Ebbw Vale-based Monwel has picked up three awards in recognition of its success in turning a loss-making public sector service into a profit-making social enterprise in the space of just over a year.

The road traffic sign manufacturer won the Large Social Enterprise category and shared best overall Social Enterprise 2010-2015, while managing director Leslie Barr also won the Women in Enterprise category in the Enterprising People in Communities Awards at the Vale Resort, Vale of Glamorgan.

Monwel was one of five trophy-winning projects employing between them almost 100 people, turning over hundreds of thousands of pounds and providing goods and services to thousands of customers and clients.

The initiatives have all been supported by the EU-funded South East Wales Community Economic Development programme, run by a six valleys local authorities’ consortium of Merthyr Tydfil, Bridgend, Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Torfaen.

SEWCED has invested £8m in 126 social enterprises since it began in 2010, helping to create 22 social enterprises and 113 full-time jobs.

Originally run under the control of Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council, since it was externalised when the authority was on the verge of closing it down, Monwel has turned a loss of around £250,000 to a projected profit of £136,000 and become the leader in its field in Wales.

It currently employs 32 local disabled people and those furthest from the labour market.

Winning many large contracts has helped Monwel to develop other areas of the business such as a new street lighting/ installation team to complement the manufacturing side of the operation, making it a one-stop shop for all signage requirements.

Contracts secured include the Heads of the Valleys Road duelling project, worth £414,000, and one for £150,000 with Caerphilly County Borough Council, as well as extended contracts with Carmarthenshire and other local authorities to provide them with highways signage.

“We have also won projects in Doncaster with Carillion, showing that we are not just competitive in the Welsh market but the UK market - and we’re building on this,” said managing director Leslie Barr.

Leslie Barr managed a production line at a textile manufacturing unit in Scotland and ran her own bridal and evening wear and children’s clothing businesses, so she had the experience to help Monwel become a social enterprise away from local authority control.

Joining the company as a stores assistant, she gained qualifications in business administration and accountancy and gradually worked her way through the departments to become interim Manager.

In 2012, Leslie was announced a winner in the Leading Wales Awards, and then - as Managing Director – helped steer Monwel to independent success.