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Lottery funding for street choirs project

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Lotte Reimer: With members of Côr Gobaith on Remembrance Sunday

HAVE YOU SEEN the woman who sings the streets of London? On Thursday, December 8, Lotte Reimer from Blaenplwyf hopped on the bus to the UK’s capital to busk at Earl’s Court.

That same night, she joined up with a group of people singing outside the tube station to raise money for Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP). In truth, Lotte’s adventure was about interviewing members of this street choir than busking as an extreme long-distance sport! That said, she told The Herald she was very glad to be able to contribute a little towards the often forgotten cause of people suffering in Palestine, where MAP is working across the West Bank and Gaza and in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. Lotte is part of a project to interview members of street choirs from all around the UK. Although they get little or no media attention, street choirs sing regularly in many communities from Edinburgh to Brighton and from Aberystwyth to Whitby. Funded by the Sharing Heritage strand of the National Lottery, Lotte’s project is unusual in that it sets out to record oral histories of street choirs throughout the UK. Typically, Sharing Heritage projects focus on the history of one place-based community, for instance a village, rather than a network spread across places in different nations.

Lotte told The Herald: “It’s difficult to fully define what a street choir is. Obviously, they sing in the street! Community choirs are great, but the street choirs that we’re interested in for this oral history project are definitely political; they are out there all the time singing for campaigns and causes. Many of them have been around for decades. Lots have working class origins, coming out of initiatives like the Workers Education Association or the Clarion movement. Raised Voices, whom I sang with at Earl’s Court in London, sing for peace, justice and the environment, and against militarism, capitalism, racism and sexism. The choir is based in North London and has been in existence since 1986. They have more than 25 members, and we managed to interview five of them this weekend – old-stagers, beginners and some in between. It was very busy!”

CAMPAIGN CHOIRS

Apart from interviewing members of Raised Voices, Lotte somehow found time to interview a former member of Velvet Fist. Now disbanded, Velvet Fist were a well-known feminist women’s choir founded in 1983 as part of an arts project organised by the Communist Party. Finally, Lotte also managed to get to a rehearsal with Strawberry Thieves, an activist choir based in Telegraph Hill, South-East London.

The oral history project which Lotte is co-ordinating is called ‘Singing for Our Lives’ and will, ultimately, record the oral histories of more than 40 members of at least 10 different street choirs. Apart from Raised Voices, Strawberry Thieves and Velvet Fist in London, the project has already interviewed members of Liverpool Socialist Singers and the sharply named Red Leicester. In the coming months, Lotte will visit Sheffield to interview Sheffield Socialist Singers and the LGBTQ choir Out Aloud.

She will also trek up to Edinburgh to interview members of radical singing group Protest in Harmony. Supported by online resources, the main output of the project will be a book introducing ‘stories from the street choirs’ to a much wider public.

Lotte told us: “The aim is to share these amazing personal stories and encourage more people to get into singing with their local political communities. It’s such a great way to support local and international campaigns, to meet people and sing with them. We’re also hoping we can learn something about how street choirs themselves can attract new people, especially younger people and people from a wider range of ethnic groups. Even the London choirs were mainly older people and mostly white faces! We also want to explore ways that choirs can work together more, sharing songs, knowledge and skills, and coming together as combined choirs to sing at actions and national demonstrations. We have an initiative, Campaign Choirs, which is taking a lead on increasing cooperation between choirs. Also, many choirs simply struggle to get enough basses – they just need more men, basically! Most street choirs believe everyone can sing and people don’t need to be able to read music or to be experienced singers to join. No one needs to be scared or shy.”

STREET CHOIRS IN WALES

In 2013, Côr Gobaith, in which Lotte sings, hosted the annual Street Choirs Festival in Aberystwyth, an event which many Herald readers will remember fondly. The Festival in Aberystwyth attracted some 50 choirs and hundreds of people to the town for a glorious, sun-blessed weekend in the middle of July. Beginning in Sheffield in 1983 as the ‘National Street Band Festival’, the breakaway Street Choirs Festival seeks to ‘put the music into protest to make it more creative, joyful and thought-provoking’. The ambition is to help create a world free of oppression, exploitation and violence. With its roots in the north of England, the Street Choirs Festival has blossomed across the UK, being staged every year in a different town or city. In Aberystwyth, the Festival took place in the Arts Centre over a very full weekend that included a ‘mass sing’ with all the choirs gathered on the seafront.

Perhaps Wales’ most famous contemporary street choir is Cardiff’s near legendary Côr Cochion Caerdydd. Since 1983, ‘Cardiff Reds Choir’ have sung, ‘campaigning for peace, freedom and justice’. In the process, they have raised many thousands of pounds to support people in the UK and abroad who are struggling against hardship and oppression. Lotte Reimer told The Herald: “We’re certainly going to interview members of Côr Cochion for the Singing for Our Lives project. They are amazing activists and have actually been to sing in places like Ireland during the Troubles and in Palestine. I remember Ray Davies, one of South Wales’ most colourful and dedicated political characters. In his trademark red beret, Ray was a staunch member of Côr Cochion until he died last year. It’s stories like Ray’s that we don’t want to miss out on recording and sharing.”

IDEAS IN ACTION

Back in Aberystwyth, at lunchtime on Saturday (Dec 10), Lotte’s comrades in Côr Gobaith joined in the singing outside the Christmas Fair, held at Medina restaurant on Market Street. The singing raised £70 for Mind and Blood Bikes.

Happy to be home, Lotte Reimer was also a little sad to have missed out on singing with her own beloved choir: “Still, you can’t do everything!” – although Lotte does seem to try her level best!

To find out more about Singing for Our Lives, visit www.singing4ourlives.net.

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Ceredigion’s Energy Efficiency work recognised at the Wales Energy Efficiency Awards

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ON June, 17, 2022, Wales Regional Energy Efficiency Awards were held in Cardiff. Ceredigion County Council’s Energy Efficiency Schemes scooped 2 awards.

The Energy Efficiency Awards were introduced to help recognise the fantastic work being undertaken by the energy efficiency sector in Wales. The measures were introduced to help homeowners reduce their energy bills, tackle fuel poverty and reduce Carbon emissions.

Ceredigion County Council have been delivering the ECO Local Authority Flexibility scheme along with the Warm Homes Cozy Ceredigion Scheme for a number of years. These schemes have seen a number of insulation measures and heating systems being installed in properties improving their energy efficiency. With the drive towards renewable heating systems the concentration lately has been on the installation of air source heat pumps.

The Council scooped the top prize for the Regional Council or Local Authority of the Year where one exceptional council in each of the 11 Regional areas of the UK has shown a true commitment to promoting energy efficiency within their region. This award was sponsored by Improveasy.

For this award, the judges look at the impact their work has had within the local community, what their customer and local community have to say about the council, what level of expertise the council has within its own teams and what priority the council gives to tackling fuel poverty within its current plans.

The Council also won the Regional Vulnerable Customer Support Organisation of the Year having shown a true commitment to improving the lives of vulnerable people within their region. This award was sponsored by Consumer Energy Solutions.

Councillor Matthew Vaux, is the Cabinet Member responsible for the Housing Service. He said: “I would like to congratulate the Housing team for their hard work and success at the Regional Energy Efficiency Awards this year. With the current rise in fuel costs and the increase in cost of living, this is a fantastic achievement for the Council’s housing team in showcasing that they are helping our residents save energy and combat fuel poverty.”

Find more information about Energy Efficiency Schemes on the Council’s website: www.ceredigion.gov.uk/resident/housing/financial-assistance/energy-efficiency-schemes/

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The Welsh Government launches Basic Income pilot scheme

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FROM 1 July 2022, more than 500 people leaving care in Wales will be offered £1600 each month (before tax) for two years to support them as they make the transition to adult life.

Launched by First Minister Mark Drakeford, it is hoped the pilot will set care leavers on a path to live healthy, happy and fulfilling lives.

The radical approach has trust, autonomy and respect at its centre. It will provide independence and security to people who have faced immense challenges during their childhood, giving them greater control and empowering them to make decisions about their future.

The £20 million pilot, which will run for three years, will be evaluated to carefully examine its effect on the lives of those involved

Social Justice Minister Jane Hutt said the scheme is a direct investment in the lives and futures of some of Wales’ most vulnerable young people.

Those taking part in the pilot will also receive individual advice and support to help them manage their finances and develop their financial and budgeting skills.

Local authorities will play a key role in supporting them throughout the pilot. Voices from Care Cymru will also work with the young people to give them advice on wellbeing, education, employment and help them plan their future after the pilot.

To launch the scheme, First Minister Mark Drakeford, Social Justice Minister Jane Hutt and Deputy Minister for Social Services Julie Morgan met with people taking part in the pilot, and young people who themselves have been in care, to talk about the impact this support will have on peoples’ lives.

They discussed how they hope the financial stability will give people the opportunity to make positive life choices as they leave care and provide a more solid foundation from which to build their adult lives.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “We want all our young people to have the best possible chance in life and fulfil their full potential. The state is the guardian of people leaving care and so has a real obligation to support them as they start their adult life.

“Our focus will be on opening up their world to all its possibilities and create an independence from services as their lives develop.

“Many of those involved in this pilot don’t have the support lots of people – myself included – have been lucky enough to enjoy as we started out on our path to adulthood.

“Our radical initiative will not only improve the lives of those taking part in the pilot, but will reap rewards for the rest of Welsh society. If we succeed in what we are attempting today this will be just the first step in what could be a journey that benefits generations to come.”

Minister for Social Justice Jane Hutt said: “We’re in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis like no other and we therefore need new ways of supporting people who are most in need.

“Our Basic Income pilot is an incredibly exciting project giving financial stability to a generation of young people. Too many people leaving care face huge barriers to achieving their hopes and ambitions; such as problems with getting a safe and stable home, to securing a job and building a fulfilling career. This scheme will help people live a life free of such barriers and limitations.

“We will carefully evaluate the lessons learnt from the pilot. Listening to everyone who takes part will be crucial in determining the success of this globally ambitious project. We will examine whether Basic Income is an efficient way to support society’s most vulnerable and not only benefit the individual, but wider society too.”

Tiff Evans of Voices from Care Cymru, speaking on behalf of young people who have experienced care, said: “This is a brilliant opportunity for care leavers in Wales. It is good to see that care leavers in Wales are being thought of and Welsh Government are providing this opportunity for them as young people to become responsible, control some parts of their lives and have a chance to thrive and be financially independent.

“We thank Welsh Government for investing in them and their future and we look forward to other changes and developments for care experienced young people in Wales in order for them to reach life aspirations.”

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Ceredigion man living in Ireland sentenced after involvement in illegal meat operation

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A CEREDIGION man living in Ireland has been extradited and sentenced after his involvement in illicit farming and trading of meat that was unfit for human consumption.

Robert Thomas, 45, was found to be part of an organised crime group (OCG), who were involved in running an illegal meat operation, where “smokies” were being prepared for human consumption. The production of “smokies” involves the illegal slaughter of sheep which, as part of the production process, have their fleece retained on the carcasses and burnt with blow torches to impart a smoked flavour to the meat. This process is illegal in the UK and many European countries.

The initial prosecution was undertaken by Ceredigion County Council in 2015, but due to Mr Thomas persistence in evading justice it has taken 7 years for the proceedings to reach a conclusion. The prosecution involved Mr Thomas and another male person from Ceredigion, who is still wanted on warrant in respect of the charges.

At Swansea Crown Court in December 2015, Thomas was sentenced to a 28-week term of imprisonment, suspended for two years and was ordered to undertake 200 hours of unpaid work and ordered confiscation proceedings to try and identify and recover any assets obtained by Thomas, through his illegal activities. That confiscation investigation was undertaken by officers in the Tarian Regional Economic Crime Unit (RECU) assisted by Ceredigion County Council. Various Proceeds of Crime Act hearings took place during which Thomas gave evidence on oath that his assets and income were minimal.

He declared that he had two old cars and was earning just £40 per week working for his parents. He also claimed that he had two UK bank accounts with no money in them and produced bank statements to prove so. Over the course of three years, Thomas persistently denied having any more than this, and in April 2017 he failed to appear at court.

Further investigations revealed that Thomas held a number of bank accounts and held property and land in Ireland.

A European Arrest Warrant was subsequently obtained, and he was finally located in Ireland and arrested in December 2021 by the Irish authorities and extradited to the UK in February 2022.

On Monday 13 June 2022, Thomas appeared in Bristol Crown Court having previously entered a guilty plea to a charge of perjury. At sentencing, His Honour Judge Cullen described Thomas’ actions as ‘a considered lie and a practiced lie’. He also said that giving sworn evidence to a Judge was a serious matter which could only be dealt with by an immediate imprisonment and requires a significant custodial sentence.

Thomas was sentenced to 22 months imprisonment for perjury and for breach of a Community Order, he was sentenced to 2 months imprisonment to run consecutively, making a total of 24 months imprisonment.

Councillor Mathew Vaux, Ceredigion County Council Cabinet Member for Public Protection Services, said: “This case has shown that regulatory services will work together effectively in partnership in order to bring justice for these serious crimes. The illegal trade in “smokies” is a serious public health risk, as the meat is often infected with diseases and parasites that could pass to those people who eat the meat. The animals are also killed inhumanely with no regard to their welfare, which is against the principles of high animal welfare held by the farming community of Ceredigion County Council.”

The proceeds of Crime Act proceedings have not been concluded as Thomas has not fully discharged his liabilities under the Order which the Court concluded amounted to a criminal benefit sum of over £200,000. Thomas will therefore be subject to further legal proceedings.

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