A few months ago I was approached by Helen Cunningham, the local labour councillor for Llanhilleth. She was looking to develop a community arts project to brighten up Llanhilleth. I was very taken with Helen’s vision and enthusiasm for the project and her understanding of the importance of art to the community. I was happy to be involved.
I really like Llanhilleth and have worked there many times. It was once a thriving mining community, but the pits closed down many years ago. This is what Chat GPT has to say about the place:
“Llanhilleth is a charming village located in Blaenau Gwent, Wales. It’s situated on the A467 road between Ebbw Vale and Crumlin . The village has a beautiful twin-belled Church in Wales church of St Mark located on Brooklyn Terrace, near the High Street junction. It was built in 1898 and is in the benefice of Abertillery with Cwmtillery with Llanhilleth with Six Bells, in the deanery of Pontypool . The village also has a Miners Institute that provides many essential ceremonies for locals, such as Weddings, Christenings, and Funeral Receptions . Two large mounds in the field behind the Carpenter’s Arms are the remains of the medieval Llanhilleth castle which originally had two large, stone-built towers . Part of the Monmouthshire Canal ran through the parish; the Ebbw River forms the western boundary of the parish .”
The money to fund the project came from a number of Labour councillors (13 I think) and one independent Councilor who generously donated some or all of their recent pay rise. That’s a pretty damned decent thing to do amidst our current cost of living cluster-fudge and is a show of solidarity with all those that are fighting for their pay rises.
Some other money came from Head 4 Arts. They are an essential part of the cultural life of the valleys who have just lost their Arts Council funding which is a huge blow for the dozens of communities, across the south Wales valleys, that they work with every year.
The mural was designed through workshops with the young people of Clwb Llan, based at the Institute, and the ideas were circulated throughout the community to get lots of feedback.
Designs from sessions at Clwb Llan
The kids were fantastic to work with and we had loads of fun designing ‘tiny planet’ versions of Llanhilleth and generating images through AI.
Painting the mural itself was a great experience. Llan is such a close-knit friendly community and every day people stopped to chat and tell me about the history of the area, ask lots of questions about what I was up to and make suggestions about what could be included . So lots of the mural was improvised in response to these chats.
We also had kids from the club come and help paint.
The design combines a lot of elements. The front shows the streets known as ‘the fields’, the institute, the churches, school and, monument, river, railway etc. Free right hand side has a Llanhilleth version of the ‘Guardian’, having 5 minutes on his way down to the No. 1 & 2 collieries in Llan.
Finally, for all those of you who like to play I-spy:
I’ve also included lots of species found in the area such as :buff tailed bumblebee, ladybird, scabious, oxeye daisy, birds foot trefoil, poppy, native daffodils (paler with a twist in the petal), native bluebell, peacock butterfly, common blue butterfly and small heath, also a grey heron (a common site on the river). It’s good to be nerdy about this stuff and make sure I get it right.
I’m going to go back and paint the roof at some point, so it will show up on Google earth.
It’ll be nice to be back in Llan