Hopes for economic boost as ARFOR fund reaches £2million milestone

Thirty innovative projects across north and west Wales have secured funding totalling over £2 million through the ARFOR Challenge Fund.


The fund was set up to pilot new and innovative solutions to challenges that exist in the ARFOR area, which covers Anglesey, Gwynedd, Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire.


With a focus on bringing organisations together to innovate, collaborate and solve local and regional challenges, and to pilot ideas that can become commercial entities in the long term, the ARFOR Challenge Fund aims to ensure the economic vitality of communities and enable people to live and work in those areas.


The successful projects now complete the programme, with each one demonstrating a passion for the heartlands of the Welsh language, with a focus on stimulating economic growth. The thirty awarded projects vary widely, from innovative digital solutions aimed at supporting the language in business; a campaign set to attract back to Wales top graduates; through to sector specific projects in the areas of sports, farming, and childcare.


Looking internationally to connect businesses from across the region is Ceredigion based, creative projects agency Sgema. Working with Welsh diaspora membership organisation Global Welsh. Meilyr Ceredig, Director of Sgema said: “The Global Welsh ARFOR Connector Hub looks to connect local businesses with the extensive network of Welsh diaspora across the globe. Through the network our aim is to create a unique opportunity for growth, innovation, and cultural exchange along with leveraging the Welsh language as a strategic economic asset. The Connector Hub is a digital space where a community of Welsh entrepreneurs worldwide can engage, share, and collaborate to drive both regional and global success.”


One of the successful project applicants is Carmarthenshire based, Go Iawn, which has been successful with their project Antur Amser – a VR educational package for children. Osian Evans, Director of Go Iawn based in Carmarthenshire, commented: “We recognise the challenge Welsh education faces in the digital age, where English-language media dominates. With Antur Amser, we aim to revolutionise Welsh literacy through an engaging, state-of-the-art programme that weaves the magic of entertainment into education. Our approach integrates the latest in immersive technology to make learning a dynamic and interactive experience, ensuring that the Welsh language thrives in modern classrooms and beyond.”


ARFOR is a joint venture between the local authorities of Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Gwynedd and Anglesey following a co-operation agreement between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru. It is now in the second phase of its activities, which will run until March 2025, as it seeks to use economic development as a means to support and maintain the Welsh language in its heartlands.


Jeremy Miles MS, Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Energy and Welsh Language said: “The economic prosperity of our Welsh-speaking communities is fundamental to ensure the language continues to thrive, and it’s great to see businesses and community groups working together in order to create opportunities to innovate within the Welsh language heartlands. I look forward to seeing how the pilot projects progress over the coming months.”


Ceredigion County Council Leader, Councillor Bryan Davies said: “I’m delighted to see such strong and innovative projects coming through from businesses located in Ceredigion as well as the wider ARFOR area. It’s crucial that these projects seek to encourage collaboration and innovation to solve local challenges facing the language in its heartland. Through providing increased sustainable business opportunities we can not only bolster the prosperity of our local communities but also provide long-term employment opportunities for our young.”


Carmarthenshire County Council Leader, Councillor Darren Price added: “It is vitally important that our young can realise economic opportunities in their local community along with securing the chance to innovate and thrive within them. Our young are the future of both the Welsh language and our communities, therefore it is exciting to see a range of leading projects, in Carmarthenshire and beyond, receiving financial support through ARFOR.”

Further afield, projects in Gwynedd and Anglesey have also been successful.

Anglesey based M-SParc’s London Welsh Network has been approved under the Cronfa Her Fach (Small Challenge Fund). Lois Bevan Shaw of M-SParc said, “We are over the moon with the outcome of our application to the Cronfa Her Fach fund. While we are passionate about retaining young people in our area, we also recognise that many who have since moved away are now looking to return home. With our project, we are making it easier for the 1,500 members of the London Welsh Network to access information and assistance on making a return to the area, either to start a new business or who are seeking investment opportunities across the region.”


Another successful project applicant benefiting from the Cronfa Her is Caernarfon based Welsh translation company, Cymen Cyf. Funded under the Cronfa Her Fawr (Large Challenge Fund), the project will collect model data such as voice files and Welsh text to produce a bank of audio sayings in Welsh. Cymen Cyf. Company Director Aled Jones said, “We are looking forward to pushing the boundaries of voice technology through the medium of Welsh with our Cronfa Her project. The economic development opportunities that will come from this is that people will be able to use the language model on personal devices, to transcribe and create synthetic language. The data will be open to anyone wishing to use. It’s great that the project will also help drive collaboration across the region. We will be capitalising on the expertise of the Language Technology Unit at Bangor University, but also Stiwdiobox at Yr Egin in Carmarthen, Y Pod website, and podcasting producers to share information about the technical side of recording voices.”


Cronfa Her ARFOR is run by Menter a Busnes and Menter Môn on behalf of the Welsh Government.


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