Tag Archives: Merthyr Tydfil

Community Development and the arts – The Ugly Duckling

I recently took a drive to Merthyr Tydfil/Merthyr Tudful for an afternoon out and made a beeline for the newly-renovated Redhouse in the centre of town. The Redhouse is the new name for Merthyr’s former town hall. It is a beautiful Victorian Grade II* listed building with a rich terracotta colour – similar to the Pierhead building in Cardiff Bay/Bae Caerdydd and it is a joy to see it in use again after years lying idle, forlorn and increasingly decrepit.

Rdhouse, Merthyr Tydfil / Merthyr Tudful

Redhouse, Merthyr Tydfil / Merthyr Tudful

The Redhouse’s website states that it:

“will become a catalyst for cultural regeneration: awakening the spirit of creative enterprise that was once a hallmark of a venerable town at the centre of the industrial revolution in Great Britain”

In practise this “creative enterprise” means that The Redhouse houses:

“a 120 seat theatre; a bespoke art gallery; dance studio; multi-purpose glazed auditorium; café bar; music/recording & creative business studios; and a wealth of heritage features and interpretation stories — as well as housing the media and performing arts faculties of the College Merthyr Tydfil”

It is a stunning building, a credit to the project management and funders, an asset to the town and well worth a visit. However what caught my eye – amongst the stained glass, plaques of famous Merthyrites (is that what a native of Merthyr is called??), beautifully tiled interiors and high ceilings – was a flyer for the forthcoming children’s play The Ugly Duckling / Yr Hwyaden Fach Hyll by Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru and Sherman Theatre, since with the children in tow we gravitated towards the healthy wealth of information on display about children’s productions in the run-up to Ch*****as.

The Ugly Duckling / Yr Hwyaden Fach Hyll

The Ugly Duckling / Yr Hwyaden Fach Hyll

The listings on the reverse advertised the dates and venues for the show which is touring Wales/Cymru before residing at the Sherman for a December run. It is heartening to see a number of Communities First areas listed among these: Ystradgynlais, Maesteg, Markham, Penygraig, Glyncoch, Duffryn in Newport/Casnewydd, Beaufort, as well as at the Redhouse itself. Having worked in the Sirhowy/Sirhywi valley and with its management committee I know Markham Welfare Hall well; in this instance it means the production is being taken to the very heart of that community.

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This is interesting to see given the recent publication of Baroness Andrews’s inquiry into Culture and Poverty (in which the Redhouse is a case study) on behalf of the Welsh Government. In several cases larger, more traditional theatre venues are being overlooked by this production. Down the road from Markham is the venerable Blackwood Miners’ Institute; Glyncoch or Penygraig might have been overlooked for Treorchy/Treorci‘s Parc and Dare Theatre; and with  a date at the Riverfront in Newport/Casnewydd a date in Duffryn might have been considered unnecessary. These choices clearly espouse the values underpinning Baroness Andrews’s call to “go local” i.e., engaging at community level in order to anchor culture within communities, reflecting a recurring theme in the inquiry of the:

“importance of putting experience, learning and enjoyment within reach of peo0ple, locally” (p.11)

The inquiry also recognised the importance of:

“join[ing] up in school and out of school learning and make it all count towards aspiration and achievement” (p.11)

In light of this it is perhaps prescient of The Ugly Duckling production to be visiting an infant school located in a lower super output area* which for educational attainment is Newport’s second most deprived and which is in the lowest 2% across the whole of Wales (according to WIMD, 2011). Likewise, Markham Welfare Hall houses a pre-school playgroup, has a primary school adjacent to it and historically was a location of community, self and continued learning like many miners’ institutes.

Baroness Andrews’s report cites over 30 specific recommendations in total which, if all are implemented, would result in a sea change in, among other things, the physical and psychological engagement with arts and culture; the strategic design and development of arts and culture infrastructure and activities; joint-working between arts and cultural organisations; and the role of culture and arts in education. As the Minister for Culture and Sport acknowledged in accepting Baroness Andrews’s report there are many examples, including in Communities First areas, of progress being made. The Ugly Duckling/Yr Hwyaden Fach Hyll is testament to this.

Now where’s my credit card and the ticket office number….?

 

* There are 1,896 lower layer super output areas (LSOAs) in Wales. Although the geographical size of these small areas varies quite widely, and depends on the local population density, the populations are intended to be roughly the same in each LSOA, with an average population of 1500 people. LSOAs were designed by the Office for National Statistics to have consistent population sizes and stable geographies, so that statistical comparisons of small areas over time can be carried out (Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation 2011 – Summary Report, 2011, p.3)

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Community development on Twitter follow up – @forsythiayouth at the Welsh Assembly

In my recent blog about community development Twitter accounts in Wales worth a follow I highlighted the @forsythiayouth group in Merthyr Tydfil/Merthyr Tudful which showcases through its Twitter account the empowerment of local young people to tackle issues affecting them and their peers. One of the tweets I included to illustrate this referred to the group’s participation in a Welsh Assembly inquiry about legal highs.

It sparked a Twitter exchange (thanks to @GoodPracticeWAO!) leading @kevo_davies, Outreach Manager at the Assembly, to draw the below film to my attention

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Community development on Twitter – 3 accounts to follow from Wales

@forsythiayouth (3G’s Forsythia Youth Project, Merthyr Tydfil/Merthyr Tudful) – “Every Young Person is Capable of Greatness” is the account’s strapline and judging by the range of activities portrayed on its twitter account @forsythiayouth is making an admirable effort in helping young people in the Gurnos area of Merthyr Tydfil/Merthyr Tudful realise this. I have lost count of the different types of activity that the group puts on for its service users/members: parenting, sexual health, angling, graffiti art, smoking cessation, mental health, advocacy for and consultation with other young people…they just keep coming. The account appears to be largely run by young people themselves and has a cheery, informal style. But its sense of fun should not disguise the fact that it is seldom shy from covering sober topics; recently it tweeted about its experience of discussing legal highs at the Senedd.

If a tenet of community development is to empower people to change things for themselves, then @forsythiayouth are beacons for other youth groups.

 

@RGegeshidze (Rachel Gegeshidze, Spice, Carmarthenshire Time/Amser Sir Gâr) – Timebanking is a growing sector where people’s time acts as a currency in communities thus promoting and stimulating a new form of mutualism, and not, as is sometimes thought, a reward for volunteering. It also underpins alternative currencies such as those in Brixton (@Brixtonpound), Bristol (@BristolPound) and hopefully in the not-too-distant future Cardiff/Caerdydd (@CardiffPound). A handful of communities in Wales/Cymru (several of which are Communities First areas) are developing timebanking programmes and infrastructure – Porth and Pontypridd, Ely/Trelai and Caerau, Amman Valley/Cwm Aman – but the one which I think promotes itself the best, and in turn the timebanking movement more generally, is the Carmarthenshire Time/Amser Sir Gâr timebank. However, though the timebank has its own Twitter account (@C1stCarmsTime), I marginally prefer Rachel Gegeshidze’s account because it gives an insight to the community development values and activities that underpins the development of a time bank.

I particularly like how Rachel’s tweets provide an insight into the awareness-raising, education and campaigning side of her work. Like the credit union movement about which I have blogged several times, timebanking runs a risk of being known about but not understood; of being accepted as a positive thing but for reasons that are not fully clear to people.

Rachel’s tweets also lend a terrific insight into other time banks in the UK.

Finally, too few community development-related twitter accounts do not tweet links to narrative about the outcomes that practitioners are achieving. Obviously, Twitter’s restrictions on characters lends itself to snapshots, often in real-time, of community development activities and this is important; but it can also lend itself to signposting followers to more substantial, powerful and affecting accounts of change brought about by community development interventions. A terrifically powerful example of this was tweeted by Rachel recently:

 

@Com1stEbbwFawr (Ebbw Fawr/Ebwy Fawr Communities First) – there are a ton of Communities First-related Twitter accounts (here is a comprehensive list) and several are effective in shining a spotlight on their activities, communicating with their communities and potential service users, and connecting communities with other initiatives and programmes: @tafcluster, @ECLPCF, @LibbyCFConwy, @CFirst_Barry, @DenbighshireCF, @mon_cf, @communities1st. However, I single out @Com1stEbbwFawr for the purposes of this blog. The CF team behind the account use Twitter regularly, tweeting daily to promote cluster’s projects and interventions and retweeting information complementary to its work (without flooding one’s timeline with RTs – a pet hate of mine):

The feed signposts followers to its Facebook page where much more visual representation of the cluster’s work is available, welcomes new followers (manners, after all, cost nothing) and also advertises local job vacancies (a feature of increasingly more Communities First Twitter feeds).

Occasionally the team tweet about emerging outcomes and though I would like to see more of the latter, indeed from all CF twitter accounts, the balance and blend of tweets overall reflects well on the CF programme and the Ebbw Fawr/Ebwy Fawr team’s work. Last but not least there is a lot to be said for a simple tweet saying ‘this is where we are’

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Reblog (via @markpitman1): Cup connections stretch into the community

The below is an insightful look at how grassroots football is engaging with young people in two Welsh communities – Clydach Vale in the Rhondda, and Port Talbot – in order to promote positive and healthy decision-making by them.

http://www.markpitman1.com/2013/10/19/cup-connections-stretch-community/

Mark Pitman writes perceptively about all manner of issue pertaining to football in Wales. The seemingly wall-to-wall, year-round saturation of England’s Premier League has a stymieing effect on other leagues’ efforts at securing media exposure, and so any additional coverage that the grassroots game in Wales can receive is always welcome. However, not only is the coverage of the Premier League so pervasive. There is a very real danger that its increasingly exploitative commodification of supporters’ loyalty and debt-laden financial models are seeping across the border. If Cardiff City’s arrival in the Premier League under Vincent Tan’s ownership is the most high profile example in Wales, it has happened at less rarefied tiers in the game in Wales. Barry Town, Wrexham, Merthyr Tydfil, Neath FC and Llanelli have all struggled financially and in some cases have done so with a sole owner in charge whose erratic and increasingly megalomaniac behaviour has wilfully alienated and disenfranchised supporters and wider communities.

I have previously argued that football clubs in Wales would do well to adopt a community development approach that draws on the local community as members and though the mutual, fan-owned model has relatively healthy in Wales with Wrexham FC, Merthyr Town, Barry Town United, and to a lesser extent Swansea City, it is more than just about the structures that new fan-owned clubs adopt but the principles that underpin them. A fan-owned club which lacks transparency, is undemocratic and which doesn’t seek to involve the community in its fabric is only marginally better than one owned by the likes of Stuart Lovering (Barry Town), Geraint Hawkes (Neath FC) or Mark Guterman (Wrexham). My experience as a member of Wrexham Supporters’ Trust – and therefore a proud co-owner of Wrexham FC – suggests that values of transparency, self determination and democracy are in abundance within these fan-owned clubs. Nonetheless it is heartening to see other community development principles such as empowerment and participation also present at the grassroots in the likes of Clydach Vale and Port Talbot.

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When ‘Community Development’ becomes a pejorative term?

I recall starting a community development job in Merthyr Tydfil on a small, predominantly social housing estate in early 2003. Within a couple of days of starting I noticed a house scarred by an apparently recent house fire. It turned out that a parent with three young children lived in the house in which a chip fan fire had extensively damaged the kitchen and downstairs. It had happened no more than three weeks earlier and fortunately there were no injuries incurred other than minor smoke inhalation on the family’s part.

Within a couple of days the estate had had a whip round and raised over £250 for the family to help with the costs of repairing the damage. It didn’t seem a huge amount of money but for households with limited incomes the sentiment was obvious and the donation was heartfelt.

In order to take up this role I had relocated from north Wales to Cardiff and was renting a flat in what was very tenuously Cardiff Bay. We lived in Windsor Quay which was one of the first housing developments in the south Cardiff regeneration scheme on reclaimed land on Ferry Road.

As time went by and my wife and I saw so few of our neighbours, let alone interacted with them, an irony struck me. That in Merthyr a neighbourhood had demonstrated very clearly a greater cohesion, solidarity and sense of community and belonging than the one from which I commuted every morning. Yet was a community that was in need of ‘developing’ and intervention.

I previously blogged on how the concept of Civil Domestic Product helps redefine affluence in a way that considers, among other things, social connectedness (see Timebanking Wales for further information). The Merthyr estate may not have been home to as many graduates as Windsor Quay was, and there are presumably stark health inequalities between the two neighbourhoods but the two would swap positions in a notional league table if social connectedness was assessed.

There is a danger that Community Development becomes a pejorative term in that it becomes associated with areas that are labelled in other pejorative ways: deprived, disadvantaged, run-down, unambitious. On a  number of measures Windsor Quay is not deprived or disadvantaged but its reservedness and insularity made it a very disconnected and incohesive community; even isolated and isolating.

The term community development ought not, of course, be taken so literally. Rather it is the name of a specific approach to challenging inequality and redistributing power in communities, but more needs to be done in order to convey this. The experience of living in Windsor Quay might suggest that it is also a component that has been lacking in property-led regeneration that has proliferated in Cardiff with the expansion of high-rise city centre and Bay living, much of it privately rented. Sadly, there is little doubt in my mind that though the land and property values of such developments are considered a virtue and the areas do not figure prominently on indices of deprivation, these communities fail to fulfill some of the fundamental social and emotional needs that many of us would wish our communities provided us.

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