Tag Archives: living in grangetown

“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

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“Cardiff Bay – what’s in a name?” – Jeremy

jeremy-rees-web

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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“On opening this letter, it will have been exactly three years since leaving London behind” – Kieran

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Dear Kieran,

On a break from city hall and working on the impending return of the students I have escaped to a café near the station to enjoy my usual herbal tea. I thought it would be a good idea to remind you of why you are in Cardiff and what your thoughts were between turning 29 and 30.

So, on opening this letter it will have been exactly three years since leaving London behind. Yes Cardiff might not have as much going on, but remember that’s a good thing, instead of running around trying to do everything listed in Time Out – from theatre to gig, to art show to three clubs in one night, wake up and repeat. There is that feeling of anticipation in Cardiff and an enjoyment in and of the moment rather than constantly charging on to next, next, next.

In hindsight the move and career change from working for an art collector to student liaison officer – private to public, although an initial shock, has taken you out of the comfort zone you were in danger of falling into, coming to Cardiff to be a bit more selfish; write, study and work.

Yes, frustrations underline your work, but don’t forget the freedom the post has allowed; working from your own initiative. Working with the three universities and the council as the Student Liaison Officer is a unique position across the UK. The post has helped make the city and its students safer, cleaner, and hopefully greener, more socially aware and responsible. It’s helped people to invest in their communities and become enveloped within the city outside of the student bubble. The work empowers the community and changes perceptions. Follow-ups to the Buy Nothing Day and the first ever Speed Dating litter picks should have come about, work progressed towards ‘Get it Out For Cardiff’ charity collections throughout the year, and ‘cardifference’, Go Green and ‘Lock it. Hide it. Keep it’ campaigns launched, and added onto your website cardiffdigs.co.uk, a website for all student housing and living needs.

If when you open this letter funding has run out, then you know that forces outside your control took possession. You have taken the job as far as it could go, perhaps it is time for that move into the charity sector or maybe into social marketing as you’ve been mulling over in your thoughts.

I wonder if you are still living in Grangetown? Remember not to take the ability to walk everywhere for granted. And look up more – you must have brought a second hand bike by now for further explorations.

Do you remember that man on a night out casually taking a poo against a wall in full public view on a less than salubrious street like it was normal behaviour? In Cardiff you constantly need to keep digging deeper to avoid the shit on the streets. Finding uniqueness stops you giving up on humanity and retains your optimism for the city. Don’t get blinded by selfish attitudes, the consumerist city clone, our throw-away society, bad manners/litter or underlying cliques – it’s finding the off-the-cuff parts, seeking out interesting people and places that make this city remarkable.

If you still haven’t dedicated time to writing then it’s time to put pen to paper again. You will have graduated with a certificate in higher education, subjects in philosophy, psychology and social marketing, by the time you open this but that’s no excuse to not have continued learning. You had thoughts of sociology and such like up your sleeve so I hope as much time this past year has been spent holed up in various libraries.

At the time you were listening to Steve Mason, Stevie Wonder, Laura Marling and the XX on repeat. This was the soundtrack to Cardiff.
You’d just finished reading Buy-ology, Master and Margarita and Wind In The Willows, and hope some headway was made on the stack of books by the bedside.

A weekend with the SWAT adventure group was impending – if you haven’t organised something this year, then why not? Remember how much fun things like the Llama trek, Go Ape, trips and walks to Snowdon and Brecon were.

Hopefully you’ve found an additional volunteer opportunity, been on another conservation holiday, got more involved in the Cardiff Rivers group, community radio and Radio Cardiff, and found a creative outlet.

The last week is fairly typical in that you’ve met up with close friends played squash, gone to the cinema, had a veggie dinner somewhere, gone for tea and cake, seen something random like Celtic wrestling, ice hockey, circus, theatre or gig and taken those dancing shoes for a good old shuffle around. You know who these people are that make this city into a bonanza, so pick up the phone now if it’s been more than a few weeks.

I leave you with this:
“At 30 a man should know himself like the palm of his hand, know the exact number of his defects and qualities, know how far he can go, foretell his failures – be what he is. And, above all, accept these things.” – Albert Camus

So yes you are still nauseatingly cheesy but happy birthday, from me (nearly 29) to me (30).

Kieran McCann is slightly addicted to chocolate soya milk, loves having breakfast for his tea, gets guilty pleasures from reading comics, has only walked through the new St David’s 2 once, can’t pass an open charity shop without going in and is still fending off having a personal profile on facebook. He is the founder of cardiffdigs.co.uk ; you can follow his work on the blog: http://cardiffdigs.blogspot.com/

Kieran was photographed near the Taf at Tudor Street by Adam Chard.

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