As suggested by its names in both Welsh and English, Casnewydd-ar-Wysg – or Newport – has a history defined by its industries.

But according to one man at the heart of its environmental revival, Wales’ often overlooked third city is emerging as something of a green leader for Wales – with a number of initiatives across public, private and third sectors combining to point towards a future built on clean energy and the principles of a zero waste ‘circular economy’.

Mark Seymour runs one of three bike recycling projects in the city, and is evangelical about the multiple benefits of such schemes.

The National Wales: Plaid Cymru MS Peredur Owen Griffiths (left) with Mr Seymour (right)Plaid Cymru MS Peredur Owen Griffiths (left) with Mr Seymour (right)

In three and a half years, the refugee bike project run by Seymour’s charity The Gap Wales has given away more than 600 bikes that had been destined for scrap to refugees and asylum seekers living in the city.

‘It’s reducing waste, making something accessible and encouraging active travel,’ says Seymour, explaining that the project is also built on providing volunteering opportunities to asylum seekers, who are not allowed to work.

A similar scheme is run by Wastesavers, training young people struggling with mainstream education to fix bikes. But Mark Seymour reserves his highest praise for yet another project, led by Mike ‘Puffa’ Jones, which has over three years distributed more than 2000 bikes to children and charitable organisations.

Now The Gap are involved in the management of what Seymour describes as ‘the first indoor secure bike parking facility in Wales’. For just one pound, cyclists will have access to a 24/7 well-lit facility monitored by CCTV that will at last provide an answer to the very high rate of bicycle thefts in the city, a barrier to cycling for many.

Part of the regeneration of Olympia House on Skinner Street in the city centre, the bike parking facility is ideally located for commuters, but also takes its place next to another major environmentally friendly development that launched in the city last year.

The National Wales: The repair café and library of things in Newport town centre. Picture: RE:Make Newport.The repair café and library of things in Newport town centre. Picture: RE:Make Newport.

Repair Cafe Wales and Benthyg Cymru set up a space designed to provide residents from around the city access to free repairs, skill-sharing workshops and volunteering roles as well as the opportunity to borrow a range of household items. 

Drills, sewing machines and board games are loaned out at low cost, with the opportunity to pay in volunteering time or Tempo time credits as well as cash. 

Borrowers can browse online to reserve and pay for items, and an electric cargo bike enables collections and deliveries around the city, providing active travel opportunities for volunteers.

Phoebe Brown, Director of Repair Cafe Wales, says: ‘Repair cafés are a brilliant way to reduce waste, promote skill sharing and increase community cohesion,’ and hopes REMake Newport ‘will pave the way for many similar initiatives across Wales.’

The project is supported with funding from the WCVA [Wales Council for Voluntary Action] and Newport City Homes, whose Executive Director for Development, Matthew Davies said: ‘We’re delighted to be a part of this innovative project to make repair and reuse a reality. The development of Olympia House is part of the wider regeneration of the city which is giving us a unique opportunity to reimagine how we can live and work in ways that are more environmentally friendly and will help us become more resilient to the challenges of modern life.’

A port since medieval times, when the Normans constructed a castle upstream from the earlier Roman settlement of Caerleon, Newport exploded in the early nineteenth century and prior to the emergence of Cardiff and later Barry, Casnewydd-ar-Wysg was the country’s biggest coal port.

And despite the docks’ decline in the twentieth century, Newport then became an important centre of both manufacturing and engineering, most notably through the steelworks at Llanwern on the eastern edge of the city.

The National Wales: Homes on former Llanwern Steelworks site. Photo: Bellway WalesHomes on former Llanwern Steelworks site. Photo: Bellway Wales

Now the city’s further expansion is built around huge swathes of new housing on former industrial sites – at Glan Llyn on what was Llanwern, Mon Bank at what used to be railway sidings and a storage facility for ballast stones near Cardiff Road, and Royal Victoria Court at the former Whiteheads steelworks in Pillgwenlly.

There is no doubt that a town built almost entirely around heavy industry is reinventing itself for a twenty-first century where we will need all the environmental schemes we can muster if we are to avoid climate catastrophe.

And Newport City Council is justifiably proud of a number of measures that show it is leading the way. In 2021-21, the city’s recycling rate hit 67.2% – the highest figure recorded by any UK city, and there are a number of initiatives afoot aimed at increasing this further.

At last year’s National Environmental Awards, the local authority won the Outstanding Organisation category, and its household waste recycling centre – known colloquially as ‘the tip’ – increased its own recycling rate to 90%, winning Civic Amenity of the Year at last year’s Awards for Excellence in Recycling and Waste Management.

The National Wales:

The 2022 Environmental Awards take place at Rougemont School on July 14

A spokesperson for the council said: ‘The panel recognised our ability to demonstrate a significant reduction in carbon emissions, as well as our planning for the future in the shape of our now published climate change plan.’

Newport was one of two local authorities chosen by the government to pilot developing local area energy plans. A plan setting out a vision for how the city can meet its energy needs through renewable and non-carbon sources will be published later this year. 

Last year the council became the first local authority in Wales to start using an electric refuse collection vehicle, and there are now six such vehicles in operation, representing a fifth of the total fleet – each saving between 25 and 35 tonnes of carbon dioxide across the year.

And as with the innovative Repair Cafe and Library of Things, the council have also established a number of partnerships with community groups to encourage a greater degree of civic pride among the city’s population.

One partnership, with Keep Wales Tidy, is funded through a Caru Cymru grant, a street art project to improve the local environmental quality of the city. 

The National Wales: The Pill street art project aims to bring pride to Newport. Pill-born poet W.H. Davies is featured as part of the mural.The Pill street art project aims to bring pride to Newport. Pill-born poet W.H. Davies is featured as part of the mural.

The council has commissioned a number of projects to celebrate Newport’s heritage while adding a splash of colour to key locations.

The first mural has been installed at the Barnabas House arts centre and incorporates local landmarks as well as a portrait of Newport-born poet, W.H.Davies. 

Artist Paul Shepard has also been commissioned to paint murals using the style of the harlequin colour patterns on the pillars under the A4042 flyover, known locally as ‘the Harlequin roundabout’. 

Other proposed murals include one on the side wall of the old Brays Sweet Factory in Conway Road, celebrating the purpose of the building – a reminder of Newport’s proud industrial history, even as the city reinvents itself for a cleaner, greener, brighter future.

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