Monday, 27 February 2017

Tales of the Castle

Apparently, the people at Hay Castle Trust want to make a film about the history of the castle, and they're looking for local residents who can talk about the history and tales of the castle.
I wonder if they've asked Barbara Erskine?
Anyone interested can contact them at or 01497 820079.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Inviting Heads of State to Hay

It was in the Brecon and Radnor Express this week - for the 40th Anniversary of the Kingdom of Hay, 180 heads of state have been invited to visit. Or if they can't visit, to recommend a good book that best represents their country.
Prince Derek (resplendent in his Henry VIII costume) also said that stockpiles of vegetables were being built up, to pelt heads of state such as President Trump, should he appear - the stocks are also being made ready!

Friday, 24 February 2017

Protesting about Wind Farms

It was unfortunate for the Brecon and Radnor Action Group that they planned their Peaceful Protest March on one of the windiest and generally unpleasant days of the year so far.
They wanted to gather outside County Hall in Llandrindod Wells when the county councillors were inside, attending a full council meeting, in order to make the point that wind farms in Powys would spoil the views.
Meanwhile, a letter in the Brecon and Radnor Express invited residents of Powys to a counter-protest at the same time, in favour of wind power.

In the teeth of Storm Doris - I wonder how many turned up for either side.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Storm Doris Strikes!

It was so windy this morning that a smaller number of stall holders turned up for the market - and when I came by just now at lunch time, two fire engines were there, and the firemen were dismantling the remaining stalls to stop them from blowing away!

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

At Last! Work on the New School Begins!

Here's the "before" picture, and this is what it looks like today....

The recycling facilities have gone, and the fence has gone up. (Lucky I went down on the weekend with the twigs from my garden!)

Monday, 20 February 2017

Cusop History Group Meeting

This time it's Dark Age Herefordshire....

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Independence Celebrations!

On 1st April, 1977, Richard Booth declared Hay to be an independent Kingdom, with himself as King.
Which is something worth celebrating on the 40th Anniversary!

So events are planned over the weekend of 31st March to 3rd April.
On the Friday night there will be a reception at Booths Bookshop, to which all the book sellers in town have been invited.
The Old Electric Shop will be doing literary cocktails.
Deborah Moggach will be the castaway in the Globe's version of Desert Island Discs on the Friday evening. The Globe will also be hosting a panel discussion on the Saturday afternoon for booklovers, and a booksellers' brunch buffet on Sunday morning.
The children of Hay School will be having a fancy dress parade, dressed as their favourite book characters.
The original Hay flag will be hoisted in the Honesty Gardens in front of Hay Castle, and knighthoods will be given out (it is hoped King Richard will be able to attend).
A book art co-operative will be displaying their work in book shop windows around town.
And on Instagram, the organisers want to make this the largest bookstagram meet-up ever.

They also hope to make this an annual affair.
Let's celebrate Hay-on-Wye and second hand books!

Friday, 17 February 2017

We Love Our Library!

Here's the banner that the children of Hay School made, on the night of the last big meeting about the Library.
The date for the next meeting, when HOWLS will become a proper, unincorporated, organisation with a constitution and a management committee, has now been set. It will be at 7pm on Monday 6th March, in Hay Library. The 6th March is also World Book Day.
This will give them, they hope, more of a voice when they are talking to Powys County Council.
Anyone who would like to contact HOWLS should email

I'm kind of wishing I could clone myself, as 6th March is also the date of the next Council Meeting, also at 7pm.
At any rate, I'm thinking of dressing as one of my favourite characters from literature for World Book Day. I thought Rev. Merrily Watkins would be quite easy to do - basically black and a cross - from the Phil Rickman books. Blessings I can do at once - exorcisms will take a little longer!

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Hurrah for Local Tradesmen!

My toilet wouldn't flush.
You may think this is Too Much Information - after all, we tend to take toilets for granted until they don't work. I'd been jiggling the handle for a while, and one day even the jiggling didn't work.
So I looked in Yellow Pages for a plumber. The firm I got through to didn't have a plumber in the area on that day, but I asked for a quote anyway....
and after I'd said "How much?!" and put the phone down, I remembered that I know a local plumber. So I phoned Stewart Powles.

Some time ago, he was one of the people putting in a bathroom in the cottage next door but one to me. At that time, the three gardens at the back were open to each other, and my dog could still run about. I used to leave the front door open so she could go and sun herself on the flagstones in front of the house, and back then the side door to the back gardens was usually left open as well.
Stewart Powles was lying on the floor of the bathroom, doing something under the sink, when he heard a thunder of paws coming up the stairs. A moment later, his ear was being licked, and Islay was looking over his shoulder to see what he was doing. Just as well that he likes dogs!

So he came round, found the problem, popped down to Huws Grey for the right part, fitted it - and charged me about half what the other company had quoted.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Happy Valentine's Day

The photo of Booths Bookshop window was taken by Emanation Smith, and was created by Sarah Putt.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Hay - and Brecon - Community Cupboard

Hay's food bank, the Community Cupboard, has been running for four years now, and it is now merging with Brecon Food Bank in order to provide an improved and more comprehensive service - there's an advert in WyeLocal.
The organisers thank all their supporters over the last four years, and hope that people will continue to donate food.
Contact details for people in need are now 01874 611723 or

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Goodbye HSBC

And now the HSBC has closed its doors for the last time, and the ATM has been boarded up. This leaves two ATMs in town, at the Nat West, just downhill from the main car park, and at Barclays, by the clock tower.
Rumours about what is going to happen to the building abound, from a Costa Coffee to a private house.
One fantasy suggestion at the last Stitch and Bitch meeting I was at was that it would make a brilliant library building - it even has disabled access in the form of a wheelchair lift at the front door, which was only recently installed.
That's not going to happen, of course.

I was told, though, the other day, that the design of the building may have been influenced by the famous architect Lutyens. Mark Westwood (who used to have the bookshop where the St Davids Hospice Shop has just closed), told me that he had been told this by Karl Showler, who used to be very good on Hay's local history. Apparently Lutyens worked as an architectural advisor for Midland Bank at the time that the Hay branch (originally a Midland) was built.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Goodbye St David's Hospice Shop

We're back down to three charity shops in Hay, as the St David's Hospice Shop closed its doors for the last time yesterday. It was also the newest charity shop in town, as it only opened five years ago.
Of course, it used to be a bookshop....
So I wonder what will take its place now.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Volunteers and the Library Service

At the Library Meeting last week, HOWLS handed out a flyer with all the reasons why a library run by volunteers is not as good as a library run by professionals. I thought it was worthwhile going through the points here.

The first thing is that Librarian is a professional qualification, equivalent to a degree. There's a lot more to it than tidying the shelves and stamping books. Volunteers can be helpful, but a library needs professional staff to run it.

Librarians know all sorts of things about the local community that are best kept confidential. Hand over the service to volunteers, no matter how well-meaning.... and what could possibly go wrong?

That's if enough volunteers can be found to keep the library open long term. Many voluntary projects start with loads of eager volunteers - but come back a year later and there will be only a few left, doing more and more of the work.
And even volunteers cost money - they need to be trained when they start, and there are admin costs and so on.

At present, all the branch libraries and all the libraries in bigger towns are part of one organisation. This would not be the case with a volunteer-run library, which would be operating on its own, leading to wildly differing levels of service across the county.
And what about services like inter-library loans? What happens to them? At the moment, someone doing research on a subject in Hay can ask for books to be sent specially - would they be able to do this in a volunteer-run library?

And, we pay for this already, through our council tax. Why should residents be expected to pay for a service, and then volunteer to run the service for nothing?

Also given out at the meeting was a leaflet about CarnegieUK. Andrew Carnegie was a 19th century philanthropist who decided to use his fortune to provide libraries across the UK and the US. If you look around in many towns, you will see his name carved into the front of libraries, or buildings which used to be libraries.
Andrew Carnegie believed in giving people the opportunity to better themselves by providing them with books, and the Trust carries on that aim.

The leaflet points out that libraries give people access to literature, music, film and theatre that they would not otherwise be able to enjoy. Libraries lend CDs and DVDs as well as books, these days. Libraries widen peoples' horizons - at college, our Gilbert and Sullivan Society were only able to put on a performance of Iolanthe because we could borrow the scripts and music from the central library, for instance.

Libraries help job seekers. Libraries now have computers for the public to use, and this can be essential to jobless people who do not have their own computers - more and more job seeking has to be done online. And libraries contain books about craft skills and DIY and budgeting and how to start a new business, enabling people on a low income to help themselves without spending money they haven't got.

Libraries are one of the few public spaces left that are free for everyone to enter. They help with social isolation, an increasing problem in modern society, and can provide a point of access to a variety of public services.
Remember Library Plus? It was supposed to be a replacement for the County Council office we used to have in the Council Chambers, where you could go to pay your council tax and get in touch with County Council departments to deal with problems. It withered away pretty quickly but libraries could be used to provide services like that - as long as they have a sound proof room for using the phone this time!

And of course, I haven't even mentioned children using the library yet. When I was a child, I practically lived in my local branch library. I had my own coat peg in the staff room, and was a volunteer shelf tidier aged eleven! There is no way my family could have provided all the books I read as a child without access to a public library, even though there was a reasonably good library at school. I want to see that continuing for today's children.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Council Meeting - Trees, Fishing, Recycling and Sport

The Fishing and Estates sub-committee said that a tree survey is needed along the riverbank, to identify trees at risk of falling. This needs to be done by a qualified arborialist, and is expected to take two days - one for walking the path and one for writing up the report. This would cost in the region of £1,000, and they are going to get quotes for the work to be done. The National Park only has responsibility for maintaining the path, not for dealing with fallen trees.

Meanwhile, the income from fishing permits along that stretch of the Wye has gone down, but the Warren Trust are interested in leasing the fishing rights, to add to the fishing rights around the Warren. At this point half the council had to get up and leave the room, as they are all Warren Trustees. The remaining four councillors (just about quorate!) agreed that they should accept the £400 offered by the Warren Trust for the fishing rights. This affects the riverbank from above the bridge to Warren Cottage. Day tickets will remain at about the same price, available from Golesworthys.

The Woodland Management group were concerned about a fly tipping re-offender (their name was found among the rubbish they dumped!). They will be reported to the local police and also to the Waste Enforcement Officer at Powys County Council.
There was a concern that fly tipping would increase because of the actions of Powys County Council, as they have taken away the plastic recycling in the car park.
I had been quite concerned about this, as the report in the B&R appeared to suggest that all the recycling facilities would be removed (just when I have some garden rubbish to take down!), but this is not the case. Now that the PCC will not accept soft plastics for recycling in the domestic rubbish collections, people have been taking it to the recycling bins in the car park - but it won't be recycled from there either.
Since the Town Council gains an income from the recycling facilities, which they use to give grants as the Recycling Fund, they don't want to lose the recycling facilities. Two local organisations are about to apply for grants from the Fund.

A meeting to discuss the Town Plan will be happening shortly, if they can find a suitable venue. The school is unavailable because, during half term, the hall is taken up with Jumping Jacks and the classrooms on the day Gareth Ratcliffe wants to hold the meeting will be taken by Slimming World. They are going to investigate the hire of the Parish Hall.

At the Sports Pavilion, Helen was very optimistic about the future, but Rob Golesworthy felt he had been insulted by members of the Cricket Club, who suggested he and Fiona Howard had a conflict of interests between the sports pavilion and HADSCA, of which they have long been members. The Tennis, Football and Bowls clubs didn't seem to have a problem with it. As was seen with the discussion about the Warren Trust, people in Hay who sit on committees generally sit on several different ones. There just aren't enough people in Hay for each committee to have a completely separate membership. However, the Cricket Club agreed on the proposals put forward, along with the other clubs.
The Bowls Club want to build their own, separate club house on a strip of land to the side of the bowling green, and they seem to have the funds to do do it. They will be given permission to draw up plans, on the understanding that the building doesn't interfere with the cricket out field. There was also some discussion about whether the Bowls Club would continue to fund the main pavilion if they had their own building. The Football Club may be moving to separate premises soon, too, and if this is the case, maybe the Town Council could hand back the building to the PCC, or even see it knocked down to extend the cemetery!
To help in funding the Sports Pavilion they were talking about car parking charges on the small car park by the pavilion, and also on the Cattle Market.

And finally, on the International Border, Hay Town Council will be supporting Cusop Council as they try to get Herefordshire Council to resurface the road there, which is full of pot-holes. They will also be pressing for the work to be done before Hay Festival, not during it! The corner by the Blue Boar will also be resurfaced shortly.

And the next Council Meeting will be on 6th March.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Council Meeting - A Town Manager? And the Library Service

Anita and Richard from HOWLS were among the audience for the Council meeting last night - and one of the councillors, Trudi, joked that she was going to lock the doors and co-opt everyone onto the council. There was, in fact, a new councillor there, but I didn't catch his name. And there was a substitute minute taker for the meeting, as Nigel the Town Clerk is unwell.
The Questions from the Public at the beginning of the meeting were all library related, and as the library was discussed later, I'll include them there. There was also a complaint about the Town Council website not being updated, which Trudi answered was due to pressure of work on the councillors - there just isn't the time....

The Transfer of Assets from Powys County Council to the Town Council rumbles on. The situation at the moment is that the PCC has agreed to everything the Town Council asked for, apart from the amount of money that will be paid to the Town Council from the car park takings. Which is kind of essential for everything else to work. So the Town Council are not repaying the loan they got from the PCC to pay for the toilets being refurbished until the issue is resolved.

Fiona Howard said something similar to her comments during the Library Meeting last week - the role of town councillors has changed enormously in the last five years, and the work load has increased enormously. This is also true for the Town Clerk, as it's part of his job to make sure that everything the Town Council does is legal. Elections are due in May, so there may be new faces around the table - but it's a lot for a new councillor to take on.
So she suggested that what we need in Hay is a Town Manager, to manage the various projects that are now the responsibility of the Town Council rather than the PCC. However, this would be difficult to fund as a long term solution. It would, possibly, work for individual projects if the role of Town Manager was included in the grant applications.
There was the suggestion that maybe Hay Town Council was trying to take on too much, as Talgarth Town Council doesn't do anything like the same amount of work that Hay does, although Talgarth is a similar size. It's true that Hay does not have a full complement of councillors, and hasn't for some time, but even if all the places were filled, it would be difficult to do everything they need to do.

And so we come to the Library.
Anita from HOWLS thanked the Town Council for their support so far, and said that her concern was not so much for the library building as for the library service. At the moment, the library is open for 23 hours a week, some of which is paid for by Hay Festival. On 1st April, the grant from Hay Festival will stop, and the PCC will reduce the hours the library is open to 6 hours a week.
That's right - 6 hours a week. Though the PCC promises that this will increase to 12 hours a week when the library moves into the new school building (when it's finally built). If a third party, such as the Town Council or a charity, were to step in to pay for the building, then the PCC would still only offer a library service of 12 hours a week.
So far, the library staff haven't been informed of any changes to their working hours, though this may be because they could be re-deployed to another library elsewhere.
HOWLS was formed with the intention of keeping the library as it is now, in the same building and open for 23 hours a week. They don't want to start fund-raising, because they would never be able to sustain it long term. And maybe they shouldn't fund raise, as the library service is a statutory requirement for the PCC to fund.
HOWLS don't want to run the library, either - it's not in their draft constitution, which will be adopted at a meeting in mid-March, though there is scope to change the terms of the constitution if they need to.
Gareth has seen Kay at County Hall (I tried to look her up on the PCC website - I think she's the Chief Librarian, but it's quite difficult to track down the names of members of the PCC on the website, and searching brought no match). Anyway, Gareth told her that 6 hours a week was unacceptable.
The Town Council would still like to take on the building, and use it when the library is closed for other groups, but the PCC could still cut the hours of the service. So the Town Council will be writing to the PCC to investigate the possibility of taking the library building on, but without committing to anything as yet. It costs £8,000 a year to run the building.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Local Charities Benefit from Grants

Every year, the Yorkshire Building Society invites its members to nominate three local charities that they think deserve a bit of help. They call it their Small Change Big Difference scheme. This year, I was pleased to see that the Hay Model Railway Society have been granted £100. The other two local charities to benefit are Bryngwyn Riding for the Disables and Hay Day Cafe.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

The Rose and Crown Re-opens

The grand opening was on Friday afternoon, just in time for the Six Nations, which started on Saturday, and the place was packed.
The lounge bar looks quite different - they've put a pool table in there, and they seem to have painted all the stonework yellow. I've only looked through the window so far, but they have three handpumps on the new bar. I couldn't see what the pump-clips were.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Library Meeting Part Three - Speak Truth to Power

(in other words - PCC has the power, and it's time for the public to hold them to account).

It was pointed out that, as the portfolio holder for libraries on Powys County Council, it is Graham Brown's job to be held accountable to the public. He is paid to do this, and he should have come to the meeting.
The PCC says (and it is true) that there is no money available - but there would be more money available for libraries and schools if the PCC didn't have to deal with legal challenges to their decisions, which then get overturned, as in the case of Gwernyfed School. HOWLS have tried to work with the PCC, and have offered various solutions, but the PCC have rejected all of them.

Libraries play a vital role in society (I think it was Kirsty Williams who said this). They are important for the democratisation of knowledge in our community - in other words, education and knowledge is available to all, not just those who are able to pay for it. More access to libraries, and the services they offer, is needed for the good of society.
The PCC has to consider the knock-on effects of closing libraries for the community.

So what kind of service does Hay need (and the wider area)? The views of the community need to be collected, and relayed to the PCC.
Which is why HOWLS needs to set itself up as a proper, official body. There were copies of their draft constitution on tables throughout the room. Once they are an official organisation, with a committee and so forth, it will be a lot harder for the PCC to ignore them.
To this end, they are holding a Members Meeting in March, in order to formally adopt the constitution. They were collecting emails and addresses of supporters at the meeting, because the committee who have been doing things up to now need help. They've put in a huge amount of work, and they need extra pairs of hands to spread the load.

A chap from Clyro stood up to speak from the back of the hall - he said that he's worked in local government, so he knows how County Councils work from the inside. He had got hold of Councillor Graham Brown's travel expenses - I didn't quite catch the figure, but it was large - if that's the sort of amount he claims for travel, no wonder his excuse was that he was "out of town" for the meeting. His travel expenses, the chap said, are the fourth highest in Powys. For comparison, he also quoted the travel expenses of the same portfolio holder for Carmarthen County Council - another big, rural area. The figure was about a quarter of Councillor Brown's. If austerity means anything, in local government, it should apply to him as well as local communities which are losing their services.
Maybe he could share a car?

The chap from Clyro went on to mention the Budget Simulator which is on the PCC website. With this, members of the public are invited to move money around between departments, to see which ones they want to support and which ones they want to cut - but there is nothing on the simulator for saving money, or moving it around, within the departments. It cost, he said, £5,000 a year, and it's useless. There's some money that could be better spent on actual services for the community.

The meeting closed with the suggestion that concerned members of the public should email Councillor Brown and make their points to him in person. His email address can be found via the PCC website.

Other useful contacts are:
Twitter - @hayhowls
Facebook - haylibrarysupporters
Email -

Friday, 3 February 2017

Library Meeting Part Two - A Comprehensive and Efficient Service?

Gareth Ratcliffe - Town and County Councillor for Hay - talked about what Powys County Council are doing, beginning with the words: "Powys County Council have played many a trick, and moved goal-posts." He added that it's very difficult to get any accurate information out of the PCC. He said that the ten other branch libraries in danger of closing have been "picked off one by one", but Hay has not done a deal yet. He added that many local groups could use the "Community" space in the new school building if the library is not put in there. Leaving the library in its present building can enhance the local community.

HOWLS have had a stall in the market to publicise what's going on, and to answer FAQs, one of which is "Why can't volunteers run the library?" They had a printed sheet to answer this - the short answer is that volunteers cannot replace a professional service in the long term. I'll post the full answer shortly.

Jane, Hay's librarian, was present at the meeting, and said that she was not able to comment officially. However she did point out that running the library was a team effort, and praised the other members of her team. She did say that she appreciated the support of the community.

Kirsty Williams, AM, and Education Minister for the Welsh Assembly, was present, and gave a passionate speech about the importance of libraries. Her mother was a librarian, and she said that her parents had actually met in the basement of Swansea Library! There's a transcript of part of her speech on the HOWLS Facebook page.
She said that the problem with the 1964 Libraries and Museums Act is that is says that there is a statutory requirement to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service, but does not describe what this entails, leaving it open to interpretation. If the Welsh Assembly decide that PCC is not fulfilling their duty, they are empowered to hold an enquiry, but this has only ever happened once, in the Wirral. ("So let's go for it!" someone shouted from the floor). Basically, though, if the PCC say 6 hours a week is sufficient, there isn't a lot anyone can do about it.
Across Wales, three county councils now run their library services through a Trust, and one runs their libraries through a charity, so they have already divested themselves of the responsibility. Services are already being run by relying on volunteers, even though librarians have a professional qualification.

In the report for 2015/16 in Powys, the PCC did not meet the criteria for library staff per capita, and opening libraries for shorter hours will mean they fail the criteria for this year as well.

Even if the Town Council could, legally, fund the Library, it would not necessarily save the service. Crickhowell now have a joint venture between the Library and the High School, but there is only a five year agreement, and the hours have been reduced - and the PCC could still cut the service.

Rev Ian Charlesworth was also present - he has experience of locking horns with the PCC as the chair of governors of Gwernyfed School. He pointed out that the Library is not just a service for the people of Hay - residents of the wider area also use it, from Llanigon, and Clyro and even further afield. So why should Hay take on the entire burden of funding for the whole area? Not to mention that we already pay for the library service through our existing taxes.
As the library is a statutory service, the PCC have to consult before they change things. In 2014 they reduced the library hours by 20%, and there seems to be no documentation for the consultation they held in 2016. As Anita from HOWLS said - she didn't hear of any consultation at the time, and only 13 people turned up at the drop-in session, which was very poorly advertised, and only 29 gave their views. There were some meetings organised by the Chief Librarian and some press releases to the Brecon and Radnor Express, but that is not enough for a proper consultation process.
Out of 62,151 residents in Powys, only 598 residents responded to the library consultation - and most of those didn't want to lose their libraries.

One path of opposition is to call for a judicial review. At Gwernyfed, they were lucky enough to have a parent who was willing to do this, but it costs money, and legal aid can only be obtained if the person seeking judicial review is on benefits, which is a lot to ask of anyone.
The benefit of a judicial review is that it sends the PCC back to the drawing board to start again with their plans for all the libraries. After all, why should the small, branch libraries bear the brunt of the cuts, rather than the bigger libraries in Brecon or the other big towns in Powys?