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Proud of the past, looking to the future

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Robert Lloyd

Robert Lloyd

ROBERT LLOYD is the former editor of the Llanelli Star and the Carmarthen Journal. He was also deputy editor at the Evening Post. His career as a journalist started when he walked into the office of the Carmarthen Journal and asked for a summer job. Although he achieved grades for university Robert opted for an apprenticeship with the Journal and eventually became the editor. The Herald caught up with him in his recording studio where he produces the talking newspaper for the partially sighted and the blind.

We asked Robert if there was difference to his life now that he has retired from life as a newspaper editor and he told us: “There is a huge difference, I spent 32 years in journalism. When I turned 50, I got out of it.

“I now run my own marketing and PR Company RLloyd PR. I am also part time project officer for the Llanelli Railway Goods Shed. We are hoping to bring it back to life as a community hub. I am the chair of the talking newspaper association. We have a team of 25 volunteers who turn up here and record programmes once a fortnight for blind and partially sighted people. It is a nice rewarding job we do here and help people who are unable to read the local papers and we are looking to develop an online version. The news programme we produce here also gets used on Llanelli Hospital Radio. The news is very localised and we tell people what is going on in their community.

“One of the things I found when I left newspapers was that I could do different things and I had more of a licence to roam. I have worked for the Welsh Government and I covered the Para Olympics interviewing world-class athletes. I was also able to go over on an aid mission to Kosovo with Val Newton. There are pressures and deadlines still but it is a different sort of pressure.”

Given Robert’s long and successful career in journalism the Herald wanted to ask him if it was important for reporters to research their articles before they were placed on the editor’s desk. Calling on his vast experience Robert said, “It is crucial and it is something I used to drill into my reporters. Many of the journalists I trained went on to work for the Guardian and the BBC. You have to get your facts right and if you do it correctly the editor has confidence. People used to ask if I read every word before it went to print, I didn’t. You are bound to get errors because it is a human process but getting your facts right is important.”

Many of the journalists Robert worked with are now ensconced in the press department of Carmarthenshire County Council. We asked Robert if this was worrying in any way given the relationship the council has with those newspapers today.

The wily former editor called upon his years of experience and responded: “I am old enough to remember when Dyfed’s press department was one person and a secretary. It became slightly comical watching my staff being poached to work in local government. Some of those staff were very good at scrutiny of local officers so I guess it was one less person for them to worry about in the world of newspapers. They have a bigger department than most of the local papers.”

With instances of planted puff pieces in some local press, we asked Robert if it was possible for people to exert their influence over newspapers in order to get their own message across.

His response was forthright and got to the heart of the knotty issue of what makes a local newspaper: “What I tend to see is that there are weaknesses in newspapers and it isn’t the fault of staff as such. I was lucky enough to work with an experienced team of journalists and the papers may not have that kind of benefit today. It is possible for people to throw a bit of smoke and throw mirrors in front of them. Local reporters wouldn’t deliberately set out to hoodwink the local public but there are some very clever people out there.”

The Herald asked Robert if he ever felt like allowing his own personal feelings run amok in the newspaper. He was very firm in his response and said: “I’d have to say no because I was there as the editor not to reflect my own personal views but as a litmus paper test for the community. Frequently I published things I disagreed with but I wanted to get it out there to get it talked about.

Continuing, he drew attention to one particularly knotty story: “I am thinking about the debate over Stradey Park when they left there. The Scarlets were keen for positive coverage but there was an undercurrent and people had negative thoughts so we aired both sides and there were some sparky moments. It was our duty to present both sides of the story and let people make up their own minds.”

He continued: “There were times when I had to write on something in Carmarthen and that might say what great news something was for Carmarthen and then drive to Llanelli and write the same thing but say it was terrible news for Llanelli. Personal preferences have to be set aside.”

It was too good an opportunity to miss and we asked Robert what he thought of the new kid on the block, the Llanelli and Carmarthenshire Herald. He was extremely generous in his response and told us: “I take my hat off to the Herald management. I have been observing what they have done in Pembrokeshire and it’s been very impressive. They actually asked the questions and took on the local authority where mainstream didn’t. I was keen to give the manager of the Herald a slap on the back really for being bold enough to take what they are doing in Pembrokeshire and transfer that into Carmarthenshire. It is a bit of a breath of fresh air.”

He continued to highlight the risks to independent local newspapers: “There is a danger sometimes that if you have a one-newspaper town it becomes complacent. I am also glad to see it is under local ownership. Large corporations who have no affinity with Wales own Welsh papers. They are profit driven for shareholders and that doesn’t stay in Wales. Print isn’t dead and I think there is room for a good, well run local newspaper, which gives people cause to talk about things in the street. The Journal and the Star were set up by a small group of people and they were slightly philanthropic. It wasn’t seen as a cash cow.”

We asked Robert if he had seen an erosion in local democracy. He said, “It’s been there as a story for a good many years. People are frustrated by the lack of transparency in the local council. Perhaps things will change now that Plaid Cymru is in partnership with the independents. What happens in terms of regime will be interesting to follow.”

He was, however, cautious about the influence individual councillors can exercise: “I have seen new councillors starting out and they are full of good intentions and they want to change the world and bit-by-bit they have the stuffing knocked out of them. There isn’t enough oomph coming from the councillors themselves to say that this is our council and we will run this as we see fit rather than being told by chief officers for example. There is still a suspicion that Carmarthenshire is too much of an officer led council.”

Speaking about the differences between the towns of Llanelli and Carmarthen Robert told us, “Llanelli has suffered more in terms of its shopping profile than Carmarthen. Carmarthen has had the investment. The development of the shopping centre in Carmarthen has affected the shops in King Street. When Tesco moved out of Llanelli you are left with a donut. When they left there were codicils, which said that the place could not be used for retail.”

Looking at the malign effects of recent developments, Robert articulated some deeply held concerns: “We have had the Eastgate development, which was structured to be a store with, shops around it. It is now council offices with one or two shops and a pub around it. When Stradey moved out another retail park was created in Trostre. There was no linkage to encourage people back into town. There isn’t much wrong with it, it is flat, easy to walk; some of the fringes are suffering. They haven’t integrated Eastgate and the town centre. The plans showed linked wooden walkways but that hasn’t happened. The simplest level would be free car parking. We should compete with Trostre and Pemberton. Some investment may go into the empty shops but I believe it is only a million pounds so it won’t go far. If we could find ways of getting these properties back into use that would be good for Llanelli.

The Herald asked Robert what he would do if he had a pot of money equal to what had been spent in places like Parc Y Scarlets. In true community spirited generosity and with the vision of a man who loves his home town he replied, “I am involved in the goods shed project and that speaks to everybody in the community. It is in an area of town that hasn’t had a lot done for it.”

On the pull of the Scarlets, he was clear as to the advantages and disadvantages of one big attraction: “Rugby speaks to certain people. I think the figures for tourism regarding the Scarlets have been overstated. There is a huge community need for that area and it will be an attraction and a heritage site and have everything from music studio, café there is land around it so we could have gardens, farmers markets, boot sales.”

He continued: “You can invest in projects like the Scarlets but not everyone is a rugby fan. Sometimes I think that not enough of the positive work is reported on. Llanelli community partnership is a group of various organisations wanting to make Llanelli a better place to live. There is a huge army of volunteers working hard to improve the town. The Goods shed is about asking the community what they want and providing a place where community groups can set up, social enterprises and business start-ups. Llanelli needs investment and the communities help.”

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Killer Andrew Jones must spend at least 30 years in jail

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A KILLER from Carmarthen will spend at least 30 years in jail.

Andrew Jones, 53, from Bronwydd Road, denied murdering his long-time friend Michael O’Leary but was convicted by a jury.

Mrs Justice Jefford set a minimum term of 30 years which he must serve before he can be considered for parole. She described the killing as ” a planned ambush”.

She told the killer: “Michael O’Leary did something wrong but he did not deserve to pay for that with his life. All accounts of him is of a man who lit up the room and played a central role in the lives of his family.

“Your family stands by you. You are more than fortunate in that. The impact of your actions in their lives has also been devastating. They feel ostracised from the community from where they live.

“Your wife still talks about you as the love of her life and your children talk about you in glowing terms.”

The judge made an order for the forfeiture and destruction of a rifle but not of the other guns in Jones’ possession.

She added: “This was a remarkable investigation by Dyfed-Powys Police.

“The officers and operatives involved are too numerous to mention but they are all to be commended for their efforts.”

Mr Jones’ barrister Karim Khalil QC is now addressing the court.

He said: “The defendant himself is not a highly educated man. He made the best of the talents he had.

“He worked all hours, not in any sense workshy. He built a family life which is now destroyed.

“He is remorseful for what happened. He is not cold-blooded.

“He acknowledges the pain he has caused.”

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Two week national ‘Firebreak Lockdown’ announced for Wales from 6pm on Friday

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MARK DRAKEFORD, The First Minister of Wales has announced a two week ‘fire break’ lockdown from Friday October 23 at 18:00 HRS, to last until Monday November 9 at 00:01 HRS

Mr Drakeford said: “This firebreak is the shortest we can make it. It must be sharp and deep in order to have the impact we need it to have on the virus.”

All non essential businesses, including tourism businesses will be told to close.

Businesses have been told that they will be given £1000 each automatically to help with the economic impact of the shutdown.

Mr Drakeford added that children will be the priority and that childcare facilities will open as normal. Primary schools will open after half term.

Secondary schools will be closed for a week after half term to help control the virus.

Universities will offer a mixture of face-to-face learning and learning via video link. Students must stay at their university accommodation during the lockdown.

Responding to the Welsh Government’s announcement of a Wales-wide lockdown, Paul Davies MS, the Leader of the Opposition in the Welsh Parliament, has called the lockdown “not-proportionate” and is calling on the Welsh Government to be “open and transparent” on the evidence to support a lockdown and if the First Minister is committing Wales to rolling Wales-wide lockdowns every month.

Paul Davies MS said: “Sadly, the First Minster has failed to get public support for this second Wales-wide lockdown, failing to be open and transparent about the evidence to justify this lockdown and what his actions will entail for the future.

“The Welsh Government also has to be honest that this road they are taking us down is committing Wales to rolling Wales-wide lockdowns. This is not a two-week break to solve the pandemic, it is likely that we will see regular lockdowns across the rest of the year. The Welsh Government must be clear what actions they are taking during the lockdown to prevent further Wales-wide lockdowns which will have a significant impact on people’s lives and livelihoods.

“However, the main concern is that this national lockdown is not proportionate. The impact on businesses in areas such as Powys, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, who have the lowest rate of Covid-19 cases in Wales, will be severe at a time when they are desperately struggling to recover from the pandemic so far this year.

“The First Minister needs to urgently come to the Welsh Parliament and answer these questions, to face effective scrutiny by elected representatives and not run his government by media.”

Preseli Pembrokeshire MP, Stephen Crabb told The Herald: “The evidence to support an all-Wales lockdown is weak and I am sceptical that this so-called ‘fire-break’ will tackle the situation in those parts of Wales where infection rates have been out of control. The key issue for Welsh Government to address is what will be done differently after the firebreak ends in those parts of Wales where infection rates have spiralled out of control. Otherwise the whole of Wales risks being dragged back into a series of rolling lockdowns.

“As we saw earlier in the year, lockdowns come with huge costs in terms of harm to the economy and to people’s emotional and mental wellbeing. With the Welsh Government asking UK Government to fund this lockdown, I hope that as many businesses as possible get support they need quickly. Pembrokeshire’s hospitality businesses will be hit particularly hard by these latest restrictions and I will be fighting hard again to see that they are protected as the lockdown kicks in.”

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Concerning rise of Covid-19 cases in Carmarthenshire

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THE HEALTH protection zone covering a large part of Llanelli is working well and helping bring down the number of positive Covid-19 cases, however concerns are increasing about the spread of Covid-19 elsewhere in Carmarthenshire.

Residents living in the zone are being thanked for their efforts and asked to keep up the good work for at least another week to help bring numbers down even further.

Carmarthenshire County Council, working with Hywel Dda University Health Board and Welsh Government, is keeping the situation under constant review.

Discussions are also taking place to prepare for a potential ‘circuit breaker’ – a measure being considered by Welsh Government to stop the rapid spread of the virus across Wales.

It would mean a return of stronger national restrictions for two-three weeks.

Welsh Government is due to announce its decision on Monday.

In Carmarthenshire, although cases remain concentrated in Llanelli (currently at 87.4 per 100,000 of the population*), small clusters of the virus are being identified across the county.

The rate of infection for Carmarthenshire, excluding the Llanelli health protection zone, is currently 64.8 per 100,000 of the population.

The rate for the whole county, including the Llanelli health protection zone, currently stands at 71.5 per 100,000 of the population.

All figures quoted are correct as at October 14, 2020 – the most recently available data.

Council Leader, Cllr Emlyn Dole, said: “We are so pleased to see the numbers continue to fall in the Llanelli area – this shows that the extra restrictions put in place are working,” he said.

“We are so very grateful to the people of Llanelli for listening, taking extra care and helping control the spread.

“However there is a note of caution for the rest of the county where we’re seeing figures starting to creep up.

“Largely, these appear to be in small clusters, and not as concentrated as in the Llanelli health protection zone, however it is a cause of concern. It shows that the virus is spreading.

“Contact tracing investigations tell us that many of these cases are linked back to people coming into close contact with eachother whilst socialising in licensed premises or at work, and then sharing the virus with people they live with.

“So we’re asking – please – keep your distance from people you don’t live with, practice good hygiene, wear a face covering, work from home if you can, and self-isolate if you’re asked to or if you have any Covid-19 symptoms.”

Carmarthenshire County Council continues to concentrate resources on supporting licensed premises to provide a safe environment for customers.

Since September 25, when the extra restrictions for Llanelli were announced, over 450 pro-active visits have been made to business premises offering advice and support.

Most are operating well, but there is still a small minority of licensed premises not putting safe systems into place – 12 of those have been served closure notices since September 25, most of them re-opening after making significant improvements.

Director of Public Health for Hywel Dda University Health Board Ros Jervis said: “This is a critical moment for the wider Carmarthenshire population. We can see cases rising and we need everyone to take action. Please do what you can to protect your health and that of your loved ones. Remember – hands, face and space. Wash hands regularly, use a face covering when social distancing isn’t possible and if you live outside of a health protection zone, where extra restrictions apply, then still place keep a two metre distance from people not in your household, whether you are inside or outside. Taking these measures is not only the best way to protect our health, but also the best way to protect the more vulnerable in our local communities.”

Deputy Chief Executive, Medical Director and respiratory consultant for Hywel Dda University Health Board Professor Philip Kloer added: “We are seeing a worrying rise in the number of cases of Covid-19 in Carmarthenshire. We are already providing care for Covid-19 patients in our hospitals and we expect these numbers to increase, right at the time of year when our hospitals are getting ready for the busy winter period. Please, in order to protect yourselves and the ability of the NHS to provide you and your families with the care you need, follow the guidelines. Our staff are working incredibly hard and following stringent infection prevention procedures. Please do not mistake this as a message to stay away from hospital or primary care services if you need them. We are here for you and we have made our hospitals and health care provision as safe as possible for you and our staff, using all the expert evidence about how this disease spreads and the infection prevention measures required.”

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