Friday, 22 July 2011

Community Revolutions

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to visit the largest time bank in the whole of the United Kingdom. Located just a stone’s throw from the Fawr, this timebank in Blaengarw, at the top of the Garw valley, has revolutionised this small community since it was established in 2004. Community owned and managed, the timebank project has succeeded in reducing crime, increasing employment levels, providing vocational training, reclaiming colliery land for community use as well as breathing life into abandoned shops by re-opening them as viable businesses. Throughout the project, the local youth have been engaged and made to feel part of the movement.

What has been achieved in Blaengarw in a few short years is incredible and very inspiring. If this can be done so successfully in Blaengarw, why not elsewhere in the valleys? Blaengarw, like many communities in the Rhondda, is isolated and miles from the hustle and bustle of a major conurbation. The people of Blaengarw have turned this to their advantage by uniting the community to provide the kind of services and opportunities that the market has failed to.

Of course, none of the many achievements of the Blaengarw Timecentre would have been possible without community spirit; a quality that is endemic throughout our valleys. This same community spirit can clearly be seen in the people of Maerdy with their determination to save one of the community’s last remaining heritage buildings. Plaid Cymru councillor Gerwyn Evans together with the rest of the ‘Friends of All Saints’ have occupied the church since its last official service at the beginning of the month.

They have shown remarkable resilience in their campaign to save the building before it is sold on the open market or demolished. They are asking for the opportunity and time to raise the money needed to renovate and maintain the building so it can be retained for community use for future generations to come. I have been in touch with the Friends of All Saints from the beginning of their campaign and have corresponded with the Welsh Government and the Church in Wales on their behalf.

Time will tell whether the campaign will be successful or not; I can only hope all the hard work and determination to find a way to retain one of the last old buildings left in Maerdy comes to fruition.

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