Author Archives: ianmabberley

Broadband

Well at last it seems to be official that Fibre-optic Broadband (FTTP) is finally coming to the valley.

It’s been a long and somewhat tortuous process but we’ve got there! However this news comes with a ‘Valley Health Warning’, it’s not ALL of the valley that will benefit. In their infinite wisdom OpenReach and/or Welsh Government – they both appear to blame the other – have decided that the top third of the valley isn’t worthy enough to join the 21st Century.

Yes, you read that correctly. From Ty Hir on upwards there will be no FTTP, just the current expensive satellite!

One of the reasons for setting up the CIC in the first place was to lobby for better connection. We went through a number of alternative technology companies, all of whom disappeared without trace having seen the difficulty of the topography of the valley, and all who said that full fibre was the only answer.

I’m very pleased that our constant nagging at OpenReach and others has had success, but i’m really upset that they have decided to create a two-tier valley when it must surely only cost a fraction more to run the cables another mile or so.

We haven’t given up and negotiations will continue, but at the moment it’s not looking too good.

I’m not bitter! Oh go on, yes I AM!

There’s posh!

We might be still waiting for the Lease, but another part of Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has really come up trumps and has helped us to be ready to go on Day One by supplying us with kitchen utensils, a cooker, sleeping mats, nature books, binoculars and these magnificent tables and benches.

Lovingly crafted from donated valley Ash timber by Mick Petts, these two tables and four benches will be more than sufficient to accommodate future users. The Ash is courtesy of the nasty Ash Die-back disease, so some good has come from the loss of these lovely trees.

It was a bit of a monster job for Mick to turn out both these and some further pieces for kitchen shelving and work-tops in little over a month from the raw-material being obtained. First Simon Thomas transported the trunks to Ian Mitchell’s for them to be roughly cut into planks by Martin Fraser’s mobile sawmill, then allowed to dry just enough for Mick to be able to work the planks without them twisting as they dry out completely.

So wonderful that timber from the valley can be used to equip Pen y Cae, just like they would have in the original days of the building. Well done, Mick, and “Thanks” to Sarah Tindal at NRW for having the vision to fund it all.

Listed!!

We have just heard from CADW, that our wonderfully unusual grey telephone box at the entrance to the valley has been given Grade II Listed status!!

Many a resident has given direction to their house as “keep straight on at the grey telephone box” and the thought of BT painting it red or, heaven forbid, taking it away altogether wasn’t worth thinking about.

Some years ago BT removed the red box opposite Coed Dias, without so much as asking us. For some reason they decided that it was in Monmouthshire and so consulted the wrong Council, who obviously weren’t concerned.

Then they tried to paint it red and we managed to stop that and gave it a coat of (BT supplied) Battleship Grey. {BTW Residents, it is going to need to be done again this Spring}

Fast forward to August 2020, and undercover of COVID lockdowns, a little notice appeared inside the box – subtle – which our very own Vicky Jones spotted with her eagle eye. They were going to remove our iconic box! We contacted BT as we were under the impression that it was already Listed, but apparently not.

So we ‘mobilised the troops’ and bombarded Monmouthshire CC , whose final decision it was, with pleas to maintain the box. Our argument obviously held sway – that it is the only emergency telephone in the whole area – and we learned that it had been reprieved – for now!

Whilst residents were writing to the Council, Vicky and I were busy pestering CADW (the Welsh ancient monuments organisation) to get a full Listing. The National Park weighed in by getting it included on the regional Historic Environment Record. Things were looking up. Thanks Alice.

On 31st December we heard that it had been “recommended for Grade II listing” What a way to end a horrible year!

Then on February 1st we received the official notification that ‘our box’ is a Listed Building, and so is saved for the nation and posterity!

Perseverance pays off!

Why grey? Well many years back it was decided that telephone boxes in places like National Parks should be less obtrusive in the landscape and so many were painted grey. One in the next valley, at Capel y Ffin was also grey, but has now reverted to red. BT have tried on many occasions to re-red ours, but thanks to local vigilance from people like the late Lord Crickhowell, who lived just opposite, the grey was preserved, so we are just making formal what we have known all along – grey boxes for National Parks.

Footnote: Just as I finished writing this blog, I received an e-mail from my contact at BT Payphones with this:

I’ve been preparing some material for a possible press release about phone boxes in general and I came across an extract from a 1935 or 1936 letter from the designer of the traditional phone box (Sir Giles Gilbert Scott) to the Postmaster General:

“I do feel very strongly that the rural kiosk should not be bright red. I am more convinced than ever that bright red kiosks in an old village street or a village green will be an abomination. Red looks well in the busy streets of a city with coloured motor buses and coloured signs of all kinds but the English Rural atmosphere is entirely different, it is essentially quiet in tone and peaceful and bright red kiosks will jar the nerves of all who love rural England.”

The designer’s preferred colour was grey and I’m sure he would have held the similar views about boxes in Wales!

Maybe his spirit lives on near you!

We’re in the money!

We learned on Wednesday that we have been successful in our first major bid for funding for doing up Pen y Cae.

The Brecon Beacons National Park’s Sustainable Development Fund has deferred a decision on our bid back in September whilst they asked for more details on a couple of points.

This time we were able to join the ‘meeting’ to answer directly any concerns they had. Sue and I joined from a wet Grwyne Fawr and Cath Larkins from lock-down in sunny France! The wonders of modern technology!

We joined the meeting just in time to hear Pen y Cae being described in rather downbeat terms by one of the panel members, but it turns out we just missed his very glowing memories of using the centre in the 80’s and 90’s.

We were pleased to note a number of friendly faces around the screen, people Sue and I have worked with in the past and present, so hoped that would be a good omen.

It turned out they were the ones who asked the more awkward questions, while one member of the panel sat stroking his cat like a certain villain out of a James Bond movie!

Fortunately, we had come armed with all the information they needed and Cath was able to quote some of her learned dissertations on child welfare which seemed to bring out nods of approval.

Then with a few quick Thank You’s from the Chairman and we were summarily cut off!

A quick phone chat with Cath and we felt we were probably onto a winner, and fortunately the confirmation arrived via e-mail only an hour or so later.

We have yet to see the full offer, but we assume it is for the full £21,300 we applied for.

Now we await a decision on the next bid at Awards for All for their maximum of £10,000.

Pen y Cae on Sea???

Amazing weather on Sunday, with clear sunny skies on the tops and thick mist in the valleys, makes Pen y Cae look like it’s by the seaside!

I suppose on a VERY clear day and standing on a tall step ladder with a good pair of binoculars, you MIGHT just see the Bristol Channel, but in truth Pen y Cae remains a mountain get-away rather than a seaside chalet.

The good news however is that the Brecon Beacons National Park Sustainable Development Fund have accepted our funding bid for just over £21,000 and so we now await the decision from Awards for All to match fund the SDF.

Watch this space!

Update on Pen y Cae

The recent COVID problems have set us back a little in getting Pen y Cae up and running, but things are now starting to move ahead again.

Firstly we are now deep in discussion with Natural Resources Wales (NRW) who are the de facto owners of the building. With the help of our legal expert, Andy, who lives just below Pen y Cae, we are working through the various factors which will inform the wording of the final lease. We hope to finalise matters in the not too distant future.

Alongside this we have recently applied for funding from the Sustainable Development Fund (SDF) of the Brecon Beacon National Park Authority. Unfortunately their request for more detail on a couple of points means that we may not get a decision until November, but we are hopeful that they will support us. We are also working up a bid to the Awards for All funding stream and hope to get that sent off in the near future.

Finally with funding from the Black Mountains Land Use Partnership (BMLUP) we have been able to make a wonderful video about the history of Pen y Cae that can be used both for promotional purposes and as a teaching resource once we begin to welcome groups to Pen y Cae. Big thanks on this to Emma, Emma’s children, Cath, Judith and Oliver – there are others but their names escape me! Click here to enjoy it – it can take a short while to load, so persevere!

Some thoughts on Pen y Cae

We were very fortunate that our renewable energy survey funders (Monmouthshire CC and Monmouthshire LEADER) have also funded a video company and so were able to get them to make a lovely short video of a number of us up at Pen y Cae back on a gorgeous sunny September day.

Just click on the links to see us in all our glory!

English version at YouTube

with Welsh subtitles at f.io/l27apNZH

Renewable energy ideas for a completely off grid location

As an important part of our Pen Y Cae Outdoor Activities Centre (see our previous post on this  –   https://grwynefawrcic.org/2019/06/08/pen-y-cae-project/) we needed to find ways of ensuring the building had power for hot water, light and so on without reverting to the original diesel generator.  Easy in a new build, not so easy in a building that was in existence in 1830 – and probably quite a bit before that!

We all know about PV, solar thermal, hydro and wind, but we needed to know what would be the best combination in such a remote situation – and in a National Park.

We were fortunate in that some of the working party have close links with a number of people involved in renewable energy in Monmouthshire – indeed one household (Nant y Bedd) has opened on a number of occasions for the Monmouthshire Eco Open Doors.

Using these contacts we were able to both find a source, actually two sources, of funding and an expert to do the work.

The funding came via Monmouthshire LEADER and the Mons Well being Community project.  Many thanks to them

The work was undertaken by Dean Partridge of Atega, and most comprehensive it was. A full copy of it can be accessed below.

We are very happy for anyone to access and use the information included in the study, but would like to know so that we can add more anecdotal ‘evidence’ or assistance.

Penycae_Sustainable Redevelopment Feasibility Study

All we have to do now is make a final decision on how much of the proposals we need to include in the final specification for the project and then find the money!

Ian Mabberley

Director GFCIC and PyC working group

16-6-2019

 

What a Rubbish way to Recycle

The Grwyne Fawr – a community divided!

Physically divided by our lovely river, but divided in so many other ways.

Children from one side of the valley go to one school, from the other to another school.

“Where is the Rave?” has been a regular question from Police call handlers as Gwent try to palm off the problem to Dyfed-Powys and vice versa.  It’s getting better, but it’s taken a lot of my time and effort.

Two different AM’s, two different MP’s. Even as a director of the CIC I’m only allowed to contact my own AM or MP.  How crazy is that?

Now we have the ‘Case of the Closed Recycling Centre’.  It used to be called the ‘tip’ but now we have to call it the Waste Transfer Station.  Well now the one at Llanfoist – just down the road and on the way to the shops in Abergavenny – has been closed to residents living on the Powys side of the river.

Monmouthshire CC, seemingly at a whim and without consultation or notification, has now made the valley’s Powys residents travel all the way to the far side of Brecon to deposit any bulky recycling that can’t be left at the side of the road every week.

That’s a round trip of over 50 miles for most of us, compared to a slight detour on the way to Waitrose.  So much for cutting vehicle emissions and saving the planet!

What makes it even more ridiculous is that Powys CC collect ALL the rubbish and recycling for Mons CC residents in the valley on a weekly basis.

 

I’ve been in touch with both Mons and Powys CC’s and they both basically wash their hands of the problem.  I’ve now raised it with Kirsty Williams and it looks as though that much maligned local treasure, the Abergavenny Chronicle, will be taking up the case.

-Update- Here’s the article on Page 3 of the Chronicle dated June 13th 2019

As with the BB issue also here on the blog, we try to do what we can, but we are seriously running out of breath waiting for answers!

Ian Mabberley

11-6-2019

Broadband – how long is a piece of fibre?

Since I last updated the Broadband section of this blog in October 2018, a lot has happened – well, actually being honest a lot has NOT happened.

Openreach or how not to Reach into the Open

The Openreach Community idea looked a really good way of getting fibre to our properties, so I sat down with all the local info I could gather and amassed a list of some 37 telephone lines in and around the valley, all served from the same green box at Stanton.

I sat back and waited, then in the middle of December I got an e-mail!  Speedy stuff Broadband! it said

Option 1 Core community –33 Premises
Initial Estimate – £163,434.00/ £4,952.55 per premise

Having picked myself up off the floor I commenced a series of telephone conversations to find a more sensible figure.  After all the likelihood of all 37 phone line owners (or 33 if you use their figures) agreeing to divvy up the £163,434 was pretty remote and so the actual per interested property would be significantly higher.

Various grants were mentioned but even they would only go so far as to reduce the per property amount by about £1000 each.

So, back to my Openreach contact and I’m still waiting for a revised version.  Apparently they have been surveying the area to arrive at a different solution.

We wait without holding our breath!

Political assistance

Our local Assembly Member on the Powys side (how annoying the county boundary can be!) is Kirsty Williams (who also happens to be Welsh Minister in charge of Education – so she’s at the ‘top table”).  With so many communities in her patch all suffering from the lack of BB, she organised a meeting in Talgarth with the Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport, Lee Waters.  Apparently BB is his responsibility – one would have thought something as important as BB would warrant a full Minister, not a Deputy, but apparently BB isn’t ‘devolved’ so doesn’t have a Welsh Government (WG) budget directly.

Apparently he has just let £22m in contracts to BT and Openreach to fix a number of what used to be known as ‘Not Spots” , now apparently ‘NGA White areas’.  This sounded a lot, until he explained that WG had allocated £80m.  Therefore they still have £58m sloshing around that they could easily allocate to communities like ours to purchase our system from Openreach as above – I said, a few times!  Needless to say it’s not that easy – procurement policies and state aid rules prohibit certain things and are good to hide behind – I know I’ve done it!

Also present were two senior people from Openreach, who are responsible for putting up the fibre cables.  One said nothing at all apart from his name, the other did respond to criticism but mainly in the way of “I’ll find out and get back to you.”

A very valid point was made by a gent from Kington who pointed out that the residents of say Cardiff had all this stuff landed on their doorsteps for free, without asking and without spending hours and hours trying to get something done.  It doesn’t seem fair that we should be left to moulder (or pay extortionate satellite charges) just because we live in the countryside – where in fact there is a greater social need for good connections.

Final member of the ‘top table’ was Viv Collins who is the Civil Servant in charge of the Superfast Cymru programme.

Having put our situation quite strongly during the meeting – tried every alternative solution currently on the market, but the topography of the valley doesn’t suit any of them; ridiculous quote from Openreach etc.  – I managed to get a word with Viv Collins at the end of the meeting. She suggested that she should get one of her team to visit the valley to understand the problems.

Again we wait without holding breath.

Ian Mabberley

11-6-2019