Here is a view of the length of Bernard Street from the South end, looking towards Uplands. It was quite hard to paint as I felt that I was trying to capture an absence. The light cuts across an empty road. When I saw this scene late on a Sunday evening in August I was struck by this emptiness, absence. No people. No cars, anywhere along its length.
Usually there are are cars outside the convenience store half way along the road, but it was closed. In term time the road is crammed with cars belonging to students, some who live in the streets that branch off from Bernard Street, some are parents dropping their children off at the local schools, some are passing tradespeople, many more are students attending lectures on the Singleton Campus. Yet, on this summer evening there was no one. It was like a ghost town. This one image, more than any sums up the transient community that Brynmill has become. It has become an unsustainable community. A community without families, especially those with children is a dying community.
Brynmill and Uplands suffer from the fact that the majority of students are absent for about 4 months each year. The situation has parallels with that in North Wales and Cornwall, where holiday homes mean areas are practically deserted in the winter. This has resulted in businesses closing due to a lack of all year custom and for the same reason has led to closures of libraries, schools and GP practices. Here, and in Uplands many shops and businesses have closed and have been taken over by bars and coffee shops. Are the losses of our library, post offices, banks and local businesses due to the lack of all year trade?
In Brynmill there are no banks, post offices, libraries, swimming pools or leisure centre. The Victorian swimming baths opposite Victoria Park were pulled down years ago. The public toilets were also destroyed (the week before the preservation order was to come in place). We have two junior schools but few of the children live locally. You see children walking to school but that’s only because their parents have parked in places like Bernard Street and walk them to school. The pollution caused by all this additional traffic has a negative effect on the environment and people’s health. Yes, we do still have a chip shop, a pub, a coffee house, a community centre, a bread shop, a convenience store, a launderette and a DIY store. But for how much longer? Its difficult to sustain a business on 8 months’ trade. It was probably a large part of the reason why The Cricketer’s pub closed down.
Yet, Brynmill has so much to offer. It has two fantastic parks; Singleton and Brynmill. There is a university on our doorstep. It is 5-10 minutes walking distance from the seafront. There are several well attended churches. I love the sea air. It is mild here. We rarely have frosts. It has a Bohemian feel to the place. As an artist, I don’t think I would thrive in suburbia where people would expect you to be neat and tidy. I am not neat and tidy. I love the hilly, terraces and the mix of people. People are friendly. You can start a conversation with anyone in a shop and they talk back as if they know you.
I want this community to live and to thrive, not to become a hollowed out dead place full of strangers who know nothing about the area. This project has been part of that. I have asked questions and have found out about the people who were born and grew up here. I walked up and down streets and back lanes. Again and again, trying to catch the shadows at different times of the day. Morning is my favourite time. I have counted the number of houses that no longer have lounges with sofas at the front of the house but rather desks and beds for students. The official figures are wrong. There are many more student houses (HMO) that are on the council register.
This has become an unbalanced and unsustainable community. The Local council and Welsh assembly are ignoring the problem. Chasing short-term profit at the expense of people’s lives and the local economy. I have seen the place where I have lived for 18 years in a different light and I have only scratched the surface. I want to keep digging.