Meeting at Saint Peters Church Bont-goch with Richard Huws, Dewi and Tegwen Evans and Emyr Davies to explore the possibility of using the church as a venue for a community gathering - A Talking Shop/Siop Siarad gathering stories for our project, Ar Lan y Leri.
Despite the damp chill of the church the meeting turned out to be positive and enlightening. So often when I enquire whether people have stories or memories of the River Leri, they say they don’t, yet inevitably as the conversation develops all sorts of intriguing fragments and stimulating images emerge. I think it is an interesting point as this response is emerging as a common one. I wonder whether people don’t value their own stories or are just out of the habit of telling them?
On this occasion a lot of interesting information came to light, the nine bridges between Craig y Pistyll and Talybont, we named them all but you will not find these names on the local OS map. These names only exist now in the memories of the older generation who have used them throughout their lives.
They also told the story of grave in the churchyard marking the last resting place of the “old man of the road” an unnamed tramp whose body was found drowned in “Crochan Tomas”, a nearby whirlpool. Tomas used to be familiar and affectionate name given to anybody whose name you might not know or remember.
Saint Peter’s is the only public space in the village of Bont-goch, I found it a challenging venue as it is a stark and formal building badly in need of damp proofing, all interior space taken by traditional pews. It made me wonder how we would succeed in drawing people to our proposed gathering. We pressed on and a date was set for December the 3rd.
The format of the event involved inviting four experts each with a particular view on the river and its catchment.
Dr, Liz Lewis Reddy from the Montgomeryshire Wild Life Trust was invited to tell us about her Pumlumon Living Landscapes Project, a project engaging local farmers in a programme of land management specifically aimed at holding more water in the uplands and slowing run off amongst other objectives.
Jess Allen – An Environmental Walking Artist, acclaimed for cutting edge work in her field, Jess has already created several significant bodies of work themed around issues to do with water and was invited to share her methodology, philosophy and projections for the future. Jess is also working as an artist on the Cymerau Project.
Dr. David Moore from Dwr Cymru – Welsh Water, is responsible for the engineering works of the whole of South West Wales including the recently upgraded the water treatment plant in Bont-goch. David was invited to share his knowledge of water management for public consumption.
Hilary Tallis came as a representative of those who have been severely affected by changing weather patterns and in particular the floods of 2012. Hilary was invited to share the dramatic events that unfolded on her farm after a landslide diverted the river through her property and the subsequent personal effect this has had on her and her family.
So, the experts are invited, the posters are posted and the advertisements placed. A choice of water or wine is offered as an enticement and to loosen tongues. The weather on the evening was about as dreadful and as relevant as it could be. Horizontal driving rain was sheeting the local lanes. We upped the heating and decorated the walls, put out the crisps and hoped….
Then to everyone ‘s surprise the old church door started creaking and our guests began arriving, finally including the invited scribes for each group we were nearly thirty people so not a bad turn out on such a night! A surprisingly diverse group of people, some who had lived in the village all their life, new generations- one attendee was two - those who had lived nearby but had moved away and total newcomers. many who would not have had the opportunity to meet in this way.
Each guest was allocated a coloured label associated with each group so that we were evenly placed. Each expert spoke for 10 minutes and then encouraged general questioning and conversation for 20 minutes before reluctantly disengaging themselves and moving along to the next group. Shelagh Hourahane ‘s boards for note taking made good tables to gather around and people were inventive with their seating arrangements. Very quickly the room was full of lively unstoppable debate and a buzz of engagement.
Meanwhile Gwilym Morus Baird, my collaborator in this project, was listening in, processing and recording ready to produce a musical response to all the material being gathered, a mini pilot for the end result of our overall project. At the end of only two hours Gwilym sang our stories back to us, they can be heard on this link and his performance concluded the evening.
Finally, the church welcomed and cocooned us from the howling gales and torrential rain with quiet and warmth. This place, a repository for many generations of memory it holds so many significant moments of peoples lives; of births, marriages and deaths.
It made me wonder about the many other neglected churches in rural areas, that maybe with a little love, investment and flexibility could become community hubs. Centres where people could gather on a regular basis, to talk over their concerns, make plans and develop resilience for the future that we are inevitably going to have to deal with as the weather becomes increasingly violent and unpredictable.
Wouldn‘t that be a great outcome?
By Jane Lloyd Francis