Support our Nation today - please donate here
Opinion

My Welsh Chapel Dream? Not that one…

18 May 2024 5 minute read
Our Welsh Chapel Dream. Image: Channel 4

Stephen Price

Post-Brexit Escape to the Chateau fans have a new television show to lap up this month with the launch of Our Welsh Chapel Dream.

At the outset, I’ll admit I haven’t watched it and won’t be watching it, but like the real Martha from Baby Reindeer, I suspiciously know a little too much for my own good.

For the uninitiated, star of The Great Pottery Throw Down judge Keith Brymer Jones and his partner, actor and textile designer Marj Hogarth have bought a derelict chapel in Pwllheli, which they plan to transform into a home and pottery studio.

The pair, who formerly resided in a flat in Margate, aim to take us along on their jolly Escape to the Chateau-esque journey. Think Angel and Dick, but with a successful format to ride the coat tails of but on a budget.

Y Capel

Capel Salem in Pwllheli was built in 1862 and once welcomed hundreds of Welsh speaking nonconformists. But with chapel-going numbers in steep decline, the property is in need of urgent repair.

According to a review from the Telegraph: “The delapidated chapel, with its side building, is, of course, the star of the show. An elegant hollow, its woody grandeur echoing with the ghosts of long-dead Calvinist Methodists, it’s perfect.

“And so too are moon-faced Brymer Jones and pink-haired Hogarth, thoughtful extroverts who laugh and cry as if to order in a splendid array of bonkers outfits: his ’n’ hers dungarees, statement specs, leopard print, sockless brogues.

“With shows like these it’s never clear if chicken or egg comes first: the desire to renovate a property, or the funding to make a series about it. Brymer Jones talked romantically about the “algorithm of life” which brought them to Gwynedd. He even suggested some knowledge of the Mabinogion, and quickly learnt to pronounce Pwllheli.”

Torn

Now, of course, no one wants to see our chapels crumble to dust. It’s superb that Wales’ architectural gems are able to gain a new lease of life and live on for the next generation.

I’ve been in more chapels in my lifetime than most so I’m well aware of the damp, the maintenance costs, the heating costs and the like.

And best of luck to anyone with deep enough pockets to take on the challenge – most community groups with lofty ideas would have no idea of the costs involved.

But do the focal buildings of our towns and villages need to be modern day chateaus and castles for the rich and famous?

Something about the whole endeavour feels uncomfortable to me. The Welsh ancestry card has been checked, the Welsh lesson attending box has been checked, but it’s a familiar trope playing out across Wales time and time again.

Rich Londoner/Bristolian moves to Wales to set up an art/health/wellbeing retreat. Yay! Just what we need!

From Rhiannon the horse goddess meditation classes to mandala sand art workshops, it’s more than a little groan-worthy.

Apparently this one will have a community space, which is to be celebrated – and the local community are volunteering in their droves to lend a hand, something I find quite pathetic if I’m honest.

Labouring towards buildings their ancestors once built, owned by celebs, energised by the idea of it becoming used again. But why did it have to come to that?

‘The new Cornwall’

Post-covid Wales is fast becoming ‘the new Cornwall’ as I’ve heard more than once – a mecca for retirees and artists in search of the good life, and to me this TV show is just another advert declaring that Wales is, despite the slogans and sticker-bombing, well and truly up for sale.

Bethesda Independent Chapel, Brynmawr

These buildings were more often than not built and paid for by the communities that they served, and then sold off to the highest bidder with little to no community benefit left behind.

Just as I turn away from the TV when Escape to the Country decides to visit Wales (or anywhere else for that matter), I’ll be tuning out of this celebration of the church revival no one in Wales asked for.

Times they are a changin’ – but I don’t want a Wales of escapes to the chateau, or a yuppie come hippy’s playground and ‘the next Cornwall’. So what would be my Welsh chapel dream?

A simple one really.

Our old churches and chapels were, and should remain, the heart of the community.

Our community assets should reflect the needs of our communities, and declining church and chapel bodies should think twice about making a fast buck by carelessly offloading them to the highest bidder.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing, and restorative, if the folks in charge spoke to the descendants of those that built them and paid for their upkeep for decades if not centuries and handed them back if and when there is a local need.

We don’t need outside saviours, and never have, just some chwarae teg.

In place of ‘Aren’t they blessed,’ we should be asking, ‘Why aren’t we?’

Sent from my iPhone


Support our Nation today

For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
15 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Jeff
Jeff
15 days ago

Been in a few myself over the years. The one in Cornelly is falling apart. No one seems to be looking after it, it seems. If someone renovates and it becomes a home then why not, though a caveat that it is not abandoned part way through. Though the history and the reason these were built and the communities are long gone, changed, how do you engage the new communities around such buildings to remain engaged. I think the National Library has a lot of info and drawings on these buildings around Wales but I find their systems difficult to… Read more »

onedragonontheshirt
onedragonontheshirt
15 days ago

Seems a bit harsh… they’ve bought a completely knackered chapel which no-one wanted to do anything with, and they’re trying to turn it into their home, workplace and a community resource, rather than an AirBnb/2nd dwelling. It had been stood like that for years, so if anyone local had wanted it there was plenty of opportunity. The programme shows them learning Cymraeg and holding a party so that they could meet their new neighbours and explain what they were about, most of whom seemed quite happy that they were no longer going to have a decaying chapel next door. Doing… Read more »

Ankora Pankor
Ankora Pankor
15 days ago

This article makes a few unfair comments.There is, generally, a willingness to work with communities to see buildings being re-developed within church bodies, but they are complex buildings. The commitment (in time and money) needed to repurpose the larger buildings is astronomical. This should be more of a priority for the Welsh Government – after all, these grade II listed structures are a big part of our townscapes throughout Wales; a key part of our heritage is at risk and the Welsh Government needs to act.

Gaynor
Gaynor
14 days ago

Stephen maybe ask one particular denomination”s HQ in Cardiff on their procedures? The experience was an eyeopener when it came to selling the chapel I attended. Shocking in fact and totally unprofessional. The “buyer’ was given a key, by the estate agent, stripped out the interior leaving it a shell and dismantled the supporting wall of the cemetry without a penny being exchanged…then offered a far reduced price for it placing the members in a tight corner. Central HQ did nothing despite the numerous concerns raised by the octogenarian women and widows who were left to manage the chapel”s affairs.… Read more »

Cath Du
Cath Du
14 days ago

I listen to their plans when they did a talk whilst on a book promotion tour. They plan to have workshops with apprentices and help them start their own business. Once again someone who thinks they know, writes some rubbish about someone they don’t. Too often (and I’m Welsh) there’s opposition to people from outside of Wales coming in and doing something with nothing. Let’s face it, is anyone else prepared to take it on. I’ve been going to that area since I was born and I can tell you no they aren’t. It takes money and a vision. As… Read more »

Dave
Dave
14 days ago
Reply to  Cath Du

Bravo, well said,

Dave
Dave
14 days ago

To be fair the English taxpayers have gifted Wales billions over the past 50 years, and a minority in Wales have pilfered that. It’s your elected who duped you, wasting millions every year on Welsh vanity while they plunder. The Welsh nationalists are Wales worst enemy, insular, bitter, full of spite, venom and envy, also delusional, the world moves on while you wallow in self-pity, ignorance and poverty. Try getting a full days work out of any trade in Wales!

Sheila G.
Sheila G.
14 days ago
Reply to  Dave

Well said.

Ed Jones
Ed Jones
7 days ago
Reply to  Sheila G.

Well said? Take your meds cariad…

Ed Jones
Ed Jones
7 days ago
Reply to  Ed Jones

⬆️ totally uncalled for, I apologise to Sheila G unreservedly. I guess I am indeed a clown!
(as someone who rattles with meds, not nice, sorry)

Ed Jones
Ed Jones
7 days ago
Reply to  Dave

‘English taxpayers’ – so no else pays anything ever in the UK eh?! Hilarious. Thanks for the laugh Dave but, sadly, I must away as it’s time for this vain, ignorant and deluded Welsh Nat to go and spend some more of my English money…

Andy
Andy
4 days ago
Reply to  Ed Jones

Spending any of it on supporting a worthy community cause or crumbling Welsh building are we ?

Sheila G.
Sheila G.
14 days ago

The writer demonstrates the typical small minded, mean-spirited ‘Welshness’ that has infected Wales and its government ever since Devolution. Most of the Welsh (and I am one of them) are not like this. There are hundreds of Chapels around Wales that have been abandoned and neglected for decades. No one was interested in them. Now someone has shown an interest with good intentions and because they are from Margate and Bristol they are to be sneered at. Shame on you. Wales deserves better than petty minded bitterness.

Dave
Dave
13 days ago
Reply to  Sheila G.

Well said Sheila

Sue
Sue
4 days ago

The main chapel area is being made into a community space.
You didn’t mention that
I love what they’re doing.

Our Supporters

All information provided to Nation.Cymru will be handled sensitively and within the boundaries of the Data Protection Act 2018.