Report warns of increased threat to Welsh-speaking communities in Conwy
It is “vital” that Welsh speakers can live and work in their communities or Wales risks being inundated by workers from England.
This was among the key findings in an updated assessment of the Welsh language in Conwy County commissioned by Llanrwst-based organisation Menter Iaith Conwy.
Without opportunities to work from home, rural Welsh-speaking communities in Conwy and other parts of north Wales are facing “a massive influx of home workers from the large cities of north-west England”, said the report’s author, Huw Prys Jones, also chairman of Menter Iaith Conwy.
As well as looking at the specific effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the report compares the ability to speak Welsh between different age groups and different areas of the county.
- Just over a quarter – 27% – of the county’s population were able to speak Welsh according to the 2011 census, with a further 10% able to understand the spoken language only. This represents a significant decline from an estimated 42% in 1961.
- Just over a half of the population (53%) were born in Wales, and of these, 47% could speak Welsh and a further 13% could understand the language.
- While 46.6% of children aged 3-15 are registered as able to speak Welsh, education statistics from the same year suggest that as few as a quarter of these spoke it fluently.
- There is huge geographic variation within the county, with the main divide between the coastal towns and the rural inland areas.
- Only in the rural hinterland of the county is there a majority of the population able to speak Welsh.
“What we have in Conwy is a clear contrast between the Anglicised coastal towns, and the rural hinterland where the Welsh language is much stronger,” explained Mr Jones.
“Whilst this rural hinterland experienced a decline in the percentage speaking Welsh in 2011 compared to 2001, it remains a key part of the main core Welsh language heartland of north-west Wales.
“Every possible indicator – be it in terms of pupils retaining their ability to speak Welsh after leaving school, or transmission within families – shows that the higher the percentage is of people who can speak Welsh in any particular area, the more favourable are its prospects for it to survive and thrive there.
“At the same time, these vital areas for the future of the language are under greater threat than ever before due to the trend for home working accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic. With their proximity to the populous and richer areas of north-west England, I fear that communities in Conwy could be particularly vulnerable.”
The author believes that the new threats facing such areas call for a change in language-planning priorities.
“First Minister Mark Drakeford was absolutely right when he referred to Welsh-speaking heartlands as what makes Wales what it is.”
“In other words, they are a key part of our identity as a nation.
“Areas that are of outstanding cultural heritage need special protection as more and more people from English conurbations are looking to relocate to the countryside.
“All this calls for a clearer focus on these key strongholds in any initiatives by the Welsh Government and other organisations to promote the language. It is clear that a pan-Wales uniform approach will not work against the specific threats facing these communities.”
At the same time, Mr Jones strongly believes that the current technological and social changes must be utilised to the full, as they present opportunities as well as threats to Welsh language communities.
“The increasing ability to work from home can also enable a far greater number of Welsh speakers to live in Welsh-speaking communities,” he said. “It could also enable parts of rural Wales to become less dependent on tourism and to be in stronger position to reject highly undesirable developments such as nuclear power stations.
“All this however calls from detailed planning, with help given for local people who are disadvantaged by an inflated housing market, and also active and practical encouragement from government organisations to enable Welsh-speakers to work from home in their communities.
“Without government help to realise these new opportunities, the unique character and identity of these communities will have changed beyond recognition and a key part of our heritage lost forever.”
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