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Updating Rhondda’s history

09 Mar 2024 6 minute read
Second Rhondda Heritage Workshop at Treorchy RFC

Creative Director John Geraint updates us on some exciting developments as the Rhondda Heritage Project hits the airwaves.

Underground. Hoe the ground. Borrowing free.

No, not the Wombles. Just clues to three favourite local places described brilliantly by contributors to one recent edition of our weekly Rhondda Heritage Hour on Rhondda Radio.

Underground: the camaraderie of the Lewis Merthyr Colliery in Trehafod, celebrated by an ex-miner.

Hoe the ground: Terry Walton talking about his Llwynypia allotment, an established star of radio and TV in its own right.

And borrowing free: Tonypandy Library, where one of our new media stars began a lifetime love affair with books.

All together now, “Underground…”!

Storytelling Workshops

Jokes aside, these audio stories recorded by the contributors on their own mobile phones are proving a real highlight of our Wednesday broadcasts.

They’re the fruit of the Storytelling Workshops we held at Treorchy Rugby Club before Christmas. People – just people, with no previous TV or radio experience – telling it like it is, and like it has been in the Rhondda.

So Jayne shared her mother’s account of the terrible night Nazi bombs fell on Cwmparc. Keith explained how he faced a tug-of-love between two of Rhondda’s most famous choirs.

Katie recalled her grandparents’ campaign to save Treorchy’s Park and Dare Theatre – very timely, just as a terrific new musical set in the valley opens there.

‘Turning The Wheel’ is written and composed by Cwmparc’s Kieran Bailey, another of our contributors. Kieran told listeners about the history that inspired him.

And there’s just been enough airtime for me – in my guise as ‘John On The Rhondda’ – to have a bit of a rant about people who criticise the way Rhondda people do speak. It’s all tidy, mun.

Thanks to those Storytelling Workshops, the Rhondda Heritage Hour is proving a big hit with listeners. The other day, we passed a significant milestone.

Quite apart from the ‘live’ broadcast on air and online every Wednesday on Rhondda Radio, our wonderful collection of memories has now been played more a thousand times on our ‘listen back’ facility.

And that’s just in the first two months! There’s lots more to come throughout 2024. Click on this link and dip in to the latest edition for just a few minutes to add to those numbers.

Miner’s strike

This episode features a 20-minute ‘soundscape’ I was asked to produce to set the tone for a marvellous new exhibition of photographs of the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike.

The audio montage features the voices and experiences of those whose lives and livelihoods were at the centre for the dispute. The soundscape will play in the gallery at the Rhondda Heritage Park – the former Lewis Merthyr Colliery – so that everyone who comes to see the photos can hear as well as see what was at stake for the men and women of the Coalfield across that whole year of hard and bitter struggle.

‘Hard and bitter struggle’? Well, yes it was.

But it was also a time of hearts and heroes, of real and remarkable communal solidarity, of a whole generation of Valleys people doing what they’ve always done, standing up and standing together, fighting for their communities, for their values and for their way of life, making it plain in no uncertain terms that – despite what Thatcher said – there is such a thing as society.

I’m proud to have been asked to produce that soundscape. I trust it does justice to the stand our people made forty years ago. But our Project is also about the Rhondda today, and tomorrow.

The coming generation are certainly making their mark in the Heritage Hour. Jayla from Ysgol Nantgwyn reflects movingly about conquering her fears. Schoolmates Osian, Ceryn and Kara remind us about the importance of friendship in young lives.

Kiara talks about the ‘Bike Club’ run by Valleys Kids. And Lucy assures us that Rhondda’s famous neighbourliness is alive and well in the street where she’s growing up.

The Valley’s sporting future is in good hands too – judging by what young Brodie has to say about his exploits on the rugby pitch, and the way his friend Romeo talks about his form playing soccer. But it’s not just athletic excellence that’s emerging.

A group of four Coleg y Cymoedd students recorded their beautiful song ‘Heart of the Valley’ for us. They call themselves ‘The Unknown’. They may not be for long.

Their version of their composition is already a big feature of the Rhondda Heritage Hour. It’s so good, we play it every week – and it’s really catching on!

Stewart Roberts, the distinguished Musical Director of the Treorchy Male Choir recently got to hear it. He immediately recognised that it has “massive potential” (Have a quick listen and see if you agree). So now, we’re exploring how the world’s most recorded choir might get involved with the track.

“I can definitely hear Treorchy in the chorus there in 4-part harmony!” enthused Mr Roberts.

Once the Choir return from taking the Rhondda choral sound to engagements in Monaco and Florida in the coming weeks – yes, they have that kind of global appeal – standby for an exciting announcement. If it comes off, it’ll be a wonderful example of how our Project is helping – in a small way at least – to refresh one of Rhondda’s great traditions.

The Rhondda Heritage Project is happening because Rhondda Radio won a major grant last year from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Come the summer, the next phase of the Project will be in place: a Heritage Trail, comprising twelve ‘Stations’ at iconic sites up and down the Rhondda Fawr and the Rhondda Fach. Each Station will link directly to the audio content we’ve created.

The whole point is to update our story, to make sure that it’s held not just in history books but in other ways too – ways that can be accessed by everyone. Please do.

The Rhondda Heritage Hour with David Arthur is on at 3pm every Wednesday on Rhondda Radio. Listen live at:

John Geraint is one of Wales’ most experienced documentary film-makers and author of ‘Up The Rhondda!’  and ‘The Great Welsh Auntie Novel’ 

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