Once Owain Glyndŵr’s capital of Wales, Machynlleth has become equally notable as the capital of Wales’ alternative energy industry. A cluster of innovative companies have carried the town’s name – and locally developed technology – throughout the world.
Dulas is among Machynlleth’s success stories, and its wind-power, hydro-power and solar designs have been deployed in the UK, throughout Europe and across the developing world. The company’s dedication to sustainability and its enlightened workplace practices have earned an impressive list of accolades – including the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in 2004, the 2016 Welsh Social Business of the Year, and the Working Families Best for Motherhood award in 2017.
The company operates out of two units at the Dyfi Eco Parc in Machynlleth: one owned by Dulas, and one rented from the Welsh Government, which had it purpose-built. It’s testament to a close working partnership, explains the firm’s managing director, Ruth Chapman. “We have an account manager who comes and sees us quite regularly,” she says. “He’ll always try to spot opportunities for us to engage with any useful programmes the Welsh Government may be running.”
Dulas can also call upon the help of a Welsh Government innovation specialist, who has helped to secure funding for one of the company’s most groundbreaking designs – a refrigerator that enables vaccines to safely be stored in the developing world where there is no access to mains electricity. First designed by the original Dulas team at Machynlleth’s Centre for Alternative Technology in the 1980s, original models used solar power during the day but required batteries to maintain power after dark.
However, batteries are no longer required in the latest generation of fridges. “We identified there was a gap in the market for battery-free solar fridges,” says Chapman, “and the Welsh Government gave us some funding to develop prototypes. We designed fridges that are lined with a special ‘phase change’ material, which freezes and thaws at +5 degrees Celsius. When it gets dark, the material slowly melts, and this maintains the temperature throughout the night.”
Dulas works with UNICEF to supply fridges for the Gavi programme, a global health partnership that provides access to immunisation in poorer countries. And while the company’s ethical stance is one factor in attracting and retaining the right staff, Chapman admits there is another attraction – the spectacular setting of its headquarters on the southern fringe of Snowdonia National Park. “The Dyfi Forest has excellent mountain biking trails and mountains,” she says. “Cadair Idris is just to the North, and the beach at Aberdovey is 20 minutes away.”
Indeed, a good work-life balance is some - thing Dulas is keen for its staff to maintain, with HR policies and procedures that support flexible working and help employees to take up commitments outside the office. Chapman says: “We have quite a few people who are trained as mountain rescue climbers, or work as lifeboat crew. They can do shifts that allow them to be on call-out for those services.
“We all work extremely hard, and we’re all very dedicated to what we want to achieve within Dulas. But along with that, we get to have much more of a work-life balance here in mid-Wales than I believe you would get anywhere else.”
There’s a high level of staff retention – and thanks to the firm’s co-operative business model, all employees have a say in its direction. Chapman says: “Our people are passionate about the renewables industry, and they’re passionate about Dulas. Every member of the company has an equal share, which basically gives them a right to have a say on the strategic direction of the company.
“We have an annual AGM at which the strategy and the budget is presented, and that goes to a vote. It gives every single person a voice – and makes Dulas feel more of a family than a business.”