Pioneering Welsh disability rights campaigner who rejected an OBE remembered
One of Wales’ foremost disability rights pioneers is being remembered on what would have been his 102nd birthday.
R. Gwynn Davies founded Antur Waunfawr, a leading social enterprise that is still running today and employs 70 people.
A conscientious objector in World War II, he became a learning ability campaigner and rejected an offer of an OBE for his work.
Spurred on by personal circumstances, Davies transformed people’s perception of the role of individuals with learning disabilities in society.
In 1984 he founded Antur Wunfawr, which was considered innovative during the 1980s because it provides opportunities for people with learning disabilities in the community, rather than providing them with care and work in specialist centers.
On what would have been his 102nd birthday, Menna Jones, Chief Executive of Antur Waunfawr, has paid tribute to R. Gwynn Davies’ “far reaching” vision.
“Gwynn’s legacy is an incredible one,” she said. “He was a doer, he did things, and he practised that philosophy throughout his life.
“Driven by personal circumstances, he revolutionised the way we think about the role of individuals with learning disabilities in society.
“His radical and far-reaching vision continues to have a positive impact on the lives of the area, nearly forty years after Antur Waunfawr was established.”
Born in the Gwynedd village of Waunfawr, between Caernarfon and Beddgelert, Davies attended the village school in before moving on to the County School in Caernarfon.
After completing his education, he enjoyed a successful career in law, firstly at Ellis Davies & Co in Caernarfon followed by a period with R. Gordon Roberts & Co, Llangefni.
He moved to work in Local Government, serving as Assistant Solicitor and Senior Assistant Solicitor to Caernarfonshire County Council, before becoming Assistant Clerk to the Council. Later he became the Justices Clerk of Bangor, Conwy, Llandudno and Betws y Coed.
Whilst training to become a lawyer, Davies registered himself as a conscientious objector in the Second World War and was forced to work the land at Garreg Fawr farm in Waunfawr.
Davies came from a politically motivated family, and his grandfather was a staunch supporter of Ellis Davies MP, and he sat on Caernarfonshire County Council as a Liberal member.
Gwynn Davies’ pacifist leanings were a testament to his Father’s influence on him. He had returned from the First World War with a burning hatred of militarism, professing a version of peaceful socialism. He himself missed out on a seat on Caernarfonshire County Council by a handful of votes, standing as a Labour member.
Gwynn Davies himself admitted that the British Empire was a “dirty word in our house.”
His second child, Gwion Rhys Gwynn Davies who had been born with learning difficulties, changed his father’s life journey.
His personal experience with Gwion drove his work for better provision for individuals with learning difficulties.
Gwynn was an integral part of the efforts to establish Ysgol Pendalar, a school for children with additional educational needs in Caernarfon. Furthermore, he worked with the North Wales Advocacy and Advice Service and acted as Director of SCOVO (now Learning Disability Wales.)
A year after retiring early in 1983 to work for the Mental Health Commission, Antur Waunfawr was officially registered on 22 June 1984.
The enterprise set up shop at Bryn Pistyll, a former village shop that was run by Davies’ family.
Gwynn Davies received recognition of his work during his life and was ordained to the white robes at the Cwm Rhymni National Eisteddfod in 1990. He was also offered an O.B.E. in the 1989 New Year Honours List – but rejected the offer.
Davies was known as a well-rounded individual, making time for plenty of hobbies such as winemaking, golfing, making furniture, keeping chickens, painting, and the ancient Welsh art of cynghanedd. He died in 2007.
Meanwhile, Antur Waunfawr remains a progressive social enterprise offering employment, training, well-being and volunteering opportunities to those with learning difficulties.
Learning Disability Wales, of which Davies was director for a period, also released a statement today noting how “instrumental R Gwynn Williams was”.
“As well as being part of the original steering group that set up the organisation, he then remained a board member for many years.
“His contributions to ensuring that people with a learning disability in Wales played a vital role in their own community has changed thinking about the society we live in.”
Mary Oliver of Mencap Conwy has paid tribute to a “lovely, clever man.”
“Robert Gwynn Davies was a lovely, clever man. Unassuming, but always put learning disability at the forefront of people’s agenda,” she said.
“He was influential in the delivery of the All-Wales Strategy, forming not only Antur Waunfawr but the Clwyd & Gwynedd Advocacy Group at Bryn y Neuadd.
“His influence and legacy continue to be felt in Learning Disability services across North Wales.”
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I wish there were more people like him.