Conwy and Denbighshire boast a range of locally, nationally and internationally important historic sites and both play host to numerous festivals and cultural events. These contribute to the cultural well-being of the area. There is strong evidence that participation in the arts can contribute to community cohesion, reduce social exclusion and isolation, and/or make communities feel safer and stronger. See our ‘thriving culture’ topic for further information.
Education is a key factor in enabling the development of a vibrant culture. Our schools and colleges have a key role to play by exposing learners to arts and literature including national and local traditions in the English and Welsh Languages. Our educational structures also have a particular role in protecting and promoting the Welsh language as medium of expression across subject areas and in commercial and community life.
Good communication is essential to good health, particularly between service users and health professionals meaning that promotion of the Welsh language is of key importance; particularly, as we have highlighted, in dementia patients who may only understand or be able to communicate in their first language as their illness progresses.
The Welsh language is one of Europe’s most robust minority languages, having survived despite its close proximity to the most dominant world language of the past two centuries (English). The Welsh language is a key part of the region’s culture and identity, being the primary language spoken in some of our communities, as well as having a significant presence in many workplaces, learning institutions, and around our town and village streets. Research at the Wales level suggests that use of Welsh is in long term decline. However, further work is needed to further develop our understanding of the trends locally.
The number of Welsh speakers and frequency that people use Welsh is clearly important for the vitality of the Welsh language and culture today and in the future, but it is also a core part of individual and community well-being. The ability to communicate in Welsh also leads to better (self-reported) well-being.
Until the 2021 Census data is available, we are continuing to use 2011 Census data. The 2011 Census estimated that there were 30,600 in Conwy and 22,236 people aged 3 or over in Denbighshire who were able to speak Welsh. This represented a significant proportion of our populations (27.4% and 24.6% respectively), and it is important that our services are offered through the medium of Welsh.
The Annual Population Survey tells us that, as at 31 December 2020 more people said they can speak Welsh than the average across Wales (Wales average was 29.1%, Conwy County Borough at 41% and Denbighshire 31.9%). As is the case nationally, more people say they can understand spoken Welsh than those that can read and write in Welsh. Of concern is the impression that the language is not often used by many on a daily basis (25.6% in Conwy County Borough and 17.8% in Denbighshire compared to 16.3% across Wales).
Associated but not limited to Welsh language-related cultural experiences, are cultural assets such as activities, skills, crafts, practices, sports, rituals and so on, that form a core part of people’s cultural well-being and participation in these experiences can lead to a sense of individual and community belonging. Participation in sports and events also leads to higher self-reported physical and mental well-being.Heritage sites and artefacts are key cultural assets that provide a sense of place and belonging. These are often connected to – but not limited to – our natural environment, for example heritage walking trails. Our local economies are often intrinsically linked to cultural expression, for example farming.
The Wales Centre for Public Policy expects Brexit to have varying impacts on different aspects of the agricultural and food sector, which means its effects will be felt differently across different areas of Wales. For example, sheep production is likely to become less economically viable, due to changes in market access and public funding restrictions. Some researchers argue that land currently used for sheep farming in Wales will most likely be converted into forest. These changes will have consequences and opportunities for our agriculture, our farming community, our environment and potentially for cultural well-being, as food related-events are increasingly connected to local food production.
Sustainable tourism offers the two local authority areas the chance to promote their cultural and environmental assets and makes a significant contribution to economic well-being. Arts and culture can boost local economies through attracting visitors; creating jobs and developing skills; attracting and retaining businesses; revitalising places; and developing talent.
We do not currently have evidence locally to suggest that well-being is worse for certain groups because of dis-engagement from cultural opportunities. However, some cultural experiences may be unaffordable or inaccessible for those experiencing socio-economic disadvantage or for those with protected characteristics.
 Wales Centre for Public Policy (2021). Cultural well-being briefing.
 Wales Centre for Public Policy (2021). Cultural well-being briefing.
 Wales Centre for Public Policy (2021). Cultural well-being briefing.
 Wales Centre for Public Policy (2021). Briefing on well-being and the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit.
There is a strong association between culture, language and heritage. People care deeply about our local heritage. The link between visiting sites of local heritage and well-being are less well documented, but the positive impact local heritage and culture has on individual and community well-being, education and the economy is widely accepted.
As we emerge from the global Covid-19 pandemic, we are uncertain as to whether access to local heritage sites and cultural experiences and events will return in the same was as prior to the pandemic. Perhaps people will place greater value on these experiences than ever before, or perhaps, over the longer term, people will look for more sophisticated online/virtual reality experiences from across the globe, especially as we all adapt to the consequences of climate change. Authenticity and uniqueness will be critical to making these experiences fun, fulfilling and worthwhile. Will regular users of and visitors to churches, galleries, gyms, cinemas, entertainment etc. be enough to sustain physical buildings and infrastructure in the future?
Research at the Wales level suggests that the use of Welsh is in long term decline. Further work is needed to further develop our understanding of the trends locally. What is apparent though, is that the limited use of Welsh in daily life – which is arguably the strongest indicator of the vitality of the language – is of great concern.
During school closures, as a result of social distancing measures across Wales, some children and young people attending these schools will have lived in non-Welsh speaking homes, while other children and young people will have had little or no opportunities to learn or socialise in Welsh. It is not clear to what extent this has impacted upon their education, but an impacts could be short-lived so long as they continue to learn and have opportunities to socialise through the medium of Welsh.
There are also concerns about the disproportionate effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on community activities held through the medium of Welsh, and whether people’s daily use of the language will reduce if working from home. There is also concern that the number of meetings held bilingually across North Wales has reduced due to the move online.
In order to survive, the Welsh language needs to be a language of communication and everyday life; at home, in work and within the community. The introduction of Welsh as a compulsory subject in schools halted (or at least slowed) a 1901-1981 trend which would have been heading towards a predicted ‘zero Welsh speakers’ by 2041, but more needs to be done. The trajectory could be changed by initiatives which foster the use of the Welsh language. The Programme for Cymraeg 2050 – the national strategy to reach one million Welsh speakers by 2050 – was launched in 2017. The document details what will be done over the next five years to help achieve that goal. In addition to reaching a million speakers, there is also a goal to double the daily use of Welsh by 2050. One of the interim milestones is for 30% of children in Year 1 to be in Welsh medium education by 2031.
The two counties are well placed to take advantage of heritage related tourism opportunities attracting domestic and international tourists. This revenue stream is essential as the maintenance cost of our historic sites, including the world heritage site is like to increase. The crafts sector could be an opportunity for growth. There is growing interest across the UK in shopping locally and ethically, and more and more people desire hand crafted products by skilled makers.
While, overall, performing well, the local tourism industry is fragile. Culture/nature-led regeneration could pose some serious opportunities for communities in Conwy and Denbighshire. Culture and creative industries are likely to be at the heart of regeneration; developing capacity of both counties’ cultural, creative and tourism and hospitality sectors.
Culture/nature-led regeneration could pose some serious opportunities for communities in Conwy and Denbighshire. A notable example from elsewhere in the UK is Margate. This trend, stimulating economic growth through cultural investment is not limited to the UK – the Guggenheim in Bilbao, with its spectacular architecture, being another globally recognised cultural centre that has stimulated tremendous economic growth, known as the ‘Bilbao effect’. See our ‘thriving culture’ topic for further information. It is important to note the potential impact of growing tourism on infrastructure, including housing, and tourism should be sustainable and not impact negatively on our communities and our natural resources.
The future trajectory of cultural hubs, particularly in rural areas, is not clear. Will village halls, pubs and other rural institutions like churches attract enough participants to keep them economically and socially viable?
 North Wales Social Care and Well-being Services Improvement Collaborative. (2020). North Wales Population Needs Assessment Rapid Review
We have seen clear themes of community resilience and spirit throughout our engagement and communities show a lot of ambition for their local areas to thrive and prosper. A lot of this resilience came from community assets such as community run shops, pubs, churches and businesses. People really value having these within their communities, especially in rural areas, and they would like to see more support for them to thrive.
People value community hubs and would welcome more “community catalyst” initiatives, whereby people become more involved and engaged within their communities. It is felt that, at present, it is the same people within communities who lead on different projects and initiatives. In particular, they wanted to encourage more young people to support this as it is felt to be an exciting approach and one which features ways in which people can become, or remain, economically resilient – and the local economy could benefit.
People have told us about the importance of the Welsh language and culture within their communities. People have told us they would like to see more done to sustain, value and protect Welsh language and culture, with accessible and affordable Welsh language classes within the community and in schools.
Cultural and community events are regarded as helpful in connecting people, harnessing the growing sense of community spirit bringing towns and villages alive. People want to make better use of our events sites such as the Rhyl events arena and Llangollen Pavilion. They would also like more cultural and community events e.g. Eisteddfodau, carnivals, pavilion events, food festivals, Christmas markets etc., with better promotion to increase tourism, and they would like to capitalise on our cultural assets. One message that was quite memorable from the engagement was a resident who felt that “St Peter’s Square in Ruthin is one of Denbighshire’s most precious yet wasted assets”.
Tourism is seen as a key link to support the local economy to remain resilient to challenges faced by Covid-19 and Brexit. Many ideas were proposed to increase tourism within areas such as local paddling pools, free parking in town centres and tourism offices established, namely in Prestatyn and online to promote towns and villages as a desirable place to visit.
Seldom heard feedback suggests that we should look at using sports, arts, culture and the environment in a way that celebrates the diversity of Wales.
Culture/nature-led regeneration linked to our unique and historic heritage and landscape, holds many promising opportunities. It will be important to view tourism within the context of the area’s Welsh culture and heritage, not only our landscape but also our strong agricultural culture. Critically, it must be sustainable and promote nature awareness. Culture and creative industries are likely to be at the heart of town centre regeneration; developing capacity of both counties’ cultural, creative and tourism industries. Over the longer term, people will look for more sophisticated online/virtual reality experiences from across the globe, especially as we all adapt to the consequences of climate change. Authenticity and uniqueness will be critical to making these experiences fun, fulfilling and worthwhile.
A North Wales approach to maximising opportunities from tourism and regeneration could ensure benefits are targeted on areas and groups whose well-being tends to be poorer. Today, Snowdonia is one of 15 National Parks in Britain. The national commitment to designate a new National Park to cover the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley could support nature-led tourism in both counties.
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