The other week I had a very interesting meeting with Professor Steven Fothergill of Sheffield Hallam University. We talked about the needs of former coalfield areas, especially South Wales. We both agreed that the problems that many of our former coal mining communities experience have their origins in the nature of the long and painful decline of the coal mining industry.
On the eve of the First World War in 1914 South Wales had over a quarter of a million men employed in the coal industry. Coal was well and truly ‘King’ and Cardiff was the largest coal exporting port in the world.
After the First World War things changed dramatically. Britain and the world went into an economic slump and the ‘profitability’ of South Wales’ coal mines became questionable. The decline in the industry gathered momentum during the 1920s and the 1930s and after a brief respite with nationalisation more collieries were closed during the ‘60s and ‘70s. Then, after the miners’ strike of 1984-‘85, the coal industry in South Wales entered its final phase.
Despite government efforts, some more determined than others, the legacy of this one-industry economy and its demise are still with us. In the Rhymney Valley, the Caerphilly Basin in particular has had some success in diversifying its economy, as has the middle of the Rhymney Valley, but the further up the Valley you go things become more difficult.
Without feeling the positive economic impact of Cardiff, Bargoed and those small communities to its north are still in the throes of an economic malaise. Unemployment is still relatively high, poverty is acute, sickness is widespread and the area has an increasingly unbalanced population as young people tend to move out to be closer to work.
Because of the determined action of the local authority, Bargoed has been given new hope by Morrison’s locating on the edge of the town. But there is much more to be done if the upper reaches of the Rhymney Valley are to reverse nearly 100 years of economic decline.
This article was written for Local View and The Rhymney Valley Express.