Striking it rich with Heritage and Regeneration

Intro

Having been born and bred, a resident and currently working in Merthyr Tydfil (MT), of course I’m interested in the development of the borough and in the achievements made by the people of my hometown, which is why I jumped at the opportunity to go to Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council (MTCBC) and Merthyr Tydfil Heritage Forum (MTHF)’s 7th annual heritage and regeneration conference held at the Merthyr Town F.C.

Welcome to the conference

Margaret Davies, Mayor of MT was present to welcome the delegates to the conference. Unfortunately she was unable to stay due to personal reasons but being a resident and a leading representative of the borough she wanted to highlight her commitment to the role as Mayor on serving her constituency.

Can Our Heritage Be Our Future?

Cardiff would be nothing without Merthyr Tydfil,” a passionate statement made by Joe England, the Chair of the Merthyr Tydfil Heritage Forum.

Mr England’s enthusiasm for the borough’s heritage is undoubtedly unquashed.

His session “the crucible of modern Wales” explained Merthyr Tydfil’s industrial and political past and to what was once described as a melting pot that saw migrants become a part of the foundations of the established foundries.

Our heritage involved our blossoming industries but because they have long disappeared and jobs are harder to come by there’s clear tension in the air -one of the main reasons why Brexit has happened.

The borough may not be a melting pot like before but what we need to do (especially after Brexit) is to have a self-maintained pot bubbling from the support of locals.

This attitude towards self-sustainability reminds me of a pitch voiced at GovCamp Cymru with The Satori Lab leading a discussion concerning Welsh Foreign Policy; examining Wales as a country and possibilities of becoming independent. The word independence has been brewing for the last few years and we’ve been seeing the results of it recently.

Our Lost Heritage

Joanna Hughes the Design, Heritage & Conservation Officer for MTCBC is new to Wales, never mind Merthyr Tydfil. Her enthusiasm for her role shone through her presentation (It’s also her hobby. Lucky her).

With over 230 listed buildings in MT she is sure to be busy with the new regeneration programme put forward by MTCBC and other partnering organisations, while observing the Historic Environment (Wales) Act that came into power earlier this year.

Photographs of demolished buildings during the 60s, 70s and even in recent years were shown and the resident delegates began to mourn their lost heritage. It demonstrated how people can create a strong connection with these iconic buildings; they are much more than just brick and mortar; they have their own identity and do give us so much in return – if we take care of them!

As a Bathonian (originally from Bath) she was shocked to find out when rummaging through MT’s archives to learn of the demolition of so many monumental buildings, which had vanished even after the Historic Building and Ancient Monuments Act 1953 that assigned the councils their duties to help protect these local ladies.

She ended the session by stating that we (as local residents) are the main conservators of our boroughs, as we should voice our opinions and concerns over the treatment of these aging structures.

 

All Kicking Off

John Strand, Secretary of the club spoke about a new beginning of Penydarren Park.

He briefly discussed the site’s history and unlike the Roman ruins the club was able to make a revival through regeneration from funds and get the residents to rediscover the town’s football heritage.

The Academy at the club is a stepping stone for young people who have an interested in playing football at a professional/ semi-professional level. Also there are obvious fitness and wellbeing benefits to have from playing football.

 

Deals a Deal

Sian Workman from Cardiff Capital Region City Deal, a partnership between local authorities whose programme is to “improve productivity, drive innovation and support job growth throughout the South East Wales area.

Her presentation put forward the proposal for the 20 year programme that will be key in building an international competitive economy by investing in the partnership areas that will keep locals in their localities by providing affordable housing through secure jobs.

The £1.2 billion investment fund includes a Metro that should improve transportation and bring tourism resulting in a generation of regional outcome. If this programme is successful it will help to open the doors to UK and put Merthyr Tydfil on the map.

One of the delegates questioned about the significance of her presentation at a heritage conference.

In my opinion – it’s extremely significant! As the conference concerned heritage and regeneration, we firstly need to understand that it’s people that make up a location’s heritage; they keep the heritage alive and a programme such as this would have people want to stay in the area, otherwise younger people are moving to cities and this relates to regeneration, because it’s about the renewal of the population.

If you don’t create new opportunities and easier access to locations you’ll get ghost towns; the heritage will be buried, listed buildings will come crumbling down and there’ll be no growth – except for overgrown vegetation!

Furthermore, Brexit has ended the European Social Fund (ESF), resulting in an end to funds (possibly earlier than 2020?) which have benefitted our borough by:

  • Tackling poverty & social exclusion
  • Investing in skills as a driver for productivity and growth
  • Investing in our young people to create a vibrant and responsive future workforce.

Perhaps the Region City Deal can act as a replacement for the ESF? It could strengthen the link between neighbouring councils and their communities. More importantly a Metro system could have Merthyr Tydfil recognised as the heart of Wales – not only the Valleys!

 

What has Merthyr Tydfil got to offer?

Dawn Bowden AM for Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney outlined how heritage and history differ, as we inherit our heritage and learn from history, which is associated with towns and their local residents because where we are (live), makes us who we are; referring to how localities help to nurture local residents and that is how the area’s heritage lives on through its people. Heritage is about people and places. Understandably people come first otherwise there’d be no reason for a place.

Mrs Bowden carried on the discussion by sharing her ideas on using our heritage to build a better economy and regenerating the area even further. She suggested that the borough should go back to its roots and have a stronger socialist movement with more efforts like Merthyr Rising and even proposed that a memorial statue of Dic Penderyn be erected that will tell “their story” – the workers not their masters.

 

On Our Doorstep!

Gareth Chapman, Chief Executive of MTCBC presented the Destination Management Plan (DMP) 2016-2018, outlining the council’s strategy in enabling the borough to gain economic sustainability.

In terms of heritage, he highlighted how MT has more than Blaenavon and that we (the residents) need to recognise that we’ve got a unique selling point as a county.

In recent years structural regeneration has shone a light onto MT helping to bring it out of the shadow of the capital; the new College, Penderyn Square, the Taff trail and the UK’s first full-scale mountain bike park (BikePark Wales) and lots more.

In regards to tenant involvement, Mr Chapman went on to discuss future developments, which included the Vibrant and Viable Places (V.V.P) Funding that will not only regenerate the town but improve the local environment, housing quality and community. Also, enabling better access to affordable housing.

Meanwhile Scheme, Tydfil Training and MTEC (Venture Wales) support people who are seeking employment and encourage entrepreneurship in the borough and Mr Chapman gave his view on the back to basics approach to tackle unemployment as he stated, “if a company wants welders, we should provide welding courses,” which I agree is an aspect that helps to equip those who are unemployed but the issue is with accessing jobs that are local, meaning that people will have no choice but to move away or they’ll be stuck in the job centre line even longer!

 

Conclusion

I found the conference both interesting and well organised. It opened my eyes to my own heritage and was instrumental in helping me gain an insight into the new developments of my hometown.

The conference allowed me for the first time to see the newly built Merthyr Town F.C. It was still the Strikers Social Club the last time I went there a few years ago.

Upon looking at the impressive building I saw the Martyr’s motto – Progress through stability.

I thought to myself, this reflected exactly what this conference was all about, because examining how heritage and regeneration could benefit the borough starts with having economic stability of its own residents who will then invest in their borough supporting the local shops, businesses and new developments.

Image Courtesy: 5byfive, (Flickr c.c 2012)

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