Chinese Whispers in Llansawel — but Now it’s Not a Funny Party Game
Fiery evening in Llansawel Village Hall on Wednesday!
It’s a community issue. Old Llansawel, new Llansawel, seem not to mix too well. Partly a language issue, partly genealogy linked to land, partly contrasting attitudes to the future – but mainly an example of the ‘Chinese Whisper Effect’, when ‘truth’ changes as stories are relayed from one person to another.
Carmarthenshire County Council has closed the village school, which stands empty and unloved. The village hall trust has an idea to acquire it for community use and in due course to apply to build a new, energy-efficient hall alongside it on the site, and organised an information day to publicise the plan.
Around one in three of the 35 people who filled out a questionnaire objected to the plan. One person didn’t know, and the rest, a sizeable majority, support it – but the antis were more vehement on the night. Maybe it was a case of settling scores, as well as of attachment to the present cold, draughty structure. But it was also a case of misunderstanding.
Llansawel Recreation Field and Hall Trust would like to transform the empty school into a centre for village events, for education (ironically), and for visitors to the Cothi Valley. There could be one or more offices and workshops for small businesses, a site for a mobile Post Office, delivery point for parcels, and a games practice pitch.
Ultimately, several years into the future, the present village hall could be redundant and if removed, would increase the space for parking in the centre of the village, where many houses do not have a parking space.
Opponents of the plan – which I understand was revealed prematurely by a member of the hall committee – had organised a petition in the two pubs, the Angel and the Black Lion, asking customers to sign if they wanted to ‘Save Our Village Hall From Demolition’. This headline sounds as if the committee intended to bring along a bulldozer, knock down the hall and leave the village without any amenities at all. The petition referred only to the possible last stage in a process likely to take a decade or more, and left signatories ignorant of the many other stages in the plan. More than 100 people signed this misleading petition.
The petition has so slanted public understanding of the true situation that a huge effort would be needed to change minds. The remainder of the hall committee, jaded after a year of creating a new home for the Cylch Meithrin – who were in the village school but faced eviction after closure – and of renovating the public toilets, seemed shell-shocked by the volume of the angry opposition, even if the noise did disguise the fact that it came from a minority of village people.
The committee’s ideas are not perfect, of course, and a lot more work would have to be done, and more people consulted – including the teacher who came along with an idea for a field studies centre – before a first-class business plan could emerge, but it seems short-sighted to want to do nothing except continue with a sub-standard building designed for the 1950s, not the 2020s.
The opportunity to acquire the school for the community will probably not come round again.