Ribbon cut at Parc Y Scarlets

A new community group Fforwm Llanelli Forum has been launched with an official opening at Parc Y Scarlets on Tuesday (July 17).

The event was opened by Councillor Sian Caiach from the Llanelli Rural Council.

A selection of associations and organisations were represented during the afternoon session, notably the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, Llanelli Community Heritage, Pest Control Services, Carmarthenshire Association of Voluntary Services, Communities for Work, Spice Time Credits Carmarthenshire and the local artist David Roger Williams.

Llanelli Town Mayor David Darkin, accompanied by three Llanelli Town Councillors, visited during the afternoon and attended a talk by Dr Penny Sartori, Community Development Worker, Department of Adult Continuing Education DACE, Swansea University.

Mary Roll, Chairman, opened the evening session on behalf of Llanelli Forum

Speakers were John Jenkins, Independent Non Aligned Councillor, Llanelli Town; Bethan Phillips, from the staff of Neil McEvoy, Independent AM (who had a last minute emergency debate in Cardiff and could not attend, but sent a video message); Tim Thomas, Councillor, Bridgend CBC and activist for Tondu and Aberkenfig Hub: Sean Rees, Independent Non Aligned Councillor, Llanelli Town.

The Forum was officially launched and the session closed by Mary Roll.

Speeches from the opening:

Opening remarks by Mary Roll, Chairman a.i.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me share with you a few of the thoughts

that have led to the creation of this new association.

What, another association, I hear you say. There are so many associations and groups that we can’t figure out what on earth they are all doing.

Well, that is precisely the point.

There are many wonderful groups and associations putting in a great deal of energy and goodwill into trying to solve all manner of problems in our community, and we have had several important examples of these during the course of this afternoon.

Individuals, special interest groups, council and governmental workers are all doing their best in very difficult conditions. Sadly nowadays, anything that does not bring in an immediate profit is considered a luxury at best. Funding is being cut, while taxes are rising. Where is all the money going? Most of us would like to know the answer. But who to ask?

Indeed, who knows for sure what is going on, here in our own community, let alone in our country or the big wide world.

Mary Roll

We care about our community and our country. We still have energy and determination, and a will to overcome adversity.

But where do we start? Who can guide us and enlighten us?

That is a question that we will strive to answer.

What we can say with fair certainty however is who cannot guide and enlighten us.

Traditionally, people have turned to political parties to help structure their thinking and drive social and economic progress and the improvement of people’s lives.

So let us look around at the traditional political parties. I won’t name them, as I would not distinguish one from the other.

Are they sending out a coherent message? What are they doing exactly to help us find a direction in a sea of uncertainty?

Political parties cannot be reactive to local needs. They are shackled by their centralisation, not only nationally but in our case by the dictates of another nation that has no interest in our progress. Quite the reverse, it would appear.

There is general disenchantment with political parties; all of them are disorganised and divided among themselves on the issues of the utmost importance to the everyday lives of individual citizens and the local community.

There are no answers to people’s serious concerns, and no one knows where to turn to get them – people no longer trust any of the traditional sources of knowledge, including experts of various sorts and the media.

This is a depressing picture indeed.

But fortunately there are still individuals among us who are struggling to do the right thing, to follow their hearts and not just the dictates of a party machinery.

We are fortunate in having a selection of speakers tonight who will tell us about their commitment to their constituents and the interests of the communities they serve.

Tim Thomas

Good Evening / Noswaith dda

My name is Tim Thomas and I also work for Neil McEvoy as his Community Engagement Officer. The role mainly involves leading on his campaigns and supporting casework within the community.

I have recently been working on campaigns against:

  • The dumping of nuclear mud from Hinckley Point into the Seven Estuary.
  • Campaigning against unsustainable housing developments across the City of Cardiff.
  • Against an incinerator in Barry in the Vale of Glamorgan
  • And many other campaigns.
  • Bethan has already outlined what we do quite comprehensively in terms of Community Engagement with Neil McEvoy.

But another key role that I have is as a member of Bridgend County Borough Council for the Ynysawdre Ward.  This might be of interest to you as part of my role, I helped set up the Aberkenfig and Tondu Hub, which has similar aims as the Llanelli Forum even if the structure and make up is slightly different to what is being proposed here in Llanelli.

Like most communities across Wales, the two villages of Tondu and Aberkenfig had concerns about the impact proposed housing development would have on the community.

As part of Bridgend’s Local Development Plan, there was a proposal to develop 450 houses in the local area where significant development had already taken place.  Every single resident that I talked to fully accepted the need for more housing as a response to the housing crisis shortage, but what their objections were over the lack of adequate transport infrastructure.

Tim Thomas

In addition, developers, who were set to make millions on the development cancelled plans:

  • To build a much needed medical centre.
  • Insufficient S106 money given to local schools.
  • Massive concerns over the transport infrastructure.
  • And of course there were concerns the impact would have on the environment and local biodiversity.

We held two public meetings, which for a relatively small community attracted well over two hundred people, we set up a petition which attracted thousands of signatures.

A local working group was set up which lobbied support from the local Ogmore MP and AM as well as most of the South Wales West Regional AMs. Each in turn wrote letters to Bridgend Council outlining their opposition to the development.

  • Five local community councils also objected to the development as well as many local businesses.

Unfortunately, however, members of the Development Control committee, who essentially make the decision, were not made aware of the objections.

There were concerns by the way that members were bullied into accepting the proposal with the Head of Planning saying that it would cause disarray for the Local Development Plan and if the development was not passed, it would come to your wards.

Inevitably, the application was approved.

Now, what was the result of this locally…

  • There was a lot of public disgust, and while I would distance myself personally from any accusations of fraud and corruption and talk of brown envelopes being passed around which is what many local people felt. I would agree that the heart of our decision making and local engagement was rotten to the core.
  • How could thousands of people be ignored, how could a cross party selection on politicians be ignore and how could so many groups who represent their communities be completely ignored.
  • People in the villages of Tondu and Aberkenfig felt marginalised, they felt they no longer had a voice, but rather than do nothing, the people came together and as a result the Aberkenfig and Tondu Hub was born.
  • There’s no restriction on joining the group, its completely cross party and of course no party, the only qualification is that you are passionate and care for the local community.
  • The main purpose of the formation was for a Community Association to be formed which would make the group an official consultee with regards to issues such as planning applications.
  • The hub will be fully constituted with the support of the Bridgend Association of Voluntary Organisations and in order to support start-up costs, membership costs £5 per household and now has a committee structure in place that meets regularly. Perhaps where it differs from the Llanelli Forum is that it for a relatively small community with not as many partners involved but primarily to give local people a voice.
  • One of the advantages of the hub, is that opened the group to new forms of funding. CAF and possible opportunities with grant funders such as the Coalfields Regeneration etc
  • The hub are now actively campaigning for improved infrastructure
  • Looking at ways to join the two communities together
  • And are working with Bridgend County Borough Council lobbying for active travel plans and road safety measures to create a safer community.
  • The hub is also supporting Welsh Government funding applications for safer routes to schools and safer communities.
  • The hub is also actively supporting the community with many events in association with local community councils in the area. Essentially, it is the local voice of the community, made by the community for the community.
  • I think the Llanelli hub sounds an exciting development for the community, I would be more than happy to share any ideas between the groups and I wish everyone involved every success in its developments.

Diolch yn fawr / Thank you very much

Sean Rees:

Sean Rees

Wel, noswaith dda pawb a diolch yn fawr iawn am y croeso cynnes. Good evening everyone and thank you very much for that warm welcome.

Firstly I would like to pay tribute to you Mary and the organising committee of the Llanelli Forum for your sterling work in hosting such a successful community event. Thank you too for the opportunity to speak here tonight. What a privilege it is to be at the home of the Scarlets and Llanelli RFC, both teams which I have grown up proudly supporting over the years. Like many of you I can recall many memories made both at Stradey Park and now here at Parc Y Scarlets.

From our sporting heroes back in 1972 with that inspirational 9-3 victory over the All Blacks, to the spirit of Grav (and yes, west is best!) to today’s players who are so successfully following in their footsteps.

Our town has always punched above its weight. When we look back at Llanelli’s industrial heritage, our past should indeed inspire us for the future. From the days of the Rebecca Riots to the dramatic events of 1911 when our working class communities emerged from the shadows of history with railway workers, tin workers and miners standing together in their fight against injustice. I’d like to remind you that the annual 1911 commemoration takes place next month.

Across the globe, this town has well and truly made its mark. In the mid 19th century, Llanelli’s copperworks was the third largest copperworks site in the world. Brothers Thomas + Walter Davies invented the world’s 1st workable spare wheel system for cars – the Stepney wheel. Felinfoel brewery was the 1st in Britain to can beer back in 1936. And we must not forget, the Cambrian Tinplate works whose world renowned products gave our town its famous nicknames ‘Sosban’ and ‘Tinopoils’.

Llanelli is a place that I am proud to call home and it makes me even prouder to see the effort and time, so many people have invested in helping others and improving our environment. I’ve grown up in these parts and like you want the very best for our area as we strive in a variety of ways to enhance the quality of life within our communities.

Bethan Phillips

Unfortunately however, our town like so many other parts of Wales has been let down through decades of empty and broken promises. In Wales alone, 200,000 children are growing up in poverty. Use of foodbanks are on the rise, many families forced to choose between heating and eating.

This is not the kind of society which people should be forced to live in or for our children to grow up in. A strong economy must be one that is built on the foundations of working for everyone and not just the privileged few.

Compassion is one of the hallmarks that should define us as a civilised society. We should aim for every young person to grow up in a place where there is hope, a town where no-one is left behind and a country where we have equality at the very heart of our agenda.

While the elites in London and Cardiff continue to bicker over their internal squabbles and power struggles, people here are crying out for a fresh start – an inspiring, but realistic vision for the future. We must engage not only the hearts and the hopes but must listen to the words and ambitions of our young people who will be the powerhouse of change.

Thanks to modern technology, we now have tools at our disposal which can if used rightly make for a healthier, happier and more caring society.

Now is that time to promote a vision of positivity and to share our stories of diversity. We have come a long way but there are far too many barriers still to overcome. During these growing times of uncertainty, we must ensure that stability, opportunity and mutual respect are prioritised.

Here in Wales, we have an old saying ‘A fo ben bid bont’, if you want to be a leader, you must first be a bridge. Llanelli has many leaders, the volunteers of our community organisations each of whom represent a bridge between a problem and its solution. Working hard to inspire, engage and motivate others in every corner of our Town. The more people we have to build such bridges, the closer we are to achieving the kind of society we all want to see.

As this Forum grows and links up with these organisations, we will develop an even stronger community network. By working together, everyone achieves more.

As C.S.Lewis told us “There are far better things ahead than any that we leave behind”.

As an Independent non Party Aligned Councillor, I feel able to react more easily to the needs of constituents for, when I look over my shoulder, what I see are the communities that I have the privilege of representing on Llanelli Town Council. It is those communities that are and always will be my priority.

One of the aspects, I enjoy most is campaigning on those bread and butter issues. This may be working with residents to get a nuisance pothole filled, calling for improved facilities at our local railway station to setting up a ‘Keep Glanymor Tidy’ action group.

However, there are probably not that many Councillors out there who have been working with their community to cope with a fly infestation of biblical proportions.

Yes, it really has been one of those years! But, if it proves anything, it is the need to be more responsive to situations as they arise. Despite the misery, stress, expense to many, I will never forget the community spirit, the neighbours who looked out for one another and rallied to demand the answers that we need.

Llanelli Town Council recently spoke as one to quite rightly call for Prince Philip Hospital to remain as a General Hospital. On the topic of hospitals, we recently marked 70 years of our National Health Service. We must never forget its founding principles of being free and accessible to all at the point of delivery.

We have to ask ourselves why there is such a gap between the promises made by those in power and what is actually happening on the ground. As with most sectors these days, it seems to be all about completing paperwork and chasing unattainable targets which take our doctors, nurses and health professionals away from what they joined the profession to do – to care for patients on the frontline.

As a newly appointed Governor of Ysgol Maes Y Morfa, or Morfa Juniors as I knew it back in the day, I was pleased to hear the school has received a glowing review from the Bevan Foundation report highlighting how the School is a model of strong partnership work between children’s education and the community. Likewise, the new Ysgol PenRhos in Seaside is a state of the art facility and highlights how important investment really is in our young people.

While for some, the academic route may be the option there is also a need to enhance apprenticeship and work-based learning opportunities so the next generation have access to the key skills they need for high skilled, well-paid jobs.

As I look back, I have realised that every time I thought I was leaving something good, I was actually being re-directed to something better.

My message to any young person of today is “never give up, go out there and pursue your dreams. Always let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future.”

John Jenkins

Indeed, this new Forum came about through the ethos of working together regardless of where we come from, who we are and what we do to contribute. A community is not just about being geographically close to someone or part of the same social web network. It’s about feeling connected, responsible for what happens in our area. Humanity is our ultimate community, and everyone has a part to play in this.

For the status quo is no longer an option. When we are ready for that change, anything is possible. When we choose hope, anything is possible. When we believe, anything is possible.

By putting community engagement at the heart of everything we do, it will drive us in our lives to fight for what is right and just so that together we can give our Town, Llanelli, a better, brighter and more hopeful future.

Ymlaen!

Photos: Llanelli Forum

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