BRYNCYNON

ynys-boethBryncynon by the first chairman of the Bryncynon Revival Strategy.

I know there are many tales about how it all started but this is my account as best as I can remember it?

I first became involved back around 1992 when I received a phone call from Mrs June Hollister inviting me to a meeting as she felt there was a need for a footbridge to enable the people of the Tynte to cross the railway line so they could walk their dogs.

The meeting packed the lower vestry of All Saints church and was attended by Cynon Valley Borough councilors Stuart Gregory, Ann Williams Alwyn Howell and Albert Davies. The late Ffancon Edwards who was the county councilor for Penrhiwcieber also came along.

It was pretty soon apparent that most had gone along to vent their anger over the lack of facilitates in the area.

 It was a bit like a fairground shooting gallery and we were the ducks.

There was no Chairman, no order and left me feeling a bit shell shocked (“Welcome to the world of local politics”?)

It came as a shock to receive a call a week or two later from Philip Jenkins (a resident that I only knew as a nodding acquaint at the time, but went on to become a good friend)

Phil invited me to a follow up meeting but at first I was reluctant to attend, but he explained the he was going to chair the meeting and would ensure order.

True to his word it was again a packed meeting but  an orderly meeting with a lot of positives and a commitment to form a Residents Group and Phil was to be chairman.

We had a few meetings before Phil invited me to a public meeting at the community center to listen to a chap who could maybe help.

When I arrived at the meeting (late) Bryn Israel had already started and was outlining some ideas to get thing going.

I must admit that it all seemed a bit “pie in the sky” as after all this was The Tyne are we were talking about and who had the expertise in this area?

Bryn assured us that local people could drive this forward.

Somewhat skeptical I agreed to come on board but I honestly felt it would probably go no further?

Bryn had found out somehow that the Cynon Valley BC had access to a pot of some quarter of a million pounds for this sort of thing and we could then match it with European money that could’ve increased the pot up to a million pounds.

The meeting agreed to take Bryn on as their development worker/Manager to start the ball rolling.

A Steering Group was elected with Phil as the leader.

Months of frantic meeting went on with Bryn working from an office in the clinic on Avondale street and soon there was a post for assistant and the job was advertised and Phil Jenkins was included on the short list.

I was on the interviewing panel and in all honesty he was streets ahead of the other candidates and was given the job, so now we had two workers.

 Scott Smith who was the general manger at nearby AB Metals was elected as the new chairman as Phil couldn’t do it as he was now a paid employee.

Scott also supported us by allowing his company’s HR/Wages department to help with our employment needs.

Moving on a bit now and we were looking for a permanent base and the old Library at the top of Walsh Street was empty but not for sale so we looked at the couple of empty houses at the corner of Main Road that were empty and eventually the builders moved in and couple of months later we moved in.

There were offices, a cafe and a computer training suit that was to introduce residents into the emerging computer world.

We were helped in a big way by Graham May who worked as a development officer with the council and proved to be one of our biggest assets as he, Bryn & Phil hit it off in a big way.

At a meeting at the community center Scott announced that he was resigning and I was elected in his place.

 I was now an Independent county councilor with Rhondda Cynon Taf and one of our first visitors was the first Mayor of RCT Councilor Russell Roberts who also became a big fan of what we were trying to achieve.

Our Steering Committee was working well and Bryn’s ideas that local residents could make proper decisions proved true and it was refreshing to work with people like Margaret &John Coleman who while not having academic qualifications they had plenty of tuop and could ask some very searching questions.

One Monday morning Phil phoned to say that a notice had gone up on at the clinic to say that this would be the last baby clinical as the Health Authority was closing it.

This was devastating news as while we were trying to widen services for residents, the Heath Authority were going to remove a vital service to young mothers in a deprived area.

Didn’t they realize what was going on in Bryncynon?

Time for some direct action!!!?

Armed with my video camera I asked the young mothers to tell me through the video what the closure would mean to them and their children, s health.

I sent the video to the Chief Executive at Prince Charles Hospital and within three days they were asking us to go over and have a meeting.

The meeting turned out much better than we could have hoped for as they not only agreed to keep the baby clinic open but offered to sells the building for a peppercorn (£5 i believe) but offered to pay to rent for a room to use for the mother baby clinic.

On top of this they appointed a senior manager to sit on our steering group to give advice and link into health matters.

The next step was to form a proper limited company with directors and employ more staff.

I was extremely proud that the first AGM appointed me as their new Chairman.

We employed a finance director along with another admin assistant and took on a trainee computer with support from Pontypridd’s Glamorgan University to run the computers.

The whole thing was starting to come together when cracks started to show in Bryn & Phil’s relationship. Bryn was a “slow and sure wins the race” sort of bloke while Phil was more of a get up and go sort of bloke.

I think the problem was that Bryn had taught Phil so well that Phil felt he wasn’t being used enough?

Ann Bolton who had worked with Bryn before now joined the team as a development worker.

Now Bryncynon was getting a reputation for what we were achieving and numerous visitors came to see us. We had a high profile visit from a European Commissioner as well as Glenys Kinnock who was a European MP at this time and was interested in the work we were doing to promote women’s rights and values as we were now working with local schools to try to find ways that mothers who had not achieved themselves could explore ways that they could help their children with their education.

Peter Hain MP and Anne Clwyd MP also came to have a look and everything was going along when Bryn dropped a bombshell.

He asked for a meeting in which he announced that he was leaving.

Even though he didn’t have a job to go to, Bryn felt that the Strategy was at a stage that it could go on by itself and within a few weeks he was gone.

So now we were in a position that our old leader Phil Jenkins had left, he had taken up a similar post elsewhere and with Bryn also gone Anne Bolton was steering the ship.

A couple of months later I found the strain of constant meetings almost on a daily basis was starting to stress my to the point that I had to speak to Anne about it and asked them to slow my involvement down, but even though they said ok it remained constant.

 I woke up one morning and felt I too had gone as far as I could and reluctantly wrote my resignation letter.

Probably the most high profile visitor was Prime Minister Tony Blair.

I received a call from Anne Bolton, swearing me to secrecy and telling me to turn up at the Main Road offices the following morning to meet the PM.

tony blair 001It all came about because of the leadership battle going on at the Welsh assembly. Rhrodri Morgan was a strong challenger and Blair was doing a tour of South Wales to bolster the prestige of Labour’s preferred candidate Alun Micheal and they used Bryncynon as a opportunity to bring him down to the area to increase their candidates profile on tv and the Welsh media.

Word had got around and as he was getting out of his car, well known Socialist and Miners activist Harry Parfit came down the road on the way to the local shop.

“how about the compensation due to miners?” Harry shouted, rather sheepishly Tony Blair said “it was all in hand” he told Harry that they would be discussing it that afternoon. but Harry wasn’t giving up and reminded Blair that no payments that had been promised had yet to be paid out.

From there it was on to the Main Road Offices where he was shown all that was going on. My job turned out to be looking after Alun Micheal who was a bit left out as everyone was buzzing round the PM. Alun Micheal turned out to be a real nice down to earth man who had a passion for what we were doing as he had been in this type of work in the past and was extremely knowledgeable in the subject.

Bryn had been invited but as usual,stayed in the background but I felt he should be getting more recognition for what he had achieved so I said to Blair, in my loudest voice, “Prime Minister? Let me introduce you to the father of this baby”

Bryn was pushed forward and he and the PM spoke at length before Blair told him he should be proud of what he had achieved.

Five minutes later and he had gone.

I did make my feeling felt that I thought it was appalling that Phil Jenkins had not been invited. That did not go down well though but I felt it had to be said because local people were asking and it was so obvious due to his absence on what had been Bryncynon’s “special day” and he most certainly should have been first on the list.

Anne did good holding job but after a couple of years she too had enough and took up a post with the local authority.

The dawn of a new age.

The new person to run the project was Michelle Lenten-Johnson who had worked for RCT’s Economic Development Department for many years and she brought a new dynamism to the job and was given the title of Chief Executive.

The whole project took a giant leap forward with a much more professional stamp on the way it was run.

Michelle looked at the bigger picture as far as funding was concerned and set her sight on The Big Lottery Fund.

“Healthy Living” was the new buzzword in fundraising circles coupled with the funding that could be accessed through the Welsh Government’s Community’s First project now that it had included the Bryncynon area.

A new logo and a renaming to “The Strategy”  was another change brought in.

 Michelle thought The Strategy should face up to the challenge of young people not in full time education and how they could help.

There was a big plan that Michelle unveiled to the board that would involve All Saints Church, Bryncynon Community Centre, allotments at Abercynon and local comprehensive schools.

The church underwent a massive refurbishment (lottery money) that turned it into a multi purpose building with conference facilities and a restaurant to service it. The beauty of it was that it is still used as a church for services and funerals.

The community center’s committee was struggling so The Strategy took over the running of that building and the unused allotments at the sports center were also purchased.

Using young people who’d not engaged in education and working with Mountain Ash comprehensive school they started teaching them horticultural skills while clearing the allotment site and installing a pollytunnel

Similarly young girls were being taught health and beauty skills at the community center.

The idea was that as they learned employable skills so they would realize that they needed the educational skills to do the job.

That’s where Mountain ash Comprehensive came in as a partner and it seemed to work in more than one case.

This project was called The Green Valley Project and won the Big Lottery prize that saw Michele invited on the Lottery show and pressed the “magic button” to start the balls rolling.

Other projects were a garden of remembrance where residents could go to remember loved ones in a peaceful area.

Other visitors included the Welsh Government’s First Minister Carmen Jones and Enzo Calzaghe father and trainer of world champion Joe.

But things were not all sweetness and light, the Strategy bought the derelict Avondale Club but was considered a white elephant in lots of people’s eyes.

Cracks started appearing with the style with which some residents thought Michelle was ” leading the directors by the nose” and this was further compounded by changes in Community’s First that meant that Bryncynon Community First was losing its independence and would have to amalgamate with others.

Couple that by some extension of its center core that saw the running of shops and cafes in other areas and opposition from local people complaining over plans to extend the community center and the cracks got bigger.

At the following AGM it was Philip Jenkins local people looked to try to repair what appeared to be an even widening gap and elected him as Chairman.

Phil is back in the hot seat, the Bryncynon Revival Strategy has turned full circle.

Where will it go from here?

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