I get out and about in Cardiff quite a bit, it goes with the job. Unsurprisingly, then, I’m often asked the question ‘where do you live?’ It’s a fairly humdrum, commonplace way to initiate small talk. For some people the reply to such a query would roll off the tongue without a second thought. In my case though, it’s not such a straightforward matter….
For the record, I live in a terraced street in a cluster of Victorian houses near where the River Taff ebbs and flows its way towards the Bristol Channel. The houses on my street were built to accommodate the families of men working in what was one of busiest seaports anywhere in the world. The houses all look pretty much the same from outside, but all are built slightly differently – some quite considerably larger than others to reflect more senior positions of the inhabitants, with the Sea Captain’s houses being the largest. The house I live in is one of the smaller ones and was home to a docker’s family for 65 years. That family has gone, but the stories of their time here lives on in the memories of my neighbours who have lived on the street for decades. It’s a friendly and welcoming place to live; the community is richly diverse in ethnicity, and that’s nothing new – the area is part of what many regard as the oldest multi-cultural community in Britain. To those who’ve lived here for generations, this area is known simply as ‘The Docks’. Separated from what used to be Tiger Bay by Clarence Road, it’s a small enclave that survived both the bombings of World War 11 and the brutal bulldozers of Cardiff Corporation in the 1970s.
To call it ‘The Docks’ is a nod to its history, its heritage – to the stories of the people who lived and died here, but it can’t be denied that the name no longer reflects the area. What remains of Cardiff Docks is a good couple of miles away, and the only vessels we now see calmly making their way down to the barrage are yachts and the occasional Water Bus. Estate Agents have applied the term ‘Cardiff Bay’ to these streets for 20 years or more, and unsurprisingly that’s how many others of my neighbours describe where they live. The street is a stone’s throw from the heartland of ‘new’ Cardiff – the Wales Millennium Centre, Mermaid Quay, The Red Dragon Centre and the profusion of restaurants and arty shops that have transformed this once neglected part of the City into a thriving cultural hub. For me, though, all the impressively shiny newness is a stark counterpoint to what it replaced. The decaying but still majestic empty buildings at the top end of Bute Street and the abandoned railway station in the Bay are screaming out for investment while new constructions – which could be anywhere in the UK – are still springing up.
As far as maps – and Cardiff Council – are concerned, I live in Butetown. The area of the City about which most books have been written, and which inspires reactions as diverse as the district itself from people who have never been here. It is in Butetown that Cardiff’s only community radio station has its studios. Indeed, Radio Cardiff is the only radio service exclusively aimed at the city. It’s an extraordinary operation. It receives no grant aid and employs no staff, but has a team of over 50 unpaid volunteers who put together programming that is quite unique and with a definite Cardiff accent. The team behind it ran short-term restricted licence broadcasts (under the names Tiger Bay FM, Bay FM and latterly Beats FM) regularly from 1992, and then in 2007 succeeded in winning the licence to broadcast the full time ‘Radio Cardiff’. I joined at its official launch, first as a newsreader and then as a presenter. Now I co-ordinate the volunteers who produce the news output and a youth programme. I also present the Saturday Breakfast Show. It’s more than a radio station for the community, it’s a community within itself – multi-cultural and across age ranges. I have learned so much from being part of the team there, not just about radio but about the city in which I live. I have been privileged to meet – and often interview – many of the people who have contributed to make Cardiff what it is today.
So, just where do I live? I totally respect the idea of referring to my area as ‘The Docks’ but in truth it’s a name that reflects a time I wasn’t here and so it doesn’t really feel right. I’m not a ‘Docks Boy’ – I grew up in the Swansea Valley and lived much of my adult life in London so while I love hearing the stories of its past, they are not my stories. I’m uncomfortable with calling it ‘Cardiff Bay’ perhaps because of what was cleared away to create it – it’s still raw for many who grew up in Tiger Bay that the unique community that meant so much both to them and to the city could have been swept away by a planners blueprint. I have no problem with the name Butetown other than it refers to the larger district, and so whatever the Post Office may say, I live in ‘The Bay’,
Jeremy Rees works for Voluntary Action Cardiff, – the organisation supporting charity & voluntary organisations in the City – and at Radio Cardiff where he presents ‘Soulful Saturday Breakfast’ every Saturday morning 7am-9am. He currently lives in the Bay.
Jeremy was photographed at the Radio Cardiff studios by Adam Chard
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