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Welsh Government investigates Cantref

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Uncharitable?: Cymdeithas Tai Cantref housing association

Uncharitable?: Cymdeithas Tai Cantref housing association

ITS WEBSITE says that Cymdeithas Tai Cantref is a housing association which provides ‘good quality affordable homes’ and housing services for almost 3,500 people across four local authority areas in West Wales: Ceredigion, North Pembrokeshire, North Carmarthenshire and the Machynlleth area in Powys.
What it does not tell visitors to the website is that it is currently under investigation by the Welsh Government and has been the subject of previous investigations into its management and an alleged culture of bullying.
With 84 staff, largely based in its Newcastle Emlyn HQ, Cantref is a major employer. And one it appears with a number of major problems.
The recent AGM of Cantref was held at Cardigan Castle, a venue itself no stranger to controversy. It was a bumper event, with tenants invited to partake of a hog roast and free wine, while residents of Cantref’s hostel were similarly entertained.
The uncharitable have suggested that perhaps the Association’s money would have been better spent on repairing its existing stock. Something which it is claimed the Association is too cash-strapped to manage.
Meanwhile, The Herald has been told that Cantref is struggling to find people to take up residence in its new Felinfach development while the student accommodation built in Aberystwyth, and which was intended to fund further projects, has proven a similarly hard sell.
The Herald has confirmed that three senior staff left Cantref’s employment, among them the Director of Housing, whose replacement Jamie Saunders took up his post earlier this month. Mr Saunders’ background in housing appears limited to the twelve years’ experience he gained working for Hugh James Solicitors, latterly as a senior associate solicitor specialising in property litigation.
The Finance Director was replaced in March. The new post holder, Rhodri Jones, was formerly with Newport City Homes. In 2013, the Welsh Government reported that ‘Newport City Homes recognises that it is not yet always providing excellent outcomes in the way services are delivered’. Comments made by former staff were less kind. One staff comment dated March 20, 2015 on the site glassdoor.com said: “Horrendous working environment, incomprehensible structures & processes, mainly incompetent managers & directors completely out of their depth with personal values to match with all too few exceptions. Stress levels that hugely impact on your quality of life, ill health, huge staff turnover, very high staff absence mainly due to stress. Incredibly poor recruitment policy”.
The Herald has confirmed that officials from the Welsh Government are now using their powers to investigate Cymdeithas Tai Cantref. The Herald has been told, but has not been able to confirm, that this is the first time the Welsh Government has used those powers.
The Herald has, however, confirmed that the investigation has arisen following ‘whistleblowing’ by either past or current Cantref employees.
The Welsh Government is following three lines of enquiry: Governance of the organisation, procurement irregularities and HR (treatment of staff ).
The Herald has been told that the Welsh Government’s officials initially made great play of the situation’s seriousness.
Our sources have confirmed that staff are unaware of any further visits by the Welsh Government to Cantref to follow up that initial intervention. Consultants from a firm called Campbell Tickell, a housing consultancy, are involved and while its representatives have spoken to senior managers, no staff have been interviewed to date, or even been asked their availability. One source has told us that Cantref’s management have told staff the investigation could take four months.
The Herald understands that a letter sent to stakeholders by Cantref has played down the importance of the Welsh Government’s intervention.
We have also been told that senior managers have told staff that if they say anything to WG or the investigators the Association will be shut down and everyone will lose their jobs. A planned (cost of living) pay rise has been cancelled. The move has been widely regarded by staff as a collective punishment for the actions of the whistle-blowers.
Our reporter contacted Cymdeithas Tai Cantref and asked them to comment on the situation.
Lynne Sacale, Cantref’s Chief Executive, told The Herald: “Cantref believes in ‘placing our customers at the heart of our work’ and we want to reassure our tenants that Cantref is fully compliant with all financial and regulatory requirements to date. We have recently undergone a robust and successful statutory audit and our performance indicators show we deliver high quality services to our customers. We welcome the inquiry on the basis that any findings will be to the benefit of the association going forward”

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Penrhyn-coch Brownies compose song

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PENRHYN-COCH Brownies were congratulated for composing a new Welsh language song recently. The workshops were part of a program of Welsh language workshops organised by Cered – Menter Iaith Ceredigion.

Following a series of workshops with the young singer, Mari Mathias from Talgarreg, the girls decided to compose a song. ‘Yn yr Haf’ was recorded with the girls singing and Mari on the guitar. All the group members received a copy of the song on CD.

Rhodri Francis, Cered’s Development Officer said: “It has been a pleasure to work with the group and we congratulate members on their masterpiece. Thanks also to the leaders for their enthusiasm in securing opportunities for the members to socialise in Welsh outside of school hours.”

Cered’s main aim is to support, influence and develop the use of the Welsh language in Ceredigion through partnership and co-operation, to establish the best possible foundation for the development of the language in the society and community.

Wendy Reynolds, leader of the Brownies unit in Penrhyn-coch said: “The experience has been amazing for the girls and they’ve had a lot of fun doing activities through the medium of Welsh.”

Follow all the news about the wider work of Cered, through liking the Facebook page @ceredmenteriaith or follow on Twitter @MICered.

For more information on Cered, phone 01545 572350 or email cered@ceredigion.gov.uk.

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Theatre caravan coming to Aberystwyth

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THE SMALLEST cinema in a theatre caravan will be on the Promenade in Aberystwyth for three Saturdays this summer.

Staff from Ceredigion Museum, together with the Friends of Ceredigion Museum, will be hosting a series of free entertaining events in and around the theatre caravan on July 28, August 4, and August 11 between 12pm and 4pm.

Sarah Morton, the Events Organiser for Ceredigion Museum said, “We have a series of short local films from the National Film and Screen Archive which links to our summer exhibition relating to the seaside at the museum, in the old Coliseum Theatre. The two minute films show people on the beach and promenade in Aberystwyth as well as Y Borth. We will also have singing from the Showtime Singers to add to the entertainment.

“We will be situated in and near the bandstand and hope to be able to bring some of the traditions of a typical coastal break back to life.”

Besides the theatre caravan, there will be a Guess-the-Object held in the bandstand with museum staff to aid in identifying the mystery objects.

For more details about the caravan and the entertainment, contact Sarah Morton at Ceredigion Museum on 01970 633088

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Surprise presentation for retiring cook

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AFTER feeding hundreds of children in her role as cook at Ysgol Eglwyswrw for the past 40 years, Mrs Anona Williams is finally hanging up her apron. But there was a shock in store for Mrs Williams when she arrived at the school for one of her last days at work on Tuesday (Jul 17).

Cameras from the S4C magazine programme, Heno, were present to capture her receiving a special award from music conductor and presenter, Alwyn Humphreys.

She started at her post in 1978 and during that time has fed three generations including her own niece and nephew and great-niece and great-nephew.

Headteacher, Edryd Eynon, said Mrs Williams would be sadly missed.

“We will miss her delicious meals and her caring nature,” he said.

“She spoils all the children and is like a grandmother to them. Her contribution to the school is priceless.

“She ran the breakfast and the Cook It clubs and ensured all pupils had an exciting experiences working with food and preparing many delicious recipes.

“Every sports day she would prepare and donate coffee, tea and her famous scones and all the money she raised would be given to school funds. She did this for 40 years.

“Mrs Williams will be sadly missed at Ysgol Eglwyswrw not only for her delicious food – especially her pizza and coleslaw – but also for her caring and loving character. We wish her all the best for the future.”

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