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Back to the Future: Pioneering the use of Culture and History for Community Regeneration

On 21st May 2015 Strong Communities Healthier People (SCHeP) hosted the launch of the Welsh Government’s Pioneer Areas initiative (http://bit.ly/1R7XUry ) The aim of this initiative is to  harness the power of the arts, culture and heritage to promote social justice in Wales.  The initiative was developed followinga report by Baroness Kay Andrews OBE to find ways in which cultural and heritage bodies can work more closely together to broaden access to, appreciation of and participation in, culture in ways that contribute to reducing poverty. This report complemented and built on Professor Dai Smith’s report on the Arts in Education which was launched in Swansea on 13 March 2014.

 

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Dr Dave Wyatt (CAER Project), Dr. Martin O’Neill (SCHeP) and Ken Skates Deputy Minister for Cuture

There will be six Pioneer areas throughout Wales covering the whole of the country from North to South and from East to West.  SCHeP hosted the launch event in Cardiff  as part of its Pioneer project initiative Called “From Fort to Pit to Port”.  The aim of this SCHeP initiative is to explore the historic and cultural links between the communities of Cardiff and Merthyr Tydfil and use those as a vehicle for an exploration and celebration of the heritage of the area and how this heritage helps to place South Wales in a global context.

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Dave Wyatt, Ken Skates and some school students who have been taking part in the Caer project

The SCHeP Pioneer initiative developed from some earlier work that we were involved in called unsurprisingly “From Pit to Port” which explored with the Butetown Community the historic and cultural links between the production of coal in the South Wales Valleys and the Somali Community in Cardiff.  The Somali community, mainly located around the Butetown, Grangetown and Riverside areas of Cardiff are one of the longest established Black and Minority Ethnic communities in the most ethnically diverse area of Wales.  They first started establishing themselves in communities around the docks of Cardiff in the 1880s having travelled from what was then known as the British protectorate of Somaliland.  They worked their passage to Cardiff working in the cripplingly hot stokeholds of the steamships that plied the global trade routes at the time.  Their skill was simply being able to move coal but they were good at it and because of that they were in great demand.

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There was a fantastic turn out for the launch of the Pioneer initiative in Butetown Culture and Media Centre (http://bit.ly/1FEXunk )

The From Pit to Port event in Cardiff brought people from the valleys who had dug the coal out of the ground together with those who had shovelled it in to the boilers or who had worked on the ships that had exported the coal and made Cardiff and Wales and international centre of trade. Both had their own experience of working with coal but bringing the two groups together enabled a discussion between them and an exploration and a better understanding of their own experience and of their own communities.

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Part of the initiative is to save the historic Coal Exchange for the people of Wales

Following the success of the From Pit to Port initiative and in response to the Welsh Government’s call for Pioneer initiative proposals the SCHeP team approached Dave Wyatt of the Caer Heritage Project initiative to formulate the From Fort to Pit to Port which will use the award winning work already done by Dave and his team to act as a vehicle to exploring the links Merthyr Tydfil, Cardiff and the rest of the world through the area’s waterways.

 

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Caer Heritage Project (http://bit.ly/1FilvhG )

So there you have it then of how a simple exploration of a different but linked history and culture of different groups in a community centre over a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon can lead to a sharing and a joining of those cultures and can ultimately lead to greater community cohesion and cooperation.  It is early days for the Pioneer Areas project initiative as yet but past experiences of the SCHeP have led us to strongly believe that locally embedded historical and cultural activities can be a very powerful mechanism for developing a strong sense of community and a pride in history and heritage which in turn lays the foundations for a strong future vision, so, as I said, back to the future.

Martin O’Neill May 2015

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