On ‘forgotten’ estate
rhys to have just 2% of the Rhondda’s population but 40% of the social workers’ case load.
One of Penrhys’ residents around this time was the author Rachel Trezise, who wrote her award-winning book In and Out of the Goldfish Bowl about the experience of growing up in the Rhondda.
She said: “I lived there for a year between the ages of 13 and 14 in the early 1990s, and I remember being really scared of going there.
“Actually I was probably more scared of what people would think of me for living there and of its reputation than I was of the physical place.
“I was surprised to find it was nothing to be scared of. My parents had lived there for a while before I was born.”
She said Penrhys’ location “meant that public transport would always be an issue, particularly when so many people who couldn’t afford cars lived there in the 1970s and ’80s.
“It could seem like you were living on another planet if you didn’t have the means to get to a major town.”
The demolition of many of the buildings in the 1990s reduced the 951 homes of the original estate to around 300 refurbished and re-clad properties, now all owned by RCT Homes (called Trivallis). From an estate with space for 4,000, it had become a “core community” of people – around 800 – who were passionate about the area and wanted to stay.
Today they describe themselves as a tight-knit community whose separation from Ystrad by the hellishly steep and almost unwalkable Penrhys Road only appears to strengthen their identity.
On the estate, Penrhys Partnership’s Kyle Carter, Daniel Powell and Neil Thomas seem to know every single person they walk past, exchanging banter and insider jokes with each of them.
They say the past 12 years has seen a “dramatic, unbelievable change” from the crime and dereliction seen on the estate in the 1990s to what is now a big group of friends living on a hilltop.
That community spirit was there for all to see last year when Neil’s 13-yearold son Jordan tragically died after being diagnosed with a brain tumour.
Neil said: “They all rallied around and, with the help of Trivallis, we installed a memorial bench by the church, and a garden overlooking the Rhondda Fawr.
“They also lent me £200 to get my father over here for the funeral. It’s amazing, really.”
Sharon Rees is an education worker with the church Llanfair Penrhys, and moved to the estate in the early 1990s.
She praises the “fantastic” community spirit.
She said: “I think it’s something to do with the fact we are isolated on top of a mountain. People who don’t have cars find it difficult to get about, so have to call in favours.
“There’s still a stigma and I recently heard a comedian speak negatively about the area but that’s unfair. We have some of the lowest crime figures but have been forgotten by the council.
“It’s improving and things are on the up, but it’s still a struggle.”
That current struggle would certainly include a recent problem with rats on the housing estate, which lasted for 18 months but was resolved earlier this year.
South Wales Police Inspector for the area Dave Gordon says it is now a safe place to live, with a passionate community spirit.
Yet it is far from a finished work. A spokesman for Rhondda Cynon Taf council said the local authority recognised the “unique challenges” facing Penrhys, and was “committed to working with Trivallis Homes to tackle these issues”.
He added: “Whilst the council does not own any of the housing stock situated in Penrhys, we have provided funding to allow for the improvement of public spaces – including a new play park for local children and upgrades to footways, roads and bus shelters.”
Plaid’s Leanne Wood, AM for the Rhondda, said it had been “neglected by the powers that be”.
She said: “It is a place with so many good people with good attitudes and ideas, but with little support from statutory services.”
Penrhys housing estate, perched 1,170ft up in Rhondda Cynon Taf
Penrhys pictured on March 22, 1986