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Enter the Aber Dragon!

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Y Draig Goch: breathing fire (Photo: RtP)

Y Draig Goch: breathing fire (Photo: RtP)

A DRAGON from Aberystwyth was in the forefront of the occupation of an opencast coalmine near Merthyr Tydfil last week.

Pictures of ‘y ddraig goch’ dominated days of intensive global media coverage of the action at the 11 million tonne Ffos-y-Frân mine.

The story first broke in the UK when The Herald previewed the occupation.

Inside the dragon were Mike Fincken from Aberystwyth and Ian O’Reilly from Lampeter.

On the eve of Assembly elections, they were taking part in the occupation to demand an end to coal because of the impact that burning fossil fuels has on climate change.

The occupation and a four-day camp was organised by Reclaim the Power (RtP). This network joined forces with local residents the United Valleys Action Group (UVAG) who have been opposing the mine because of its visual impact, dust and noise pollution since 2004.

Led by the dragon, more than threehundred people dressed in red boiler suits drew a line across the mine to symbolise that carbon emissions are exceeding viable limits for future life on Earth. Alternately singing, dancing and playing football, protesters nonviolently closed the mine for twelve hours. South Wales police made no arrests.

The RtP camp was an impressive feat of organisation. For four-days on a bitterly cold hill-top three-hundred people made use of marquees and geodesic domes for meetings and workshops, enjoyed food prepared by chef from Cardiff, had all the energy they needed generated by a small wind turbine and an array of photovoltaic panels, and made use of commodious and virtually odourless compost toilets.

Mike Fincken was most impressed with the food: “The only thing at this event that was better than the direct action we took was the food we ate, fresh, colourful, delicious and piping hot vegan cuisine.”

Why they did it

Ian O’Reilly told The Herald why he had been a part of the occupation: “Because I had heard of the struggles that the Ffos-y-Frân residents were facing before, but it wasn’t until I started looking at the pictures and reading about it that I realized just how big the destruction was, and how badly the people around there had been treated.

“I went to the Reclaim the Power Camp because I love the countryside, and we have to get out there and protect it – whether it’s outside the door or a couple of hours away. Otherwise big companies are going to keep on destroying it, leaving us with nothing.”

Mike Fincken told us why he was there: “To shut down the largest opencast coal mine in the UK. This was a local protest with an international audience. It was also the first action of Groundswell a series of international actions planned to increase the call for climate justice in 2016.

“Last year I was inspired by ‘Ende Gelände’ where fifteen hundred people occupied an open-cast mine in Germany. Ende Gelände had in turn been inspired by previous actions at Ffos-y-Frân.”

Best moment?

Mike Fincken recalls that his: “Best moment came when I was asked to be the head of the dragon. I was a little anxious that I would be strong enough to carry it off all day but I didn’t hesitate to accept the challenge.

“I did not expect that I would end up leading 300 people in serpentine fashion down into the deep centre of the mine!” For Ian O’Reilly: ‘All of my best moments were about people and that sense of community.

“Down in the centre of the mine, dancing with the dragon and singing with drummers and watching people play a game of football made me appreciate what we had managed to do: In halting a dangerous activity, we had also brought people together.”

Worst moment?

Ian and Mike were in agreement about their worst moment during the camp. Ian told The Herald that: “Waking up to find your tent covered with frost in May wasn’t pleasant, but I would have to say that my worst moment was seeing all the rubbish tipped out on the sides of the roads up near the common and Rhaslas Reservoir on the way to the camp.

“It was a really disheartening moment and sort of captured everything that we were there to try and turnaround.”

Mike added: “I was shocked by the mass of fly-tipped garbage at the side of the road outside of Merthyr Tydfil. Over the long weekend people from the camp made an effort to collect it.

“Office chairs, fenders, pipes, decaying bags filled with trash and a lot of rusty wire. We called the council to take it away but their truck wasn’t big enough and it had to do two runs.”

It is striking that, knowing about the climate change associated with coal and confronted by a filthy great hole in the ground covering 900 acres, Ian and Mike were most shocked by fly-tipping.

To obtain initial planning permission Ffos-y-Frân actually masqueraded as a land reclamation scheme. Merthyr common has long been a notorious site for fly-tipping. Despite a commitment from the developers of Ffos-y-Frân to clean it up, the practice continues unabated.

This in an area of potentially outstanding natural beauty on the edge of the Brecon Beacons, a renowned tourist destination. UVAG and RtP will revisit the common in June to organise a major clean-up.

What was achieved?

Mike told the Herald: “Three-hundred people took a dragon into UK’s largest opencast coal mine and shut it down. We achieved international coverage in the first wave of the Groundswell movement for 2016.

“For three days we were the top story in Wales. We brought protest home and showed that it is simple, fun and most importantly that it is carried out by ordinary people. Last year was the hottest on record.

“Climate change is talked about on an academic level, but in direct action there is the opportunity for ordinary people like myself to do something about it.”

Ian added: “I’d like to think that somehow we managed to reach the workers we saw and met. That maybe they appreciated that we were doing this for them, their families and their jobs.”

The politics of coal

With Aberthaw power station, the main market for coal from Ffos-y-Frân on its last legs, the end of opencast mining in Wales may not be so far down the line.

Plaid Cymru is committed to no new opencast, while the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party both made election pledges to produce all the nation’s electricity from renewable sources.

Labour’s commitment is less quantifiable, with a vague manifesto pledge to develop more renewable energy projects. While the Conservatives are more sceptical on climate change, UKIP seeks to cut Welsh government spending on climate change altogether.

Only the Green Party found time to actively support the Reclaim the Power Camp as part of a busy election campaign. For all their efforts, they were rewarded by gaining no seats in the Assembly.

Party leader Natalie Bennet visited the camp together with Wales leader Alice Hooker-Stroud, who said: “Fossil fuels must stay in the ground if we’re to act responsibly on climate change. We don’t need or want more opencast in Wales.

“There is huge potential for renewables in Wales, creating a clean energy economy fit for the future. Not only is the industry potentially worth billions to the Welsh economy, which could be invested by communities and local authorities in public services, but it would provide decent, sustainable jobs across Wales.”

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Charity

Local Businesses help raise astonishing £10,000 for Cardio-Respiratory Ward at Bronglais Hospital

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THE ORGANISERS of the 2021 Aberystwyth Businesspersons’ Lunch have donated the £10,000 proceeds to the Cardio-Respiratory Ward at Bronglais Hospital.

Consultant Cardiologist Dr Donogh McKeogh; Aled and Rose Rowlands;

John Davies’ widow Ann; Frank Bridle; John’s daughter and son, Angharad

and Rhodri; and Iestyn Leyshon

The lunch last December was in memory of well-known local businessman, jeweller and musician John Davies, who had helped organise the annual lunch for many years but sadly passed away just a few months before.

“John was such a lovely man, a pillar of the town and so well thought of, that we decided it was fitting that the lunch should be in his memory and that the proceeds should go to the cardiac unit where he had been treated for so many years,” said Aled Rowlands, who organised the lunch along with Frank Bridle, Layla Mangan, Gary Pemberthy, Huw Bates and Iestyn Leyshon.

“It was a very successful day, with nearly 200 people enjoying a lunch, comedian, band, auction and raffle. It was a fitting tribute to John who was such a big part of the town.”

John Davies joined his parents’ business at T J Davies at the age of 16 where he worked for 64 years after leaving Llandaff Cathedral School. He passed away in August 2021, at the age of 80.

John’s wife Ann and children Angharad and Rhodri said: “We were delighted at the generous amount that was raised in his memory at the Businesspersons Christmas lunch.

“Charity work was important to John, through his membership of the Lions Club and it is fitting that the money raised went to a department where he personally received such care and attention from Dr McKeogh and his team.

“John will be remembered not only as a businessman but also as a keen and talented trumpeter, playing with Aberystwyth Town Band, Aber Jazz and Philomusica, to name but a few, as well as playing carols with the Town Band every Christmas Day around Bronglais Hospital wards and care homes in the town.”

Pictured at the cheque presentation at Bronglais Hospital are (from left) Consultant Cardiologist Dr Donogh McKeogh; Aled and Rose Rowlands; John Davies’ widow Ann; Frank Bridle; John’s daughter and son, Angharad and Rhodri; and Iestyn Leyshon.

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Wales stands firm in support for Ukraine

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IN THE latest update on the Ukraine crisis, Wales’s Minister for Social Justice Jane Hutt thanked all those households across Wales who have come forward to offer their homes to Ukrainians fleeing the War and encouraged more households to provide this vital support.

APPEAL FOR MORE HOST FAMILIES

The Minister for Social Justice said: “I’m delighted to say that over 5,650 people from Ukraine, sponsored by the Welsh Government and Welsh households, have already arrived in the UK.
“More than 8,200 visas have now been issued to people from Ukraine who have sponsors in Wales, so we expect the number of arrivals to continue to grow in the coming weeks.
“Thousands of Welsh households sponsored Ukrainians to arrive in Wales and committed to hosting them for at least six months.
“As we move into the autumn, we approach the end of that initial period.
“We hope hosts and Ukrainians will agree to extend many of those placements, but we need additional hosts to support those who cannot continue living where they are.
“To ensure a warm welcome to Wales, I’m inviting households across Wales to come forward and open their homes to welcome those seeking sanctuary.
“We’re immensely thankful to all those across Wales acting as hosts to Ukrainians, but more households must come forward.
“I completely understand that there are those who want to help but may not have the resources to do so, given the circumstances we’re all facing with the cost-of-living crisis.”

WALES WILL STEP UP TO THE PLATE

Jane Hutt continued: “What we all know, and has been proven countless times, is that the people of Wales are one of the most generous across the globe, and I’m sure we will step up to the plate once again.
“The idea of hosting can be daunting. That’s why we have funded Housing Justice Cymru to provide a Host Support service which includes expert and reliable information, training, advice, and guidance for people hosting, or those considering hosting, Ukrainians in Wales.
“More information on sessions and training can be found on the Housing Justice Cymru website. We also publish regularly updated guidance for hosts and sponsors at gov. wales/ukraine.
“We still need many more households to consider whether they could provide a home for those in need. This would normally be a commitment to hosting for 6 to 12 months.
“If anyone is considering this, we encourage them to register their interest at gov.wales/offerhome, and to attend one of the ‘Introduction to Hosting’ sessions, facilitated by Housing Justice Cymru. You won’t need to continue the process if you decide it is not for you.
“We have also partnered with Airbnb.org to ensure very short-term emergency placements can be provided to prevent homelessness.
“If you cannot host for more than 6 months but you could offer your property for up to 30 days at a time, you may also be able to contribute. Visit gov.wales/offerhome and follow the link to the Airbnb.org platform.”
Finally, the Minister stated: “We will continue to communicate with those who host Ukrainians, with updated guidance and information to support the valuable role you are undertaking.
“To all those that are already hosting and to those that are considering hosting, thank you, we owe you all a huge debt of gratitude.”

WESTMINSTER MUST BACK HOSTS
DURING COST-OF-LIVING CRISIS

Conservative MS Mark Isherwood raised how the cost-of-living crisis affects Ukrainian refugees.
Where families had taken in those fleeing Russian aggression, he noted a risk of sponsorships not continuing beyond six months because the hosts cannot afford the rise in fuel costs.
He asked the Minister what discussions she’d had with the UK Government about increasing the £350 contribution to households who’d taken in Ukrainian refugees.
The Minister agreed with Mark Isherwood that ending a specific ministerial post dealing with refugees was regrettable.
She noted a lack of information from the UK Government over the summer months and since Liz Truss replaced Boris Johnson as head of the Conservative Government.
Ms Hutt said: “We asked for an increase at least to £500, or up again, doubling to £700 per month. An urgent decision is needed regarding this as they reach the end of their six-month period.
“That period is underway, so we’re writing to all hosts to see if they will continue.”

UK GOVERNMENT URGED
TO PICK UP THE PHONE

The Minister thanked Mark Isherwood for introducing her to a charity offering support in North Wales, Link, and hoped that he and his colleagues would bring pressure to bear on their Westminster colleagues to ensure those in need from Ukraine and those in Wales helping them received support.
She added: “I look forward perhaps that we might have some telephone calls from the Prime Minister and other Ministers to us in Government. We must engage with them and follow this through.
“There is a huge job of work to be done here. We’re taking responsibility in the way I’ve outlined, funding our welcome centres and paying thank-you payments to hosts if they support a family who initially arrived in Wales under the Ukraine family scheme.
“That’s not happening in England. The commitment that we’re making is considerable.
“I hope everyone will join us today, saying that we need to press for those answers in terms of financial support.”

THE THREAT OF HOMELESSNESS

Sioned Williams of Plaid Cymru raised the spectre of Ukrainian refugees becoming homeless in Wales due to a lack of financial support and the end of existing hosting and housing placements.
The Minister praised the work of local authorities across Wales supporting refugees.
She said: “There are very imaginative programmes. That includes a whole range of issues like repurposing empty buildings.
“Local authorities are really coming up with a whole range of ways in which we can support people, perhaps, from a welcome centre, or a host family, into that intermediate accommodation, and then on to other longer-term accommodation.”
Pembrokeshire currently houses around 200 Ukrainian refugees, with the demand for assistance outstripping the availability of suitable accommodation.

NOT ONE PENNY FROM WESTMINSTER
TO SUPPORT FAMILIES FLEEING WAR

Responding to a question from Mabon ap Gwynfor about problems housing family groups, Jane Hutt hit out at the lack of support from the UK Government and how it’s u-turned on a commitment to help families.
“The UK Government has never given a penny towards the family scheme.
“The former Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, in one of his last PMQs, actually said that he thought the Ukraine family scheme should get the same funding and support as the Homes for Ukraine scheme. It’s never happened.
“We have provided thank-you payments to people who are hosting Ukrainian families. It’s all Welsh Government money; it’s not UK Government, because they don’t provide a penny. And also, the British Red Cross—£246,000—who are actually supporting Ukrainian families who are hosting family members under the Ukrainian family scheme.”
On Wednesday, September 28, Eluned Morgan, Wales’s Health Minister, announced the continuation of free healthcare in Wales to Ukrainian residents displaced by the ongoing conflict.
The exemption will continue to apply unless there’s a significant change in circumstances in Ukraine.

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Prince and Princess of Wales to visit Wales

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THE PRINCE and Princess of Wales have planned a trip to Wales to visit a variety of communities across the nation and learn about the work of key charitable organisations. 

The Prince and Princess have a deep affection for Wales, having made their first family home in Anglesey, and have thoroughly enjoyed their previous visits and the warmth and kindness shown by the Welsh people. 

Their Royal Highnesses are looking forward to spending more time in Wales over the next few years, they hope to strengthen their relationship with communities in all parts of Wales. 

During their first engagement, Their Royal Highnesses will visit the RNLI Holyhead Lifeboat Station, where they will meet crew, volunteers and some people who have been supported by their local unit.

Holyhead is one of the three oldest lifeboat stations on the Welsh coast and has a remarkable history of bravery, having received 70 awards for gallantry. 

Their Royal Highnesses will then take a short walk to the Holyhead Marine and Cafe Bar, where they will meet local people, including representatives of small businesses and organisations, including the Coastguard and Sea Cadets. 

In their second engagement, the Prince and Princess of Wales are expected to visit Swansea. 

Their Royal Highnesses will visit St Thomas Church, a re-developed church in Swansea which supports people in the local area and across the City and County of Swansea. 

Over the last two years the church has been transformed into a thriving community hub and is home to a vast array of services, including:

  • A foodbank which supports over 200 people per week
  • Swansea Baby Basics which distributes essential items for vulnerable mothers across the city, such as toiletries and clothes
  • Facilities for the homeless including food, showers and toilets
  • A not-for-profit cafe and community training kitchen
  • A surplus food distribution network which collects food from supermarkets at the end of each day and distributes it from the church to prevent food waste and to help end food poverty

As part of their visit, Their Royal Highnesses will meet those volunteering at the church across different initiatives including Baby Basics and the foodbank. Their Royal Highnesses will also spend some time meeting members of the public gathered outside the church. 

The Princess of Wales has previously worked with Baby Banks and the in summer of 2020 brought together 19 British brands and retailers to donate over 10,000 new items to more than 40 baby banks nationwide, operated by Baby Basics, Little Village and AberNecessities. 

Her Royal Highness has visited a number of baby banks across the UK, including in London, Sheffield and West Norfolk where she has spent time speaking with families about their experiences of using their local baby bank services, as well as helping unload donations. 

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