Valuing place The importance of place for understanding inequality and taking action in Wales
The Young Foundation
The research that forms the basis of this report was made possible by a generous grant from the Welsh Government to Amplify Cymru, a programme of interconnected research and innovation support. We would like to thank the Welsh Government for their support. Most importantly we would like to thank the people of Aberystwyth, Connah’s Quay and Port Talbot and others across Wales for their generosity of time and thought in taking part in this research and helping to shape it.
Inequalities are widespread and complex and affect many areas of people’s lives. The Young Foundation is a research and action based institute with a formidable track record of confronting these inequalities. We work across the UK and internationally to create insight and innovations which put people at the heart of social change.
Amplify Cymru Amplify Cymru helps people take action together to create fairer communities where everyone can thrive. We believe everyone can make a difference and that positive social change is most likely to happen when people from every part of society are involved. We bring people and organisations together to: • Understand people’s lived experiences of inequality and how it can be overcome; • Identify new narratives of the better future people want for their communities; • Create and grow the innovative projects and collaborations needed to make change happen. Amplify Cymru is powered by the Young Foundation and funded by the Welsh government. We are working with people across Wales with a main focus in Aberystwyth, Connah’s Quay and Port Talbot.
Authors Dr Hannah Green and Dr Mary Hodgson.
The researchers People who have contributed to research, analysis and recommendations include the communities of Aberystwyth, Connah’s Quay and Port Talbot, and people from other areas in Wales, as well as Andy Dunbobbin, Cam Boam, Cath Sherrell, Gorka Espiau, Hannah Green, Kieron Williams, Lucy Cui, Mary Hodgson, Nat Defriend, Phil Thomas and Radhika Bynon. We have attempted to anonymise people, places and names except where the place in particular is relevant to the experience being discussed – for example a specific place-based perspective or where brief demographic details are relevant.
First published in the United Kingdom in 2017 by The Young Foundation, 18 Victoria Square Park, London, E2 9PF. Copyright resides with The Young Foundation © 2017.
Contents Key findings A fairer society for all The significance of place Barriers and inequalities Assets Community-led action Challenges to community-led action Recommendations
4 4 5 6 7 8 8 9
Introduction 10 Our research approach 11 Our methods 12 The context 13 The field-site research context 14 Understanding the importance of place 16 Structure of the report 19 Section 1: Understanding what people want you to know about the places they live Wales: a place we choose to live It offers us a good life We find community and a place to belong The things that we do for ourselves and each other Pen portraits • Pen portrait: Aberystwyth • Pen portrait: Connah’s Quay • Pen portrait: Port Talbot
20 21 22 24 26 30 34 34 38
Section 2: Understanding the inequalities and barriers people face every day in places Perception and narratives are inequality How perception perpetuates inequalities The pathways and opportunities don’t match up The challenge of place, geography and mobility Some places and opportunities are not for us Our places are changing ‘Done to’ development Who can make change happen? Decisions are made for us, not with us
42 43 45 47 48 49 52 54 57
Section 3: What people are doing in the places they live and why, and what they want for the places they live in 58 The themes of community-based action 60 Innovative actions 62 Why these actions are so valuable 64 What challenges are there for community-based action? 65 Community-led suggestions for how to support communities making fairer futures 68 Conclusions 69 References 70
Key Findings A fairer society for all What helps or undermines the wellbeing and empowerment of people living in communities? While there are different approaches to meeting needs, improving people’s lives and addressing high levels of inequality in UK society, there is increasing agreement that traditional ways of doing things may not always work. In this research, we investigated what people living in three Welsh towns – Aberystwyth, Connah’s Quay and Port Talbot – want for the places they live in, for their communities and for themselves. The key findings focus on drawing out themes which are common across these towns and which have Wales-wide implications. In the main body of the report, place-specific findings are highlighted in further detail. Here we explore what people living in these communities think about the challenges they face and the ways in which they go about creating a fairer society for all. We adopted an iterative approach1 to the research through which the concept of ‘place’ emerged: not only as a locale in which people happen to live, but as central to the way they live their lives. Place is a lens through which people view social meaning and value, the interventions or help of different agencies, and experience a sense of power and security.
Iteration refers to the process of repeatedly returning to the source of the data to ensure that the understandings are truly coming from the data. In practice, this means a constant process of collecting data, carrying out a preliminary analysis, using that to guide the next approach to data collection and continuing this pattern until the data collection is complete.
The significance of place •
In each town, people have a strong connection to ‘place’. These connections are geographical, but they are also cultural, social, physical, kin-based and economic. Places are socially and culturally situating. They can provide a strong sense of community, belonging and identity, not least because places are where people and their families are from, are where they work and have worked for years, and influence the connection and commitment people have to each other. These connections to place often underscore people’s lives, preferences and decision-making and explain other feelings too, like loss or concern. To some extent, they influence the decisions people make; for instance regarding employment, the things they value, and their day-to-day actions. They also influence and can explain people’s emotions and feelings about what is happening in their lives and their engagement with these dynamics or events.
Although there are different communities of interest in any place – for instance, in terms of age, occupation, religion, and ethnicity – the place-based community is a strong organising or conceptual principle for many people, partly because of the proximity it provides to others and partly because of the history and networks of a place.
People associate the places they live with the things that they do and the actions that they take. This is both in terms of historic and current connections that people have to industry and institutions, and in terms of the support and care that people give to others in their communities. For example, places have often given people their employment, which is an important source of identity. This is a broader and encompassing community value, about what people in places are like, and what they will do for each other.
Barriers and inequalities •
Place is also a site through which people experience specific inequalities, such as income differences within places, and the social and cultural implications of these divides. These inequalities are often deeply entrenched and can have a profound impact on people’s lives.
People feel that those from outside hold negative perceptions of their place, or share negative narratives about the people who live there, for example as being a town in industrial decline or as people in need of outsider help or intervention. The ideas that others have of areas can be an inequality in their own right, in the sense that they position places and people as of greater or lesser worth compared with each other.
There are many alternative and positive narratives and stories about each place which seem to be unheard or unrecognised by others, including media and decision makers. Feeling unheard was repeatedly revealed as an everyday experience for people in these communities. People also feel that they are not involved in big decisions about policy and investment in their areas. They feel that a consequence of this is that the investment places receive mostly addresses known negative issues rather than positive opportunities and fails to secure buy-in, ownership and sustainability. People believe that certain organisations and institutions in the towns create inequality. It is felt that these organisations have a responsibility to create an inclusive economy and that currently they are not fulfilling this responsibility. People in each community experience a lot of change. This change is welcomed to some extent but is also a source of fear and concern. This can be particularly unsettling when development happens ‘to’ a community rather than ‘with’ them.
People have also experienced change and loss in terms of the pathways and opportunities offered by places. There is often a mismatch between the opportunities in a place and the pathways which are available to get there. For example, education, employment and training pathways are often not experienced as leading to employment opportunities. People often feel that today there is less certainty in how people will achieve their aspirations than previously. Moving away for opportunities, and the loss that can bring, is a fact of life for many.
Geography is also a significant barrier affecting people’s abilities to meet their needs or pursue opportunities. Due to the spread of services and opportunities, and geographic distances, people are not always able to access what they need. For some, this is compounded by their economic status and by barriers to mobility.
The built environment can create barriers to community building and inclusive places. For instance, the way housing has been developed, and particularly divisions between estates, has contributed to a lack of cohesive community in some places.
The close connection to specific places that many people have means that people can also feel uncomfortable or socially isolated in other places where opportunities lie. Those who feel these divides most strongly are likely to be the most vulnerable.
Place-based communities can be experienced by some as a source of exclusion, such as when people are not already tied into that community or do not conform to community norms or values. Strong place-based community can also be experienced as a barrier to accessing support or opportunities for newcomers.
Each town is rich in striking geographical and landscape features – beaches, hills, rivers, parks. These assets provide a strong sense of belonging and shared community pride.
These natural resources help provide people with a deep sense of wellbeing. They help people feel a sense of connection to nature, they provide recreational activities and they help to offer a high quality of life.
However, the communities across Wales also have a multitude of societal and cultural assets which are embedded in the sociocultural relationships and histories of places. Each town we researched is rich in history, society and culture. This is well recognised, in day-to-day life and through celebratory events.
Supportive networks in these towns also offer many opportunities. In particular, people often care for each other and the place-based community which means they prioritise their social relationships and networks as a strong source of social value and social action.
Challenges to community-led action
Getting better support for positive local action that breaks out of a deficiency or crisis narrative is a key concern for people across communities in Wales.
A challenge is that positive ideas and actions are not very visible to others and their value is often unrecognised outside of the community.
While some people have the confidence or skills to ask for and access support, many people do not know that they are able to ask for support or how to do so. The process that people have to go through to access funding can be very intimidating and excluding.
Time and resource constraints can make it harder for some people to participate in community action.
These barriers to participation can be exacerbated by external structural factors, such as the accessibility and impartiality of sources of support and funding.
People’s loyalty to place means that many are strongly motivated to support initiatives that improve quality of life and opportunities in their communities. Each place is brimming with charity, action, goodwill, and social innovation. These actions are very significant and nurturing. They go a long way to meeting local needs and aspirations, largely because the actions are based on local knowledge and values. People mobilise around protecting things that they care about, and take action to preserve their communities and to combat loss. People also act to improve their places and work towards sustainability for future generations.
These actions are often focused around key areas:
Creating alternatives through sustainable living goals such as challenging food waste or providing arts activities on prescription to supplement medicine-based care.
Creating a sense of belonging and safety in the face of change or antisocial behaviour, such as through community cafes or arts and heritage schemes.
Making it possible to be able to act to do things together such as establishing community forums which support community-led ideas by making them happen; or sports clubs which act as informal job centres.
Challenging loss by either fighting to save community or public assets, or providing alternatives to them.
Recommendations Our recommendations focus on what could be done to encourage people to work together to create equitable and equal societies in ways which have greater potential to involve everybody. They are based on community-led ideas and suggestions, stakeholder views, as well as the Young Foundationâ€™s experience in enabling and promoting social innovation and community action. 1. Understanding how place is important to peopleâ€™s lives has implications for debates around the extent to which intervention should be either place-based or placeneutral2. Knowing how people in certain places experience inequality, what they want to do about it and indeed what they are already doing about it, should be a primary concern of policymakers and development agencies.
4. Support for community-action needs to be tailored towards proactively reaching out to people who find it harder to access more traditional forms of support, such as funding, to enable their participation. Establishing a local network to help encourage, train, mentor, coach and connect people together who want to take local action, whatever their skillset or resource, should be a priority. 5. A concerted effort to share and amplify alternative narratives of places could be made to help counter prevailing narratives of deprivation and decline. This needs to be balanced with recognising challenges and problems where they do exist.
2. This report demonstrates that positive development requires local expertise in decision making and the allocation of resources to better meet community aims. We recommend that communities should be involved in a meaningful way in decision making and resources suitably allocated to that decision making. 3. Places experience inequality of recognition. These inequalities should be addressed by finding a way to better recognise, celebrate and amplify the actions which people are already taking, including those which are small-scale and loosely formed â€“ for example enabling easy access to sources of funding, resources, advice and training.
2 Garcilazo, 2011; Barca et al., 2012.
Introduction This report shares the research findings of the Amplify Cymru programme which ran from October 2015 â€“ October 2016. It summarises the outcomes of participatory ethnographic research in Wales which focuses on the experiences and viewpoints of the three towns of Aberystwyth, Connahâ€™s Quay and Port Talbot, and draws on the expertise of key stakeholders across Wales who aim to support communities and think about how to best empower them. It shares learning and observations from working with communities and innovators, and from this evidence delivers recommendations to help think about sustainable and equitable change which has the community at its heart.
Our research approach At The Young Foundation, we think that inequality is structural, in that it operates in, and is structured by, a series of relationships and dynamics between people, place and resources. In doing so, we build on and contribute to a significant body of work by social theorists in many different disciplines. We also believe that we can add much to this body of work by putting people’s experiences at the heart of our understanding of it. We believe that to understand inequality dynamics and change, we must understand more about the reality of people’s lived experiences and daily lives, and their worldviews and viewpoints on it, especially those not often heard or credited by experts. In our research, we work with the idea of lived experience and observation of socioeconomic realities and conditions. One framework for our Amplify Cymru programme is to try and understand viewpoints through exploring narratives. Narratives can be defined as ‘accounts of the world’: ways we have as people of understanding and making sense of the world. They are explanations of what is happening and why it happens like this. Why is this important? When we talk about or define communities and creating more equitable societies, we understand that there are many narratives and ideas circling about community capacity, capability and aspiration, many of which can be helpful, but some of which can be harmful or negative, detrimentally influencing the treatment people receive or the opportunities they are offered. Narratives can also be used at different levels of society to validate and explain away great injustices and forms of inequality.
Nonetheless, we also know that in any context, place or community of interest, counternarratives exist: these are alternative accounts of the world. They may celebrate differences and efforts in the face of adversity, and challenge or counter more harmful stereotypes. We are interested in these counter-narratives not because they are necessarily more positive (although they often are), but because they offer us different understandings and often bring into focus hidden or unexplored opportunities and assets. We think that to properly understand a route to more equitable change-making, we need to hear from different people and participate in different types of knowledge sharing. We need to listen to and focus on the alternatives. We also recognise that narratives are rooted in social relationships and economic circumstances, and that people are already working to make change in their daily lives, to create and build a more just version of society. Understanding how they might view society, and any associated priority they place on change, is fundamental to understanding how to create transformations that promote sustainable equity. Our approach tries to bring this out: to uncover the damaging impacts of inequality but also to reveal the resistance shown by people to inequality dynamics. In doing this, we help to develop a different level of insight to add to and enrich the body of work which focuses on creating socially sustainable and equitable places and societies for people to live.
Our methods We have carried out a nine-month-long programme of ethnographic and participatory research in three communities across Wales. The aim was to create a picture of the challenges communities feel they have and what potential they think there is for change. The research has taken place in people’s locales, the places they wanted to be in and felt comfortable in. It has prioritised their words, worldviews and opinions about their lives, and aimed to develop with them a shared understanding of the research aims and conclusions. The research tools were designed to focus on and develop a mutual understanding with people of how inequality is experienced and how we might challenge it.
We used NVivo software to thematically analyse the data, iterating between the analysis and data collection as themes and findings emerged. To further support the analysis, we carried out co-production and co-creation workshops in each community, which aimed to reflect on initial findings, testing their resonance, and steer towards new avenues of exploration. Two co-creation workshops were held at different stages of the research in each of the three towns. These gave people the chance to feedback on research and to suggest how it might be progressed. By the end of the process, 350 people had engaged with the research. It was accompanied by accelerator and innovation support programmes in each area.
Ethnography – a method
In each community, we worked with a local community researcher who was able to build up relationships and create a more in-depth picture of the inequalities and priorities in the area. As a research team, we observed and interviewed local people – both individuals and groups – taking a snow-balling approach to including people in our research, as well as using a mapping process to identify voices that might otherwise have been excluded from the research. We made a concerted effort to reach people who were not already involved in established groups or networks, by engaging people in informal locations such as bus stops, cafes, shops and at toddler groups. We aimed to engage people in research on a continuous basis, returning to follow up conversations based on new understandings that were developed throughout the process. We also carried out seven ‘stakeholder’ interviews with individuals in key positions across Wales, including those in funding organisations, charities, community groups and local government, to allow for a Waleswide perspective and point of comparison.
Ethnography is the in-depth study of people in context, for example people in place or experiencing certain issues. It explores how their worldviews, needs and aspirations interact with their actions and agency in different community contexts. It is an intensive method generating a holistic understanding of a person’s social world and the community in which they live. Its value lies in its ability to make a connection between beliefs, values and actions, unusual for many types of qualitative research. This aims to reveal how narratives and viewpoints about the world and cultural values are embedded in daily actions and socioeconomic relationships. Our methodology was designed to develop a rounded and balanced impression of life in the three towns we studied, and in Wales more broadly. However, whilst we spoke with hundreds of people, our research does not claim to provide a complete or comprehensive understanding of the experiences, viewpoints or values of those people, or indeed of those we didn’t meet. There are undoubtedly people, experiences, views, values and actions which we have not been able to capture in this report.
The context The research focuses on three towns in Wales. Wales is a country of approximately 3.1 million people3 with rich geological features and natural resources. The Welsh economy has traditionally depended on these resources and industries such as farming, mining, quarrying and steel-making, which have subsequently declined following the trend of deindustrialisation across the UK. Since the collapse of the once dominant coal and steel industries in the 1970s and 1980s4, in some respects Wales has faced challenges with regeneration. It has not converted itself toward a high-value service or advanced manufacturing economy in the same way that other parts of the UK have, such as the South-East of England5. This decline has given rise to a more diverse economy, although the region is still emerging from the fundamental restructuring of its economic base6. Wales has low levels of innovation and entrepreneurship compared with other UK regions7. Today, Wales is one of the UK’s least economically developed regions8. Individuals’ earnings in Wales are, on average, lower than the UK average. A recent report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, in partnership with the Bevan Foundation, reveals that an average of 700,000 people were in poverty in Wales in the three years to 2014–15, equivalent to 23% of the population9. These issues remain particularly acute in the localities of the South Wales Valleys. It has been argued that such places lack a spirit of entrepreneurship, which has been linked to an industrial legacy which did not produce a ‘middle-class’ strata of Welsh culture and society with a capacity to consider business ownership10.
Overall levels of inequality within Wales are not as high as in the rest of the UK, as Wales has relatively few people who earn the highest salaries or who are ‘very rich’11. Nevertheless, income inequality in Wales is still stark: the poorest tenth of the population have, between them, around 1.5% of Wales’ total income, while the richest tenth have 25–30%12. In addition, the UK National Equality Panel report suggests that there is little awareness of the enormity of economic disparity which “runs through society, from rich to poor,” and that this “acts as a constraint on any policies designed to contribute to reducing inequality”13. Wales is rich in culture, although defining Welsh culture and identity over time is argued to be “no easy matter”14. Two languages are spoken in Wales: Welsh, its mother tongue, which is considered to be one of Europe’s oldest, indicating a deep-rooted sense of the ethnic and cultural Celtic identity15, and English, as in much of the rest of the UK. The Welsh language has been a political issue; it was repressed in the past and laws were since passed to sustain it and support its re-growth. For instance the Welsh Language Act in 1993 and the Government of Wales Act in 1988 provided for the Welsh language to be treated on the basis of equality with English16. Since 2012, the Welsh Language Commissioner has been in place to promote and facilitate the Welsh language. In recent years Wales – like Scotland and Ireland – has achieved a degree of political autonomy from the UK government through the process of devolution and in 1999, the National Assembly for Wales became operational. The elected Welsh government have responsibility for developing economic policies in the context of central UK policy frameworks17.
3 ONS, 2011.
11 WISERD, 2011
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
12 13 14 15 16 17
Mackay, 1992; Alden, 1996. Blackaby and Murphy, 2009; Robinson et al., 2012. Huggis and Thompson, 2014. Robinson et al., 2012. Huggins and Thompson, 2014. Department of Work and Pensions, 2016. Morgan, 1980; Massey, 1984.
The Poverty Site, n.d. National Equality Panel, 2010; p. 398. Bowie, 1993; Clifton, 2011. Cooke and Rehfeld, 2011. Clifton, 2011. Huggins and Thompson, 2015.
The field-site research context The Welsh government is committed to social justice and has been seeking to tackle poverty through three strands of work: by preventing poverty through early work intervention, by helping people into work, and by mitigating the impact of poverty18. Wales is also a nation of firsts. In 2007 it became the first country in the UK to abolish NHS prescription charges to reduce patient inequality19 and, in 2015, to introduce an opt-out organ donation policy20. In 2008, Wales was the first nation in the world to be awarded Fairtrade Status for the progress it had made in increasing the availability of such goods21. The Welsh government has also made a commitment to the goals of sustainable human development and recently adopted the landmark Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 which outlines key areas in which Welsh society, geography, economy and history will be sustained and supported in a sustainable way for future generations. Wales was also the first nation in the world to legislate for the UNâ€™s Sustainable Development Goals22.
18 19 20 21 22
Welsh Government (2013). BBC (2007). Welsh Government (2015). BBC (2008). Welsh Government. (2016).
To achieve varied and multiple perspectives on life in Wales, the research was focused in three case study communities. These were: Aberystwyth, a market town located in Ceredigion, West Wales; Connahâ€™s Quay, a large town situated in the Deeside Conurbation along the river Dee in North Wales, near the border with England; and Port Talbot, in the borough of Neath Port Talbot, South Wales. We chose these communities with the Welsh Government to give insight into three towns with seemingly different opportunities, backgrounds and demographic make-up. We also carried out a series of interviews with Wales-wide stakeholders working to support people in the three towns we explored and other areas facing similar challenges and opportunities. After exploring the importance of place as a concept below, in section 1 we provide what we call pen portraits of each town and its context, based on descriptions created by community researchers from each town.
Understanding the importance of place “In Wales you ask, ‘where are you from?’… in England you ask ‘what do you do’?” (Director, Employment sector, Wales) In Wales, people identify strongly with the places they live in. ‘Place’ in particular is a key concept that people use in conversation to ground their viewpoints, beliefs and thoughts about a situation and to explain how their actions or social relationships and social realities are constructed or informed. ‘Place’ is often used as a rationale in any conversation about how to deal with, challenge, and change social issues23. The significance of place to Welsh communities and identity is much recognised – it is part of policy as well as folklore. Our research shows that communities in particular feel that its significance has perhaps been more overlooked in terms of how it relates to the services they receive, the employment available and the development of opportunities, as well as broader principles of community capability, capacity, activism and preferences for how places are supported. Place is a metanarrative or dominant trope underlying people’s ideas about the challenges they face, what inequality and unfairness is and, most importantly, how to improve their lives and other people’s for the better. For this reason, in what follows this report focuses on place as a central concept. We explain why place is so important to people, and how it foregrounds their decision and feelings on many issues.
23 This builds on a large body of work (Emmett, 1982; Bowie, 1993; Cloke et al., 1998; Thompson and Day, 1999) demonstrating that there is a strong sense of identity attached to place across Wales.
A place is obviously a geographical location or boundary marker. It refers to an area or region, but it can telescope to be more than one thing at once: it could be a room in a house on a road in a village on the Gower, and it could be the country of Wales. Both things are important. Knowing where you are in the world helps you situate yourself, to know where you are. But place also has a social, cultural, historic, kinship and economic quality. Places are where you are born, learn and work; they are often a heavy influence on the language you speak, the relationships you have and the things you know. Places help you situate yourself as a person in the world in many other ways and know who you are too24. For many, a place can be a root of culture, an identity marker or a grounding characteristic25. In this very simple and yet complex way, places offer people a source of identity. To an individual, the place they are from or live is a key marker of identity – either for themselves or to others. While place often intersects with other identity markers such as age, race or gender, it also importantly offers a source of communal focus and shared identity. Here, the people who live in each place come to be known, to a greater or lesser extent, as a community of people who share something and similar characteristics: people who are likely to share certain things, think certain ways and have certain stories to tell. There are shared narratives about people in places, shared ideas about what each community in a place has to offer, and the value they can give more broadly. They might be considered to be ‘more or less Welsh’ than others – or newer or older families than others. They may be newcomers. They might be seen as living in a place in decline. They might be seen as living in the bad end of town.
24 Casey (1993) argues that people are ineluctably place-bound and are not only in places but of them. He suggests that place plays a central role in human experience, including the making of identity expressions. 25 Place is generally defined as space imbued with meaning (Malpas, 1999). It is constituted by a combination of location, locale and a sense of place, where ‘sense of place’ is a subjective and emotional attachment that people have to that place (Agnew, 1987).
This source of identity is also a source of action and meaning: it can equally be an important focus for people when they think about what they give to any community, what they might lose if they were to move away and what they gain by staying. Place is a prism through which people think about and experience things, particularly the challenges which face them.
Within places, there are also multiple and different ways of describing and experiencing that place, each with different connotations and implications. ‘Place’, ‘community’ and ‘identity’ can all be problematic or contested concepts and there are multiple understandings and definitions of each concept. Places have divisions and contestations – even the things some celebrate as part of community are problematic to others.
Place can also be a locus of exclusion or intense difference26. The research in all three places reveals that some inequalities faced elsewhere in the UK become particularly specific or compounded at a place-specific level. Here, place is part and parcel of the manifestation of inequality. For example, geography, or employment opportunities, or social exclusion are examples of place-based inequality27. Inequalities can be experienced by a community at large in a place (for example, indices of Multiple Deprivation tend to map place-specific inequality). This means that people are more likely to experience elements of deprivation together, largely irrespectively of differences in income or wealth.
This may be reinforced by the very differences which seem to be at play within places themselves: not achieving the same quality of life as others, being a newcomer or by living in a specific area which has a very negative reputation.
However, it is clear that some people in a geographical area or place are more susceptible to the impacts of placebased inequality or general inequality dynamics in a way others aren’t. Inequality dynamics such as financial or social exclusion represent compounded impacts – where elements of people’s experience intersect to create significant disadvantage and exclusion.
However, despite all these potential differences, people often do have similar ways of thinking about specific places, or common reference points28. They have shared accounts of place, what we call ‘narratives’, and speak about place as not only an organising concept, but something that is central to their decision making, motivations and perceptions of life and its quality. In this research, we attempt to bring out these shared narratives about place, as well as viewpoints that challenge these narratives where they exist.
26 Rose has argued that the link between place and identity can be understood through three different registers: identification with a place; identification against a place (the construction of “we” vs. “them”);
28 Place is a layered location replete with human histories and memories. “It is about connections, what surround it, what formed it, what happened there, what will happen there.” (Lippard, 1997, p. 7).
and non-identification with places (feelings of displacement or estrangement) (Rose, 1995). 27 It has been argued that the built environment can have a profound effect on people’s opportunities (Pinoncely, 2016). For example, in recent announcements regarding the regeneration of so-called ‘sink estates’ in England, the UK Government has recognised the link between the built environment, poverty and a range of social problems such as anti-social behaviour.
There are also competing ideas about places; ideas or narratives which directly conflict with or counter each other. Places can be referred to in ways which are simultaneously positive and negative, and this presents a key struggle for some communities and people in Wales. For example, if you live in Port Talbot, you might love the beach and the mountain biking trails in the hills, but you also know (and resent) that other people call it ‘Port Toilet’.
Many narratives exist about places and their qualities. Storytelling and representation are pivotal to the way that people perceive their lives and the places they live29. This can be mythical and cultural, and it can also be embodied, part of the experience of living somewhere. This is particularly true of a country rich in myth, creative arts and culture30. In this report, place is referred to in this way, as offering an organising principle for thinking about community. Our attempt is to convey its significance as a prism through which people experience their lives – their triumphs and their challenges: “It’s not a value, it’s a kind of – where we’re coming from – a sense of place.” (Heritage Sector Employee, Aberystwyth)
29 White, 1980; Entrikin, 1991; Ochs and Capps, 2001; Vanclay, 2008. 30 This has been recognised by the culture committee of the Welsh assembly. In a discussion chapter (Post – 16 Education and Training Committee – ETR 15.00, 28/6/2000), they write: “The culture of Wales is rich and deep in its diversity of expression. It is a performative culture where people are passionate to take part and enjoy others taking part.... It admires the skills of creativity, hard work, industry and innovation. It is hewn from the natural environment of Wales, its dramatic landscape, its education system and unique social and industrial history… Wales is defined by its ancient language, its modern diversity of peoples and its social compassion, but above all, by its passion for creativity”.
Structure of the report In section 1, we explore what people want you to know about the places they live and provide what we call â€˜pen portraitsâ€™ of each town and its context, based on descriptions created by community researchers from each town. In section 2, we explore inequalities and barriers experienced by people in places. In section 3, we show what people are doing to tackle those inequalities and what challenges they encounter in doing so. In the final section, we draw overarching conclusions from this research.
Understanding what people want you to know about the places they live
Wales: a place we choose to live In each of the case study towns, people emphasise that they have a preference for the places they live and associate with. These are places where people want to be and where they feel a strong sense of comfort and belonging: “I don’t know if it’s particular to Aber but we have a very strong community… Do you do that when you go to other places and you’re looking for familiar faces on the street? I go ‘oh, that looks like so-andso’. And it’s because it’s so friendly and because it’s so familiar that you have all these different types of people.” (Heritage Sector Employee, Aberystwyth) In speaking to people across the country, the overwhelming response has been that Wales and its cities, towns and villages are places people very much want to be and which they make choices to be in: “We choose to stay here.” (Youth worker, Aberystwyth, her emphasis)
However, people emphasise this primarily because they feel its significance is not understood or is misunderstood. They feel that a prevailing idea from others is that no one would want to stay in the places they live, if they had the option. Despite marked inequalities, and challenges – some of which do link strongly to place and experiences of living in it – the people who took part in the research are largely heavily invested in the areas they live and associate with. The overwhelming response from people is that they would not want to move away. They choose to live in their communities. They care deeply about the places where they live and this gives them a sense of pride, belonging, and identity in Wales, despite the stark differences that exist between areas. There are three key themes that offer particular insights into why place is such a central concept which we outline below. They are: quality of life, community and belonging, and rootedness.
A place we choose to live A good life The importance of place
The natural assets Community and belonging The things we do for ourselves and each other
It offers us a good life In Aberystwyth, Connah’s Quay and Port Talbot, people feel considerable pride in the places they live. Each area has its natural beauty spots which are unique to them. They speak often about their pride in the natural landscape: “I love the beach, I love the mountain walks, the reservoirs. I’ve got a dog so I love exploring with the dog.” (Christian worker, Port Talbot) The natural assets and environment gives them a sense of quality of life which is deeply embedded in geography and its features: “I can simply say Connah’s Quay… Because it’s small but big, it’s clean, tidy, I don’t know, I just like it!” (Polish business owner, Connah’s Quay) These local natural assets generate intense feelings and pride in the country of Wales more broadly31. The relative small size of their towns and their navigability are also considered to be positive attributes, as explained by a local councillor in Aberystwyth: “I think everyone who lives here as a resident really likes the town. It’s a human-scale town, you can walk between everywhere. It’s relatively flat – not getting to the university and the arts centre but most of the town’s relatively flat. It’s pleasant to walk around. The architecture, whilst not stunning, has a sort of aesthetic that is attractive. And everybody just really likes the place…” He goes on to demonstrate how he believes that these qualities are important in relation to people’s feelings of wellbeing: “…That actually does influence people, it is a beautiful place to live.”
31 Landmarks and significant features in the landscape contribute to sense of place by providing an icon to which symbolic meaning can be ascribed (Vanclay, 2008).
Across each place, people feel that their places allow for the expression of interests, wellbeing and pursuits which are healthy and productive. They generally agree on and want to celebrate the mobilising and inclusive features of place, particularly public and community space which is shared, noting that each place provides routes and avenues for people to be themselves, to explore their aspirations and mobilise around physical activity32. This feels especially important in often difficult times, where things have been lost in other aspects of people’s lives: “Since we’ve lost a lot of employment… I’ve noticed a massive increase in the people down on the beach, just walking down on the beach, taking their kids down on the beach playing football or a game of cricket, because it’s not an expensive day out.” (Boxing Secretary, Port Talbot) On the whole, people emphasise how much their towns have to offer them: “Well we’ve got everything haven’t we really? You’ve got the swimming baths, the library, all leisure centres, the sports centres, the college, the parks, the castle – even though technically that’s Ewloe but still, it’s still in Wepre. There’s load to do, the shops are good.” (First Aider, Connah’s Quay) Many places have shared physical assets which are free to access, making the physical environment an inclusive space which everyone can enjoy, including those who may be excluded from other meeting spaces such as cafes for financial, or other, reasons. However, many people do recognise that these inclusive activities are also seasonally dependent and weather-dependent, and feel that a reliance on open spaces needs to be supplemented with other activities, especially for children and young people.
32 Darby (2000) argues that individual identity is rooted in experiencing the landscape and that membership and participation in recreational walking groups helps recover a sense of community.
Beca is a single mother in Aberystwyth. She works part time on a relatively low wage and, although she manages to make ends meet, she knows that it wouldn’t take much for her to be “in real trouble”. When asked if she was able to access all of the things she wanted or required, she answered: “OK well, yes, largely. But as a single parent with no family in the area, childcare makes it impossible for me to do stuff that would be just me on my own. So I don’t do that stuff. But things I want to do with my child like go swimming, go to see a film, go to the – the library facilities are amazing.” She emphasised that it is these things that keep her in Aberystwyth: “…it’s a great place to bring up a child isn’t it? In terms of not having much money, which is probably relevant, you don’t have to have it round here. There’s lots of things on your doorstep.” Equally the social features of longstanding friendships were something she valued in the town, increasing the quality of life that she was able to access. Commonly, the aspects of place that people are most proud of are those that allowed for the coming together of the community and which provide space for many different sorts of people. These include parks in particular, playgrounds, beaches, sports facilities, as well as attractive landscape markers. They also involve libraries, cafes and local key institutions such as boxing gyms and even public art like the whale in Port Talbot.
Each town has a rich historical engagement with culture. This is recognised by local people on a daily basis, for example with heritage trails, local history groups, theatre, music and sport: “I came into the office as a local resident because I was a little bit concerned about our war memorial not being very well kept. And within two weeks of me coming in, we’d actually set up a local history group to look at issues like that around the community. Because what we felt was that the history here is often overlooked… So we started out with an open meeting. Very soon we had 20–30 people coming every week to a meeting.” (Local history group, Penparcau, Aberystwyth) The culture and shared values of each place is also well-celebrated in larger events, for example through town-wide festivals which are widely valued in all of the places, and hugely varied. From arts festivals in Aberystwyth, the Beach Festival in Port Talbot or the yearly Connah’s Quay festival, people see these large events as occasions to celebrate all that their towns have to offer and as something that binds people together in place: “Cos I think when you look at all the events that they have at Wepre Park, and in the Civic Hall and on the High Street there’s always a good turnout. There’s always loads of people which is nice because you’re seeing people from the community engaging with different figures in the community.” (Local resident, Connah’s Quay) These events bring to life and make visible the sense of community that exists in less visible forms at other times, allowing people to celebrate their areas, and their value.
We find community and a place to belong “No. I wouldn’t want to move from the Quay. I was born here, spent my whole life here, and will probably die here. I feel this is the place where I belong, and it belongs to me.” (Town and County Councillor, Connah’s Quay) Places, as described earlier, gives people a strong sense of belonging33 and certainty. For some people, when set against all other things, worries, experiences and fears, places seem to help create a sense of ontological security34, the feeling you are certain about the world and your place in it. There is a feeling that Wales in particular derives its belonging and social values from place. As we will go onto explore, how long you have lived and had family somewhere can be very important and what you do in places to look after and welcome others is equally key. Because of this people outwardly care about their communities and feel that they have shared connections and commitments, and understandings which bind them together. One aspect which shows the importance of place to people in the three towns is the sense of identity that they are able to form attachment to the places where they live. Family, history and shared experiences are all factors that contribute to people’s sense of identity and rootedness and are important values in all of the three towns: “Family is something that is really important within the area. That ties people to place. People bind together around family.” (Housing sector manager, Port Talbot)
33 Research has shown that this has significant social benefits, because when people feel that they belong they invest more time and energy into the community (Evans et al., 2015). 34 Ontological security is a stable sense of being certain in the world and your role in it, first coined by Giddens (1991). As a concept it has proven easier to define, than to definitively agree how it is constituted. However, it is considered to be extremely important to mental wellbeing.
Family and kinship is an important part of the social life of Aberystwyth, Connah’s Quay and Port Talbot and a shared interest in family and connectedness is seen to be a value that binds people together: “I love that if you meet someone you don’t know, you will talk to them about where they come from, their work, their family until you find some connection, no matter how tenuous – that their great, great Aunty Nora knew someone from the same valley as your great Uncle’s Mum, or whatever it was, and I think that’s very powerful, as that is a way of saying: ‘Yes, we are all knitted together; we do have things in common, and we value that.’” (Ecologist, Aberystwyth) This sense of kinship can be drawn in what we can call a fictive way35, in the sense that you might not share blood or legal ties of family but you share something equally meaningful with people through history in place: “If you’re from the Quay, well, it’s probably better to say ‘Old Quay’. If you’re ‘Old Quay’ we are very similar to each other and you have a better understanding.” (Town and County Councillor, Connah’s Quay) These family connections to towns, villages and spaces are deeply valued. There is also a sense that an interest in finding a connection to others is a particularly ‘Welsh’ value: “It is nice to be back in Wales, amongst friendly people. People just stop you in the street to talk. It’s great. I’ve never known anywhere so friendly.” (Resident, Port Talbot)
35 Fictive kinship is an anthropological term relating to the feeling or belief that you have family-like ties with someone else which are not based on marriage or blood relationships, or the traditional familial relationships where you live.
Again, these are values that feel embedded in place and appear to be unique: “Port Talbot is such a community-based place. Everybody knows everybody. There are pros and cons to that. It is, you know, there are a lot of nice people out there willing to help you. You could knock on..., you go out there and you knock ten doors and I guarantee you ten doors would probably offer you a cup of tea, ‘Come on in, have a chat, come and sit down.’ You know, you couldn’t do that if you went to, I don’t know, London or somewhere. They’d be like, ‘What do you want?’ It’s a different breed down here.” (Local business owner, Port Talbot) While this creates a sense of shared belonging in place, it can run the risk of excluding others. It is potentially hard for others to join in. Largely, people feel that these values are drawn from a sense of sharing values and acting on them, so they are not exclusively the prerogative of those who have been there all their lives. People feel that new people are welcomed with the same sense of friendliness: “People have to ‘fit in’ anyone accepted here – it doesn’t matter about education level, in fact people are suspicious of educated people! But if they come and do a quiz or hang out down the pub then they will be accepted. Community is really important.” (Steel worker, Port Talbot)
Some relative newcomers also feel this. Giovani, a Polish migrant who has been living in the Connah’s Quay area, is able to confirm that he feels accepted and emphasises that he tries as hard as possible to be friendly and approachable himself: “The community, I don’t know, every time I’m asking someone they have no problem to find answer for me. Anything, you know, sometimes you’re struggling to find anything, now I’m finding much better than I used to. I never had any trouble, I don’t know. Maybe it’s just this area in the Quay where we live but the people seems to be friendly.” However, it can be important that anybody newer shows definite willingness to commit to the same positive values everybody else in the place has, for example: take part, be friendly, join in. Barri, a retired steel worker who has lived in Connah’s Quay all his life summed this up: “It’s a very friendly pub, if somebody comes in more than twice you wanna know their name. And that sort of thing... If you’re a nice person or a normal person, everybody in the Quay’ll get on with you. But if you get a name in Connah’s Quay as being not a nice person or a naughty person or whatever, that soon goes round Connah’s Quay, cos they don’t want anything to do with you. You will not stay here long cos the people of Connah’s Quay won’t want you here.”
The things that we do for ourselves and each other The tradition of work, industry, institutions or lifestyle in each place can also give people a strong sense of identity. What people do – how they make their living and how they spend their time is a key value36. In particular, the historic and current connections to industry in Port Talbot are very strong: “I think we are an industrial town here and that does set us apart from places like Swansea or Cardiff… the steel works is still the icon of the town. When people think of the town, they think of the steel works. The upside of that is that you do have a place where there is real pride in what’s being produced and also real pride in being a team and working together.” (MP, Port Talbot) These historic connections reinforce the sense of a shared identity drawn from common purpose. The social, occupational and landscape qualities can merge and interplay to give a strong sense of the links between the characteristics of a place and its social norms and values – as well as its value to others. For example, Elen, a greengrocer in Connah’s Quay, stood in her shop and told us about the history of her grocers, a family run business which she inherited from her father. She could trace back the history not only of her family, but also that of the work that she did, and where she did it. She saw these elements of belonging and occupation as inextricably linked. As a young man in Port Talbot says, you receive positive feedback from the community based on how you work: “I get a lot of support from the older generation to be honest with you and I like to think they think highly of me and I’m a grafter and a hard worker.”
36 In Wales, the nature of place and its social effects are strongly shaped by industry. It is argued to be more evident here than elsewhere (Day, 2002).
Likewise Aberystwyth prides itself on being welcoming, cosmopolitan and open37. Its global institutions act as sites which facilitate interactions: “I mean, you’ve got the people who have been born and brought up here, and because we live in a university town, which brings people in from all over the world, you’ve got a very cosmopolitan aspect to the town.” (Leader of Ceredigion County Council) This sense of identity is not just manifested in things that people do for themselves, such as the work that they do, but is also about the things that they do for each other and with each other. The strong sense of being part of a community of people bound together by the place that they live provides a strong rationale for people to act in a way that demonstrates the values of that community, that addresses the difficulties of living in a place, and that preserves the good things about the places that they love. People feel that they share strong social values in caring for and being cared for by the communities in which they live: “You don’t disappear under the radar. People do see you. People care here.” (Social Worker, Aberystwyth) People report being keen to look out for each other and to support each other when they need help. Simple things like saying hello or putting out a neighbours bins, are seen as part of people’s everyday contributions to the life of their communities: “90% of people wouldn’t walk past anybody they see on the floor in the street and if someone needed a push in the car they would.” (Community Safety Officer, Port Talbot)
37 This supports Tuan’s (1996) suggestion, in considering the relationship between landscape and culture, of what it means to be fully and happily human – being anchored by the two scales; the “cosmos” and the “hearth”. Tuan proposes the “cosmopolitan hearth” as a revised conception of culture which encourages being grounded in one’s own culture as well as embracing curiosity about the world.
And in crisis, people take pride in pulling together: “There’s a good community here. For example during the terrible flooding a couple of years ago, everyone pulled together – it really showed the community spirit.” (Council leader, Aberystwyth) Each community appears to have significant numbers of people who are taking action to sustain and improve their communities. This action happens on many different levels and for different reasons. All of these people are responding to needs that they see in their communities and embodying the values of their own communities in doing so:
For example, in Connah’s Quay, there are a number of groups working to look after the town, in particular to care for its green spaces. A whole host of formal and informal organisations, including Friends of Wepre Park, Groundworks, Keep Wales Tidy and Rainbow Biz are working to keep Connah’s Quay and the surrounding areas clean, tidy and free of litter, as well as trying to improve the area, for example through teaching people gardening skills. These actions are deeply embedded in the local value of caring about the look and feel of the places where people live, and a particular appreciation of the aesthetics of place.
“I care about other people. I like to see people achieving. I think it’s important that we give our children every opportunity. And that’s me, that’s what I wanna do. I’ve got children of my own, grandchildren now. They’re all doing well to be honest. They’re all in school or college and I just want to be able to support things to give that opportunity to everyone if that makes sense?” (Local councillor, Port Talbot)
These things that people care about include the facilities and services that have increasingly been threatened with loss. People are mobilised to fight for things that are threatened including community centres, youth groups, treasured local cafés, hospitals and post offices. Many people have taken on the responsibility for these services, at great cost to their own time and resources.
And doing things together literally brings people together in a way that creates new bonds:
For example, Bethan talks of her story of taking over her local community centre in Port Talbot:
“The local people are sometimes shy to new people that they meet. Perhaps this gives a negative reflection? But then when there is an opportunity to actually interact with each other, through a project or something with the shared goal, the group thrives and develops stronger bonds.” (Health and Safety Officer, Connah’s Quay)
“I’d been a cleaner for 30 years. I have a back problem and I couldn’t take a job sitting down. I became ill last year, had an operation, couldn’t go back to work, didn’t want the job I was doing, this came up. Now [my husband] has always had something to do with the community, I’ve always been in work so I wanted something to do with the community. We’re part of the community, I do things with the church, the little things. I’ve always helped him in his community work, helped as in gone and done the shopping, gone and organised things. I thought well, instead of it closing I want to take it on, I want to keep it open. We need something in the community for the community.”
People have a strong interest in supporting local initiatives because of their loyalty to the places, and their love for the community, in which they live. People in these communities mobilise around protecting the things that they care about, including the physical landscape38.
38 Landscape, and its protection, is important to creating place identity (Hague and Jenkins, 2005).
Bethan had no formal involvement with the community centre except as a cleaner but she felt compelled to protect her community from the loss of this resource, taking on the responsibility herself, with the support of others around her. Bethan’s story is inspiring but she is not alone, there are many active individuals in all of the communities trying to protect what they have for the benefit of current and future generations. Personal passions come together with local need and inspire people to act, sometimes with limited skills and financial support. More than just preserving what already exists, people are also active in improving their places for themselves and for others. The people we met are trying to build up their communities and create places where people are able to belong. Community businesses such as Libby’s Community Café in Connah’s Quay aim to provide affordable spaces where people can come together. More than offering just food, Libby’s is a place where friendships are formed and, with the range of courses offered in the café, new skills can be learned and put into practice. There is also a particular concern for those who are perceived to be struggling in their communities. In this, religious groups are leading the way, providing food banks and homeless drop-ins in both Aberystwyth and Port Talbot. But the support goes beyond that of the formal organisation. Talking about the running of a food bank, Christine, a volunteer in Port Talbot comments: “[Supermarket chain] has been very supportive to the food bank, but the women generally working in [the supermarket] have given their own time and resources to help us… One of the garages has loaned us a van. Things like that has made a huge difference.” Although certain people may set up or volunteer on particular projects, there is a sense that the whole community values these things and give as they are able.
As well as those who are seen to need support because of the various manifestations of poverty, there is also a strong value held by people in all three towns for the health, safety, and future prospects of the young people in their areas. This value is manifested in a huge number of actions targeted at this demographic. In all three towns there are interest groups, including sports, theatre, music and drama, as well as services to support those young people who are also struggling, for example with homelessness or who are at risk of exclusion from school. As is the case with the community café, many of these organisations contribute beyond the service that is expected of them or that they initially advertise. For example Bulldogs Boxing Gym in Port Talbot offers a space for young people to come and box (the gym is not exclusively for young people but this is one demographic that they target) and as they do this they are able to open up about things that they may need to talk about. In addition, the gym offers an informal service to help get young people into work. Likewise, other sports clubs, especially in Port Talbot and Aberystwyth, mention how they are teaching the young people that use them more than just how to play a sport: “I see sport as a good way for children to learn discipline that can be applied to other areas of their lives. We have a shirt and tie policy after the game, sing-songs even when we lose. One of the boys said after a match ‘you can have a laugh without a drink can’t you?!’” (Rugby coach, Port Talbot) But people also recognise that they need support – they do not feel able to tackle all of the challenges in their communities on their own.
Pen portraits What follows are a series of pen portraits written by the community researchers in each of the three case study communities. While the report as a whole focuses on findings that are common across the three areas and therefore have implications for Wales as a region, these pen portraits aim to give an idea of what life is like for people in each individual community, but from the perspective of a community researcher. They highlight the differences in experience which are particular to each community with their own geographical location, history and background, and current economic and social situation. The pen portraits are deliberately local in nature and also personal, reflecting the experience of the community researchers as they carried out the research for this programme. They reflect the iterative and inclusive style of ethnographic research where the researcher experiences the place alongside the participants in the research so that both are able to learn more about the nature of their communities.
These pen portraits are significant to this report as they paint an in-depth picture of small areas and they give different interpretations. Whilst policy is often inevitably created with a broad brush approach, these smaller pictures help to evidence how places can face very specific and particular inequalities and how their populations would like to see different types of changes, some which might be implemented at quite a local level. They demonstrate how places cannot be defined by a single â€˜needâ€™ or narrative/perception. However, these pen portraits also show that similar experiences of inequality dynamics can also been seen across different places in Wales, as we will go onto discuss in section 2.
Aberystwyth By Cath Sherrell, Community Researcher
Aberystwyth is a small town on the coast of Mid Wales. It has a population of 13,000 which swells to approximately 22,000 with the student population, and another 6,000 in the immediate surrounding area39. Aber (as it is affectionately known) is a university town and has a remarkable number of facilities and institutions for a town of its size including the University, Bronglais Hospital, The Arts Centres and the National Library of Wales. It is in a beautiful isolated rural location with the sea in front and mountains behind, and yet has a many of the facilities and opportunities of a much larger place. Aber is a seaside town with a pier, three beaches and a Victorian Promenade. It is small and easy to get around – people like the fact that they can walk to most places. The different areas of the town have quite distinct identities with Penparcau (a village situated to the east of Aberystwyth town centre) in particular, thought to have a strong sense of community and a more established, less transient population. People in Aberystwyth are used to doing things for themselves. The fact that it is so far from any other towns and cities40 means that people tend to be quite self-sufficient and pro-active and make things happen. There is a variety of different groups and organisations and societies. There are many community events, sports clubs, community choirs, theatre groups, artist groups and societies, as well as community activist groups, Welsh language organisations and events, and a local monthly glossy magazine set up by local people specifically to celebrate Aberystwyth and its people. There is a lot of Welsh spoken in the town and surrounding area41.
39 ONS, 2011 40 The nearest substantial town is located at least 1hour 45minutes drive away. Swansea, to the south, is 70 miles (110 km) away; Shrewsbury, in Shropshire, England, to the east, is 75 miles (120 km) away; and Wrexham, to the north-east, is approximately 80 miles (130 km) away. The Welsh capital, Cardiff, is over 100 miles (160 km) away. 41 The 2011 census confirmed that 31% of people in Aberystwyth are likely to be able to speak Welsh, compared to 19% across the country as a whole.
There are many, many festivals which add to the vibrancy of the town celebrating photography, horror, food, film, art, music and big public events like the Carnival and Aberystwyth Town Show and Lantern Parade. People like this about living here – they love the fact that it is quirky and unique: “‘I think everyone who lives in Aberystwyth really likes the place. It’s quite a distinctive place… it’s sort of developed its own culture.” (Councillor) Some people worry that it could lose what makes it special if they allow the development of too many large supermarkets or shops. However, others support this development because it will give more choice without having to travel too far. Aberystwyth can offer a high quality of life, and there is the feeling that you can live here on not very much. This is particularly true for people who have chosen to move here specifically for all that the place has to offer, and are prepared to sacrifice certain things in order to stay. However, this can hide the fact that for many, it can be a real struggle here. The number of professional organisations and, as one person put it, ‘middle class visibility’, can be a stark contrast to the lives of people on low incomes and benefits. Along with the well paid professional jobs, there are a lot of minimum wage, zero-hours posts. Rents and housing costs are relatively expensive here42, and should you lose your job, there can be very limited alternative employment opportunities, especially for young people.
42 Ceredigion has been found to be the ‘least affordable county to live in Wales’, with house prices estimated to be almost six times the average income.
Voic e s of aberystwyth
H i g h quality of l i fe Aber is a fantastic place to live
The smallness of the town means that people know,and look out for, each other. It is a friendly and vibrant place, with arts, music, and culture. Aber exceeds expectations for a town of its size and location
We really like living here. It’s great for us as a family. We enjoy the town. It’s small and friendly, but doesn’t feel too rural. It has all the things you need and, particularly if you live in town, all within walking distance. (Vicar)
How can we make the vision of high quality of life true for everyone in Aberystwyth? You’re excluded if you’re poor. You’re constantly shown all the things that you could do or have if you had money, which basically emphasises the feeling of exclusion. (Bar manager)
We would like everyone to be able to enjoy the high quality of life that Aberystwyth has to offer
We have the seafront and a beautiful natural environment There’s lots of free stuff in Aber, like the beach, outside, mountains, nature, which you can enjoy with no money at all. And being outside is a key thing for quality of life. (Workshop discussion)
This can hide the fact that life here can be a struggle Some of us are finding it hard to make ends
meet. Low wages and high rent are very real barriers to being able to enjoy all the great things about Aber. We can feel like we live in a two-tier society, divided between those who have and have-not There are jobs here, but zero hours jobs and that’s soul destroying. You’re waiting until Saturday to know what your hours for the next week are, and they could be anything from two hours on a Friday night to 30 hours. (Bar manager)
There are lots of groups and organisations working with those of us who are stugggling These efforts are really appreciated but there are often short-term solutions and do not tackle the root of the problem
It is very difficult for people on low pay, on benefits or in poverty. There is a lot of middle-class visibility but there are lots of people who can’t afford to shop at Polly’s! (Mental health nurse)
Aber’s isolation can feel like its undoing, especially when services seem to be under threat. There was intense local worry and a very active campaign when the hospital was threatened with closure (the next nearest is a 1.5 hour drive away and over 2 hours by public transport)43. The threat of reduced services remain, and some key departments, like the mental health ward have gone, causing extra stress for the families of those affected. Transport links are limited. It is also an ‘end of the line’ town, and people in the town perceive there to be a relatively high proportion of vulnerable people. Generally there is a supportive attitude to people in this situation – but people feel unable to deal with all of the needs which present in the town. Mental health was mentioned as a particular issue. There is great community cohesion. It is a very friendly and easy place to live. It keeps coming top in many ‘Best of’ lists: the safest, the friendliest, the place people are most likely to say hello to each other in the street, the place you’re most likely to get a hug (giving rise to the title ‘the Cwtch (Welsh for hug) capital of Wales!’), and whilst many of these are probably not the result of the most rigorous of research, this feeling was very definitely borne out by many of the people I spoke to. Aber is a relatively small place and people know and look after each other. For example, when the floods happened, there was a wonderful community response with many people helping clear up, offering places for people to stay and donating clothes and other items. It is also very diverse and tolerant. It was one of the first places in the UK to take a group of Syrian refugees44. There was a very active local pressure group pushing for this, but it was also strongly supported by the local authority and others The welfare officer at the University told us that it is known in the student trans-community as a safe place to transition, and has had a long reputation as a safe place for LGBT45 people – not the obvious thing people would imagine when they think of a small town in Mid Wales.
43 See news reports from 2012, such as BBC, 2012; Wales Online, 2012. 44 BBC, 2015. 45 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender.
By Andy Dunbobbin, Community Researcher
The town of Connah’s Quay is located in North East Wales, in the county of Flintshire. Two other towns, Shotton and Queensferry, are in close proximity and together the three towns are known as Deeside, due to their location along the River Dee. The population of Connah’s Quay is approximately 17,500 whereas the cumulative of Deeside is closer to 50,00046. Having lived in Connah’s Quay the whole of my life and all my Mum’s side of the family being from ‘the Quay’, I found out (by carrying out a more focused approach through the research) how Connah’s Quay has changed so much in more than just geographical terms. Connah’s Quay is a large town which has been traditionally divided into three areas. Locally they are named as West End, The Park and Wepre, the people in these areas are known as Westenders, Parkies and Wepre. Each of the areas have their own identity, for example, the people who live in Wepre are thought of as better off because the housing is larger. As Connah’s Quay has grown over the years, different areas have been created or even referred to with different names. Despite the different parts of the town, Connah’s Quay as a whole, provokes a real sense of belonging for its people. Wepre Park is an area where all residents of Connah’s Quay connect with each other. It is a place which brings all of the various communities within Connah’s Quay together. It has 200,000 visitors from across the region annually47. The attraction of Wepre Park encourages people from neighbouring towns to visit the area, especially when the Connah’s Quay Festival is on. Yet you can go to the top of Wepre, on the outskirts of the town, and can feel far away – there are no shops in this part of Connah’s Quay and it feels like a very different place from the town. Local transport is a problem in this part of Connah’s Quay. Buses are not regular and you are heavily reliant on cars or taxis. Deeside is known for its industry, with the steelworks and the industrial estate on the north bank of the Dee holding historical and current significance48.
46 ONS, 2011. 47 Flintshire Countryside Service, n.d. 48 BBC, 2010.
Shotton steelworks used to play a large part of how the communities of Connah’s Quay (and neighbouring towns) would integrate. It was the largest employer in the area, employing an estimated 13,000 people at the peak of the industry49. It also had a wider benefit for the whole of Deeside; before redundancies at the steelworks, the busier High Street meant there was an abundance of independent shops and Connah’s Quay market used to have a large number of traders coming along. More recently, the Deeside Industrial Park provides the area with jobs in many different industries, including with the aircraft manufacturer Airbus and at Toyota’s highly advanced engineering plant. Although these industries do not bind people together in the same way as the steelworks they still provide a significant amount of pride. From the conversations I’ve had, the feeling of nostalgia is strong. Especially with the older ‘Quayites’. People who move into Connah’s Quay are accepted after a time but if your family is from the Quay, you’re accepted far quicker. Connah’s Quay people are proud and hardworking. They are also very strong and independent people, who are usually willing to give support to those in need. There are a number of groups who offer so much to the people of Connah’s Quay. Friends of Wepre Park, Libby’s Community Café, and the Quay Watermans Association to name a few. Many people in these organisations volunteer their time but can feel disconnected from others who are doing things in the community. Throughout the Amplify Cymru programme people have said how useful it has been in bringing people together who do not usually work together. Connah’s Quay has a lot of assets, ranging from community cafés to a swimming pool and a heritage centre. The people of Connah’s Quay know how important these places are, and along with the open spaces, really value them. As the town has seen a number of facilities change hands through Community Asset Transfers, they have experienced a degree of uncertainty around the future of places that they care about and use regularly.
49 Atkinson, K., 1998-2006.
Voic e s of Connah’s Quay
Co m i ng together In Connah's Quay we value the relationshipsthat we have with other people. We are the sort of people that say Hello to each other We also value the history and connection we have to the town itself
We really like the place. It is a very friendly place and has a strong sense of community. The problem is that there are few places for that sense of community to come out. (Volunteer, Libby’s Community Café)
but this is still not enough there needs to be more We want more people to feel proud of the town and have a sense of belonging here
The skate park has been a very positive space. Young people have respected the area (Workshop discussion)
What are the opportunities for everyone to come together around the town and its environment?
Cos I think when you look at all the events that they have at Wepre Park, and in the Civic Hall and on the High Street, there’s always a good turnout, there’s always loads of people, which is nice. Because you’re seeing people from the community engaging with different figures in the community. (Local resident) | 36
We care about the town but it has some problems Some parts of the town are labelled as
'scum' areas, while others are seen as 'posh'
No. I wouldn’t want to move from the Quay. I was born here, spent my whole life here, and will probably die here. I feel this is the place where I belong, and it belongs to me. (Town and County Councillor)
Connah’s Quay has gone to 15, 20 times bigger in a short space of time. The numbers of people here who are not actually attached to Connah’s Quay are huge. But they’ve been here so long they are not actually classed as being ‘aliens’. (Local resident)
[Connah’s Quay] has changed. It’s not how it used to be… It’s all strangers now. People don’t seem to stay here long. (Local shopkeeper)
Our town has changed a lot We used to know everyone but it is now a much biggerand more anonymous place. This can be an isolating experience
There are parks in Connah’s Quay but not really local enough to where I live. And fun things for older children to do. Not just like the skate park at Wepre. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to have that there but different children like different things. There just isn’t that choice for them. (Local resident)
There are places where we are all able to come together and where everyone belongs We particularly value Wepre Park and facilities
like the swimming baths. In these places we are able to develop new relationships. The things we do often focus on these areas
They did have a scheme where they got everyone planting plants. It was great but people let them die. We definitely need to bring people together to get them on-board. The balconies are really nice in the summer. (Local resident)
By Cam Boam, Community Researcher
The town of Port Talbot (which is part of the county borough of Neath Port Talbot), and the Afan Valley, which overlooks the town, have a joint population size of roughly 51,00050. These areas are rich in both human and natural resources. As a community researcher, I have spent the past eight months getting to know the communities living and working in these places and in that time it has become increasingly clear to me that Port Talbot and the Afan Valley don’t get the celebratory attention they deserve: “There’s nothing wrong with Port Talbot... there are wonderful things, there are beautiful things about Port Talbot.” (Business owner) Port Talbot and the Valley are brimming with hard working, innovative individuals who are committed to their communities. That commitment shows through in the locals’ willingness to make connections with others. Port Talbot town has a diverse range of communities within it. Most well-known is the Sandfields estate which was originally built in the 1950s to house the steelworks workforce and now, according to locals, has a concentrated number of younger residents. Margam, by contrast, is known locally for having a ‘millionaires’ row’. Margam itself is served by a road that runs from this area, through to Taibach and then straight into the centre of town. The road is far from uniform, with a mixture of commercial premises, communityrun buildings, homes and indications of industry. Then there are residents who live near the base of the M4 and the road networks that connect with it, who have had to incorporate its geography into their day-to-day lives. A lot of the individuals I’ve met in these communities and in the villages in the Afan Valley have invested qualities such as dedication to community and innovative thinking into building a wide range of informal support networks.
I have come across several examples of community run organisations that work to ensure a flow of information within the community; from community run libraries, which not only provide access to literature, but also run enriching activities such as film nights, to a hyperlocal news service that is run by volunteers who source news from the community itself. I have also commonly found that the community run organisations offer so much more than their primary service. Organisations like Bulldogs Boxing Gym not only provide opportunities to improve fitness, they also support young people into employment. The Aberavon Rugby club makes its facilities freely available to all community groups and TDM dance school in Sandfields, designs classes around the needs of its community. These examples are indicative of the way that many organisations in Port Talbot and the Valley provide holistic services. Yet they are more than services; some of these organisations and centres have been described as second homes, places for personal growth and sharing of values. While it’s currently the case that Port Talbot town doesn’t have a museum or an arts centre, this doesn’t reflect the level of creativity in the town and Valley. As well as the dance schools, and amateur theatre groups, including a youth theatre, the area also holds several festivals and a regular music night in Taibach. The Taibach Triangle, as it is known, takes place on a Sunday with three bands playing in three of the Taibach pubs. The night has become a regular fixture for a lot of local people and another point for community gathering. The creative industries in general are becoming more prominent in Port Talbot, with multiple television, film and video production studios also established in the area.
50 ONS, 2011.
Voic e s of port talbot
P r i d e in Place
The way that Port Talbot is represented by the media and the decision-makers isn't exactly positive... We get seen as somewhere in decline or at risk
If they listened, they'd know We have lots of things
going for us in Port Talbot
rather than somewhere with lots going for it
Port Talbot has got a rawness in it. People want to work. Theyâ€™re really passionate. Itâ€™s brilliant for dancing. Itâ€™s brilliant to bring that energy to dancing. And I think people have got the mentality where they know if they want to do well then they have to work hard. (Manager, TDM Studios)
Who and what in Port Talbot should we be helping to promote and celebrate? We want to protect, build on and promote the good things that we have With the uncertainty that currently exists in the town, these things are more important than ever to us, but they are also fragile
There is a huge amount of pride which comes tothe fore when backed against a wall... The steel works are important and there is a lot of fear around what will happen when that goes away. Of course there is a fear in terms of jobs and people worry, but there is a sense of defiance about that; the fear is also about pride and loss of that. (Manager, NPT Homes)
All too often decisions are made about our town from the outside People talk about us but they don’t listen to us. They don’t recognise all the things we are already doing
People in the area felt that they have been part of ‘project after project’, they feel disheartened. A big community centre has been built but people don’t feel comfortable, it doesn’t feel like their space… People feel disempowered, they feel like it doesn’t matter what they do, decisions are being made anyway. But they do care about their community. (Community Capacity Building Officer, CVS)
We celebrate our culture and community with drama, arts, music and sports Big events such as the Beach Festival and the Passion play show what Port Talbot can give
People in the community expressed some concerns about the futures of young people in Port Talbot and the Valley. However the young people themselves are very aspirational, with many school age children planning to become teachers, scientists, chefs, footballers, midwives, professional rugby players, drivers, professional swimmers, service men and women, firefighters, civil engineers, car dealers, journalists and artists. I also came across many examples of young people in their twenties and thirties setting up organisations and businesses for themselves and for the benefit of their communities51. Young people in Port Talbot are very proud of their town, only moving away for education and employment opportunities, and often returning later. The people of Port Talbot and the Valley are also especially proud of their beach and hills. For many these are what make it a beautiful place to live. Aberavon beach stretches for three miles, skirting Sandfields and overlooking Swansea Bay. I’ve walked along the promenade there on a bright August day and enjoyed the buzz coming from the Aquasplash play pool and the cafes. I’ve also constantly enjoyed the views up towards the Valley and walks along parts of the bike track at the top of the Valley. Both beach and Valley are regular sites for local sports and leisure activities, as well as backdrops to everyday life. It is undoubtedly true that the identity of those living in the area is strongly tied in with this natural landscape and most, if not all, seek to preserve it.
We are a supportive community and we help each other out where we can We have a history of volunteering and activism. We have loads of community groups, churches and organisations that are doing good things across the town
51 This goes against research which suggests that people in places such as Port Talbot lack the aspiration to become entrepreneurs or to start businesses (see research methods, the Welsh context).
Understanding the inequalities and barriers people face every day in places
Perception and narratives are inequality As outlined, place is an important framework for people in Wales to conceptualise the world they live in, and through which to experience daily life. It is a prism through which people think about things, and experience things, particularly the challenges which face them. This section shows that certain narratives about place can themselves create a sense and reality of inequality within and between places. The research in all three towns reveals inequalities and barriers which are important to understand, because they are specific to their experience of place. Wales-wide stakeholders have helped us understand them as existing in similar or comparable ways across Wales. These inequalities are often deeply entrenched and have profound impacts on the lives that people are able to live. However, they are significant enough for us to warrant discussing the specific place-based perceptions and challenges in this report. As we explored, there are many different perceptions of places and narratives about them. Our research finds that narratives about place can be a particularly problematic and influential part of the experience of inequality in a place. Places are viewed in a certain way by people from outside and inside of those areas. In each community there is a shared concern that people who don’t live there often have perceptions of it that are unfair. There can be negative perceptions, and perhaps considered to be wrongful. At times they appear to be based on a lack of understanding of the reality of living in those areas (as well as their many qualities and assets). They can include harsh descriptions of the physical character of a place, or the characteristics and qualities of people who live there. Narratives about some of the communities have felt very negative with people feeling that they have been associated by others with poverty, deprivation and undesirability52.
People are very aware of living in a ‘deprived area’ through the Communities First definition for example. Despite living in economically deprived areas, people often don’t share this totalising sense of umbrella deprivation, or deficiency, especially in terms of their social and cultural lives and relationships. However they feel a strong sense of inequality when they think about the narratives that cast their place as deprived or inferior, not least because sense of identity, self and belonging is so tied up with place. One very current as well as historical issue people in Port Talbot report, is concern with the way that the area is viewed by people from outside, especially in light of recent news about the fate of the steelworks. As one resident, Louise, comments: “The concept that people have got of Port Talbot outside it is that it’s just one dirty steel town...” This is significant because it is so at odds with how she views the town: “… and actually if you come inland just this little bit you can see what we’ve got. It’s just so wrong to consider it that way.” Louise feels very strongly that the views that people outside of Port Talbot hold about the area are not just unfair, but are actually wrong. The people we spoke to in Port Talbot talked of the exciting things that were happening in the area such as festivals, arts, drama and sport and of the way that the community supported each other in both small everyday acts, such as putting out a neighbours bins and more organised efforts such as through the food bank or taking over of valued community assets.
52 People were very aware of living in a ‘deprived area’ as defined by Communities First, likewise common perception was that the media portrayed them in a way that showed poverty and decline. Recent reports, such as that from the JRF further perpetuate this narrative of poverty and decline (JRF, 2016).
Yet there was a widespread feeling that these stories were unheard and unrecognised by the media and by decision makers. Although these perceptions may seem superficial, they have real impacts on the way that people experience these places and the lives that they are able to live53. One resident, Amanda from Connah’s Quay who lived in an area of social housing known as the Pen Y Llan flats described the way that people view the area: “I heard one of the builders the other day saying ‘what a scum area’ while I was just here. It used to be a lovely area.” She feels that this view of the place she lives is widespread. She also believes that it impacts the way that people who live there are collectively treated: “Our voices are not heard. We have forms which we fill in with housing complaints but the housing officer actually says that they ‘go in the bin’… I do feel sorry for people; lots of people are involved in the area but they don’t listen. Those in power such as the housing officers think we are all scum.” Amanda talks about her experience of being ignored on issues that are significant to her and the resulting lack of impact she feels she has on influencing the decision making in her area. She, like others across each community, sees this as a direct result of the perceptions that those ‘in power’ hold of the place.
53 Neighbourhoods which are characterised negatively have been described as ‘poverty pockets’. In these areas reduced access to the job market, social isolation, stigmatization, and limited access to social citizenship rights can all affect people’s life chances (Van Kempen, 1997).
She is very active in the local community but her own feelings of living in the place have been changed by the perceptions of those around her and her lived experience of the changes that have taken place in the area. Despite being very committed to the place and feeling it is where she belongs, Amanda feels that she would like to leave the area because of how it is now. However she also feels trapped: “I stay because you can’t move. How do you get out of here? I have no children but I’m also not old enough for the nicer blocks or areas. One resident said that you ‘can’t get out of these flats unless you are in a wooden box’ and that is really true.” Amanda reports that things have changed in the area: that people used to look after the place. They would grow things and they tried to create a small park for children. Yet she feels that people now don’t bother. She would like to see these things happen again but doesn’t know how to change the culture of the area.
How perception perpetuates inequalities People also report that perception can also affect how inequality is ameliorated, challenged or treated. In Aberystwyth, certain areas such as Penparcau are defined as places of deprivation. However, people are on the whole perceived to be managing there in their everyday lives and not to be needing additional help. The community believes that this perception has led to a situation of ‘hidden poverty’ – where people are not recognised to have the needs they have. In Aberystwyth this problem feels particularly acute. Despite the high quality of life that Aberystwyth is considered to offer in general, people feel it is only experienced by people living at a certain income level. In fact, there is a shared understanding that once your income falls below this level, life in Aberystwyth becomes very hard. To those experiencing poverty, it can feel like a two-tier society54, one in which only certain people can access opportunities or survive. One participant, Sarah, who was employed in a service role by a large organisation in the town talked of her experience of working in a low paid role while living in Aberystwyth. She felt very strongly that the low pay she received prevented her from participating in society because she ‘couldn’t keep up’ with friends or go to a group because most of the activities people generally did in the area cost money. She experienced this as a deep sense of inequality in terms of ability to participate – the divide between the majority who were well off and those who were not able to access the high quality of life that Aberystwyth is seen to offer: “It’s not about the amount of money you have, it’s how it makes you feel. You can’t be included in one thing, but there’s nothing else. Everyone is into aspiration; well that’s all very well if after working for 5 years you can achieve something, but if the system’s stacked up against you, you’re always just aspiring – you’re not content where you are – there’s no value in anything you’re doing. But if no matter how hard you’ve worked, you’re never going to reach that – it’s always going to be this two tier thing – it’s deeply depressing.” 54 Research has shown that people’s subjective wellbeing is more strongly negatively influenced by the income of their neighbours when income inequality is high (Cheung and Lucas, 2016).
Sarah’s experience of managing on minimum wage and a zero hours contract is not unusual. As we saw earlier, single mother Beca loves living in Aberystwyth but equally struggles with working in an administration position for one of the big institutions: “We don’t do zero-hours contracts anymore but we do contracts that are an hour a week instead cos they’re so much better! At every turn it’s to squeeze the most out of people for the least…” She talks about this in parallel to the relatively high rents that are charged in the area55: “I think its housing is the key to everything… You have to have a secure home to be able to enjoy anything else I think. And even though compared with cities in England the rents here are probably tiny, they still don’t compare that well with the average income of a lot of people. So I think that is a huge barrier and I don’t think anyone can do anything about it until rents are regulated properly.” Here the double barrier of low pay and high rent while living on a single income makes life a struggle for Beca. Beca considers herself lucky because her landlord allows her to pay the rent that she is able to afford, but she is worried about changes in policy which may make that harder for her landlord to do so56. She doesn’t think she would be able to make ends meet if she didn’t have such a generous landlord. Although extreme poverty and hardship were recognised in Aberystwyth, it was felt that those who were ‘just coping’ were forgotten.
55 As outlined in the pen portrait of Aberystwyth. House prices in Ceredigion are some of the highest in the country (Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru, 2005). 56 Beca was referring specifically to the Rent Smart Wales legislation requiring landlords to register and comply with the Housing (Wales) Act 2014. She was concerned that costs would be passed on to her as a tenant or that her landlord would decide that there were too many regulations and would sell the house. She comments “I just find it a very worrying turn of policy. And it’s been dreamt up by people in the Welsh Assembly, or whatever they want to be called now, who’ve got no conception of how things happen at the bottom of the scale, and how the slightest thing like this can be catastrophic for somebody.”
A key part of social commentary about any place from the viewpoint of people who live there is why hidden poverty exists, and how and why it is hidden. The perception that people are managing is one aspect of why it is not identified. But for those in low paid work, there are also questions about organisational or institutional responsibility to places and the responsibilities that everybody in society has towards each other, including recognising when people are experiencing challenges such as poverty. Sarah and Beca seem to be working for reputable organisations and they and others feel that more should be expected from these institutions to protect their employees from poverty.
These challenges raise issues about how far people and organisations within each place and community should have a responsibility to all people in the community.
Perception and narrative creates inequality Perception perpetuates inequality Pathways and opportunities don’t match up Inequalities and barriers
Place, geography and mobility Exclusive places and communities Place and change ‘Done to’ development
The pathways and opportunities don’t match up Many people we spoke with across Wales feel that there are fewer opportunities to thrive and be self-sustaining in the places people live than there once were. Economic and social challenges that people experience in their daily lives also feel particularly acute when considering the limited opportunities and pathways that people feel are available to them in the places they live as routes out of difficulty are limited. By pathways we mean the routes anybody takes to fulfil aspirations such as employment. The people in each of the towns increasingly feel (and in some cases have felt for years) that they have fewer opportunities to ‘get on’ or achieve what they want in their places than they once had. While this compounds the feeling of living in a two-tier society, it also relates to change. This frustration is particularly expressed around changing opportunities for employment: “It is a very uncertain time. No one is certain they have a job. And there is a fair amount of anger in the community because of that uncertainty.” (Tata employee, Port Talbot) In Connah’s Quay and Port Talbot, there has been a large shift in the types of jobs available as each place moves away from their dominant industry, yet the pathways to employment are not yet suitable to equip people (particularly younger people or older people changing jobs) in the skills required for the changing job market. While there are jobs available, they don’t match expectations or training and educational opportunities:
“I think students often love the place and don’t wish to leave, which is why we have so many graduates working in coffee shops or cafes and doing care work. There are very limited work opportunities.” (Student nurse, Aberystwyth) And they are often poorly paid or insecure opportunities: “They’re still paying £6.20 because they pay a bonus on top for the amount they do or whatever so it takes it up to £7.20 but that’s not the wage they’re paying them for their holiday pay. For their holiday pay they’re basing them on £6.20.” (Retired steel worker, Connah’s Quay)57 In some places, it is also considered difficult to get jobs unless you have connections to people in the area, compounding the issue. Terry in Connah’s Quay believes that there is “a culture of nepotism” still existing in certain areas which plays a large part in determining who is, and is not, able to get on in that place. This creates significant uncertainty. It is seen to reflect the wider changes that are taking place across Wales but it often creates loss, as people move away to get better or suitable employment: “It has kind of been flipped the other way where in the past there were a lot of well-paid jobs. They are seeming to be dwindling slightly recently. A lot of the bigger companies, say for instance, Amazon and things like that are coming in where it’s not as highly skilled. A lot more low-paid jobs are now in this area.” (Business owner, Port Talbot)
“Connah’s Quay has a good college but with not enough apprenticeships to offer them. This is making life difficult for them to carry on with that enthusiasm to achieve their goals in life.” (Retired, Connah’s Quay) There are jobs, but it is felt that the jobs that do exist are not necessarily suited to the skills within the community: 57 In reality 2006–08 data show the average gross weekly earnings for those working in Alyn & Deeside was around £496. The equivalent figure for Wales was £470. These were the most recent figures available (Members Research Service, 2010).
The challenge of place, geography and mobility Inequality intersects with geography, which is one of the key ways in which place is a prism of inequality. Geography and infrastructure are key features through which place is experienced, both in terms of what a place has and how it connects to other places58. In what follows we go on to explore where opportunities in places are felt to be particularly important to what it means to lead a fulfilling and flourishing life. While Connah’s Quay and Port Talbot have relatively good links to large cities (such as Chester, Swansea and Cardiff), Aberystwyth is geographically isolated. The people in Aberystwyth often state that this is part of what has allowed them to develop such a vibrant culture, especially with the presence of the university. However at times where specialist help and support is needed, the isolation can be experienced as a problem: “Mental health treatment is just a joke. You get no support as a family, and then obviously it is the problem of all the distances that people have to travel to get help and support… These are the kinds of extremes of living in a place like Aberystwyth where you’re at the end of the line. Which can be an idyllic place to live until you need help. And hospital treatment is a really key one.” (Heritage sector employee, Aberystwyth) In all three places, geographical distance was something that came up as a barrier to fulfilment or pursuing needs: “One personal struggle for me is that of connection. It can be quite an isolated place. It is two hours to get anywhere including to see family and friends. Transport is a real struggle.” (Youth worker, Aberystwyth)
58 Jones et al., 2014.
For some, even geographically short distances can be a problem to people who have reduced mobility or for those who do not own private transport. One participant, Owen, had been trying to find football classes for his son in Connah’s Quay and found that after one session the class was cancelled and moved to Chester: “You can’t always ask people on the lower edge of the social scale who are under the most financial pressures, who might not be able to afford a car, or put petrol in the car, to get to Chester because their two year old wants to play football.” He expanded on this, suggesting that it showed a lack of investment in Connah’s Quay itself. He feels not enough people know about what’s available: “And that to me is totally unacceptable. We’ve got to be promoting our own area. There’s so much we can do in Deeside. I want to promote more social equality. More family based activities.” He feels that this is not an isolated occurrence. People are put off when services and opportunities are moved to the bigger towns, which are geographically, socially and economically distant from what they are able to access and afford.
Some places and opportunities are not for us Issues relating to travel and mobility are not simply about physical distance. Places also have meaning: some provide comfort and safety, others undermine that sense, and travel can be a key area of concern. The geographical distance between places can challenge people’s sense of safety that they so value in their own communities. For example Lyn, a single mother in Connah’s Quay, spent some time talking about her reluctance to go down by the river. Although the river bank is actually part of Connah’s Quay, it lacked the safety that she felt in areas closer to her home. Her own experience of being mugged some time ago combined with stories about similar incidents happening in that area increased Lyn’s reluctance to access this area. Despite her brother encouraging her that the area has changed and there has been lots of redevelopment, this remained a barrier to her. There are also large cultural and social divides which are evident between places, and which often have historical roots: “If you come from Shotton, you’re a Shotton git. If you come from Flint, ooh you stay in frigging Flint. Them that came here the turn of the century, but they had their own little areas didn’t they. Buckley, Flint, Connah’s Quay. Even in the steelworks, you had the rolling mills, the roller would have – they worked three shifts in rotation – but his whole crew would be from Buckley like he was. The next crew doing the next shift would be from Flint, and the next crew’d be all from Connah’s Quay.” (Retired Steel Worker, Connah’s Quay) When we spoke to people in Connah’s Quay they would nearly always introduce themselves by pointing out exactly where in Connah’s Quay they resided, and would often talk about their place in contrast to other nearby places, for example Shotton or Queensferry.
These distinctions of place within towns are felt deeply in Aberystwyth, Connah’s Quay and Port Talbot. They are very significant in terms of what people feel they are, and are not, able to do. For example, David, a social worker in Aberystwyth talks about the young people who live out of town and how they feel excluded from the town. He comments: “They have no services locally because it is assumed that they will be able to come into town, but there are barriers. These barriers are physical, for example transport, but there is also an issue of not being able to ‘fit in’. Academic education is privileged over other types of skills, non-academics struggle to enter this community.” Here, geography and culture combine to exclude people from the things that are offered in the town itself. A point that was confirmed by Aled, a local councillor: “It seems a bit strange to us people who live in the town – but the rural areas resent Aberystwyth a bit as being the rich townies. Which is always strange to me but that’s how they see us. And people in Tregaron see us as having all the services and them losing all theirs. And they are less well-off, as a generalisation. It’s hard for them to get about without a car, so they’re more dependent on a car.” It is key to understand that many people do not, for varied reasons, feel able to simply go somewhere else very easily, without angst or concern. This actually exacerbates divides between places rather than solves them. The people in Tregaron see themselves losing services while investment is made in Aberystwyth, in the same way that Chester is seen as a viable place for a football club but Connah’s Quay is not. This is very disempowering to the people who live in the places that do not see investment, especially in light of how significant the places are to the people who live there. This creates a sense of inequality between places and the people who live in those places.
These divides exist within, as well as between, places, as confirmed by Gareth, a local councillor and resident of Cwmafan, part of the Afan Valley: “Neath Port Talbot is a council but they’re two separate communities. Yes, we’ve got to use Port Talbot as a shopping centre, but most people up here would say if they could get away without going down there, they wouldn’t bother. The same with people on Sandfields. It’s, again, a local issue. Yes, we need Port Talbot… I wouldn’t say there’s a lot of connection. We go down there shopping, may go to a pub or club down there, and that’s about it really. It’s just one of those things, unfortunately. My family still lives on Sandfields. Unless we actually go down, you know, I say to my sister… she’ll go, ‘Oh, we haven’t seen you for weeks,’ and I’ll just say to her, ‘Well, from my front door to yours is five miles.’ ‘Oh, I’m not going up the Valley’.” These barriers have to be recognised and are not easy to overcome. They are often deeply embedded. This is particularly important because those who feel the divides most strongly are likely to be those who are most vulnerable to suffering from the consequences of these barriers. For example, an unemployed person in Connah’s Quay may benefit from a job at the industrial estate in Garden City but might face greater challenges in being able to access that job, due to the barrier of having to travel across the ‘blue bridge’59 to a place that feels culturally very different, than someone who is already confident in their job and is making a career change.
59 The ‘blue bridge’ is a cable-stayed bridge spanning the Dee Estuary. The bridge links Flint and Connah’s Quay to the shore north of the River Dee, where the Deeside industrial estate is located. However, for many people in the area it is seen as a barrier which they would not want to cross.
This barrier may be exacerbated by mobility issues: the challenges of getting to the industrial estate from the other side of the river, especially if the job is working irregular hours which in many cases do not correlate with the options for public transport. Likewise many services in Cwmafan have closed down and yet, as demonstrated above, they are unlikely to access them in Port Talbot. There are some key differences in understandings of what is, and is not, possible for different people within each of the three areas. For example, in Port Talbot, local councillor, David, talks of Neath Port Talbot: “Because we’re a county borough I recognise it as Neath Port Talbot. It is countrywide really isn’t it to be honest with you because what affects people in Neath affects people in Port Talbot and vice versa.” This is different to the viewpoint that Mary, a local resident has: “I don’t like the way the Government decided to close three schools to put them into one school. Especially as the three schools they’re putting together hate each other. There’s always been rivalry between the schools... Sandfields Comprehensive was always classed as the rough school. Cwrt Sart is actually in Britton Ferry, but as far as the other children are concerned it’s Neath. It’s a big no-no. So there might be trouble there when it starts in November... Port Talbot is Port Talbot (not Neath). We’ve always been sort of territorial.” (Emphasis mine) To Mary, conceptually Neath and Port Talbot feel like very different places and she feels that this needs to be respected in terms of service delivery, otherwise people may not feel a sense of entitlement to those services.
Case Study – Education in Port Talbot One example of the challenges of available pathways is the challenge of pursuing further education in Port Talbot. Port Talbot is served by Neath Port Talbot Sixth Form Academy which has a campus in Margam. While the Margam campus offers a range of vocational courses, students are unable to study A-Levels there. If a student wishes to pursue their A-Levels then they have to travel to Neath to do so. This is problematic for all of the reasons explored in section 2. We have seen that there are strong divides between Port Talbot and Neath, which are likely to be felt very strongly when a young person starts their A-Levels at age 16. This exacerbates the existing barriers that young people may face when accessing further education. Likewise, the geographic distance is a significant problem for many students who travel from Port Talbot. As Matthew, a young person from the area describes: “[T]he only A-Levels that are offered close are Neath. And it’s a 40 minute bus ride. To get the bus from my house to go to Neath College I’d have to get the bus from my house to the bus station, which is about twenty minutes and then a bus from the bus station. Whereas, you know, that’s in the case of my sister who started in September doing A-Levels in Neath. There’s only so many lifts you can give someone, my parents give lifts but they both work, my grandparents try and give her lifts, but there’s only so many lifts you can give someone. You can’t give her lifts five days a week. And she ended up dropping out because she wasn’t going enough… Whereas I could walk if I really wanted and take fifteen minutes. I used to get the bus, which took about three minutes, or cycle in. But it was in my town. I know it’s Neath, Port Talbot but it’s a separate town to Port Talbot and it is a while away.” Matthew later explained that he would have liked to have seen investment in the Margam Campus so that it could offer A-Levels. The underlying assumption is that young people who want to pursue further education need to leave the area.
Differences of opinion and mobility suggest a complex situation this research has not been able to unpick fully60. What is most clear is that these are not neutral places; they mean something to people in a way which if not understood can undermine attempts to improve people’s lives, and potentially create inequality in their own right.
60 No change in landscape or cityscape will ever be free of conflict or opposing views (Vanclay, 2008).
Our places are changing Concern about change is also a very strong part of identity and place. It is unsettling when the things on which pride and identity rest change or feel under attack. Changes in local employment result in social change that makes people move: “You have seen, over the years, a difference in the area, the town itself. I guess nowadays, yes, people do move, but when I was a child that wasn’t the case.” (Business owner, Port Talbot) In each place, moving away for better opportunities has become a fact of life: “The majority of young people will probably leave the area. Not just the town but the whole area. And that’s sort of almost assumed really, which cannot possibly be good for anywhere.” (Councillor, Aberystwyth) Yet new forms of employment also bring new people in: “I think Port Talbot, years ago, people were predominantly employed by the steel works. Lots of little businesses around, but they were relying on the steel works. So I think, we’re on the M4 corridor, as jobs have dwindled from the Port Talbot area people have had to travel. You tend to get then people that are not naturally from the area coming into the area because it’s much cheaper to buy a house in Port Talbot than it is in Cardiff… So really, where you used to have everybody from Port Talbot and local, you’ve got a lot of people from outside the area being shipped in. So you’ve got people coming in with different traits, different friends, different family.” (Community Safety Officer, Port Talbot) People in both Connah’s Quay and Port Talbot reported having seen a significant increase in people living there who commute elsewhere over the last 30 years. Across each community people we spoke to felt that some of the positive values of their places were getting lost on the way with their communities changing:
“I’m born and bred in the Quay but there doesn’t seem to be as many people you know around anymore, who are from the Quay.” (Community group discussion, Connah’s Quay) “The Sandfields community used to be closer. “I knew my neighbours, but that aspect has gone.” (Volunteer, Port Talbot) Change is not only unsettling to some but also raises questions about whether other people will have the same social norms and shared values: “The caring has gone out of the town. Hasn’t it [name]? Nobody cares for each other. They used to care for each other, that’s gone out of the town I think.” (Focus group, retirement housing, Aberystwyth) In all of the places, people felt that there was less of a close sense of community than there used to be, despite it being a prized aspect of their experience of their places. This experience of change and flux, while recognised as part of life in these towns, and in some ways seen to enhance them, can also be understood as threatening to people’s sense of identity and belonging, and can be a source of fear: “I don’t know. Some people – not myself personally – have mentioned about Polish shops being opened and how they feel intimidated. There’s usually large crowds of the Polish people around and obviously for people like elderly and things when they go out they don’t feel like they’re comfortable to go and walk down there.” (Local resident, Connah’s Quay) Sometimes this fear is based upon experiences of difficulty, for example incidences of antisocial behaviour were often talked about in Connah’s Quay including a series of serious violent incidents which had taken place around the Pen Y Llan area.
While these experiences cause people who have been living in an area for a long time to feel conflicted, the strong values attached to place and time can also be experienced as a form of inequality for those that are new: those who want to belong but do not feel able to fit in or do not feel included in the places where they have chosen to live. Despite people often asserting they were welcoming to newcomers, the attachment to history and the value placed on being from an area can mean that even those who have lived in a place for a long time can still be made to feel like an outsider61: “We’ve been here 40 years now and we’re still outsiders to some people!” (Local resident, Cwmafan, Port Talbot)
“If you’re a visitor, and I class myself as a visitor because I live outside of Aberystwyth, you don’t know what is going on. For example, I hear people say that they have been up to the Arts Centre Café but I wouldn’t think it was a place for us to go.” (Youth sector employee, Ceredigion) This sense of exclusive places and belonging also affects people who are vulnerable: “I can’t find a place and things to do here. People are kind, respectful, polite. But we cannot make friends. We stay together, we go to ‘[name’s] house… People are polite, kind, but they are closed.” (Refugee, Aberystwyth)
Rosie, an Aberystwyth resident has worked hard to take part, identifying a need to speak Welsh and nurture her relationships. But this is significantly hard work, requiring a level of social capital and social mobility others may struggle with. “I’m an English incomer, I’ve learnt Welsh and I feel like my relationships make me belong here. It’s a tenuous things that isn’t it? Belonging somewhere… as an outsider.” The sense of tenuous belonging somewhere can create a sense of uncertainty. This idea of being ‘truly’ part of somewhere or an outsider is a concept which appears to be quite prominent in each of the three towns, and revealed the difficulties of place; that the values of community and kin-based network and belonging can be exclusionary or divisive. It can affect the ways that those who don’t feel they belong are able to participate in the lives of their towns62:
61 It has been pointed out, in the context of Welsh identity, that this notion of outsider or “stranger” is a shifting concept, such that to be a stranger in one context does not necessarily make one a stranger in another (Frankenberg, 1957, p. 19). 62 There is a long history of dominant groups in a society believing themselves to be somehow superior to incomers, establishing narratives which perpetuate inequality (Elias and Scotson, 1994).
‘Done to’ development As well as coping with negative perceptions and narratives about the places in which they live, and socioeconomic change which doesn’t seem to benefit them or causes loss, the meaning of place can explain the way people view development and policy decisions that take place in their areas. There is a sense of loss of control over how places change and a widespread feeling that purposeful change, ‘development’, doesn’t understand the needs of the community. It is felt that when development takes place, it is for negative reasons or without community backing or feed-in. There is also a sense that development may benefit some and not others. We explored earlier how people in Aberystwyth, Connah’s Quay and Port Talbot feel that the only recognition they receive as places is negative recognition. They believe that the way investment is made reinforces this negative narrative. One example of decision making that emphasises this negative recognition is that where funding has been implemented, it can focus on negatives. In the Pen Y Llan flats in Connah’s Quay the blocks have been colour coded so that they are easier to identify in cases of anti-social behaviour. These decisions focus on the problems faced in the place. More broadly, while the Wales-wide focus on areas of multiple deprivation is recognised by many to be a useful tool for prioritising funding, there is a sense that the way it categorises areas into ‘deprived’ or ‘not deprived’ can be undermining. People are often very aware of living in a ‘Communities First’ area. This kind of funding may also be divisive, tailored towards perceived statistical needs rather than what people think they are due.
People in the places that are labelled as ‘not deprived’ may believe that this designation overlooks the complexity of their areas, for example, as we reviewed earlier, hidden poverty. People in these areas still experience inequality but their struggles are less recognised. For example the local councillor for Baglan talked about complaints that he received around the withdrawal of bus services from the area: “Baglan in particular, I’ve done a survey on it… the population of Baglan, the average car is 2.8 per family. Now that’s a high number of cars per head of population isn’t it? So you can understand the difficulty I would have trying to explain to members of the public who haven’t got cars when I turn around and say, you’re living in Baglan, it is a semi-affluent area. The public transport situation is difficult because people don’t use the service …So you try and explain that to a member of the public, it’s difficult.” This experience underpins and interplays with barriers and inequalities identified earlier, including the difficulties faced in Aberystwyth by those living on a low wage, and the experience of rural areas losing investment with the assumption that they will benefit from investment in nearby urban centres. The investment in deprived areas is welcomed but there is a sense that in order to access this funding you have to emphasise the negative aspects of place rather than celebrating the positive values and actions. The way that investment is made is seen as a barrier to those who want to take positive action in their communities: “There was a very strong emphasis on funding issues in the community. I think this is felt as a big barrier by a lot of people. What has come across again is not that there isn’t willingness in the community, or even that there’s a lack of action by community members; it’s that there are some real barriers that those who are active are coming up against. These barriers are tied in with local and national politics and may be difficult to tackle.” (Community researcher observation, Port Talbot)
In fact the prevailing feeling is that by setting these kinds of agendas for change in an issues-based way, market or policy-based development has been ‘done to’ people in a way that reinforces the dominant, negative, narrative of their places, outlined earlier. In our research, both within the three towns and with policy makers and actors at a Wales-wide level, there was a general sense of dissatisfaction with the way that development has been approached in a way that was considered largely ‘top down’. People feel that: “It doesn’t matter what we do, decisions are being made anyway.” This is particularly true in Port Talbot where people have had what they describe as a very ‘stop-start’ experience of development. Investments that had been made had often been abandoned, sometimes leaving very visible reminders of the failed development. For example on a walking tour of the area we were shown a construction site at Burrows Yard in Aberavon. The work on this site had begun in 2007 but stopped in 2008 when the tenant, a supermarket chain, pulled out. It has remained a half-built structure since this time, which is described as an ‘eyesore’ by local residents. Likewise, development that had been carried out is often not viewed to be focussed on the needs of the community. As we were told by Chris, who was conducting the walking tour: “The planning is not particularly suited to community or pride in the area.” [Referring to Sandfields] A prominent symbol of this is the development of the leisure centre on Aberavon beach front. This structure is seen to replace the Lido, which was a valued community asset63. Although it is welcomed by people in Port Talbot, the new leisure centre is not seen to embody the values of the Lido. In building the centre, a tall fence has been constructed between it and the Sandfields Estate, the community it supposedly serves. This is seen as a clear symbol of exclusion for those who live on the other side of this fence.
An apparent disconnect between development, and the needs and wants of the community is most visible in Port Talbot. But there is a sense of a similar disconnect in Aberystwyth and Connah’s Quay. For example Barri, a retired steel worker in Connah’s Quay, talked about the housing development that had taken place in the area during his lifetime: “I would say somewhere around 1960. Started building up here, unbelievable! They built houses where they shouldn’t build houses. Cos as kids we knew that it was either bogs or they had streams going through. But they still threw a house up and then wondered why, hang on, two years later it subsided. They thought any land they could build on. And that’s what they did. Everywhere. Connah’s Quay … has gone fifteen, twenty times bigger. And in a short period of time. You’re talking fifty years...” Connah’s Quay has seen huge amounts of housing development over the last 60 years and, as you travel around the town, it is possible to see how this has contributed to the geographical divisions that are felt to exist. Housing development is considered to be one contributing factor undermining community in the town. There are clearly demarcated estates which cater to different people, without a focal point for these different communities to come together. Likewise, in Aberystwyth, there is a sense that there is a lot of development going on but that it is not sensitive to the values of the community: “Development is a prime example. There is a lot of poor development in Ceredigion. But development in itself is not a bad thing. I think it’s the quality of the development that’s the problem… and how do they get away with that? I don’t understand. I wish we could attract much better quality development.” (Heritage sector worker) In all three towns, development was seen as something that was disconnected from the needs and desires of the local people who, despite having strong attachment to these areas, felt that they could have little impact on the decisions that were made regarding their towns.
63 The Afan Lido was destroyed by a fire in 2009.
An example of the way that decision making is seen as unfair and discriminatory between places is the experience of the trial closure of Junction 41 of the M4 motorway by people in Port Talbot. The trial involved closure of the westbound slip road (at Port Talbot) during peak times for a period of just over a year. This was experienced by people who live in the town as a discriminatory decision: “When they closed the slip road to the M4 I was thinking ‘My God, the one town that suffers from the scar of the M4 can’t use the M4’. And when they’re on about it being a safety issue shouldn’t you close all those junctions around Cardiff and Newport because they get just as congested? But oh no, they wouldn’t dare do that, but you can do it to Port Talbot, why is that?” (Engineer, Port Talbot) People expressed anger and upset that this decision was made without proper consultation and it left them feeling that Port Talbot was in danger of becoming “a ghost town”.
Who can make change happen? Decisions are made for us, not with us These experiences of development and investment have contributed to the feeling that there is a considerable disconnect between the decision-makers in the three towns and those who are impacted by those decisions. People in the three towns often spoke of the disembodied ‘they’ as the people that made decisions about their towns. As Cate, a teenager in Port Talbot said of the redevelopment of the Lido site: “I am just waiting to see what they do there. At the moment I have a great view and the sunsets are really lovely, I don’t want flats.” [Emphasis mine] Certain groups of people are seen to become decision makers and many people in the town feel that this is not representative: “There’s no young councillors. They do have these meetings up in the council and they are of an older generation, so what they want Port Talbot to be is different to what I think it should be. I don’t think it should be a retirement town.” (Local resident, Port Talbot) This disconnect is problematic because it is based on a lack of trust that the people who are making the decisions are acting in the best interests of those who they are acting on behalf of. People partly attribute this to historic experiences of decisions that have negatively impacted people’s lives in the three areas, significantly for some creating both loss and a sense of disempowerment. As a local activist in Port Talbot describes, this idea of unstoppable loss has been ongoing: “[T]here’s a long, sort of, history of dissatisfaction with the local council and that sort of thing. You get that everywhere, I know that but, you know, we had the town centre completely demolished in the 1970s. Where the shopping centre is now… we used to have a whole town centre and I mean hundreds of houses and shops and streets and a marketplace and a town hall. The whole thing, the entire thing was completely flattened and they built the shopping centre there.”
There are also questions about how decisions were made which have created historic distrust and concern amongst the community: “…there were all sorts of dodgy deals and backhanders and people went to prison, councillors and all that back then. The motorway was built. Obviously, a lot of people were upset about that. All the houses got demolished and, you know, there was a little village at the end of Margam that got demolished and all that sort of thing.” This has a devastating impact on how people feel that they can engage with infrastructural and development projects, and it is a persistent sense shared socially and at community level: “So, people over a certain age, I think they’re just fed up and they’ve given up. They think, ‘Oh well, you know, they took this away, they took that away and we couldn’t do anything about that…I think they’ve just given up, certainly older people, and that, sort of, rubs off on younger people as well.” (Local activist, Port Talbot) This shared sense of disempowerment cannot simply be overcome through occasional consultation. The divide that exists between decision makers and local people is historic and based on experiences of decisions that have reinforced a negative stereotype of their towns which they are strongly invested in. They are socially prescriptive narratives about who can do what, and they are part of lived experience. We will go onto review how people are taking numerous actions at different scales to make life better for their communities. However, many feel that as a result of what we have reviewed above, the policy culture needs to change to support, nurture, and help scale these actions.
What people are doing in the places they live and why, and what they want for the places they live in
In what follows, we explore ways in which people are acting to change their communities and we touch briefly on the factors communities have reflected on and consider to help and hinder their own place or community-based change-making attempts. These reflections have helped create recommendations which have come from deliberations with communities and stem from this research. As section 1 revealed, across each community there are people working to challenge perceived inequalities or to create alternative ways of doing things in a world which appears to be changing around them. However, as the end of section 2 showed, many people feel that, while they are attempting to improve life for the communities they live in, they don’t feel they can feed into decisions affecting their communities with the full power of their intent or willingness to help.
Some of these issues are complex – touching on well-known issues around social capital, social mobility and validity to operate in the world with credibility. Nonetheless, people are still working hard, taking action to support others in their community, and creating meaningful and unique changes to what appear to be entrenched social problems and challenges. The things which people do are not necessarily about creating large-scale change but are often focussed on combatting loss and creating alternative and sustainable futures. They often aim to facilitate people staying grounded in a sense of place, rather than based on the premise of having to leave to pursue meaningful opportunities. Many of these actions are informal and are not necessarily viewed as drivers of change but just ‘things that we do’ or, by people outside, particularly in Port Talbot, as ‘just coping’.
Challenging loss Creating community and belonging Community action Doing together Creating sustainable alternatives
The themes of community-based action As explored there are many different singular and networked actions taking place across Aberystwyth, Connah’s Quay and Port Talbot. What follows is not a comprehensive look at them but rather a broad indicator appreciating a range of activities people in each town are doing which actively focuses on improving the lives of people around them and the community at large. These things and actions can be very much focused around experiences in place, specifically. This underscores its importance as an organising principle in people’s lives. However they often focus on similar themes: addressing issues, creating consistency and coherence, and facilitating a sense of certainty for that place, as well as tackling its manifestation of inequality, which can be quite specific, for example Aberystwyth’s ‘two-tier’ society. It is possible to think about actions which fit with specific values or shared preoccupations. Across the three towns we found that the actions that people take are often focused around four key motives: •
Challenging loss: Preserving or repurposing local assets for current and future generations. For example the cleaner in a local community centre preventing its closure by taking it on herself; or the 20 year old young person opting to run the local library:
“What we’ve found is that there are a lot more groups taking over buildings because the council have shut them, locked the doors and said ‘if you want them you run them yourselves’ and given the keys over.” (Boxing Coach, Port Talbot)
Creating a sense of community and belonging: Providing the opportunity for people to come together and connect, often around place and often in the face of change or antisocial behaviour. For example, a community café as an affordable space for people to come together, and learn new skills, or a town festival to bring people together despite their different backgrounds and interests:
“Some of the reasons why I do some of the things that I do is to see that idea of community rebuilt. I want to see people released. For example running a children’s club so that parents can meet their friends; I would see that as building community… I really want to be building community, getting people together and making a safe space.” (Youth worker, Aberystwyth) •
Supporting one another to act: Offering support to others in the community. For example the boxing gym in Port Talbot who have made partnerships with local businesses and contributed to 60 young people entering work; or community forums which support communityled ideas by connecting them together and sharing good-news stories:
“[I most admire] all the people in the forum, ‘cos they get off their arses and make things happen… they are active people, they want things to happen, and they make them happen.” (Resident, Aberystwyth) •
Creating alternatives through sustainable living goals: Challenging the ways that things are traditionally done to create a better and more environmentally-friendly future. For example challenging food waste by acting as an intermediary between supermarkets and local charities, or campaigning for the care and protection of green spaces:
“We like the idea that the community can do something about [food waste] themselves – they can make a change, take on retailers, establish a community solution.” (Innovator, Food Hub)
Example: Food projects in Aberystwyth There are a large number of projects which focus on issues surrounding food in Aberystwyth. These projects can be seen as a direct response to the concern around hidden poverty in the area â€“ of which not being able to feed your family is a key outcome. A number of interviews mentioned a concern about the increasing number of people using food banks. Within the Amplify Cymru programme, however, we identified that there were a number of people trying to tackle this issue from alternative angles. For example, looking at the issue of food distribution and food-waste (Aber food surplus); or enabling people to grow their own food (Tyfu Aber/ Grow Aber). These ideas are not only innovative, in that they are looking for new solutions to entrenched problems; but also talk to the local values, of which good food is one. These projects and others focused on food are trying to realise this value of being able to eat well, and in a way that is also sustainable to the natural environment, more accessible to everyone in Aberystwyth. â€ƒ
Innovative actions This section presents examples of specific projects, innovations and actions which exist or are being developed to make their communities a better place. All of these projects were supported through the Young Foundation’s Accelerator, as part of the Amplify Cymru programme64. We have grouped them into three of the key themes identified above.
They would like to raise the profile of the centre as a valuable community resource for the next 25 years. This will include practical refurbishments and developing the coffee bar to increase its potential as a hub for the community, with the aim of increasing community cohesion.
Creating a sense of community and belonging
Woodwork to Wellness (Connah’s Quay): This project brings together all manner of ‘craft’ skills in a fully-equipped workshop environment in Connah’s Quay. Woodwork to Wellness aims to put people at ease while also providing a space for citizens to be challenged with a range of hands-on tasks.
Libby’s Dementia Café (Connah’s Quay): This already successful community café in Connah’s Quay seeks to offer a programme of fun and engaging activities, as well as providing a communal space for people with dementia and those who support them to get information/advice and connect to others with similar problems. Town Council infrastructure project (Connah’s Quay): The town council are taking forward a project centred on integrating formal transport infrastructure with local needs. The aim is to better make use of formal transport lines and provisions to enhance public spaces and the enjoyment of Connah’s Quay residents. Town-wide arts festival (Aberystwyth): Building on Aberystwyth’s rich cultural offering, this project takes the form of a large-scale creative festival. Seeking to employ the asset of the abundance of artists in Aberystwyth, the festival would bring the people of Aberystwyth and visitors together with local artists to take part in a range of creative workshops and showcases. St. Paul’s – Development of Community Centre and Cafe (Aberystwyth): St. Paul’s Methodist Centre is a valuable community centre, comprising rooms that are rented out at low cost to community groups. A weekday coffee bar run by volunteers from the church provides snacks and drinks at affordable prices. In 2016 they celebrated their silver jubilee as the building was opened 25 years ago.
64 For more information about the Amplify Cymru programme, please visit: http://youngfoundation.org/projects/amplify-cymru/
Deeside.com community news forum (Connah’s Quay): Building an online hyperlocal community news forum to project positive stories about Connah’s Quay. Providing a valuable platform for community based initiatives, public events in the town and social entrepreneurs engaging in social business projects. It aims to create increased community cohesion and foster pride and recognition. Community Gym (Connah’s Quay): By working with the Local Education Authority in Connah’s Quay, this project will support local vulnerable children in achieving their best educational attainment through all varieties of sport. Radio Deeside community hub network (Connah’s Quay): Creating a Community hub network, anchored by a building that is accessible to all groups in the community which will also build strong working relationships with other local community services. By creating a unique network between a range of local groups local people will be able to exchange advice, share resources, and pool knowledge to facilitate in providing the best possible service through Connah’s Quay and the surrounding area.
Ninja Kitchen (Aberystwyth): An alternative education community café with a training kitchen and meet-and-greet space, which aims to engage with young people. Targeted at youth 11-16 year olds in Aberystwyth, the project aims to engage and motivate them through training in cookery and front of house skills. The café would also host coffee mornings called ‘knit and natter’ and bring the elderly out of their homes to meet youngsters as a way of promoting cross-generational understanding. Let’s Talk About Food (Aberystwyth): Developing a one-day interactive educational package for primary school children, aged 7 and above, centred on making bread together. The aim of the day would be to provide children with an informative and enjoyable session where they can learn about, and discuss, key foodrelated issues. This includes how food reaches our plates; how land is used; the implications of climate change; the implications of population growth; questions of social justice (from farm to table); and what it means to have a ‘healthy’ diet.
Creating alternatives SHARE – Supporting Homeless, Assisting Refugees Everywhere (Connah’s Quay): A skill-share model that will provide workshops, courses and opportunities to people who are homeless or have been recently housed around Connah’s Quay. The courses are devised in response to participant needs and skill deficits. The aim of SHARE is to break the cycle of homelessness, increase individuals’ chances of remaining in a tenancy and helping them to obtain either paid or voluntary employment.
Tyfu Aber/Grow Aber (Aberystwyth): A network of gardens around Aberystwyth which will provide fresh produce for sale to local businesses including the university, hotels and restaurants, as well as to the public. It will provide volunteering opportunities for the general public and therapeutic placements for people with mental health problems and other special needs, and it will hold courses and other social events in order to share gardening skills with the local community and bring people together around food. Arts on Prescription (Aberystwyth): A programme in partnership with HAUL Arts in Health and the Penparcau Community Forum. The programme will offer residents of Penparcau the opportunity to engage in creative opportunities that will enhance individual self-esteem, health and wellbeing and promote community confidence and cohesion. Proposed initiatives include arts workshops, informal training, peer-to-peer support groups and a toolkit on event planning. Striate Creative Network (Port Talbot): A community focused film and music production-company which aims to get people who have been long-term housebound, unemployed or depressed in Port Talbot involved in being creative and in community activity. The project starts with an online series about Welsh life conceptualized and created by the community.
Aber Food Surplus (Aberystwyth): Aber food surplus aims to reduce food waste by redistributing edible, fit-for-consumption food to contribute to local food security, and to facilitate attitude and behaviour change focused on food sustainability. The project aims to provide volunteering opportunities for the local community, enhancing social capital. Furthermore, the project hopes to develop into a surplus café and ‘hub’ of community activity, inspiring and empowering local people to deliver community-led initiatives and events, for example, skillshares, cookery classes, and courses. 63 |
Why these actions are so valuable These ideas and innovations come from people who are embedded in the local communities and their social networks. The actions that are being taken are often a direct response to the inequalities which are seen every day in their places: “Inequality of opportunities [drives me to keep doing the work that I do]. I want to ensure that the most vulnerable people have access to the services that they need.” (Chris Ryan, Arts on Prescription) In some cases these are inequalities that people have experienced themselves and they want to help others who might face similar challenges. For example, as a child Sera was excluded from school. She now works with other young people at risk of exclusion, running cookery classes: “I want to make the best out of a bad situation. Sometimes it’s their last chance, as most of the kids I work with are on the border of being excluded. I would never give up on them.” (Sera Coles, Ninja Kitchen) They often act on local values to create local solutions to these inequalities which are suited to the needs of the community. They go out of their way to meet the needs of the communities that they work with: “He then went on to pick up several kids from their homes before we went on to meet the rest of the group in the parking lot of a local primary school. Some of the kids were still asleep when we arrived and [coordinator] gave them half an hour to get ready and promised to come back shortly. He wasn’t angry or annoyed; he joked with their parents and it was clear that he had established strong relationships with the families. He wanted as many kids as possible on the bus.” (field notes from a day trip with young people run by the Youth Justice Team in Aberystwyth)
Local activists and change-makers often encourage others to do the same, acting as a catalyst for social action: “So you have to know the area really well. I say to anyone who starts to have a little walk around the estate. You need to know your patch and you need to be visual on your patch. You need to get to know people and that takes so long.” (Manager, Communities First, Connah’s Quay) This demonstrates the value of communityled or place-led action; people who are locally based are able to respond directly to the locally-specific inequalities and values at work. They are more likely to understand the everyday nuance of life in communities, they have relationships and credibility with local people, and they can tailor-make their responses to the needs of the community that they serve. People who have taken part in the Amplify Cymru Accelerator were creating solutions which valued local community and place. Similarly to the way local festivals celebrate community strengths or assets of different kinds they wanted to bring people together around this value: “I like seeing people come together and facilitating that.” (Ruth Flatman, St. Paul’s) It speaks to the hope of seeing community rebuilt which was a key aspiration for each of the case study areas: “It was a community. But then it seemed to fall apart. And now it’s coming back together again.” (Volunteer, Penparcau Community Forum)
What challenges are there for community-based action? A challenge for community-based action is recognition, and having the right tools to convince others you can take valuable actions. These tools are often cast in the language of resource, whether economic or social. The resources you have at your disposal are especially significant. Whether you have other responsibilities or commitments, whether you are able to financially support yourself whilst doing things with very little if any financial return, and whether you can invest time in achieving the skills you need or actions you want to take. As section 2 shows, social relationships and status – who you are, and what your background is, or the community you come from – plays into change-making: “There is a certain group of people who are more likely to have the opportunity to get involved in things, and that is unfortunate, but it’s a fact of life isn’t it, and part of it is to do with being self-confident, part of it is to do with being educated and articulate and linked into networks of communication from which a lot of people are excluded for one reason or another. I don’t know how you bridge that gap when setting up projects.” (Innovator, Aberystwyth) There is a perception that you need to meet certain criteria as a person in order to create meaningful action. People who have been able to achieve traction for their efforts in communities comment on how their background helped them to be the kind of person that was able to do this: “My background and profile helped the forum in the early stages, as I had existing knowledge, networks and expertise on how to access funding, or fill out grant applications from my previous roles.” (Co-ordinator, Penparcau Community Forum)
The networks and relationships that exist in the community are also viewed as a key asset in the ability to take action across the three towns: “My biggest support has been community connections. In a lot of ways we can help each other. In some cases connect and do joint projects and in other ways we support each other in using each other’s services.” (Anne-Marie Lloyd, Striate) Community backing is key in people being able to find encouragement from others for the things that they are doing: “We have also been helped and encouraged by others in our community and others in this group.” (Chris Byrne, Aber Food Surplus) Backing, especially financial, often needs to come from outside the community. There are other significant relationships people need to build – with funders and decision makers. People need to be able to break through or into certain networks to achieve this. They often need to overcome top-down policy development which can assume policy makers have the ability to know what is best for the community. It is also understood within these communities that, in order to take meaningful action, you need to be able to bridge a divide between policy makers and communities, in the areas we explored only certain people are currently able to achieve this. It can be difficult to be empowered to make the right relationships and to have the knowledge of who to speak to and how to access them (as well as success if they managed it): “My biggest hindrance has been not knowing who to talk to. So many phone calls and emails bounce back. It is very hard to target certain people especially in big organisations – so I usually get nowhere. Learning to find the exact person who has enough interest/ power to help you is very difficult. Websites are usually very unhelpful.” (Chris Byrne, Aber Food Surplus)
There is also a feeling that you need certain characteristics to create change: characteristics identified by innovators include being selfconfident, educated, articulate and linked in to networks. This can leave some people feeling that they can’t make change happen in this way. Sophie runs a local business in Connah’s Quay, which she originally set up with the aim of working for vulnerable women, such as those who had escaped domestic violence. She spent a long time talking about her experience of setting up a business, including accessing business support: “It was something that I wouldn’t normally do, it was out of my comfort zone to ask for help but starting a business, I didn’t have..., I’m not very good academically with pens and paper… I’m not very good with that, I’m more of a practical person.” Sophie overcame this barrier and, after getting help, managed to put together a business plan. However she also had to take the further step of accessing start-up capital: “I had to go in front of a funding board then over in Swansea. Never again. It was a big, massive, long hall and there was a table at the bottom with four people sitting on it. I stupidly wore heels. I was clip-clopping all the way and I was so nervous, I was like that with my business plan walking all the way down. It was so frightening it was like something out of parliament.” This demonstrates the interaction of, in this case, funding environments, and individual agency, experience and level of confidence; changing the environment or Sophie’s level of confidence, or both, could have made this funding more accessible to Sophie’s business. Lack of confidence is seen to be something that prevents people from acting across Wales. This view is seen to be prevalent at both a national level: “…we are too afraid to fail… we have to be prepared to say ‘this might work – let’s have a go’ and suspend our presumption in society that everything will fail…” (Director, Employment Sector, Wales)
And at a local level: “The biggest hindrance was probably my own lack of self-belief in my ability to create all this from scratch.” (Lowri Earith – SHARE) Although developing relationships with those outside of the community may be seen as an imperative, they are also seen to make action more complex and introduce a further level of bureaucracy which can be off-putting or jeopardises community relationships, because it slows everything down and looks like things have been abandoned again: “So when you start to talk to the institutions around you… the wheels start to turn slow. And that’s really hard. And you know, maybe not their fault or whatever, just the processes they go through, or just the way it is, really. It’s really hard. But that turns into a negative sort of image… When we start to involve others around us, some of those things start to slow down; and therefore the community is then saying ‘What’s going on? What’s happening?’ And that can be a problem.” (Co-ordinator, Penparcau Community Forum) Bureaucracy not only slows down attempts, but that and other resources needed also present barriers to specific kinds of action. Likewise, an experience has been that trends in how communities should be worked with, or issue-based action have undermined the local knowledge in places about how to support people: “Unfortunately we did lose so much youth work in Wales… At that time it had to be structured, because they were getting money off Communities First for deprived areas: ‘Oh right, we’ll change the deprivation, we’ll teach them how to cook beans on toast…’ We spent a fortune as a youth service in Wales on all these cooking kits. Then somebody came up with a thing, hang on, they haven’t got food hygiene certificates, so every youth worker had to go on a food hygiene course. Then, somebody came in, inspect the kitchen, ‘You can’t teach cooking in here, this kitchen’s not up to it,’ so all this kit was just put in the corner… It was taking away, I feel, from the fundamentals of youth work where you say to youngsters, ‘What do you want to do tonight?’ ‘I want to go sit in a corner and have a chat to you.’ ‘Alright, anyone else want to come?’ ‘We want to play football.’ ‘Chris, take them over there, play football.’” (Gareth, Community Centre Manager, Port Talbot)
The danger is that this kind of top-down and short-term funding and policy making may have lasting effects on local knowledge and expertise which has been painstakingly built up, and indeed the work that people are already doing or can do. Gareth speaks of a woman who uses the community centre for a morning playgroup: “[Name] wants more children in, she needs more children in to carry on… She’s just telling me that Flying Start have taken a lot of work off her, because Flying Start is a free government thing. And, you know, you’ve got to pay her because she has to hire the room and everything… She was here long before Flying Start started, and I should imagine flying Start are hitting lots of people like her who are running things and have been running things for years.”
Community-led suggestions for how to support communities making fairer futures We asked people involved in the communitybased actions we worked with, what support would enable their actions and innovations to flourish. Their ideas and suggestions are summarised below:
We should be celebrating the change makers! Recognising what people are doing in the communities to make change happen.
We would like the things that we are doing to be recognised and supported – through the business environment, through linking up with others, by being able to access networks which we’ve felt we’ve been excluded from.
We would like better marketing and telling of the good stories, not just the bad ones – we want to see alternative media outlets, and local press celebrating the good things going on in each town.
We would like not to be scrutinised by outsiders for all the wrong reasons, but to be recognised for the right reasons too.
We would like recognition of the hidden poverty that exists and responsibility from all people and organisations in a place towards fighting it.
We would like to be involved. We would like to be the drivers of decisions at a local level. We want to be part of development, not have it done to us.
We would like recognition of how hard community organisations work – often doubling up to facilitate important networks and to provide essential support that is being lost elsewhere. We want people to recognise that despite all of the things we are doing, we can’t do it alone. We need help and support to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to ‘get on’ in these places that they love and care for.
Conclusions This report has revealed that ‘place’ is an important way for people across Wales to think about and understand concepts such as inequality and social responsibility and how to create a fairer, more just society. There is a strong sense that communities are experiencing increasing uncertainty and instability in terms of knowing how they will create and live their lives into the future. Changes to industry, and the economy more generally, have had serious impacts on livelihoods and economic development across Wales, and recent reports and prominent narratives suggest that this is a source of depression and deprivation in the area. In addition some have argued that there is a lack of an entrepreneurial class, willing to take risks or innovate. This depiction is a lens through which people view places and the potential of communities, as well as their apparent needs and dependencies. Listening to and working with the community in different ways, our research has added complexities to this picture and found that such an approach is limited in its ability to create a fairer society for all. We have found that people feel that development has been done to them, often focused around negatives. They feel uninvolved and unheard. Fear of change and loss has been a part of people’s lives, as has a lack of voice or ability to participate in decision making about what is happening in the places they love. These concepts are significant because they bring to light the centrality of culture, value and sociocultural relationships in people’s lives. They help explain how people feel and they are a largely ignored aspect of development or renewal investment.
But in each community there are alternative narratives about what each place means, what and where community strengths and assets are, which don’t fit with this dominant picture. We found and were told about activities which helped others in the community and specifically tackled inequalities. People are often creative and innovative: there is rising recognition of alternative possibilities and so people are increasingly deploying their skills and knowledge to create new ways of tackling old problems locally. Despite the considerable challenges they are trying to take actions to create new pathways and opportunities for people to get on in their towns and communities and flourish. They need support to do this, but it should be support which recognises what they are already doing and starts from where they are. The challenge is amplification of what is going on in these communities more widely. We hope this report has partly helped to do this, to bring the voices, ideas and actions that people are taking in their places to the forefront to help recognise their value and merit. More broadly we need to listen to these ideas and support them: allowing for positive development of place that is inclusive and participatory.
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The importance of place for understanding inequality and taking action in Wales.