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‘Our cultural heritage has been ignored’

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The ruined house: an aerial view by Hidden Carmarthenshire

The ruined house: an aerial view by Hidden Carmarthenshire

FOUR years after the council transferred Gelli Aur to a Trust, the property has continued to fall into disrepair and public access to the grounds has been curtailed. Instead of the promised art gallery, café, and public space, the house and grounds are off limits and the iconic grounds and buildings continue to decay, while the trust that acquired the property has failed to file accounts for almost two years and the corporate end of the same trust is about to be struck off at Companies House. Most residents of Carmarthenshire will have some memory of walking, playing, studying or just enjoying the beauty of the old Gelli Aur (Golden Grove) Mansion. The beautiful grounds were home to fallow deer and during its time has been an agricultural college, billet to troops and offices for Carmarthenshire County Council. The way in which Carmarthenshire County Council trumpets ambitious plans and significant public investment in projects that fall some way short of its high aspirations has been a feature of Carmarthenshire’s public life for many years.

The Herald has looked at what happened to Gelli Aur, which was transferred to the ownership of a trust in 2011 in a fanfare of publicity and press releases. At the time, the public were assured of a golden future. Cllr Meryl Gravell claimed: “With the financial challenges we face as a local authority we are delighted to have brought our lease to a close with this happy outcome. The authority is grateful to the Trust for having the foresight and ambition to maintain and hopefully improve the public access and public offer at Gelli Aur. We look forward with much anticipation to watching this wonderful facility evolve.” But what has evolved? The answer is – apparently – ‘not much’.

The grants goose has laid many golden eggs for Gelli Aur, all of which have ended up scrambled. Seized by the excitement of entering a new millennium, the Welsh Development Agency (now gone the way of the dodo), decided to launch four ‘Technium’ projects in Carmarthenshire. The Aqua Technium project sank without a trace. The Bio Technium at Llanarthne became entangled in the undergrowth with the loss of £4.7m in public funds before being sold on the quiet to a private company. The Auto Technium never got its motor going at all and was transferred back to Carmarthenshire County Council’s care in 2011.

Since then it has been excitingly rebranded as The Beacon Centre for Enterprise and remains now, as it was originally, a white elephant. In 2013, a damning report from the Welsh Government saw the plug pulled on six out of the ten remaining Technium projects across Wales, with business analysts and academics pointing out the folly of pursuing ‘Field of Dreams’ economics. The Federation of Small Businesses said the schemes were doomed to failure. “Even in the good times they didn’t do anything for the economy.” The amount of public money wasted across Wales was huge and hugely embarrassing. Millions of pounds of public money have been ploughed into the sands, but what happened at Gelli Aur eclipses all of the other projects. The Media Technium was supposed to bring new life to Gelli Aur. This scheme had a price tag of £9.7 million, of which £5.2 million was to have been funded from public money.

A key partner in the venture was businessman Jeffrey Paul Thomas, acting through his companies Gelli Aur Ltd and Hatham Park plc. An estimated £1 million from the WDA and the County Council went in to Gelli Aur and work apparently began on the house, but then stopped when it was discovered that there was no planning permission. In 2003 the WDA announced that Mr Thomas would be pulling out because of the “prevailing uncertainties in the international climate”, conditions which most economists would probably now describe as a boom. Exit Mr Thomas with the WDA saying that it would be pursuing him for £434,000. The WDA remained confident that the project would still go ahead, however. Around £250,000 of other grant money apparently also went missing. If any of this was ever recovered, history does not relate.

The Council remained in possession of its lease on both the house and the estate after Mr Thomas’s sharp exit. In 2005, Harmoni Developments announced plans to turn the house into a luxury hotel. By the end of the year, the company was out of business. In 2007 another property developer from Narberth announced and interest in turning the property into flats. A similar scheme foundered in 2009, but not before the lead had been stripped from the roof, after which the fabric of the house went into sharp decline. In 2011 a charity reported an interested in buying Gelli Aur and turning it into a convalescence home for wounded soldiers.

That scheme collapsed as well. So, by the time The Golden Grove Trust came on the scene, there was a certain urgency and focus to the Council’s wish to dispose of its interest and reduce the burden of Gelli Aur on the public purse. Trustee Richard Salmon told the media that the first project being undertaken would be renovating the park’s cafe and restaurant. He said: “The Trust is committed to a full restoration and development of the public offer at Gelli Aur Country Park. It is hoped the space available to the public there will be increased in years to come. We are grateful to the council’s partnership input to provide this continued public access.” The Council was committed to maintaining the estate for eighteen months after it was transferred to new owners The Golden Grove Trust. But even while the council was still ‘maintaining’ the estate, Gelli Aur continued its slide to ruin; large areas of the park, including the deer park trail and arboretum, were closed by the new owners.

The café was also eventually closed. Of the Trust’s three original directors, two, William Powell Wilkins CBE and Lady Frances Birt departed in 2013 and 2014 respectively. The remaining original director is Richard Salmon, who has been joined on the Board by Mr Barham Enshari Eshlaghi. A look at the Charity Commission’s website shows that the Trust is (at the time of writing this article) 684 days late in filing its returns for 2012. A proposal is on file at Companies House to strike it off the register. Instead a separate entity, Golden Grove Ventures Ltd with the same two directors was incorporated on June 24. Llanfihangel Aberbythych County Councillor Cefin Campbell used to take his children to the park at Gelli Aur. He said: “It is so sad to see the place like this. We have so many memories of coming here to the park, the children playing, ice cream at the café and watching the deer.”

Cllr Campbell continued: “Since the park has been closed this is the first time I have been here. It was a wonderful place for families to come. To see it overgrown is really sad. What we have here is a part of our cultural heritage, which has been ignored. I know people have tried to bring this back into use but they have failed. The longer it goes on the more worried I am that this will never be open to the public.” Reflecting on the demands on shrinking public finances, Cefin Campbell told our reporter: “It is a worry because public finances are not available. We are in a recession and Government has no money to spare.

We are living in difficult times. You have to balance spending on buildings, social care and highways. I will be speaking to the Executive Board for Leisure (Meryl Gravell) and asking the council what we can do now. It would be a disaster for this area if this went to rack and ruin. “The council has an agreement with the owner for the public to have access to these areas at certain times of the year. The owner is responsible for maintenance and you can see, very little has been done. It is disheartening to see this playground in this state and badly needed facilities left to go to ruin.” Expressing dismay at the fate of such a treasured public asset, Cllr Campbell continued: “We appear to be in a state of desperation taking anybody with an idea. I have spoken to the owners and they were very enthusiastic.

They had an ambition to open it up as an arts centre. There is no money available to spend on something like this. Would Welsh Government, Cadw or the National Trust like to get involved?” Looking forward to the future, Cefin Campbell made some suggestions as to how the situation could resolve to all parties’ benefits: “We need to get people around the table to ask what can be done. There are people who could come here as volunteers from the probation service to clear up the park. A couple of days of strimming and weeding here would make it look better. “The local community council could get involved in this. Elen Rhys was very critical of the Welsh Government when they were dealing with them for Telesgop. The financial crash coupled with the lack of public money has left us with this situation. Looking forward we need to try and find a way forward for this historic building and open the park up to the public again.”

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CERED wins Careers Wales Valued Partners Award

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CERED staff were presented with a Silver Award Certificate, based on the work the Menter is doing to help students prepare for their future careers, at a special awards ceremony in Cardiff on 14 November.

The Valued Partners Award, which is organised by Careers Wales, recognises the support CERED provides to schools and young people to help them better understand the world of work and more specifically the importance and value of Welsh in the workplace.

Non Davies, CERED Manager said, “CERED is delighted to be recognized as a Valued Partner. The work that Rhodri Francis and the rest of the staff have done delivering Welsh in the Workplace sessions is extremely important to ensure that our young people understand the value of the Welsh language. The information presented often changes young people’s attitudes towards the Welsh language and positively influences their decisions when considering their future.”

Careers Wales creates links between education and employers by bringing schools and businesses together to inform, inspire and engage young people in their future careers.

Launched in 2018, the Business Education Exchange now offers schools the opportunity to engage with over 13,500 employers across Wales through a host of different activities.

As a Valued Partner, CERED has worked with Careers Wales for a number of years now delivering a ‘Welsh in the Workplace’ session to Year 9 pupils as part of ‘Your Choice, Your Future’ days. These career days are held at every Secondary School in Ceredigion on an annual basis.

More than 50 companies from all over Wales attended the awards ceremony in Cardiff, with BBC Radio Wales presenter Jason Mohammed at the helm.

Nikki Lawrence, Chief Executive of Careers Wales, said, “The Valued Partners Award scheme is vital to the work that Careers Wales does, and we really appreciate the support we receive from all our Valued Partners. Ultimately, we would love for employers to contribute to the national curriculum to ensure that the skills students develop will be useful for evolving workplaces.”

“Without our Valuable Partners, we would not have been able to reach so many students so early in the process, for which we are very grateful.”

For more information on how to work with Careers Wales to help raise young people’s awareness and spark their interest in the world of work, email employerengagement@careerswales.co.uk

CERED yn ennill Gwobr Partneriaid Gwerthfawr Gyrfa Cymru

Cyflwynwyd Tystysgrif Gwobr Arian i staff CERED ar sail y gwaith mae’r Fenter yn ei wneud yn helpu myfyrwyr i baratoi ar gyfer eu gyrfaoedd.

Mae Gwobr Partneriaid Gwerthfawr, sy’n rhoddedig gan gwmni Gyrfa Cymru, yn cydnabod y cymorth mae CERED yn ei roi i ysgolion a phobl ifanc i’w helpu i ddeall y byd gwaith yn well ac yn fwy penodol pwysigrwydd a gwerth y Gymraeg yn y gweithle. Cyflwynwyd y wobr mewn seremoni wobrwyo arbennig yng Nghaerdydd ar 14 Tachwedd.

Dywedodd Non Davies, Rheolwr CERED, “Mae CERED yn bles iawn o gael ei gydnabod fel Partner Gwerthfawr. Mae’r gwaith mae Rhodri Francis a gweddill y staff wedi ei wneud yn cyflwyno sesiynau Cymraeg yn y Gweithle yn hynod bwysig i sicrhau bod ein pobl ifanc yn deall gwerth y Gymraeg. Yn aml mae’r wybodaeth a gyflwynir yn newid agweddau pobl ifanc at y Gymraeg ac yn dylanwadu yn bositif ar eu penderfyniadau wrth ystyried eu dyfodol.”

Mae Gyrfa Cymru yn creu cysylltiadau rhwng addysg a chyflogwyr trwy ddod ag ysgolion a busnesau ynghyd i hysbysu, ysbrydoli a thanio diddordeb pobl ifanc yn eu gyrfaoedd yn y dyfodol.

Cafodd y Gyfnewidfa Addysg Busnes ei lansio yn 2018, ac erbyn hyn mae’n cynnig cyfle i ysgolion ddod i gysylltiad â dros 13,500 o gyflogwyr ledled Cymru trwy gyfrwng llu o wahanol weithgareddau.

Fel Partner Gwerthfawr, mae CERED wedi gweithio gyda Gyrfa Cymru ers nifer o flynyddoedd bellach gan gyflwyno sesiwn ‘Cymraeg yn y Gweithle’ i ddisgyblion Blwyddyn 9 fel rhan o ddiwrnodau ‘Eich Dewis, Eich Dyfodol’. Caiff y diwrnodau gyrfa hyn eu cynnal ym mhob Ysgol Uwchradd yng Ngheredigion yn flynyddol.

Roedd dros 50 o gwmnïau o bob cwr o Gymru yn bresennol yn y seremoni wobrwyo yng Nghaerdydd, a Jason Mohammed, cyflwynydd BBC Radio Wales, oedd wrth y llyw.

Meddai Nikki Lawrence, Prif Weithredwr Gyrfa Cymru, “Mae cynllun Gwobrau Partneriaid Gwerthfawr yn hollbwysig i’r gwaith mae Gyrfa Cymru yn ei wneud, ac rydym wir yn gwerthfawrogi’r gefnogaeth a gawn gan bob un o’n Partneriaid Gwerthfawr. Yn y pen draw, byddem wrth ein bodd pe bai cyflogwyr yn cyfrannu at y cwricwlwm cenedlaethol er mwyn sicrhau y bydd y sgiliau mae myfyrwyr yn eu datblygu yn ddefnyddiol i weithleoedd sy’n esblygu.”

“Heb ein Partneriaid Gwerthfawr, ni fyddai modd i ni gyrraedd cynifer o fyfyrwyr mor gynnar yn y broses, ac rydym yn ddiolchgar iawn iddynt am hynny.”

I gael mwy o wybodaeth am sut i weithio gyda Gyrfa Cymru i helpu i godi ymwybyddiaeth pobl ifanc a thanio eu diddordeb yn y byd gwaith, e-bostiwch employerengagement@careerswales.co.uk

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Spate of overnight burglaries in Clarach, Bow Street and Ponterwyd

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POLICE are investigating a spate of burglaries overnight in Clarach, Bow Street and Ponterwyd.

A number of burglaries have been reported, with entry forced to businesses and CCTV cameras damaged or removed.

In Bow Street, entry was forced into an agricultural merchants, where items were taken; and CCTV was removed from a business.

Two vehicles – a VW Passat – registration plate CU16 OAL – and an Audi – registration YT09 TWL – were also reported stolen from a garage in the village.

A VW Crafter – registration plate GM16OTP, along with tools and equipment were stolen from a business in Ponterwyd.

Four businesses at Nantallan Business Park were targeted:

Bikes and steamers were reported stolen from one, a generator and two boxes containing LED lighting from another, a Mitsubishi L200 flatbed truck taken from the third, and tools stolen from a fourth.

Police are treating the incidents as linked, and would like to speak to anyone with information or who witnessed any suspicious behaviour in the Clarach and Bow Street areas.

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Police confirm Ellie Bryan, 18, died in collision

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DYFED-POWYS POLICE can confirm the woman who tragically died following a collision at Commins Coch was Ellie Bryan, from Aberystwyth.
The 18-year-old was a passenger in a Vauxhall Astra which was involved in a collision at around 10pm on Saturday, November 16.
Her family has released the following statement: “We are distraught by our loss of Ellie. She will be missed by us all.
“Ellie was a loving daughter, sister and granddaughter.
“We would like to thank everyone for their support at this devastating time.
“We would appreciate having time to grieve in privacy.”
Police continue to appeal for witnesses or anyone with information about the collision to contact the Serious Collision Investigation Unit.
You can report information online at: http://bit.ly/dppReportOnline, by email at: contactcentre@dyfed-powys.pnn.police.uk or by calling 101.
If you are deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908. Quote reference: DP-20191116-353.

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