We’ll help you be there

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It’s the cover version of “It Must be Love” by Madness that forms the soundtrack of one of BT’s most recent advertising campaigns.  “I never thought I’d feel this way, the way I feel about you,” goes the singing of Suggs.  “As soon as I wake up every night, every day, I know that it’s you I need to take the blues away.”  Ahh, and now I’m back in the 80s!

And so, aware of BT’s commitment “every night, every day” and sure that they wouldn’t want to make me or anyone blue, I made a simple request.  Many will be aware of the impact that drug dealing and drug use is having upon the community of Butetown.

It is a complex situation requiring a complex, multi-agency approach.  Some things take time.  However, within this complex network of answers and solutions actually lie some very small and achievable goals.

In Butetown you will find four public payphones, one in Alice Street, two at Loudon Square, and the other on Christina Street (just 160 metres away, two minutes’ walk).  Two of the phone boxes in particular are well known to be associated with drug dealing and drug use.

Aware that I was not the first to take up the challenge, on 31st August 2018 I rang BT to ask about the process to request the removal of a public payphone. I was told that the payphone in question wasn’t scheduled to be removed, but I was given an email address, and so began two weeks of email exchanges with BT.

The outcome was set from the outset: “We will not remove this phonebox.”  It’s worth remembering that a large amount of income is not necessarily made from calls made but from using the payphones for advertising.  An example of this problem can be found in the London Borough of Westminster in this online article: https://www.westminster.gov.uk/westminster-war-whack-mole-phone-boxes – where it is stated “The council (i.e Westminster) believes that these proposals offer very little benefit to the public, particularly as many of the proposed telephone boxes don’t even offer wi-fi or internet connectivity.  Despite claims these phone boxes are targeted at low income families, the minimum charge for a call in some kiosks is £1 cash or £2 via payment card.  The council feels the prime purpose of the installations is to provide large advertisements in the street.

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On this particular occasion, the taxi firm Ola were the advertisers.  They promise to ‘Take you places”

“Every Moment of Every Day, we’ll help you be there” is the strapline of BT’s advertising campaign.  Surely, it must be love? Read on then – for this is a love story like no other.


31/08/2018 14:52

To BT

I am writing to request the removal of a public telephone box at Christina Street (Bute Street) Cardiff (telephone number 02920464128)

There is an extremely high level of drug dealing and drug use in the area and it is the observation of many residents that this phone is used primarily if not exclusively by people engaged in such activity. The phone box is in close proximity to an area where known individuals deal in drugs throughout the day and night. It has created a very disturbing and often dangerous situation for
many residents particularly children.

In the last month I alone have reported over 27 drug related incidents and this is replicated across Butetown. We are trying to address the situation with practical solutions and we believe that one such solution is the removal of the telephone box to which I refer.

I look forward to hearing from you and am happy to provide further information and details which could strengthen this application.


5/9/2018

From BT

Thank you for your email.

I have reviewed this & there are no plans for the removal of this payphone as it generates a fair amount of revenue through phone usage & advertisement.
Please report all anti social behaviour to your local police.

Regards

DH / Team Member, Ventures Voice Services


5/9/2018

To BT

Dear Mr H

Thanks you for your email although, as you may imagine, I am disappointed by its content.

All anti-social behaviour is consistently reported to the police. Some of this behaviour and crime is related to the phone box in question. I am sure that the phone box generates, as you say, a fair amount of income through advertising although I wonder what these advertisers would think if they knew that their advertisements were keeping a phone box in place which encourages anti social and illegal activities. Our issue is not that a fair amount of income is generated either through advertising and calls – but who is actually using this phone box and for what purpose. I had hoped that BT would have been willing to explore in more dept the moral implications of keeping or removing the phone box and would have given more consideration to a request for its removal.

I knew that there were no plans to remove the phone box as the operator with whom I spoke on my initial call confirmed this. Perhaps you could reconsider your decision as a means of safeguarding members of the local community, particularly children and other vulnerable people. I am happy to provide more evidence of the problems in this community and how removing the phone box would be a socially responsible action.

I am copying in our local councillor and police officer (with whom I have already spoken about the matter) and I look forward to hearing from you in due course.


9/09/2018

From BT

Thank you for your email but unfortunately this payphone will not be removed as D. said before it a highly used phone and is a prime advertising site

If we can help in anyway with the antisocial behaviour we will

If the police are involved please can you get them to email us and we can discuss what we can do to help

Thank you

L J /Team Member, Voice Services


9/9/2018

To BT

Dear L,

Again, I am copying in the local police and the local councillor to this email again.

I do not doubt that it is, as you say, a highly used payphone. Our concern is regarding these users. Also there are other payphones just a few hundred yards away.

I must admit to being very disappointed with your unwillingness to engage with us on this matter. Your offer of helping with anti social behaviour is much appreciated although I believe the only way to do this is to remove the phone.

As a freedom of information request, please can you indicate exactly what you mean by it being a “highly used” phone. How many calls are made in a month, and what revenue do you make from these calls?

On the BT website we are told that “being responsible means doing all the things you’d expect from an ethical business… we never forget to listen to each other and to experts outside our business, either. We think it’s these fresh perspectives that help us learn, grow and prepare for the future.” The BT Way states “acting with integrity has never been more important. We need to do things the right way, every time, without fail. We strengthen BT’s reputation every time we stick to our ethics code. This means we sometimes face touch decisions. We might have to reject new business if it compromised our principles..”

The Ethics code also states that whenever you do business you do your very best to make sure it doesn’t injure or cause damage to anyone. “We have the legal obligation to protect the health and safety of anyone who might be affected by our business.”

I look forward to hearing from you and engaging with you further on this matter.


9/9/2018
From BT

We are willing to help with this matter as removal is not an option for this payphone , if the police email us direct about the ASB we will do all we can to resolve

We can’t discuss the amount of calls that are made all I can say is it is used a lot during the month

Regards

LJ / Team Member, Voice Services


9/9/2018

To BT

Thanks for your quick response.

I don’t understand why removing the phone is not an option particularly in regard to BT’s Code of Ethics. Perhaps you (or someone else within BT) can respond with this context in mind and explain if your decision has been made within the parameters of the code.

The request for information about the calls was a Freedom of Information Act (2000) request to which you are legally bound. If you cannot respond to this then perhaps you can give a reason before I seek the information via the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Kind regards,


10/09/2018

From BT

Due to our licencing agreement with Ofcom we have to supply a payphone service to the public and are unable to put this kiosk forward for removal

The information about calls is something we are not obliged to give out because we are a PLC company

There is nothing further I can do for you unless you can get the police involved and I can discuss helping them with the ASB

Many thanks

LJ /Team Member, Voice Services


10/9/2018

Thank you for your reply. I understand that you may want to end correspondence with me. However, can you tell me a little more about your licensing agreement with Ofcom regarding BT having to supply public phones to the public? There are two public payphones just a few hundred yards away at Loudoun Square.

Receiving clarification about your obligations under Ofcom will be very helpful particularly since the initial reason given by BT for not considering it’s removal was the revenue generated from calls and advertising. If this is an Ofcom matter as you suggest I can involve them in this request.

I’d also welcome some comment on my reference in a previous email to BTs self published code of ethics in regard to this issue.

I very much look forward to hearing from you and appreciate your attention to this matter.


11/09/2018

To BT

Further to this email sent yesterday, and to offer some clarification, it appears that OFCOM rules come into play “when BT want to remove the one and only call box from a site.  By site we mean a 400 metre walking distance surrounding a call box.  This means that if there are two phone boxes within 400 metres walk of each other BT can take one away without following our rules.” (Removing Public Call Boxes, a guide to the rules, OFCOM)

Just to clarify that there are two additional phone boxes on the same street – a distance of 160 metres / 2 minutes walk away at Loudoun Square.

Many thanks,


11/09/2018

From BT

 L’s told me about your concerns regarding the phone box in Bute Street/Christina Street and I told L I’d reply to you.

I’m really sorry to read about the criminal behaviour taking place in or near the boxes. I fully understand the concerns this causes local residents and your Twitter feed gives evidence of a problem that regrettably isn’t unique to Butetown. Please accept my thanks for continuing to report criminal behaviour to the local policing team. As your Twitter feed states, the issue of the trade in illegal drugs is a “complex problem” with “no immediate solutions”.

Please see below my response to the areas of concern you’ve raised.

Ofcom obligation

Ofcom obliges us to maintain a nationwide public telephone network. We’re realistic. We don’t expect to make our public network significantly profitable but we do need to make it viable if we’re to continue with the service.

We have around 35 000 public telephones. Non-profitable ones are in the majority and will become increasingly so. It’s therefore important that we keep as many profitable public telephones as we can. Without the revenue generated by such boxes we’d struggle to maintain non-profitable ones.

The 400 metre rule is in place to protect little used public telephones in isolated areas where local communities feel there is still a need for them.

BT’s ethical code

We’re regularly asked  to remove boxes because of anti-social and criminal behaviour. We refuse such requests for the following reasons:

Removing a box doesn’t address the root cause of criminal and anti-social activities.  If we did remove boxes for these reasons, then there’s a strong likelihood the problem will shift to another public telephone.

Local policing teams are best qualified to deal with the root cause of such problems.

There are a number of enforcement options open to councils and policing teams that can exclude individuals from public spaces.

It’s wrong to remove a public service because of the behaviour of a minority. It sends out a message that the criminals have won.

We’ve no way of telling whether calls made from public telephones are illegal. Policing teams can however request call records through the appropriate channels.

How we can help

We do modify public telephones to deter illegal use of them. This box is already without a door and this should help with the identification of offenders. My records don’t show whether there is still shelving inside the box. If there is, please can you let me know and I’ll arrange for it to be removed.

We can also block incoming calls to public telephones. But this request (because of the implications for the emergency services) has to come from the local policing team. Do you have a direct contact within the local policing team? If not, I’ll find one.

I’m not guaranteeing the success of the above two suggestions. But they have helped in the past with similar issues.

I trust the above addresses the issues you’ve raised. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you need any further information.

Kind regards

P


12/9/2018

To BT

Dear P

Thank you for a more in-depth response. It is far more helpful than simply receiving a curt “we will not remove this phonebox” and provides a far more engaging platform upon which the community can talk with large businesses and organisations. It allows communities a voice, and there is always the possibility that this voice will be heard. So thank you for this.

First, you asked a few questions which are easy to answer. Yes we are in touch with the local police officer who will be emailing you soon if he hasn’t already done so.  And, yes, the pay phone does have a shelf.

Please be assured that this will be my last direct communication with BT in this matter. The results of our correspondence will be delivered to the local Citizens Cymru Action Group which is meeting in a few weeks. They will be discussing and planning which actions to take forward as we address the issue of drugs in Butetown and our correspondence will be able to inform those discussions.

However, I just wanted to share one or two observations:

Since BT is unwilling to share the actual amount of calls and the revenue generated by them, we can only assume that this is because few phone calls are generally made from there.

Since there are several phone boxes just two mins walk away, and since it has already been stated that revenue is generated by advertising, it is our observation that the pay phone does not serve the local community. Rather, it is a means through which BT can generate revenue by commercial advertising – perhaps to fund phone boxes elsewhere.

We understand that BT has to make a profit or at least make some its services viable (rather than generating large amounts of income from them, particularly in regard to the obligations placed upon you by OFCOM). However, we are very much in the position of caring for individuals, building a strong and safe community, strengthening community cohesion, and protecting and nurturing the welfare of children and young people. In other words, we put people before profits, and so I suppose it is understandable that we will disagree on this matter.

Under these circumstances, we believe that it isn’t wrong to remove a phone box because of the behaviour of a minority, particularly if the phone box doesn’t actually serve the community it is purported to serve. As far as claiming that the criminals have won if the phonebox is removed – rather we believe that the criminals are tolerated and therefore allowed to thrive.

We recognise, as you have also said, that the issues are complex and there is no easy solution. However, there are lots of small actions which can gradually contribute to a longer term and more effective widespread solution, and it is our opinion that removing the phone box would be one of these small steps. We know that it certainly doesn’t solve the root problem of drug dealing and use but it would displace one destructive effect of it.

I still make reference to the 400m rule of OFCOM which I think provides a useful framework when considering the regularity and need of phoneboxes in a particular community or even in the same street.

Once again, thank you so much for taking the time to respond to me in full.


12/09/2018

From BT

Thank you for your reply.

Call volumes and revenue from public payphones are labelled as “commercially sensitive information” (my apologies for the business jargon) and we usually only share call volumes when we need to consult with a local authority on a proposal to remove a public telephone.

I looked at the call records yesterday and it would be fair to say that the payphone gets used more often than most public telephones. As mentioned it’s not possible for me to say how many of these calls are crime-related.

An engineer will remove the shelf this week or early next and when I hear from the local policing team, I’ll stop incoming calls as from the next working day.

Let’s see if these measures have an impact along with any other actions that are taken following the Action Group’s meeting. Please also pass on my contact details to the group.

Shall we review the situation mid-November? Or sooner if you prefer.

And if there’s anything we can do in the meantime, please let me know.

Kindest regards

P


“Every Moment of Every Day, we’ll help you be there”

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Dumbfounded Afresh

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She was fascinated by the ladybird which she held in her hand.  At the time, ladybirds were in plentiful supply having set up home in one of the bushes in the gardens at St Mary’s Church.   Having been mesmerised by it herself, she was intent on showing others, sharing this tiny bug, plucked from the leaves, and who was quite oblivious to the sense of wonder it was instilling in a human being.  This was the first of our Urban Buzz days, as we began to give up part of our grounds to nature, and the girl one of a few young children who came to discover nature on our doorstep.

Finding wonder in the small things is so natural to children, and yet is sometimes lost on us, too busy as we are to see what’s around us and beneath us, on the ground and in the ground.

I love the poem, Fulbright Scholars where Ted Hughes explored the possibility of when he first met his wife “Was it then I bought a peach? That’s as I remember. / From a stall near Charing Cross Station. / It was the first peach I had ever tasted. / I could hardly believe how delicious. / At twenty five I was dumbfounded afresh / by my ignorance of the simplest things.” (Birthday Letters, 1998)

There is much movement on the ground across Cardiff  as land is prepared for more buildings.  Steel and glass giants, unsubscribed blocks of student accommodation, hotels, restaurants and shops.  It is fascinating to watch, to see buildings rise, storey by storey, crafted by the cleverness of human ingenuity, built by the leathered hands of labourers – a collection of construction workers, architects, planning officers, technicians and surveyors on the scene.  The built environment is constantly changing around us, tries to tell us who we are.

On the other hand, Cardiff also has over 330 gardens and parks, and is home to one of the largest urban parks in Wales, Bute Park by name, which skirts the River Taff and kisses the castle walls.  Across the choppy channel is Flat Holme, a nature reserve, and the further southern tip of Cardiff and of our parish.

And yet, even with these bursts of green, bees, butterflies and other pollinators are in crisis, partly due to the widespread loss of their homes and food.  We rely on them to pollinate our crops and feed our wildlife, to sustain the rich bio-diversity of the natural world.

Urban Buzz (a collaboration of the RSPB and Bug Life) is working with local people to offer a clear, simple and effective solution to this crisis by creating new habitats for pollinators, providing vital food, nesting places and shelter for them.  Each habitat will form a network of hotspots to help bees and pollinators move about our city. Without this help, they will continue to decline and may even go extinct.

The long stretch along the south of St Mary’s Church will be given up to just this project.  Much work has already been done with three visits from GoodGym who zapped the gardens, cleared vegetation, hacked and pulled tree roots from the ground, picked litter and weeded paths.  A few parishioners too have done much the same during the Discover Nature day back in July with another working day planned for Saturday 6th October, the back of the work being broken a year ago by Christine and Jim from Loudoun Square.  We are awaiting news, too, of a grant application so that the existing fence can be removed, and a new fence erected, taking back half of the vicarage garden where a wild flower meadow will merge into a woodland glade.

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In a few weeks, children from St Mary’s School next door will flood the gardens, find out what flies and crawls and creeps around them, and begin to plant and seed the ground.

As well as giving nature a home, the project will provide a means through which individuals and groups can engage with nature, improve physical and mental health and well-being, provide opportunities for new skills to be learned and shared and, hopefully, make the community stronger by providing a project where people can work together, engaging too with socially excluded groups of people.

It is our hope that the Urban Buzz project, our Wild Side, will merge naturally into the rest of our garden space, which will be a place to gather and grow.  St Mary’s Church is currently exploring various options for our buildings and grounds, employing our own architect to measure and design different ways in which our building can be developed and improved.  It will help us relate more to the local community and the city centre which pushes its weight around us, and aims to address some of the pressing local needs, of which there are many.

St Francis is a famous saint, well famed for his love of creation.  In a beautiful book about him, written by Sister Frances Teresa OSC, we read “Francis saw the footprints of God everywhere.  From everything that is made, he learnt more about the way God, who made us all, intends us to live together in our shared world.  So he learnt from creation the inner meaning of his call to be a brother.”

At the heart of our mission and ministry at St Mary’s is this desire to work together – with those of other faiths or none, so that we may learn how to live together in our shared world, and maybe be dumbfounded afresh by our ignorance of the simplest things.

If you would like to find out more about the Urban Buzz project, or have ideas about how you can get involved with shaping our outdoor space then please get in touch.  Contact details can be found at our website www.stmaryscf10.co.uk

Not such a Nice Deal

“Don’t go down there, love.  It’s not very nice.”

I had chatted to him for a little while, a cheerful, engaging police officer stationed at one of the road blocks near St Mary’s as the city of Cardiff welcomed the Championship League final in 2017.  The city was colourful, vibrant, bursting at the seams with football fans who gathered from the city centre to the bay where various fan zones had been created.  From the top of Bute Street, the police were guiding people to the bay through Lloyd George Avenue though some seemed to prefer the alternative route along Bute Street.  It was to one of these people that the police officer unwittingly and innocently suggested that she shouldn’t go into Butetown.  After all, surely, “it’s not very nice.”  I smiled at him, and laughed a little “Thanks for that,” I said, “that’s where I live.”

Butetown, of course, like any community has a reputation – some good, some bad, some based on the past, some fair, some not so fair at all, and a far cry from the reality. 

Once upon a time, as part of a thriving docksland, Butetown welcomed an array of people who were surrounded by heavy industry, and everything else that grows from people coming and going, from comfortable entrepreneurs chasing profits to the hard graft and gritty lives of working class people.  A mix of cultures and nationalities bubbling away to create a rather unique place.  As Industry began to fall away, the community changed.  All communities change.  Butetown is no different.

In a biography of a former Vicar of St Mary’s, affectionately known as Fr Jones of Cardiff (1907) one of his curates who arrived in the parish in 1873, wrote “There have been many changes since those days.  It is to be hoped that Bute Street is improved.  There were then parts of it along which it must have been a trial for a decent woman to pass.”  Yes, perhaps – being what it was in the late nineteenth century, there were some “no go” areas, and perhaps parts of it could have been be described, to say the least, as “not very nice.”

And yet a community is as much a product of outside pressures and forces as it is of itself.

Bute Street today still receives a steady flow of visitors and tourists who use it as the route from city centre to bay, with its over-priced restaurants and copper domed home of the Millennium Centre and the slated steps of the Senedd.  In the distance is the now much smaller working docks of Cardiff, often overlooked, and here in its place, the only vessels which push out are pleasure trips around the watery edges of the city.

In recent years – about two years ago, in fact – the community changed again.  It’s not only tourists who pass along Bute Street but an almost constant stream of people, many from the homeless community, who come into the belly of the estate to make a quick deal.  Heroin and crack cocaine are readily available on Bute Street.  You don’t have to veer off the main thoroughfare to see it – it happens along the tourist trail, under your nose – or over your nose if you happen to be a child growing up in Butetown.

It’s not just those who stand on the street to deal either, with their intricate bobbing and weaving and slipping away from police patrols when they come. Cars come and go, park up, move on and return, pull into a street where they meet their customers, some of whom are invited into the passenger seat whilst others stand at the open window.  It happens day and night.  There is little sense of discretion, there appears no need to be cautious.  Baseball bats and crowbars are hidden in bushes, behind garden walls, and knives are handled too.

In recent years, there has been a rise in rough sleepers, a rise in homelessness, an increase in clientele for those who deal in drugs – for both the disposable street sellers and drug runners, but also those above them, who make a more lucrative living from the misery of others.

We are assured by the police and others that much is being done – and there are several operations in place – but the process is, of course, slow, and resources are limited.  Some residents have already left, others are leaving.  The danger for us is that what we experience now, and what we have experienced for the last two years, will become or has become the norm – a familiar site for young and old, the landscape for growing up into the world, the place a child calls home.

The local community may seem lost, and there sometimes appears to be little communications between those in power who can make a difference and those whose lives are impacted by this rise in drug use.  A local Neighbourhood Watch scheme patrols the streets each evening, tries to engage with young people who are dipping their toes into drug dealing, engages with their families – but it is tough.  A local boxing club has been established by a local young man, trying to show and give young people a different way, a better way to live and move on, move away from drugs.  Next week, through Citizens Cymru, whose Action Centre is at Loudoun Square, representatives from a number of local organisations will meet to explore how our community can be organised to address the problems.

It can take a while to make a difference.  Seventeen months ago, we made a request to Cardiff Council to cut back the bushes at the top of Bute Street, 60 yards from a primary school.  The bushes are a place populated by drug users who hide within the foliage, a hand’s reach from the street.  Only now have we been promised that the work will begin, and this has possibly only been escalated by the proposed new Shipping Container Housing Development on the land opposite, a project of the Local Authority and being delivered through Cadwyn Housing Association.

Trying to engage with British Telecom to remove a problem public pay phone associated with drug dealing has been a struggle.  Countless emails returned to them, asking for clear answers rather than a dodged response.  But  always, from the very outset, a very clear decision that “this phone-box will not be removed.”  Profits are put before people, before the safety and needs of the local community they purport to serve in the first place.

Drugs are sold here for many reasons.  We are, of course, so close to the city centre, and a few minutes’ walk away are three homeless hostels and other homeless services.  The city centre grows up and out and around us, giving up the secret places of the city centre, awash with security cameras, and pushing people into Butetown where surveillance is more scant.

Drug dealing is, of course, a lucrative industry, but always at a cost.  In Butetown 1 Ward, the area of which I write, over 33% of people have no qualifications.  36.4% of adults with no dependant children are not in employment, which is almost double that of the whole of the Butetown Ward.  7.6% of adults with dependant children are not in employment.  All we can do is ask questions.  Yes, we are told, much is being done by police and politicians, by Health Services and others, but some of us seek signs of how local people are involved in these outlooks and plans.  The young, too, are easily influenced, easily bought and lured, and easily discarded too.  But Butetown isn’t solely a product of the local pressures or of itself alone.  Gangs from Liverpool and Manchester and other major cities make their way here and other areas of Cardiff, make use of the so called County Lines.

There are sporadic police raids on homes as officers make a dramatic entry into homes, carving up the front door, warrant in hand.  We are assured there are covert investigations.  We are also told that there are few reports or information coming from the people of Butetown itself, a result of fear perhaps?  And yet, a Freedom of Information request to South Wales Police asking how many 101 or 999 calls had been made in Butetown  for the period September 2016 to August 2017 threw up the statistics that there had been 698 calls made for Anti-social behaviour and 259 drug related calls.

I know from my own experience that some 101 operators actually register a ‘drugs related’ call as Anti-social behaviour – simply because there is no “proof” that drugs were involved, they say.  And so the 259 calls regarding drugs can surely mean more – but to use their given statistics that still means about 5 a week during that particular period.  This year, in August, 2018, 28 calls were made from St Mary’s Church alone – and so far this month to September 21st 2018 we have picked up the phone on 32 occasions – so far over 10 calls a week.

I love to see the city of Cardiff pushing above its weight, hosting international and national events that pull in punters from far and wide, who spend their money, invest in the city, experience what Cardiff has to offer.  In August, just a few yards from Butetown, the National Eisteddfod basked in the sun, awash with people – and police too.  During the first day of preparations, as road closures began, it took half an hour to drive the half mile stretch through Bute Street.  After a few complaints were made, the road system was sorted.  On that day, the open top tourist bus too had been diverted along Bute Street slowly making its 30 minute journey, offering tourists a new kind of Croeso and a new view of Cardiff down below them on the street where deals are quickly made.

The National Eisteddfod, the Championship League and so many other major sporting and cultural events – well, these come and go.  Meanwhile, the very real and dangerous problem of drug dealing and drug use in Butetown remains.  And there is no sign that it is ready to go away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Under the Same Sun

When Butetown was being built up, as it hoisted itself up on steel, flexed its muscles on the back of coal, and dipped its toes into the sea, it took pride in a population formed from over fifty foreign nations.  This was certainly the case by the time Archduke Ferdinand took the bullet, blasting us into World War One.

The cutting of the Suez Canal, completed in 1869, had connected the lip of the Red Sea in a Mediterranean kiss across Egypt’s heart, cutting the journey time between Britain and Asia, and bringing Somalian sailors to the coal-quick port of Cardiff.  Some came, some went.  Some never went home, feeling, as it happened, quite at home in Cardiff, settling in between the Greeks and the Arabs, the Chinese and French, the Yemense and Irish and dozens more besides.  In a sea port, significant throughout the world, with imports and exports, pubs a foot apart, cultures were crammed together, rubbed shoulders, held hands.

Religions worked it out between themselves, laying foundations in the soil and in society.  The first Mosque in Wales first peeped its head onto Peel Street, a make-shift mosque made from a trio of houses.  Bombed during the next World War, a new Mosque took shape in 1947 only to be replaced in 1988 by the Mosque of today.  Across the way in a now non-existent East Terrace, the Jewish shopkeepers and pawnbrokers of Bute Street brought the first synagogue to Cardiff in 1858, having outgrown the rented rooms of Trinity Street.

There were Welsh speaking chapels and Huguenot churches churned out by French exiles, and the beautiful byzantine Greek Orthodox Church, breathing in the air since 1906, boasting the name of Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors.  At the head of West Bute Dock was St Paul’s Roman Catholic Church, crowded by Irish immigrants, slowly squeezing out the Welsh speaking Anglican Church of All Saints all the way across the bridge to Adamsdown.  It was, for a while, a daughter church of St Mary’s whose own memory had been resurrected in 1843, and which stands, twin towered, at the top lip of Bute Street.

Race relations weren’t always rosy.  In the sailors strike of 1911, Chinese laundries and lodging houses were set ablaze, and some white people felt their living threatened by ‘blackleg’ labourers who stepped across the picket line.  There are always cracks.

Life was different then, of course, and much the same.  Different times, but the same stubborn human nature, naturally inclined to difference, yet inquisitive, open minded, fascinating, frightening. It’s not the same Butetown that some people speak of today, that some seem to remember.  But what kind of community worth its weight stands still, stands back?

The “immigration question” juggled about today, and which has become Referendum rife, wasn’t so much a question then, it seems, but a statement of fact, an answer to the need, a natural response to the way things were, the way things were going, the way things needed to be in order for a community to grow, for a town to become a city, for a city to become the capital of a country which is surrounded by sea on three sides, and shares a border which hasn’t itself always experienced a happy coming and going.  The UK, for a while, appears to be divided. There is nothing new under the sun.  Not whilst we all live under the same sun.

The Bells of St Mary’s

Some years ago, my late morning sleep was somewhat spent as I woke to a constant, distant, thud, thud, thud.  It happened every few seconds, and it echoed round the place where I live, puncturing the day, every day, and I had no idea where the sound came from or what it was.  I blamed it on the industrial units nearby, known for the bang and clatter of metal, though not as mentally taunting as this particular din.   Frustrated by the pure Chinese Torture of it all, I contacted the council who couldn’t help and then, disappointed by their lack of success, I walked the beat to find the beat, seeking out the sound.  It simply turned out to be a building site on Dumballs Road where piles were being driven into the ground for the foundations of Cardiff and Vale College, digging, driving deep down so that the city can grow up and out.  As soon as I knew what made the sound my frustration was allayed, and lay simply with the fact that the contractors hadn’t prepared us (me?) for the noise.  The sounds have now returned again, each day from eight ’til four, as the further foundations of Dumballs Road and Tyndall Street and the site of Central Station are prepared for more growing up and growing out.

Some years ago, my predecessor priest and friend, Fr Graham, had received a phone call from the council.  Someone had complained about the Sunday morning bells, beckoning the faithful to Mass in one of his other churches across the River Taff in Grangetown.  Did it need to be as long, as loud, as lingeringly early?  The priest put up his case, that the bells had rung each Sunday for as long as the church had been there.  Thirty three rings, each year of the Lord’s earthly life.  The conversation came to an end.  The bells still ring. I remember my Great Aunty Pat, now long dead, had made the same complaint of the church near to her home in the Rhondda. That was before her illness, her elderliness, had taken her to hospital.  One day, I received a call that she was close to death.  By the time I arrived, she had died, and so all I could do was stand by her bedside and offer the prayers for her journey home, whispering words over her, hoping that they helped, knowing that the words, in life, would have made no sense to her.  Perhaps.

Some years ago, one of the towers at St Mary’s was equipped with digital bells.  The tower took some clearing out.  Decades (a century?) of pigeon poop, a foot, two foot, three foot high.  The bells, a gift in memory of Fr Jordan a previous parish priest, couldn’t have been installed under a better custodian than Fr Graham for whom the bells gave great delight. In addition to the horde of hymn tunes which could hit the high notes, each day at 12noon and 6pm the Angelus rings out, three sets of three chimes, followed by a nine.  The bells accompany the praying of a litany of love which remembers the Incarnation.  They puncture time, they measure time, to remember the moment when God the timeless One took flesh and blood from Mary, saving us from where we are with all the matter and the mess we make.

Sometimes, depending on the weather and the wind, the sound of St Mary’s bells can be heard across Lloyd George Avenue, and deep down into the heart of Loudoun Square and perhaps, on a good day, at the edge of the city centre, where the Hayes spreads out.  The other day, as I walked home from the local shop, carrying a pint or two of milk up the length of Lloyd George Avenue, I found myself reciting the Angelus, even before I consciously realised the mid-day bells had stirred me into prayer.  For some, the Angelus ring may be a distantly irritating sound, sub-consciously heard, brushed to the back of the mind, misunderstood.  But someone, somewhere, is praying the Angelus, whispering words that may or may not make sense to those who happen to hear, remembering the time when the matter and the mess we make is met by the Incarnate God.

And so the city digs down in order to grow up and out, puncturing the day with its rhythmic sounds heard between the city and the bay.  Between the beats of metal battling with rock and soil, the Angelus still rings out on Bute Street, puncturing the air, each day at noon and dusk.  Perhaps, as the city grows up and out, the pile-driving offers another litany of its own, secular, seeking something better, bigger, brighter, not knowing that the earth into which it drives has already felt the touch of the divine, and feels it still.