Farming community launches appeal to save land at former village school for community garden

Residents in and around Abernant in Carmarthenshire have launched an appeal for people to come forward to support a proposal for a community garden on land at the former village school, which closed in 2021. The group plan a meeting for September 21st at the Cwm Country Club near Abernant. The meeting starts at 7.30pm.

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Small Schools have closed across Wales with the former buildings and land being sold off for development. Some have been repurposed as nurseries. Twenty seven schools with fewer than 100 pupils have closed and 31 schools with fewer than 100 pupils amalgamated into new schools in Wales since 2017.

It has left some communities devoid of community meeting spaces and parents and associations left to mop up the negative impact on their communities.

View from Mynyddygarreg School

The National Association of Small Schools concurs that the closures have a negative Impact on communities. Some have fought the closures and gained a stay of execution like Llandybie near Ammanford and  Ysgol Mynyddygarreg high up in the hills over Kidwelly. A prettier location benefiting from fresh country air and a steadfast group of supporting parents past and former who are determined the school should remain open.

Ysgol Mynyddygarreg is typical of the small schools still standing across Wales. Built on the donations of the local community from stone with Welsh slate roof and outside toilets (now inside). They served the farming community in the main and school holidays followed the farming season. In a diary entry of 1871 a headmaster remarked that there was only one child in school as the weather was so fine as to gather in the hay.

One penny donations by communities established stone built Welsh small schools now being sold off in Wales. Pic. Stanley Phillips Collection

Carmarthenshire County Council forged ahead with a schools modernisation programme building ‘fit for purpose’ schools across the county placing the padlocks on gates and for sale boards on walls. Kidwelly is an expanding town with new homes being built on the doorstep of the small school and parents have pointed out the difficulties and danger of walking or cycling to a new school in the town.

Protests to keep small schools opened were backed by Cymdeithas yr Iaith and celebrities like Ray Gravell
The walk from Mynyddygarreg means children crossing a busy bypass

Across Wales other campaign groups have threatened councils with a visit to the High Courts for them to decide the fate of their schools. Carmarthenshire County Council is extending a county-wide review of school provision and will publish new proposals for primary education in Kidwelly and Llandybie in due course.

Contradictions in policy – home building and school closures

Governor of Ysgol Mynyddygarreg Sue Woodward pointed out the growth in the number of homes being built in the village, which she says has doubled in recent years.

Carmarthenshire’s format for a decision to proceed with a proposal to discontinue any school is based on pupil numbers and projections, school budget, and building/resources condition and suitability. When questioned by Carmarthenshire News Online First minister Mark Drakeford said: Welsh Government guidance introduced in 2016 includes a presumption against small rural school closures.”

Parents and governors have long complained that these small schools could become ‘fit for purpose’ with investment for future generations. It also sits well with Welsh Government policy on becoming carbon net zero as no travelling by car is involved in many instances where a small school lies within the community.

A total of 58 schools in Carmarthenshire have 200 or fewer pupils, while 35 schools in Carmarthenshire have less than 100 pupils.

 

Schools in Carmarthenshire which have shut in the last six years:

Llansadwrn Primary shut April, 2017

Llanwrda Primary shut April, 2017

Maesybont Primary shut April, 2019

Tremoilet Primary shut April, 2019

Abernant Primary shut July, 2021

 

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