Merthyr Tydfil Institute for the Blind (MTIB) is an established manufacturing business which has been based in the town for 90 years, making it the oldest manufacturer in the area.
The organisation started life in 1923 in Pontmorlais as a workshop for 14 blind miners weaving baskets and knitting socks which were then sold from a shop at the front of the building.
The product range grew to include the manufacture of brushes and mops. And in the 1960s, when the Institute started to employ disabled people - as well as blind and partially sighted – the business then had the necessary skills to further expand its products to include frames and components for the furniture industry.
A workshop fire in 1981 meant relocation to Cefn Coed, although an MTIB shop remained in the town centre until it finally closed in 1996. But the Institute continued to go from strength to strength, even making buttons for the famous Laura Ashley.
In 2006, the business moved to its current premises in Pentrebach, Merthyr Tydfil, which was further developed as part of its £3m European Objective One-funded Blueprint project.
Today directly employing 35 people manufacturing wood/ cardboard products and fabric covered buttons, MTIB boasts a modern facility with a 15,000 sq ft factory floor, office space, two floors of training rooms and an ICT suite.
A supported placement scheme, which began in 1988 to help with integration into the community and promote the personal development of disabled employees, has remained as the other half of the business. Along with support staff for its manufacturing arm, this brings the total staff number to 55.
Since 2005, the company has up-skilled, signposted, supported, or found employment for more than 1,500 people, with 142 local people moving into employment in 2012/13, 69 into further learning and 104 achieving accredited qualifications.
In January 2012, MTIB was awarded £79,880 SEWCED revenue funding for a new business development manager role, and £15,525 towards the purchase of a new sander and delivery van, with the aim of further developing the retail offering of the business.
In the first year of selling a range of garden furniture and sheds on eBay and its website, sales rose 300%, generating around £55,000 of additional income. This continued to grow by 50% in 2013, with sales of around 400 of MTIB’s folding picnic bench and Adirondack chairs. This has meant a 25% rise of overall sales for the second year running, helping to ensure that the shop floor is a self-sustaining manufacturing business in its own right (separate to the employment and training element of the business). The forecast turnover for 2012/13 is around £1.5m, with around 80% of income being from the sale of products or delivery of contracts.
Since June 2013, MTIB has also been assembling flat-pack kitchens for Merthyr Valley Homes and is working hard to get involved in more supply chains, both for social landlords and the public and private sector.