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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.

One of the successful project applicants is M-SParc on Anglesey. Its project (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.”

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.

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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.”

Cyngor Gwynedd Leader, Cllr Dyfrig Siencyn said, “The diverse range of projects is extremely promising, and shows the entrepreneurial ability and talent that is inherent in the ARFOR region. It’s great to see initiatives succeeding in all four counties and I look forward to following the projects as they develop.

“Our aim is to stop the outflow of people who are leaving our areas, and acknowledge the adverse effect it has on the Welsh language and society in general. In Gwynedd we are already experiencing challenges due to the talent drain, but, by being positive and innovative we have an opportunity to highlight the area’s potential.

“This is a great place to live and work, and we want to give people the best chance not only to stay, but also to return to their roots.”

Leader of Ynys Môn Council, Cllr Llinos Medi added, “It is good to see so many new innovative projects happening across the region in response to the opportunities and challenges facing our communities.”

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

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