It is volunteers who keep rural areas alive. Here in Llansawel, we would not be well on the way to having a replacement home for the Cylch Meithrin, the toddlers and nursery group, if it were not for a band of volunteers. The meithrin currently meet at the village primary school, but Carmarthenshire County Council emptied the school of pupils in 2014 and it closed officially in April 2015. The meithrin group would be homeless, and the village would be a step nearer becoming a retirement community, as there would be little to keep young families here. So the village hall committee offered to put a demountable building next to the hall, for the use of the Cylch Meithrin.
Committee secretary Bill Davis scoured eBay for a likely building, and found an ex-Ministry of Defence one, measuring 33 feet by 24 feet (larger than a lot of modern flats) in the north of England, which he bought for £1,500. Llansawel man Roy Davies of Roy Davies Haulage, and his drivers, transported the building sections free of charge and lowered them into place onto pillars which Bill and committee chair Barrie Martin had constructed, after the removal and re-siting of some of the play equipment in the playground adjacent to the hall.
It takes a lot of people to move a building,as the next photo shows. If the hall committee had needed to pay for every hour, the whole project would not have been affordable.
Digging a trench for the service pipes was the next heavy job. The building awaits new windows and insulation, and new internal divisions.
Fitting out the building requires some expert professional input, but the labouring is all by volunteers.
What if we had bought new? No chance. At a typical price of £1,000 a square metre for a basic classroom, our building would have eaten up around £75,000 — and that excludes the groundworks. Llansawel would have had to say goodbye to the toddlers of the Cothi Valley.
There must be limits to volunteering, though. Nearly everyone has some bills to pay, food to buy, for which cash is necessary. The signs are that, desperate to cut costs, local and national governments will try to rely to an ever greater extent on volunteers working for nothing, but to the same standards as paid staff.
A problem with a low-tax, low-welfare state, which the current UK government appears to be set on achieving, is that work which does not generate a profit will not be done, unless by volunteers. That will include a big range of caring jobs — caring for children, the elderly, the disabled. Volunteers are often fit people in their 60s and 70s, but as the state pension age rises, people in their 60s will have less time for voluntary work — although it will be needed more than ever, a last line of resistance to protect our social fabric.
Photos by Bill Davis and Patrick Racher