By Dr Martin O’Neill
For the third year Strong Communities Healthier People (SCHeP) supported the Merthyr Rising Festival, particularly through our sponsorship of the Waun Common debates.The Merthyr Rising festival ran this year from 22-28 May with a number of run up events which culminated in the main festival that occurred over the weekend of 26, 27, and 28 May.
On the Wednesday before the festival, SCHeP organised a screening of a film that had been created by local childeren from Panyscallog Primary School in partnership with older people from the community and Richard Jones, an award winning photographer. The film explored how the local industries linked to the production of energy in the area had changed over the decades, moving from extractive coal to the more renewable wind and solar. And how this had impacted on the community over the years and what it meant to local young people. The film can be viewed here https://vimeo.com/210261281.
The main festival is always held as near to the date of the original uprisings, which occurred in early June 1831, but were the culmination of unrest in the town throughout May. This resulted in local people sacking the local debtors’ court and taking back property that had been taken from them, shouting “Caws a bara!” (“Cheese and bread) and marching to local pits to persuade men to stop work. The government sent in the army to try and regain control of the town, which led to a stand-off at the site of the Castle Hotel, which is now used as the epicentre of the festival itself.
The Merthyr Rising festival originated four year ago as a small one-day event but has now grown to a weeklong series of events attracting thousands from all over Britain and Europe. Cardiff University became involved three years ago with the inception of SCHeP and have taken the role of sponsoring and supporting the Waun Common Debates. These debates have been organised to commemorate the spirit of some original debates. These were held on the 30 May 1831 on the Waun Common, above Merthyr Tydfil, in the run up to the insurrection where workers gathered from the surrounding towns and villages to discuss the topical issues of the time.
The festival was honoured this year to have the debates launched on Friday by the Honourable Teresita de Jesus Vicente Sotolongo – the UK Cuban Ambassador. The Ambassador was welcomed to the festival by Gareth Chapman, Chief Executive of Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council and also by local politicians Dawn Bowden AM and Gerald Jones MP. The Ambassador, in conversation with Rob Griffiths (General Secretary of the Communist Part of Britain), provided this inaugural session of this year’s debate with a fascinating account of life in Cuba after Castro.
In the past year SCHeP have been working closely with Hope not Hate, a national charity, in Merthyr Tydfil around the theme of mental health and wellbeing and on Saturday, there were two debates on the themes of the impact of austerity on women in the area and the history of immigration.
Among the speakers this year during the debates were former ambassador, historian and human rights activist Craig Murray, Stop the War’s Lindsay German, Communist Party of Britain General Secretary Rob Griffiths, Unison’s Roger McKenzie, stand-up comic and writer Francesca Martinez and Rock Against Racism’s Roger Huddle.
Dr Mike Berry, School of Journalism, Media & Cultural Studies, hosted a panel with broadcaster and filmmaker Ross Ashcroft on the subject of fake news. This session was filmed and broadcast by Russia Today and can be viewed here https://www.rt.com/shows/renegade-inc/390906-fake-news-economy-media/
There were also additional sessions from the economist Steve Keen, writer and journalist Kerry-Anne Mendoza and lawyer, journalist and campaigner Peter Stefanovic. Dr Martin O’Neill from SCHeP chaired a number of the sessions and also facilitated a new session of the debates this year which encouraged to audience to submit their own ideas as to what they wanted debated on the floor.
SCHeP would like to wish the team at Merthyr Rising all the best for the future in what is developing into a landmark festival on the Welsh circuit.