The Xcel Project is a social enterprise founded by Towy Community Church bringing investment, jobs and services to its local community in Carmarthen.
The project aims to support local people in crisis by providing food, furniture and clothing through Carmarthen Foodbank, Xcel Furniture Recycling and Xcel Community Shop.
Address: Xcel Bowl, Llansteffan Road, Johnstown, Carmarthen, SA31 3BP
Telephone: 012672 25991
Paul, Centre Manager at the Xcel Project:
"I share the values of the Xcel, which are to reach out to people and change their lives. Nothing puts a smile on my face more, then seeing a need and making it your responsibility to fulfil that need. The Xcel project does that and I’m proud to say I’m part of it."
The Xcel Project
Community strikes lucky with community run bowling alley - Paul's Story
The Xcel Project is a social enterprise founded by Towy Community Church bringing investment, jobs and services to its local community in Carmarthen, Wales. The project aims to support local people in crisis by providing food, furniture and clothing through Carmarthen Foodbank, Xcel Furniture Recycling and Xcel Community Shop.
Paul is the Centre Manger for the Xcel project and this is his story:
I’m a member of the Towy Community church in Carmarthen and my social business journey started when Mark Bennett, our Minister, put forward this idea of us running a bowling centre. Now a church running a bowling centre sounded like a crazy idea but when our Minister explained the goals of the project and the difference this business could make, I was excited and knew it would change lives.
"...a church running a bowling centre sounded like a crazy idea, but when our Minister explained the goals of the project and the difference this business could make, I was excited and knew it would change lives..."
I have a background in video work, so when we first applied for funding, I offered to put together the promo video of what the bowling centre project would look like. That was my initial involvement and when I got to know more about the detail of how the project would work, I offered my services in how to help develop those ideas.
At the time, I’d been self-employed for ten years doing video work and event management for different organisations. Working for myself, gave me flexibility to volunteer and I did this for the first 18 months of the project. For example, one of the first things I did was going out into the local community and finding out if there was a need and want for a bowling alley in the area.
It was project our funders, Big Lottery, that recommended I was employed on a full-time basis. It gave them confidence in their investment because they were working with someone they could trust, who had detailed knowledge and understanding of all areas of the business.
My title is now Centre Manager, working in a project manager capacity. I make sure that the ethos of what we started with and what we wanted to achieve is understood by all the managers of all the different arms of the business that sit under Xcel. Coming from a self-employed background has helped because I know if you don’t get work, you don’t get paid. The manager’s of the bowling centre in a way had to treat their job as their own business and if they don’t end up getting customers through the door, they wouldn’t be paid at the end of the month. Now that wouldn’t happen here, but when you work with that emphasis it does fine tune your mind and places value in what you do every day.
As we have evolved and taken on more staff, I have found myself as more of an administrator, with greater responsibilities for budgets and forward planning. For example, we are already starting to think about what we are doing this Christmas. With the furniture recycle shop, food bank, charity shop and bowling centre there is plenty of forward planning and risk management that needs to be done. What is the famous saying? ‘People don’t plan to fail but fail to plan.’ And that is very true. Planning helps with staffing and especially when it comes to the management of our incredible volunteers. If you are organising an event but don’t give your volunteers plenty of notice, you can’t blame them for not getting involved because they may have prior commitments in place.
Opening a bowling alley to fund the Xcel project was quite innovative. Similar concepts have been done across the country using different ideas but a church running a bowling centre was definitely unique. But what has really made it work, is that the locals can see the difference their money is making to their community. It is a quantifiable thing they can see day by day.
"...what has really made it work, is that the locals can see the difference their money is making to their community..."
They know people that have been helped by the food bank, who have been helped with re-used furniture or helped through the charity shop. It has taken us four years to get there but as I keep telling people right across our project, addressing that social need is our long term goal.
We have a 100 year lease here at the Bowling Centre and some of our objectives are five years, some objectives may be ten years and some objectives as long as 50 years. Our social aim at the beginning wasn’t so strong because we had to make sure the business could work. We had to make sure that people could get paid at the end of the month and the business was successful. Now we are in a position where we are successful and turning over a profit, we can contribute far more to our social aims.
So if we are looking at how we have changed. At the start, we had to be business focussed and become sustainable. Now we are more sustainable, the pressure is on us to deliver socially. We now have plenty of stock in all the areas of our business to serve our community and make a difference.
To get buy in from the community to our ethos and values, it all starts with the recruitment and induction of our staff. Every new member of staff will be given a tour of all corners of our business. They begin to see that what they do at the bowling alley influences what we can do socially in other areas of the project. We also encourage our staff to speak to our customers and get to know our customers. 60 per cent of our customers are regulars, so word soon gets round about the work we do and why we do it.
Carmarthen is a small community, so the people that come through our doors live within a 10 mile radius. We end up running a number of charitable events from our facility. The other night our bowling centre hosted a fashion show to raise money for our charity shop and over 150 people turned up. And the majority of them are really surprised when they turn up because they weren’t aware our bowling facility was linked to the charity shop and we end up reaching a totally new demographic. The following week we will see that same family who came to that fashion show come in for a bowl or grabbing a coffee and cake from our café. It has become more than a bowling centre, a community facility where people can come together.
I’ve always been the type of person that has wanted to help people that are struggling in some way and often through no fault of their own. I share the values of the Xcel, which is reaching people and changing lives. Nothing puts a smile on my face more, then seeing a need and making it your responsibility to fulfil that need. The Xcel project does that and I’m proud to say I’m part of it.