The Fern Partnership

A lesson in entrepreneurial thinking

From the staffroom to the boardroom; tackling poverty across the Valleys

The vision for The Fern Partnership (TFP) took shape four years ago. In her role as Business Manager at Ferndale Community School, Michelle Coburn-Hughes recognised a need to alleviate some of the socio-economic pressures affecting the deprived communities of Rhonda Cynon Taff.

From working at the school, Michelle could see first-hand the impact pressures like low incomes and limited employment opportunities had on pupils, their families and the wider community.

It was this that inspired Michelle to launch TFP, a charity and social enterprise with the sole purpose of enhancing outcomes for pupils and forging opportunities for people in the community.

Michelle wanted to approach this in a variety of ways but knew her vision centred around creating facilities and services that would support children and their families for years to come. Michelle was passionate about creating local jobs for local people and is currently on track to be assessed for a Gold Workplace Health Award. But work for TFP started with funded and fee-paying childcare offerings. In 2015, Michelle opened an onsite creche at the school and recruited her first five employees, which had an initial annual turnover of £172,000.

This was just the first step of Michelle’s growth plan and in the past three years the partnership has experienced substantial growth. As a direct result of the unique set-up of the partnership, it was able to create and safeguard 45 jobs for local individuals through the establishment of a number of new sites and the revitalisation of existing areas. The TFP also recruited a number of volunteers to support the operational management of the charity.

Following the pivotal appointment of the Childcare and Community Development Manager Nikki Beach the organisation has continued to flourish. As an energetic team they oversaw the development of two childcare facilities and the asset transfer of a number of spaces and programmes including a local library, community classes, job clubs, holiday programmes and employment support schemes.

And it’s not just young people who benefit from the scheme. TFP developed the Generations Together programme as a direct bid to help older people work alongside young people in the community with a view to reducing social isolation.

In addition to the childcare facilities, the partnership purchased and developed a 10,000m2 soft play centre in June 2017 which created further roles and opportunities for people in the community. Employee figures for TFP are predicted to rise to 60 members of staff in the next 12 months.

From a financial point of view, the figures have been equally as impressive as the acquisitions and employability aspects of the partnership. TFP is predicting an estimated turnover of £326,000 at the end of the current financial year, a number which has doubled in two years. Furthermore, the charity is estimating a turnover of £750,000 for the following financial year with a highly possible target of £1 million for the year after.

Current projects in the pipeline include the planned acquisition and safeguarding of staff in a childcare facility on the threat of closure as well as the asset transfer of a primary school.

Both the Ferndale Community School and TFP have been recognised for their use of innovation and as such have been selected as a Path Finder Organisation for the Welsh Government Valleys’ Task Force – set out with the aim of making the Valleys a more prosperous and vibrant area. Further recognition includes the Excellence in Social Enterprise Award.

Most impressively, Ferndale Community School is one of the largest employers in the Valleys. TFP’s growth indicates that it will be equally as significant in the creation of job opportunities and providing the community with the vital support and services they require.