A supported employment charity in Merthyr has transformed the lives of hundreds of disabled and disadvantaged people over the past seven years – building an inclusive and hugely successful business based on nurturing the natural skills of people who have historically felt excluded from meaningful work with a progressive employer.
Sat in the heart of Merthyr Tydfil Industrial Park, the achievements made by Elite Paper Solutions are little short of astonishing. This is a company that has grown a strong and successful commercial enterprise, delighting customers in a variety of markets – while building the confidence and skills of people who now enjoy fulfilling roles and rewarding careers, both within Elite and further afield.
We spoke with Ian Thomas, Group Enterprise Manager of Elite Paper Solutions, to discover the secret of a success story that’s championing inclusive employability in one of our region’s most socially and economically challenged boroughs ….
Over 500 people helped into employment since 2015
“We’re a not-for-profit, established in 2015, that empowers disabled and disadvantaged people of all ages to gain valuable skills and real-life working experience – offering them quality employment, volunteering and training opportunities. We aim to either provide a job within our team or become a steppingstone for them into employment in the local community – and in the last seven years, we have helped over 500 people towards meaningful employment and a sustainable future.
“We’re running a successful business as well as pursuing a social mission and we have shown that the two needn’t be mutually exclusive. In fact, our approach makes complete sense in this age of skill shortages – opening doors to people who want to work and want to better themselves; growing a skills base by harnessing talents from all parts of the community.”
Opening doors and creating vocational pathways
“We have been completely inclusive in opening up as many opportunities to as many people as we can. For example, when we launched Elite Paper Solutions we invested a great deal of time creating close partnerships with local Additional Learning Needs schools, offering their students placements, with every encouragement to gain an Agored Cymru accreditation and the chance to join us in paid employment when the opportunity arises.
“We always advertise any vacancy internally, to give our volunteers and people on placements ‘the first option’ – and we look to continually create ongoing pathways for our people, too. We employ Employment Advisors who act as job coaches, so when people have developed as much as they can with us, we look to get them paid employment elsewhere in the community, taking them to the next level – and freeing up a place for another placement or volunteer to take.
“We’ve also forged strong links with organisations such as CommunityFirst, PeoplePlus, Tydfil Training and the Job Centres, working closely with them to get as many people as we can into long-term meaningful work. Recently, that has seen us engage nine people on the Kickstart programme, with all nine then moving onto apprenticeships in customer service or business administration – benefitting from roles that build confidence and life skills, as well as bringing long-term opportunities.
“That approach to developing a range of skills has seen us build a trusted reputation for delivering highly professional recycling solutions to organisations across Wales. Every member of our team is fully trained to provide expert paper recycling services that can include confidential destruction, archive storage and document scanning – and that team is incredibly loyal and high-performing, with those who have left us for more senior roles in places like Cardiff still viewed very much as part of our family.”
The family analogy is well-placed, as Elite Paper Solutions is itself part of a wider family – with sister social enterprises Elite Training Solutions and Elite Clothing Solutions forming a force-for-good triumvirate with a heritage stretching back to 1994, when the original charity was launched in Llantrisant, under the umbrella charity of the Elite Supported Employment Agency.
Investing in people and premises for long-term success
Ian is eager to stress that the story to date is just the beginning, for a company that has put in place the foundations for sustained success:
“Being one of three Elite social enterprises gives us many advantages, not least in our ability to recently secure our premises in a prime site Merthyr location – giving the best possible access to the maximum number of employees and minimising travelling times for most of our people.
“A £828,000 loan from sustainable bank Triodos means we now own our five prime site properties – renting out two of those to other businesses, allowing us to continually reinvest in our long-term future, expanding our operation to support more disabled people and those at a disadvantage.
“Securing such high-quality premises couldn’t come at a better time. The success of our team has allowed us to diversify the Elite Paper Solutions services, based on the skills developed by our people – and we’re now working with world-renowned Warwick Publishing to create a range of musical instruments from recycled materials, so that they can be used and enjoyed by primary school pupils across Wales.
“So, our sense of inclusion runs deeper than building up our own team. Yes, we’re rightly proud to have achieved Disability Confident Leader status, which is the highest level of Disability Confident award. But that’s just part of a wider vision to create a sustainable future for as many people as we can – diversifying into areas such as producing eco-friendly animal bedding, as well as moving towards becoming carbon neutral by generating our own energy and switching to electric vehicles.
“That new finance, together with our tried and tested model, means we can further push and pursue our vision, bringing benefits to people and our communities – inclusively, environmentally and commercially.”
We’ll be following the incredible Elite story as it grows from strength-to-strength – and if you would like to discover more about Inclusivity in Action across the Cardiff Capital Region, go to: www.cardiffcapitalregion.wales