It was once said by Plaid Cymru’s talismanic leader, Gwynfor Evans, that Wales is a ‘community of communities.’

This frequently cited line was contained within Gwynfor’s pamphlet: ‘Wales: A Historic Community.’ The words around this famous quote also deserve airing because they are equally powerful and incisive:

‘The Welsh nation is a historic community. More, it is a community of communities, of local communities, families, trade unions, churches and a myriad others. Our contention has always been that a basic aim of government, local and national, should be to foster community. It is in community that the human person, a social being, realises his or her potential. It is from community that civilisation springs.’

Decades on from the publication of this pamphlet, those words still ring true in many communities throughout Wales. The power of community was evident when I recently visited the fantastic community centre in Swffryd (Sofrydd). This decades-old venue is the beating heart of a community located high up a mountain-top within the boundaries of Blaenau Gwent but also within a stone’s throw of the county boroughs of Caerffili and Torfaen.

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The volunteers at Swffryd Community Centre are incredibly dedicated and work hard to provide a warm and friendly community hub that provides hot food and plenty of entertainment. After much laughter and talking to locals, I came from there with my spirits lifted despite not winning in any of the games of bingo I played!

These centres have been the rock of their community over the years. Does it bear thinking what would happen if these centres are no longer with us?

Since many of the key personnel within the community centre were over the age of 60, there was a genuine fear that there won’t be anyone to carry on the torch when the current bastions step down.

I doubt Swffryd is alone in this worry – and I have a strong suspicion that this situation is being mirrored throughout much of the country.

The National Wales: Peredur Owen Griffiths MS represents the South Wales East regionPeredur Owen Griffiths MS represents the South Wales East region

Following the visit to Swffryd Community Centre, my team and I spent time meeting locals as part a regular series of street surgeries I have carried out since my election last year. Getting out into the communities I represent, speaking to local people, listening to their issues and hopefully solving any problems they bring to me is an important part of the job.

During the street surgery in Swffryd, I picked up on a new theme, one I hadn’t seen in previous street surgeries. This new element was anger, and the source was the Tory UK government’s hypocrisy and alleged law-breaking following a series of lockdown-busting parties within Number 10 Downing Street. While it is clear that the antics of the Tories have infuriated and upset so many people – and justifiably so – I am concerned of where this will lead.

My concern is that it’s going to turn people off politics – all politics – for a long time and perhaps even the rest of their lives. That was certainly the sentiment that was expressed to me and my team by a number of people that day. “I am done with politics” and “I will never vote again” are just some of the views expressed amid complaints about the antics of the Tories. This is very concerning to hear just months before the local elections.

Johnson and his ilk are not just bad for faith in public health advice but they are also bad for democracy it seems.

While the two-faced shenanigans going on at Number 10 have undoubtedly exacerbated the situation, there exists a disconnect between Westminster and communities like the ones I represent.

Westminster rarely pays much notice to Wales. When it does, it is usually to belittle and disparage. When you have a situation where voters in England decide who enters Number 10 Downing Street, regardless of what happens at the ballot boxes in Wales, then this leads to an unhealthy situation. It erodes belief in the democratic process and the feeling of powerlessness it will cultivate will be detrimental to community spirit.

Plaid Cymru is a decentralist party that is indebted to the grassroots volunteers we have.

Naturally, we believe in the power of the community so the negative impact of Westminster, runs counter to everything we hold dear. We want to empower communities, not sever the link our communities should have with politics. This is why we believe in having greater responsibility of our own affairs. In fact, it is in having this responsibility and accountability in our own hands that will be crucial to empowering our communities and increasing democratic participation.

Are there things that we can do in the meantime to encourage strong and resilient communities throughout Wales? Certainly. I would like to see communities enjoy the same rights that their counterparts have in Scotland and England to buy community assets. I think most of us know of fantastic old and dormant buildings that could have been turned into community hubs had they been saved from developers. For whatever reason, the Labour government in Wales has chosen not to introduce legislation to allow our communities the same right to buy. 

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Getting decision making as close as possible to the people it impacts surely makes more sense? When too many decisions are already made by a Tory government in a seat of power in another country, the least the Welsh Government can do is use the powers it has to empower its own people.

If the people are switched off from the politics, if the power continues to be in the hands of those that are making them angry, then we risk losing the heart of our communities – and I mean more than just the buildings. If the community is that from which potential springs, then we risk running it dry.

Peredur Owen Griffiths is a Plaid Cymru Member of the Senedd for the South Wales East region.

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