Tag Archives: living in cardiff

The elastic band effect – in conversation with Meryl Cubley

In this week’s person to person, we sit down for a chat with Meryl Cubley, Cardiff-based journalist and writer.

meryl_cubley_by_lorna_cabble

Cardiff is my home – despite not being born here. I’m originally from a very small village located on the Staffordshire Moorlands (very Heathcliffe) but I spent much of my childhood growing up on the coast of west Wales.

You could say that that particular part of the Welsh coastline is intrinsic to who I am – it certainly makes up a good 70 per cent of my childhood memories. It was a very special time for me and the friends who I grew up alongside in west Wales: mainly Welsh, though two or three of us were English. These were dark political times – significant tension existed between the local Welsh and the English interlopers who had holiday homes – but never used them: basically pricing locals out of their own areas of birth because they could no longer afford the house prices.

It was also a time of miners strikes, huge unemployment and a change in the cultural landscape of Britain that we have never recovered from. Yet despite these difficult times, tucked away in a tiny part of the world seven coves long, we enjoyed a halcyon childhood that many will never experience. I know that I feel incredibly lucky to have such amazing and special memories of that west Wales coast; and whenever I go back now, I immediately feel all the stresses and strains of everyday life disappear as soon as I smell the sea air, or look at the different play of light there, or look up to see a canopy full of stars. It is a very special place – and I simply wouldn’t have those memories if it weren’t for Cymru – the people and the place.

Being a country girl at heart brought up pretty much on horseback; I knew I’d have to move to ‘the big smoke’ if I wanted to live the exciting kind of life I dreamed of and read about in the countless novels and biographies I often had my head stuck in. So I left home at a very young age; and over the years lived in London, Manchester and Bristol among others; and leaned my street smarts the hard way. Each city had its charms, its time ‘on the map’. There’s no question that they have influenced my passion and love of arts and culture, music and society. There were incredible music scenes, new political ideas, a change in style, culture and fashion: we’re talking about in particular the scenes in Manchester and Bristol here – London always seemed like a rat trap to me.

But Cardiff had me hooked from the start. I was living in Australia, pretending to be a surfer chick, on a gap year before they were called a gap year; after a particularly nasty accident left me in a wheelchair for eight months. I got a phone call from my Mum at home in west Wales, to say I’d had an unconditional offer from Cardiff’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies – one of the top rated institutions in the UK for media training. I think it’s significant to note that I was seriously considering studying in Sydney at the time – but I knew immediately that I wanted to study and live in Cardiff.

After three years of hard graft and like many students, I decided to stay and work in Cardiff after I had graduated. I’ve worked for all of the Welsh media institutions at one time and another – and learned a lot – and had a lot of fun doing so.

When I did leave in 2003, to edit a graffiti publication in Bristol; I honestly didn’t think I’d be back – but lo and behold – nine years ago I did come back to live and work in Cardiff once more. It seems I just can’t stay away!

Since coming back I love the range of things on offer here. If I had friends visiting for the weekend, this would be our weekend itinerary:
  • Friday night – local drinks – which ranges from the Albany pub to Milgi to all the choices on Wellfield Road.
  • Saturday – brunch at Porro or Cameo – or one of the greasy spoon cafes if it was a really good night! Then follow that by a walk around Roath Park Lake or Bute Park. In the summer it’s great fun hopping on the little boat docked near the Bute Park entrance; and zipping down to Cardiff Bay. A walk across the barrage to Penarth is a must, blows away the night before, feels like a million miles away – and is an awesome spot for collecting marine fossils. Grab the train back to Cardiff, have a brief siesta; then the fun starts all over again! Dinner at Il Pastifico, Potted Pig or Cafe Citta, followed by cocktails at Dead Canary; and dancing over at Gwdihw. Then on to an after party wherever that happens to be …
  • Sunday involves, bed, cat, papers and ordering in!

***

Meryl Cubley is an Editor, Journalist and Writing Consultant. You can see more of her work at merylcubley.com or follow her @merylcubley. She currently lives in Roath.

Meryl was photographed by Lorna Cabble at Cameo Club on Wellfield Road.

Should I move to Cardiff?

UPDATED! As this piece is one of our most read, we’ll keep updating the main details, costs and facts. Last updated – January 2020.

I got an email recently from someone who had recently discovered the blog. I’ll call her Bethan. She sent in this very lovely email:

Over the past five or so years have fallen in love with Cardiff on my trips to visit. Following a trip this weekend I found your blog on my way back to London.

I’ve lived in London for the best part of the decade and am getting fed up with no money and a rubbish quality of life. Apologies for the slightly random email but I just wondered if you thought someone Londonified but loves Cardiff would be happy if they moved there? Or any challenges or tips you have?

My gut instinct is that I’d be very happy there as there’s so much on offer but in a much more friendly and welcoming place where you’re not bankrupted when you leave the house! Any thoughts etc would be greatly appreciated

Are you feeling like Bethan? Struggling in London, underpaid, bummed out, in need of fresh air, cheaper pints, in a city you can walk across? Then why not consider a move to Cardiff.

Here’s what I sent back to her.

doug_nicholls_instagram - 16

Hi Bethan!

If you’re getting fed up with being broke and having a rubbish quality of life, then I highly recommend Cardiff to you. I mean, I don’t know anything about you really, other than you have a friend in Caerphilly and you live in London, but I’m presuming you have a job you don’t mind much about leaving, and that you’re into the sort of thing we write about on We Are Cardiff, so that’s mostly what I’ve based this answer on.

YOUR QUESTIONS

I’m going to run through some reasons why Cardiff is awesome now. Also if you don’t believe me, there are STATS to support this, like the fact that the population of the city is currently growing at a faster rate than any UK city. People are moving here. Our secret is getting out!

MONEY

Cardiff has a cheap cost of living for a capital city. It’s much easier to get by on a low salary here than somewhere in London – there are lots of house shares (particularly in Roath, Splott and Canton) where you can find a double room in a beautiful old Victorian terrace (very common type of Cardiff house) with like-minded people from £300 a month to £800 a month (including bills). I did a quick search on SpareRoom using the CF24 postcode (which covers Roath – a popular, artsy location near the university and close to town) just to sense check my figures and as you can see from this Cardiff room search on SpareRoom, there are loads of options within that price range.

There was a survey published recently that gave some actual figures which back up my abstract wafflings (I’ve included it in the links below – NOTE THESE FIGURES ARE FROM 2016, I AM SEARCHING FOR UPDATED ONES!)

  • Average weekly household spend of £384.60 compared to a UK average of £426.30;
  • Disposable income per head stands at £16,520, which is below the UK average of £17,559 but up 3 per cent on 2014 levels;
  • House prices are 6.6 times the value of salaries compared to a UK average of 8.8.

So! There you go on the stats. That’s enough of that.

doug_nicholls_instagram - 18

QUALITY OF LIFE

Well, I suppose it all depends on what you mean by quality of life, but going back to stats again, Cardiff achieved a life satisfaction score of 7.53 out of 10 (ONS data). From a completely subjective position, what that means for me is the following things (which you will see reflected throughout the We Are Cardiff content!):

  • varied nightlife (a whole bunch of pubs, clubs, bars, pop-up restaurants etc)
  • lots of artsy stuff going on (we’ve got the Welsh National Opera here, NoFit State Circus are based here, we have touring musicals and theatre on a weekly basis, there are loads of smaller scale cabaret type events all the time, circus skills workshops, hula hoop classes, open mics, writer’s groups, art exhibitions).
  • farmers markets, community gardens, a growing sustainability / green interest community
  • LOADS OF GREEN SPACES, like EVERYWHERE. The centre of town pivots around the castle and behind it, the endless green swathes of Bute Park. Nearly every neighbourhood has some super lovely park nearby
  • it’s 20-30 minutes drive to the gorgeous Brecon Beacons (MOUNTAINS!!!)
  • it’s zero minutes drive to the coast (WE ARE ON THE COAST!!!!)
  • there are castles everywhere (castle fact: Wales is actually the country in the world with the most castles – built and ruined)
  • if you like running, we have an awesome Park Run around Bute Park and Grangemoor Parks on the weekend
  • if you like cycling, the Taf Trail runs all the way from Cardiff to the source of the river Taf up in Merthyr Tydfil – you can take your bike up there on the train and cycle all the way back, stopping in pubs on the way, it is THE BEST
  • it’s very small so easy to get around on foot and bike
  • also because it’s small it’s to find  things you’re interested in and meet people / get involved in things
  • also because it’s small you bump into your friends! all the time! it’s lovely!
  • Bristol is only an hour on the train – loads of gigs and great nightlife going on there
  • if you like roller derby, we have one of the top women’s teams (go Tiger Bay Brawlers!)
  • I am in no way into sports (like, not at all) but we have LOADS of massive sports events here. I should really appreciate this more.

DRAWBACKS
I don’t think this would be a reasonable email if I didn’t also tell you about some of the drawbacks of living here.

  • the smallness can be stifling for some people. I haven’t really experienced this, I think if you grow up here it’s more of a thing than if you move here from somewhere else (I have been informed by locally born and raised friends that on Tinder that you can run out of people to swipe right!)
  • we often get overlooked for gigs because Bristol is just an easier option, especially if bands are continuing north or the other way on to London. However, Bristol is easily visited in an evening (see above).
  • you might suddenly develop massive smugness at how much better your life is here and become unbearable to all your other friends. this is normal and hopefully should die down at some point (!)

doug_nicholls_instagram - 22

LINKS

There have been countless reports and surveys released over the past year or so that frequently name Cardiff as the best city to live in (or one of) in Europe. I’ve included below a list of the most recent ones that might be of interest to you:

OTHER PEOPLES’ EXPERIENCES
I’m not sure how much of We Are Cardiff you’ve looked through (there are, I just realised, over 700 posts on there now!!) but there are a couple of people who have written pen portraits of themselves and have similar pasts to you (ie they’ve come from other places and now live in Cardiff)

PEOPLE WHO HAVE MOVED FROM LONDON TO CARDIFF!

PEOPLE WHO’VE MOVED FROM OTHER PLACES TO CARDIFF

Now then – this next story is actually completely the other way round – it’s written by a guy who is from Cardiff but moved to London during the ‘bleak’ 90s, but then came across We Are Cardiff and wrote a blog post about it based on what he remembered of Cardiff as a youngster and his feelings about it now, and also a bit about his current life in London. I thought it was really fascinating reading and beautifully written which is why I posted about it:James – ‘It’s where you’re between’

Generally speaking to get what ‘the people’ are saying about Cardiff, flick through the ‘People‘ section on the website. Also I’d like to say I don’t edit anything for content – people are free to write what they want, I don’t in anyway force them to be positive about Cardiff, and again for balance I’ll point you to Lee’s post.

I have lived in loads of different places, but love Cardiff to pieces. It’s really friendly, there’s plenty of variety of nights out and places to eat and communities to join and things to do – if you’re into the alternative vibe, you’ll find lots of that here.

Also I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. It was set up a few years back as a response to the mass of negative news reports we were seeing about Cardiff in the mass media (this was around 2010). Back then it was mostly pen portraits about Cardiff written by people that we knew – today obviously it’s a very different thing, but the aim of the blog is to showcase the variety of amazing things that go on here, and still interview people involved in the local scene. So it’s fabulous that you found it, and I’m pleased it’s making you consider a change!

doug_nicholls_instagram - 13

If you want to add your comments to anyone thinking about moving to Cardiff, please do so below!

All photos in this article by Doug Nicholls

It’s our 100th We Are Cardiff story! “Since moving back to Cardiff I’ve managed to keep my single girl status” – Stacey

Year three has been a year of milestones for We Are Cardiff – we hit 100k views of the website, we made a documentary film about Cardiff, AND WE’RE PUBLISHING OUR 100TH STORY! Read on and meet Stacey!

stacey-web

Okay, so I haven’t really fallen in love with ‘the’ Big Issue man.. In fact  I think it’s safe to say the single-girl-fairy-godmother has a vendetta for me (yes, there is such a thing).

Now I can only imagine how desperate I must’ve looked when purchasing It’s Called a Break Up Because It’s Broken and It’s Just A Date, but hey, when you’re faced with being single for the first time in the 21st century, you need all the advice you can get!

In a quick relationship summary, my high school sweetheart is now my high school best friend’s sweetheart (didn’t see that one coming!) and the guy I traveled the world and then got a mortgage with broke up with me one Saturday morning using the same nonchalant attitude you’d use to discuss the weather.

Heartbroken and, well, quite frankly broke, I decided to ditch the diet of junk food and re runs of rom coms and head to  Sydney, Australia (as you do). With just 796 dollars to my name I set out in the hopes of discovering myself without having a man there to hold my hand and pour milk on my Wheatabix. *Sigh*

What was suppose to be a three month trip turned into three years, and consisted of me swapping my days of asking ‘Would you like to keep the hanger’  for a  front row seat at fashion week , working not only as a registered business owner but alongside the editor of one of the most read magazine’ in the world as a features writer – the single girl features writer to be precise.

Yes, there would be no hiding my newly changed relationship status – I was being pimped out by my editor in the hopes of entertaining my fellow single ladies who were dating vicariously through me.

From doctors to lawyers, musicians to the real life kinda Dear John (who didn’t just want to ‘service’ me) I quickly realised that having your dream job didn’t entitle you to your dream guy…

…and even since leaving Sydney and moving back to Cardiff I’ve managed to keep my single girl status *sigh* and shall be documenting my life (post-koala bears and surfers) (major sigh over the lack of the latter) on my website – thatcardiffgirl.com

So, whether you have some dating advice or just want to hear about my last jaw-droppingly-awful-date put the kettle on, grab a biscuit and stay a while.

Stacey is 24 and turns the big 25 this year (the thought of which makes her want to projectile vomit). Since arriving back from Sydney she has moved back home to Cadoxton in the house her family have lived in since forever. Prior to this at the age of 19 she jetted off to LA the first stop on an around the world trip she embarked on and it’s safe to say she has had itchy feet ever since. Visit her blog at thatcardiffgirl.com.

Stacey was photographed in Cardiff city centre by Jon Pountney

***

“Adamsdown is my favourite” – Ellie

ellie-pilot-web

I went to Aberystwyth University and had a few friends that moved to Cardiff when they graduated. A few of us hung around Aber for a bit not knowing what we should do and then decided we would all just move to Cardiff. I’ve lived in Riverside then Roath and now settled in Adamsdown. Adamsdown is my favourite, because it’s cheap and most of my friends live in the surrounding streets. Though I have fond memories of Riverside and my housemates, and Roath because I met a lovely landlord and his family who became my adopted Cardiff family! Cardiff is just so friendly and welcoming which is why it rocks!

By day, I am a legal secretary for a Patent and Trade Mark firm. It’s a job I fell into but it’s pretty great. In my spare time I do the admin for the Mary Bijou Cabaret and Social Club. If you haven’t heard of us we are a Cardiff-based (so far!) cabaret night. We began in 2010, staging themed shows in our local community hall that featured circus performers, musicians, dancers and actors from Cardiff and around the world. Our shows are immersive and intimate, driven by playfulness and good fun; the audience is invited to become part of the cabaret family for the evening. By 2011 these nights were growing in popularity, and we were invited by the Wales Millennium Centre to perform as part of the 2011 Blysh festival. Since then, Mary Bijou has been going from strength to strength. We recently performed at our second Machynlleth Comedy Festival 2013, of which we were invited back to before our 2012 first year’s festival was even over! We provide the after-hours’ entertainment in the evenings as well as daytime circus workshops.

We’re going to be back at The Centre’s Blysh festival this July and August, bigger and better than ever, with a show called “Hitch” in the Spiegel tent which is ever so exciting. This year we get a four night run!

We’re confident that this summer’s show for the Centre will be our best yet. We’re already planning our shows for Machynlleth next May, and hope to include a daytime family-friendly “children’s’ cabaret”.

Some of my favourite things to do in the city are head to the hula hooping class at the Nofit State Circus HQ or at a spin class after work, or trawling junk shops for 1950s kitchens at the weekend, going to any number of the wonderful gigs and shows happening around town, electro-swing hopping with the Kitsch n Sync girls at their Tuesday class, drinking Waterloo tea in Porter’s and catching up with friends.

There are a whole load of fun things to recommend in this city – but obviously the first one would be to come and see our show in the spiegeltent this July 31st until 3 August 2013!

Ellie Pilott has collaborated with Mary Bijou since the first show in 2010. Nofit State circus inspired her to take up hula hoop but she is too shy to perform so she stays in the background and does a number of jobs filling in where appropriate but mainly the administration and marketing. She is a proficient tea drinker, junk shop trawler, hula hoop teacher and property finder. She makes Mary Bijou Go, Go, Go! Catch Mary Bijou on Facebook or Twitter @themarybijou or on their website. She currently lives in Adamsdown.

Mary Bijou’s show Hitch premieres in their purpose-built Spiegeltent in Cardiff Bay outside the Wales Millennium Centre between 31 July and 4 August 2013.

Ellie was photographed with her hula hoops at Porter’s by Adam Chard

***

“Cardiff owes a debt to its industrial history” – Stuart

stu_herbert_web

In the 1790s, the ironmasters of Merthyr Tydfil decided to build themselves a canal to bring their goods to market quicker, and on a larger scale than was previously possible along the turnpike. Their target markets were abroad, and they needed a port where they could transfer their goods from the canal barges onto ships to carried out into the wider world. Land surveys determined that the easiest route for this canal was south down the valleys past Pontypridd to the coastal plains beyond, where the River Taff flowed into the Bristol Channel. Cardiff at the time was a small town clinging to the shadow of its ruined castle, neither capital city nor important port. It lay on the route on this little canal, and more importantly to the south had miles of abundant saltmarsh – the perfect place for the ironmasters to build their seaport.

The canal was the Glamorganshire Canal, and the sea port of the ironmasters became known as Sea Lock Pond.

Although the canal continued to operate through to the end of 1951 (in increasing states of disrepair), new industry soon meant that new transport methods were needed. Iron and tin quickly gave way to coal as the main export of the valleys, and during the 1800s and early 1900s five private railroads sprang up to compete for the business of bringing this black gold down to the massive docks that were built to the east of Sea Lock Pond to try and meet the demand.

Cardiff grew rich, prosperous and influential as the middleman in all of this trade. The profits to be had from the coal trade were immense for the time (did you know that the world’s first £1 million deal was done in Cardiff’s Coal Exchange?) and they paid for many of Cardiff’s wonderful parks and its magnificent Civic Centre, and much more besides.

Without this trade, the Cardiff we all know and love today would be a very different – and probably much smaller – place. And yet, the debt Cardiff owes to this industrial history seems to be largely unknown to the good folks of Cardiff, and it’s one that is seldom clearly acknowledged whenever there is an historical exhibition put on in the city centre.

Perhaps the reason why is because this story doesn’t have a happy ending – not for the valleys anyway.

By the 1960s, most of this trade had ceased, having been in decline since the 1930s, and the docks closed down. Over the next 30 years, as the coal mines of the valleys were declared unprofitable and also closed down, the towns and villages of the valleys sank into a deep decline that they have yet to recover from.

It wasn’t just the coal mining that went. None of the industry that lined this industrial corridor at its height exists today. The Merthyr iron forges, the world’s two largest tinworks, the many deep coal mines, the chainworks factory, the chemical works, the bakeries, the power station, and much more besides … every last one of them has closed. Little has come in to replace them.

Today, Merthyr Tydfil is normally mentioned in the media because of its terrible unemployment rates and benefits culture, and things aren’t much better in many of the former coalmining towns and villages that dotted the canal’s route. The valleys had a very small population before the mines came along, and although the mines are long gone, the people have stayed in the places they have made their homes in. It’s difficult to see how their fortunes will drastically improve in my remaining lifetime, as the days of mass employment in heavy industry show no sign of imminent return.

Cardiff too fell on hard times for several decades, but thanks in part to the influx of European funds to transform the former docks into Cardiff Bay, and the money that has been attracted by the setting up of the Welsh Assembly Government, Cardiff’s fortunes have turned out quite different from the valleys. Indeed, Cardiff instead is competing to be one of the top shopping destinations in the whole UK, and its council has announced ambitious plans for a new business district to further boost the local economy.

I’m originally from Yorkshire, a proud area that makes a point of teaching all of its children its major history, which dates back to Roman times. You have a proud and unique history too, and I’d urge you to put it proudly on display before it becomes lost and forgotten.

If you want to learn more about this industrial history, then I highly recommend reading the excellent two-volume set “The Glamorganshire and Aberdare Canal”, by Stephen Rowson and Ian L. Wright, available from Black Dwarf Lightmoor. You can also see some of my own writings about this at my Merthyr Road photography project.

Stuart is an amateur photographer who was first struck by the ruins of South Wales’ industrial past back in 2007 as he commuted past them every day to and from work. Over the last five years, he’s been slowly exploring and blogging about a history that he’s worried has already been forgotten. You can find his work at his blog.

Stuart was photographed at the Melingriffith Water Pump in Whitchurch by Jon Poutney

***

 

“I love sitting in the Packet and looking at the old photos of the ships” – Hannah

hannah-johnson-web

When I first arrived here, Cardiff was an airport waiting lounge to me – a transitory, temporal place where I could have a rest before embarking on another journey.

I ended up here by accident after an exhilarating year of travelling and working abroad, which had ended abruptly with my parents splitting up and the acknowledgement of £8k’s worth of debt. Before I went away, I’d always lived with certainty; going to college, going to university, going travelling … arriving home was disconcerting on many levels, and it was compounded by the series of events that immediately followed it.

Armed with a first class degree and a misplaced sense of worldliness and entitlement, I assumed that offers of policy and campaigns jobs would be piled up onto my doormat when I got home. The reality was that, in 2009, everyone was struggling to find work, and apparently people aren’t entitled to Jobseekers Allowance if they’ve been swanning around south America for the past year. So, my boyfriend and I had to sleep on the floor of my parents’ tiny two-up, two-down house that was barely big enough to fit a double airbed in to. When they split up after two months, we had to move in to a holiday caravan.

Over the summer, I filled in 87 job applications, wrote articles for numerous websites and magazines and volunteered with a local charity. When I was finally offered a part time, six month research contract in Cardiff, it felt like it was the biggest career break that anyone had ever got, in the world, ever.

On the day I got the job, my friend took me out for a celebratory meal. As we drove around Roath Lake and bathed in the late summer sun on the Juno Lounge terrace, I thought ‘I can deal with this for a few months – it’s not Buenos Aires, but I can live here, it’s not too bad’.

We moved into a little flat in Heath, with one part-time, temporary job between the two of us. A week later, two bailiffs walked through the door and told us we had 10 minutes to get as much of our stuff as we could pack, and get out. The landlord hadn’t paid his rent for nine months, and the flat was being repossessed. We had nowhere to go. We’d paid agent’s fees, the first month’s rent and a deposit on the flat, mostly from cash advances on the credit card, and now we were homeless. Suddenly, the city seemed threatening and aggressive. It was telling us ‘this is real life, kids, deal with it. The fun part of your lives is over’.

Of all the experiences we had while travelling, all the sticky situations we got into and all the people that we met, nothing taught me more about life than those three months after coming home. Cardiff had given me some important life lessons, but it had also taught me that I can deal with a lot of shit that life can throw at me.

Two and a half years later, after two jobs and three houses, I’m attempting to reconcile my original reaction to the city with how I feel about it now. My intention had been to live here for a few months, earn some money and go away again. I deliberately refrained from signing up to long phone contracts, making close friends or acquiring too many possessions, in the belief that I’d have to get rid of everything all over again. For the past two years, I’ve desperately tried to embrace this Zen-like impermanence to an extreme extent, but the people I’ve met, the jobs I’ve had, the houses I’ve lived in and the things I’ve realised have made the city into an inextricable and permanent part of me.

It’s easy to think of travelling as an all-encompassing cure to naivety, and while I still spend all of my money on travelling, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a very false, privileged and Western thing to do. Being in a place for, at most, three weeks, is an incredibly shallow way of experiencing it. Zipping between continents and not really penetrating the surfaces of places is fine, but now when I travel, I take the time to stay with local people; I attempt to get a sense of what it’s like to be in a place permanently, for better or worse.

I’m still only beginning to scrape the surface of what Cardiff has to offer. I am continually meeting creative, interesting people who are involved in all sorts of activities (like this website).

I love sitting in the Packet and looking at the old photos of the ships.

I love talking to my 80 year old neighbour in Grangetown and hearing about what this part of the city used to be like.

I love working in a place that is like a microcosm of the city.

In many ways, Cardiff has given me a much more genuine ‘life experience’ than I ever got by flitting around the world, by embracing the permanence of it as a place – its people and its culture, rather than treating it as a temporal space. I guess you can get as much or as little out of a city as you like. I’ve inadvertently put time into this city, and it’s rewarded me.

Hannah is a travel writer, designer and photographer, originally spawned in the mysterious depths of Nottingham. Following a bout of education and swanning around the globe, she arrived in Cardiff to work as a freelance researcher and designer in the voluntary sector before being lured into the dark art of parliamentary research. She spends her time travelling, taking photos, cooking, writing, designing and studying Spanish and human rights law. She currently lives in Grangetown, and you can see some of her work at www.hannahjohnson.co.uk.

Hannah was photographed at The Packet by Adam Chard

 

***

 

“I don’t think things would have worked out if I wasn’t living in this brilliant city” – Alex

alex-harper-web

I moved to Cardiff when I was 18. All I wanted to do was leave home and get out into the world on my own, and university seemed like the best way to do this. I’m not sure why but Cardiff had always appealed to me, long before I’d even visited the place. I still to this day have no idea why that was.

From a young age I have been obsessed with film, mainly horror and fantasy but I’ll pretty much watch anything. I was watching films that should have sent me running and hiding, but from talking to my sister (the main culprit for letting me watch them) I was absolutely fascinated by them. The creatures and effects I was seeing on the screen captivated me. I went to my local college with the intention of getting into the world of special effects make-up, however I was shot down by a tutor who told me it was a pipedream and that it was completely unrealistic as a real career path. This “advice” sent me into the direction of graphic design but it was never truly what I wanted to do.

I was miserable, I disliked everything about what I was doing and I really needed to change my situation or forever think “what if?”. So I decided to have a go at getting into special effects make-up with a real “now or never” attitude and I haven’t looked back since!

I started doing special effects at home while learning the basics of make up at a local college. I’m my own biggest critic when it comes to my work but I knew I was doing something right when I uploaded the first pictures of my make-up to Facebook and I had a barrage of texts/calls/emails asking if I was ok. This carried on for a few months; experimenting at home, reading books and watching tutorials online and my passion began to grow into almost an obsession!! I realised this was my true vocation.

Probably the biggest thing to me career-wise was when I entered a competition with the Stan Winston School of Character Arts (only after a bit of arm-twisting from friends). The competition was for a zombie artwork/make-up and the unexpected happened – and I won! It was the first thing I had ever won of this nature and I was totally blown away by it all. My work was reviewed by Greg Nicotero who has worked on some incredible films but at the moment is most well known for his work on The Walking Dead…. And he liked it! It was like a dream come true.

Since then it’s been pretty non-stop for me, working on local projects with some amazingly talented people such as 441 films. I also have work coming up on a slasher movie being filmed in south Wales and a music video where I will be turning about 30 people into zombies and letting them loose on a local band by the name of Inhalite.

My knowledge is what I would consider basic in the world of special effects but I’m determined to carry on learning and developing, I send emails everyday to various companies and people asking them for even a few hours of work experience even if it’s just making tea or letting them use me to experiment make-up techniques on. Hopefully one day an opportunity will arise.

Cardiff has such a strong creative community and I don’t think things would have worked out like they have so far for me if it wasn’t for the fact I was living in this brilliant city. The fact is you’re only a short walk away from seeing something creatively amazing be it some graffiti on a club’s wall, a poster outside a shop or a local band doing a set in a small bar down a side lane, the city is full of artistic influence and no matter what happens with my career I’ll always happily say this is where it all began.

Alex Harper is a make-up artist working from his house in the heart of Cardiff. You can contact him and see more of his work at Facebook. He currently lives in Adamsdown.

Alex was photographed in front of the National Museum in Cardiff by Adam Chard

 

***

 

“Cardiff – I wouldn’t change you for the world” – Adam

adam-rees-web

Dear Cardiff,

We see each other every day, but after a lifetime of acquaintance and a decade of cohabiting I thought it was time I told you what you mean to me. I’d like to think we had something special, but I know that I am but one of many for you. While you have played a truly exceptional role in the way I grew as a child and developed as a man, I often ask myself if I have had any influence on you.

I don’t remember the first time we met, but growing up on the other side of the M4, you were a neighbour that we would often visit and who would offer me exciting peeks at a different world. My earliest memories of you are summer afternoons in Roath Park, Christmas breakfasts with Santa in the restaurant in Howells and the metallic and sea salty tang of fresh fish in the indoor market.

As my teenage years progressed and village life became claustrophobic, your friendly neighbour became a Mrs Robinson figure, offering new and more mature experiences for me. I couldn’t wait to learn to drive so that I could spend as much time as possible in your shadow, and a weekend cinema job and new friends provided even more excuses to spend time away from home. Even when I chose to study at the University of Glamorgan, you were only a train ride away.

You’ve witnessed my peaks and my troughs; you hold secrets that I have never shared with anyone else and through it all you have kept my glass half full. It is within your borders that I met my partner Yusuf and the people who have become my best friends.

I’ve seen you at your most extrovert, on match days when the city is a-buzz with scarves, inflatable daffodils and those bloody annoying horns. I’ve seen you at your most introvert when the clouds are low, the rain has driven everyone out of the streets and your eclectic beauty stands out the most. But without a doubt, my favourite times with you have been when nothing much happened at all. Sunny afternoons sitting in Bute Park watching the river run by on one side and the people on the other, or snuggled into any one of a number of your inns, drinking, talking, and laughing.

We may be quite different people now from those early days before you had all that work done (and may I say you are looking all the better for it!) and I was just a shy boy.  These days I see you more like an older sibling, that I may sometimes take for granted and regularly bitch about, but dare an outsider start to criticise you and I will defend you till the end.

We’ve been through our bad patches, indeed there was a time that I escaped every weekend I could, and when I couldn’t wait to “Get out of this job and out of this city!” But we worked things out and I wouldn’t change you for the world.

Adam Rees is a Communities First Officer for Cardiff’s Third Sector Council. His interests include Baking, books and crafts and blogs about it all at adam-rees@tumblr.com . He lives in Grangetown with his partner Yusuf and two dogs, Arthur and Edward.

Adam was photographed at his home by Adam Chard

***

 

“It’s a genuine community” – Zoe

zoe_howerska_web

I came to Cardiff in 2005 – I’d lived in Newport since 2003, being at university there. True to its name as the little capitol city, the first house I lived in was the same one that Dirty Sanchez used to film their first series in. One night we all went into the basement to find their names burnt into the floor beams surrounded by pentagons. But that’s just one of the many crazy Cardiff stories that you’ll find all Cardiffians have, about the famous people and places we encounter on a daily basis.

For me Cardiff is a place where you can be who you really are, no judgement, no fear. It’s a massive pleasure to see Cardiff bloom creatively, to see what has always been a small but diverse community, now recognised further afield for the potential it has, and it’s down to this zeitgeist Cardiff offers artists.

Personally, Cardiff has helped me evolve as an artist in innumerable ways. I knew I loved film and I knew I loved making clothes but I’d never put the two together until I moved to Cardiff. It was Cardiff that brought these things in my life together, like some mystical force – and I realised that I wanted to work on costumes in films. I’d see Doctor Who out on location, would recognise  various Cardiff locations on screen and like most people, it seemed magical that I could make the fictional world real. Working here for five years now, I’d say I’ve become part of the Cardiff independent filmmaking circuit.

I guess most people see costume as two things: superhero outfits and big period dresses with wigs and fans. It’s so much more than that and the industry in Cardiff definitely recognises that. I’ve met people here who believe in the same things as me: living here and working here. I work all over Cardiff and the surrounding areas, and take great pleasure in contributing to the creative output Cardiff is so well known for.

I’ve shot all over Cardiff – in an abandoned quarry in Fairwater for the digital short “Magpie”, in the carpark underneath the Coal Exchange for the Iris Prize film “Boys Village” and even in City Hall, in the upstairs marble hall with Rutger Hauer, over one night in May for “The Reverend”. Some cynics might say that most films made in Cardiff come from elsewhere: big companies with money looking to film somewhere cheaper than London. Those cynics are wrong. Yes, we welcome the big productions, they bring the chance for us to prove Wales has so much to offer. But I’ve also worked with some amazing local talent that want to make films about Wales, about their lives, and about Cardiff.

I’ve lived almost always in, or adjacent to Roath, and six years later, live around the corner from that first student house, affectionately titled “the dirty sanchez house”. It’s a wonderful area to be young, have children, or grow old. It’s the memory I often return to, of my first summer amble around Roath Park, to the boating lake with friends that made me realise this was the place for me.

I love Roath for Wellfield Road’s Christmas lights, for walking my dog in Waterloo Gardens, and watching him chase (or rather attempt to) squirrels, I love Roath for the fabric shops which in my line of business being a walkable distance away is impossibly helpful. I love Roath for the multicultural mix that never seems cliche, pretentious, or threatening: just open and welcoming. On City Road you can walk ten paces and go from Mexican to Lebanese to traditional or super modern interpretations of tandoori classics.

Testament to Cardiff’s “big little city” tag, you can shoot a city landscape, drive fifteen minutes and be in the rolling countryside – but, as I often need to pop off set to grab something, like a pair of socks, or a cup of coffee, its nice to know you’re not far from civilisation and in Roath’s case, about 100 paces from any given Tesco!

I read recently that Roath was the new Pontcanna. My friends from Pontcanna weren’t convinced, but thanks to Made In Roath, The Gate, and Milgi there’s a really strong creative cultural atmosphere beginning to settle here. There’s always been an artistic atmosphere, but little output for creatives to showcase their work. Now, with Milkwood and Sho galleries which are literally around the corner from many of its patrons, it feels like our art is on show. It’s a genuine community, and you walk into Milgi knowing you’re likely to see someone you know within five minutes. Made In Roath festival gives people the chance to visit locals and see their art in their houses: a new and inventive exhibition style. I urge anyone who hasn’t been to the open houses before, to come along this year and see for yourself what Roath has to offer.

As for the big screen – keep your eyes peeled, you’re more likely than ever to see a part of Cardiff you might recognise.

Zoe is a costume designer living and working in Cardiff. Originally from Yorkshire she came to Wales for university and stayed for love. Last year she worked with people from all walks of life –  from Jean Claude Van Damme to Denise Welch (you can watch this in “Loserville” – one of Zoe’s projects – very soon on BBC Wales). In her spare time, Zoe likes to pamper her dog, George, and runs a small dog clothing company called dogtailor.

Zoe was photographed on Albany Road in Roath by Simon Ayre

***

 

“To me, it’s my passion and I am proud to have done it all in Cardiff” – Terry

terrymatthews_web

1996 was a good year. I got my A levels, “Cool Britannia” was in full swing, and the British were making the best music in the world again and London where I am from, was the centre of the world.

It was also the year I came to University in Cardiff and the year I discovered my great passion, Korfball.

Despite playing several typical sports at school, and being pretty good at one or two, I was determined to do something different, and it doesn’t get much more different than Korfball, and mixed sex hybrid of basketball and netball (the one with the tall yellow posts).

Throughout my five University years, (I had nothing better to do) I played a lot of Korfball in Cardiff and met numerous friends whom are still that today.

The centre of this Korfball Universe was Lys Talybont, an identikit sports hall to everyone you have ever seen before.

To me, it’s special. To me, it’s where I won the British University Sports Association (BUSA) National Championships in 2001, the finest moment of my life.

I had qualified as a Korfball coach in 1998, and started where all coaches deserve to start, at the bottom, finishing last in the 1999 Nationals. The following year, we did somewhat better coming 9th. However, it was 2001 Cardiff made their indelible mark on British Korfball.

A strong season with strong British Student squad players had made Cardiff dark horses, but we remained un-fancied, because we had no pedigree, no experience of doing well. However, several close knock out games put us in the final against the run away favourites Sheffield.

I don’t remember my team talk (and sure this is a good thing!), I don’t remember most of the game, but I do remember in slow motion the winning move and goal; which, for added excitement, was in (the first and only to date) Golden Goal period after normal time finished level. Cardiff won 8-7 and was crowned the best in the UK for the first time in their history. They were also crowned the Cardiff University Athletic Union Club of the Year, and picked up no less than seven individual colours awards.

Since that inspirational day, I have worked constantly to promote the sport and develop the players in Cardiff.

I have co-founded a city team, and took them to the regional league title, established Wales, and taken them to the European B level Gold medal, and having won the local league last year with the University, I am now going to coach my own team Cardiff Dragons KC.

Korfball maybe a minority sport in Cardiff, played in sports halls you have never been in, but to me, it’s my passion and I am proud to have done it all in Cardiff.

Terry D Matthews works as an office manager for an equality charity in Cardiff, where he has been living since 1996 when he came for University to study Chemistry. He was awarded the British Korfball Association Certificate of Merit for Outstanding achievement in 2006 and is the only person to have achieved this for achievements based in Wales. He also watches foreign films and wishes he could take better photos. He currently lives in Roath.

Terry was photographed outside Cathays Library by Adam Chard

***

 

“Metropolis and nature; memory and future; big and little” – Alice

alice-paetel-web

Having been born in Birmingham I’ve always felt very protective of my Cardiffian status. I moved here when I was two so I think that I’ve lived here long enough to consider it home. It’s an energetic, sleepy city that has history and vibrancy all at the same time. ‘Big Little City’ seems a perfect description for a place where you can always encounter a new experience and still bump into someone who knows someone, who knows someone you knew.

When I’m away from Cardiff I realise how much I love it, and feel proud to say that it’s my home. It seems that with distance you truly appreciate what matters. There is a possibility that I might move away, but Cardiff seems to have a hold on me. My childhood memories of life and death situations at the ‘big slide’ in the rec are ones that I hope to relive through my own children (one day!). The nature that surrounds the city so tightly is reassuring, and nothing is more calming than being next to the sea. Whilst it’s great to visit other cities and countries, Cardiff always seems to be the benchmark for the perfect city of contrasts. Metropolis and nature; memory and future; big and little.

Alice Paetel is in her third year studying English and Popular Culture at Cardiff Metropolitan University (Previously UWIC). She hopes to go on to become a Secondary English Teacher and have a siamese cat. She currently lives in Splott with her husband and pooch.

Alice was photographed in her garden in Splott by Adam Chard

Do you enjoy the We Are Cardiff website? Want to help us turn this project into a documentary film? Please donate any amount to our fundraising campaign and join the Facebook group

 

***

 

“More and more Cardiff is less my city” – Lee

leemarshall

Cardiff looms large in my life. I slag it off, complain about all and sundry, move elsewhere and still end up coming back. It’s that baggy old mis-shapen t-shirt you would never wear outside but is the first thing you put on when you have the flu and feel crappy.

It’s my first kiss, closed eyes and disbelief on my bedroom floor in Fairwater. It’s my first betrayal, my first break-up, The Cure in my headphones and tears down my face. It’s playing my first gig, 17 years old, downstairs in Clwb Ifor Bach, the stage lights making sweat run down my face, over in a blur, my hands shaking like mad till I fretted that first chord and muscle memory took over propelling me through the set, a bundle of teenage nerves and elation.

I was born in East Glamorgan hospital, and lived the first years of my life in Llantwit Fadre, my family moved us to Cardiff when I was two years old, determined for me and my brother to have the best opportunities for school and work, and partly to make sure I didn’t end up with a Welsh accent, something that my family have always hated. I always got corrected, and as such have ended up with a bizarre posh half accent that doesn’t really belong anywhere. I get everything from Australian to Bristolian thrown at me. “No, I’m Welsh” is always my response.

Cardiff has changed massively in my time here. Growing up as a teenager I was introduced to a warren of crazy small shops in the city’s beautiful indoor Victorian arcades, which seemed to sustain a colony of weird and fascinating shops like a coral reef. Places like Emporium, which was more like 50 small shops all crammed into one big one, reeking of incense, dope smoke and musty second hand clothes, you could buy anything from a seven inch record to a world war 2 mortar shell and everything in between. Shops like Partizan, all long hippy skirts and moon and star paraphenalia, that pretty much defined the early 90s for me. Tie dye and candle holders, incense and adhesive stars on bedroom ceilings, first cigarettes, band posters, red wine in the park, falling in and out of love.

The building of the Millennium Stadium was the death knell of a lot of these shops, as rents doubled overnight, many of the shops and stalls folding immediately. It’s only got worse since, and it’s been terrible to watch, as shop by shop has vanished to be replaced by another identikit franchise that you could find in any city, and the heart of Cardiff died. Spillers Records, Troutmark books and Wally’s Deli are the only survivors from those days, and they took casualties on the way.

I never understood the logic of putting a stadium slap bang in the middle of a city which struggles with its infrastructure at the best of times. For a capital city, Cardiff has one of the smallest city centres I have ever encountered. Everything is on top of everything else. You could probably throw a stone across town if you tried hard enough. Come 5pm there are queues in and out of the centre, long before the rugby dumped 70,000 people on top of that to create bedlam and bring the city to a standstill.

Full disclosure. I hate rugby. Yes I know, I should be banned from Wales just for that, but there we are. Why the stadium couldn’t be outside the city, like the Cardiff City stadium, with its own rail station and transport links I will never understand. Then maybe we could have kept the bits of the city that I liked the most.

Similarly the arrival of the hulking behemoth that is the St. David’s 2 centre ground out a few more of the independents, and put Starbucks and the Apple Centre in their place. Attack of the Clones.

More and more Cardiff is less my city, and more a place that I wouldn’t want to go, and I don’t feel I belong in.

It will always be the place I grew up, it will always be my first kiss, it will always be my first cider in Llandaff Cathedral graveyard, but it might not be my home any more.

Still, Bristol is just over the bridge eh?

Lee Marshall is a freelance music producer, dj, remixer and sound designer,as well as recording albums under the name “Underpass”. His new album “Submergence” is released on the 21st November by Mutate Records. He makes a mean veggie spag bol and is obsessed with camouflage. Visit the Underpass website, Lee is also on twitter, @leeunderpass. You can listen to his work on Soundcloud. Lee currently lives in Riverside.

Lee was photographed in the Castle Arcade by Amy Davies – you can also see more shots from Lee’s photoshoot on Amy’s blog

***