I have just returned from a short break in Pembrokeshire. On the way down my wife and I stopped in Cardigan, and once there we were inevitably drawn to the castle. Now I may not have walked around with a calculator in my hand but I certainly came away wondering where twelve million pounds has been spent. While that may have been a mystery, what became very clear from my tour was that the history of the castle, and indeed the area’s history and culture, is relegated to a few posters, maps, models and videos that could not have cost much, and which will not be allowed to get in the way of the building’s prime focus from now on – as an upmarket conference / functions / weddings venue.
While in the castle I took the opportunity to enjoy the views, and among the sights to be seen from Rhys ap Gruffudd’s old pile were a couple of James Lynch’s establishments. He, you will recall, is a son-in-law to a long-standing trustee of the castle project, a local entrepreneur who appeared in the previous post. Here’s the view across the river to his holiday accommodation in a converted warehouse, and here’s the view of his pizza joint on the quay. Lynch also busies himself with glamping, weddings and associated
businesses. As invariably happens when big city businessmen descend on ‘sleepy’ corners of Wales to re-invent tourism Jimbo has brought to Aberteifi high-skill, twenty-first century jobs, and the top-whack salaries that go with those jobs. (Sarcasm? Moi!)
But enough of James Lynch, as he awaits his opportunity in the wings. Let us focus instead on the leading players, those currently strutting the boards and hogging the limelight. Into this category come two women who are receiving much attention in the local media, Sue Lewis and Sandra Davies. All explained, on facing pages, in the most recent issue the Pembrokeshire Herald. (Click to enlarge on all images.)
First, page four gave us further details on the ‘suspension’ of director Cris Tomos. Reminding us how bizarre this whole saga is becoming by relating that he was ‘suspended’ from his post on the day that marked the climax of Gŵyl Fawr Aberteifi. The Herald continued:
“Although the introduction to the official (GFA) programme contained a couple of references welcoming the opening of the castle (home of the Eisteddfod), the event was staged in the town’s 1960s redbrick leisure centre, while the castle hosted a sports awards bash.”
The Eisteddfod programme contained scores of adverts and messages of support from all sorts of companies, businesses and local organisations, down to the local milkman – but nothing at all from the castle. So, instead of the first chairing of a bard in the castle since 1176, the ceremony took place in a council sports hall.”
If any proof was needed of how those running Cardigan castle had turned their backs on the building’s history and its significance in Welsh cultural history, then this episode provides the proof. For here we see the home of the eisteddfod tradition shunning completely the local eisteddfod!
The bulk of the facing page was taken up with Sue Lewis defending herself against recent criticism of the way she runs things . . . or I think that’s what she was doing. It all got a bit confusing, so judge for yourself. She seems to be suggesting that someone is trying to “discredit” her – by using her own words against her. She went on to threaten legal action, but the Herald had heard nothing from any legal representative before going to press. But if they had, who would have been paying, Mrs Lewis or the Cardigan Castle Trust, in other words, the public purse?
Mrs Lewis is looking more and more discredited, her position increasingly untenable for a number of reasons (dealt with below). But one worth adding here is the remarkable workings of serendipity attaching to her appointment as Facilities Manager.
Sue Lewis was made redundant from her post as editor of the Tivy-Side Advertiser just before Christmas. At that time she was a trustee, and one of a small group of trustees that removed three Welsh-speaking members of staff, including Rhian Medi, daughter of the late Archdruid, Dic Jones. Rhian Medi was the Education Officer. As a trustee, Sue Lewis sat on the panel that, we were led to believe, would appoint replacements. Not quite. It was decided that the Castle could manage without an Education Officer but definitely needed a Facilities Officer, and who better to fill that post than the recently redundant Sue Lewis herself! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all sit in on the selection process and give ourselves jobs!
Another woman whose position has become untenable through her own prejudice-betraying utterances is Sandra Davies, the trustee treasurer. She refers to local group Cyfeillion Rhys ap Gruffudd as “bigots” and orders (an at the time unsuspended) Cris Tomos to have nothing to do with them.
How many times have we heard anyone who speaks up in defence of Wales and Welsh identity condemned as a ‘bigot’, a ‘racist’, or a ‘narrow-minded nationalist’, done so that their views can be disregarded and debate stifled? By comparison, the true racists, those who want to destroy Welsh identity and replace it with an intolerant Englishness, are allowed to portray themselves as generous and liberal! What an indictment of modern Wales, of our media, our political class, that this colonialist distortion has achieved such dominance, and that a woman holding a position of authority with an iconic Welsh building can so freely and proudly exhibit this vile attitude.
Sandra Davies must go, and she must go immediately. If she is not removed then the suspicions attaching to the motives and intentions of the funders and others involved will be finally confirmed.
From whichever perspective one chooses to look at Cardigan Castle it can only be perceived as a disaster.
To begin with, the public was told that among the project’s objectives was that it should attract ‘ . . . visitors who are seeking leisure learning activities related to the Welsh language, culture, crafts, environment and horticulture and “using the Welsh language, and the cultural traditions of the Eisteddfodau, as a tool for tourism development and regeneration”’. This has not happened except in the most cursory and superficial manner.
Then there’s the commercial angle. In her ‘ENGLISH’ e-mails quoted in the Herald Sue Lewis justifies removing the Welsh dimension from the Castle project by arguing that herein lies the route to commercial success. (For ‘ENGLISH’ e-mails see panel above, ‘Cardigan Castle is “under siege”‘.) One well-placed source tells me that the Castle has seen just two conferences, one organised by the county council, the other by Tai Cantref, a local housing association with a lucrative sideline in the importation of riff-raff. The permanent wedding marquee has yet to hear a best man’s embarrassing jokes, or witness the tears of a bride’s mother, while the complex has seen not one paying guest.
Even the cafe, overlooking the High Street, the river, and the interior of the complex, was a loser as people had to pay to go into the castle before they could buy a drink or a meal! This has now been remedied by a new door allowing people to enter directly from the street . . . with bouncers dressed as medieval knights in Cross of St. George outfits ensuring nobody sneaks into the castle after their cappuccino. (OK, I made up the bit about the bouncers, but who was responsible for the original design!)
Then, from so many quarters, I hear horror stories about the main contractor, Andrew Scott of Port Talbot. These involve shoddy workmanship, jobs not finished on time, cost over-runs and sheer incompetence. Into the last category falls the story of the lift ordered for Castle Green House that was the wrong size because someone had not taken the correct measurement! Did this really happen? While a comment to my previous post alleges that very expensive kitchen equipment and furnishings came from a certain supplier due to that firm enjoying a family connection to a trustee, even though the very same equipment could have been sourced far cheaper in Cardigan. Though another suggestion is that a member of the Leekes clan owns an expensive holiday home at Llangrannog, and is a neighbour and friend to a person or persons connected with the Castle.
Another criticism is the lack of joined-up thinking (if that’s what it is). Last month the ‘Welsh’ Government announced a £300,000 grant for Coleg Ceredigion to develop a Welsh language centre at its Cardigan campus. We’re entitled to know why the ‘Welsh’ Government is funding another project on a separate site when it should be in the castle and covered by that project’s £12m budget. Some suggest a devious game being played by the Heritage Lottery fund, who had no intention of allowing Cardigan Castle to be ‘too Welsh’. If so, then perhaps the other big funder, the ‘Welsh’ Government, is simply falling into line.
This post, and the previous one, are not arguments against commercialisation based on some simplistic notion that sites like Cardigan Castle do not need to generate income. I know from experience that funders demand business plans, and all manner of credible projections to convince them that a project will remain viable after the initial funding has run out. But I can’t believe that any funder, or bank, or investor, would be happy with the shambles in Aberteifi.
First, we have the clear departure from the original and expressed intention that the project would promote and nurture the Welsh language and the culture associated with that language. This has not happened. Sue Lewis’ amazing ‘ENGLISH’ e-mails, and Sandra Davies’ rant against Welsh “bigots” make this abundantly clear. All we have now is lip service being paid to the Castle’s history, its role in Welsh culture, and the sensibilities of the people who have always lived in the vicinity.
This rejection of all things Welsh was justified – by Sue Lewis – as being commercially sensible. Mrs Lewis’ judgement is not being vindicated. And I can’t help but wonder what experience a journalist like Sue Lewis has that qualifies her to be the Facilities Officer for a twelve million pounds project. But then, she does appear to have been self-appointed.
And what of the trustees . . . or rather, who are the current trustees? And why is there such a high turnover among them? Does anyone have a complete and up-to-date list of the trustees? Certainly the Charity Commission doesn’t, but the law says it should.
As things stand, this project is approaching meltdown. It has alienated most locals and failed to justify that behaviour with commercial success. Staff have been sacked for no good reason (unless being Welsh qualifies). And the whole shooting-match now appears to be under the control of two women who are always right, and for whom measured responses are anathema. With friends like these Cardigan Castle needs no enemies.
The regeneration of Cardigan Castle started off with a fund of local goodwill upon which to draw; that fund has been all but exhausted by a combination of incompetence and lack of oversight, with the second of those allowing – if not encouraging – the takeover of the project by a prejudiced, self-serving group. The Castle and what it stands for is now resented and regarded with suspicion by the local Welsh, as it was when the Castle was in English hands, imposing English ways on the Welsh population.
Given my ideological outlook I don’t often quote Karl Marx, but I can’t resist this: ‘History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce’. Cardigan Castle is most definitely a farce. A very expensive farce.