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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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Ascona Group announces new Car and Truck wash facilities

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Charlie's Truck Wash

ASCONA GROUP, one of the UK’s fastest-growing forecourt operators, is pleased to announce two new vehicle washing partnerships as part of improvements to its unique roadside retail proposition across its forecourt estate.

As part of a new partnership with the American based PDQ Manufacturing, a leader for in-bay automatic vehicle washing facilities, Ascona Group will be the first in the UK to install the ‘Laserwash 360 Plus’, a touchless car wash system for its customers.

The partnership will initially expand the wash options at the Hinton Service Station, with a view to roll out the system to other sites under the Ascona Group’s brand, ‘Charlie’s Express Car Wash’ later this year. The partnership is a significant investment for Ascona and demonstrates its commitment to ever improving the experience for customers.

Ascona Group is also delighted to announce a strategic partnership with WashTec UK that will see Ascona introduce a ‘First of its Kind’ truck washing facility at the Tenby Road site on the A40 Eastbound in Carmarthenshire, which offers the very best technology available to HGV drivers.

The truck wash employs a fully ‘closed loop’ total water recycling system, the first of its kind in Wales, which recovers all water used within the wash process, filtering it for reuse with little or no water entering the mains drainage system. This system ensures Ascona not only has the best commercial wash in South Wales, but also offers customers one of the more environmentally friendly approaches in operation.

Commenting on the announcement, CEO Darren Briggs said: “From the very beginning, we knew that our sites must present our customers with a unique and compelling offer which is why we are constantly seeking new and innovative ways to improve our roadside retail facilities.

“These two new partnerships further demonstrate our focus on creating industry-leading propositions and we are really excited to be working with PDQ Manufacturing USA and WashTec UK. Together, we are keen to continue to build on the success of these new operations and we are actively reviewing multiple opportunities across the Ascona portfolio to roll out more units such as these.”

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Community

Nearly £50,000 of National Lottery funding for community groups in Carmarthenshire

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FIVE local community organisations across Carmarthenshire are celebrating after being awarded a share of £49,575 of funding from The National Lottery Community Fund over the past month.

One successful project was MolTân Makers who will use their £9,820 grant to provide metal working workshops for people wishing to improve their mental health and well-being. The group will reach out to mental health groups and the wider community and also allow people to reconnect with the community following the pandemic.

One participant with MolTân Makers explained, “ The course was professionally run by four hard-working people who helped us with one to one tuition when needed. They were so welcoming and adaptable to individual needs and allowed me to attend the course at different hours due to health reasons.

“They were great company and created an interesting and positive atmosphere to help people with mental and physical health problems feel included and understood and we all took home what we made in the course.”

The Hangout received £10,000 and will help young people improve their mental health and wellbeing through structured outdoor activity programmes. The project will build on a previous pilot project that led to more young people becoming re-engaged in school following the pandemic and continuing to volunteer with the group after the initial sessions finished.

The Alternative Learning Company in Llanelli were awarded £9,955 and will recycle plastic bottles to build full size greenhouses. They will propagate plants for growing schemes in local schools and communities. The project will reduce the levels of plastic sent to landfill or polluting open spaces, and give young people an understanding of the impact of climate change.

Newcastle Emlyn Town Council will build an outdoor structure in collaboration with the community, to mark Her Majesty the Queen’s Jubilee. This £10,000 grant will fund building and design materials, and a water harvesting kit.

Messy Projects will use their £9,800 grant to run the activities and events they missed due to the pandemic. Activities will include celebrating the Queens platinum jubilee, a BBQ, and a Bonfire party.

John Rose, Wales Director at The National Lottery Community Fund, said “These groups play a vital role in supporting their communities and these grants will allow them to continue being there for people in future. 

 ”National Lottery players raise more than £30 million each week for good causes across the UK and the projects funded over the past month show the crucial difference players make through their tickets. I look forward to following all of their progress.”  

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Family of power station worker calls on former colleagues to help with asbestos claim

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THE WIFE of a Carmarthenshire man, who was just 66 when he died of an asbestos-related cancer, is calling on colleagues who worked with him in the 1970s to help understand where and how he contracted the disease.

Peter Colton, from Llanelli, died in July 2021 after being diagnosed with the asbestos-related disease, mesothelioma.

He worked as a conveyor and weighbridge operator for the CEGB at Carmarthen Bay Power Station. During his time at the power station, his duties included offloading coal wagons and conveying coal to the boilers.

It is possible that Mr Colton was exposed to asbestos during those years and now his family has sought the help of local asbestos specialists J.M Parsons, to investigate a claim for compensation.

Ann Colton, Mr Colton’s wife, wants answers. She said: “Peter was diagnosed with mesothelioma and died just six weeks later. He had been suffering from shortness of breath and just had no quality of life.

“It was devastating to see someone who had been so healthy and active slowly get worse and worse. We just want to know where and how he was exposed to asbestos and hope someone out there can help us.”

According to data from the Health and Safety Executive, annual mesothelioma deaths in Britain increased steeply over the last 50 years, a consequence of mainly occupational asbestos exposures that occurred because of the widespread industrial use of asbestos during 1950-1980.

Amanda Jones is one of the specialists at J.M Parsons, which is owned by Thompsons Solicitors. Thompsons has paved the way for asbestos litigation in the UK ever since it brought about the first successful asbestos disease claim to the House of Lords in 1972, 50 years ago.

She said: “We would be grateful to hear from anyone who remembers working with Peter Colton in Carmarthen Bay Power Station in the 1970s or anyone who worked in the same field as Peter beyond the 1970s.

“Such individuals will be invaluable to Mr Colton’s family as they may be able to add important information that will assist us in building a civil claim. We hope that we will then be able to answer questions about the conditions that Mr Colton worked in during his working life.”

Anyone with information should contact Amanda Jones on 01554 779940, or via email at amanda@jmplaw.co.uk.

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