Learning from CwmGwaun

In the hidden folds of rural Wales the past is threshold to the future.. perhaps.

Rhys enters the Valley

I took Rhys Sinnett, Plaid candidate for the Assembly election in Preseli, into the hidden heart of Pembrokeshire.

 

We travelled the low and high roads of the dramatic GwaunValley, filled with sheep, mists, and steep forest. Interestingly among the smattering of homes, farms and businesses there are almost as many businesses as houses, and this is just a sample of our rural economy which is surprisingly diverse and resilient, but ‘goes under the radar’.

 

We bumped down a track to Lodor farm shop arriving to a busy scene of 4 staff packing and processing their quality free-range pork, lamb, beef and bacon. Nothing could be more local. We learned of the challenges of recession, but came away inspired by the extended family’s quiet skill and determination.

 

We climbed to the heights of Ffald y Brenin Christian retreat. The car-park was packed, there had been no quiet month for a year. Thousands come here for spiritual revitalisation, they say they take a spiritual shield with them when they have to return to their work in cities throughout the UK and abroad. The centre on the pinnacle of the valley was designed by Pembrokeshire architect Christopher Day whose insights into the ensoulment of places is renowned across the world. The round chapel where prayer takes place four times a day, communicates a holy spirit to even the most sceptical. Businesses have sprung up in the surrounding area to provide accommodation to the guests whose numbers exceed the centre’s capacity.

Lodor Farm Shop

On the opposite slopes of the valley we walked into a serious discussion about a technical problem. Tecwyn Jones talked to us with carpentry machines chorusing in the background.  He feels lucky, as so few young people whose parents have lived and farmed the area, can afford a home. He has had modest help from the Welsh Assembly and the back-up of his family. He and his helpers repair and build quality furniture in the locality without the need to advertise.

 

Another timber centre we visited was Cilrhedin which is owned by the National Park. The next door neighbour is a private business doing similar things. Rather than compete the owner, Stephen Cull reported a relationship which benefited both. ‘They are doing some jobs for me at the moment, another week I’ll be doing jobs for them. They are good guys working there, it helps us both to have the wider range of equipment, customers – and good ideas!”

 

We passed a private house being done up by its owner who has taught himself building after retiring from advertising. He had no heating and decided to be forward-looking and installed wood pellet central heating. The pellets flow like water from a hopper to be burnt in an Okofen boiler in his garage. This super intelligent piece of kit regulates itself, and is made in Germany “where they have been doing pellet heating for decades, we are only just discovering it” says the owner. He loves the system and says it is all made possible because Pembrokeshire has enough pellet systems to support a farm diversification pellet distribution business, ‘Pembrokeshire Bio-energy’.

 

louise cookson's addictive cuisine

These are just some of the inspiring places we called in at in the few miles of the famous Welsh valley where ancient traditions and a tiny school have so far survived against all odds. We finished in Newport, the nearby rural town of just 1,000 inhabitants. This has a full complement of traditional shops. We only had time to call at a new business run by a young mother. Lou-Lou’s cafe opened in December, and rather than trade going down in the quietest month of February it has continued its steady growth. Louise is brave, she is committed to buying local and organic ‘the sort of ingredients I choose for my family, that feels really good’. And customers love it.

 

We learned a lot, there are many problems with planning and the impacts of the recession, but we met positive stories of support from the Assembly. Rhys asked everyone what help they would like from a Welsh government. The answer was “erm er, oh dear I cant think of anything.. several then came up with less bureaucratic paperwork or more help with it.

 

We noted that all these surviving and thriving businesses were using natural materials, and the quality of the environment to supply essential needs – and yes, spiritual restoration is essential too.

We noted that some involved increased use of the small roads and wondered how they would fare if there were no money to keep them in repair. However we then realised that their skills and equipment they used could be used with the raw materials of the valley itself. This is the essence of resilience, and future-proofing.

LAST DRAUGHT

One business we forgot to mention is the new GwaunValley microbrewery. It is run by a family who used to farm and brew as a hobby. They have simply swopped hobby for business, and now farm on a small scale so the pigs get the mashing from the brewery.

We enjoyed our tasters, and were delighted that every Saturday there is live music and song and home-brewed beer in the valley. Some things about Wales prove indestructible.

 

Rhys Sinnett is a Milford Haven county councillor, he stands for self-reliance for Pembrokeshire and reducing dependence on oil and the global economy. He works in the NHS and sees the green economy and health and wellbeing as a single vision which will make our communities more sustainable in the future.

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Is there an local organisation in SouthWest Wales for smallholders and allotment holders to sell excess produce from their holding for income?

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