By Josh Nicholson
The CSJ’s Social Justice Commission is travelling across the United Kingdom, to find out what life is really like for the most disadvantaged in our communities. Our next stop was Llanhilleth in the Welsh Valleys where the Commission visited the local Miners Institute. Standing high above the rows of terraced houses built for miners in the 60s, the Institute remains a vital part of the area. Founded in 1906, the building was re-opened in 2008 with the same core purpose of serving the needs of its community.
Walking into the building we were immediately confronted by a buzz of activity. Touring the space, we were shown the children’s work happening that morning, as well as the main hall prepared for a cookery class.
Staff and volunteers had to adapt after food deliveries were halved, limiting their ability to send out food parcels to struggling families. Instead, service users are given meal packs in a ‘Hello Fresh’ model and empowered to cook on a budget for their family. Slow Cooker Clubs are now being pioneered, with one given to each person involved. Over the course of the programme, individuals learn new recipes and skills, completely transforming family life and tackling hunger. By adapting quickly to change, the staff and volunteers are transforming lives.
The beating heart of its community, the Institute is raising the aspiration and wellbeing of men, women, and children in Llanhilleth. The Commission heard about the importance of attracting good quality, well-paying jobs in the region, and the devastating impact of factories leaving the area without replacement work. Charities like this can only do so much without Government and businesses choosing to back communities in the Valleys.
Driving over to Tonypandy in the Rhondda, we were confronted by the remnants of a proud mining past. Boarded up mines, brick furnaces and spoil tips still define much of the topography.
Speaking to Valleys Kids, the Commission was told about the impact of industrial decline on towns like Tonypandy. This charity works across the Rhondda and South Wales, in many areas that haven’t seen the fruits of a service-based economy. We were told that new industries have struggled to take off in Valleys communities. Jobs concentrated in cities like Cardiff and Swansea feel far away, transport connections often feel too unreliable for people to risk starting a new job. Indeed, we had to travel via car as most of the regional railway routes were closed.
Lockdown has had a lasting impact on communities in the Rhondda. We heard about long lasting social isolation and increased mental health problems. Especially amongst young people increased levels of abuse on social media are causing pressures and contributing to negative behaviours that didn’t exist before the pandemic.
Valleys Kids told the CSJ about the respect that local politicians have earned in Wales for being well experienced in social justice and by understanding their communities. The next day we were pleased to be joined by Carolyn Harris MP, Jane Hutt MS and Minister for Social Justice, and Jenny Rathbone MS at the Welsh Big Listen in Cardiff.
The CSJ is proud to partner with politicians that are committed to speaking up for the most disadvantaged and we are grateful to all three of these passionate campaigners for putting social justice at the heart of both Welsh and British politics.