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Gelli Aur park closure hints at massive renovation bill

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Gelli Aur mansion: Showing the restored roofs

Gelli Aur mansion: Showing the restored roofs

GELLI AUR County Park, near Llandeilo, is currently closed, despite a grant of almost £1 million from the Welsh Government to aid public access and restoration. 

Announcing the grant in September 2015, the Welsh Government said: “The first phase of the work is to enable public access to the historic parkland and gardens with associated amenities such as tea rooms, play area, educational activities and trails. This will create an outdoor attraction based on the landscape and gardens, while plans will be developed to restore and develop the house and courtyards into a destination for art and cultural activities.”

A brown tourist attraction sign on the A483 Llandeilo to Cross Hands road points in the direction of the road to the country park, ‘Gelli Aur’ in Welsh and ‘Golden Grove’ in English, but no sign alerts visitors to the park entrance. The sign which used to be opposite the park entrance has been taken down. A notice on the closed gate, down an unmarked drive, says ‘No Public Access’.

Carmarthenshire County Council, which is responsible for tourism signs on all but trunk roads in the county, said this week that they are looking into the matter.

NO INCOMING CALLS 

Upon ringing the contact telephone number for Gelli Aur listed in the telephone directory, 01558 668885, there is only a recorded message saying: “This number does not receive incoming calls.”

In autumn 2015, the park was open on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays, but visits in August 2016 on a Friday and a Sunday found entry barred. Several recent comments on the TripAdvisor website refer to finding the park closed, although occasionally the gate is open.

Heledd Parry at Visit Wales – an arm of the Welsh Government – said that restoration progress at Gelli Aur is being monitored, and Visit Wales is asking the Golden Grove Trust, owners of the park, for an update on public access.

SOLD BY CARMARTHENSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL 

Carmarthenshire County Council sold the Grade II listed, 59,000 square feet Golden Grove mansion and 100 acres of park and woodland, including a famous arboretum, in 2011. Cllr Meryl Gravell, then, as now, the council’s Executive Board Member for Leisure, said at the time: “With the financial challenges we face as a local authority, we are delighted to have brought our lease to a close with this happy outcome. The authority is grateful to the Trust for having the foresight and ambition to maintain and hopefully improve the public access and public offer at Gelli Aur. We look forward with much anticipation to watching this wonderful facility evolve.”

The park used to feature nature trails, a cafe and a children’s play area, besides the Victorian arboretum. It was a popular venue, much visited by local people. Since vacated by Gelli Aur Agricultural College in 2003, the property deteriorated while plans to renovate it as a hotel, then as flats, and a convalescent home for wounded armed forces veterans, came to nothing. The cost of repairing the vast, sprawling mansion was just too great.

The Golden Grove Trust’s review of activities for 2014-15 revealed that the mansion’s roofs have been made weather-tight, which is arguably the most important conservation emergency. Plans for 2016 included replacing and re-siting the children’s playground, reopening the cafe, and recreating the boating pond, but these works appear to be behind schedule.

FOUR DIRECTORS 

The Trust’s four directors are art historian Richard Christopher Salmon, who lives now in part of the mansion; the architectural historian Thomas Owen Saunders Lloyd OBE, living at Cwrt Henri, author of ‘The Lost Houses of Wales’, Adele Esther Blakeborough of Penarth, director of a training company, and James Ronald Seaton of Llanfynydd, director of the upmarket clothing firm Toast.

Mr Salmon, his telephone number located via the Charity Commission, said that the restoration was progressing ‘very well’ and that the park is normally open on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays. He thought that the gate closure and ‘No Public Access’ sign may be a requirement of their insurance company in bad weather, to limit the risk of visitors tripping or slipping over and injuring themselves.

“We have taken down the children’s playground and removed a building containing asbestos,” he said. “We are in the process of setting up a website.”

He deplored what he felt was negative news coverage in 2015, focusing on deterioration at the park and not on the huge ongoing restoration effort. “We could have made it all private when we bought it, but we decided to keep the country park open,” he said.

RESTORATION CRISIS 

Public access is, though, central to the aims of the Trust, which are to restore the ‘important Regency Hunting Lodge, Golden Grove, to its original architectural condition’ as well as to restore ‘Gelli Park Country Park, the section of the estate for the benefit of public recreation’ and ‘important arboretum, pleasure gardens, deerpark, boating pond, lake, bridge and driveways’ with the ‘restored house and estate for ultimate public benefit as Art Institute’.

The huge costs of renovating a listed historic mansion and its park are, maybe, proving a colossal challenge for the Golden Grove Trust which, according to the Charity Commission, was on August 30 61 days late presenting its accounts for 2014-15. At Companies House, on the other hand, all document filings including the accounts are up to date. The accounts show that Mr Salmon lent the Trust £1,450,756, interest-free, to buy Golden Grove, and guaranteed not to ask for repayment any earlier than November 31 (sic), 2016. For the Trust, repayment would appear to be exceptionally difficult as it has no regular income and depends on grants and rents from two holiday cottages, one of which is under repair.

The restoration crisis at this historically important mansion and park highlights the escalating problems faced by owners of listed buildings and protected landscapes. Without access to a stellar income, even routine maintenance can be a struggle, let alone major rebuilding to the standards required by conservation officers.

Major Francis Jones, in his classic ‘Historic Carmarthenshire Homes and their Families’, called Golden Grove one of the most important of the county’s residences, inhabited by distinguished families – the Vaughans, descended from the Princes of Powys and becoming Earls of Carbery, and then the Campbells, Earls of Cawdor. In 1883, the Earl of Cawdor was one of the 28 British noblemen to own over 100,000 acres, according to the website ‘Welcome to the town of Ammanford’.

Those acres yielded the income to build and maintain huge houses like Golden Grove. Today, the mansion has only 100 acres, capable of providing only a fraction of the money needed.

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Living Wage Week highlighted during Kidwelly launch

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Plaid Cymru Mid and West AM, Helen Mary Jones visited Burns Pet Food in Kidwelly, Carmarthenshire to launch Living Wage Week locally.

PPLAID CYMRU Mid and West AM, Helen Mary Jones visited Burns Pet Food in Kidwelly, Carmarthenshire to launch Living Wage Week locally.

The company is a champion of the Living Wage movement in Carmarthenshire, and the visit emphasised the importance of employers adopting the Living Wage for their workers.

Speaking at the launch Helen Mary Jones AM said:

“A big thank you to Burns Pet Food for hosting the Living Wage Celebration in west Wales. It’s very fitting that we are here today in the headquarters of this pioneering company that was established to provide a much-needed focus on nutrition, health and natural ingredients in animal food. Animal welfare is at the heart of everything for the firm. Their ethical emphasis also extends to the Burns workforce.

“The organisation is the first champion of the Living Wage Movement in Carmarthenshire; what a privilege and a responsibility that brings and one that John Burns and his staff have taken on board with energy and commitment.

“Everyone here at Burns is a passionate advocate for paying a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work and we are delighted they hosted the event to help encourage and inspire as many employers in the region as possible to take up the mantle and follow their excellent example.

“Living Wage Week is about celebrating our Living Wage Employers – thanking them for making such a difference in people’s lives. It’s also about helping our friends and colleagues in other organisations who are also in favour of fair pay and want to learn as much as possible about what it means to become accredited Living Wage Employers.”

In addition to the advocation of the Living Wage implementation across Wales, Helen Mary Jones AM congratulated the 224 Living Wage accredited employers and celebrated the achievement in a statement of opinion in the Senedd. The statement has been signed by Labour and Plaid Cymru members.

Burns Pet Food in Kidwelly kicked started the celebrations of The Living Wage Week, which runs from 11th November to 17th November 2019.

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Health Board issues clarification following row over hospital parking charges

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HYWEL DDA UNIVERSITY HEALTH BOARD has put out a press release responding to criticism about its parking enforcement policy at Glangwili Hospital and at Prince Philip Hospital in Llanelli.

In August 2019, a new parking enforcement system was implemented to protect parking spaces for both patients and visitors, according to officials.

This enforcement was in the form of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras and the introduction of a four hour stay limit for patients and visitors.

While this has improved parking availability for patients and visitors, the decision has been made to temporarily suspend the parking enforcement following feedback from staff until additional parking improvement schemes have been implemented.

Until these schemes are in place and show improved parking availability for staff, it has been confirmed:

Parking Charge Notices (PCNs) will only be issued to those parked inappropriately i.e. causing an obstruction or to cars parking in zero tolerance zones.
Patients and visitors who need to park for over four hours are asked to input their registration details into one of the validation terminals available across both hospitals. However, during this temporary suspension no PCNs will be issued to unregistered vehicles exceeding the four hour limit
Members of staff with a parking permit who need to park as a patient or visitor should when not on duty must request temporary access to use the public (blue) car parks by contacting the Central Transport Unit on 01267 229620 or use their permit to park in a staff (red) or mixed (purple) car park.

Steve Moore, Chief Executive of Hywel Dda University Health Board (UHB), said: “The decision to introduce parking enforcement at Glangwili and Prince Philip hospitals was in response to long running difficulties that our patients and visitors have experienced when attending appointments or visiting loved ones. However, the changes made did not have the impact we hoped for so we are having to consider other options.

“I want to reassure members of the public that this is a temporary measure and call on staff to do their very best to refrain from parking in public car parks when on duty while we scope parking improvement schemes as a priority.

“Our choices are limited but I am confident we can find some solutions. We are going to need the help of our staff, however, to make a real difference.

“I’d like to thank all members of staff who have met with me to discuss what these possible solutions could be. We know we did not get this right for staff and we need to work with you to make sure that the decision made improves the parking experience for both staff and visitors.”

PCNs issued to staff parked in public car parks will be cancelled and refunds given. Please note this does not apply to PCNs issued to those parked in zero tolerance zones.

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The NSPCC and Childline are here to help children

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THE NSPCC and Childline want children and young people across Wales to know that they are not alone and that they have someone to talk or turn to if they have any worries about bullying.

It is heart-breaking to know that last year more than 500 children and young people in Wales contacted Childline due to concerns about bullying.

This week is ‘Anti-Bullying Week’ which runs from Monday 11 November to Friday 15 November.

We know that 501 youngsters from Wales contacted the free and confidential NSPCC-supported counselling service last year about bullying – which is a rise on the previous year of almost 28 percent.

The majority of those contacts from Wales – nearly 85 per cent – related to concerns about bullying which were not online.

It can be difficult for children to know where to start with helping someone who is being bullied.

Bullying, whether it happens online or offline, can take over a child’s world and have a devastating impact on them and their family, leading in some cases to serious mental health problems and even suicide.

Every year at Childline, we provide support to hundreds of young people who are struggling with bullying and have nowhere else to turn.

This ‘Anti-Bullying Week’ we want to remind young people how important it is to talk to someone they trust –  be it a friend, parent, teacher or a Childline counsellor.

We are also encouraging children to remember that just a few words of support can make a massive difference to a friend who is being bullied.

The new Childline ‘#IGotYou’ campaign encourages young people to remember that just a few words of support can make a massive difference, whether the bullying is happening offline or online.

  • Let them know you’re there for them,
  • Help them to get support,
  • Think before you like or comment on something,
  • Help to distract them.

Any child who has concerns about bullying can contact Childline (0800 1111) or look at our advice pages on the Childline website.

We also have some advice for carers, guardians and parents who may have concerns or worries about a child or young person with regards to bullying.

  • Talk to your child about bullying and cyberbullying,
  • Let them know who to ask for help,
  • Help them relax and take a time out,
  • Report bullying on social media and online gaming,
  • Report bullying videos shared online,
  • Talk to your child’s school or club.

The NSPCC, in partnership with 02, runs an advice line (0808 800 5002) for parents with questions about how to protect their children online – our experts can advise on privacy settlings, parental controls or how to have conversations about bullying online.

Parents can also visit the NSPCC and O2’s Net Aware website which explores the most popular apps and games, featuring helpful safety tips and feedback from both parents and children.

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