Posted 05.12.2019

Ponty bench wins national Sustainable Academy Award

On 28th November, at an awards ceremony at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, it was announced that Wales’ first solar-powered digital bench, led by a Rhydyfelin Youth Group, won a Sustainable Academy Award. 

The innovative digital bench at St Catherine’s Church in Pontypridd, which acts as a shelter as well as a phone charging point, won the ‘Sustainable venue or space’ Category, sponsored by CECA Wales.

The ground-breaking idea came about when Scott Tandy, Community Regeneration Officer at Newydd Housing Association and Sam Holt, Community Educator at EggSeeds, started working with disengaged young people from Rhydyfelin to develop their woodwork skills.

During training, a problem was identified by the youth group. How do you charge a phone when out and about and what do you do if you are homeless? They wondered whether a station such as a solar-powered bench could assist. This led to a truly collaborative project with 13 partner organisations in Rhondda Cynon Taf. 

With support, Rhydyfelin Youth Group developed the concept, looked at the challenges and explored the digital bench idea in the wider community context. Suddenly the disengaged young people started working alongside residents, homeless people, church members, local PCSO’s, builders, contractors and industry leaders. This project started to break down barriers and stigma, they could see each other's world and connect through this project.

About the bench

The completed wooden bench with solar panelled roof acts as a shelter for residents. Power is stored in the roof allowing the public to charge devices through one of two USB ports. The trellis on either end of the bench will be used to grow fruit-bearing vines such as strawberries or tomatoes, while the wooden planters will be used to grow root vegetables. The guttering acts as an irrigation system, diverting water away from the bench and to the planters.

Josh Baker from Rhydyfelin Youth Club said, “From the moment we came up with the idea there was a buzz around the youth club which got me and the other boys excited. I became more confident in using tools and more interested in a job in construction as time went on. Staff working on the project must have noticed as they referred me onto Newydd’s CSCS course which I managed to pass. It was hard work, there was a lot to consider, however stepping back at St Catherine’s Church and seeing what we managed to achieve will be something that will stick with me forever.”

The Sustainable Academy Awards

Organised by Cynnal Cymru and RenewableUK Cymru, with Wales & West Utilities as its headline sponsor, the Sustainable Academy Awards celebrates sustainability excellence, innovation and leadership across Wales. 

Mari Arthur, Director of Cynnal Cymru, said: “The Sustainable Academy Awards ceremony is the highlight of my year, to be surrounded by so many people and organisations working practically to build a sustainable Wales is such an honour. It is important we have this public platform to celebrate their successes, to make sure they get the recognition they deserve, and for the public to see some important advancements in sustainable products and projects around Wales. I congratulate the winners, the finalists and everyone working towards building a better world for future generations”.

Rhys Wyn Jones, Head of RenewableUK Cymru, said: “This is my first experience of the Sustainable Academy Awards and it has been a privilege to be involved with them.  It is so fascinating to see the diverse range of projects that are happening.  Every entry is a fantastic demonstration of the sheer drive, enthusiasm and commitment that is helping to make Wales a world leader in working sustainability across a range of areas.  Special thanks must also go to our sponsors, without whom none of this would have been possible.”


With initial support from Newydd Housing Association and the hapi project, the digital bench project was kickstarted with funding from Interlink RCT, specialist support from Renew Wales, and materials donated by TR33 and Willis Construction, Newydd’s contractors. Solar panels were also acquired by GB Sol and Roofbase Cardiff also donated roof slates. Several additional partners were also forthcoming in providing additional support and expertise. This gave the group the confidence to present the idea of installing the bench on church grounds to Reverend Peter Lewis of St Catherine’s Church.

Following their successful pitch to the Church, the production of the digital bench went full steam ahead through RCT Youth Engagement and Participation Service (YEPS) and with help from EggSeeds, hapi and Newydd staff. During the project, two members of the youth club participants gained their CSCS card, allowing them to work on construction sites in the future.

From left to right: Lisa Voyle; Hapi project, Christie Williams; RCT Council Youth Engagement & Participation Services, Sam Holt; Eggseeds, Scott Tandy; Newydd Housing Association and Ed Evans from CECA Wales (sponsors).

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