Heritage Lottery Fund

Jan 162017
 

INTRODUCTION

Regular readers will know that one of the ‘staples’ of this blog is the wasting of public funding by Third Sector organisations. Exposing this waste is not something I really enjoy but it’s so prevalent in Wales – and has become worse with devolution – that it just cannot be ignored.

In a very general sense it’s possible to divide most Third Sector organisations into two main groups.

The first is the local group set up to ‘regenerate’ a run-down area, with most of those involved being local people, and a surprisingly high percentage of them having connections with the Labour Party. I say ‘surprisingly high percentage’ because, while less than a third of Welsh voters may now support Labour, the party’s supporters seem to make up a clear majority in this category. Let’s call this the Community sector.

The second is not so easy to categorise. Perhaps the best way to put it is that this group is about things rather than people or a community, perhaps an old building, or a specific area of countryside. Those involved in bodies like this are unlikely to be local. Let’s call this the Conservation sector.

Despite this helpful distinction, there are of course overlaps. But it tends to be one way, with outsiders involved in, often leading, Community groups rather than finding many locals in Conservation projects.

I’ve given you this introduction because it might help with what follows. This post being about two stories breaking that involve one group from each category.

NSA AFAN

As the name suggests, NSA Afan is based in Port Talbot, and its website tells us, “The purpose of the organisation is to support regeneration to enable a better quality of life for people living in the most disadvantaged communities in the Swansea Bay Area.”  (I am grateful to the ever-alert ‘Stan’ of Neath Ferret fame for tipping me off about this story.)

The original media mention on the ninth of this month said that police are investigating the possible misuse of public funds, and tells us, ‘A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: “Following initial investigations into allegations concerning possible misuse of public funds at NSA Afan, we have suspended funding while further investigations are undertaken.”‘

UPDATE 23.01.2017: Funding has now been stopped completely.

The second report, two days later, says, quoting a police source, “We can confirm that South Wales Police has arrested a 35-year-old woman from the Port Talbot area on suspicion of theft on August 11, 2016 following a complaint received from NSA Afan.’

Now in cases like this I make my way to the figures, and so here are the most recent accounts for NSA Afan, these being for year ending 31.03.2016. A quick perusal of the nitty-gritty will tell you that income is falling, dramatically, down from £2,005,262 in 2014 to £1,428,901 in 2015 and £923,210 in 2016.

Even so, you’ll be pleased to know that despite this drop in funding staff costs at NSA Afan for 2016 were still over £800,000. Which means that in 2016 income just about covered staff costs.

‘Ah, Jac, you cynical bastard’ I can hear in the background, ‘that still still leaves a hundred grand to help people, at the Dalton Road Community Employment Academy and the Glyncorrwg Con Club’. Maybe, maybe not.

My equivocation is due to the fact that if we go to the Companies House website, there we find more information on (to give it its full name) the New Sandfields Aberafan and Afan – Community Regeneration, Company Number 03674953. Click on the ‘Charges’ tab and you’ll see that there are nine outstanding Charges against NSA Afan, that is loans or mortgages. Put it all together, the falling income, the high staff costs, payments on loans and mortgages, and it becomes clear that NSA Afan is not in the best of financial health.

In fact, the independent auditors say as much in the Accounts for 2016 (page 21, para 3), where we are warned of ” . . . material uncertainties which may cast doubt about the Charities (sic) ability to continue as a going concern.”

The more generous among you may think that the theft currently being investigated by South Wales Police plays a major role in NSA Afan’s parlous state. Not so. For elsewhere in the Accounts (page 20, para 9) we are told that “£50,000 was refunded by the credit card company during the year, however the remainder of the theft is unlikely to be recovered”.

The “remainder” may be the £46,144 we find on page 28, under ‘Donations and Legacies’. If so, how do we reconcile this amount with the statement quoted in the previous paragraph? Or is the £46,144 part of the £50,000 refunded by “the credit card company”?

Despite the falling income NSA Afan is still expanding. Curious, really, considering it’s a Communities First project and that last October even the ‘Welsh’ Government was forced to admit that Communities First had been a very expensive failure. Among NSA Afan’s recent acquisitions was Youth of Bettws (YOBS). So I made some enquiries.

What I’d assumed to be just a youth club is in fact registered with Companies House, Number 06719083. Under the Charges tab we learn that YOBS has an outstanding loan of £267,350 with the Big Lottery Fund, a loan it took out on June 29th 2011 to buy the leasehold of a former school owned by Bridgend County Borough Council.

The same property is now listed as a Charge against FSA Afan, but the details have changed. On May 27th last year The Big Lottery Fund made a ‘grant’ to NSA Afan of £388,384. This was presumably done to take over the leasehold of the property inherited from Youth of Bettws aka Bettws Boys and Girls Club, but what was the extra £121,034 for?

A question worth asking seeing as the Land Registry document tells us (page 3) that “The value as at 15 August 2016 was stated to be under £100,000”. Maybe NSA Afan is using some of the money it got from The Big Lottery Fund for some other purpose? Apparently not; because the Charge document mentions only the Bettws Boys and Girls Club. (In case you’re wondering, this is a repayable grant, what you and I would call a loan.)

To recap: we have a property, Bettws Boys and Girls Club, owned by a Labour-run council and valued – or possibly the leasehold is valued – at “under £100,000”; but a Labour-controlled, Communities First body goes out on a limb for £388,384 to lease this property! Unless NSA Afan has massive plans for YOBS I do not understand what the hell is going on here. All I see is the regular pattern of public money being shuffled around between Labour-controlled bodies to create the illusion of employment and economic activity.

And what of the Big Lottery Fund? I’m sure most of you think of the BLF as a generous body gifting large sums of money to worthy causes, money we have given to this organisation through playing the National Lottery or its other games. Did you know that the Big Lottery Fund is a commercial lender?

Perhaps lending to groups that might have difficulty getting a loan from a regular financial institution – those it describes as “community and voluntary groups”? I wonder what the interest rates are? And if those groups receiving a loan default, does the BLF take possession?

To conclude. The Communities First scheme operated in the most disadvantaged areas of Wales, in other words, areas controlled by ‘Welsh’ Labour. This gave the party a golden opportunity to engage in cronyism. Which is exactly what it did, and this explains why the Communities First project was such a disaster.

Dealing specifically with NSA Afan, I don’t doubt that someone stole money, but this is not why it’s folding. It’s folding because it was badly run. Even when it was half-way up Shit Creek with income falling it was still taking on new liabilities!

If this refers to 2017 I don’t see much point

As for the alleged theft, how was an individual employed by a body reliant on the public purse able to steal over £50,000 through a credit card? Was there no credit limit on this card? I do hope that the prosecution of this individual is not allowed to distract from the bigger problems at NSA Afan, all of which can be traced back to ‘Welsh’ Labour and the cronyism and nepotism on which it relies.

This system is now so discredited that it places ‘Welsh’ Labour at something of a crossroads. The party can either clean up the Third Sector and perhaps alienate many of those who benefit from it, or else it can stick with this system of corruption and see its electoral support slip even further.

If NSA Afan is – was? – a Community type of Third Sector organisation, this next case is most definitely about a Conservation body . . .

CAMBRIAN HERITAGE REGENERATION TRUST

This outfit has starred more than once on this blog, but before looking at previous posts let’s get the background on the Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust Ltd (CHRT). It was Incorporated with Companies House on February 28th 2003 as Ymddiriedolaeth Atgyfnerthu Treftadaeth Sir Gar (Carmarthenshire Heritage and Regeneration Trust) and appears to have been a joint venture between the County Council and Coleg y Drindod.

Lord Dynevor came on board on April 9th 2003. A few other local worthies joined on the same day, including a Meryl Gravell, described as “Leader of Carmarthenshire County Council”. Another was Roger (now Sir Roger) Jones, then of the Welsh Development Agency, and a former BBC Wales Governor. While yet another director was William Powell Wilkins, who came up with the idea of the National Botanic Garden. Quite a crew.

Though for the purposes of this article I suppose the most important recruit was Claire Deacon, who became a Director on October 8th 2008. At the time, Ms Deacon, based in Marloes, Pembrokeshire, was working as a lecturer and also as a consultant (possibly to the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park). Ms Deacon served as a director until June 9th 2010.

The reason for Ms Deacon resigning as a Director was to take over as CEO, soon after the Trust bought its main project, Llanelly House in Llanelli. Though she rejoined the Board on June 1st 2011 as Secretary.

LLANELLY HOUSE

The name of the body was officially changed, with Companies House, from Ymddiriedolaeth Atgyfnerthu Treftadaeth Sir Gar to Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust Ltd on February 25th 2015. (All the information here, and more, can be found under Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust Ltd on the Companies House website.)

In addition to the main company, there is also the charity of the same name, and down the years there have been a few of what I can best describe as subsidiary companies. The only one I think is worth bothering with is Plas Llanelly House Cyf, where we again find Ms Deacon as Secretary.

Previous posts told how the CHRT is branching out, first to Merthyr, with the purchase of the YMCA building in Pontmorlais, and then in the other direction, down to the ruins of Ystrad Fflur (Strata Florida Abbey) with the purchase of the farm buildings at Mynachlog Fawr. So you may wish to read Ystrad Fflur – The Heritage Industry Moves On and Conserving Heritage, Maintaining Colonialism, both by a guest writer.

The reason for CHRT branching out from Llanelly House was quite simple – the funding was running out, and there was no way that Llanelly House could ever pay its way – and Ms Deacon’s salary – unless a fairy godmother stepped in with oodles of loot.

The time had come to find another project, concoct another ludicrously optimistic business plan, rake in the grants, live high on the hog for a few years, get plenty of good publicity, improve the CV . . . until it becomes clear that this is yet another project that will never survive without the drip-feed of public funding. By which time people like Ms Deacon have usually moved on to the next project. And so it continues. This is the Conservation element of the Third Sector in Wales, and the beneficiaries are almost always, like Ms Deacon, from over the border.

Which brings me to the reason for writing this piece. The word on Stepney Street is that Ms Deacon recently parted company with the CHRT. And when you read the latest accounts you’ll understand why. The auditors state quite clearly (page 11, para 1) that the net deficit at 31.03.2016 of £114,038 “. . . may cast significant doubt about the Charity’s ability to continue as a going concern.”

A number of entries in the Accounts caught my eye, and if I was involved in CHRT or Llanelly House I’d be asking questions about them. The first is to be found on page 18 in ‘Direct Costs of Charitable Activities’, where we are told that in the year that ended 31.03.2016 £262,482 was spent on “Legal and Professional Fees” (£168,146 the previous year). That figure seems very high, and I’d like to have it explained.

Another perplexing entry, on page 26, tells us that . . .

How does the CEO get taken on as a consultant? CEO Claire: ‘Oh, hello, Claire, this Claire here, would you like to work for a while as a consultant, for a much higher rate than your CEO salary?’ Consultant Claire: ‘Well, thank you, Claire, I’d love to‘. This is bizarre, but I’ve reported on it before, so it’s not new to me.

As if the figures for CHRT weren’t bad enough the Plas Llanelly House Cyf Accounts tell us that that venture is sixty-five grand down the Swanee. But perhaps worst of all is that – just as with NSA Afan – in addition to falling income and rising debt there are Charges against CHRT, held by Finance Wales, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Architectural Heritage Fund, and Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council. If the Trust can’t meet its obligations then presumably each of these Charges will become the responsibility of its guarantor, be that the ‘Welsh’ Government, Llanelli town council, or Carmarthenshire county council.

In case the escape plan in the forms of Merthyr YMCA and Ystrad Fflur don’t work out, Ms Deacon has now gone into business on her own account, with Marloes Conservation Ltd. This company was only Incorporated on December 1st (soon after the latest Accounts were published), which lends credence to the suggestion that she is no longer with CHRT. Perhaps she’s had a vision – Meryl Gravell leading the band into Abide With Me as the good ship Llanelly House heaves her last and slips into the abyss.

It will be interesting to see what work comes the way of Marloes Conservation Ltd. And where from.

Although very different in their fields of operation, and those involved, NSA Afan and CHRT have a lot in common.

To begin with, both have swallowed up large amounts of public funding. And now, with both projects in serious financial difficulties, it becomes clear that much of that public funding has been wasted. Which is not to say that some people haven’t benefited from NSA Afan’s courses, or that good work hasn’t been done at Llanelly House, but the issue is surely priorities.

With an economy in serious trouble, with EU funding bound to end soon, how do you feel about paying for classes on ‘The American Century’ in Port Talbot, and a new rococo balustrade for Llanelly House, when sick people have to spend hours on a trolley in our hospitals?

Obviously that money would be better spent on the hospitals, and on training doctors, nurses and other staff we need.

Another troubling issue with these and other projects is the ease with which they secure Lottery funding. In the case of NSA Afan it’s Big Lottery Fund, and with CHRT it’s Heritage Lottery Fund, but it’s still money we’ve given. It’s almost as if Lottery funders take their cue from the ‘Welsh’ Government. Is there a connection?

In a poor country like Wales, what funding we have must, in the first instance, be spent on what we need, and in the longer term there must be investment in making Wales wealthier, not in glossing over the deprivation with publicly-funded Labour cronyism, or by restoring Georgian mansions into which our ancestors would only have been allowed as servants.

It’s long past the time when the ‘Welsh’ Government and the civil servants it claims to control did what other governments across the globe do – prioritise, and stop wasting money we can’t afford to lose.

end ♦

Sep 132016
 

BY A GUEST WRITER

Keeping tabs on the incestuous, grant-fuelled world of the Welsh heritage industry could be a full-time job in itself. It seems there is no end to the number of charitable trusts set up to take advantage of the funding available ostensibly to rescue this or that old ruin or building, with some familiar names cropping up here, there and everywhere, often with tenuous links to our country and its people.

A linguistic digression

Anyone who lives and works in more than one language and has given the matter some thought will tell you that, depending on which language they use, the world can sometimes look rather different. This is often true of conceptual words, for example.

Watching debates in county councils sometimes brings this into sharp focus. One side or the other will table a motion (cynnig = offer, proposal in Welsh). Opponents may then try to change or wreck it by tabling an amendment. In Welsh, that’s a gwelliant (=improvement).

By no means all amendments are a gwelliant.

In English the vast majority of conceptual words are derived from Latin or Greek. Heritage, perhaps appropriately in this context, comes down to us from Norman French and means something you have inherited.

You could inherit a property in Australia or downtown Manhattan without ever having set foot in either place, and your good fortune would be down to luck of the draw and the legal system.

In Welsh the word is treftadaeth, and if we break that word down, as children are encouraged to do at school, we get tref (place/homestead) + tad (father) + aeth, a suffix which very roughly means ‘something to do with’. In other words, places linked to your forebears, an idea not a million miles removed from hen wlad fy nhadau.

The difference between the legalistic connotations of the Norman French and the Welsh word, rooted in real people and places, goes to the heart of the debate which has been raging on the pages of this blog.

Ystrad Fflur

To its credit, the Ceredigion Herald picked up on the recent piece on this blog about plans to ‘enhance the visitor experience’ at Ystrad Fflur and help locals to ‘enhance senses of their own identity and wellbeing’, whatever that means, and it contacted Professor David Austin.

In response to questions, the professor huffed and puffed at some length about the wonderful nature of the site and was clearly reluctant to go into mundane details about what precisely was being planned and where the money was coming from.

When pressed, he gave answers which left a lot of wriggle room.

The Strata Florida Trust has acquired the farmhouse, he said, not mentioning the buildings which cluster around it (although the trust’s website says it has acquired those too).

strataflorida

The money had come from a private donation, and he was not prepared to say more on that subject.

The Acanthus Holden plan (the exclusive hotel with attached visitor centre) was to have been financed privately, but had now been ditched.

The only link to Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust (CHRT, the Llanelly House body) was CHRT’s chief executive Claire Deacon, he claimed.

What happened to the £200,000 donation CHRT received to buy the buildings at Mynachlog Fawr therefore remains a mystery.

Plans, also shrouded in mystery, to develop the old farm, would be financed by a variety of means, he explained:

“There is other funding available to us, which is not Heritage Lottery Fund money, and we are in the process of finalising the arrangements for the allocation of that money to the Strata Florida Trust.”

That does not quite rule out HLF funding, and raises more questions than it answers.

Who is funding this, and why the secrecy? Is cash-strapped Ceredigion County Council involved, for example?

One of the contributors to comments on the original article about Ystrad Fflur suggested that there might be some form of local consultation. In his interview with the Herald, Professor Austin makes no mention of a consultation, and his website is also silent on the subject.

What we are about to get, it seems, is a fully fledged project for the commercial exploitation of Ystrad Fflur with no public consultation and  zero transparency about the details of the development.

Adfer Ban a Chwm

Adfer Ban a Chwm (ABC), or to give it its more prosaic English name, “Revitalise Hill and Valley”, is  another trust, this time registered to an address in trendy Islington, London where Tony and Gordon made their infamous Granita Pact.

Its annual report for the year to 31 March 2015 says that the charity’s objectives “are to preserve for the benefit of the people of Carmarthenshire, Powys, Wales and the Nation” what it terms “constructional heritage”, and in particular the pretty bits.

Presumably “the Nation” is not the same as Wales.

The website expands on this a little, saying that the trust aims to “address the issues of vernacular buildings in rural Wales and the need for affordable housing in the area”.

Adfer Ban a Chwm’s leading light is an architect, Roger Mears, pictured here at what would appear to be the Henley Regatta, old boy:

roger-mears

ABC (it should really be ABCh) was set up eight years ago and appears to have spent most of the period since applying for and receiving grants from, among others, the Brecon Beacon National Park Authority, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Brecon Beacons Trust, the Community Foundation in Wales and the Quaker Housing Trust. More trusts and foundations than you can shake a stick at, in fact.

It is not at all clear what ABC has actually achieved in those eight years apart from a year of planning, researching and writing a report in 2014-15 and raking in grants.

More grant money came in in May 2016 enabling it to proceed with its Grass Roots Heritage Programme, “a one-year project (the first year of a three-year programme) which we hope will identify buildings that we can turn into affordable homes.”

So after all that time, all that report writing and all those (successful) grant applications, it would seem that not a single building has been restored and not a single affordable home created, although the trust hopes to be able to identify potential candidates by this time next year.

Over the next 12 months, therefore, they will carry out “mapping and community work” in and around Myddfai, Carmarthenshire:

“This information will be used to underpin the next stage of the ABC project, and be broadcast widely in a series of interactive community workshops, where the social history of the buildings will be elaborated by gathering local memories and stories, and where community and student volunteers will learn about how to record old buildings, what to look for and what these buildings have to tell us, how they might be repaired and conserved and turned into affordable homes.”

Helping ABC along the way by working with the trust’s executive director on partnerships has been our old friend, Claire Deacon, CEO of Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust, saviour of Llanelly House and the Merthyr YMCA, project director at Mynachlog Fawr, lecturer and consultant, and former conservation officer with the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority.

All in all, then, one of the most successful “Welsh” buildings preservation trusts: loads of grants harvested and no sign of any actual buildings. Perhaps Griff Rhys Jones will turn it into a documentary series.

Golden Grant

Staying in Carmarthenshire for a moment, let’s take a trip to Gelli Aur (or Golden Grove as some would have it), the former home of the Cawdors near Llandeilo.

The huge late Regency pile has been knocked about a bit and badly neglected since the last of the Cawdors moved out in the 1930s. Carmarthenshire County Council, which had a lease on the place, can take credit for the worst of the damage.

At one time the council and the ever-enthusiastic Meryl Gravell hoped to turn the place into a kind of business incubator for media start-ups. Their chosen partner disappeared with a lot of public money which was never seen again. Ever more exotic investors came and went, until finally the house and 100 acres were sold to a London art dealer, Richard Christopher Salmon.

Salmon has renovated a part of the house and made the roof of the main building weatherproof, but one of his first acts after taking over was to set up a trust.

The Golden Grove Trust, which has no known sources of income, was gifted with a debt of £1.45 million by Mr Salmon, a sum which apparently represents the purchase price of the near derelict house and dilapidated grounds. If that was what he actually paid for this massive liability, someone saw him coming.

The debt is due to be repaid – somehow – to Mr Salmon in just over a year from now.

gelli-aur

Filing accounts is clearly not one of Mr Salmon’s favourite activities. The Charity Commission website shows that the 2012-13 accounts were received 583 days late, while the report for 2013-14 was 218 days late. The annual report for 2014-15 is currently 78 days late.

Despite this and the fact that the trust was close to being struck off by the Charity Commission, the charity was last year awarded a grant of just under £1 million by Edwina Hart, Meryl’s old buddy, for the restoration of the park which occupies around 60 of the 100 acres of land and includes, or included (it is difficult to know which tense to use) a public park with a playground, lake, café and arboretum.

The Carmarthenshire Herald reported a couple of weeks ago that there were a growing number of complaints from the public that the park was closing on more and more days, and that public access signs had been removed.

With some difficulty the newspaper managed to track down Mr Salmon who thought, but did not seem very sure, that the closure might have something to do with adverse weather conditions, and concerns of the insurers on health and safety grounds.

Readers in Carmarthenshire may struggle to recall unusually bad weather in recent months, but there you are.

Mr Salmon was clearly not best pleased with critical blog posts and press reports published in 2015, and told the Herald that he could have shut the whole place up and kept it private.

But then Edwina wouldn’t have given him £1 million, would she?

Another one to watch.

This is a local fund run by local people

keep-it-local

“I used to work for Neil Kinnock, you know”

As we have seen, grants are available from all sorts of different bodies, but what the Americans would call the 800 lb gorilla in this jungle is without doubt the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

The fund’s website lists 2,785 projects which have received funding in Wales. Amounts vary from a couple of hundred pounds, to mammoths such as Cardigan Castle (£6.5 million) and Llanelly House (£3.6 million).

The HLF divides the UK into regions and nations, and each of these has its own committee and permanent head. The head of HLF Wales is someone called Richard Bellamy, whose previous roles include working on the Channel Tunnel, the National Trust, English Nature and Cornwall Council. If he has a connection with Wales, he is keeping quiet about it.

The committee, which decides on applications in Wales, currently has eight members, and according to HLF’s website:

“The committees are made up of local people recruited through open advertisement. Committees are supported by grant-assessment teams based in the relevant region or country.”

In theory, then, anyone can apply. Who selects the successful candidates is not clear, but it clearly helps if you have worked for English Heritage or the National Trust and, ideally, come from somewhere in or near Cardiff.

Chairing the committee is the august personage of Baroness Kay Andrews of Southover OBE. Andrews, who grew up at Ystrad Mynach, was parliamentary clerk in the House of Commons before becoming policy adviser to Neil Kinnock, from where she went on to found and run her own charity, Education Extra.

On elevation to the peerage, Andrews clearly felt so strongly about her Welsh roots that she chose Southover in Sussex for her title, and it is from Sussex that she claims travel expenses when going to the House of Lords.

The HLF’s rule on appointing ‘local people’ to the Welsh Committee does not seem to be taken that seriously, but no doubt there was nobody ‘locally’ up to the job, just as there were no suitable Welsh candidates for the post of Head of HLF Wales.

But we should all be grateful, shouldn’t we?

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ End ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Jac says . . . In these recent posts – and, indeed, in the one I’m working on now – we encounter groups and individuals who have hit on a method of subsidising their move to Wales and/or maintaining themselves once they’re here. Human nature being what it is, this is understandable; what is less easy to understand is why these people are being funded.

To explain how this scam system operates . . . let’s say you want to buy and renovate a somewhat dilapidated old house. And let’s say you pay £100,000 for that property knowing that it will cost another £100,000 to restore. That house will therefore cost you £200,000. But that’s a mug’s way of doing things. What those we’re discussing do is buy a property and get someone else to pay for the renovation. Sticking with the same figures, this means that for an outlay of just £100,000 they get a property worth £200,000.

To which you respond, ‘Ah, but Jac, you’ve been on the Malbec again, and it’s making you forget that these are important buildings, of great historical or cultural significance’. I suppress my usual riposte of ‘bollocks!’ to offer the following argument.

If these buildings are indeed of great historic or cultural significance then they should be in public ownership – WELSH public ownership. If they are not of great historic or cultural significance then no public money should be expended, whether directly or in grants to self-appointed ‘heritage trusts’. The worst of all possible options is to have a building or site of genuine national importance privately owned but maintained by public funds.

This is nothing less than submitting to a form of blackmail – ‘This place I own is very important (take my word for it), but if you don’t give me lots of money I’ll let it decay/fall down/ be turned into a burger joint’.

As I and others have argued, Wales needs a new body, answerable to us, the Welsh people, that protects what is important to us and our past with sympathy and respect. A new body to replace the English National Trust, Cadw, and all the strangers in our midst with their grant-grabbing ‘trusts’.

It so happens that the ‘Welsh’ Government is currently inviting observations on ‘Proposals for secondary legislation to support the Historic Environment (Wales) Act 2016 and draft guidance’. The same shower also claims to want ‘your views on this technical advice note which provides detailed planning advice on the historic environment in Wales’.

So tell them what you think they should do, the deadline is October 3rd.

Sep 022016
 

BY A GUEST WRITER

Ystrad Fflur, or to give it its ‘English’ name, Strata Florida, is a quiet, remote and beautiful place. The Cistercians chose it as a site to build a great abbey and monastery precisely because it was off the beaten track, with huge expanses of grazing for their sheep and cattle and plentiful water from Afon Fflur, a tributary of the Teifi.

There are ruined monastic sites with more to see, but Ystrad Fflur has enough to fire up the imagination, and you can spend an hour or two wandering around with the place pretty much to yourself, except for a couple of times a year when Cadw puts on events to bring in the crowds. The highlight this year is a “Spooky Halloween Day” when you can follow a secret trail to discover ingredients for a witch’s spell.

Quite what Rhys ap Gruffudd, the abbots and monks would have felt about this combination of commercialised Anglo-American popular culture and the occult is not difficult to imagine because the whole point of Ystrad Fflur was to be a beacon of Welsh Christianity and culture, and a counterweight to the increasingly intrusive Anglo-Normans with their policies of military control and colonial assimilation.

What keeps the hordes away is in part the almost complete lack of facilities (no gifte shoppes or tea rooms here), partly the remoteness of the place, and partly because to make sense of Ystrad Fflur and why these fairly modest piles of stone are so special, you need to know something about Welsh history and culture. There is a sense of deep and abiding Cymreictod about Ystrad Fflur, and to understand the place is to understand the dreams and hopes of this nation.

Enhancing the visitor experience

All of this may be about to change thanks to some heritage industry “charities” which want to ‘enhance the visitor experience’ with government grants and huge dollops of money from the Heritage Lottery Fund in a scheme which would keep their bosses in clover for decades to come.

Brace yourselves for the Abbot’s Bar & Bistro serving heritage monks’ brew, herbal liqueurs made to ancient and “long-lost” secret recipes, sustainable medieval burgers and Brother Anselm’s Amusement Park for the kiddies.

The site is owned by the Church in Wales and managed by Cadw which sensibly closes the place for 5 months a year, but  visitors who want to save themselves a few quid and don’t mind the winter weather can nip over the fence and wander round for free.

strataflorida

The threat to Ystrad Fflur as we know it comes not from Cadw directly, although Cadw executives are almost certainly cheering it on, but from two charities called the Strata Florida Trust and the Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust, formerly known as Ymddiriedolaeth Atgyfnerthu Treftadaeth Sir Gâr.

High Tea in the Trenches

For those of you reaching for your dictionaries, that splendid name translates as the Carmarthenshire Heritage Regeneration Trust, and it was under the Welsh name that the trust carried out the restoration of the Georgian patrician residence known as Llanelly House.

There was always something a little odd about the use of that Welsh name to cover all the sensitive financial and legal stuff, while steadfastly refusing to drop that Anglicising ‘y’ from Llanelly.

If Ystrad Fflur was built to be a beacon of Welsh culture against the rising tide of Anglo-Norman influence, the ‘y’ in Llanelly signifies that here is a genteel oasis of English culture in a sea of rough Welsh working class awfulness. More Gilbert and Sullivan than Sosban Fach.

Running the show in Llanelli is CEO and Company Secretary Claire Deacon, originally from Southampton, who says that she is passionate about restoring old buildings. The £7 million restoration of the Georgian mansion in Llanelli was indeed a fine piece of work, funded by the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Welsh European Funding Office and ‘Welsh’ Government, with enthusiastic backing from Carmarthenshire County Council and the veteran Cllr Meryl Gravell.

Cllr Gravell, never a shrinking violet, likes to use Llanelly House as a backdrop for some of her many media appearances as evidence of how, in her own mind at least, she has transformed the town’s fortunes.

Other visitors come to enjoy a Palm Court High Tea, tapas evenings, murder mystery events, ‘Afternoon Tea with the Harmony Wellbeing Charity’, displays of military medals and Dad’s Army costumes, a Somme exhibition – and a special treat – a special showing of one (yes, 1) of those ceramic poppies previously displayed at the Tower of London.

What could be more patriotically British than a nice scone, a cup of Darjeeling and a lot of sanitised, misty-eyed reminiscence about British military achievements, minus any references to awkward characters such as Hedd Wyn or the criminal incompetence of the top brass?

Village People

Fresh from the triumph in Llanelli, Ymddiriedolaeth Atgyfnerthu Treftadaeth Sir Gâr cast around for more Carmarthenshire buildings to save, and discovered the old YMCA building in Merthyr Tydfil.

A quick glance at the map showed the trustees that there was just one small problem here – Merthyr is not in Carmarthenshire. So the name and the ‘operational footprint’ of the charity were eventually changed to the more English-friendly Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust.

Once again, the trust managed to trouser phone-number size grants from the Welsh Government and local council as well as £2.6million from the Lottery. The plan was to bring ‘café society’ and 877 sq. m of new offices and work space for “the modern creative industries and the traditional professions” (a description that covers all eventualities from software development to massage parlours) to the good people of Pontmorlais, but so far it appears to have just been used for ‘reminiscing days’ and free tours of an empty shell for school kids.

Just how little progress has been made in the years since the trust acquired the YMCA building can be see from this family snapshot:

Merthyr YMCA Facebook

In the red

The Llanelly House project overran significantly in terms of time and money, but is now finally up and running. In the trust’s accounts for 2014-15 the chairman notes, “It is essential that we develop the skills and vicissitude necessary to ensure that Llanelly House becomes a sustainable business so that it act (sic) as a model and example to our future projects”.

The latest annual report which, incidentally, would fail an English GCSE examination badly, goes on to note that visitor numbers, average spend and the commercial operations at Llanelly House did not meet expectations, something which “has lead (sic) to the shortfall”.

The extent of the shortfall becomes apparent when we read the independent auditors’ report which notes that the trust had a deficit of unrestricted funds of £59,910 at 31 March 2015, “ indicating the existence of a material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt about the Charity’s ability to continue as a going concern.”

Needless to say, the charity’s director trustees took a different view, saying that they should still be considered a ‘going concern’ because (a) they have reached an agreement with Llanelli Town Council to defer indefinitely the repayment of a working capital loan, although it is doubtful if Llanelli Council tax payers have been consulted, and (b) put in place a ‘turnaround strategy’ for the activities of their commercial operating subsidiary running Llanelly House, which is running at a loss.

In addition to Llanelli Town Council, another major creditor is Finance Wales, and the accounts show a total of £437,527 outstanding in working capital loans. The trust is also pinning its hopes on renegotiating terms with Finance Wales, and a growing stream of consultancy revenue provided by CHRT Ventures Ltd.

This last hope remains something of a mystery, but consultancy is clearly something the CHRT trustees are very keen on. Claire Deacon (CEO and Company Secretary, remember) was paid £56,787 in consultancy fees, and the charity also spent £2,000 on undefined (consultancy?) services from CHRT Ventures Ltd, as well as borrowing £14,720 from the same source. Not to mention other services and loans provided by another company in the same group, Plas Llanelly House Cyf. (There was even Llanelly House Trading Ltd., which bit the dust in December 2014. Jac.)

All very odd.

In common with so many other modern, forward-looking charities, Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust (CHRT) is almost completely dependent on grants. Income for 2014-15 was £724,460, of which donations accounted for just £1,325.

Another change of operational footprint

Material uncertainty, targets not met, hope that the creditors will be forgiving, hopes of future consultancy income, lots of peculiar inter-company magic and rather less than bugger all in the bank. Combine that with the Chairman’s barely coded warnings that the charity has got to up its game, and you might think that the trustees would be wondering where their CEO (appointed back in 2011) is leading them.

With Llanelly House now finally up and tottering towards an uncertain future, and the prospect of another large project in Merthyr looming, you would think that the trustees’ enthusiasm for yet another ambitious scheme might have been exhausted, but in that same annual report for 2014-15 we read that the trust was ploughing ahead with the acquisition of Mynachlog Fawr (or Great Abbey Farm) at Ystrad Fflur.

A single donation of £200,000 was received in May 2014, and the trust took out an option to buy. The annual report notes that the lawyers were dealing with this while Ms Deacon “concentrates of (sic) further fundraising with our project partner, Professor David Austin”, about whom more in a moment.

Strangely, since the report was published, the farm was acquired not by CHRT but the Strata Florida Trust, chaired by Professor Austin, in July of this year.

Claire Deacon has come on board as Project Director for the Strata Florida Centre Project, reporting to the Strata Florida Trust, while Professor Austin will run a separate “Strata Florida Research Project” in parallel.

How CHRT fits in with all this is not at all clear, even though in its 2015 report CHRT was manifestly confident that it would be running the show and had received a £200,000 donation towards it.

The board of the Strata Florida Trust is made up of various academics, the great and good and a retired British Army Lieutenant-General, Jonathon Riley, whose interests include the history and “maintaining the military efficiency” of the Royal Welch Fusiliers.

Perhaps future visitors to Ystrad Fflur can look forward to floodlit military tattoos and, who knows, we may even get an assault course. (Continues after ‘The Life of Riley’.)


THE LIFE OF RILEY

At first sight it may look odd that a retired Lieutenant General from England whose interests are military history and warfare should become a trustee of a charity set up to determine the fate of a ruined abbey in Ceredigion founded to champion the cause of Welsh independence and Welsh culture, but it’s who rather than what you know that matters.

Jonathon Riley, who is among other things a Companion of the Order of the Bath, grew up in Yorkshire, Sussex and the Channel Islands. A product of English public schools and Sandhurst, he began his military career with the Queen’s Regiment before transferring to the Royal Welch Fusiliers as an experienced hand who could be trusted to keep the native recruits in their place.

Hobnobbing with the Windsors and the legion of upper middle class camp followers who surround them eventually resulted in marriage to upwardly mobile BBC Wales news reader, Sara Edwards.

Edwards’ extra curricular activities include being Vice Lord Lieutenant of Dyfed, Ambassador for the Prince’s Trust and Duke of Edinburgh Awards and member of the council of University of Wales, Lampeter.

Having retired from the British Army, Riley was appointed to the plum establishment job of Director General and Master of the Royal Armouries. His rather sanitised Wikipedia entry says that he resigned from this job to undergo treatment for prostate cancer, but here is a snippet from The Independent from 2013:

“Lieutenant-General Jonathon Riley, a retired infantry officer, former NATO commander and distinguished military historian, was suspended as Master of the Armouries over an auditing inquiry in May, only to resign from the post six months later. It can now be revealed that he was suspended after senior staff were given irregularly large pay increases at a time when the museum’s budget was being slashed.”

Jonathon Riley

click to enlarge

Honourable retirement on health grounds after this unfortunate revelation of rampant cronyism was clearly enough to salvage Riley’s reputation, and he went on to be appointed to two committees in Cardiff Bay where he now advises the ‘Welsh’ Government on how to commemorate World War One.

The departed souls of Welsh cannon fodder must be looking down and wondering what their deaths achieved, because 100 years on here is an English military toff, the successor of all those other public school generals who rounded up the Welsh and sent them off to walk slowly towards German machine guns, making sure that the Somme and other slaughters are remembered as the necessary sacrifice of brave British patriots who laid down their lives for the King.

Riley and Edwards, who have a holiday home in Carmarthenshire not far from Big Ears’ retreat at Llwynwormwood, together illustrate nicely how in 21st century democratic Wales, you can get yourselves appointed to numerous influential jobs and committees without ever having to face the voters or even spending much time here.

Any civil servants or grant dispensers tapped by Professor Austin’s charity for dosh are unlikely to put up any resistance knowing that there is a hot line to old Big Ears.


Bearing in mind that under Ms Deacon CHRT expanded its “operational footprint” to cover the whole of Wales, she has chosen to live about as far as she can get from most of the country by basing herself in Marloes. While Llanelly House is a mere 57 miles distant, Ystrad Fflur is 83 miles away along narrow country lanes, and Merthyr is a cool 95 miles.

If she is concentrating on Mynachlog Fawr, Llanelly House and Merthyr are hardly likely to get much of a look-in.

Mynachlog Fawr comprises a Grade II* listed farmhouse, some listed mid-nineteenth century stone barns and various other more recent structures.

The farm itself came into existence after the dissolution of the abbey, and certainly was never a part of the Cistercians’ landscape. It was the childhood home of Charles Arch, a well known personality on the Welsh farming scene, and appears to have been acquired at some point in more recent years by Lampeter University.

Although the house and some of the outbuildings are listed and attractive to look at, they are in relatively good condition and hardly of national importance. There are plenty more farmhouses and barns like them all over Wales.

How the farm came to be acquired by Lampeter University, presumably with public money, and whether it was the university which sold the place to Professor Austin’s trust are questions readers may be able to help with.

So why was CHRT, whose purpose is to “regenerate the physical and other heritage of Wales”, so keen to acquire a not particularly special group of farm buildings not in need of rescue?

The answer would seem to be that heritage industry Eldorado: millions and millions of lovely grant money to fund pet projects for years if not decades to come.

This grand scheme has been Professor Austin’s pipe dream since 1999, and he envisages turning the farm into a centre with all sorts of activities. “At the moment these fall under five broad headings, although these will undoubtedly expand as we develop our plans and talk to potential partners”, writes the professor on the Strata Florida project website, where just about everything is copyrighted to the great man personally.

It will be sustainable; enhance the visitor experience; there will be summer schools and workshops; ecological tourism; it will foster the arts and traditional skills; it will help locals to “advance senses of their own identity and wellbeing”; it will create events and activities to enhance human well-being in recognition of the abbey’s great infirmary and holy wells; and much, much more besides.

If that all sounds a bit, well, woolly, we can get a glimpse of a rather more tangible project design here on the website of architects Acanthus Holden who were commissioned to come up with a plan that includes a visitor centre and “a small exclusive hotel”.

One of the benefits of all this, of course, is the carrot of new jobs in Pontrhydfendigaid and the surrounding area. Whether the owners and employees of existing hotels, such as the nearby Black Lion, cafés and other local businesses would be quite so enthusiastic about having to compete with an entirely grant funded and heavily subsidised newcomer is another matter, and locals may find that the professor’s vision will entail the demise of established local businesses.

In another review carried out by The Prince’s Trust, the recommendation was for self- catering accommodation as opposed to the Acanthus hotel.

Mynachlog Fawr architects

No doubt Ms Deacon, Professor Austin and their friends have already come up with a business plan to explain how all these aims can be achieved and become commercially viable in a remote rural location, far from the coast and next to a ruined abbey which is closed for five months of the year. In a climate which is not exactly Chiantishire.

Even more confusingly, Professor Austin’s vision for Mynachlog Fawr and the wider Ystrad Fflur site appears to vary depending on his audience. Is it to be a New Age hangout for city types wanting to commune with nature in a sustainable and ecological sort of way, or is it to be a “small, exclusive hotel” with a visitor centre attached? Or is it to be the front end of what sounds in this video like the ultimate archaeological wet dream: a vast and endless dig extending across a swathe of countryside to uncover whatever is left of what the prof claims may be the largest Cistercian monastery in Britain, “if not Europe”. Or even the universe.

Where this forest of trusts and companies leaves Llanelly House and the Merthyr YMCA is an interesting question. Is Claire Deacon still CEO and Company Secretary in Llanelli? It would seem so. How did Mynachlog Fawr come into the ownership of Lampeter University, as it then was, and why did it end up being acquired by the Strata Florida Trust rather than CHRT with its expanded operational footprint, and on what terms?

Answers on a postcard please.

In the meantime, it may be a good idea to head up to Ystrad Fflur and enjoy it while you can before Professor Austin and Ms Deacon set about improving our experience and indulging their hobbies.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ End  ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Jac says: While this piece was being written I though I’d try to help by doing some background work.

The first and obvious question was – ‘Who owns Ystrad Fflur / Strata Florida? The answer (as you’ve read) is that the Abbey ruins are owned by the Church in Wales. In 2008 the Secretary of State for Wales, Paul Murphy, was appointed ‘Guardian’. Here are the relevant documents from the Land Registry.

That role of ‘Guardian’ may have been subsequently transferred to the ‘Welsh’ Government, because in June 2010 “The Welsh Ministers” bought an adjoining parcel of land. No price is given, but unless Rhodri Morgan and his gang had a whip-round this land was purchased with public funding, and we are therefore entitled to know how much of our money was spent.

Ystrad Fflur for Cadw

What of the farm buildings, destined to become the Abbot’s Bar & Bistro – Get In The Habit!! On its website the Strata Florida Trust says, ” . . . the Trust has purchased the historic buildings which until recently formed the working core of Mynachlog Fawr or Great Abbey farm”. So naturally, I wondered how much had been paid.

I went to the Land Registry website, but found nothing under Mynachlog Fawr or Great Abbey Farm. Which I thought was a bit naughty, because if the Trust has bought the buildings then not filing the details with the Land Registry is simply a way of withholding information, and again, we are dealing here with the public purse.

(Though, confusingly, the website also says, ” . . . the Strata Florida Trust has acquired the buildings and some adjacent land”. So which is it – ‘purchased the historic buildings’ or ‘acquired the buildings and some adjacent land’?)

UPDATE 03.09.2016: I just unearthed this piece from the Cambrian News dated August 13 which can only be interpreted as announcing the purchase of Mynachlog Fawr. Which strengthens my belief that we are not being told the truth about who owns what, when it was bought, who paid for it, and how much was paid.

Poking around on the Land Registry website unearthed more recent land sales in the area. One involved land quite close to the Abbey and the farm, bought last year by David Thomas Arch and Eleri Arch. Here are the details. Mr and Mrs Arch were the owners of Mynachlog Fawr, so did they sell only the farm buildings, retain the land, and are they now adding to their land holdings?

We must know who owns what at Ystrad Fflur and how much it has cost the Welsh public purse

Over the years I have recounted many stories about the plundering of the Welsh public purse, this is another such tale. Yet another story of strangers to our land finding an old building or site, and instead of respecting a part of our history, appropriating it in order to promote themselves and boost their bank balances.

Claire Deacon of the Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust already has two very expensive disasters to her name. Llanelly House may be impressive, but it’s now an economic millstone around the necks of the town and the county. Merthyr YMCA was never viable from the outset, yet the money keeps flowing. And now this woman – who managed, while running the Carmarthenshire Heritage Regeneration Trust, to employ herself as a ‘consultant’! – wants more millions from the Welsh public purse to despoil and commercialise Ystrad Fflur.

Her partner in this lurid venture is Professor David Austin, an academic at Lampeter University, who has one eye on a very lucrative retirement and the other on an ‘Honour’. According to Austin Ystrad Fflur may be the biggest Cistercian monastery in the universe . . . in which case it’s too big a job for him and the Lampeter outpost of Trinity St Davids. I would prefer to see a team of French archaeologists with experience of Cistercian sites employed.

Then we have Lieutenant-General Jonathon Riley. First, we have to ask what he brings to the party, for Ystrad Fflur is the site of a monastery not a castle? Whatever anyone may think Riley can contribute his profligacy with public funding whilst at the Royal Armouries should disqualify him from any other publicly-funded project, no matter who he knows or who he’s married to.

This squalid project being hatched in Ceredigion is only possible because Wales is a colony of England, with all that that implies. A primitive people unable to do anything for ourselves we must shower with money any shyster who turns up with a half-baked, self-serving bit of nonsense. Our chiefs like it that way because it saves them having to think of better ways of using the money.

There is one lesson to be drawn from the Ystrad Fflur project and one obvious recommendation.

The lesson – articulated on this blog more than once – is that Wales needs a genuinely national conservation body to replace the English National Trust, CADW, Landmark Trust, and all the Claire Deacons infesting our homeland.

The beauty of Ystrad Fflur lies in its remoteness and tranquility. To attract those who wouldn’t bother going had there not been a burger bar and a bouncy castle is to attract the wrong people for the wrong reasons. And the motivation for doing this is obvious.

So here’s the recommendation, for the ‘Welsh’ Government and all other funders:

Pull the plug on this lunatic scheme and leave Ystrad Fflur at peace.

*

Sep 052015
 

I’m off to Scotland tomorrow and so, as Thursday sees the AGM of the Cadwgan Building Preservation Trust aka the Gang of Four + One, I have decided to put up a few of the many and varied documents that have come my way from all manner of sources (some very surprising!). They might help you better understand how this secretive and subversive grouping operates. A little light reading while I’m away, as it were.

As I possess neither smart phone nor iPad I am almost cut off from the world of the internet when I’m away from home, and my old steam-powered computer, unless, that is, I can get to a library or an internet cafe. So please bear with me if I’m slow to approve comments. (Though I might be able to persuade someone to do it for me).

However, I have arranged for someone to post news here if anything of note happens before, during or after the AGM. As I explained it to my stand-in, “I’m thinking now of some dramatic development like Dame Tucker eloping with Gareth Gregory or Sue ‘English!‘ Lewis announcing that she’s joined the FWA.” (I wonder how the Cambrian News would report that?) That’s enough light-hearted banter.

*

The obvious document with which to start is the Articles of Incorporation. There’s not a lot here to excite any suspicion, apart perhaps, from the following:

3 Reminds us of my long-standing question as to why the Trust’s remit covers any building in and around the town of Cardigan. I could understand if it said ‘in and around the castle’, but the way it’s worded suggests that the trustees could take on other projects. A cheering thought!

5.3 Goods and Services. Has any trustee benefited from this? I see no mention of a tendering process.

More generally, I am concerned that the document has been amended. By which I mean, the document is ‘topped’ and ‘tailed’ by the date 21st of March 2000 yet the body of the document has clearly seen changes because there are references to the Charities Act 2011. (Unless of course the trustees were employing a seer back in 2000. And if so, then I hope the vacancy was better advertised than was the job created for Sue Lewis.)

If the document is being updated, as it clearly is, then surely we are entitled to know when, why, and on whose authority those changes were made. As things stand we can see that some changes have been made, but we may be unaware of others.

It would have been clearer if the original document had been kept pristine, and another, working version maintained for updates, with all updates and changes highlighted and explained. This hybrid version we now see is both unsatisfactory and misleading as it is no longer the document that was signed in March 2000 and is, therefore, of questionable status.

*

Next up is the Collaboration Agreement between the trustees and Ceredigion County Council dated October 30th 2014. This substantiates the rumours saying that by the autumn of 2014, with the project falling behind schedule and needing to go to the Heritage Lottery Fund for an extra £1.5m, the local councils – both county and town – were becoming a tad concerned with the running of the whole thing. As the owner of the Castle the county council seems to have insisted on greater involvement.

*

This ‘collaboration’ is made manifest in the minutes of the meeting of the Joint Project Management Board held on on Wednesday 26th of November 2014 . (Despite this co-operation coming about at the insistence of Ceredigion County Council three of the council’s representatives couldn’t be bothered to turn up). What caught my eye:

6.01.14 Note reference to “staff restructuring”. This is said to have been planned a long time before, but I have yet to see evidence for this. Which raises the suspicion that the ‘restructuring’ was part and parcel of the ploy to create a job for Sue Lewis.

That said, doing away with the post of Education Officer and creating the post of Facilities Officer gives us a clear indication of how the project has now been subverted into something purely and crassly commercial.

6.05.2 “Equinox has been appointed as the marketing company”. There was, presumably, a transparent tendering process before the contract was won by a company run by a friend of Gareth Gregory, the Heritage Lottery Fund’s man on the job.

*

The next document is the minutes of the December 2014 trustee meeting. I found these interesting for the following reasons:

12.03 ” . . . the meeting prior to the Full Trustee Meeting . . . “. There have been persistent rumours of the Gang of Four (+ One) holding secret and unminuted meetings, often conducted with Timms on the telephone from Kent. Is this a reference to such a meeting?

20.02 Under Any Other Business, almost as an afterthought, we find reference to the new post of Facilities Officer. This is the job referred to above, created for Sue Lewis by her friends Jann Tucker, Hedydd Jones and Sandra Davies once she ceased working for the Tivy-Side Advertiser. Which probably explains why the three I’ve just named avoid being mentioned in 20.02.

The job was advertised, online only between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day.

*

Other documents that might interest you are the Minutes of the 2014 AGM. Note 5.01, this links with the aforementioned squeaky bum time in local council chambers regarding over-runs and appeals for more funding.

A little light is shone on this by a letter from the town council. No doubt the town council was happy to put money into a project employing local people, but the council clearly believes the trustees have a cheek coming back asking for more money after sacking five locals. Note in paragraph three the reference to the change from “project to operational phase” which the trustees use, in part, to justify the sacking. The final paragraph is a clear reference to the devious and secretive way in which Lady Tucker and her gang operate.

Here are some figures to get your teeth into from the Project Completion Programme dated December 17th 2014. And some more recent accounts where you will see, under ‘Generated Income’, ‘Car Raffle’. This refers to a car donated by B V Rees of Llandudoch, to be raffled off with all proceeds going to the project. A few weeks ago, totally out of the blue, and from a source I would not have expected, I was told that the Castle had made only very feeble attempts to sell those raffle tickets. The figure shown on this sheet is just £1007 – for a brand new car! What was the final figure?

Finally, here’s the agenda for the AGM to be held on September 10th 2015.

*

This project has not gone well. It has taken longer to complete than forecast. It has cost more than predicted. It has failed to provide either contracts for local companies or jobs for local people. There are questions as to whether contracts were properly put out to tender, and whether vacancies were properly advertised. And as if that wasn’t enough, the project has deviated wildly from its original promise of celebrating Welsh history and culture to degenerate into little more than a glorified B & B that holds ‘functions’ . . . at a cost to the public purse of twelve million pounds, and counting.

All this has been achieved by a small clique acting secretively, and by behaving in this manner they have alienated too many within the local population. A small, self-electing and self-serving clique that seems guaranteed to continue due to, among other measures, demanding that anyone wanting to join the Trust, and vote at the AGM, must swear undying loyalty to the clique before being accepted!

As ‘Joff’ Timms of Kent, the clique’s front man, put it to one recent applicant: “In the light of your well publicised criticisms of the trust, the trustees have asked Cllr —— —– and me to try to arrange to meet you to discuss ways in which you would be willing to support the trust in realising its objects. Following this meeting, Cllr —– and I would make a recommendation to the trustees about whether your application should be approved.” What next – brainwashing?

They defend this dictatorial behaviour by arguing that those who criticise the trustees want to wreck the project, when the opposite is true. For it’s quite obvious that the members of the clique are not up to the job, it is they who are wrecking the project. Those who want them removed have only the best interests of the Castle and the town at heart.

It is unlikely that the Gang of Four + One can be removed at a rigged AGM; that being so, then other routes must be pursued to save this project, and return it to its original promise.

Sep 012015
 

THE LATEST IN A SERIES OF POSTS ON THE MANAGEMENT, OR MISMANAGEMENT, OF CARDIGAN CASTLE. IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE OTHER POSTS I SUGGEST YOU START WITH ‘CARDIGAN CASTLE – READY TO FALL?’

As was the case with most Welsh castles Cardigan changed hands many times, yet of all its occupants the most widely known is undoubtedly Rhys ap Gruffydd (1132 – 1197), ‘The Lord Rhys’, ruler of Deheubarth and patron of the first recorded eisteddfod in 1176, when he invited poets and musicians from all parts of Wales and beyond.

Perhaps understandably, those now controlling the Castle have sought to use The Lord Rhys in up-front displays to disguise their lack of any real interest in the history and cultural significance of Castell Aberteifi. This was to be done by having the great man’s coat of arms stamped on assorted gewgaws, banners, plus of course the famous oversized bardic chair. And yet . . .

Since I became involved with this issue I was aware of an undercurrent, a suspicion held by more than a few that someone, somewhere, had made a monumental cock-up, with the result that the Castle was using the wrong coat of arms! Let me explain.

The Lord Rhys, as I’ve said, was the ruler of Deheubarth, and grandson of Rhys ap Tewdwr, who in turn was descended from Rhodri Mawr (820 – 878). But Rhys ap Gruffydd is a name regularly encountered among the Welsh nobility and gentry in the medieval period. One reason why, in an age of almost universal illiteracy, coats of arms were so important – they told people who you were. And why poets and genealogists had to know the lineages. However, this proliferation of Rhys ap Gruffydds can lead the modern amateur into mistakes, and this is what seems to have happened at Cardigan.

In the hope of clearing up the confusion I took the advice of Rhodri Dafis and contacted Thomas Lloyd, Wales Herald of Arms Extraordinary. I asked him quite simply to tell me the coat of arms for The Lord Rhys who held Cardigan Castle in the second half of the twelfth century. His response can be found below.Coat of arms Lord Rhys caption

“The arms of The Lord Rhys are simply: Gules, a lion rampant in a border indented Or (ie: Red, a lion rampant gold, within a jagged gold border). These are the ancestral arms of the Princes of Deheubarth, as given to Rhys ap Tewdwr.

There has been confusion with his arms and those of Sir Rhys ap Gruffudd, Sheriff of Carmarthen 1322, died 1356, but he was descended from Ednyfed Fychan, and had quite different arms with six small lions on a red background above and below a jagged silver band across the centre bearing three ravens. (My apologies for non heraldic terminology, not knowing if you know the correct lingo or not!).”

Everything at Cardigan Castle purporting to be the armorials of The Lord Rhys (ap Gruffydd) carry the three ravens . . . of the much later Sir Rhys ap Gruffydd (? – 1356), and these ravens in turn derive from Urien Rheged of the Old North. The confusion may arise because the Ednyfed Fychan (ap Cynwrig) (mentioned above by Thomas Lloyd) married Gwenllian, daughter of Yr Arglwydd Rhys, but daughters did not inherit their father’s coats of arms. Or perhaps because in the fifteenth century the line of Dinefwr was re-united with the House of Deheubarth when Thomas ap Gruffydd, married Elizabeth ferch John Gruffydd, descendant of The Lord Rhys. Their son Sir Rhys ap Thomas raised an army in support of Henry Tudor and is said to have been the man who killed Richard III at Bosworth. Though Sir Rhys’ grandson, yet another Rhys ap Gruffydd, was said to have been plotting with the Scots to make himself Prince of Wales, and executed for treason in 1531. Another route to confusion might be the fact that The Lord Rhys may have called Cardigan Castle home but he held many other castles, including Dinefwr.

Ravens display

So who might be responsible for this appalling mistake, this insult to heraldry, this marketing exercise masquerading as history?  From enquiries I have made the mistake seems to be a few years old, and the recently retired trustee Glen Johnson, who doubles as the local historian, denies any hand in the choosing of the coat of arms. The suspicion grows that certain persons who have been mentioned in this blog many times may be responsible.

Perhaps this awful mistake should serve as a salutary warning against relying on Wikipedia, where the entry for Yr Arglwydd Rhys makes the same mistake with regard to the coat of arms. The Wikipedia entry was updated as recently as Monday last week, August 24th, by someone called Dudley Miles, who lives in Finchley, London, and whose interests are Anglo-Saxon history and nature reserves!

The thing to remember about Wikipedia is that it’s a simple matter for anyone who has an account to sign into a page and make changes. If you go to the page for Rhys ap Gruffydd and look at the small tabs on the top you’ll see one that reads ‘edit’ and another ‘view history’. Click on the latter and you’ll find a number of pages listing changes; some of these are editing or removing what someone else has written and there is even talk of “vandalism”.

So when it comes to the coat of arms for Rhys ap Gruffydd, The Lord Rhys, we can either follow the ever-changing and consequently unreliable Wikipedia, or we can accept the description of the Wales Herald of Arms Extraordinary. The decision should be an easy one.

The inescapable conclusion is that the three ravens being used by Cardigan Castle are in no way connected with The Lord Rhys. They belong to the family of the later Sir Rhys ap Gruffydd.

*

Regular readers will recall the curious business of how trustee Sue ‘English!’ Lewis, acolyte to Lady Tucker, was appointed to the newly-created post of Facilities Officer very soon after losing her job as editor of the Tivy-Side Advertiser, and how the job was only advertised online, between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. The post was obviously created for Sue Lewis, and ‘advertised’ in the hope that no one else would notice.

Despite this plan of Baldrick-like cunning there were other applicants, one of whom – possibly others – were better qualified than Sue Lewis. This quandary was surmounted with the bizarre decision to Sue 'English!' Lewisappoint what appeared to be two Facilities Officers, Sue Lewis and Carys Ifan. Though I have heard that as the year progressed Carys Ifan became the Events Co-ordinator while Sue Lewis moved on to become Acting Director, taking over the role vacated by the recently sacked and gagging clause-bound Cris Tomos. Maybe Cris Tomos was given the elbow to resolve the absurdity of having two Facilities Officers. Who knows what goes on at Cardigan Castle.

Either way, Carys Ifan has now handed in her resignation. She joins Cris Tomos and others who have left such as Rhian Medi Jones, who was the Education Officer at the Castle until the ‘reorganisation’ towards the end of last year which removed a number of posts as the excuse to create the job for Sue ‘English!’ Lewis. It may be coincidental, but almost all those who have been eased out or made to feel unwelcome by the Gang of Four are locals, with roots in the area. (I had to be careful how I phrased that lest I gave ammunition to Phil Parry at Wales Eye, for whom sacking people for being Welsh would not be racist, but complaining about it would!)

No doubt the advertisement for the post of Facilities Officer will appear in the Belgrade Evening News next week, one night only, next to the ads for chiropody services. And of course in Cyrillic.

*

Another curious and suspect practice by the controlling clique is to approach dissidents secretly and individually to offer private meetings with Jonathan ‘Joff’ Timms who acts as secretary and front man for the Gang of Four, even though he lives over three hundred miles away in Kent. It is never promised that Lady Tucker or any member of her immediate entourage will be in attendance at these secret meetings, just Timms and perhaps one of the more ‘pliable’ trustees.

Seeing as all advances have thus far (to my knowledge) been rejected by dissidents unless Lady Tucker attends it’s difficult to know what Timms hopes to achieve by these meetings. Are they attempts to intimidate opponents? Attempts to win them over? Attempts to sow discord among the opponents of the current regime? Or a combination of all these? Maybe the set up will be ‘good cop, bad cop’, with Timms playing Mr Nasty and someone else pretending to hold him back as he polishes the brass knuckles.

As yet I have not been approached. But I am a man of principle and honour . . . consequently my silence will not come cheap.

*

The more I look at the Gang of Four + Timms the more I am reminded of those wise words spoken by Benjamin Franklin in 1776, just after he and the other Founding Fathers had signed the Declaration of Independence. He said, “Yes, we must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately”. What he meant was that the breakaway colonists’ best hope of avoiding the noose was to stick together and see it through.

It may strike some as an odd analogy to make, but I see La Tucker and her cronies in a similar position. People are deserting them, their position becomes ever more exposed and isolated, and their only hope of survival is to stick together and brazen it out. Not least because while they remain in charge they have control of the records and other evidence of the way the Castle has been mismanaged these past few years, and its original mission subverted. Were they to be removed then those records – unless they went ‘missing’ – would become available to the new trustees.

The real concern now for those with the best interests of Cardigan Castle at heart should be that those whose job it was to independently monitor this project have either been negligent or else have fallen under Lady Tucker’s spell. To the point where the Heritage Lottery Fund, CADW and the ‘Welsh’ Government may have a vested interest in seeing the status quo maintained to avoid an even worse scandal than we see now. If so, then this is a short-sighted policy that  can only result in the failure of this £12m project.

*

September 10th sees the Annual General Meeting of the Cadwgan Building Trust that runs the Castle, and even though 80-year-old Lady Tucker is standing down (to comply with the rotation system), she is expected to be immediately re-elected by her gang. In fact, she has already been nominated for re-election by Glen Johnson who, you will recall from my previous post, stood down from his role as trustee due to online ‘persecution’. Yet here he is still involving himself, still doing the bidding of Lady Tucker, and if that wasn’t enough, he’s also allowed himself to be sweet-talked into serving as a ‘Patron’. He will also remain a guide. Some ‘resignation’ that was, Glen! Read it all here in the AGM agenda.

An outcome acceptable to the Gang has been assured by barring critics from joining, and attending the AGM. I have seen one very recent e-mail from ‘Joff’ Timms to someone who applied to become a member of the Cadwgan Trust. Timms wrote: “In the light of your well publicised criticisms of the trust, the trustees have asked Cllr —— —– and me to try to arrange to meet you to discuss ways in which you would be willing to support the trust in realising its objects. Following this meeting, Cllr —– and I would make a recommendation to the trustees about whether your application should be approved.”

In other words, ‘Submit, in advance, to the will of Lady Tucker and her cohorts or you will not be allowed to play any role in the running of Castell Aberteifi’. This way of doing things is comparable to a ruling junta in a third world country allowing ‘elections’, but restricting those elections to candidates who agree with the junta! And just in case any dissident sneaks through the screening process, there is a short and strict AGM agenda with “Any other business at the discretion of the chairman”. The chairman is presumably Timms, so if someone wants to raise an issue embarrassing to the regime he will refuse to allow it to be debated. This is what passes for democracy in Cardigan Castle – Joe Stalin would have approved!

Listen, Joff, or whatever your name is, this AGM should not be about maintaining your friend Jann Tucker and her gang in power; membership and participation should be open to everyone with the best interests of the Castle, the town and the wider area at heart. You are damaging the whole £12m project by reducing it to nothing more than a desperate struggle by you and your friends to stay in power against mounting opposition.

And who are you, anyway? You, living in Kent, with no known connections to Aberteifi; who are you to sit in judgement and decide which locals are allowed to serve their Castle? Who the hell are you to turn away people whose ancestors perhaps knew The Lord Rhys, and could have told your women friends that there are no bloody ravens in his coat of arms? Time is surely running out for you, them, and the hangers-on.

Aug 252015
 

The ‘resignation’ of Glen Johnson due to “online harassment” and “virtual persecution” continues to reverberate, here’s an update. (Though what is virtual persecution? Is it something less than real persecution?)

To begin with, it’s worth remembering that the press release announcing the resignation was issued by Equinox, the Castle’s PR company. Given how these things are done, with the Castle paying the bills, it’s reasonable to assume that the press release was sent to Equinox ready-written, with instructions for the agency to merely issue it to its media contacts.

Glen Johnson Cambrian News

CLICK TO ENLARGE

One of those contacts was of course the Cambrian News . . . or maybe the Cambrian News got the resignation story directly from the Castle . . . or maybe the Cambrian News didn’t need to be informed at all . . .

Seeing as both my blog and I were mentioned in the Cambrian News report I wrote to managing editor Beverly Davies making it clear that the only references to Glen Johnson on my blog were positive, and so I should not have been mentioned in a way that obviously tried to implicate me in the alleged ‘harassment’. I was refused an apology but given a few hours to make a comment to a follow-up story . . . without being given any details of that follow-up!

Even so, I did give her a statement, though I doubt if it will be published. Here it is. ‘I want nothing to do with the Cambrian News because it cannot be trusted to report honestly on any issue where its over-riding political, ethno-cultural and constitutional prejudices come into play’.

In my exchange of e-mails with Beverly Davies I made the point that, “The Facilities Officer at Cardigan Castle is Sue Lewis, who was, prior to that job being created for her, a trustee. She is one of those I have criticised in my blog. She is also a freelance reporter for your newspaper, and her husband Mike is your South Ceredigion reporter. What a cosy arrangement!”

Beverly Davies responded with, “While Sue Lewis does do some freelance work for our paper, she only covers Aberporth Town (sic) Council and Cardigan Town Council meetings. She has had no involvement in our Cardigan castle stories.” My incredulity becomes clear in my response, “Do you seriously expect me, or any other sentient being, to believe that Sue Lewis has no input to articles written by her husband (or even his colleagues) about the place she works!”

But what if it’s true! Picture the scene chez Lewis, gentle reader, He: ‘I’m working on a story about the place where you work, Sweetie Pie, but you mustn’t tell me anything, or try to influence the article in any way – is that clear?‘ She (eyelashes fluttering): ‘Of course not, Big Boy, you know I wouldn’t do that, I’m an obedient lickle wifey‘. Yes, that must be how things are done in the Lewis household, or maybe not . . .

For there must, regrettably, be the possibility that that image of connubial bliss exists nowhere but in my imagination, and that in the real world the press release and the Cambrian News article were both written by Sue Lewis. In which case, is Glen Johnson just a willing dupe in the machinations of others? If not, if he is the author of the resignation statement, how does he feel about the trustees and the Cambrian News using his resignation to attack me, a man who has done him no wrong, and said nothing about him that was hurtful or even critical?

Let’s have some straight answers, Glen. Are you accusing me of harassing you? If not, how about correcting the impression your resignation has allowed others to create  – people you recently worked with – that I am some kind of ogre stalking the internet terrorising women and children. The time for vague allegations and innuendo is past. Things are coming to a head. Let’s have some straight answers, Glen.

Elsewhere, an old comrade, completely unprompted, complained to the BBC about its treatment of the Johnson resignation. His point about cut and paste journalism, and treating press releases as news items, are worrying reminders of the state of the Welsh media. Read it here.

Time now to turn to a recurring theme in the saga of Cardigan Castle, money being squandered.

*

WEBSITE? THAT’LL BE FORTY-FOUR GRAND, LOVE.

One of the complaints levelled again and again against the project is that there is little to see for the £12m expenditure. People go there and wonder what that vast sum was spent on. One specific complaint made more than once is that the display cabinets are of a similar standard – and cost – to those housing the English crown jewels in London, even though Cardigan Castle has little if anything of value to display. This complaint puzzled me, but recent information may throw some some light on this issue.

A former trustee has sent me a quote, from September 2012, to set up a website for the Castle. The quote comes from a firm called Haley Sharpe Design of Leicester, in England. The quotation – just for a website, remember! – is £44,000. Read it here for yourself; read it through, item by item, and you’ll realise what a rip-off it would have been. Of course, this was three years ago, no doubt HSD would now charge £50,000.

This is what happens when public money is involved and there is no adequate oversight from the funders’ representatives, as is the case with Cardigan Castle. The customer thinks, ‘What the hell, it’s not our money!’ and the supplier rubs his sweaty hands thinking, ‘They’re getting millions in grants, let’s get our snouts in the trough’. Incidentally, I’m told that all the other quotes for a website came in under £5,000.

One obvious question is, why did the trustees ever go to a firm like this, so far away, so expensive, to get a quote for something that could have been provided by Dai Jones down the road for one tenth of the price? Does someone connected with the Castle know someone involved with HSD?

Thankfully, HSD did not get the website contract. An outlay like that would have been difficult to explain, even with the cosy relationship between Lady Tucker and the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Gareth ‘Yes, Ma’am’ Gregory. The website now running appears to the creation of Sugar Creative of Cardiff, though there are many firms much nearer to Cardigan that could – and should – have been given the work.

Let us conclude this section by returning to Haley Sharpe Design, for despite losing out on the website rip-off contract the company was asked to fit out the Castle with display cabinets and similar equipment, and also to hold exhibitions. (See left sidebar when page opens.) Knowing how much HSD wanted to charge for a website we can be fairly sure that Cardigan Castle has paid over the odds for its display cases and much else. But then, it’s only public money.

I ask again, who is the link between Cardigan Castle and HSD?

Alas, problems rarely come singly, do they, boys and girls? and poor old Jac has also been assailed by that master of the vituperative, that Woodward and Bernstein of the Welsh blogosphere, Phil Parry of Wales Eye.

*

IS THAT SUPPOSED TO BE ME?

Every so often, when the bile rises, or I have criticised his belovéd Labour Party too effectively, Phil Parry girds his loins and sallies forth to engage with the evil dragon of nationalism – me! These attacks invariably take the form of Parry telling his vast readership that I am about to be banged up because someone has reported me to the police. This ‘someone’ is usually Jacques Protic, a Serbian gent living on Ynys Môn, a man who manages to be a Labour Party member while simultaneously believing that Rhodri Morgan and Carwyn Jones are closet nationalists! (No, I did not make that up, as the panel below testifies. It is a comment Protic made to a BBC blog.)

Parry’s latest assault on the dragon can be found here. I recommend that you be sitting down when you read it, and without a hot drink in your hand. (I should also warn you that in this latest piece Parry offers links to earlier works of fiction in which I star – apparently forgetting that these are behind a paywall!) Now, where to start?

Protic-Labour

CLICK TO ENLARGE

Well, Parry begins with some bizarre story about an investigation by GogPlod into comments on my blog. He writes, “An investigation was launched by North Wales Police after a complaint from a member of the public about the website ‘Jac o’ the North’, and the Editor, Royston Jones, was officially warned to remove abusive comments or it may be closed down, according to sources.” I have received no such warning. North Wales Police has not contacted me.

Other than that, almost everything in the article is a re-hash of what he’s written before. Protic predictably appears, there is yet another mention of the Cayo Evans photograph, the social housing petition is regurgitated, and then he flaunts his powers of investigation with, “Mr Jones is currently embroiled in a controversy which centres on Cardigan castle”. Wow!

The thing about Parry is that he is consistent . . . consistent in attacking me for things I have not done. Let’s start with Protic. The basis for this story is that Protic alleges he was threatened over the telephone and had his car’s tyres slashed, and all because of something I’d written about him on my blog. As if Protic doesn’t draw enough attention to himself by expressing his odious views on every forum he can find.

The Cayo Evans photograph. I don’t know who took it, I don’t appear in it, but putting it up on my blog makes me guilty of . . . well, something. The social housing petition was launched by Dennis Morris of Plaid Glyndŵr. I put it on my sidebar because I’m unreasonable enough to believe that local people should enjoy priority in the allocation of social housing. And of course the ‘hook’ for the latest Parry article is that someone – but not me – wrote something some arsehole somewhere considers ‘racist’.

If online racism really concerns Phil Parry then let him visit MailOnline or Guido Fawkes or a host of other ‘mainstream’ sites, where he will find all the racist comments a man in search of them could desire, made against the Welsh and just about every nation other than the English. But of course Parry won’t do that, because he’s not really interested in racism per se; he is, just like the Cambrian News, and politicians in Wales and elsewhere, simply interested in using the slur of racism to silence people whose views he doesn’t like.

Though let us not be too harsh on Phil Parry for I fear he may be losing it, or maybe someone is playing jokes on him. In what I assume to have been a desperate attempt to say something new about me Parry wrote, “He retired as director of a Barmouth air conditioning firm . . . “ Who? Me! Accusing me of being a gun-toting, ethnic-cleansing, bodice-ripping, baby-eating nationalist I can live with, but you go too far when you accuse me of being a director of an air conditioning firm in – of all places – Barmouth!

I don’t know who, or what, you’re talking about, Parry . . . and neither, I suspect, do you.

*

IT WAS THE CAMBRIAN NEWS WOT WON IT!

Apart from learning that Beverly Davies has a sense of humour, something else I learnt yesterday was that Elin Jones AM has been asked for a comment on the Johnson resignation, and it will appear in this week’s issue of the rag. No doubt it will be in with the comments from the Pope and the mayor of Wagga Wagga, both outraged by my criticisms of certain Cardigan Castle trustees.

This, I’m told, is what she will say: “Glen Johnson has been a long-time champion of the castle and its history. He is one of the local experts and was influential in convincing me and others of the merits of the need to invest and restore the castle. I am sure he has spent years of voluntary effort in researching and supporting the castle. It is a travesty that he now feels pressured by social media to withdraw as a trustee. We need to thank him for all he has done and hopefully he can continue to contribute in other ways to the project.” So the local AM appears to have swallowed the Cambrian News story hook line and sinker . . . or maybe not, because here’s my interpretation.

Elin Jonres

Elin Jones will be standing for re-election next May which, let me remind you, is just over eight months away. She is very mindful of how the Cambrian News may have destroyed her colleague Mike Parker’s chances of becoming Ceredigion’s Plaid Cymru MP just three months ago, in the May General Election. For anyone who has perhaps forgotten, check out my post, Mike Parker and Huw ‘Tipp-Ex’ Thomas in Full Agreement.

What the Cambrian News did with that piece of gutter journalism was deliberately misrepresent something Parker had written many years earlier. For soon after moving to Wales he wrote a piece for Planet magazine telling of his shock at realising many English people move to rural Wales to escape the multiracial towns and cities of England. (But he never used the word ‘Nazi’.) He also told us that many of the English who move to Wales look down on their Welsh neighbours with contempt. Read the original 2001 article here. Compare it with what the Cambrian News wrote and you’ll realise what a squalid distortion the latter was.

Remarkably, it was left to the Western Mail to put this story into its correct perspective, with Martin Shipton writing, “The purpose of this attack on Mr Parker, of course, is to dissuade people from voting for him.” In other words, it was an attempt by the Cambrian News to influence the outcome of the General Election in Ceredigion by telling lies about the candidate the ‘paper did not want to win. And it may have worked.

*

THREAT TO DEMOCRACY?

Its victory over Mike Parker, and the muted response from Plaid Cymru, has emboldened the Cambrian News, making it believe that it can control the political debate, certainly in Ceredigion, and perhaps beyond. Given who owns the ‘paper there is nothing surprising here.

The Cambrian News is part of the Tindle Group, still run by the eponymous, and 88-year-old Sir Ray Tindle. Sir Ray is a patriot of the old school, the man who told his editors, once Bush and Blair began their illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003, “to ensure that nothing appears in your newspapers which attacks the decision to conduct the war”. (Read full article here.)

When it comes to Wales, we can be sure that Sir Ray’s views are unequivocally Unionist, which means doing everything possible to portray nationalists as a dangerous and evil enemy . . . especially when they look like winning. The only way dissenting voices can hope to avoid the Tindle treatment is to dissent as little as possible . . . the course Elin Jones has so clearly adopted. With the result that debate is stifled, truth takes a kicking, and democracy in Wales is further weakened.

This assault on truth and democracy in the service of English interests becomes increasingly more obvious as Tindle and other owners ship in journalists recruited in England, journalists who don’t know their patch, and thus make a mockery of ‘local journalism’. The pretence can only be maintained with the assistance of a ‘Welsh’ veneer provided by the likes of Beverly Davies.

The Cambrian News and many other ‘local’ newspapers are now a threat to the democratic process. They promote a viewpoint that is hostile to Welsh interests, they try to intimidate those who dare challenge them and their viewpoint, and they have lost that fundamental connection with local communities that should justify their existence.

The Elin Jones approach is nothing less than surrendering to the diktats of a warped old man who cares nothing for Wales. How does a Plaid Cymru politician justify such a stance, even to herself? The way forward must be to challenge the Cambrian News and all the other BritNat propaganda rags. If Plaid Cymru isn’t prepared to stand up to this bullying, then it does not deserve to survive.

UPDATE 27.08.2015: Yesterday, some 30 people, including ex-volunteers, gathered outside the Castle to make a presentation to sacked Director Cris Tomos. There were young and old there, Welsh and English, to present him with gifts, including a blooming apple tree, showing the gratitude of the townspeople for all the work he has done for Cardigan. Inside, the remaining trustees plotted at their monthly meeting.

UPDATE II 27.08.2015: In this week’s online South Ceredigion edition of the Cambrian News Glen Johnson seems to saying something different regarding his family. Last week it was, “The main reason for my resignation is to protect my family from the virtual persecution being dealt out . . . “. This week, the writer of the article says, ” . . . with his family bearing the brunt of ‘overheard conversations'”.

The implication is inescapable – nothing was said directly to his family. That his family overheard unflattering conversations around the town only proves what a hot topic the running of the Castle has become. Even then, I guarantee that if ‘them trustees’ were getting a slagging, it wasn’t Glen Johnson the critics had in mind. I’m beginning to worry that the saintly Glen Johnson may be developing a martyr complex.

Curiously, although the article is headed ‘AM steps into Cardigan Castle row’ there is no quote from Elin Jones. Perhaps you have to pay for the full edition to read what Elin Jones said. Which I’m sure you’re prepared to do, especially after seeing the subscription page.

Aug 192015
 

My first post on this subject was Cardigan Castle – Ready to Fall? on July 7th. Since then I have posted Cardigan Castle – It’s Getting Worse! (July 12th), Cardigan Castle: Gang of Four + One (July 21st), there was a section in Updates, etc (July 26th), then came Cardigan Castle: Guest Post by ‘Dyn Deche Rhys’ (July 30th), and finally, Cardigan Castle: Connections Keep A-Coming (August 3rd). IGlen Johnson‘m listing them in case you feel the need to refer to them as you read on.

The reason I’m returning to the subject now is that it’s all getting a bit naughty. Those I’ve written about, and others behind them, are pulling out the stops in order, not to answer the many questions being asked, but to silence those doing the asking. I suppose things came to a head yesterday with the resignation of Glen Johnson, one of the trustees. Mr Johnson cited as his reason for stepping down the need to protect his family from “online persecution”.

This is the report from the BBC Wales website. Here’s the Tivy-Side Advertiser. Finally, the Cambrian News report talks of “online harassment” and mentions my blog, even gives my name, thereby inviting readers to make the erroneous connection. But then, this is the Cambrian News, and this is the nature of the beast. No one should be surprised to learn that Mike Lewis, husband of trustee Sue Lewis, is a staff reporter, possibly deputy editor, on this rag. Perhaps more pertinent may be the fact that Sue Lewis herself freelances for the CN, as these minutes from Aberporth Community Council make clear. Could it be that Sue Lewis herself wrote the Cambrian News report on Johnson’s resignation?

The first thing to understand about Glen Johnson is that for months he’s been telling anyone who’d listen that he’d had enough, and was stepping down at the September AGM of trustees . . . and these declarations of intent pre-date anything I’ve written about Cardigan Castle. His FaceGlen Johnson Facebookbook page carries a few of these statements. Here’s a couple from July. (Click to enlarge.)

After reading the media accounts I went to my blog to check what I had written about him . . . as opposed to what people what you to believe I’ve written. I could only find two references to Glen Johnson in my blog posts and both were positive. The first in my post of July 7th and the second in the guest post of July 30th. Read both extracts below.

JULY 7: “So this place (Cardigan Castle) has immense significance in Welsh history, yet I don’t think there’s a trustee other than Glen Johnson with any relevant expertise (in history).”

JULY 30: “A glimpse of what might have been is provided by A History of Cardigan Castle written by local historian Glen Johnson. Johnson is currently a trustee who has signalled his intention of stepping down from the role next year, but for years he was a persona non grata to the Aberporth clique running the show because of his awkward insistence on uncovering the archaeology and history of the site.

Bringing his story up to date, Johnson notes that, “in September 2007 Cadwgan B. P. T. revealed their plans to convert the front range of Castle Green House into a Welsh Language Learning Centre and the remainder of the building and all of the outbuildings into holiday accommodation”.

This is harassment! This is “online persecution”!

So if I haven’t been attacking him, what exactly is going on with this ‘resignation’? I am convinced that this whole episode can be explained by the press release issued to the media. Enquiries are referred to a Cardiff telephone number belonging to Equinox, Cardigan Castle’s PR agency. This resignation is nothing but a publicity stunt, one staged to depict critics of the Castle’s trustees as the sort of bastards who threaten the trustees’ wives and children. Remember! this man was resigning anyway, before I put out a word on Cardigan Castle, but someone, somewhere, saw the chance to capitalise on a long-planned resignation by twisting it into the sudden decision of a persecuted man forced out by internet bullies – i.e. me! And all designed to deflect criticism from the ruling trustees, and even allow them to shelter under the umbrella of victimhood.

Here’s my message to Glen Johnson. If your family really is being intimidated then you should have reported it to the police, not a PR agency. And if, as I suspect, you haven’t yet reported it to the police, get in touch with me and I’ll accompany you to the police station. Yes, I’ll hold your hand. But my best advice for you is, don’t allow yourself to be used by people much cleverer and more ruthless than you.

Glen Johnson’s stage-managed resignation is only the latest in a list of incidents which have been attempts to either frighten me off or have my blog closed down. Here’s an example worth recounting.

On August 12th a comment was made to my post, Cardigan Castle – Ready to Fall? of July 7th. The first comment to that post in a fortnight, and it came from ‘Charity Solicitor’. I responded and he / she came back the following day with a longer comment that contained, “It is, therefore, entirely ludicrous to claim, as you and your friends often do, that the trustees have their hands in the till.” I had never accused the trustees of that, and I made that fact clear; I also asked ‘Charity Solicitor’ to direct me to where, as he alleged, I had accused the trustees of theft.

Of course ‘Charity Solicitor’ could not find anything like this on my blog, for the simple reason that I had never written it. Others joined in the debate and eventually ‘Charity Solicitor’, realising he’d been sussed, admitted he was Dr (Charles) Robert Anthony. On August 14th he made what, for a lawyer, was an extraordinary statement, done in a pathetic attempt to laugh off the very serious allegation he had made against me only a few days earlier. He wrote, “‘Hands in the till’ is a figure of speech or metaphor. It’s not meant to be taken literally.” Sorry, pal , ‘hands in the till’ most definitely means stealing, there is no other interpretation. And for what, exactly, could ‘hands in the till’ be a metaphor?

Throughout this exchange with me and others Dr Anthony wasn’t clear whether he was speaking officially for the trustees or merely on their behalf, unofficially. Make your own guesses.

But yet again we have someone riding to the rescue but refusing to address the questions raised, and instead trying to steer the debate onto more promising ground by making me defend myself against things I never said. Very similar to what is happening with this ludicrously contrived resignation. I’m confronted with evasion, innuendo, non-sequiturs, smears, misrepresentation, and downright lies. So let me make my position clear.

I retract nothing I have written about Jann Tucker, Hedydd Jones, Sue Lewis and Sandra Davies. To see them hoping to hide behind poor, manipulated Glen Johnson is despicable, and it will not succeed. The questions are still awaiting answers.

  • Who is Jonathan Timms of Kent, and how did he get involved? Is he perhaps related to a trustee, or does he own a holiday home in Aberporth? Possibly both?
  • Why have so many trustees and staff walked away from this project (before I ever got involved)?
  • How many times did Sue Lewis shout ‘ENGLISH!’ in that now infamous e-mail?
  • How often does Jann Tucker crack open a bottle or twa with the Heritage Lottery Fund’s supposedly impartial representative, Gareth Gregory?
  • Was Hedydd Jones reprimanded for saying ‘Over my dead body” at the prospect of the Gorsedd visiting the Castle?
  • Why did the project – as Glen Johnson himself bemoaned – change from a historical and cultural icon into a tacky tourist venture that is financially unworkable?
  • What did Sandra Davies mean by saying, “We’ll never get world class staff if we have to rely on the Welsh”? Was she asked to explain that insulting remark?
  • What did Jonathan Timms, the trustees’ contact point and secretary, mean when he described Rhys ap Sue Lewis fairy godmotherGruffydd and his sons as “savages”?
  • Can you provide satisfactory evidence of contracts being properly advertised and put out to tender? Evidence that would satisfy someone other than Jann Tucker’s drinking buddy.
  • The same applies to appointments, or were they all advertised – online only – from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day, as was the case with the post created for trustee Sue Lewis almost immediately after she lost her job at the Tivy-Side Advertiser?

And yet, despite the slanders, I am greatly heartened that the Gang of Four’s defenders feel they need to resort to these tactics. I say ‘defenders’ because I am convinced that what we see now, with Johnson’s resignation especially, is intervention by persons who have come to realise that the Gang of Four are a liability, but to remove them would be an admission of defeat, so they have to be defended at all costs. It’s a difficult situation for them; and so desperate are they that someone must have thought this resignation stunt was worth a try.

Just stand back and consider the absurdity of the news coverage given. Here we have a nobody, in a small town, who resigns from a trust few will have heard of – but it makes the BBC News! This of course is the BBC we have come to know, this is the BBC of the Scottish independence referendum, the BBC of ‘British’ this and ‘Great British’ that, the defender of the British establishment. So in conclusion, let me reiterate . . .

Despite what has been alleged by the Cambrian News and others, nothing mildly derogatory, let alone threatening, has appeared on this blog in relation to Glen Johnson. Anyone persisting with these groundless accusations – or making fresh accusations – should be very careful what they say or write.

UPDATE 20.08.2015: La Tucker is to step down from her position of trustee at the AGM next month. Apparently, something to do with ‘rotation’ . . . are we talking turnips here?

Aug 032015
 

Despite all that’s been written and said about the goings-on at Castell Aberteifi there always seems to be fresh information coming to light. This truly is the gift that keeps on giving, the sort of thing a humble blogger like me dreams of stumbling upon as he lies tossing and turning in his windy garret. As this saga lurches between farce and tragedy more and more ‘coincidences’ and ‘connections’ come to light; and as if that wasn’t enough, there are also the ironies the saga exposes that raise a chuckle.

Such as the fact that while Lady Tucker and her gang were adamant there should be as little archaeological work as possible carried out at ‘their’ castle, there is now a small army digging away and investigating them! And gems are coming to light. Well, laff.

For latecomers, let me explain that those who imposed their tyrannical grip on the running of the Cardigan Castle renovation project, and silenced or excluded dissenting voices, were totally opposed to any serious investigation into what might lie beneath the surface – in case they found something! That ‘something’ being anything of historical significance that could interfere with the Gang of Four’s ambition to turn Castell Aberteifi into a commercial ‘venue’, with little more than a nod to its fascinating past.

Yet remember! this rejection of history and heritage in favour of crass and very Gareth Gregoryunimaginative commercialism is being funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Or to be more exact, the Fund’s man on the job, wine-lover Gareth Owain Gregory. The word in the coffee-houses and taverns of old Aberteifi is that when he comes down to Cardigan for trustee meetings he stays at Tucker Towers in Aberporth, where Lady Tucker’s butler keeps his glass filled.

Call me old-fashioned, but I would have expected the representative of the major funder to maintain a discreet and professional distance from the recipients of his organisation’s funding.

Before leaving Mr Gregory, one of his friends up in Cardiff, and a colleague through the Menter Iaith movement, is Eryl Wyn Jones, managing director of Equinox Public Relations Ltd, the Castle’s PR company. I suggest no irregularity or impropriety, I merely observe yet another in a long list of ‘connections’.

*

Another little mystery that has presented itself is the Castle’s IT contract. For a few years it has been known that ‘Clive’ from Cliand Computers in Chancery Lane has been doing the IT work at the Castle, so some assumed he’d been passed over when the contract was awarded to Dyfed IT Solutions Ltd.

Not so, for Clive Morris, is one of the three directors of Dyfed IT. The other two being Gareth William Robinson and Dean Houghton. The company seems to be registered at Houghton’s “nondescript detached house” in Aberarad, Castell Newydd Emlyn. The company was Incorporated on April 20th, 2013, and doesn’t appear to have done much since, unless of course Clive Morris has been running the Castle’s IT on behalf of Dyfed IT rather than Cliand.

Note that Louise Cowan’s tweet (below) is dated July 22nd, and she seems keen to stress that Dyfed IT Solutions is a local company. It may be worth remembering that by July 22nd I had already posted three articles about Cardigan Castle, and one of the major complaints locally was that little of the work at the Castle was going to local companies. For anyone wondering who Louise Cowan is, she’s the secretary at Cliand Computers.

DyfedIT 1 tweet

There’s more information on Dyfed It Solutions here. As for it being a local company, well, read on and make up your own mind. We know it’s registered office is in CNE, we know Clive Morris already had a computer business near to the Castle, and Dean Houghton may even have gone to school locally. But what of Robinson, who I suspect is the main man and driving force behind this enterprise?

Gareth William Robinson has over thirty companies to his name, most of which are now dissolved or no longer trading. He specialises in online businesses. The address normally given for Robinson is on a trading estate in Watford, Hertfordshire, England. In most of his business ventures he has had the same two partners, Andrew John Stevens and Douglas Stuart Scott. Stevens and Scott have been involved in over fifty companies each, though invariably in partnership.

Now by one of those quirks we have come to expect in this saga, Robinson, Stevens and Scott have come together again, this time in the Cardigan area, at Morfa Green, Llangrannog. This being the registered address for Broody Media Ltd., Company No 05889172. This company was Incorporated on July 27th 2006 but is dormant. Why would these three dotcom whizzkids turn up in Ceredigion? And why, when and how did Clive Morris link up with them?

One answer would be that Robinson has property in the area; to be precise, Bryn Berwyn at Tresaith. Here it is advertised in English Country Cottages. (He is also rumoured to have a place for himself at Aberporth.) Though of course, people like Robinson rarely own property in their own name, so Bryn Berwyn is owned by a company named Oakley Consultants Ltd, Incorporated March 16th 2005, Company No 05394028. Bryn Berwyn is almost certainly Oakley Consultants Ltd‘s only asset. The two directors of Oakley are Robinson and, I assume, his wife.

*

Why is the IT contract important? some may ask. Because, I would argue, here we see more evidence of a pattern I have previously commented on when it comes to how Cardigan Castle awards contracts and makes appointments. It’s a system in which who you know is everything. And if you know the Gang of Four then you’re in the money.

First, let us ask if the IT contract was it properly advertised? I don’t know, but some tell me it was never advertised. If anyone has evidence of this contract being advertised then please send me a link. Another reason concerns are being raised is that, yet again, we see a contract going to someone, Gareth Robinson, who has no obvious connection with the town or the area but, yet again, this person has holiday accommodation up the coast and is almost certainly known to the Gang of Four.

And that might not be all. If we look at Gareth Robinson’s Linkedin profile we see that he did his A Levels at Ashford College. Ashford is a town in Kent, England . . . now who else do we know from Ashford? Why! Jonathan Timms, the mysterious contact for the Cadwgan Trust lives in Ashford . . . and he too has a holiday home just up the coast, and him being known to, and approved of, by Jann Tucker almost certainly explains his appointment.

This investigation into the goings-on at Cardigan Castle started out trying to figure out what was going on, then trying to make the connections between A and B. As those linkages have been established it begins to look more and more as if we are dealing with a network of well-heeled and well-connected persons who have taken over the Cardigan Castle project for the benefit of themselves and their friends.

To achieve this outcome they have, of necessity, excluded the uncouth locals, with their unreasonable demands that Cardigan Castle should have something to do with their town, and them; with its history, and with their identity. How unreasonable can you get!

*

Let us end on a more cultural plane (well this is Eisteddfod week!) I have been sent rhymes that are currently being declaimed in the aforementioned coffee-houses and taverns. The limerick below refers to the response of trustee Hedydd Jones when it was suggested the Gorsedd should be allowed in to the accepted birthplace of the Eisteddfod. “Over my dead body”, she shrieked.

Dead body limerick

(Translation: ‘Only “Over my dead body / Will the Gorsedd come to Aberteifi, / Cadwgan has the reins; / We know the signs, / And it’s clear who reigns’.)

Now if I was a trustee I’d be getting worried at this development, because any student of Welsh history and culture could tell them that, when dealing with people, poetry is rarely neutral. Poems are not written about those who fail to excite the muse. Generally speaking, poetry either lauds, eulogises or ridicules. What I’ve been sent most definitely falls into the third category.

The other work will be accessible to those without the language. It is entitled The Ballad of Castell Aberteifi, penned by A. W. Minstrel (Ms), a promising young rhymester.

Ballad Aberteifi

*

Footnote: As you can see in the sidebar, this blog is hosted by www.sccambria.com, a contract that of course went out to tender (seeing as this blog receives official funding). On Saturday night Systemau Cyfrifiadurol Cambria got a curious complaint that my blog was racist towards “English citizens living in Wales”. Obviously an attempt to get this blog closed down.

When I checked out the e-mail address from which the silly message came Pipl suggested it had come from an arty individual – previously unknown to me – living in Aberporth. (Where else!) Obviously this man would be known to Lady Tucker and her underlings from living in the same village, and via other routes, such as Oriel Mwldan in Aberteifi.

UPDATE: It has now been confirmed beyond peradventure that the sender of the silly e-mail was indeed the Aberporth ‘artist’. The only question now is, did he do it of his own volition, or was he put up to it by the Gang of Four? Is the fight getting dirty?

As I said in an earlier post, it really is a small world . . . especially in Cardigan and the villages to the north of the town. And the world seems to contract dramatically once you start asking who knows who in the Cardigan Castle saga.

Jul 302015
 

It was quite a week for the trustees of Cardigan Castle. What was supposed to have been a gradual build-up of excitement culminating in the Grand Opening Concert featuring Bellowhead, the English folk-rock group, turned instead into an epic PR disaster for the board, headed by Aberporth’s answer to Sepp Blatter, the 80 year-old Jann Tucker MBE.

Two rival petitions were launched calling for the reinstatement of sacked Director, Cris Tomos, and an extraordinary general meeting of the Trust to decide whether the current trustees are fit to go on running the £12 million project.

Meanwhile, the trustees themselves concluded their kangaroo court “investigation” into Mr Tomos, and paid him off in return for a gagging clause.

Cris Tomos was the third Director to leave the project, and all three are known to have departed in acrimonious circumstances because of micro-managing interference by a small group of board members.Castle

Two former trustees and a third prominent volunteer wrote to the Tivy-Side Advertiser to express their concerns about governance of the trust. They have been in contact with the Charity Commission to see what can be done about what they say are serious abuses by the clique which dominates the board of trustees. Under the trust’s constitution, ten members can call an extraordinary general meeting of the membership, and they are now gathering names. One of their objectives is to arrange an independent audit of the trust’s books.

All of this would be bad enough, but the trust has also found itself at the centre of a media storm, with the most startling revelations coming from Jac o’ the North himself, as readers of this blog will know.

This is a multi-million pound undertaking led and controlled by a handful of chums with homes and holiday homes in and around Aberporth, some seven miles to the north of Cardigan, with an official contact address in Kent.

A project which was meant to have the history of the Eisteddfod movement, and the Welsh language and culture at its heart, has been turned into a high-end hospitality venture for upmarket weddings, corporate bashes and a handful of well-heeled, braying visitors wishing to spend a few days roughing it in West Englandshire.

A shot in the arm for local economy?

Vanishingly little of the £12 million poured into the project has benefited local businesses, with even most of the tat in the gift shop having being purchased in Birmingham.

A huge chunk of the money went to Andrew Scott Ltd with insiders reporting massive waste and botched work; £40,000 went on high security glass cases used to display artefacts with little or no monetary value; and local businesses did not get a look in when it came to supplying the furnishings and fittings.

Serious questions are being asked about the tender processes, as well as the trustees’ appointment of one of their own to the post of Facilities Manager while scrapping the role of Education Officer.

All through the construction and restoration phase of the project contracts and jobs have gone to businesses well outside the local area, although large numbers of locals have worked as unpaid volunteers. The hope was that when the gates finally opened, paid employment would be created to benefit locals, but this has not happened either. There remains a heavy reliance on unpaid volunteers, while most of the real jobs have gone to non-Welsh speaking incomers.

It is now clear that the start-up phase of the project has brought almost no economic benefit to the town, and while this new attraction will undoubtedly bring more visitors into Cardigan during the short summer season, there has been further criticism of the tLady Tuckerrust for pricing the castle’s holiday accommodation at levels which will undermine existing local businesses. At the same time, the wedding venue business is being pitched at well-heeled clientèle from outside the area and priced at levels which will exclude most locals.

Gilbert and Sullivan

If the castle’s contribution to the local economy has so far been minimal, what of the castle’s cultural offering which is supposed to have the Welsh language and culture and the history of the Eisteddfod movement at its heart?

If you missed the Grand Opening Concert and Bellowhead, there are plenty more cultural events coming up, including a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe, Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew and an adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s The Reluctant Dragon. Originally set in the Oxfordshire Downs, the story tells the tale of a dragon’s fraught relationship with the locals. The townsfolk bring in Saint George to rid them of the beast, but its life is eventually spared when they realise that the dragon is now a reformed character and not dangerous.

There seems to be a message in there somewhere.

Anyone hoping to see any sign of our rich cultural heritage, or the lively contemporary Welsh cultural scene, will search the castle’s forthcoming events schedule in vain.

A glimpse of what might have been is provided by A History of Cardigan Castle written by local historian Glen Johnson. Johnson is currently a trustee who has signalled his intention of stepping down from the role next year, but for years he was a persona non grata to the Aberporth clique running the show because of his awkward insistence on uncovering the archaeology and history of the site.

Bringing his story up to date, Johnson notes that, “in September 2007 Cadwgan B. P. T. revealed their plans to convert the front range of Castle Green House into a Welsh Language Learning Centre and the remainder of the building and all of the outbuildings into holiday accommodation”.

The Welsh Language Learning Centre never came about, and the Welsh classes that are held in the castle are confined to outbuildings on the periphery behind heavy metal gates, padlocks and “no entry” signs.

Moreover, there are persistent claims that archaeological investigation of the site was kept to a minimum by the trustees who were much more interested in developing the castle as a high-end wedding, holiday and conference venue.

“Not much to see here”

Meanwhile, the trust’s efforts to market the castle have fared no better if Tripadvisor is anything to go by, with a very mixed bag of reviews. A common theme here is that visitors unfamiliar with the town were expecting a castle rather than a heavily restored Georgian house and a vast expanse of lawn, and there is not much to excite the interest of children.

This won’t help in an age where mums and dads tap their smartphones before deciding what to do with the kids on a wet Welsh summer’s day.Sue Lewiis 2

Pressure cooker

Which brings us to the trustees’ PR strategy. A leaked e-mail showed that Sandra Davies, a member of the inner circle, told Cris Tomos that the board had decided he should not contact critics of the project. They were bigots, and the best thing would be to let them run out of steam, she said.

By refusing to talk to local critics and disillusioned volunteers, the trustees instead created a pressure cooker.

Cyfeillion Rhys ap Gruffudd, a local group dedicated to celebrating the castle as the home of the Eisteddfod and a cradle of Welsh culture, wrote to the board three months ago to ask for a meeting and an opportunity to present constructive new ideas. The letter did not even receive an acknowledgement.

Negotiations with the Gorsedd to hold a special ceremony of blessing collapsed in acrimony, with Father Seamus Cunane, the trust’s unofficial spin-doctor-in-chief telling readers of the Tivy-Side Advertiser that the Gorsedd had behaved like a bunch of divas.

This week several of these chickens came home to roost, with damning articles in the Carmarthenshire Herald, the Tivy-Side and Golwg.

The piece in Golwg was notable for the appearance of an unnamed spokesperson for the trust who told the somewhat surprised journalist that the trustees would in fact welcome an opportunity to meet the Cyfeillion, and would welcome a grand ceremony of the Gorsedd.

This sudden U-turn clearly had nothing to do with the catastrophic response in the mainstream and social media, and the trust’s Cardiff-based PR agency is now desperately engaged in a fire fighting exercise.

Pressure is growing on the trust to open up its books, and for the octogenarian chair of the trustees and her inner circle to step down and make way for a new team to turn the project round and ensure that it works for the people of Cardigan, rather than friends and family.

Jul 262015
 
CARDIGAN CASTLE

I don’t want anyone to think I’m picking on the women running and wrecking the Cardigan Castle project (nor would I want anyone to think I plan on ignoring them!) but I couldn’t write this post without a mention of developments since my previous post. Here’s a selection.

Someone informed me that at one meeting Jonathan ‘Joff’ Timms opined that Rhys ap Gruffydd and his sons were “nothing but savages”. Which again raises the question: Who the hell is Jonathan Timms and who invited a man living in Kent, England, to get involved?

Another informant sent me a copy of a letter sent to the Carmarthen Journal about three or four years ago, which served to revive an earlier suspicion that the Castle project may be disguising an even more self-serving undertaking involving property grabbing, and that this explains the two trusts. (I would appreciate a good photograph of the Green Street properties.) Elin Jones’ remarks are worth noting.

I am indebted to a third informant for this link which suggests that the Facilities Officer vacancy – the post now filled by Sue “ENGLISH” Lewis – was advertised from December 23rd 2014 to midday on January 2nd 2015. In other words, from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day. How the hell were they allowed to get away with this?

Rumours persist that non-Gang of Four trustees are ready to jump ship, leaving mesdames Tucker, Lewis, Davies and Jones even more exposed. Moves are also afoot to call an Emergency General Meeting.

Pembrokeshire Herald

CLICK TO ENLARGE

Equinox, the Cardiff PR firm working for the Gang of Four, has requested an urgent meeting with local critics. This panic move may have been instigated by the project’s funders becoming worried by the amount of shit now hitting the fan.

Gareth Gregory, the Heritage Lottery Fund’s man on the case, is known to be in the pockets of the Gang of Four. Or should that be ‘handbags’? Or would that be sexist? Who cares?

Here’s the ‘Rhys ap Gruffydd’ Proclamation read out at 7pm on Saturday outside the Castle main entrance, which I understand will also be read out at the Meifod Eisteddfod.

Elsewhere, the Pembrokeshire Herald and its Carmarthenshire sister-paper ran full-page pieces using much of the information I’d supplied on my blog. I only have a photo of the article as I couldn’t get a copy of the newspaper to scan for you, but I was sent a transcript, which you can read here.

Saturday night saw the Bellowhead concert at the Castle. To judge by the photograph I was sent the audience was in the age group 55 – telegram from Beti.

However successful the Gang of Four may want us to believe the Bellowhead concert was I can’t help thinking that a performance of Wagner would have been more appropriate given the situation they’re in, for Götterdämmerung is surely approaching. I’d just love to see the lot of them in horned helmets, wielding spears and shrieking, as a local mob storms the castle. Well, laff!

STOP PRESS: I am now told that during the interval, and at her insistence, Vicky Moller, Plaid Cymru list candidate in Mid and West Wales, was led to the mic by compère, Brychan Llyr (Dic Jones’ son, of Jess fame). She gave a rousing speech, saying that without the diligence and hard work of Cris Tomos (now given the elbow) the renovation would not have been possible. Brychan expressed similar sentiments. Then the control freak Gang of Four tried to prevent Brychan from introducing Bellowhead, but after much heated discussion he did, before leaving the castle grounds.

Finally, the Aberporth connection has been strengthened with information about the bizarre, oversized ‘bardic’ chair to be found at the Castle. Here’s a photo I took on my visit a couple of weeks ago of my wife sitting in it. (No, she hasn’t got a round, flat, black head,) This chair is said to have cost £12,000 but no one seems to recall any tendering process. The artist responsible is a Paul Clarke of . . . Aberporth! He has done work in Aberporth, paid for by the community council, on which body we of course find Jann Tucker. I suggest you read the comments by ‘Rhodri’ to my previous post. He also suggests that the escutcheons and armorials employed are not authentic, having little or nothing to do with Rhys ap Gruffydd, The Lord Rhys.

THIS WEEK’S COMPETITION: Find someone living in Aberporth – or just having a holiday home there – who has not gained financially from the largesse of Lady Tucker of Cardigan Castle.

*

ORGAN ‘HARVESTING’

Not a subject I’d normally write about but friends of mine in Llanelli got to thinking about the ‘Welsh’ Government’s proposal to assume that if you don’t expressly say No then you agree to have your organs whipped out and re-used ASAP after your encounter with the Grim Reaper. The leaflet they were reading gave a phone number, and this took them to a call centre in Bristol, and a helpful young Bristolian. This, remember, was for enquiries into a ‘Welsh’ Government initiative.

The big question they asked was, ‘If I agree to donate my organs, or don’t opt out of any new scheme of assumed donation, will my organs stay in Wales (cos they’ll only get homesick otherwise)?’ ‘Er, no, they can end up anywhere in Englandandwales’. ‘Hang on, you’re saying there’ll be an opt-out system in Wales running parallel with an opt-in system in England?’ ‘Um, yes’. ‘Which will mean that the vast majority of the organs taken from Welsh stiffs will end up giving new life to our English neighbours?’ ‘Yup, that’s about the size of it’.

At this point my friends thought they’d be clever and demand the Welsh language service, as the leaflet said they could. ‘I’ll get someone to ring you back’, said the HYB. After half an hour or so the call came, again from Bristol. The Welshman they spoke with said he enjoyed working in Bristol because he and the other Welsh speakers get paid more than their English colleagues because they also answer calls in English. (Which must do wonders for workplace harmony and Welsh-English relationships!)

Welsh Organ

So there you are, if you agree to donate your organs, or don’t opt out of presumed consent, your kidneys could end up keeping alive a frothing-at-the-mouth Kipper, your liver in some Daily Mail journo. This is the kind of insane situation that can only arise when certain powers are devolved within an overarching Englandandwales framework. This is the sham devolution we have in Wales, and in this instance it appears that Wales is being used by England for organ harvesting – with the co-operation of the ‘Welsh’ Government!

*

OVERSEAS AID PROGRAMME

I bet that heading surprised you! It certainly surprised me when I discovered that the poorest part of Europe, a country that has received billions in EU aid, is sending money to Africa. Let me explain.

On June 18th I posted ‘Welsh Poverty and “Welsh” Labour’s Third Sector Money Pit‘ and in that post I looked at the careers of husband and wife team Travers Merrill and Rose Mutale Nyoni Merrill. Travers was at the helm when the good ship Rhondda Life hit the rocks, while Rose’s Third Sector racket is BAWSO. Together they also run a private endeavour called ABESU, which, to quote the company’s website, is “a UK charity working in partnership with the ABESU Women’s Housing Co-operative in Zambia to self-build houses and establish sustainable livelihoods”. Nothing surprising there, seeing as Mrs Merrill is from Zambia.

Curiosity drove me to flick through the ABESU accounts, where I found that in the year ended March 31st 2014 ABESU had received £2,000 from the ‘Welsh’ Government. Not a great amount, but why is our puppet regime down Cardiff docks giving anything to an organisation that doesn’t even operate in Wales? As is my wont, I submitted an FoI on June 22nd. On July 1st I received an acknowledgement that promised an answer by July 16th. When that hadn’t arrived by July 23rd I wrote again, and my answer came the following day. You can read that letter by clicking here.

I asked the ‘Welsh’ Government to:

1. Confirm or deny that the Welsh Government gave Abesu £2,000.

2. If confirmed, please explain the reason for the Welsh Government giving £2,000 to Abesu, and from which funding ‘pot’ the money came.

3. Confirm or deny that the Welsh Government gives funding to other organisations that do not operate in Wales.

4. If confirmed, please supply a list of such organisations together with the amounts given, and from which ‘pots’ the funding is secured.

The response I got, from ‘the Office of the First Minister and Cabinet Office’ (‘Cabinet Office’ FFS!) said:

“I can confirm that a grant of £2000 was given to Abesu. This was by way of a grant from the Wales Africa Community Links project which was run by Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA) and funded by the Welsh Government’s Wales for Africa programme.

I can confirm the Welsh Government does provide funding to other organisations that do not operate in Wales. However, with regard to the list of organisations and the amounts given, I have estimated that it will cost more than the appropriate limit established in the Freedom of Information and Data Protection (Appropriate Limit and Fees) Regulations 2004 to consider your request and because of this the regulations allow me to refuse to deal with it.”

The letter went on to explain why I would not have a full response, ‘over the £600 limit’, etc. A couple of sentences in this explanation caught my eye, and you may also find them interesting. They said: “The Welsh Government’s finance system contains over 14,500 companies and organisations whose address is outside of Wales. During financial year 2014/15 there was (sic) 2,331 transactions made against these companies”. Suggesting that far too much of the money spent by the ‘Welsh’ Government is leaving Wales.

Wales for Africa

Anyway, returning to the ‘Welsh’ Government’s Wales for Africa programme. With the best will in the world, it’s difficult not to see this as yet another excuse to give money to Labour’s cronies in the Third Sector. This time by sending them on African jollies to “enhance their leadership skills” and have their photographs taken with ever-so-grateful Africans. For more information just follow the link I’ve supplied, and use the drop-down menu on the right-hand side of the page.

This kind of lunacy is almost bound to happen in the system of sham devolution we know in Wales. We have a bunch of pseudo socialists (many just pseuds) behaving as if they’re running a real government. And of course, the civil servants who really run Wales, and their masters in London, are more than happy to let these self-deluding buffoons waste our money.

Message to Carwyn and the gang: Stop playing stupid games; you are not a real government, Wales is poor, so we do not have money to spare for Polly and Dominic to go showboating in Africa.

*

HOUSING ASSOCIATIONS

When it comes to events and functions, weddings and conferences Cardigan Castle may not be seeing many paying customers, but one organisation that has been there a couple of times is Cantref, the housing association and white trash importer. A comment to my post The Colonisation of Wales: Help Needed tells us that things got a bit out of hand at Cantref’s AGM when, for some reason, the tenants were bused in for a hog roast and all the booze they could drink! Read the comment for yourself.

Cantref

This munificence is surprising given that Cantref may be entering Shit Creek. (Regularly laying out a few grand on hog roasts and piss-ups don’t help!) For the comment tells us that some of the commitments Cantref has taken on, such as the student accommodation in Aberystwyth, may not be turning out as planned. Hardly surprising when we see Aberystwyth Uni slipping down the league table faster than Cardiff City. Boom! boom! (Couldn’t resist it!)

‘Insider’ also tells us that, “There is something else going on but the sleepy local rags haven’t got a clue yet . . . more news on that later as it’s too dangerous to mention that yet – no wonder three top directors left all of a sudden before year end accounts, local housing consultant David Hedges of Cyngor Da being one of them”. David Hedges is the son of the former Glamorgan cricketer Bernard Hedges, who died in February 2014. (Many is the time I saw Bernard Hedges play at St. Helen’s.) His website, particularly the bullet point ”Cyngor Da’s approach’ is unmitigated Third Sector bollocks-speak. And although the stars favoured him with a Swansea birth Dai seems to have headed into the sunset and relocated to Cardigan.

David Hedges Cyngor Da

Naturally I tried to make enquiries into Cantref’s financial health, but unless you’re prepared to pay through the nose for them there’s no way of getting the figures. The problem is the status of housing associations. If they were charities then it would be a simple matter to visit the Charity Commission website and get the latest accounts gratis. If they were companies then it would be easy to get a financial picture from any number of sites, and pay for specific documents. These would also be available – and usually cheaper – on the Companies House website.

But because housing associations are Industrial and Provident Societies, registered under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies and Credit Unions Act 1965 it means they are registered with, but not regulated by, the Financial Services Authority, which then means you have to apply for any document you want and the cost becomes prohibitive.

No doubt defenders of housing associations will tell us that there is usually an annual report available on their websites. Rubbish, just look at the Cantref Annual Report, it’s just flim-flam and photographs, no better than propaganda, and nothing like the audited accounts available for charities and private companies. And if that wasn’t bad enough, housing associations are not covered by the Freedom of Information Act, unlike your local council’s housing department . . . assuming your local council’s housing stock hasn’t been taken over by a secretive and acquisitive housing association.

I don’t believe that housing associations should be regarded as anything other than the private companies they are. Put quite simply, housing associations do not meet the criterion used by the FSA for Industrial & Provident Societies: “An industrial and provident society is an organisation conducting an industry, business or trade, either as a co-operative or for the benefit of the community.

It is now anomalous that they are treated the same as community organisations and private members clubs. They are – in all but name – private companies, consequently there should be no more funding from the public purse.

 *

LABOUR LEADERSHIP CONTEST

Another subject you may be surprised to find me writing about. And while I can’t deny deriving a great deal of pleasure from seeing the bruvvers and sissters poking each other in the eyes this is, I assure you, an attempt to make a more profound observation.

Last Wednesday I watched a debate on Newsnight between three Labour MPs, Mary Creagh, Emily Thornberry and Diane Abbott. It seems that Creagh and Thornberry nominated Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership, but had no intention of voting for him, and were now worried that this ‘oppositional’ candidate might win! Abbott was there, presumably, to speak up for Corbyn.

We were also treated to a film of an increasingly wild-eyed and delusional Tony Blair telling his party’s members that if their heart said Corbyn then they should get a transplant! His former ‘advisor’, John McTernan, called those MPs who nominated Corbyn “morons”. It’s worth reminding ourselves that the most recent entry on McTernan’s CV is Chief of Staff to Jim Murphy, leader of ‘Scottish’ Labour in May. The political equivalent of being Custer’s chief scout at the Little Big Horn.

Anyway, the issue seems to be that the great majority of Labour MPs think Corbyn is too Left wing, but at the time of the Newsnight broadcast polls had him as the most popular choice, certainly with trade unionists and ordinary branch members. Which has left Creagh, Thornberry, Margaret Beckett (who’s admitted to being a ‘moron’!) and others suffering from Dr Frankenstein syndrome. It was one of the most enjoyable Newsnights I’ve seen for some time.

To justify rejecting Corbyn Creagh and Thornberry used the argument that Labour would be unelectable with Corbyn in charge, and unless the party wins the next election then Labour will be unable to help the people. Persuasive . . . until they expanded on that and you realised that for them winning elections is an end in itself, and this, they believe, can only be achieved through Labour being indistinguishable from the Conservatives.

The name Emily Thornberry rang a bell with me, but I had to check before I realised that she it was who had insulted the flag of England and those who proudly wave it. She was condemned as a snob for that episode, and watching her on Newsnight I could see why. It was an almost unique experience: she spoke well, her arguments were well marshalled, and yet . . . rarely have I heard anyone be simultaneously eloquent and repulsive.

She is clearly arrogant, to the extent that she kept cutting across Kirsty Wark! (Isn’t that a hanging offence?) But it was her patronising and condescending attitude towards Diane Abbott that really clinched it. She was, and in a way one rarely sees outside of the theatre or television, looking down her nose at the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.

Thornberry Abbott

The Labour Party has a massive problem on its hands with this election, for it has exposed the chasm between the unworldly professional politicians in the Westminster bubble and those ordinary party members who oppose starving the poor, who believe in pursuing tax dodgers, and who are clearly unhappy with a Labour Party that is little more than the Conservative Party by another name.

Lubbly jubbly! Vote Corbyn! A las barricadas!