Thursday, 2 December 2010

What’s occurin’ @BarryIsland?

Posted on Wales Home on December 2nd 2010

Barry Island is a name which resonates through Welsh folk memory. Long before Dave’s coaches, ‘the rocky islands’ have been drawn on by story tellers from Idris Davies to Max Boyce.

Let's go to Barry Island, Maggie fach,
And give all the kids one day by the sea,
And sherbet and buns and paper hats,
And a rattling ride on the Figure Eight;
We'll have tea on the sands and rides on the donkeys,
And sit in the evening with the folk of Cwm Rhondda
Idris Davies's Angry Summer

But miners fortnight is no more and Billy Butlin is a distant memory to the islanders. The sparkling beach remains at Whitmore Bay, but the backdrop looks tired and worn. Majestic ambitions have given way to the Bovis reality.

Barry, and the Island, have had few chances to access funding for regeneration by virtue of being part of the relatively wealthy Vale of Glamorgan. Now though there is a glimmer of hope. The town has been granted Strategic Regeneration Area status by the Assembly Government with £9 Million awarded in recognition of the area’s need.

So far a few shop fronts have been spruced up, the community radio station is to get a new studio and a housing estate is to get better lighting. As yet though there is no Big Idea to transform the image and prospects of the town.

A dormant slab of land overlooking Barry Island’s beach could provide the setting for a new era for the resort.

Since the last holiday camp closed in 1998 the local authority has been trying to market the 11 acre site without success. The latest idea is a caravan park for the windswept Nell’s Point. Though it has met with little enthusiasm locally it remains the default option, but as a result of the new Regeneration Status other options have a chance to be considered.

The proposal that is generating the most excitement from the community comes from the Island’s Primary school. Drawing inspiration from Brittany and from the Menai Straits the school sees an opportunity to create a cluster of coastal activities centered around a new eco ‘school of the sea’.

Sitting on the edge of the spectacular Glamorgan Heritage Coast the hub would make an alluring centre for activity tourism. With quality accommodation facilities the Island could become a centre for walking and cycling tourism, and on the doorstep of the Bristol Channel would be an ideal spot for a sailing and watersports centre. Add in a climbing centre and a sealife aquarium and the makings of a year round tourism offer start to become clear.

At the heart of this ‘village of the sea’ would be an educational centre of excellence. Ysgol y Mor in north Wales offers a model for integrating watersports and the marine environment into the school curriculum while delivering an economic boost to the surrounding area. As does the Classe de Mer model that has been running in Brittany for 20 years. Both show how educational centers of excellence can act as a catalyst for wider regeneration

Barry Island’s primary school already attracts visitors from across the country to see its innovative teaching practices. The drive that has seen this small community school crowned best ICT school in the whole of the UK and Welsh Eco school of the year - as well as getting an exemplary Estyn inspection report– has the potential to create an exemplar ‘coastal school’ that would draw visitors from around the UK that would come back again and again with their families.

It will be more than just a school, with its facilities serving tourists and locals all year round. A mix between Llangrannog and Center Parcs. It’s an exciting possibility, with far more potential for regenerating Barry than another caravan park. And what’s more the idea has come from the community.

A not for profit Community Interest Company called @BarryIsland is now being set up to try and attract partners and funders. The first project for the new social enterprise is to recreate the tidal paddling pool on Barry Island beach that entertained generations of children but fell into disrepair in the 1970s – an idea of the primary school’s children.

So far the Vale of Glamorgan Council has met both proposals with a list of reasons why they can’t happen. But it is too important and exciting a project to fail. We need partners not pessimists so that once again people will say Let's go to Barry Island, Maggie fach,

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