Golygfa Gwydyr originally started as an action group in 2004. The group came together to oppose plans to cut down a huge section of trees at the edge of Llyn Parc in the Gwydyr Forest to build a hundred holiday cabins, which would have put enormous strain on the environment and local access services. The group campaigned for the plans to be scrapped and they succeeded. Some members of the group decided they should continue to work together and form a community group that could do something positive in the local area.
Around the same time, Theatr Cynefin - a community arts organisation - was looking to join forces with another group to develop an outdoor labyrinth theatre performance space in the Gwydyr Forest. Supported by the Forestry Commission and with funding from European Commission’s Objective 1 local development programme, they came together and formed the Caerdroia sensory labyrinth theatre in 2006. The Caerdroia, a one-mile labyrinth path along which the audience walks whilst performers act at specific locations, was the first of its kind in the UK.
Golygfa Gwydyr has evolved a great deal since it was formed. It’s now so much more than a backdrop to the open-air theatre. It’s a wonderful community resource where we hold social events, such as friendship groups and a run a year-round wellbeing programme, which includes tai chi and mindfulness sessions.
We also run a Community Woodland Management scheme and wood-fuel service, managing 15 hectares of forest, in agreement with Natural Resources Wales. In order to be able to do this, we had to grow our experience in managing trees, which involves professional chainsaw courses, being able to identify tree types and understand the different uses for the different types of wood have. We now use the timber from the forest to run social projects in Llanrwst – for example, we build benches and planters which benefit the whole community.
This scheme also provides a great training opportunity for local people who want to remain in rural Conwy and improve their employability, so we run a range of accredited courses such as chain saw training and first aid through the scheme. Through our job club we’ve also supported people who are seeking employment with CV skills, interview techniques and use of computers and printers. We’ve helped over 100 people to date.
In November 2021, Storm Arwen wreaked havoc in the local area and we lost around twenty per cent of the trees in our forest. We’ve had to undertake a huge clean-up operation in order to regain access to some areas of the forest and the damage has changed the nature of the site from a dense forest with continuous cover to one with more clear areas which brings in more natural daylight. While it’s sad that we’ve lost so many trees, we are also looking at this as an opportunity to adapt and change and use the space for more wellbeing sessions.
In any group like ours, you must have the right people in place to start it in the first place, and then key people to drive the project or idea forward. In our case, we need people who don’t just know how forestry works but we also need people to carry out and run our community work. Two of our group have a qualification in community development and that theory really helps with how we develop relationships with social groups.
As a group, we are very well networked and we have some fantastic partners – such as Conway MIND, Natural Recourses Wales, Cartrefi Conwy and, by working together, we have a much better chance of reaching our shared goals.
It’s also important for the work of social enterprises like ours to understand and reflect what the community wants and to get input from people in the area to help shape the activity. We hold regular consultation sessions so that people can come along and help shape our programme.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on our work, and, over the past two years, we’ve realised the importance of being adaptable. We had to completely change what we were doing, pausing many of our regular activities and events. But we adapted and remained an important resource, becoming the hub for the rural Conwy food bank, working with the rotary club in Llanrwst and supermarkets like Spar and Co-Op donated food which we then distributed to those most in need in the area.