In the three days I spent in Wales researching New Start’s Cardiff edition I learned one world of Welsh.
That word was ‘hiraeth’, which translates into English as homesickness akin to grief, the longing for home or for a past that no longer exists.
It was taught to me by Welsh people who, having been told from an early age that there were no jobs or prospects for them in their home country, had left to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Most of them ended up living and working in London.
But later in their lives, something, – perhaps ‘hiraeth’ – had brought them back to Wales and their energies are now focused on helping their homeland become a place from which future generations don’t feel the need to leave.
They are setting up social businesses or supporting charities, building on the work their forefathers began when they helped fund the local co-operatives and social institutions that stabilised and powered communities across the country.
But mostly these former emigrants are trying to help their homeland build a new sense of self.
For south Wales in particular is still struggling to shake off the legacy of the industries that once powered it. The remnants of collieries linger in the landscape and the scars left from the decline of coal and the region’s other mineral industries are hard to push from the collective imagination.
As one delegate at New Start and NEF’s ‘Activating Local Economic Alternatives in the Cardiff Region’ event said: ‘Coal went into decline in the 1920s yet we are still talking about it, still trying to create a new economy.’
Multiple hypotheses have been put forward for why the region has failed to move forward, from an oversized state, to the fact that the region has too many hills, to Wales’ relationship with England.
Now a new strategic vision for the region is on the table. The Cardiff City Region and the City Deal are being presented as opportunities for south Wales to shake off its past and compete on a global scale, with new infrastructure and branding that will attract inward investment, new jobs and growth. Price Waterhouse Coopers has set out the city region vision in a document called Powering the Welsh Economy.
But at the New Start/NEF event and in this special edition of New Start, another vision for the region has emerged, one that builds on the area’s social networks, its history of co-operation and those strong values that draw its emigrants home.
A community-centric economy that puts values – not economic growth – at its core. A foundational economy that creates jobs from high quality care services. A collaborative economy that builds public-social partnerships in all fields of life.
The ‘global’ vision for the Cardiff Capital region presented by PWC and the ‘local’ vision imagined by some of the region’s academics and social entrepreneurs are not mutually exclusive.
South Wales could build a blended approach to its local economy that mixes policies that generate GVA in one area with policies that generate social outcomes in another. It could ensure a double dividend from all economic decisions. It could widen the representation of decision making to ensure that it includes all of its assets and reaches into all of its communities.
The opportunity is there to create a region which future generations are still proud to call home.