Connect with us
Advertisement
Advertisement

News

Gelli Aur park closure hints at massive renovation bill

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

News

Respect, protect and enjoy Halloween safely

Published

on

RESPECT, protect, and enjoy. That’s the message from Dyfed-Powys Police as officers urge people to celebrate Halloween safely.

The force has launched Operation Bang 2021, asking people to think differently about the way they mark Halloween this year.

Covid-19 hasn’t gone away, and with some restrictions in place, officers are encouraging people to respect their neighbours, protect emergency services by reducing demand, and enjoy celebrations at home.

Inspector Justin Evans of the Crime and Harm Reduction Unit said: “You might be familiar with Op Bang, which is an annual operation aimed at keeping people safe over Halloween and bonfire night. This year, while our policing focus remains firmly on tackling antisocial behaviour and keeping people safe, for the second year our message is a little bit different given the unusual circumstances we’ve found ourselves in.

“We’re asking people to consider celebrating at home instead of going out and about, respecting that there are people who find Halloween distressing at the best of times, and who might find that the uncertainty of the current situation has heightened these feelings of anxiety.

“We also ask that you do your best to keep yourself and your family safe to prevent adding pressure to the emergency services during already busy times.”

Carving pumpkins, making crafts, and creating a spooky trail around your house or garden are all ways to celebrate Halloween at home with younger children.

While older children and teenagers might still want to meet up with friends, parents are urged to keep track of their plans, remind them to consider the consequences of their actions, and be mindful of lockdown restrictions.

“Fortunately, the majority of communities we police don’t experience a great increase in crime at this time of year, but there can always be one or two people who spoil it for everyone else,” Insp Evans said.

“We don’t want anyone’s enjoyment to get out of hand and cause distress or harm to others.

“By working together we can have a safe and enjoyable Halloween.”

For Halloween craft ideas and ways to celebrate at home, check out the Dyfed-Powys Police Pinterest page.

Continue Reading

Community

Christmas Toy Box Appeal to support families

Published

on

Council staff will purchase gifts and toys and distribute them in the run-up to Christmas.

CARMARTHENSHIRE County Council has launched its annual Christmas Toybox Appeal.

The appeal, in its 11th year, helps hundreds of children with families who can’t afford to buy toys or gifts.

Last year saw us help more families than ever who were struggling financially with more than 7,500 gifts were distributed to 1,256 children.

The appeal was launched online for the first time in 2020 following the coronavirus pandemic and people were asked to make a financial donation instead of buying gifts and toys. Given the current situation people are asked to donate in the same way.

Gifts will be bought out of the money donated and given to families who, for a range of reasons, are not able to give their children a Christmas that most of us take for granted.

Schools, family centres and youth workers identify those who are in greatest need of support.

Council staff will purchase gifts and toys and distribute them in the run-up to Christmas.

The council’s executive board member responsible for the Toybox Appeal, Cllr Mair Stephens said: “Last year we saw an unprecedented demand from families struggling to buy their children gifts. The appeal ensured that local children, who might otherwise have received nothing or very little, were given a gift at Christmas. We have always had fantastic support from the public and couldn’t do it without their help. Every donation, no matter how big or small, will make a huge difference to those less fortunate families. So please dig deep and donate to the online Christmas appeal.”

You can make a financial donation by visiting their website

If you have a cash or cheque donation please call 01267 234567.

Continue Reading

Education

New Year start date for new state-of-the-art Pembrey primary school

Published

on

The new modern purpose-built £8.25million primary school will be built next to the existing school site on Ashburnham Road.

WORK will get underway to build a state-of-the-art primary school in Pembrey in the new year.

Carmarthenshire County Council has unveiled plans for its latest new school, part of its multi-million pound Modernising Education Programme, jointly funded by the Welsh Government through its 21st Century Schools initiative.

The new modern purpose-built £8.25million primary school will be built next to the existing school site on Ashburnham Road.

On completion it will provide high-quality teaching facilities for 270 primary pupils and 30 nursery pupils.

It will also incorporate a Flying Start facility for younger children, located in a mobile classroom on the current school site.

The school has been designed by Carmarthenshire County Council’s own architects and the work will be carried out by Carmarthenshire-based TRJ Construction Ltd, selected from the South West Wales Regional Contractors Framework.

Headteacher Helen Jacob said: “Teaching staff, pupils and families are excited and looking forward to seeing our new school come to life. Our children will benefit from seeing every phase of their new school being built right alongside us – it has been designed to enhance learning and teaching and it is very much deserved.”

Cllr Glynog Davies, Cabinet Member for Education and Children’s Services, added: “We are proud to be delivering yet another fantastic new school in Carmarthenshire as part of our Modernising Education Programme.

“The new Ysgol Pen-bre will provide an excellent learning and teaching environment and will also benefit the local community, with many features built into the design that can be used by local people when it opens.

“We look forward to seeing construction start in January.”

By the end of the 2020/21 financial year, Carmarthenshire County Council will have invested £295million in transforming its network of nursery, primary and secondary schools.

Since the programme was launched, 12 new primary schools and two new secondary schools have been built and a number of other schools have been remodelled and refurbished to provide top-class learning and community facilities.

Find out more at www.carmarthenshire.gov.wales/education

Continue Reading

Trending

FOLLOW US ON FACEBOOK