At this point in time, the UK has not fully entered a Covid-19 recovery phase and the consequences of Brexit are being worked through. It is important to acknowledge that some indicators and research show disruptions, due to Covid-19 especially, which makes planning at a time of uncertainty particularly challenging. We will review our analyses to ensure they reflect current and future trends as and when new or more reliable information becomes available.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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. Tourism though must be sustainable.
While, overall, performing well (notwithstanding 2020-21), the local tourism industry is fragile – and this was the case prior to the combined effects of Brexit and Covid-19 in particular. It is difficult to assess the medium to long term trend for tourism in our area. What is clear though is that we have a great opportunity for the area to showcase its offer, and to develop relationships with new visitors to our area.
Today, Snowdonia is one of 15 National Parks in Britain. Later, Snowdonia National Park became an independent Authority, who’s main purposes is to:
- Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area;
- Promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the Park by the public;
- We also have a duty to seek to foster the economic and social well-being of local communities within the Park.)
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 (see below).
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’.
Food production, farming and culture
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.
Research at the Wales level suggests that use of Welsh is in long term decline. Further work is needed to further develop our understanding of the trends locally. Until the 2021 Census data is available, we are continuing to use 2011 Census data. The 2011 Census estimated that in Conwy there were 30,600 and in Denbighshire 22,236, people aged 3 or over who were able to speak Welsh. This was a significant proportion of our populations (27.4% and 24.6% respectively) so it is important that our services are offered through the medium of Welsh. Populations in both counties rural areas tend to be more likely to be Welsh speakers.
Virtual reality is set to increase and whether or how these will complement ‘face to face’ social and cultural experiences is not clear. With increased virtual connectivity, is the potential for a detrimental impact on the Welsh language. There are already 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.
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 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. Social opportunities to communicate in Welsh are often linked to sport, crafts and other cultural activities. At this point in time, we have been unable to evaluate the availability of these opportunities to people in Conwy County Borough and Denbighshire.
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.
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.
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?
What people have said
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.
At a national level, Wales’ Programme for Government consists of almost 100 specific areas of activity. Among its objectives is a specific target to “Push towards a million Welsh speakers, and enable our tourism, sports and arts industries to thrive.” Pledges include:
- Create a Welsh language Communities Housing Plan.
- Decarbonise more homes through retrofit, delivering quality jobs, training and innovation using local supply chains.
- Designate a new National Park to cover the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley.
- Develop plans for a Museum of North Wales.
- Enable our town centres to become more agile economically by helping businesses to work co-operatively, increase their digital offer and support local supply chains, including local delivery services.
- Ensure that each region in Wales has effective and democratically accountable means of developing their future economies.
- Ensure the history and culture of our Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic communities are properly represented by investing further in our cultural sector and museum network.
- Expand arrangements to create or significantly enhance green spaces.
- Increase apprenticeships in care and recruit more Welsh speakers.
- Launch a new 10-year Wales Infrastructure Investment Plan for a zero-carbon economy.
- Legislate to strengthen and increase our Welsh language education provision.
- Promote equal access to sports and support young and talented athletes and grassroots clubs.
Opportunities for targeted interventions
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. 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. There may also be opportunities associated with the expansion of the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) into a national park.
Key questions and areas for further research:
- What is the vibrancy of culture around the arts, language, social networks, cultural activities, local food and drink, agricultural shows, information networks and volunteering?
- Social opportunities to communicate in Welsh are often linked to sport, crafts and other cultural activities. At this point in time, we have been unable to evaluate the availability of these opportunities to people in Conwy County Borough and Denbighshire.
- What are the strategies for the Arts Council, Amgeuddfa Cymru, and Visit Wales in this space? What do they have to say about this and what that would mean for Conwy and Denbighshire? The linking of national and local (evidence informed) strategies is important.
- What does Conwy and Denbighshire’s draft Welsh Education Strategic Plan say? They tend to set out the context of Welsh speakers and capacity within the education system.
- What does the map of cultural assets look like? Libraries, play facilities, leisure centres, museums, galleries, arts organisations, natural resources, historic buildings?
- Local heritage sites, and local cultural experiences and events:
- What do these mean to people now and in the future?
- How do we value them?
- How will we want to access these in the future?
- What impact do they have on local individual/community/economic well-being
- Are there any particular barriers to well-being for people with protected characteristics/people in poverty?
- Rural areas and cultural hubs, e.g. pubs, churches, shops: Will village halls, pubs and other rural institutions like churches attract enough participants to keep them economically and socially viable?
 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.
 North Wales Social Care and Well-being Services Improvement Collaborative. (2020). North Wales Population Needs Assessment Rapid Review
 Covid-19 and rural economies, Briefing note prepared by staff of the Centre for Rural Economy1 and Rural Enterprise UK2, Newcastle University, April, 2020. Jeremy Phillipson, Matthew Gorton, Roger Turner, Mark Shucksmith, Katie Aitken-McDermott, Francisco Areal, Paul Cowie, Carmen Hubbard, Sara Maioli, Ruth McAreavey, Diogo Souza Monteiro, Robert Newbery, Luca Panzone, Frances Rowe and Sally Shortall https://www.ncl.ac.uk/media/wwwnclacuk/centreforruraleconomy/files/researchreports/CRE-briefing-Covid19-and-rural-economies.pdf