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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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Senior Learning Disability nurse recognised for her outstanding contribution

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A SENIOR Learning Disability nurse at Hywel Dda University Health Board is celebrating after receiving a prestigious award for her outstanding contribution to Learning Disability nursing.

Laura Andrews, Professional Lead for Learning Disabilities Nursing, was presented with the Cavell Star by the Chair of the Health Board, Maria Battle, at a special event held recently.

The Cavell Star recognises outstanding nurses, midwives, nursing associates and healthcare assistants who go above and beyond in their professional duties and show exceptional care.

Laura, from Llanboidy, was nominated for the award by her colleagues in the Learning Disabilities health liaison service for her passion and dedication towards LD nursing. She has been been a LD nurse for over 30 years and has a wealth of knowledge and experience, having worked in many settings both in England and Wales.

She said: “It’s really marvellous – I’m really surprised and shocked!

“I don’t even have the words – I’m speechless. It’s nice that this is happening around the same time that we prepare to celebrate 100 years of LD nursing.

“This award is for everyone that works in LD services. It shows that for me, the passion is still there even after 35 years.”

Emily Andrews, Laura’s daughter, who is training to be an adult nurse, added: “I’m really proud of my mum. She’s worked so hard and she really deserves this.”

Maria Battle, Chair of the Health Board, added: “Laura is a true advocate and champion of learning disability nursing. She has tirelessly raised the profile of learning disabilities in all arenas she attends and takes every opportunity to encourage new students into the profession.

“Laura has been instrumental in developing new services to meet the needs of those with a learning disability and she always includes and values the input of people with a learning disability to ensure their voice is heard.”

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30K Lottery win for Ammanford neighbours

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RESIDENTS surprised with cheques during Storm Brendan

Five neighbours in Ammanford were celebrating this weekend despite the miserable weather, after they won a large cash sum with People’s Postcode Lottery.

Four of the players scooped £30,000 each, with the fifth doubling their prize to £60,000 thanks to playing with two tickets.

The Carmarthenshire residents scooped the cash after their postcode, SA18 2EW, was announced as a winner on Sunday 12 January.

Pam Harris (49) was one of the lucky winners receiving a cheque for £30,000. She said: “I’m totally shocked! It’s a life-changing experience. Today I’ve had a very big adventure which I’m very happy about.”

Pam has a 13-year-old son who she plans to treat with the prize money, as well as booking a holiday to escape the wet weather.

She said: “My son is over the moon, he wants to spend it on all sorts of stuff. He wants to change his bedroom and he also wants to go abroad, which is fine by me as I want to go on holiday as well! I’d love to go to the Fiji Islands for a few weeks. I’d also love to hire a helicopter and go for a spin over the Grand Canyon.”

Pam was delighted to find out that some of her neighbours won too and plans on celebrating with her friends. She said: “I’m going to the local pub over the road with a couple of mates tonight. I’m going to absorb the atmosphere and soak it all in. Drinks are 100% on me, steaks all round, happy days!

It’s absolutely brilliant that my neighbors have won too. They’ll all be happy and we’re helping good causes too. You’ve got to be in it to win it, winner winner chicken dinner!”

Gwyneth Williams (62) was another local picking up a cheque for £30,000.

She said: “I couldn’t believe it, I’m still shaking. I’m not used to having this much money. I have four children and 11 grandchildren so that’s it spent already!”

With a minimum of 32% of every ticket going to good causes, players have helped raise more than £500 million to date for charities and good causes. Gwyneth commented: “It’s wonderful the amount of people it helps and that something good comes out of it. It’s a well worthy cause.”

There were another three winners in the postcode who were not available to receive their cheques in person, however the money will be paid into their bank accounts.

People’s Postcode Lottery ambassador, Danyl Johnson, was in Ammanford meeting the winners and handing out cheques. He said: “I had a great day meeting our winners and we definitely didn’t let the stormy weather dampen the mood! It sounds like Pam and her son have a lovely tropical holiday planned, and Gwyneth’s family is in for a treat. Congratulations to everyone who won in Ammanford, even those we weren’t able to visit!”

The draw was promoted on behalf of WWF UK. The charity has received over £13.4 million to help build a future in which people and nature thrive.

For more information on People’s Postcode Lottery, please visit www.postcodelottery.co.uk or Facebook and Twitter.

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Heart charity search for Welsh heart heroes

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Do you know a special person in your community who deserves a British Heart Foundation (BHF) Cymru award in 2020?

The charity’s Heart Hero Awards 2020 are open and people can now nominate their heart hero. The awards recognise the different ways people are helping beat heartbreak from heart and circulatory diseases. This could be through fundraising, volunteering or helping patients and their families.

This year there are three categories: Healthcare Hero, Young Heart Hero and the Inspiration Award. Nominations can be made at
https://www.bhf.org.uk/what-we-do/in-your-area/heart-hero-awards/nomination-form

The Healthcare Hero award will recognise a doctor, nurse, or person working in a healthcare setting who has made a special effort to make a difference to the life of a heart patient or their family.

The Young Heart Hero award will go to an exceptional person under the age of 18 years who has done something amazing for the BHF and is a source of inspiration to others.

The Inspiration award will recognise a person who inspires others through their determination and dedication. Whether that is through their fundraising efforts, taking part in a physical challenge, organising an event, or volunteering activities.

Nominations are open until Saturday 29 February. The winners will be announced at a very special gala awards dinner which will take place in London in September 2020.

Previous winners in Wales include 11 year old Llew John from Efailwen in Carmarthenshire; Healthcare Hero Liana Shirley, a Physiologist from Anglesey and Inspiration Award winner Jovita Jones from Abergavenny.

Adam Fletcher, Head of BHF Cymru said: ““Heart and circulatory diseases affect the lives of thousands of people across Wales, often in devastating ways. Yet, there are so many ordinary people who, when confronted with that challenge, are doing extraordinary things.

“The BHF’s Heart Hero Awards recognise and celebrate the efforts of those who are working selflessly to make life better for other people.

“It would be fantastic to reward some of our supporters in Wales, so if you know someone who is making a difference then please put them forward for an award so that their contribution can be recognised.”

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