West Wales News Review is taking a break over Easter — back at the end of April
See also the Carmarthenshire Herald, July 29th, p.13
You won’t by troubled by incessant road noise. You won’t be hindered by doorstep canvassers. Few people will even find your doorstep, if you live at Llainfedw, Llanfynydd. Just in Llanfynydd, on the boundary with Talley’s community area.
Llainfedw is was for sale, a smallholding of almost six acres at the bargain price of £145,000. Still on the market? No, sold subject to contract almost immediately.
Yes, there’s a cottage. No, it doesn’t have main electricity or piped water. Drains? Er, no, but who needs drains with all that land surrounding you?
Estate agent inundated
Estate agent Martyn Buck of the Smallholding Centre, Brongest, near Newcastle Emlyn, said he has been inundated with calls and emails, and is glad it sold fast because responding to all the enquiries meant he had little time for anything else. Even getting in touch with the owner to relay an offer was a major task. Well, “no mains services” means totally off-grid, no modern communications, and you can’t just drive up to the door. First you have to park and find the correct path. And then climb uphill for half a mile.
Above Llainfedw, at over 1,000 feet, is Crown Estate moorland. Below, there are neighbours: the 70 to 80 downshifters, self-sufficiency enthusiasts and alternative lifestylers living on their own plots totalling about 200 acres in ‘Tipi Valley’, a collection of mainly temporary homes forming a community which has survived for 40 years despite all attempts of Dinefwr Borough Council and its successor, Carmarthenshire County Council, to force the occupants to move on. Tipi Valley is now ‘established’.
Potential for hydro power
The Smallholding Centre describes Llainfedw as “a self-sufficiency project in the making”, with potential for hydro power from a stream, a borehole (unused), lots of timber for firewood, gardens which were cultivated until recently, and a wooden building of 158 square feet used as a craft studio.
The cottage, old and stone, has two wood-burning stoves, two living rooms — one with a mezzanine platform — and potentially two bedrooms on the first floor. One of the living rooms has a kitchen corner, but water has to come from outside. There is a butt to collect rainwater from the roof.
The huge interest in Llainfedw – so inaccessible that regular commuting would be a nightmare, and even a shopping trip would need careful planning – highlights the revival of the 1970s self-sufficiency phenomenon, expressed in the TV series The Good Life. This time though, self-sufficiency with remoteness as an added twist.
Llandovery College’s over-stretched finances started to recover in 2014-15, the charity’s newly published accounts show.
Huge efforts by governors, staff, parents and friends of the independent school — which was making unsustainable losses before a complete restructuring in 2012 — turned a consolidated loss of £387,906 in the year 2013-14 to a much smaller loss of £57,161 over the 13 months August 1st 2014 to August 31st 2015.
A legacy of £450,000 bolstered the resources, adding to trustees’ confidence that “the college has more than sufficient assets to support its operations for the foreseeable future”.
The more cheerful financial news follows some unflattering press reports of compensation sought by staff whose contracts were terminated as a consequence of the emergency restructuring. Last month (May) an employment tribunal upheld the latest case, an unfair dismissal claim by the former head of history, and ordered compensation of £15,000.
The college’s financial difficulties have not been helped by its location in one of the UK’s lowest-income regions, 200 miles from affluent South East England. The full termly fees, ranging from £2,875 in Year 1 to £5,600 in Year 13 for day pupils, and from £5,505 in Year 1 to £8,470 in Year 13 for boarders, are beyond the means of most local families.
Pupil numbers fell from 316 in July 2014 to 266 in September 2015, but academic results improved substantially, which could make the college more attractive to parents from beyond West Wales. At Advanced level in 2015, A*-C grades rose from 64.4% to 77.9%, and at GCSE A*-C grades improved from 78% to 84%. The top A* grades advanced too, from 3.0% to 8.2% at A level and from 11% to 18% at GCSE.
The college is an important employer for Llandovery, and provided more jobs in 2014-15, the full-time equivalent of 120, compared with 99 the year before. The governors, chaired by Professor Medwin Hughes, vice-chancellor of the University of Wales Trinity St David, say that the “growing success of our Nursery feeding our early years of Prep school will support our growth plans. The Nursery offering after-school club will also cement our connections with local schools and families.”
The attractive rural setting, and reputation for sporting prowess, may also help in the steep climb back.
Bursar Stephen Baldwin said he hoped the college would come very close to break-even in the current year. With pupil numbers more stable, staff were more confident and happy to remain in post. “Our goal is to deliver a great education which is enjoyable for pupils and staff,” said Mr Baldwin. “Seven of our A level students have unconditional offers of university places, so we think the breadth of their experience at the college is impressing admissions tutors.”
also printed in the Carmarthenshire Herald, June 17th 2016