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Co-ops star in Wrecsam

The 'Seven Stars' pub. 'Ordinary people doing extra-ordinary things'.

by Marc Jones

In the past year, local people in Wrecsam have made a huge effort to turn the tide against closures and decline.

Wrecsam has always been a proudly Welsh town despite being only 10 miles from the border. The Football Association of Wales was founded there and football, together with the town’s iconic brewing industry, have been central to the market town’s image. Wrexham Lager was the first lager brewery in the UK, having been founded by German immigrants in the 1880s.

Both have taken a battering in recent years with brewing multinationals closing down the Wrexham Lager brewery and a series of property developers trying to asset strip Wrexham Football Club out of existence.

Last year, the football club was finally bought by a cooperative formed by 2000 members of the Wrexham Supporters’ Trust. The club, among the oldest in Wales, has been safeguarded for the community and the team is currently pushing for promotion on a tide of goodwill and pride among supporters and the wider community.

Second, a local family enterprise has re-launched Wrexham Lager. That has created a huge buzz in the town and the lager is already on sale in 45 pubs across the area, despite the best efforts of the multinationals to hamper that expansion.

The re-opening of the former Seven Stars pub is a community effort to celebrate our town’s heritage, our Welshness and to symbolise the growth in the Welsh language locally. It’s a cooperative whose idea is far more ambitious than just reviving a pub.

The Seven Stars has been reborn as Saith Seren, the town’s new Welsh Centre. Initially, the cooperative – Canolfan Gymraeg Wrecsam – will operate the downstairs part of the building. The bar and kitchen are up and running and the pub’s tradition of live music is maintained. It was standing room only for Gwibdaith Hen Frân on Friday and Irish band The Wee Bag Band from Denbigh on Saturday.  Once Phase Two is open, this will be a real social centre.

The initial phase was achieved just six months after going public with a share offer, in which people were invited to become members of the cooperative. The money raised has enabled the cooperative to put in a brand new kitchen, decorate, buy stock and appoint six workers to run the centre seven days a week. Crucially, it allowed the coop to pay for a project manager with formidable experience in setting up co-ops. Amanda Brewer also had the contacts to get the best prices for a number of contracts and this, coupled with the expertise of centre manager Amanda Hughes, explains the lightning speed of opening the centre.

Re-opening a pub as a cooperative is something usually confined to villages abandoned by the market (specifically the rapacious pubcos that dominate the licensed trade). That’s been the case with the Raven in Llanarmon yn Iâl, Denbighshire, and the Pengwern in Llan Ffestiniog, Gwynedd, in recent years.

The re-opening of Saith Seren in Wrecsam town centre is a very different project. Phase two will see the upstairs renovated. The living accommodation will be adapted to community meeting rooms, offices for rent and classrooms for learners’ classes. The aim is to be a focus for Wrecsam’s growing army of Welsh learners and provide a hub for the many organisations involved in promoting Welsh language and culture.

It is, however, also a centre that is welcoming and open to all Wrecsam’s people, whatever language they speak. Many of the bands being put on will be Welsh-language acts but the stage is also being used by local bands and promoters.

Equally significantly, all these ventures have progressed with their own money, rather than relying on grants or government finance. All the money Saith Seren has raised is ours – all through the efforts of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

The left in Wales can learn a lot from this DIY people power. We know we can’t, and perhaps don’t want to, rely on state grants that are often conditional on compromising your original intentions. The current economic climate means there are lots of empty buildings going for a song that could be bought by local coops as social centres or other innovative uses.

Anyone wishing to invest in phase two of Saith Seren can go to www.saithseren.com or contact me on 7seren@gmail.com

Marc Jones is Chair of Canolfan Gymraeg Wrecsam and Plaid Cymru Councillor for the Whitegate Ward of Wrecsam


November 30th in Wales + More

latest information on the November 30th Pensions Day of Action in Wales + other events

Please send in information, updates and corrections by ‘comment’ on this page, to our Facebook page, Celyn, @CelynWales on Twitter, or email celyneditor@gmail.com.

Aberystwyth:

Nov 30th March & rally  Ceredigion Against the Cuts (working with WTUC/Unison co-ordinator)

Assemble at the top of Penglais Hill (by the entrance to the Cwrt Mawr student village, Aberystwyth SY23 3AN) at 11.30 am on Penglais Hill, march to the Morlan Centre, Queen’s Road, Aberystwyth SY23 2HH for a rally at 12.30 pm;

Bangor:

Nov 30th rally

Rally at the Clock Tower in the City Centre at 11am

Cardiff:

Nov 30th march and rally, organised by the Wales TUC, supported by Cardiff Trades Council/Cardiff Against the Cuts –

Assemble from 11.30am at City Hall, march to Swalec stadium, Sophia Gardens for indoor rally staring at 1.00 pm;

Carmarthen:

Nov 30th march and rally

Assemble outside WH Smith’s at 10.30 am for a march beginning at 11.00 am, ending with a rally in Notts Square at 12.00 noon, or if weather bad, in the Boar’s Head, Lammas Street.

Haverfordwest – see Pembrokeshire below

Llandrindod Wells:

Nov 30th March & rally, organised by Powys Trade Unions, NUT/PCS.

Setting off at 11.00 am from Theatr Powys, Tremont Road, Llandrindod Wells LD1 5EB and marching through the town to the Pavilion, Spa Road, Llandrindod Wells LD1 5EY for a 12.00 noon rally with a soup & roll lunch. Transport is being provided from Brecon and Newtown.

Merthyr Tydfil:

Nov 30th Rally organised by Merthyr Trades Council

In front of the civic centre at 11.00 am.

Mold:

Nov 30th March and Rally

March starts at 10.30am from the Council Offices to the Kwik Save car park, ending in a rally at 11.00am.

Pembrokeshire

Nov 30th March and Rally

Meet at County Hall, Haverfordwest at 11am. At 11.15am march to Castle Square

Swansea:

Wednesday, 23rd November

Rally in support of public sector action over pensions; Railmens Club, Wind Street, 7:30pm

Public Meeting 7.00pm: organised by Llansamlet Branch Labour Party “ Cuts, sackings, worse services, less pensions…. There is an alternative !!” with Darren Williams (PCS) & Glyn Jones (UNISON) discussion on the fight to save jobs, services and pensions & how to support the DAY OF ACTION on November 30th

Birchgrove Community Centre, Lon Gwesyn, Birchgrove Road, Birchgrove SA7 9JU

Nov 30th March and rally, organised jointly by ‘4 in 10’ campaign (Unison/WTUC) and Swansea TC/Swansea Against Cuts

Assemble 12 noon at Guildhall, march to Castle Square (or Unitarian Church if weather bad) for rally;

Wrexham:

Nov 30th March and rally, organised by North Wales SSN/N Wales Against Cuts –

Assemble 12 noon in Queens Square for a march around the town centre, finishing at the Miners’ statue in Lord Street, then proceed to the Grove Park Little Theatre on Hill Street, Wrexham LL11 1SN (behind Specsavers, towards Island Green) for a rally.

Calendar

  • Wednesday, 23rd November, Swansea, Rally in support of public sector action over pensions 7:30pm Railmens Club, Wind Street
  • Saturday, 3rd December: London, Compass AGM: ‘Politics for People & Planet’, 10.30 am at Local Government House, Smith Square, London SW1. Speakers include: Jon Cruddas MP & Neal Lawson. More info & registration from gavin@compassonline.org.uk.


Locals form co-op to open centre ‘for all things Welsh’


Local people in Wrecsam have banded together to form a community cooperative to open a Welsh Centre in the town as a permanent legacy to this summer’s successful National Eisteddfod. As well as raising £29,000 in just 7 weeks, more than 100 potential investors have attended meetings to re-open the old Seven Stars pub as a Welsh Centre.

The community cooperative planning to re-open the historic Victorian pub in Chester St. said it was delighted at the response to their open meetings, which were held in the listed building.

Councillor Marc Jones, who chairs the venture, said: “We had a very positive response from people who came. Many were pleasantly surprised to see the downstairs area in such good condition, as it had recently been refurbished before it closed suddenly last year. I think that helped many to decide that this was an investment they were ready to make and become members of the cooperative.

Saith Seren interior

“There are minor works to be done to make sure it’s in working order but it doesn’t take a leap of the imagination to see that we can be ready to open the downstairs before Christmas. We’re already talking to suppliers and there has been a lot of interest in renting the offices and meeting rooms we have planned for the upstairs area.

“The main challenge is to raise enough money to fit out the kitchen, buy stock, employ a manager and have enough working capital to see us over the first few months. We’ve already raised more than £29,000 and more cheques are arriving on a daily basis now.”

The centre will trade under the Welsh-language version of the Seven Stars – Saith Seren.

Potential investors can join for as little as £100 and can find out more about the scheme on www.saithseren.com. The cooperative has also come to an arrangement with the local credit union to enable investors to take out a loan for the £100 and pay it back monthly. People are invited to join online and can pay through PayPal or by cheque here [http://saithseren.com/?page_id=15]

The cooperative will focus on providing locally sourced food and drink, with ambitious plans for a micro-brewery in the cellar to be run by Pene Coles, a board member and well-known local brewer. Plans are underway for a Saith Seren real ale exclusive to the pub as well as being one of the first places to stock the newly relaunched Wrexham Lager.

Cllr Jones said: “We are working flat out to get the centre open in time for Christmas. The enthusiasm for the idea from Welsh speakers, learners and parents who are sending their children to Welsh-medium schools has been very encouraging. This building is intended to be a centre for all things Welsh in the town and we see it very much as a permanent legacy of a very successful National Eisteddfod held here in August.”

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