The treasures that lie in a biscuit tin

 

 

 

 

Working at Amgueddfa Cymru’s History and Archaeology department over the last few months has revoked my interest in history… and even my own heritage.

One of the many benefits of working in the department is being able to preview the work by the staff of the museum’s Saving Treasures, Telling Stories project; the project highlights our nation’s treasures. It’s both a delight and eye-opener to see the objects collected by the museum, which hold more value than gold (from which some are made of), as these treasures stir our interest, provide us with knowledge… and can even fill us with pride when acknowledging that their roots lie in Wales.

A few weeks ago, museums across the UK were involved in #TakeOverDay; a day when social media pages were voluntarily taken over by youth community groups and schools.

Saving Treasures gladly took part and had young people to voice what they believed was treasure, then they got to ask the public what they considered as treasure. I know it’s a bit late but I thought I’d have a go at writing this blog to mention mine.

So, what’s my “treasure”? It’s difficult for me since I’m not what you’d call a “materialistic” person but if you were to put me on the spot I’d have to say one of my top treasures would be…the collection of family photographs.

Why? It comes down to a combination of my love for photography and my interest in family history.

I began my photographic love affair nearly a decade ago and my relationship with the art form is still as strong as ever after achieving a degree from the University of South Wales last year.

And like a branch of a tree my interest in genealogy grew from helping my sister with her research, as she was baptised into the Mormon Church – nearly 15 years ago!

But why old printed photographs? Who needs a flux capacitor when you’ve got old photographs to take you back in time? Printed photographs are tools that allow our memories to have an essence of tangibility; being able to hold them in my hands while concerned at their fragility makes them more cherished than sweeping across a screen of digitalised images. Also, there is further significance to these prints with some having been written on the back by family members who have now passed away; seeing their handwriting, especially by those I knew and remember creates nostalgia.

Nostalgia in relation to old photographs can trigger memories about a certain point in your life, a place, a person, a job that you enjoyed. So, having these family photographs is beneficial in stimulating the visual cortex that helps to push open those heavy doors in our minds.

The wonderful work and efforts by charities involved with supporting people with dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease (most common type of dementia) have similar projects that use these techniques to help prevent or manage such neurological diseases in connection with memory loss. Such projects can be seen at National Museum Wales including their partnership with Cardiff University on the Oakdale Alzheimer’s Friendly Project and the Big Pit’s underground dementia friendly tours.

I personally feel a sense of responsibility for the family “archive” since the photographs are in my possession after being passed down through the generations. It may seem peculiar but sometimes I feel that caring for these old photographs is almost like caring for living things, because in some way these photographs give me a glimpse into a moment of past and present lives – people’s experience and feelings at that very moment are forever imprinted on a piece of matt or gloss.

I feel that taking care of these photographs can somehow help to keep their memories alive! So, instead of simply reading about their lives I can put a face to a name, which somehow does make me feel that my past relatives are now relatable…if that makes sense?

Many of my family’s photographs were kept in my grandmother’s biscuit tin, as this was the norm back in the day. It’s not the best method from a conservation point of view but you can’t deny the fact that they’re still here and in good condition. Perhaps there’s some evidence to Macfarlane Lang’s (McVitie’s since 1948) Victoria Biscuit Work’s tins having preservation prowess?

Over the next couple of months I intend to archive these photographs and write down any information I can that will help to preserve their stories.

 

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Digging up the past…literally!

Over the last few months it has been hectic – apart from gaining employment elsewhere (sadly through becoming redundant) and undertaking a few online courses which I desperately need to finish, I have (along with family) been refurbishing each room of the house belonging to my great-grandparents (circa 1910)…officially bought from the council in ’81. Also, we’ve been digging up the front garden for a driveway.

It’s not surprising that my interest in history and archaeology, especially things relating to the land of my fathers, has developed from working in the department at the museum.

Working there has made me reflect on objects that I’ve found while carry out the refurbishment more differently – one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure!

Now, I wouldn’t go as far as saying I’ve found genuine treasure that should be put in an exhibition; they are more likely fragmented items that might not even be considered suitable for your local scrap yard!

However, I’m interested in the fact that the things which I have found do have their own story; to whom did they belong? Why were they discarded? Or were they lost?

Just the simplest of questions can help to unravel a story and give meaning to an object.

The most interesting items that I found, for the moment, include:

A Half Penny coin (1938)

This coin was found underneath the floorboards, which lay on top of the original red brickwork. It wouldn’t be worth anything – probably less than a half a penny today (or even less due to Brexit!).

The obverse side of the coin features the bare head of King George VI and the reverse side features a depiction of Sir Francis Drake’s galleon, the Golden Hind, the first English ship to sail around the world; it was originally known as Pelican before being renamed mid-voyage to honour Sir Christopher Hatton, whose crest was a golden hind (a female red deer)…as you do.

The coin’s design was by Thomas Humphrey Paget, whose portrait of George VI would be described as “the classic coinage head of the 20th century.” This particular mintage produced an estimated 40,320,000 coins meaning that it’s not scarce at all….hence the lack of value.

What if?

I’m happy to think that this coin may have belonged to my great-grandmother, Alice, who lived an interesting life herself. She was adopted due to the passing of her biological mother, and sadly her father was unable to provide for her. He was a “travelling showman.” Or this coin could have belonged to a lodger named Mrs. Templeman, an elderly woman who passed away in the house! Alice had to have a lodger because her husband, my great-grandfather, had died and she had six young children to feed! Alice would later go on to marry Asaph and they’d spend many years together before his death – and she would go on to live to the age of 91!

Beaufort Company & Co. Engineering Brick

Digging up the garden you’d expect to find a few things; obviously plenty of dirt, old roots of a tree (nearly impossible to uproot), stones (big ones!), but never such a brick.

Seeing Beaufort clearly visible, as if the brick were made just yesterday, I knew it has something to do with the area, being near Ebbw Vale; a town (like most South Wales Valleys’ towns) that had been forged by industry. The fires of “the Works” helped to forge a community until they were sadly doused – stopping the heart of its community!

After doing some research I found that the brick was manufactured at the engineering plant in the village, which was said to have sent the bricks (approximately 40,000) to be used for the foundations of the Empire State Building! The factory, earlier labelled on OS (Ordnance Survey) maps as Brick and Pipe Works, was opened at the start of the 20th Century before closing in the ‘70s!

I can’t wait to find more objects and to discover their stories!

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(Image of my father holding up the brick).

Resources:

www.Industrialgwent.co.uk

www.Allcoinvalues.com

 

 

 

I need to see the Wizard of Jobs

Introduction

I’ve written this blog for a number of reasons; I admit that it helps with how I feel at the moment because knowing that you’re about to lose your job does obviously put a dampener on things, it’s good to keep your “creative blogging juices” flowing and I’d like to share with you, the reader, my thoughts on the subject of job hunting because that’s exactly what it is! A hunt (this is where I draw a line on both sides of my face with a black marker).

About me

I’m about to be made redundant and I’m currently in search of a new job.

What do I want Vs what you need?

I’ve got a few things juggling up in the air including setting up my own but I’d like to (for the sake of this blog) keep to job hunting for alternative employment and in this instance; searching for a full-time position.

In this economic climate we must recognise that it’s sadly all about sacrifice. I’d have to look for any job that pays the bills and hopefully that is where my transferable skills comes in.

We do need to be optimistic when job hunting but being realistic comes first… you cannot feed a family on a loaf of optimism.

Opportunity

Any job is better than no job but “accepting” a job doesn’t mean that there’s no road leading to a better or more convenient one.

With jobs becoming scarce, it’s important that we adapt! A job for life was something that maybe our grandparents or parents had, which provided a sense of security. Therefore, the only way we can survive in this world is by adapting to new situations.

Millennials, we need to utilize our youth; we can move around, we are flexible, if we aren’t satisfied in our job then we look for a new one and jump ship as soon as possible.

In terms of opportunity, millennials are more likely to fish for another job than older people. Unfortunately this makes employers doubtful and not eager to provide training or supporting their (millennials) opportunity to progress in fear that they’d leave, which actually does the opposite of keeping staff and increases their desire to find other positions where they can progress.

Progression should mean paying the employee more money – but isn’t that how it should be?! With some smaller companies it’s understandable that some aren’t able to pay their staff above their earnings because it will make a dip in their (the employers) incomings.

But if employers don’t offer opportunities or want to invest in an employee, then why would he or she (employees) want to stay?

Who needs Courage, Heart or Brains?

There are examples easily available online and support in your local job centre concerning how to conduct yourself in an interview, but for this section I want to demonstrate to you (in line with the theme of this blog’s title) how three supposed weaknesses can be turned into strengths by understanding how we all have transferable skills:

  • If a cowardly Lion was in an interview, ordinarily the employer would want someone who has ambition but what if the lion’s description of being cowardly was better described as being loyal, trustworthy and reliable? Perhaps, he is someone who is settled and has ties to the area, so doesn’t want to find another job!

 

  • A Tinman who doesn’t have a heart – which is open to interpretation; perhaps he isn’t a people person or fails in having compassion? This would make it difficult when finding a new job, however in some roles you don’t need face-to-face interaction. Also, you can use this to your advantage in highlighting that you have initiative and can work effectively when working independently.

 

  • A Scarecrow who may not have the necessary “qualifications” or “knowledge” could have relevant experience that should be considered by the employer when going through the interview process.

 

Conclusion

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my blog. I appreciate you reading it. Well, wish me luck.

Remember that you can follow my blog or on Twitter @MerthyrRanter. Thank you.

 

Image courtesy: (Lydia, JobCentrePlus, Nov.2010. Flickr C.C)

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)

EEE – The Brand New Approach to Supporting Communities

Communities First 2001- 2016

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children addressed other assembly members in the Senedd saying, “I am not convinced that continuing to focus on 52 small areas is the most effective way to deliver for Wales” – hinting at the closure of the seasoned programme. This was later confirmed by insisting that a “cross government approach” was on the table.

The Welsh Government’s (WG) “community focussed tackling poverty programme” was launched in 2001 and was recognisably one of the first and enduring schemes to come out of Wales’ early devolution years.

Its objectives were to create Prosperous communities, Learning communities and Healthier communities in our most deprived areas in Wales.

Quick question: Aren’t these 3 objectives aligned with the seven “well-being goals” of the new Well-being of Future Generation (Wales) Act?

New Approach

Carl Sargeant AM announced WG plans for a new anti-poverty programme (or trial project?) that could possibly be, in my opinion, an initiative formed under the new WFG Act; a general project which is delivered by all local authorities in Wales and providing better value for money (if properly carried out) than focusing on those “52 small areas.”

I agree that a wider distribution of a project over more rural communities is necessary since those communities, like urban communities (low-income families), experience poverty including young families who are unable to find affordable housing in such localities.

Also, with many families in those areas (maybe) being from an agricultural background and with such hardships with the sales of produce, an anti-poverty project for farming families would be ideal to encourage not only the next generation (of all genders) in the family but support urban youths to take the plunge into the industry.

It could be disputed that the end of CF for those 52 smaller areas and a broader focus on others could consequently force a collapse in the progress already made and lose the trust of the service users the programme has now.

The WG has stated that a lack of value for money is primarily one of the reasons for CF’s closure and hopefully the appropriate steps have been made to safeguard those who had benefitted greatly from the programme.

This new approach by WG can be cost-effective if there’s a possibility of self- sustainability that could enable those communities and service users room to grow and at the same time be a secure mattress, which allows you to bounce back on if you don’t reach the your dream goal.

New ideas for sustainable communities, especially in deprived areas is essential, now more than ever as Welfare Reform and budget cuts WILL have a further catastrophic effect on communities – it’s key to have the simplest of safeguards in place if (or when) things get worse.

Employment

There’s a perception of a benefits culture, especially in deprived areas, which has had an increase in emphasis by the media more and more frequently. The statistics don’t represent the hardships faced by lower-income families who are unable to afford to fully sign off (from welfare) and people who have disabilities but aren’t able to get access to suitable employment.

People (especially those who are subjected to discrimination made by potential employers because of their background, which includes if they come from a “rough part of a town”) are struggling to squeeze their foot in the door of the job’s market never mind climbing the career ladder.

Going forward I hope that WG can provide people opportunities and whilst doing so not expect the poorest of families to sacrifice a meal by signing off.

From personal experience, a job can be a life-saver. It does make you feel valued and that’s where the value for money comes in!

Long-term unemployment can create physical and mental health issues, which could further deplete the NHS budget. Therefore, providing people with secure employment proves to be value for money and adheres to the WFG Act in creating a healthier Wales.

Early Years

The new approach will focus on early years, which I definitely agree with (especially if you have an officially diagnosed nephew with low-functioning Autism).

More support should be given to parents and guardians who are carers of children with a form of disability and want to go back into employment. Not be penalised by DWP – you put enough weight on a person’s shoulders and they will go down crashing!

Programmes like Flying Start are essential for children in deprived areas. It cannot stop! For the sake of safeguarding the prospects of children it must continue, otherwise it’ll have a negative impact on the development of children who are already at risk from a lack of progress and access to any form of potentiality.

Empowerment

The sense of empowerment is a subject that’s been discussed regularly, predominantly more because of the current social climate over Brexit and political agendas.

Establishing empowerment as one of the new approaches would imply that WG wants to enable residents to take control. Give them a voice.

This reminds me of a session that I attended at GovCamp Cymru last September catered for those working or interested in the public sector (which should be everyone since we’re service users and payers). The session was led by Dave McKenna (Public Servant) who wanted to learn if there could be an alternative design for democracy in Wales and how UN Human Rights for Citizens outlined the basic principles for democracy, which included the right to engagement and taking part in decision making.

So, isn’t empowerment a legal right that is applied to everyone anyway? Or does this new approach by WG help to secure that right? An example being Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB) who are instrumental in providing advocacy to those who aren’t aware of their rights.

Brexit

Having a new approach to supporting communities (that is value for money) actually could be necessary for a long-term solution to funding the programme/ project underway, because of current budget cuts and the eventual loss of investment from the European Social Fund (ESF) 2014- 2020, a productive strategy is sorely needed to balance the loss.

The ESF does support structural funding that results in its three main objectives of tackling poverty through sustainable employment, skills for growth and youth employment & attainment.

Unfortunately, the areas that have benefited most from the ESF (particularly in the Valleys) have voted out of the EU. These funds have supported the Heads of the Valleys with £79m and a further £80m has helped develop our town centres including Merthyr Tydfil and Pontypridd; all this has meant jobs and apprentice opportunities, and improving access to the Valleys – the heart of South Wales. Can WG invest in these areas in the future as we lose out on ESF?

Conclusion? For Communities?

I’m saddened by the end of Communities First as I’ve seen the benefits of the programme first-hand, but maybe a new strategy is necessary to benefit those using the service.

Reaching project targets set by WG on such budget cuts is purely unrealistic, as expectations are too high and the project will fail before it starts!

I understand that value for money should be included in any new proposal but when it comes to supporting families and children living in poverty – the priority should be “whatever the cost.”

You can’t throw money into a community. You need to invest in a community.

(Image Courtesy: Kat Grigg – family. Flick 2012 c.c)

 

 

 

Celebrate USW, Congratulate Alumni

Nominating Miss Richards

It was great to hear that Emma Richards was a finalist at the USW Alumni Awards. I had nominated her in one of the categories titled Excellence in Service Award; her role as Student Representative (officially and unofficially) profoundly assisted in the preparations of the day-to-day academic lives of her peers, which included the effective communication between students and their lecturers (and departments), being essential for organising from the littlest to the biggest agendas – all having an influence on the smooth running of the course itself.

This all happened while she dealt with her own personal issues that sometimes (understandably) overwhelmed her. Although, this didn’t deter her from arranging matters with her peers and others. She is the social media seamstress who’d woven her strings of support so tight that she captured any forgotten deadline and made us all a cushion of comfort to sit on – truly a well-deserving Alumna!

Unfortunately Emma was unable to attend the ceremony and instead I was honoured to have been asked to accept her award on her behalf.

 

Join the USW Alumni Club

The ceremony was held at the Swalec Stadium, the old Glamorgan Cricket Club in Cardiff, which was a venue suitable for the occasion since those who attended were mostly “Alumni all-rounders” coming from various backgrounds and experienced in diverse industries.

The event was carefully organised by the small yet proficient USW Alumni Team (Rachael, Carolyn, Katy and Natalie), all of whom had exceeded the attendees’ expectations.

The evening began with USW’s Vice Chancellor, Julie Lydon OBE, thanking those who managed to attend and all who contributed to the event.

She highlighted the importance of Higher Education and the impact that USW and its graduates have had both nationally and internationally, which was emphasised by the university’s #USWThanksU campaign; recognising those who’ve contributed whether graduate, lecturer or sponsor.

Ms Lydon’s speech, even though promotional (as you’d honestly expect from a member of management), was well-received and her heartfelt words were clearly evidenced by a beneficiary of USW – Natalie Lubbock, who gained a scholarship enabling her to conduct fascinating and important research on marine biology and conservation management.

Natalie’s enthusiasm and individuality shone as she spoke about herself and her hard work as a graduate. Her continuation as a PhD student at the university means that she has been a USW graduate for approximately ten years. She values her time spent at USW and insisted that it was a decade well-spent because it’s “a great university to be at.”

Remember, time is not crucial when it’s in the pursuit of your dreams.

Her efforts should be recognised, her thirst for knowledge admired and her passion used to inspire the next set of graduates (the future generation) – with a full-time position.

 

Networking and Chit Chat

I invited my sister, Rebecca as my plus one. She’s a “Support Worker” for USW and carer for her son, Gabriel, who had recently been “officially” diagnosed with Autism – she’s a model mother and individual. She’s an Alumna of Swansea University, but we’ll let her off this time.

The team organisers had me down as Welsh Tenants/ Tenantiaid Cymru, which is ok, I wear many hats. Actually, it gave me an opportunity to network and “talk shop” as many students are tenants and would likely be renting in the future with the current housing crisis and unaffordable housing leaving little room for home-ownership.

It wasn’t all about networking, as we (my sister and I) got chatting to others at table 9, in particularly with Emma Adamson, Director of Learning Services, on personal and political matters. An honest, ordinary, friendly-Friday conversation.

 

Foodie Friday

Not only was the evening filled full of celebration because of the awards, our stomachs were filled full of delightful foods.

There were three courses including goat’s cheese for starters, beautifully-cooked chicken for the main, and lastly, small sweet appetisers that would be better than Bake-Off’s contestants’ tasters I bet!

 

And The Winners Are…

The list and statements read by Rachael Barker, Head of Alumni Relations & Development, demonstrated USW’s ability in helping to produce current (and former) graduates that are (or have) doing (done) such outstanding things.

The four awards and winners are as follows:

Hamed Amiri, Inspiring the Next Generation

Emma Richards, Excellence in Service

Richard Pring, Graduate of Last Decade

Martin Smith, Distinguished Alumni

I’d like to congratulate those who won, all the finalists – and those who were nominated but may not have been shortlisted. To be nominated exemplifies the need for a nominee’s recognition. It highlights an individual, group or organisation’s appreciation for the nominee, meaning that his or her work or ability has made a difference to others.

 

About Alumni

Alumni are essentially “qualified ambassadors” who represent their University in their employment or in their industry. The Alumni Services help to maintain or re-establish communication between current and former graduates – key to celebrating success, key to keeping a community alive.

(Image Courtesy: John Walker, 2010. Flickr, c.c)

P.S. It’s all about the Public Sector

Intro to GovCamp Cymru

Gov Camp Cymru; three words that says it all about an event catered for those who either work or have an interest in the Public Sector in Wales.

I went there as not only an avid blogger but as a service user.

Everyone will need some form of support from a public sector service in their lifetime that us why everyone should be responsible for maintaining and supporting each service.

The event took place at Cardiff’s Pierhead, a building unofficially christened as the “Big Ben of Wales” but unlike London’s Big Ben overshadowing Westminster, the Pierhead stands on the same level as the Senedcd – creating a comfortable platform for democratic discussion.

GovCamp Cymru helps to pass over the bureaucratic quill to the citizens of Wales for a day.

 

What’s an “unconference?”

I previously went to my first “unconference” at Housing Camp Cymru earlier in July, which I later wrote about in one of my blogs.

There were familiar faces at GovCamp Cymru including this year’s winner of CIH England’s Rising Star Alice Smith, and the two Neils; Mr Prior of Northgate Public Services and Mr Tamplin of Cadwyn HA and Cardiff Pound, and both would later “pitch” an agenda that day. Keep an eye out for their blogs!

Esko Reinikainen of The Satori Lab was the host and guided us through what the event could look like and stated the rules (or lack of rules – depending on your definition) by which I mean the “rule of two feet” – if there’s nothing gained, then you’re permitted to seek it elsewhere.

Sector Sponsors

GovCamp Cymru wouldn’t have been possible without the kindness of so many sponsors.

Sponsorship of an event acknowledges that organisation or company’s support for that particular cause or an event’s aim, which comes to no surprise as to why PA Public Services was its Platinum sponsor (the clue is in the name really).

Like the Olympics’ metallic colours the sponsor list read like Wales’ who’s who of innovation; starting with one of the gold sponsors (YLab), going across to one of its silver members (Future Cities Catapult) and finishing off with one of its many Bronze participants (BuildBeacon).

I’ve missed out so many great organisations and organisers from this blog, but it’ll take all day! Why not check them out yourselves via GovCamp Cymru and see if you’d want to contribute next year.

 

Citizen McKenna

Dave McKenna wanted to understand if there’s an alternative design for democracy in Wales.

Firstly, he outlined the rights based on a citizen’s needs (as stated by the UN Human Rights for Citizens), which he summed up and particularly wanting to examine:

“Share their opinions with other people”, “Work with other people to bring about change”, and to “Take part in decision making.

Secondly, he didn’t want us to use, not our usual, banned words. These words that weren’t allowed to be said if we are to change the principles of democracy itself. Words such as Government, Local Council, Councillors, MP, AM Etc.

Emma Reeves-McAll from Tai Pawb outlined the dilemma of equality that inhibits those in society from having a voice. It’s all about changing social attitudes before anything else!

There were many ideas put forward and people challenged others on their opinions, which made it even more interesting and enjoyable.

A comment made by a Ceredigion County Council attendee mentioned our use of language when discussing the agenda, which made it apparent that instead of addressing a citizen’s needs we debated over their wants.

I voiced that the idea of democracy built into the structure of most countries in Western society is like an iceberg; it’ll always tip in someone’s favour (point of power), but you can only get true democracy if the whole thing is turned upside down in order to expose the ice underneath, allowing it to get a chance to get some air.

At the end of the session we realised that we didn’t use any of the banned words and Dave did get a sense of what Wales could look like if its citizens adopted a new way of thinking about democracy.

Words such as Equality, Representation, Voice, Integration, and Engagement are the corner stones of democracy and perhaps a back to basics approach is essential before any promises are made, because both promises and stones could be broken in the process!

 

Change their, our, my behaviour

Dyfrig Williams of Good Practice Wales Audit Office stated this agenda earlier on twitter, which I replied to in order to voice my interest.

Its context interested me. The idea of helping to understand how we’re able to change our own behaviour towards work and improve the relationship between organisations (not only in the public sector) and staff.

I thought to myself, this is a session that could be beneficial for me and for my own work or in future employment.

How to change behaviour? I immediately thought money, which is at least honest. If you’ve worked hard to get where you are and have been trained to a level (that the employer has invested into you), then don’t you expect an increase in salary or a promotion at least?

There were comments made by self-employed attendees and their inability to pay the living wage because the profits gained wouldn’t cover all costs, which does reflect the economic market and the need for our government to invest in medium or smaller sized businesses. If we are to leave the EU market don’t we need as many entrepreneurs and smaller businesses that are able to sustain themselves as possible?

Other suggestions included us (Wales and UK) to ditch the 9 to 5 and adopt a new way of working, like some Swedish employers who have managed to lessen their employees’ hours to help balance their working lives with their family lives; working only 6 hours a day over five days.

Bosses, particularly middle management, have to change the way they treat staff. They (management) need to think as if they’re a part of a bee colony that has everyone working together, because that member of staff will go to another hive, making the honey (services/ organisation) taste less sweet than before.

Representatives from Welsh Government were also at the event commenting on the “Sword and Shield” effect on the services standards in the public sector, which is okay in practice but it would depend on what are they’re made of?

Are they as solid as TATA Steel or made from poorly produced fakes that don’t have the ability to make any sort of impact?

Our government needs to realise that those services aren’t run by gladiators but by extraordinary people.

I believe if you want to change people’s behaviours in organisations, be they public sector workers or other, then we need to put people (staff) first!

Bosses need to understand that their employees are not just “workers” but are the blood of the organisation that helps to keep the circulation going and maintaining the services.

Also, there are (now) generational complications too with younger people (generation Y/Z) likely to earn less than their “more mature” colleagues, an increase in zero hour contracts (creating unpredictability and stress), and younger people feel that they can never get on the career or housing ladder – there are only jobs and non-affordable renting.

 

Act 3, Open Data

After going to one of Welsh Tenants/ Tenantiaid Cymru’s plenary called Future Gazing, which looked at the benefits and cons of big data and technology in the housing sector, I thought that this session led by Angharad Owen would get me further hooked on exploring the issues with data, especially since it involved the new Act – a law that could potentially be a banner for further devolution in Wales?

The Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act is considered by the Public Bodies in Wales as the go-to-guide when carrying out their duties.

The use of open data can be instrumental in understanding performance such as highlighting the difficulties of an organisation or a service’s abilities, which is not about honesty but concerns the reality of the economic climate on a service (a public service, which is paid for by tax payers) – they have a legal duty to notify the service users!

Open data can be key to supporting the effectiveness of public services and aid those working in the sector to hopefully develop new strategies, to look at new “Ways of Working.”

Although, there are (I believe) risks involved with open data. It’s a question of having data from  trustworthy sources, as the person/people/ organisation collecting the data shouldn’t have any affiliations that could benefit them in any way. The public, especially these days, need the trust factor!

Welsh Fforeign Polisi

Esko, as a Finnish immigrant wanted to know our perspectives (being Welsh) on foreign policy, which is currently still governed by the long arm of Westminster.

Could we have our own?

One of the attendees of the session, Helen Frost of Frost Creative did her stuff sketching out our thoughts (and dreams) as a fully independent nation. It may be that she plans to draw a dragon’s foot, trapped in a thorny vine of a red rose – eager to break away! A bit too controversial perhaps? Someone’s controversy is another person’s truth.

The group discussed obvious issues that has influenced foreign policy over the last few months including the B word (Brexit), as Esko calls it, and the fact that Theresa May has appointed Boris Johnson in charge of this vital position (luck of the draw or what?). And more relative to the agenda, would it still affect Wales if were to go solo?

A simple yet hard-hitting question was asked – What does Wales have to offer? I can honestly say that I’ve underestimated my own nation in a way, as we further outlined what Wales and its people have got and can do.

For instance, our ecological, industrial and agricultural resources: our drinking water with our many reservoirs, which we should get back from the English really (Oh! Cofiwch Dryweryn: Remember Tryweryn); our slate is almost legendary with its fine quality and connection to the history of the Romans in pre-Britain; our alternatives to energy including the use of wind turbines; our claim to fame with Welsh sheep such as wool and produce (not the other thing!); could our success with tourism help support an independent economy? We have a nation made from mountains for hikers and bikers, an interesting history for learners and sight-seers and some of the cleanest coasts in Europe attracting surfers from around the world; we could keep our steel industry going strong and not put the fire out (and won’t need any corporate entity or other governmental policy influencing its future); and perhaps we could open the coalmines once again? Just a thought.

We compared ourselves to other countries (as you do when examining foreign policy and a Finnish person facilitating the session) and got chatting about serious issues such as our national security/ armed forces; would we consider keeping or losing them like Iceland? Also, would we be affiliated with other countries or become neutral, like a modern-day Switzerland?

The session was productive and gave me an insight into my own country that I didn’t think about before, as we (the Welsh) are so use to being a step away from England and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Once, we thought devolution was a long-shot in itself!

Wales is an island, which means that it’s above the water and perhaps becoming an independent country could be its peril causing it to sink, but maybe the reason behind this way of thinking is that nobody is teaching it how to swim!

 

A Citizen’s Public Confession

I personally would have put forward a pitch, but because of sleep deprivation I wouldn’t have wanted to fill in a slot that could have been filled by a speaker who perhaps could have contributed more to the event, which they all certainly did.

I can be vouched by others, as I had a title planned too “To Strike or not to Strike, what is the cost?” which would have been about the recent strikes; (hypothetically) examining not only the financial circumstances faced in Wales from strikes but the the right and ethics of striking. Never mind!

I thought it was great having the option of having a conversation with other Welsh speakers like myself, who were all given a bi-lingual lanyard.

Although, I would like to point out that it may have unnerved non-Welsh speakers from joining a smaller group’s discussion.

Obviously, there should be a choice for people to speak their own mother-tongue, but what if those non-Welsh speakers could have contributed to the discussion and missed out on the opportunity? Perhaps this could be something to think about for future events.

The elevators at the venue unfortunately did malfunction but I want to commend the volunteer organisers for addressing the issue, which meant that nobody with a physical disability or medical condition affecting their mobility missed out on anything.

 

P.S. Here’s my conclusion

Overall I thought GovCamp Cymru acted as a conductor for those interested in the Public Sector (which should be everyone really, shouldn’t it?) and anyone could have contribute anything, which is a great thing about an “unconference” – it’s full of like-minded people.

I hope to get more involved next year. I do suggest that we all participate.

If we are to have another 4 or so years of Conservative leadership then we have a duty to protect our most vulnerable people (and bystanders by that matter) who have to manage with undernourished services that are supported by overworked and underpaid staff.

Let’s put a bit of humanity back into our Public Services again!

(Image courtesy of Brickset, Flickr c.c, 2013)