Energy Futures and Utopia…..three days in Ynysybwl

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Saturday 14th May, 2016

As the last rays of the evening sun slowly set over the Glog, and the firepit flames died down, so came to an end of three wonderful days in Ynysybwl and the last acts of our community activity in the Everyday Lives strand of the Stories of Change project.

Supported additionally through the AHRC Community Futures and Utopia Festival and the Arts Council of Wales, Louise Osborn’s wonderfully evocative and provocative Play for Voices, based on the stories from three of the communities we worked with – Tairgwaith, Treherbert, and Ynysybwl – proved a very fitting finale indeed.

An expectant crowd gathered around the newly-forged firepit on the site of the former Lady Windsor Colliery to watch and hear actors Anwen Carlisle, Simon Howells and Jams Thomas sympathetically and dynamically echo the words and emotions of ordinary people on an energy journey from the past to the present before playfully conjuring up people’s hopes and ideas of what the future might hold. As their last words faded away, animated discussions broke out, as intended, amongst the locals continuing into the late evening.

Thursday 12th May, 2016

Two days earlier, the festival events kicked off in style with a superb Village Voices concert organised by the Ynysybwl Enterprise Programme. Challenged by the theme of energy, the artists and performers rose magnificently to the task. A glorious choral opening by More Than a Song Community Choir was followed by local wordsmith Tom Cadwallader’s brilliant poems juxtaposing contrasting views of windfarms before a riotously rollicking set of zany songs on the merits of miscellany such as wires, networks and flatulent cows by Jeff Japers, and then poet Mike Church’s cutting verse.

After the break the evening continued with Bella Collins & Gareth Evans, a duo whose jazz-inflected blues showcased their superb vocal and guitar talents. Fêted author Rachel Trezise then treated the audience to a wonderful reading of Chickens from her award-winning short story collection, Fresh Apples. Finally, the evening closed with Christopher Rees, who spiritedly used the evening’s theme to take us on a journey through some of his impressive repertoire of heartfelt alt country-tinged songs. All in all a magnificent evening’s entertainment which set the bar high for the days ahead and much to muse over.

Friday 13th May, 2016

Last year’s Story Studio at Treherbert proved to be a great success both for us as the Story 3 team and the local community. So for the Connected Communities Festival, we decided on a reprise, but a much shorter timescale and, in keeping with the theme, an enhanced focus on the future of energy in communities such as Ynysybwl.

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Having radically transformed the Community Centre in rapid time with Lisa and Iain from Storyworks UK, people entering took part in a journey from the Ynysybwl of the past to an imagined future helped by archive footage, images, and audio and digital stories from the communities to date. Soon, as conversations commenced and connected, the Future Wall became increasingly populated with people’s ideas, hopes, and indeed fears of what the future of energy might hold for them and the community.

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Saturday 14th May, 2016

After Friday’s hectic studio session, Saturday saw another busy start with a future energy workshop facilitated by Hamish Fyfe from the Stories of Change project at USW. The intriguing session challenged us to envisage future energy scenarios through visual representations using everyday objects. So with the help of chairs, handkerchiefs, and other odd and sods plus the occasional bit of cable that just happened to lying around, the groups enjoyed working out how imagined futures could happen or might not. All in all, a thought-provoking morning.

After a little lunchtime lull, activity picked up again at the Studio in the afternoon with a new stream of visitors including Louise, Anwen, Simon and Jams popping in prior to rehearsal. And with that, the studio came to an end with the ‘Back to The Future’ energy landscape walk and the evening’s performance ahead.

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The walk organised by Daerwynno Outdoor Centre in Llanwonno Forest just to the northwest of the ‘Bwl took in the history of energy in the area going past relics and sights of past and possibly future energy. As they wended their way eventually back to the Firepit, a good crowd had gathered ready for the evening event. But where were the actors and Louise? Crawling out the back window of the local premises they had gathered in earlier for their final run-through having been locked in inadvertently!

Neither shaken nor stirred, they too made their way up the hill to the plateau where the Lady Windsor Colliery once stood and dispensed her miners deep into the bowels of the earth to toil for black gold. And as the crowd’s voices hushed, pierced by the birds’ evensong, and the flames settled and crackled, it began. “We’re here to tell you a story… ”

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Supported by AHRC Community Futures and Utopia Festival and the Arts Council of Wales with thanks to our festival partners: Storyworks UK, Visiting Arts, Ynysybwl Regeneration Partnership, Ynysybwl Enterprise Programme, Ynysybwl Community Centre, Ynysybwl Constitutional Club, Daerwynno Outdoor Centre, Glyncoch Community Regeneration Ltd, James Exton, Blue Sky Monster, and BBC Cymru Wales (for archive).

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