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About 1,200 small businesses have been developed in Blaenau Gwent since 2011, as the local authority tries to tackle high levels of unemployment.They have been set up or helped after it became the first Welsh council to adopt the American Sirolli model.This sees support given to people to turn passion into businesses in the absence of major outside investors.While the area has the highest unemployment levels in Wales, they fell from 14.1% in 2012 to 8.1% in 2016.Prof Max Munday from the Welsh Economy Research Unit, said the scheme was “useful” in helping people make their own opportunities.But he said challenges in creating mass employment in the area “should not be underestimated”. Blaenau Gwent – which has a population of 70,000 – has lost many big employers, including the Ebbw Vale steelworks, which once gave work to 34,000 people.Ironworks at Tredegar and collieries in places such as Six Bells, Abertillery, are also long gone while plans to create 6,000 jobs with the Circuit of Wales at Ebbw Vale have disappeared.Without replacements for these, the BG Effect has supported 1,187 business ideas or people who need help with existing operations.It mentors entrepreneurs, offers advice on getting start-up grants and gives help with finding premises, web design and marketing products.
Those it has helped include a company which gives furniture a new lease of life and a babywear shop in Abertillery.There are also jam and cake-makers, an interior designer, a fitness club and dance company.The project’s Moe Forouzan said it is “like an old telephone exchange”.”We listen to people and connect them to those who can help,” he said.”The key to the project’s success is our volunteer resource panel, made up of people from all areas of business, that help us support our clients with their business ideas.”One business launching in September is Language Lambs, with Anna Snowden McVeigh – a qualified teacher who is fluent in French, Greek and German – set to puts on classes in Six Bells.”Children have the ability to pick up languages so easily,” she said.”I’ve seen at first-hand the advantages of learning a second language so I decided to turn my love of teaching to a younger audience in a bid to help them learn a skill that could open doors for them.”
Two men behind another business have worked on TV soaps Eastenders and Coronation Street, as well as at the Glastonbury Festival and Disney on Ice.However, they are not actors or performers but specialists in making sure sets are fireproof. They built Flame Protect UK up from scratch in Abertillery and the BG Effect is helping with an expansion into carpet and office cleaning services.BG Effect facilitator Laura Doel said: “It’s our clients who make their own dreams come true, we just give them a helping hand.”The man behind the model, US-based Dr Ernesto Sirolli said: “The future of every community lies in capturing the passion, energy and imagination of its own people.”Cardiff Business School’s Prof Munday said not just Blaenau Gwent but the wider valleys area has found it difficult to attract manufacturing or services inward investment.He believes the BG Effect is “akin to developing the foundation economy” and helped people make their own opportunities.But he cautioned: “The challenges faced for this area should not be underestimated and, running alongside these innovative programmes, there still needs to be attempts made to market the wider area to inward investors.”