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Inward migration as a result of the pandemic will ‘almost inevitably’ hit Welsh language says Anglesey report

11 Nov 2021 9 minutes Read
Menai Bridge Anglesey. Photo by Nick Cozier on Unsplash

Gareth Wyn Williams, local democracy reporter

A new report has outlined the challenge facing the Welsh language on Anglesey as it battles to remain a majority tongue, with the pandemic “almost inevitably” resulting in further inward migration and further shifting patterns across its communities.

While long acknowledged as a heartland of Cymraeg and second only behind Gwynedd, it has nonetheless been a pattern of general decline since the 1950s when it was almost always the day to day language and spoken by over 80% of islanders.

But with the latest 2011 census figures showing that only 57.2% considered themselves Welsh speakers, there are fears that inward migration from the east – further enhanced by the pandemic – as well as a failure by some to pass the language on will paint an even bleaker picture when the latest results are released.

While schools have long been considered as a ray of hope of hope for the ancient and native tongue, however, councillors have also raised concerns that not enough children on the island are receiving a fully Welsh-medium education despite four of its five secondary schools designated as bilingual.

A report presented to Tuesday’s Partnership and Regeneration Scrutiny Committee meeting proposed that the authority adopt a new Welsh Language Promotion Strategy to replace its now expired predecessor.

Covering the period from 2021-2026, the paper outlines how the council plans to promote the language and facilitate its wider use on Anglesey, with a target of increasing or at least maintaining its current strength.

With over 40% of the population born outside Wales in many coastal areas of Anglesey, this was compounded by 10% of the total housing stock now being second homes.

But in addition to inward migration, a recent Menter Iaith Môn report found that nearly a quarter of Anglesey households where both parents can speak Welsh are failing to transfer it on to their children before they start school.

It also found that 78% of Welsh-born islanders can speak the language, with another 11% able to understand it, varying from 58.8% around Holyhead to 90.4% in central Anglesey.

But with officers facing over a year’s wait until the 2021 figures are made public, it was also acknowledged that the success of the previous strategy will not be known for some time, having targeted an increase from 57.2% to 60.1%.

Deputy leader Ieuan Williams, who also holds the Welsh language brief, noted, “Despite the hard work that has taken place as a result of this strategy, it would be remiss not to acknowledge the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on our efforts.

“It appears almost inevitable that the demography of some of our communities will be affected as a result of the crisis.

“This is likely due to the housing market boom of 2020 and 2021 and remote working allowing relocation from urban to rural and coastal areas.”

He added, “Immigration has been a historic challenge to the prosperity of the Welsh language on Anglesey and we must prepare for a further and deeper change in the linguistic dynamics of some communities.

“Pandemic restrictions also impacted opportunities for Welsh speakers and learners to use the language together socially and at work.

“We hope to see Welsh language social activity resume with renewed enthusiasm as we emerge from this challenging period.”

‘Retire’

It was pointed out that while the percentage of speakers had reduced dramatically – in line with a major population increase –  the numbers fluent in Welsh had remained consistent.

When the previous strategy was set up in 2016, factors blamed on the decades long decline included a weak economy and unstable local housing market resulting in “real challenges” in retaining young people and families on the island.

Targeting a three faceted approach, its aims were spread across children and families, the council’s workforce and services, and usage within the community.

This has included efforts to gradually make Welsh the main internal language of administration within the council’s corridors, and increasing the use of Welsh in schools and communities where this wasn’t always the norm.

But with the pandemic having revved up the snapping up of second homes and general inward migration –  particularly in tourist-attracting coastal communities where the language already tends to be heard less often – concerns were raised there was little the authority to do to withstand such radical demographic changes in such a short space of time.

Living in the coastal community of Benllech, Cllr Williams added he had himself noticed patterns of increased migration.

“The pandemic has allowed people to work from home, so while before many people decided to retire to Ynys Môn, people are now moving here to work from home too.

“The estate agents were saying last year that the second a home went on the market it was snapped up.”

‘Hard’

The report also noted, however, that such practices could also open up opportunities for local or returning Welsh speakers to work remotely from Anglesey, noting there was currently “an over-reliance on a seasonal economy linked to the tourism industry, creating unstable employment opportunities.”

Pointing to examples in the south of Wales and the success and revival of Welsh language education, Cllr Williams also tried to paint a more positive picture of efforts that could be taken locally despite acknowledging that the perceived lack of Welsh being heard outside of the classroom was also an issue in schools.

Cllr Vaughan Hughes was more pessimistic over the long-term health of the language, however.

“People who study languages tell us you need a critical mass in a community, and once fewer than 70% speak the language then you witness a major shift,” said Cllr Hughes.

“And as the numbers here, as throughout Wales, is less than 70% then its hard to see what strategy can overturn this.

“Yes there’s always hope but let’s not blind ourselves to the fact that the critical mass is working against Welsh as a community language,.

“The language won’t die but will she live on as a community language? That’s our big concern.”

He added his concern at figures showing that only a third of pupils were receiving their education mainly through the medium of Welsh.

‘Decline’

Resulting in assurances from education chiefs that there were looking to increase this figure as part of the strategy, it was noted that in 2019/20 74% (2,585) of pupils received bilingual education.

But Welsh was the main medium of teaching for only 34.8% (1,215) of secondary pupils, with Welsh being part of the education for 39.2% (1,370), and English as a medium of teaching for 24.6% (860) pupils.

As well as the construction of more affordable housing, successes in the previous plan were noted as including:

250 parents indicating that they are working on changing their language habits in the home, with 500 talks held by Menter Iaith Môn with parents about the benefits of bilingualism for their children.

Highest ever Urdd membership (3,000 members) following a successful social media campaign, with a new ‘aelwyd’ established at Holyhead High School

Estyn finding that nearly all schools inspected made good progress in promoting Welsh and Welshness, also prioritising the implementation of the Siarter Iaith framework and ensuring that primary pupils from foundation phase to key stage three received a Welsh first language assessment.

Rolling programme to increase the use of Welsh within the council’s administration and network of ‘language champions.’

Welcome packs containing information about the Welsh language commissioned with Menter Iaith Môn to distribute to a targeted audience.

As a result, the newly adopted 2021-2026 plan will look at reversing the fall in the number of speakers on the island, which will be further revisited once the latest census figures have been published in 2022 and 2023.

The report proposes to build on the achievements thus far while also:

  • Increasing awareness of the advantages of passing on the Welsh language by working with Menter Iaith Môn and providing more Welsh language immersion opportunities for younger children.
  • Reaching out to newcomers, developers, businesses and communities that are less familiar with Welsh, ensuring they understand the prominence of the language in island culture and life while also providing greater opportunities for people to learn, “creating a sense of belonging where all our residents feel ownership of the Welsh language and are proud to live in a vibrant, truly bilingual community.”
  • Making Anglesey an appealing place for Welsh speakers to live and work, attracting back those who have left the island, making sure that good jobs and social opportunities and high standards of Welsh education are available.

The report concluded, “Although the data shows that the number of Welsh speakers has remained relatively static since 1961, as the area’s population increases year on year the number of speakers as a percentage of the population has steadily declined.

“We need to be realistic and prepare for a deeper change to the demography of the island as a result of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Possible factors include the prosperity of the housing market, increased investment in second and holiday homes, remote working which allows relocation from urban to rural and coastal areas.

“Implementing our second promotion strategy from 2021 to 2026 will allow us to address the above challenges.

“We intend to build on the foundations of our first strategy and will deliberately adhere to our target for increasing the number of Welsh speakers in our area.

“Following a full analysis of the 2021 Census results we will revisit the strategy to assess whether or not our target has been, that it remains appropriate moving forward and to ensure that our plans adequately respond to any changes the linguistic dynamics of the island.”

Partnership and Regeneration Scrutiny Committee members unanimously backed the report, which will now be presented to the Executive and full Council for ratification.

The report in full can be found here.

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GW Atkinson
GW Atkinson
19 days ago

Where the hell is the Welsh government on this? Do they want that million speakers or what?

Glyn Jones
Glyn Jones
18 days ago
Reply to  GW Atkinson

Evidently not. Too busy implementing their ‘theme park Wales’ strategy and building housing developments that they call ‘settlements’, without a hint of irony.

hdavies15
hdavies15
19 days ago

So they needed yet another report to state the bleedin’ obvious ! We know there’s a problem, the challenge is figuring out precisely how to contain it and then solve it. Action seems to be an area best avoided by most politicians.

Tim
Tim
18 days ago

Migration into Wales is a good thing from whatever country.

The more diverse we are the better.

Paul
Paul
18 days ago
Reply to  Tim

The story is not about diversity. It concerns the Welsh language. Only those who favour ethnic cleansing would see the pressure upon it as a ‘good thing’.

Grayham Jones
18 days ago
Reply to  Paul

Very true

Glyn Jones
Glyn Jones
18 days ago
Reply to  Tim

But how does losing the last few dozen Cymraeg-speaking communities in existence, through migration, equate to diversity? Cymru is less diverse without these communities. And whereas natural migration is all well and good, and actually enriching, blatant colonisation destroys languages, communities and nations. It is a social and moral evil. It is theft from a people and for a nation, and should be opposed wherever it happens. Including in Cymru.

Grayham Jones
18 days ago
Reply to  Tim

Not in wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

j humphrys
j humphrys
18 days ago
Reply to  Tim

Something you might like to do, is to go live in Sweden for about one year. That should do the trick. Failing that, try Denmark. Both very diversity-welcoming countries, although it looks as though the Danes have thrown in the towel now. And, please bear in mind, unlike Wales, these are very independent, culturally strong nations. Anyway, I challenge you to give it a try.

Sian Caiach
18 days ago

The language does need commitment and money. Adult courses are often pretty expensive and not always available or convenient. They could be subsidised or provided free of charge and made more available in the evenings for working people . The lockdown has negatively impacted on welsh medium education for children from English speaking homes, not only because they could not practice their welsh with friends and teachers, but also because some parents did not, they tell me, understand the online work sent home for their children at all so could not help then study in welsh. My grandmother used to… Read more »

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
18 days ago

If the Welsh Government took this issue seriously we wouldn’t be in this dire situation. And if measures were put in place which would mean incomers needed to learn at least some basic knowledge of Welsh would go a long way to allaying concerns. We often hear ones of a certain political slant call for immigrants to learn English on entering Britain but never Cymraeg when entering Wales, especially in Welsh speaking heartlands. And it’s no good Welsh Labour encouraging Welsh learning and setting targets when they sit on their hands and watch on as our Welsh speaking communities are… Read more »

Last edited 18 days ago by Y Cymro
Martin Owen
Martin Owen
18 days ago

This is a serious issue- however the record of building social housing on Anglesey over the past 20years is abysmal. Political groups are right to link housing with the fate of the language but it is simplistic to suggest that tourist housing is to blame. People need homes near jobs- a holiday rental miles from a bus service doesn’t cut it. More social housing near schools and communities please. https://statswales.gov.wales/Catalogue/Housing/New-House-Building/newdwellingscompleted-by-period-tenure

Martin Owen
Martin Owen
18 days ago
Reply to  Martin Owen

Research across all autochthonous minority languages in Europe correlates economic activity in the language with their survival – all else is sticking plasters.

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
18 days ago

I would suggest that inward migration, second homes etc. are indeed part of the issue. However, in my opinion, a bigger concern in north Wales generally is that young people are leaving and not returning. I teach in a high school in north Wales and every year I see our leavers going off to universities in England and not returning to Wales. I don’t blame them to be honest as the jobs and opportunities are not as plentiful here, houses are becoming unaffordable and the general perception of many youngsters is that north Wales, despite its beauty, has nothing much… Read more »

Last edited 18 days ago by Mr Williams
j humphrys
j humphrys
18 days ago

Welsh Gov. should take this very very seriously. Before the fuse blows.

j humphrys
j humphrys
18 days ago
Reply to  j humphrys

And Nation Cymru should start a paywall. Too much Troll minusing going on!!

Grayham Jones
18 days ago

It’s time to stop all incomers coming to wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 no more second homes in wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 stop being little Englanders and be proud to be welsh start fighting for your children and grandchildren future in wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 it’s time for a new wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 kick all English party’s out of wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

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