A poverty of aspiration and the role of regeneration

By Alex Egan

As plans for UK's longest indoor ski slope to be built in Wales gain momentum, its worth sparing a thought for the importance of the right kind of regeneration. It's about much more than buildings and there is a great deal at stake.....

The demise of the coal industry in the UK through the late 1970’s, and its replacement with almost absolutely nothing at all, has left more than a few scars and slag tips on the hills of South Wales. A poverty of aspiration has filled the void where industry once was, and the resultant cultural deprivation has beleaguered a whole generation for those in and around those post-industrial communities.  It's not a situation exclusive to South Wales by any means but the hills and landscape of South Wales are my home and I am very deliberately staying here with a view to making it better rather than moving far enough away so the problems are out of sight and out of mind.

The term ‘regeneration’ is one often banded around by politicians and perhaps too simplistically linked to just the act of development. New roads, new buildings and reclamation of legacy Brownfield sites are important of course, but only part of the story. The Eden Project for example is far more than a big greenhouse with some exotic plants. It is an instantly recognisable and iconic symbol of regeneration with socio-economic impacts way beyond its borders.

There is no shortage of a sense of community in former mining areas across the UK. However, the journey towards engaging and empowering the people to form aspirational and outward looking communities is a little longer and arguably more challenging. The evidence is clear to see. 

So through this prism, if permitted development lacks aspiration and ambition, it can reinforce a negative mindset and prolong both the economic recovery, and more importantly the social and cultural recovery in post-industrial regions. Conversely, ambitious and well-designed regeneration schemes can instil a sense of pride and purpose in the place where people live with significant benefits for all concerned.

So when there are whispers on the wind around reclaiming a very large and hugely challenging former industrial site with a view to creating a leisure destination in Wales which could be nationally or even internationally significant, it's hard not to get swept up by the dream of what could be. Plans are outlined here: http://rhydycarwest.com/

Exciting and aspirational development on this scale could have the potential to change the commercial landscape of a whole region, and in so doing change the outlook and aspirations of people and communities across South Wales and beyond.  Small consolation to the people of North Wales perhaps, but the fact that this is being considered outside of Cardiff and north of the M4 is certainly a step in the right direction.

It's early days and there is no shortage of practical, economic and political challenges to overcome if this development is to ever take off.  A typical ‘Valleys’ attitude might be to play it safe and simply write it off….."it will never happen”. I’ve heard it time and time again all my life, and whilst I understand the context and reasons for delicate communities not daring to ‘dream big’, it is exactly this attitude and the reasons for it that need to be redressed and set in an opposite direction.   

From first principles, this type of ambitious and aspirational development is exactly what we need the most. It would certainly help to justify some of the investments in infrastructure improvements in the region, and itself might create new economic opportunities both directly and indirectly, catering for a broader demographic rather than the lowest common denominator.

So do we individually or collectively sit back, presume it will fail, and in years to come, whilst looking at the same desolate industrial wasteland pocked with mine entries and slag tips, do we say “I told you it would never go anywhere”. Or,.....or  do we dare to dream big, and instead perhaps ask…..how can we help?

I for one hope that any and all stakeholders in this process are able to overcome the inertia and make something very special happen where it's needed the most.

Waxing my snowboard in hopeful anticipation……..


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