Nurturing breakthroughs in the Valleys

Rhys David explains how the Wales Coalfield Bond launched five years ago has helped talented young people into creative careers

Not everyone will have heard of them but Aberdare all-girl band The Kix are big in Germany. Indeed, the trio, sisters Sam and Charlotte Bolderson and Kate Marshall, perform regularly on the Continent as well as in Britain and have appeared in a special show with Welsh National Opera.

She may not have been recognised everywhere from her previous BBC Wales and S4C television appearances but Alexandra Roach had a leading role alongside Meryl Streep in one of last year’s big films, The Iron Lady. The Ammanford actress, who trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, played the young Mrs. Thatcher.

What they have in common, together with a group of other creatively talented young Welsh people, is that they all come from the former coalfield areas of southern Wales. Not only that, they were all helped in getting a start by the Talent Nurture Fund, an innovative scheme launched in 2007 to help young people find a career in the creative and cultural industries.

The fund was set up initially in response to suggestions from the London Welsh community that more could be done to support young people wanting a career in the arts – an area where over a long period of time Wales has sung well above its octave, so to speak. The pipeline goes back, of course, to Richard Burton, Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Gwyneth Jones, Bryn Terfel and many others. In recent years the cast list has also included names such as Katherine Jenkins, Charlotte Church, Rhydian, Paul Potts, Connie Fisher, Sophie Evans and Only Men Aloud, not to mention various rock groups. Indeed, the television talent shows, now so popular, seem almost to be made for Welsh performers, many of them well used to Eisteddfod competition from an early age.

How the Bond Works

Pioneered in the North of England and Scotland by Citylife, a Cambridge charity now renamed Allia, the scheme makes use of an innovative financing mechanism to generate funds from businesses and individuals who want to help their local areas or their charity of choice. Investors buy bonds which pay low or no interest, the bulk of the capital is loaned to a charitable body, such as a housing association, and the remainder is made available for the good cause being supported. Over five years the interest paid on the loan by the borrower helps to re-build the original capital sum and the investors can then be re-paid.

Over ten years charitable bonds issued by Allia have raised more than £18.5m, releasing more than £3m to support worthwhile causes ranging from outreach work to help young people to get back into work in Sheffield to a project matching jobs and people in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Variants on the  basic bond have recently been developed which enable investors to receive modest amounts of interest if they choose to do so. A mechanism now exists, too, which enables individual charities to raise a bond issue of their own through Allia. (Further details from

The Coalfields Regeneration Trust were recruited by Allia as partners for their deep knowledge of the area, and they brought in Young Wales, a charity working with young people. And with a board chaired by former Welsh Development Agency chairman, Sir Roger Jones, and support from a number of leading Welsh individuals in Wales and London, including the then Welsh Secretary, Peter Hain, an appeal for funds was made.

The Wales Coalfield Bond (see panel) raised just over £360,000 thanks to generous support from the Principality Building Society and Trinity Mirror, owners of the Western Mail, which also provided welcome publicity for the idea, and from a small number of private individuals. A further grant came from Arts and Business, which promotes links between companies and arts organisations.

Aims of the Talent Nurture Fund 

  • Identify individuals with the necessary interest, ambition, potential and enthusiasm to benefit from the award.
  • Make awards that will encourage training and/or educational opportunities for people from the former coalfield areas who would not easily be able to access such opportunities.
  • Make awards that will remove barriers to training, employment, or enterprise, with a  view to developing creative talent, especially in film, music media and industry infrastructure.
  • Develop and retain intellectual property or economic added value within Coalfields Trust priority wards
  • Expand the skills base in the television film and music industries within the priority wards.
  • identify and address infrastructure gaps in those industries.

The Kix and Alexandra Roach are what might be termed the headline acts in this new Welsh talent bill that the bond has helped to uncover but there are others as well whose names may become familiar in years to come. Though the funding packages offered to individuals have been small – generally up to a maximum of £3,000-4,000 – they have often provided that little bit of extra help needed to make a key purchase or create a portfolio. Most of those who have received support have come through talent shows – in Cardiff and Aberdare – while those who were not performers had their  applications looked at by a judging panel.

The awards have covered a wide spectrum. Grants have been made to a photographer needing help setting up a studio and renting equipment, to a digital story-teller for recording kit, to a website designer setting up a social enterprise, and to a stage manager, again for equipment. Acts supported include Nick Byrne of The Evolvers, who has gone on to start a successful solo career, and singer/song writers Kadesha and Elicia Jones.

With the success achieved to date – and with the need even more pressing in the present difficult economic climate for young people –  this is not the time to wrap up the scheme, says Tim Jones, Allia’s chief executive. A new bond is now planned and it is hoped a significantly larger sum in the region of £1 million can be raised for a more ambitious scheme to help young people from disadvantaged backgrounds across the whole of Wales. Negotiations are now taking place with existing bondholders for a possible roll-over of funds committed in 2007 so that the same money can be put to use again.

The funds generated for charitable purposes from the bond – possibly as much as £150,000 if the target sum is reached -will be used to enable Young Wales, which is now part of RCT Homes, the social housing provider, to offer scholarships to access regular workshops where talent will be assessed and developed by experienced professionals. The workshops will concentrate on popular performing arts, complemented by training and development opportunities in the creative and technical fields of photography, recording, music production, writing, composing, set and costume design, directing, producing and make-up artistry.

Investment in the bonds will shortly be sought from individuals, businesses and other organisations across Wales and among the Welsh community in London and elsewhere. Those wishing to register their interest should visit the Allia website address listed below

Rhys David is a trustee of the IWA and is a member Wales Coalfield Bond panel. He writes on economic and business matters.

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