What’s happening to rural Wales?
“Why did you come here, then?” said my friend.
I was commenting on the fast-changing demographics of Carmarthenshire in particular and West Wales in general. The rural areas are changing from family farms to secluded residences for incomers who are not dependent on the local economy and for whom public services are somewhat of an optional extra.
We came with a young family in 1988, to start a business that would, we hoped, enable us to carry on working without worrying about employers, or compulsory retirement. That has succeeded, we have a company now and are busy. But we were from England and we spoke English. We chose Carmarthenshire because I had come several times for my work as a rural journalist, and we wanted to live amid the hills.
When we arrived, nearly every house in the Mynys valley south of Porthyrhyd, Llanwrda, seemed to contain children, and ours soon had plenty of friends. Most, it has to be said, were the children of English incomers who arrived before us. Since then the area’s age profile has become, well, older. The over-65s are the major group, and there are few children.
The valley children have grown up and the majority have gone away because there is not enough paid work. Lots of work to do, but unremunerated. Few children mean school closures, and even less employment. The spiral of decline is hard to resist.
The next house down the valley, which had been occupied all through our time in Porthyrhyd, was sold in 2011 and is a holiday home, empty most of the year. Along the valley, the houses where young families lived in the 1980s are now the homes of ’empty nesters’, parents whose adult children live elsewhere. For several years, people who wanted to work from home were severely handicapped by the total absence of broadband, a deficiency overcome this spring with the introduction of a wireless service from transmitter masts. This could be a possible turning point, similar to the 1970s when the arrival of mains electricity and television in the remoter, depopulated rural areas sparked the resettlement of which we were part.
Questions over the future of rural Carmarthenshire have prompted me to start West Wales News Review, where I hope to report on and analyse local politics. It is a sister site to ecopoliticstoday.wordpress.com, and will concentrate on the competing ambitions for the West Wales of the future. Will West Wales become the conurbation of Swansopolis? Will there be a revival of local agriculture and indigenous industries? Will people come, or go?
I have a point of view, as a member of Plaid Cymru and of Transition Town Llandeilo, that favours the local over the globalised, but it’s still a minority view, and there are intense pressures to make West Wales into a sort of expansive (and expensive) suburb, full of 4WD cars, horses, paddocks and posh homes.
Patricia Dodd Racher, May 6th 2012