Blog Written by Dr Martin O’Neill
On the 9th November 2016 the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University through their Strong Communities Healthier People (SCHeP) community engagement initiative hosted a visit from the Chinese Academy Of Social Sciences (CASS) which is the premier social science research institution in the People’s Republic of China.
The aim of the visit was to acquaint the Chinese delegation with the history, heritage and the wider social environment of the Cardiff city region and to give them the opportunity to meet people from the community who have been working with the University on various community regeneration initiatives. Many of the visitors had never visited the UK and had certainly never visited the South Wales Valleys, so this opportunity provided a very new experience for them.
The visit commenced with a quick introduction to the historic Cardiff Castle and Glamorgan Building, the latter of which now houses the school of social sciences but was previously the home of Glamorgan County Council. The visitors were told how the wealth that flowed out of The Valleys in the form of iron and coal led to the growth of Cardiff as a city and as and international port.
Following the brief introduction to the historical roots of Cardiff and the surrounding area the tour of the Valleys continued with a drive along the Taff valley taking in the sites of some of the former coal mining areas and the visitors were given examples of how the area had changed over the past fifty years particularly since the demise of coal mining in the late 1980s. The first stop on the journey was a visit to the village of Aberfan which was directly linked to the legacy of coal mining. Aberfan was the site of a tragic disaster in 1966 when a coal waste tip collapsed on to the local school killing 144 people mainly children.
The visitors at the disaster memorial above the village of Aberfan
The Chinese visitors visited the memorial garden to the disaster which is located on the former site of the school and then the group took a guided strool up the mountain to where the victims of the disaster are buried. The story and aftermath of the disaster was explained to the visitors and of how the community of Aberfan has sought to survive and rebuilt in the face of this terrible disaster and the following loss of the coalmine, which was a major employer in the area.
The visitors are introduced to the local delights of Welsh Cakes and Bara Brith
The next stop on our journey to Merthyr Tydfil was a visit to the 3Gs Development Trust in the north of the county borough. The communities of Gurnos, Galon Uchaf, Penydarren, and Dowlais which are served by the 3Gs Development Trust are some of the poorest in what is a poor region. The development Trust acts as the main vehicle for delivering the Welsh Government’s Communities First initiative which is a programme aimed at tackling poverty at community level. During our time at the 3Gs the visitors were able to meet with community development workers and community members to discuss how community development works in practice and be told of the day to day challenges the teams face.
The visit was a great success for all involved, the Chinese visitors were able to get a very real practical perspective of the wider historical and social environment of the Cardiff City region and the groups that we visited in Merthyr Tydfil genuinely welcomed the visitor’s interest in the work they were involved in and the opportunity to hear how people involved in similar activities work in another part of the world. Les Dobson the lead officer for the Communities First North Cluster said:
“It is always a pleasure to act as host especially when received with such enthusiasm and sincere interest. I know myself and all of the team who engaged found the experience to be one of honest exchange and inquisitiveness for all the right reasons.”