There’s a little magazine that circulates in south Meirionnydd called Sybridion (Whispers), it comes out every couple of months. I generally pick one up in Tywyn when I get petrol. It’s basically a series of adverts for small local firms which helps cover publishing costs and pay for things like ‘What’s On’ listings for village halls and other voluntary groups. I picked up the most recent issue yesterday.
Flicking through it I was drawn to a full page advertisement for something called Family Voices Ltd. (Left, click to enlarge.) Once I’d started reading the advert it quickly became clear that Family Voices is another attempt to make money out of the current fad for family history. Basically, getting people to talk to a camera – in the interests of ‘posterity’, you understand – then selling them a DVD of their talk at anything up to £895 a pop.
The puff was written by one Dominic A. Ghisays (who may live in Barmouth). He tells us that the founder and chairman of Family Voices is Arnold Matthews, “retired businessman and philanthropist who has recently made Dolgellau his new home town”. Ghisays continues by telling us that Matthews “wants to create local employment opportunities and to give something back to his new home town of Dolgellau (‘Dollywood’?) and Wales on the whole”.
I think I should tell you, Dominic, that the name ‘Dollywood’ is taken. It’s Dolly Parton’s theme park in Tennessee. Believe me, pal, you don’t wanna tangle with that ol’ gal! And why be so flippant and disrespectful about the name Dolgellau? (And “Wales on the whole”!) As if that wasn’t enough, a couple of paragraphs later, Dominic asks, “So, could Dolgellau be Wales’ answer to Hollywood?” Er, no. From what I can see you’ve got a couple of video cameras and a room in downtown Dolgellau yet you’re talking about taking on Spielberg. What are you smoking! Or is this Valleywood resurrected?
While this could all be dismissed as harmless fantasising, less funny was what I read in paragraphs three and four: “Arnold Matthews and his team are taking an ‘all inclusive’ business model approach by using local strategic alliances with local authorities, colleges, the third sector (other not for profit companies) and private companies. Recently, the company has secured an office and excellent studio space in the heart of Dolgellau, he has employed a full time local project manager and has offered a local college student studying computer science, a work experience opportunity recently”. So we have here another ‘Blanche DuBois‘ outfit, dependent on the kindness of strangers, an arrangement euphemistically – and, it must be admitted, imaginatively – described as “all inclusive”!
Undaunted, though against my better judgement, I went to the website, which you can enjoy here. On the home page I was greeted with a video by Arnold Matthews himself, who told me he was formerly head of the Family History Centre in Bedfordshire. There’s nothing in the video that is specific to Dolgellau, or to Wales; giving me the impression that Family Voices may operate right across the land we love so dear, Englandandwales. Though rummaging around in the website did bring a few gems to light.
For example, the “local full time project manager” we read mentioned in a previous paragraph is none other than Dominic A. Ghisays himself. On the ‘Contact Us’ page we are given an address for Family Voices – ‘Hollywood Heights'(!) Dolgellau! Showing a commendable respect for their adopted homeland, its language and customs. Though it should be stressed that this is only a ‘regional’ office; the Registered Office is back in Bedfordshire, England. But as I’ve already confessed, I can’t resist a bit of digging, so off I went to the Companies House website to see what it could tell me about Family Voices Ltd.
The Company Number is 06944080. (Do your own search here.) There were some intriguing details given. For example, before August 16th, 2011 the company was known as the ‘Open-Door’ Club Ltd. But only a year earlier – on June 22nd, 2010 – it had changed its name from ‘Rent-A-Bond Ltd’. There is a Secretary mentioned, named Derek Skinner, who lasted just one month in 2009. There is no one else listed as being connected with the company . . . other than ‘Alfred Matthews’. Though, confusingly, on Linkedin there is an Arnold Matthews listed as owner of Rent-A-Bond Ltd. (Anyone signed up to Linkedin might care to check the details.) Then, according to DueDil, it is Alfred rather than Arnold. DueDil also suggests that Family Voices Ltd is not in robust financial health. (What’s more, it tells us Alfred Matthews is 86!) Why the company name changes? Are ‘Alfred Matthews’ and Arnold Matthews the same person?
I am not suggesting that Mr. Matthews (Alfred, Arnold or both) and Mr. Ghisays are involved in anything naughty, though I do wonder how a financial services company like Rent-a-Bond Ltd mutated into a fluffy genealogy business called Family Voices. Another mystery is how those involved with Family Voices Ltd will gather and properly edit the reminiscences of elderly locals speaking a language they don’t understand.
Arnold Matthews may be nothing worse than a harmless old duffer unsure of his own name who, for whatever reason, thought it a good idea to relocate to Dolgellau. (The puff in Sybridion talks of “his new young family”!) Even so, I would be rather concerned if the council to which I pay my council tax had any financial involvement with Family Voices. And I would like to know by what route Family Voices Ltd came by the “office and excellent studio space in the heart of Dolgellau”. Are these facilities rented or leased, or were they some kind of gift?
Family Voices Ltd is a private company offering a ‘service’ that anyone with elementary IT skills could deliver. Even so, the company is free to advertise for business, but that business must be conducted on a commercial basis, without public hand-outs. Though surely this service could be provided by Coleg Meirion-Dwyfor, the local sixth form college from which (presumably) Family Voices plans to recruit a student for ‘work experience’. It would give the students practical training and open up an income stream for the college. College involvement would also mean the provision of a bilingual service. So why does anyone need Family Voices Ltd?