“I Heart Bute Park” – Lisa


I’m very lucky to have my favourite place in Cardiff so close by. Living in a flat means I don’t have any green space to officially call my own, but Bute Park provides all the leafiness I need just feet from my front door.

I lived in Hirwaun, a little valley village, until eight months ago when I made the move to Cardiff. Back there, I had a little garden complete with mountain views, and whilst I often cursed its inclination to grow wild and unruly within seconds of my secateur attacks, it was a place of solitude, a tiny slice of grassy-ness where I could read, drink a cup of tea or glass of wine, or even just watch from the shelter of the house as rain hammered down or snow softly fell.

I’ve always spent lots of time in Cardiff. I spent years driving back and forth to and from Hirwaun for gigs, films, friends and the like before deciding to take the plunge and move. It has made my social life much easier!

As much as I now love being amidst music venues and coffee shops and cinemas and pubs, I feel a shot of nature is needed to stay sane, some natural surroundings necessary to counterbalance the city silhouette.

Bute Park provides exactly that.

Early morning runs become more pleasurable when exercised within its environs, the foliage and flowers and the glistening River Taff providing stunning distractions. The same features soothe and calm on a summer’s day when a blanket can be spread on the grass, under a tree, or river side and the day spent with wine, words, chocolate and conversation. When the rain falls or the wind blows, the park’s beauty becomes slightly rougher, trees bend under the blustery breeze; rain is glugged greedily by the Taff. After a snowfall it transforms into a real life winter wonderland, a sparkling white layer spread all around. The park illustrates the seasons in an impressive natural artwork, something rarely revealed within a city.

Bute Park is a place for activity or introspection, a place to go with friends or family, a place to walk your dog or stroll solo. It’s a place of history, home to Cardiff Castle, the Gorsedd stones and the Animal Wall.

Initially developed in 1873, the park was later presented to the council in 1947. Hundreds of thousands of people have passed through it over the years. It’s a place where the energies and histories and souls of the Cardiffians gone by can be felt, as well as the stories and passions and secrets and longings and evils and regrets of the contemporaries.

It’s a place that inspires me to write, which provides a platform for my fitness attempts, which allows me to think, and gives me that shot of nature needed to stay sane. I feel very lucky indeed to have Bute Park on my doorstep.

Lisa Derrick is a Development Officer for a community arts project in Merthyr Tydfil. Lisa won runner up place for best writing on a blog at the Welsh Blog Awards in 2010, you can read The Chocolate Takeaway here and find her on Twitter @lisajderrick. She also writes for Plugged In Magazine and has published articles on the Guardian Cardiff site. She is currently studying part time for an MA in English and Creative Writing at UWIC and has novel shaped hopes for the future. She currently lives in Riverside.

Lisa was photographed in Bute Park by Adam Chard


“Cardiff, city of new height. Capital of Wales. Darling of the valleys. Principal shopping magnet for all of western Britain – opened a year too late” – Peter


I’m in the lozenge-shaped city again. It’s the one I come from. Where I was born and where I still live. Water south, hills north. A city of rhomboid sprawl. Where else would I be? I’m standing on the B4487 in bright early-morning sunlight. Traffic low. Birds in inner-city twitter. This was the Via Julia Maritima once, the paved Roman route west. A thousand years on it was the stage coach route to London. Full of ruts and mud. Then it was the hard-topped A48, when A roads meant something. Newport Road when I was a kid. Still is. The Africans are walking down it now. The endless displaced. Heading up beyond Roath Court for the Refugee Council at Phoenix House. Fewer now that the recession has hit. Polski Sklep having a hard time. The Czech shop already closed.

We always wondered why in this place there was so much new housing. Apartments rising like corn right across the boom city. Concrete mixers. Deliveries of brick. Tower cranes like locusts. Men in hard hats in every bar. What drew them to this capital? What were we doing that made them come? Nothing, it turns out. Investors are blind. Invest where walls rise and your money will climb in step. No need to sell what you’ve built. Let the vacant towers glitter. Let their apartments stand empty, value accumulating as prices soar. Manage a let if a visitor asks. Sell one to an executive needing a town centre toehold. Rooms with a water view for singles. Wasp territory. Audi in the undercroft. Wine in the rack. Families not needed. No toy cupboards. No gardens. No schools.

Now that boom has bust these investments stand barren. For Sale. To Let. To Let. Those not yet completed stay so. A city half-finished. For now.

Yet the centre flourishes. Come here on a match-day to see it at its peak. Street theatre, music, men on tightropes playing violins, Roma bands with clarinet and double bass, student duos with bright guitars, the Red Choir – some of them sitting now – still ushering in freedom outside the covered market, Chinese selling me my name bent in wire, Ninjah in bling and Sgt Pepper Jacket beating rhythm on the street furniture. The Big Issue seller with his dog in costume. The Coptic Christians. The Gaza protestors. The shaved heads of the Hari Krishnas weaving through the crowd. More vibrant life on Queen Street than at any previous time in its history.

St David’s 2 – the comprehensive redevelopment of those parts of the centre unscathed by previous interventions – hit the concrete mixers in 2004. Not only were the broken wrecks beyond Hills Street and all final centre traces of Victorian Cardiff wiped but much of Cardiff’s seventies restructuring along Bridge Street and the Hayes went too. Twenty-five years was as long as Iceland and the new library lasted. St David’s, because he is our patron saint and a Welsh symbol the world will recognise. Cardiff, city of new height. Capital of Wales. Darling of the valleys. Principal shopping magnet for all of western Britain. And in terms of the boom, opened a year too late. Vacant lots waiting for the fall to bottom. The recession has taken the gilt. I went through yesterday. Brave faces. Glass and just that little bit of echo. Promise not yet completely fulfilled.

Back on Newport Road it is as if the fifties are still with us. Victorian three-storey housing still in need of a repaint. Bed and breakfast vacancies. Hopeful signs saying that Construction Workers are Welcome. En-suite at no extra charge. Chip shop at the end of Broadway selling Clarks pies. Someone removing their front wall so that they can park their car in their front garden. Couple of kids on skateboards. Nigerian with an iPod. Man on a bike, no helmet. Cardiff as it was, still is.

That’s why I live here. Because Cardiff is. This piece is adapted, cut, spliced and mashed from Real Cardiff Three (Seren Books) – part of my on-going obsession with the city in which I was born. Check http://www.peterfinch.co.uk/cardiff.htm for more.

Peter Finch is a poet and psychogeographer who lives in east Cardiff. His latest collection of poetry, Zen Cymru, was published by Seren this year. He runs Academi, the Literature Development Agency for Wales.

Peter was photographed in Cardiff Bay by Adam Chard


“Cardiff is on the cusp of something quite brilliant” – Matt


I grew up in Aberystwyth and had spent most of my childhood, teenage and adult years there – I moved away for a short period during university to study in Canada, but I’d never been away for longer than seven or eight months at a time – so moving to Cardiff is probably my first big break away from home. I probably shouldn’t be admitting this at close to 24 years old.

I’ve felt close ties to Cardiff for a few years now. Many of my school friends ended up here and I was a fairly frequent visitor for that reason. During university I also managed to form some ties with the Cardiff music scene – inviting a few (locally) renowned Cardiff bands to play in dingy back-rooms in Aberystwyth and travelling down here on a semi-regular basis for gigs.

I finally moved to Cardiff in June 2010 after having spent six months travelling to and from the city to spend the weekends with my partner. Moving here had been in the pipeline for over a year before I finally made the move – Hannah and I had agreed that we would both move here once she’d finished a number of internships abroad, it seemed like a logical place for us both to look for long-term employment. However, it took me quite a long time to find work, especially as I had a good, secure job in Aberystwyth that I didn’t want to abandon for something less appealing. In the end I’m glad I held out to find a job I wanted, as I now have the privilege of doing a job I enjoy at Positif Politics. I work with a great group of people and it’s an exciting time to be involved in public affairs/politics – what with the Assembly elections in May 2011, and the vote on further powers in March.

I have a fantastic cycle route to work through Bute Park and along the river, and it’s a brilliant way to wake up in the morning, and to finish off the day – though with the nights drawing in I shall once again be relegated to the dreariness of a commute on my beloved Cardiff Bus (that’s a lie, we really don’t get on very well at all but there’s another story for another day). I feel privileged to live in a city with so much green space, I live almost exactly halfway between Bute Park and Roath Park and there are plenty of other spots to go hide in scattered around. The city is also surrounded by beautiful countryside – the view from Castell Coch is one of my favourite in the world.

Cardiff is also giving me the opportunity to further indulge my love of music. The annual Swn festival is a great chance to enjoy music around the city in a condensed format – it was brilliant fun this year. Going out to gigs in different clubs and pubs has allowed me to meet some interesting characters and make some fantastic new friends.

Cardiff seems to be a great place to be for music at the moment, I feel like the city is on the cusp of something quite brilliant with a number of fantastic bands beginning to emerge and a seemingly thriving community-based approach to the arts and culture. My particular favourite of the current crop of Cardiff based bands (like so many others) are of course the wonderful Islet. But the hard work and dedication of so many others is really at the heart of what is going on, and for that I thank all the citizens of Cardiff who try so very hard, and more often than not succeed in making this city a wonderful place to live and work. Apart from the buses. I hate the buses.

Matt Williams is 23 and a bit years old and lives in Cathays with his partner Hannah, close friend Grace and two Guinea Pigs, he works at Positif Politics in Cardiff Bay and tweets at @mdwaber, he can also be found online at LastFM. In his spare time he tries to attend as many gigs as humanly possible and dances badly to loud music wherever he can find it. He can also often be found somewhere in or around the city exploring on his bike.

Matt was photographed at the Pierhead in Cardiff Bay by Adam Chard


“We all gravitate back to Cardiff” – Cerys


I grew up in a small village eight miles outside of Cardiff. Cardiff was the big town we were allowed to get the bus to on Saturdays. The last bus home on a Saturday was ten past five! One of my last school trips in primary school was to Cardiff Bay- “Europe’s most exciting waterfront development”- the slogan sticks in my mind with the image of remaining piles of coal and remnants of industry amongst promised development. A few years later, along with my friend Paul, I was a school-rep on Cardiff Council’s Young People’s forum. We only went for the free sandwiches and time off school. At the time County Hall, Atlantic Wharf was virtually the only new building down the Bay. Little did I know then I’d be spending so much time there.

While I have amazing memories of Cardiff as a child- being smuggled into rugby matches at the Arms Park under my dad’s jacket and picnics in Bute park stick in the mind- by the time it came to go to university I knew I wanted to be somewhere else, learn new neighbourhoods, and new people. I only went as far as Bristol, but it was so big, so different, so vibrant and mixed –I still miss it sometimes. But strangely, being in Bristol only strengthened my love of Cardiff, and Wales.

I’d said I’d never come back, I probably sneered slightly at my friends who never left. A year or so after graduating I got a job working for an MP in Bristol. Although I’d grown up with actively Labour parents, and been a member of the party as a teenager, my membership had ‘actively lapsed’. Politics was far from my mind in Uni. I’d marched against the war, voted green, maybe even voted lib dem. It didn’t matter to my boss that I wasn’t a party member- she must have seen it in me. After a while, I wanted to do further study. I was really interested in the things going on in Wales, in Cardiff. Since I’d been away the Assembly had been established, there seemed a new momentum and purpose in Cardiff- like it had begun to realise its identity as a capital city.

I’d never actually lived in Cardiff, only in the leafy privileged green belt. It was exciting looking for somewhere to live, from Splott and Roath to Llandaff North and eventually Canton. I remember house hunting- we kept getting confused between City Road and Cowbridge Road East. Seems ridiculous now, but although I’d always said I was from Cardiff, I realised I didn’t know its geography, the short cuts, the hidden gems. I landed on my feet and have loved Canton ever since. I love living in a neighbourhood where you can walk to work, to parks, the shops, and back from town at two in the morning when it seemed like a good idea at the time. And I love living in a city where as well as all those things, you can be on the beach, in the mountains, or the rolling countryside in within half an hour.

Maybe a little bit of me felt like a fraud when I decided to stand as a Councillor for Canton two years ago- I’d only been living here for five years. But then it’s a neighbourhood where people do come and go, a mixture of old and young, new radicals and die-hards Cantonians. And now my home, and that of my family.

Friends from other parts of the UK still can’t quite understand how we still have such a close knit group of friends from home, from school, from Cardiff. That’s the thing you can’t pin down. We all gravitate back to Cardiff- we don’t want bigger, maybe we don’t even want edgier- it’s our comfort zone, I’m proud to say my comfort zone, and I salute you for it Cardiff.

Cerys lives in Canton, Cardiff. She works for the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) and is a Labour Councillor, representing Canton since 2008. Cerys has worked in education for the last six years, and been an active in Labour politics for far longer. You can follow her on twitter @cerysfurlong. She has one daughter and currently lives in Canton.

Cerys was photographed at Canton Library by Ffion Matthews