Welsh institutions were not meeting that demand.
“Wales is establishing itself as a technology hub for Europe, meaning an increased demand for skilled people who can create and manipulate technology,” he added. “The young people of the South Wales Valleys are ideal for these up and coming jobs, but they need inspiration now.
“We are answering a need to illustrate and create a new path to regeneration for some of our most deprived communities. We want to prove that cutting edge technology is being created in our own communities and isn’t a career out of reach.”
Big Click’s first three educational apps have been downloaded more than 5,000 times and often been used in classrooms of more than 30 pupils, meaning thousands of children have been supported.
“Our biggest hurdle over the next 12 months will be to maintain the momentum of our success and capitalise on what we have learned and created so far,” said Ben Treharne-Foose. “The support from SEWCED will allow us to investigate new business opportunities and to give us the confidence to stretch ourselves to explore new markets.
“The digital sector is the fastest growing and has the most potential in Wales. And we aren’t just dabbling in it - we are right in the mix and influencing the conversation.”
Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s Cabinet Member for Service Delivery, Communities and Housing Cllr Keiron Montague said: “The successful funding bid by Penrhys Partnership will undoubtedly help develop skills and change the lives for many young people in the county borough.
“This is an incredibly exciting project and we look forward to the positive impact it will have in forging careers in IT and creative technologies for our residents.”
Penrhys Partnership is one of four Rhondda Cynon Taf projects to share £145,000 through the final batch of awards made in the county. Since 2010, more than 40 projects have been approved, and the fund is now closed.