The market town of Mold (yr Wyddgrug in the native Welsh tongue) has much to recommend it. Situated amongst the stunning countryside of north Wales, in a region famed for its towering castles, protected landscapes and being close enough to the coast for day-trips, residents and visitors find themselves surrounded with much to swell the heart with joy.
Mold still has its struggles, much the same as many other towns in the UK. Local residents and businesspeople are feeling the bite of the recession; Flintshire is not an overly affluent county, relying on industry to create and maintain jobs, and when these are cut the knock-on effect is felt throughout the entire community with money that usually funnels through to the local economy becoming drastically reduced.
Previous feature articles have discussed the fact that there is no simple ‘top-down’ solution for improving the quality of life for residents, even in a buoyant economy let alone a seemingly endless recession. These articles have attempted to ferret out the truth; to understand why it is that some towns appear to weather these economic storms better than others.
The reply runs the risk of becoming repetitious throughout the course of the features, but when the answer becomes this apparent, then it’s worth stating, more than once.
Mold achieved Cittaslow accreditation in 2006 and swiftly set about creating a strong partnership committee that included a wide variety of community groups such as Mold 2000 retail & business group, Mold Town Partnership, the Town Council, voluntary organisations and other interested parties. Former Mold Mayor, and Cittaslow International Vic Chair, Andrea Mearns, has been the driving force behind Cittaslow’s success along with current Mayor Geoff Collett and his dedicated wife Viv. The new Chair, Sarah Pratt of Sastun Ltd promises to be every bit as dynamic and forward thinking as her predecessor.
From these initial meetings three sub-committees were formed with each group tasked to find ways in which the Cittaslow goals and auditing process could be used to set priorities and create projects that bring tangible benefits to the town and its residents.
So, there is the Environmental group whose members have ambitious plans to tackle a range of difficult issues including residents’ energy consumption – and they’re really making headway. In March 2012 the Bryn Gwalia Energy Reduction Scheme began in partnership with North Wales Energy Efficiency Advice Centre, Communities First, Cittaslow Mold, Mold Town Council and residents from Bryn Gwalia. Volunteer Energy Champions are now trained to offer support, help and advice to community members and anybody in Mold is welcome to get involved. The first group of households recently returned their energy monitors and learned how to change their energy usage to save energy, and importantly, save money.
Funding for this project came from rural regeneration agency Cadwyn Clwyd with £44,000. This was supported by £21,000 from the Local Energy Assessment Fund (LEAF), and £4,000 from Communities First Bryn Gwalia.
The twin hubs of the scheme, Parkfields Community Centre and the Clubhouse on Park Avenue, are now benefiting from new solid wall and roof insulation measures that will significantly reduce their carbon footprints and should reduce the annual energy bill by £1820.
The Space & Place sub-group, who focus on Cittaslow goals in groups B: Infrastructure, and C: Quality of Urban Fabric, are responsible for the implementation of a number of initiatives that have improved not just the ‘look’ but the overall ‘feel’ of the town. Some of these things are perhaps intuitive, not something that a person would immediate notice, but they all improve the overall quality of the town.
This includes the immensely popular Mold in Bloom competition that literally springs to life in the town each June splashing streets, houses and shopfronts with an array of colour and life. In addition the More Trees for Mold campaign planted hundreds of trees on common ground this spring with small orchards created in local schools for everybody to enjoy the fruits of in the future. This was the joint work of North Wales Wildlife Trust, Mold & Buckley Lions and Cittaslow Mold with support and trees from the Woodland Trust.
‘Spring’ is a reoccurring theme in Mold; in 2012 the Spring Clean saw nearly 800 volunteers not only collect rubbish but also plant shrubs, repair benches and signposts as well as clean the river and return nature walks to their former glory. 325 bin bags of rubbish were collected over an area of land measuring 1600m sq with over 120m of new wheelchair accessible footpath being created.
A huge amount of work and community hours have also been poured into Mold’s Bailey Hill. The Scheduled Ancient Monument site of an 11th century wooden castle with a motte and bailey, it is one of the most important green spaces in the town. Cittaslow Mold secured funding to carry out a Conservation Management Plan including topographic and arboricultural surveys. In addition to this, and in order to encourage residents and visitors to use the space more, an annual Bailey Hill Festival attracting around 1000 visitors each year was created and is curated by Cittaslow Mold.
A full day’s programme of events includes a main stage filled with music from some of the region’s finest bands, bi-lingual storytelling and drum workshops are held at the stone circle, and across the site other activities such as traditional demonstrations in basket weaving and wood turning take place, as well as circus skills, craft stalls and a smoothie bike. It’s a wonderfully inventive way in which to reclaim a public space in a positive way and the festival is growing in popularity each year.
Finally the Local Produce & Community group focuses on criteria ‘D’: the encouragement of local produce and production; criteria ‘E’: hospitality and community; and criteria ‘F’: Cittaslow awareness creation. Their focus has been predominantly on developing and promoting local food in Mold and its Hinterland. This has been achieved through creating and maintaining a database of local produce and producers and supporting the fortnightly Celyn Farmer’s Market.
This summer Cittaslow Mold gave a presentation at the North Wales Food and Hospitality Conference stressing the importance of supporting local producers and sourcing food locally wherever possible.
The annual Mold Food Festival attracts over 10,000 visitors each year with its exciting mix of celebrity chefs, local and regional food exhibitors, live music, cookery theatres and, of course, plenty of Welsh ales and ciders. 2012 also saw over 20 local cafes, restaurants, pubs and bistros take part in the Restaurant Trail with special Festival menus available showcasing the best of local food and produce.
Many of Mold’s residents enjoy taking part in these events and projects, which brings me to the central point of this article. Yes, the council is heavily involved with Cittaslow; yes, additional support from regional councils and national government is needed; but none of it works unless the local community get involved, and towns that are successfully remaining stoic in the face of many global pressures are those that actively seek to include as many different people in their projects as possible.
A good example of this is that Mold is actively shaping itself into a town of events. In addition to those mentioned above there is also the bi-annual Gwyl Werin Tegeingl Folk Festival who invite some of the UKs most popular folk artists to the town; there’s the Real Ale Trail that encourages people to visit and support local pubs in Mold’s hinterland and this year also saw the inaugural Novemberfest with people braving the cold, wet November weather to sample specialist ales from across the region in the local church hall. Barrels were sponsored by local businesses and the event was such a success there’s already plans for two in 2013.
Festivals like this couldn’t happen, and certainly couldn’t be a success, without the support of the local community, and it’s not just support in the manner of people turning up to drink the beer (although that does help); in order to thrive new ideas need to be put forward, new people need to step up and make things happen, new partnerships need to be formed; new voices need to be heard.
It takes collective vision to encourage this way of working. Dave Hill, Mold’s Town Centre Manager, along with the Town Clerk, Samantha Roberts, have their doors open to anybody and everybody, and work tirelessly to support new and existing projects in the town. It’s this attitude of inclusivity and openness that encourages residents, people feel their ideas are listened to, and the more this happens, well, the more this happens; and sometimes, all of these things come together in one place, and when that does, a little bit of magic is created.