Heard the one about the Drag Queen the Pastor and a Market?

LLANELLI appears to be coming alive for at least one Saturday in a month with the introduction of the food and drinks market. It’s no secret that if you bring local producers together and offer them a reasonably priced pitch to sell their wares they will come and they will attract customers.

Having lived in the Notting Hill area of London for a number of years and witnessing the weekend markets in full flow around Portobello Road and the flea market at Brick Lane in the East End it became clear that people of all ages, backgrounds and social status would mix in and boost the local economy. Of course areas like Notting Hill also attracted curious tourists and a massive swell of people for the Summer Carnival.

Llanelli too can do that as we have seen with the Christmas Carnival, which made a ‘real’ return after its albeit virtual appearance last year.

Give people an opportunity to sell their arts, crafts, home grown produce, throw in some entertainers like Drag Queen, Ruby Slippers, ensure there are enough parking spaces preferably FREE and there you go, not a task and finish group on exorbitant expenses anywhere to be seen.

Llanelli like other towns has its problems many would rather see swept under the carpet or else banished to a ghetto somewhere out of the view of visitors. Notting Hill and Brick Lane had their problems too and they were dealt with by local community facilities. A combination of youth centres and churches, which came alive and provided food, a place for those less fortunate to sit in a comfy warm place for a while and to find a compassionate person to listen to their story.

For all its success places like Notting Hill and Brick Lane had to combine the gentrification, and development with the reality that those less fortunate were simply not going to disappear. The underpass beneath the Westway was home to many a weary man or woman of the road, the homeless, the lonely and the destitute.

To somehow deny that this is not so in Llanelli, to hope it goes away or to turn a blind eye is simply not ethical, moral or just. A church right in the middle of Notting Hill opened its doors and welcomed all. It provided a lot of community activities and always seemed to be a beacon of light especially on cold winter evenings.

Andrew Mawson Partnerships, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

I was fortunate enough to meet a very energetic clergyman, Rev. Andrew Mawson, now Baron Mawson OBE. Andrew had been one of those people who inherited a 200 seater church in Bromley by Bow with around 12 people over 80 left in the congregation sitting where they have always sat looking like the dead had been carried out and no one had noticed. All around people were suffering and struggling but as Andrew said: Those who were meant to be helping were just filling in forms, ticking boxes and allowing in some cases people to die in terrible conditions. It sounds like something out of a Dickens novel but this was London in the 1990s.

Andrew put everything into asking the local people what they wanted and began transforming the church with a creche, a post office, a shop, a cafe, a meadow and most crucially of all, a partnership with business. Without that partnership it would not have worked. Andrew was not following the old route of waiting for handouts or funding from local government. He did ask for funding and he was constantly told that he could not do A, B and C. It prompted Andrew to name the organisation CAN. He started the first Healthy Living Centre in the UK and it attracted support from some of the highest profile politicians in the UK including Gordon Brown.

Voluntary sectors with management committees never build anything

The Bromley by Bow Centre is an innovative community organisation in East London. Working in one of the most deprived wards in the UK, each week they support families, young people and adults of all ages to learn new skills, improve their health and wellbeing, find employment and develop the confidence to achieve their goals and transform their lives. At the core of the Centre’s thinking is the belief in people and their capacity to achieve amazing things.

Civil servants find all this people stuff really difficult

It is an arts centre, community centre, children’s centre, healthy living centre, centre for learning and social enterprise hub, all working together.

The recipe is simple it seems. A building within a town to provide a start up area where those who simply cannot afford to get on the ladder to business but have the skills can operate. Community facilities, which address the major issues within the town. Child care for workers, a cafe, an arts centre and crucially an area where business can use and help sustain all those community based activities.

SOS David and Emma Morgan need you

Yesterday evening I received a message asking me to attend  the Presbytarian church on Cowell Street in Llanelli town centre to see what plans a young couple had for the building and the town. David and Emma Morgan took over the church last year and intended to begin work in renovating but the pandemic struck.They are now back in full flow trying to ensure that the church can open and provide most of what I have been describing above. They have formed a charity and they have great faith. There is no doubting that Llanelli needs people like David and Emma and a church for the 21st century given that we appear to heading towards or should I say backward to a feudal system with the divide between rich and poor (yes we have wealthy people in Llanelli) greater than ever.

We need to enable people to work in the community

In closing, David and Emma said that they had asked for one thing so far from the council and that was a single parking space outside the church in order that they could park as the owners of the church and to load and offload their daily equipment. Baron Mawson would not be surprised by the answer. NO! Would these be the same councillors who benefit from free parking at a number of locations in Llanelli? The council would do well not to look a gift horse in the mouth and to pull out every stop to facilitate the work of these two exuberant young people. Llanelli should welcome them with open arms. God knows we need them.

Plans for the church include a food bank and business start ups

Baron Mawson is of the view that rhetorical talk from politicians is worthless. He cites the case of 35-year-old Jean Viles who died of cancer in appalling circumstances with two children of 16 and 2-years of age. Processes and systems were completely missing people like Jean.

It’s the people bit that makes it work. You look at all the forms they give us and it never mentions the people. Big mistake

Baron Andrew Mawson OBE

I promised David and Emma that I would try and help in the best way that I could and that happens to be writing items like this and sharing their vision with you, which you can see and listen to here:

To contact King’s Church email em.22@hotmail.co.uk Tel 07854 366160



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