A Wales of Vibrant Culture and Thriving Welsh Language Events, May 2023
During the second half of May we held our latest events ‘A Wales of vibrant culture and Thriving Welsh Language’ in Cardiff and Llandudno.
This event had been on our long list of subjects that we would like to tackle for years. The trouble is where do you start? It’s a broad topic, a whole language and associated culture which needs a bit of help and encouragement, covered in half a day.
I find that quite a few of our events start out in a lot of discussion, throwing things around, bouncing ideas and so on until all of a sudden it comes into focus. This didn’t happen for this event – we never saw an outline forming in the mist or a promising breadcrumb trail we could follow.
Then some things happened. Dafydd Iwan’s Yma o Hyd was a ‘moment’. A national Welsh cultural moment where a song in Welsh soundtracked qualification to the World Cup, and became the official anthem for the World Cup. Elis James described the sensation well in his occasional Guardian Blog [opens in new window]:
"For it to be sung so intensely by non-Welsh speakers and Welsh speakers alike would have been inconceivable a few years ago, and somehow felt both normal and massively significant."
It felt at long last that the Welsh language world wasn’t confined to a slightly weird side room where we were all having a very nice time, but were also being gently avoided by everyone else. The Welsh language as a natural part of modern Wales, finally part of what just is.
Another thing that happened was that the Football Association of Wales (FAW) announced that they had adopted developed a sustainability strategy using the principles of the Future Generations act (Wales) and working with the Future Generations Commissioner’s Office.
The most important thing to remember here is that the FAW don’t have to do this; they have no legal duty to be bilingual, or think about future generations when making decisions. They just felt that it was the right thing to do and they did it. Noel Mooney, the current Chief Executive of the FAW has spoken many times about the principle of doing the right thing, and has also backed it up with action.
By weaving in a sense of Welshness and pride in representing the country among the players on the pitch, the supporters in the stands saw their own pride in their Welsh identities reflected. Coupled with the success since 2016 which has grown the fandom around the Wales International team, they have had a platform to grow and to steadily become more influential.
Success breeds success of course, and it will be interesting to see what will happen when there is an inevitable downturn in the Wales team’s fortunes. We have had a very, very good period. The important thing is that they have chosen to work with the whole of Wales, with institutions and organisations, to build relationships and work together. By doing it, they created a context where you can see a comfortable, modern Wales.
Ian Gwyn Hughes, Head of Public Relations for the FAW spoke at both events and didn’t disappoint. He shared the journey that the FAW had taken in representing the whole of Wales and feeding the curiosity that came with learning more about the country they represent. It’s an inspirational journey, and one Ian was able to delve deeper into by hosting a workshop where he described some more context and answered questions from delegates.
Speaking of workshops, including the FAW we had arranged five workshops over both events, looking at various aspects of Wales. The Dragons RFC presenting in Cardiff shared how they were using sport as a way of building communities and working with a wide variety of partners to be as inclusive as possible. One powerful aspect of their presentation was their 4 values which are also the things you cannot take back:
A Word after it has been said
Time after it has gone
Opportunity after is has been missed
Trust after it has been lost
Urdd Gobaith Cymru shared how their core values as a movement that gives children and young people in Wales opportunities in the medium of Welsh to make positive contributions to their communities. Even as someone who is familiar with some aspects of their work I learnt a lot. One aspect that was particularly interesting was that there is a golden thread that runs through their work today that has been there since their founding in 1922.
The Office of the Welsh Language Commissioner collaborated with Anglesey County Council to share their Welsh Language Promotion Strategy, and how working collaboratively is key. One interesting aspect is how they are working in the community to build confidence in the use of Welsh and to facilitate the transfer of the Welsh Language from generation to generation via the Ogi Ogi app. The Welsh Government also spoke about how they were working to promote the use of Welsh internally, with the aim of becoming a truly bilingual organisation by 2050. The strategy; Cymraeg. It belongs to us all, has led to a wider and more flexible language training offer than in the past. Allied with support from those in leadership roles it has led to increased confidence as they proceed with the gradual long term change to becoming a truly bilingual organisation.
Amgueddfa Cymru presented their journey so far in decolonising their collections. Using the work leading up to the Reframing Picton exhibition, we were treated to a fascinating discussion. We were treated to a deep discussion of what history means to us today and how historical figures are many things at the same time. This is only the beginning of the work on decolonisation, and given how pervasive the legacy of the British Empire is in the modern United Kingdom (If you’re interested in reading more about this, I recommend Empireland by Sathnam Sanghera) I’m interested in where the work goes next and how it reframes our way of thinking about the present.
Our keynote guests…
We at the Good Practice Exchange are incredibly thankful that both Efa Gruffydd Jones and Derek Walker were able to give us some time from their busy diaries to contribute to a panel discussion at both events. And that’s before we mention Sian Lewis of Urdd Gobaith Cymru in Cardiff and Sian Morris Jones in Llandudno giving us time just before the sharing of Yr Urdd’s annual Peace and Goodwill Message and in the lead up to the Urdd Eisteddfod which I suspect is their biggest, busiest event of the year! We are really, really thankful, and can’t quite emphasise it enough.
We did set the panel a really big opening question: ‘How do you see Wales today?’ The panel took the opportunity to share with us what they thought were the positives, but also framed the challenges and the need for organisations to work hard on being inclusive and follow the Well-Being of Future Generations Act’s Five ways of Working. It was an especially poignant message on the morning after the recent disturbances in Ely, Cardiff. Another big theme was the importance of organisations collaborating and working together to provide and improve services.
Our Panel was chaired by Einir Siôn of the Arts Council for Wales, who did an excellent job of facilitating and summarising an inclusive conversation. We had also asked Einir to be a Keynote Listener for the events as well.
A Keynote listener is a role given to someone who is invited to see as much as possible of the event and is then invited to summarise it and sharing their impressions. We have used them in our events occasionally and they always add something extra to an event, having a different perspective and noticing things that other may have missed.
As Einir closed and summed up the Panel session, she also gave her Keynote Listener’s address, and summed up in a few minutes all the messages and themes that she had picked up during the morning. One of the things Einir said that stuck with me was that even if ‘A Wales of Vibrant Culture and Thriving Welsh Language’ may be the wellbeing goal that gets less attention than others, within the work that goes towards achieving it is a rich source of inspiration that could help in achieving the other wellbeing goals.
So, coming to the end of this post I hope I’ve given you a flavour of the events we held. We could have easily arranged a week-long festival on this subject, but we only had half a day and there are so many other aspects of the Well-being goal that we could have covered.
It is only the start of a conversation, and it may be a conversation that we can host further, but it may be someone else’s turn to pick up the baton. This is only a start.
About the author
Siôn Owen is a Knowledge Exchange Officer with the Good Practice Exchange Team. Siôn has worked for Audit Wales for 3 years. Prior to this, Siôn worked at a local authority in North Wales.