Tag Archives: helia phoenix

We Are Cardiff – Helia Phoenix fifth on The Independent Happy List 2018!

YES YOU GUYS IT IS TRUE!!! We Are Cardiff’s director Helia Phoenix was nominated for the Independent’s Happy List 2018 – AND HAS MADE IT TO NUMBER FIVE IN THE LIST!!!!!

So this is The Independent’s tenth annual Happy List – naming 50 outstanding people whose volunteering, caring, fundraising, mentoring, charity work or selflessness make Britain a happier place to live

The Happy List was founded in 2008 as an antidote to the lists that celebrate status and big bank balances. Instead, it honours the “Great Britons” doing extraordinary things for others with no thought of personal gain; those who often go largely unnoticed and unrewarded.

Being called a Great Briton is a bit weird, but other than that, Helia is very excited and honoured and humbled and all the rest of it to be featured. A BIG THANK YOU to whoever nominated her!

Helia says:

“It’s really very exciting to be featured in the Happy List this year – I had no idea anyone had nominated me and it’s a real shock, especially when you read some of the other incredible people featured on the list. I started We Are Cardiff in 2010 because I saw there was a gap in the content I was seeing about Cardiff. I was reading endless negative news reports, and it just didn’t chime with the Cardiff I knew and lived in. My Cardiff has lots of people doing wonderful, selfless, altruistic things for the good of their neighbours and their communities. I see generosity of spirit and interesting alternative action and arts and culture all around me everyday, and I just thought it deserved a platform where it could be promoted and celebrated.

“We Are Cardiff has achieved loads since then – we’ve made a documentary film, won Blog of the Year, been named as one of the world’s best city blogs, been interviewed for overseas travel documentaries, and we’re one of the top 20 most influential Twitter accounts in Wales. Get in.

“Despite everything we’ve achieved, I don’t think we’re quite there yet – there’s plenty I’d still like to do with We Are Cardiff, and earlier this year I got a grant from UnLtd. I’d like to try and turn the brand into a social enterprise, moving the mission forwards in its endeavours to celebrate and integrate people who live in Cardiff, whatever their backgrounds.

“I particularly would like to turn We Are Cardiff into a platform where people that are under-represented in the media/journalism/PR can develop skills and experience to follow careers in those industries. I remember when I was younger and first trying to forge a career in the media – I did work experience and had small jobs in various media organisations (I won’t say which) – but in every one, I felt hugely out of place. I was female, I’m of Middle Eastern origin – these were workplaces that were male dominated, middle class, overwhelmingly white and straight. I think we should be celebrating difference and I want We Are Cardiff to be more of an embodiment of that.

“I really want to thank everyone who has supported We Are Cardiff throughout the years; people volunteering their time, skills, and experience to try and make Cardiff a better place – through blogging, at least.”

Helia would like it to be known it was excruciating trying to write this without humblebragging.

Follow Helia on Twitter @heliaphoenix or Instagram @heliaphoenix.

As well as us, there were TWO MORE great individuals featured from Cardiff:

More about the Happy List:

Our world can often feel dominated by fame, cynicism, disgrace and greed. The Happy List offers a welcome chance to celebrate a different set of values, honouring those who help others without thought of enriching themselves – in many cases at considerable personal cost. That’s something we should all feel happy and optimistic about. If you know of someone you think should have been included, then please let us know and we will consider them next year. 

The Independent – The Happy List 2018


Cardiff: pirates, river monsters, and the Champions League

In my latest column for the ever-lovely Caught by the River about the Taff, I wrote about Cardiff’s very own afanc (river monster).

I went on an amazing guided walk at Christmas, where tour guide Bill O’Keefe totally blew all of our minds with a selection of legendary stories about Cardiff, and made mention of Cardiff’s reputation for being a wretched hive of scum and pirate villainy back in the sixteenth century. I did some more research into this and decided to dedicate a column on it and the Taff’s afanc for CBTR.

Here’s part of the piece (you’ll need to click through to read the full thing):

The River Taff’s afanc reached the height of its fame towards the end of the 1500s — a time when Cardiff was the stronghold for some of the world’s most infamous pirates. The town fulfilled vital conditions for a shady sea port: lots of nearby coves to offload ill-gotten gains; a big market; townspeople happy to buy ripped-off goods at bargain prices; the Welsh language — which made it impossible for investigators from London to work out what was going on — and a good supply of ‘bawdy houses’, run by single women at a time when prostitution wasn’t fully criminalised.

Most importantly of all, Cardiff had officials with a flexible attitude towards the law – happy to let the buccaneers do what they wanted, as long as there were some sweet kickbacks.

Read the full column: Wandering the River Taff: A Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy (Caught by the River)

As usual, I ended up doing loads of research that couldn’t make it into the final piece, so I thought I’d pull out some of the more interesting pieces and links for you, if you want to do some more reading.

My research for this piece (lots of reading plus lots of walking) took place over the month of May, while Cardiff was going through a crazy hot period preparing for the UEFA Champions League Final. I didn’t manage to get all my photos in the CBTR piece either, so here’s what was left over.

Some lovely wooden art in Bute Park – two pieces I hadn’t seen before, the seal/fish guy and the daffodil guy …

The water-bus stop in Bute Park and the bridge between Castle Street and Cowbridge Road East. This little area is right next to Pettigrew Tea Rooms.

I like this graffiti. Looking at it made me think about some great disaster wiping out the human race and everything being totally destroyed apart from our buildings and bridges, and some aliens finding this in hundreds of years time and thinking it’s hieroglyphics, like we think the Egyptians were doing … when actually they were probably just tagging …

Back on the bridge, the city is slowly being dismantled in the post-Champions-League-world we now all live in. You can tell this is Sunday because it was still sunny and hadn’t quite started completely shitting it down with rain yet, like it has done all week after the football…

The view south towards the Millennium Principality National Stadium of Wales (wtf are we supposed to call the thing now??)

The quiet after the storm: Quay Street and surrounds on the Sunday after the Champions League Final.

Some other bits and pieces I came across:

Cardiff’s pirate days

Queen Elizabeth’s first minister wrote to Cardiff to ask what was going on. It became increasingly obvious these people could not be operating without assistance.

(taken from When Cardiff was a safe place for Britain’s most notorious pirates, Wales Online)

Captain Morgan

Have you heard about the boy from Llanrumney who became one of the most feared pirates of the seven seas? You may not recognise the story, but you will know the name if you drink rum. Captain Morgan. The world’s second-best selling rum carries the name of a swashbuckling Welshman who went from scourge of the Spanish fleet to favourite of King Charles II and governor of Jamaica.

(taken from The Cardiff pirate and a bottle of rum: Captain Henry Morgan, Cardiff Drinks)




Zombies, killer swans and Welsh cwrw on the River Taff

The second part in my series of essays about the Taff is up on Caught By The River now: Zombies, killer swans and Welsh cwrw on the River Taff

I’ve been doing lots of walking and lots of research for this series, and so there’s a lot of stuff I don’t get to publish on CBTR. Luckily for me, the overspill can go here.

(Photo by Wales Online)

I was listening to Underworld during my walk.

Further reading:

A brew that’s part of the city’s history (Wales Online, 2009)

The Brewing of Brabo 2: The Brains behind the operation (Des De Moor, 2013)

Grangetown Online History: pubs


We Are Cardiff: Guest Lecture for ICMP Cardiff

Since launching, Cardiff’s Institute of Contemporary Performance has had a series of guest speakers in to talk to students about a variety of things. And next Wednesday, We Are Cardiff blog boss Helia Phoenix (hi, that’s actually me, writing this in the third person like some sort of a) total boss b) raving lunatic c) symptomatic personality disorder) is giving a guest lecture about “strategic digital marketing” and the role it has played in creating the local media behemoth that is WE ARE CARDIFF!


(me, arsing around under a flyover, photo credit Simon Ayre)

Oh, didn’t you realise this was a behemoth? Well, I’m not sure it’s one either, but I couldn’t think of anything better to call it (suggestions welcome, keep it clean please).

I don’t really blog personally much anymore – doing We Are Cardiff in my spare time doesn’t leave me with much writing capability, and whatever is leftover from that has been spent writing a novel for the past year or so. But I wrote my own We Are Cardiff post a few years back and I do have a personal/professional website which I used more when I used to freelance a lot. I don’t freelance much anymore (there aren’t enough hours in the day!), but there’s more info about what I’ve done on there.

I’ve never given a guest lecture before, though I do enjoy talking (as per my friend Elf’s comment “well done, big mouth” on Facebook when I posted the event on there, ta mate) so I’m sure we’ll be fine. You can expect some or all of the following, depending on how I’m feeling:

  • a potted history of We Are Cardiff
  • partnerships and working collaboratively (finding friends, avoiding a-holes)
  • useful websites / third party apps / functions you can use to make blogging a billion times easier (low cost or free)
  • useful equipment / tech (again, low cost or free)
  • digital content production and promotion in Today’s Digital Media Landscape (what can you do to make your brand/band/label/whatever stand out, etc).

My background is mainly in music journalism so I’ll talk a bit about that probably, I might start talking about Kruger Magazine or Catapult Records and start tearing up (someone bring the Kleenex please). (Also I just noticed that James Maclaren wrote that Kruger piece. Double Kleenex.)

Anyway …

The guest lecture is on Eventbrite and is open to the public. Plus it’s free! Here’s what they say…

Wednesday April 13: 1pm – 3.30pm, Guest Lecture Helia Phoenix (We Are Cardiff)

“We Are Cardiff’s mission to create & share interesting stories about culture, arts & people took them on wondrous journey that has resulted in 40k followers, a published book & prestigious awards. Hear how strategic digital marketing played a crucial role in the blog’s success, straight from the horse’s mouth”.


Helia x


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We Are Cardiff DJs will be playing Mary Bijou’s Bad Romance Social! Sat 13 Feb – get your tickets now!

We are VERY excited to announce that the We Are Cardiff DJs will be hopping on the decks (possibly literally) at the fabulous Mary Bijou Cabaret’s Bad Romance Social!mary bijou bad romance social

Taking place on Saturday 13 Feb at NoFit State Circus’ new home, Four Elms (on Newport Road), celebrate car-crash love affairs, the St. Valentine’s apocalypse, turn-ons, turn-offs and turn-downs. Expect a twist on our usual cabaret in this debauched night of dj’s, fabulous characters, peepshow performances and dancing.

Do not expect your traditional Valentine’s ball.

Mary Bijou are fundraising for their new creation, coming to the WMC Halloween 2016.

For the full VIP treatment bring cash! There will be a cash bar to drink away your sorrows. A bulging pocket of pound coins will get you sweet nothings, and happy endings…..

All early bird tickets have SOLD OUT now, but there are still a few mid-tier price tickets left.


mary bijou bad romance social - tightrope mary bijou bad romance social - vogueing

Don’t miss out – this will be a wonderful night with a crazy twist on your usual cabaret – plenty of performances, vogueing on the dance floor, and the We Are Cardiff DJs providing the ‘Get Bent: Anti-Wedding Disco’ as the finale!

This is The Lovely Phoenix. You’d trust her to pick the tunes for your night out, right?

the lovely helia phoenix dj

See you on the dance floor!

Mary Bijou Cabaret Bad Romance Social (13 Feb, Four Elms, Newport Road) Facebook event


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“That neighbourly feeling is what I love about Cardiff” – Helia


I’ve thought about writing a We Are Cardiff story since I set up the site back in 2010, but could never decide on an angle. What to write about? What to focus on? Cardiff has been so many things to me, been the backdrop to so many events and decisions and happenings and versions and re-versions of myself. How can I pick one, two, a dozen from the swirling pool? And yet that’s what I expected from other people – and everyone else who has written for the site so far has managed rather splendidly. So perhaps it’s high time I stopped whining and did the same.

What is the measure of a place? How can you distil that essence into a single piece of writing? Memories, tissue thin, layers of a skin laid over and over the streets and alleys and roads and the same cracks in the pavement you avoid, day after day, year after year. From a new-born to a toddler through to university student to working stiff. Cardiff has been a lot of things to me. It’s where I was born. My earliest memories are dark and fuzzy – my tiny hands, pulling at the thick velvet curtains in my room on Pen y Wain Road. Running a stick along the railings in Roath’s flower gardens. Carrying water in my hands from the fountains outside City Hall to a puddle nearby where some ill-navigating frogs had abandoned their spawn. I was worried the tadpoles would die in there without the extra liquid.

Cardiff housed me during my student years. It was the comforting bubble that enclosed me as I stayed up too late, spent too much time in pubs and clubs and at house parties. It was the wall I banged my head against, trying to work out ‘what I wanted to do when I grew up’. It gave me answers.  (Sort of.)

And surely this is the measure of a city – a place that can transform and mutate and mould itself around you, no matter what stage of life you are at. Nearly all my university friends have moved away, and I’m asked on a regular basis how I can stay in the same city I’ve been in for so long. I try and explain, but I never seem to nail the answer. It’s not the same city it was when I was a student, or even when I was in my mid or late twenties. There are enough opportunities and diversity and change here to accommodate you, no matter what stage of life you’re at. It’s a different place now. It looks after me differently. I’ve found different things in it, and it’s brought out different things in me.

One of my favourite things about the city is how connected everyone is. New people you meet have random connections with people that you already know. They are someone’s ex-housemate, friends with someone’s brother, or they worked in Fopp together years ago. Although there’s a lot on here, the offerings pale in comparison to a larger city – our neighbouring Bristol, or a little further afield to London. But because our scene is smaller, it’s friendlier. You see the same faces over and over again, whether you’re at a metal gig, a film festival, a circus performance, a street fair, a club night, or an organic food market. And I like that. I heard someone describe Cardiff as Britain’s biggest village, and it’s that neighbourly, close feeling that I love about it.

Cardiff’s an amazing place to come back to. Of course, I get frustrated with it and I get tired of it and sometimes the smallness annoys me and my favourite bands don’t gig here and I want to leave it and move somewhere more romantic or exciting like San Francisco or the moon, of course. But when I get back here, I’m always filled with that intense sensation of how nice it is to be back. To return home.

I thought I’d finish with a list of my favourite things to do in the city. Who knows how long it’ll be possible to do any of these for. But if you get the chance, you should.

–          Visit all of Cardiff’s parks. We have some amazing and diverse open public spaces (Cardiff Council – list of parks). I still haven’t been to them all. Roath Park is obviously lovely, but there are some undiscovered treasures just a little way out of the centre. Try Cefn Onn, or the Wenalt.

–          Wander around the indoor market. Get a cup of tea and bacon sandwich (or vegetarian equivalent) from the greasy spoon upstairs, watch the people bustling around below.

–          Fossil hunt. Wait for low tide then walk from the Custom House in Penarth around to the pier, looking for fossils. Once at the pier, consume ice cream.

–          Car booting. In the summer, visit Sully car boot sale (Sundays only).

–          More car booting. All year round – visit Splott market on a Saturday. Fruit, veg, baked goods, car booters. All of humanity are here.

–          Run. Do a 10k run to raise money for charity. There are a few races that take place throughout the year, most of them either taking in the lovely scenery around Cardiff Bay or Bute Park. (My favourite running route is the 10k Cardiff Bay trail, by the way).

–          Music. Buy records from Catapult and Spillers, ask the music junkies working in both places for recommendations. Ask about local bands and artists. Ask about what gigs are on. Buy music. Buy tickets for gigs.

–          Get cultured. Go to the museum and art gallery. Entry is free! My favourite room is the room in the museum with all the crystals and minerals and rock formations. Beautiful.

Helia Phoenix set up We Are Cardiff in 2010. In 2012 the site won Best Blog at the Wales Blog Awards, and in 2013 she produced a documentary based on the site called We Are Cardiff: Portrait of a City, premiering at Chapter Arts Centre on 7 July 2013. She’s written a biography about Lady Gaga and entertains notions of writing a novel one day. In her spare time she enjoys travelling, listening to music, and long walks in the rain. Twitter @phoenixlily tumblr an antisocial experiment web heliaphoenix.com instagram @_phoenixlily_. She currently lives in Butetown.

Helia was photographed in Hamadryad Park, underneath the A4232 by Simon Ayre


ProjectCardiff Exhibition Preview invitation, Monday 15 October 2012

Earlier this year, ProjectCardiff announced their intention to create a portrait series of 50 people who make a contribution to the creative community of Wales’ capital city. The photographs were taken by Lann Niziblian, who is one of We Are Cardiff’s most recently acquired photographers! We Are Cardiffite Helia was asked to sit for a portrait, and the full series of photographs will be on display in the Senedd in Cardiff Bay.

An Exhibition of Photographs by Lann Niziblian

Kindly sponsored by Julie Morgan AM

Monday 15 October 2012, 18:00-20:00*
Oriel, The Senedd, Pierhead Street, Cardiff, CF99 1NA

Project Cardiff would like to invite you to attend our exhibition opening at the Senedd on Monday the 15 October. The exhibition continues until the 2 November 2012.

Curated by Spike Dennis.

See the full list of ProjectCardiff’s inaugural portrait participants