A revealing piece on the Daily Wales website tells of the escalating controversy at Cardigan Castle where public funding is creating a tacky entertainment centre / wedding venue, with references to the site’s rich history and cultural importance being downplayed if not totally excluded. I urge you to read the DW piece before going any further with my contribution.
From the Daily Wales piece (and indeed other sources) it seems there has also been a worryingly high turnover in both trustees and staff that should cause concern to any body funding, or in any other way supporting, this project. Though despite the comings and goings there appear to be two constants, both trustees. These are Elizabeth Jann Tucker who – and this should not surprise you – is involved in tourism, at Aberporth, a few miles up the coast from Cardigan. The other is Richard Thomas, a veterinary surgeon, and the local James Herriot, having written the autobiographical Dic y Fet, and in English, the equally autobiographical, Taking Stock.
Seeing as we are dealing with a charity, the obvious place to start making enquiries was the Charity Commission website. I soon found the page for Ymddiriedolaeth Cadwraeth Adeiladau Castell Aberteifi (Cardigan Castle Building Preservation Trust), (Number 1122015), which tells us that the contact is Jann Tucker . . . but according to the Daily Wales piece, the contact should be a Jonathan Timms of Ashford, Kent. Clearly, there was something wrong. The answer came when I saw that ‘Dick Thomas’ is also a trustee of another charity named Ymddiriedolaeth Cadwraeth Adeiladau Cadwgan Building Preservation Trust Charity (Number 1080667), which makes no mention of Cardigan castle in its name. and it’s here that we find Mr Timms given as the contact. (He may also go, or at one time have gone, by the name ‘Joff’,) So why are there two charities? (Click to enlarge panels.)
Especially as they claim to be doing exactly the same thing. For the Charity Commission website, under ‘Activities’ says for both charities, “To preserve for the benefit of the people of Cardigan town and of the nation the historical, architectural and constructional heritage that may exist in and around Cardigan town in buildings (including any building as defined in Section 336 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990) of particular beauty or historical, architectural or constructional interest’. Read it and tell me if you also think it says the same thing twice, or am I missing something? Also note that neither of these charities is confined in their activities to the castle. And which ‘nation’ is referred to?
For those curious about what the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 says, here it is: ‘“building” includes any structure or erection, and any part of a building, as so defined, but does not include plant or machinery comprised in a building;’. Er, in other words, a building.
To complicate the picture further, in addition to the two charities there is a company (limited by guarantee), Cardigan Castle Enterprises Ltd (Company No 07285463), which appears to be a trading arm for the charity / charities. The current directors appear to be Mr Cristoffer Wyn Tomos, Mrs Susan Joy Lewis and the mysterious Mr Jonathan Timms. Mrs Lewis is also a director of Small World Theatre Ltd (Company No 03294035), also based in Cardigan. The company involves itself in ‘Artistic and Literary Creation and Interpretation’. (Which may link with the reference below to the Mwldan Theatre and Bellowhead.) She is the former editor of the Tivyside Advertiser, which most people think has improved considerably since her departure. Her husband is Mike Lewis, who was editor of the South Wales Guardian before moving to the Cambrian News, which readers may remember for its scurrilous and unprincipled attack on the local Plaid Cymru candidate before May’s election. Both husband and wife are staunch and blinkered Britlanders.
Though if the Daily Wales piece is correct, and Cris Tomos has been suspended by the trustees from his post at the castle, then he is unlikely to be still serving as a director of the trading arm, especially as Lewis is one of the other directors.
I keep talking about ‘the castle’, so I think it’s time to remind ourselves of the history we are dealing with here. Cardigan castle was the home of Rhys ap Gruffydd, ‘the Lord Rhys’, who ruled Deheubarth from 1155 to 1197; an ally of Owain Gwynedd and, following the northern prince’s death in 1170, the most powerful of the Welsh rulers. In 1176 he organised at Cardigan castle what is generally agreed to have been the first national eisteddfod. So this place has immense significance in Welsh history, yet I don’t think there’s a trustee other than Glen Johnson with any relevant expertise. In fact, there seem to be more of the trustees involved with bed and breakfasts than with anything else.
This might explain why, it is rumoured, the Heritage Lottery Fund has now appointed (imposed?) a trustee who might know something about Welsh heritage, and also how to manage a project of this size. Though cynics might argue that it’s a bit late in the day, seeing as £12m has already been poured in. The name being mentioned is Gareth Gregory, who would appear to fit the bill. Whether this appointment will be welcomed by some of the other trustees, and some interested observers, remains to be seem. But I can understand why the Heritage Lottery Fund felt it needed to be done.
Locals have been dismayed at the slow pace of the project, often due to contractor’s cock-ups and work having to be re-done. No clear chain of command is another allegation levelled – “too many bosses”. Few in the town can understand, let alone see, where twelve million pounds has been spent. And many in Cardigan wonder why Jann Tucker, a woman of eighty, with business interests of her own, is still knocking herself out in this thankless work. Perhaps she gets help from her family.
For about ten years ago Jann’s daughter Siân came home from London with her property developer husband James Lynch and their four sons. Since arriving in Cardigan the two have bought Fforest farm, set up a glamping business, opened an upmarket pizza joint on the river, and also run a wedding service, with hubby keeping his hand in in the property racket with Granary Lofts, across the Teifi from the castle. Basically catering for middle class poseurs of the, “I may be a computer programmer with two kids and a crippling mortgage but I’m a free spirit, me, oh yes”. A man untroubled by modesty, our Jim. For as he says on his Linkedin profile, he is “currently working on re-inventing the Cardigan riverside”. And if this site is to be believed then his ambition extends to taking over a wider area! Note that the map for ‘the Republic of Fforest’ covers the town of Cardigan, including of course the castle.
There is a link on his Linkedin profile to the Do lectures site, as Lynch has given a lecture. Here it is, it lasts twenty minutes (but I bet you won’t!). As a contact described them to me, “The Do Lectures are phenomenally expensive. This annual event pulls in minor celebrities who teach well-heeled 30-somethings from London how to knit yoghurt”. (Nice one, R.) Though looking at it another way, the people connected with Do lectures strike me as just the kind of people who listen to folk-rock bands like Bellowhead. Because I guarantee that until the name was suggested to them Jann Tucker and Dic y Fet had never heard of the group. Then again, other sources implicate the luvvies at the Mwldan theatre where, it is suggested, can be found someone with connections to Bellowhead. Either way, I hope to God that this Do Lecture shower has not received any funding from the Welsh public purse.
Before leaving lovely Aberteifi it’s only right to tell you that within the castle walls is Castle Green House (see panel, click to enlarge), completely renovated with public funds. It would be difficult to visualise a better location for weddings . . . or tourist accommodation . . . almost guaranteed to appeal to the kind of ludicrous poseurs attracted to the area by the burgeoning Lynch empire and the yoghurt-knitters up at Do Lectures. Such a pity there seems to be little or nothing in the renovated castle for Welsh people.
Which explains why so many locals are angry over a project that could have served as a beacon for Welsh culture being subverted into yet another tacky tourist trap or subsidised stage for third-rate provincial luvvies that nobody’d pay to watch. So here are some questions for Huw Lewis, who is, I’m told, the minister in the ‘Welsh’ Government responsible for this project.
- Who owns Cardigan Castle?
- Given that the purpose of the charity (or two charities) is solely to oversee the renovation of Cardigan castle, why does its (their) remit extend to any building of interest “in and around Cardigan”. Are other projects lined up, and if so, will these be funded from the public purse, and who will appoint the trustees?
- Are you satisfied with the oversight of this project by ever-changing combinations of trustees?
- Seeing as Jonathan Timms, the secretary to the trustees (or one set of them), and also a director of Cardigan Castle Enterprises, is based so far from Cardigan can you explain how he became involved? Was he appointed by the trustees? Was he appointed by you or some other funder?
- The last accounts filed by the ‘Cadwgan’ trustees with the Charity Commission (Y/E 31.03.2014) show that the project received that year £1,838,894 from the European Regional Development Fund and a further £289,911 from CADW. Seeing as ERDF funding is allocated to Wales for “economic regeneration projects promoted primarily by the public sector” do you believe that this project falls within that expressed purpose? And do you believe that the small number of jobs created justifies this generous funding, over two million pounds in one year from your government? Seeing as there are so few jobs being offered by this project can you assure us that the administration you represent will insist these jobs are allocated to genuinely local people?
- In the most recent accounts of the ‘Cadwgan’ trustees ‘fixed assets’ are shown to be valued at £5.4m. This, presumably, is the value of the castle and its grounds, including Castle Green House. Whose valuation is this?