Musings of a pen-ŵy (some things don’t translate) …

Ceri Cunnington

#why #communitywork #ifnotuswho #tanygrish #BlaenauFfestiniog #Community #experience #Cymru #foundationaleconomy #penŵy

@CwmniBro @SiopOgwen @yr_orsaf

I was asked to write a ‘blog’ for DOLAN, an exciting new initiative we are part of and that is hopefully, a step forward in co-creating a better future.

However, this ‘blog’ has just turned out as a bit of musing by what my daughters would term a pen-ŵy, looking for any self-righteous justifications that might make sense of his ‘community work’. Unfortunately for my self-confidence the meaning of the affectionate term pen-ŵy is the direct opposite of its English translation ‘egg head’… …I have just opened my emails and another consultation form Welsh Government on how to work with communities………

I was raised in Tanygrisiau o’r Tangrish a mile down from the road from Blaenau Ffestiniog. We swam, dived and jumped off the dam In Tangrish lake. A lake that feeds a massive multi-national Hydro power station. We used to get chased from the lake daily during summer.

At 7 or 8 years old I remember being dragged to stand outside some gates with Mam and a group of her CND friends outside the new Nuclear power station in Trawsfynydd. No real idea why we were there but the placards were cool.

I never really understood either why the older lads on our street showed us how to pull two fingers, wave, turn around, and then ‘moony’ at the strangers that used to go past our street on the steam train. A train that back in the day used to take the slate away, by then carried people from ’away’ who used to stare down at us from their purple carriages. They’re just ‘Blydi posh tourists’ said Dad.

My mum is English and came to live here as a hippy in the late 60s and was intoxicated and integrated naturally to the heart of this special community. My father was a roofer, drinker, reader, coal man and occasional quarryman. Mam learnt Welsh, became a youth worker, town councillor, counsellor, lollipop lady and did home help care with Anwen next door for the older people in the village. A lucky and mostly sunny upbringing that was shaped by the community that I was a part of.

We had an old-fashioned community youth club in the village with ‘Prinsi’ as our guide. An opportunity to socialise freely, and without knowing it at the time, we cemented relationships, and shaped plans for the future.

Then on to Secondary school, and work experience in the local quarry as an electrician even though I had my mind set on being a thespian in Theatre Ardudwy.

The experience of catching the old Army lorry at 6am with the other quarry lads was a brilliant life experience and one that connected and rooted me in my community. I will be forever thankful to ‘Stan bach’ the foreman for that time.

I was one of the last 6th formers in Ysgol Y Moelwyn. Whatever you think about the education system, losing a 6th form is as massive a blow to a school and a community as is the loss of community youth clubs.

Forward then to college, Cardiff, Bristol, Croesor and Llanfrothen. Bonkers and brilliant days with my Anweledig brothers travelling around Wales seeing bits and bobs of the World and then settling over the mountain from Tangrish; in Llanfrothen.

Started a ‘real job’ then as a ‘community development officer’ for Bowydd and Rhiw Communities 1st. I didn’t realise there was such a place as Bowydd and Rhiw, I thought it was just one community. It was an amazing job. Being able to work and try and contribute to the community that I owed so much to. As someone said, “You actually get paid for giving a shit.”

The energy and atmosphere in the ‘old coop’ office at that time was pretty special. A group of young-ish local people with inspiring mentors working in an inspiring community. We were full of energy, we were bouncing, full of hope and ambition with a healthy attitude towards our work. Our motto was; “Right our job here is to put ourselves out of a job” We were far enough away from the bureaucracy of Cardiff and Caernarfon to have a freedom and trust to develop projects and social enterprises like Y Dref Werdd and Antur Stiniog. It was far from perfect, but we tried to learn from our mistakes. I like to think we learnt a lot. At the time we believed their impossible was possible, and I still do at 40ish.

Welsh Government pulled the plug on Communities First in the area in 2012 because the area wasn’t poor enough anymore according to their Welsh Index of Multiple deprivation. An index of Welsh Deprivation!?

There is massive potential within all our communities, all we need is confidence faith and an equal relationship with a bit of resource from our Government.

In Bro Ffestiniog alone there are over 15 social enterprises and businesses employing over 200 people offering countless opportunities, getting to grips with social problems and challenges while contributing sustainably to the economy in the same breath. Creating opportunities to enjoy, train or open doors for careers in the arts, care, environment, building, energy, and community tourism ‘sector’.

Exactly like the family firms rooted in the area like Roberts Ffestiniog, D&K, GEWS, Hughes Transport, Original Roofing Company, village shops and many, many more that employ hundreds and are at the heart of the community.

This is our foundational community and economy.

I think it’s obvious that successive models of tackling poverty and economic development have failed our communities. This is why we must all take stock and take responsibility. If not us, then who? If not now, then when?

The Hydro Power Station where we used to swim, jump and dive as children is now part of the ‘Engie’ company with a turnover of over £331billion in 2018 and they are now spending £90million directly on this site over the next two years.

The village has some of the highest fuel poverty rates in Wales and the UK.

Poverty, lack of confidence and food banks are rife. How? Why?

Trawsfynydd where I stood with cool placards as a child is going to cost billions to de-commission, re-build, plonk a nuke submarine factory on, or get covered in Rolls-Royce cement.

Let us not be blinded by the bullshit.

In communities throughout Wales, our resources were, and are being ripped and stolen from our hands daily. We must re-claim these resources, this economy, our confidence, and ambition from Blaenau to Blaina and from energy and tourism to the production of toilet rolls in Penygroes.

I know I make mistakes daily at work and in my personal life. I need to start listening more. We are all learning. Today more than ever let’s trust each other and work together instead of competing. Something is in the air in the slate towns of Gwynedd and our community of communities throughout Wales. Our confidence is returning.

Can we co-create a better future? Of course we can. If not us, then who? And if not now, then when?

Right back to the emails and community consultations…….