Home / Blog / The betrayed Welsh village let down, deprived and cut off that people won't give up on

The betrayed Welsh village let down, deprived and cut off that people won't give up on

Jul 14, 2023Jul 14, 2023

Caerau has been betrayed and treated badly in the past

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There are two sides to every coin, and the village of Caerau is no exception. Sitting at the top of the valley, about two miles from Maesteg, the views around are you are striking. Its position too, naturally brings people together - with limited public transport miles away from the town of Bridgend, and places like Cardiff, you have to act as a community to help those who may need it most. And that's what it does best.

But it's also isolated. Those same views can cut you off, and are getting harder to access along the old walking trails, residents say. And it's a village which has been betrayed and treated badly in the past - not only by those who offered to improve people's homes for free and just made them worse in a scandal which is still not over, but by the wider economic and social picture in Wales that's seen areas like Caerau fare worse than others when it comes to deprivation.

When all's said and done though, it's locals still won't give up on it. In the words of one councillor: "It just needs a bit of attention. People get hung up on the area."

Read more: The people living next to a house piled high with junk who claim nothing is being done to deal with it

According to a Welsh Government report from 2019, the cut-off community of Caerau has been described as “deep-rooted” in deprivation, and data shows it has got worse over time. The map below is from the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation, and shows the section of the village marked as the fifth most deprived community in Wales, including Caerau Park and the Tudor Estate. But as you reach it, the thing that hits you first is the horizon in front of you. You can see far and wide, and right across the the Llynfi Valley.

In this area, 49% of housing was rented in 2019, and mostly social rented which accounted for 39% of housing. This is a stark difference compared to the 16% social rented across Wales. And there is also a slightly higher than average proportion of households with dependent children - 32% compared to 28% for Wales. Census area classifications also place the area in the “hard-pressed communities” category and “challenged white communities” group, which has the highest rate of unemployment across the categories.

Then there are the issues that have come with that housing. Back in 2012 and 2013, internal and external insulation was fitted at 104 properties in Caerau as part of council and Welsh Government schemes aimed at helping residents in Wales' poorest areas pay their fuel bills. But those same homes that were subject to poor installations suffered issues such as damp, mould and structural damage, and work is only just starting to fix them. You can read more about that here.

When I visit Caerau, Sara Harrison is sitting outside her house on Hartshorn Terrace, chatting to neighbours. She has lived there for three years with her two children, and although she loves the location, has found the area a difficult place to be. Sara said: “Sometimes it does feel like this area gets forgotten about a bit.

"There have been things wrong with my house like my fence not being fixed that I've told the council about and they haven't got round to doing something about it yet, which makes it dangerous when my children are playing outside."

Sitting with Sara in her front garden, it was like getting a brief glimpse into her world. You can see right out onto the valleys, and see the potential for it to become a lovely area, but there were also remnants of drugs on the road, a few sad looking houses and squashed beer cans lying around in some spots.

Sara added: “The cost of living crisis does make things quite hard. Some other people in different parts of the valleys understand it but some don’t. A lot of people take it for granted to be fair, but it is a major struggle. It definitely is."

Steffan Nash, aged 29, is also from the area. He feels that getting outdoors is a big part of life in Caerau, and worries that other people will soon not be able to experience it.

"We can't do much about it, but there's work going on on one of the mountains with a holiday park going up there. We did used to use that mountain to walk our dogs on it, but since work has taken place we've not been able to do that, and a lot of the countryside is very difficult to reach on foot.

"Lots of local footpaths to get out into the natural spaces have also been left to get overgrown and we can't use them which is a shame because the countryside here is really important.

"There's so much history up here and no-one gets to see it. But with everything that's gone on like wildfires and all the works as well, the only way I think people will be able to learn the history is by basically using the internet."

Walking around the area, you can see where Steffan was coming from. The village sits among rolling hills, but they were inaccessible to locals on his side of Caerau, with overgrown bushes blocking public footpaths - one of which had plastic items scattered around its entrance which limits not only people's access to the outdoors but quality of life.

But like lots of places in Wales, people’s experiences of this village are still different, and some are living in a different world to their neighbours. Down the road, Michael Medcraft has lived in Careau for 30 years and remembers when they were first laying the roads in the area back when he was a miner. He said: “I have bought my house so it is a bit different for me, but I’ve seen it all here.

“There is a lot of deprivation. There are some people on the estate who struggle to buy basic things like food which is really challenging. It's also so far out it's difficult for people to get to us if they don't drive, which is hard for people living here because they can't afford to pay for a taxi. There's no bus service that comes all the way up here - and the roads would need to be a lot wider if they did.

“It’s not easy. But I love this area and it means a lot to me - in my window upstairs you’ve got this view of the whole of the valley which is amazing." Michael showed me around his beautifully decorated house, which was brimming full of his memories. He knows all too well he is living a different life to some of the people who are just a stone’s throw away.

Michael became a miner in 1969, and centred his career around a steady job - but the last pit closed in the area in 1985. This left a big gap in the job market, as the mine which had originally opened in Maesteg in 1910 employed 1,480 workers in the late 1920s.

Paul Davies, who lives in Caerau and is also a councillor for Maesteg Town Council, said: "One of the main things I think we need is a better bus route so that more people can travel out into urban areas like Bridgend to work. Or then go out to places like Swansea or Cardiff.

"You're never going to see huge jobs in the area again now. An industrial revolution isn't going to take place again so I think we need better transport systems to get people in Caerau out working in different places.

"It just needs a bit of attention. People get hung up on the area and amazing views and can’t believe how deprived it is. But with deprivation you also have to look at it as there being pockets here. Caerau isn't a bad place to live, and there are lots of community groups you can get involved with - the thing is engagement, it's getting people to engage and come out to them. Not everywhere is bad, and not everywhere is good. There are pockets of deprivation everywhere."

Listening to the way people talked about this village, it's obvious they are determined not to let their area be defined by a statistic. The sense of community in Caerau is strong, and it seems the way a lot of people have responded to hard times is to come together more.

In the main village centre, I met Andrew James, a resident in the village and a councillor for Maesteg Town Council. He was heavily involved in the street art graffiti design by 'Lloyd the Gradfitti' on a building on Caerau Road.

He said: "We can look back forever, but a lot of people can do it with rose tinted glasses. This artwork was important to us because it also recognises the village's present and future prospects."

The design, which has only just been completed, was created to brighten the village by bringing colour and celebrating some of the past and present of the area. It features a heart in the centre to convey how Caerau is loved and has been great place to all generations with the sayings ‘Caru Caerau’ (Love Caerau) and ‘Caerau yn Gwych’ (Caerau is Great). These were some of the words from the children of Caerau when they were asked to describe their village and get involved with the project.

Also featured on the design is a tunnel arch for the railway station and the line that used to run through the mountain exiting in the Afan Valley. Through the tunnel you can see the wonderful surrounding mountains and forestry with the future of wind turbines.

Andrew is confident the artwork adds a great deal of vibrancy to the village - and spoke about his community with a huge amount of pride. He said: "The art on the wall reflects our industrial heritage and background. But everything on there has a special meaning, as there's so much to represent from Caerau. The response so far has been brilliant."

Hardship in the area has also not put people off from other parts of Wales from moving over. Nigel Thomas is from Swansea and using his handy skills has transformed Caerau's old police station into a dream home for him and his children to live in. He said: "People have this mentality that the valleys are run down. But they don't always see the potential. I've been here for 10 years and I don't think I would ever leave.

"I used to work for a housing association and I've seen worse places than Caerau. I used to work up here in the 90s and I can say that it has changed, not always for the better but sometimes. There are still a lot of problems up here like unemployment, drugs and antisocial behaviour. What I think we should all keep doing around here is fighting for change where it's needed."

Huw David, Council leader for Bridgend County Borough Council, said: “There is a strong sense of community within the Caerau area, so much so, it is palpable. It is reflected in the many, well utilised community services available in the village. There is Noddfa Chapel, Caerau Development Trust, Dyffryn Chapel, and St Cynfelin’s Church - all of which host a variety of local groups, as well as some public sector services.

“Caerau Market Garden has recently claimed a ‘Community Award’ in the Green Flag Awards, recognising its strong community involvement, environmental management, as well as it being a welcoming place!

“Our partners at Halo’s Maesteg Sports Centre have recently received funding of £400,000 for refurbishments. These are now underway, and promise improved accessibility, as well as wellbeing benefits for residents right across the Llynfi Valley, which includes those from the Caerau area.

“Collaborative investment from Bridgend County Borough Council, Halo Leisure and Sport Wales has ensured that the local community will receive the best service possible. We have an Employability Hub, based in the centre of Maesteg.

"The employability programme is designed to help those aged 16 years and over who are unemployed, are looking for more hours, a second or new job. The programme sources vocational qualifications, volunteering opportunities, as well as offers an opportunity to develop personal skills.

“The hub is equipped with a training room for courses, a job club and access to the internet to support people in their search for employment. There are also smaller meeting rooms available which can host individual appointments with dedicated mentors, who will help to plan a person’s employment journey.

“Welsh Government funding is also supporting the phased roll out of Flying Start provision across the county borough, with Caerau being one of the areas that will be targeted by the initiative.

“The council has also been supportive of the recent expansion of Siderise Insulation, which has opened a new £1 million innovation centre at their Maesteg site which reinforces the company’s long-term commitment to the county borough as well as creating more employment opportunities for local residents. These schemes highlight some of the support offered to the Caerau area. However, there are other community initiatives, ranging from Men’s Shed, based at Caerau Community Centre, to Invest Local funding for Lynfi BMX - a national-standard BMX racing track, which has hosted the South West Regional BMX Series race, as well as the Welsh Championships.”