Spotlight on Womanby Street

This article – or a heavily edited version of it – was first published in March 2017 in the South Wales Echo. We do a regular column, see. They’re listed by yer, they are. This month I Loves The ‘Diff was basking in the glory of a fairly prestigious award and we jumped on the Save Womanby Street bandwagon

 

We’ve been doing this monthly column for nigh-on two years now. Hopefully in this time we’ve highlighted some fun events or delved into some Cardiff-related issues and so conveyed to you some new information that you’ve deemed to be useful.

Time certainly flies when you’re having fun. Take the BBC in the Bay, for example. Did you know that this month it’s celebrating five years of Roath Lock Studios, home to Doctor Who, Casualty and Pobol Y Cwm? Since opening in 2012 the 175,000 square foot facility has produced over 850 hours of TV, which have garnered 39 major industry awards. Better still, 52 apprentices have been trained at the site.

I was lucky enough to be invited along on a tour on Monday. Sadly, a bout of man put pay to my attendance so this is where the BBC part of the column ends. I did visit the Casualty set last year though, which was a lot of fun – it’s useless if you’re sick or injured but otherwise it’s brilliant.

Save Womanby Street

One of my favourite Cardiff streets is that of Womanby – a red brick and torn poster clad lane of drizzle-slickened cobblestone that that oozes street cred.

Home to some of the city’s best indie venues, including of course the legendary Clwb Ifor Bach, Womanby Street is the vibrant hub of Cardiff’s live music scene.

(Quick aside: many years ago I was once refused entry due to my inability to siarad Cymraeg. Absolutely scandalous, even if it was Welsh speaking night. Wouldn’t happen today, of course. This was way back before social media, when woolly mammoths still roamed Bute Park, so I could only moan to the barman in The City Arms about it, and I don’t think he was all that sympathethic if truth be told.)

Anyway, back to wonderful, gritty Womanby Street… In the words of Rob Toogood of Fuel Rock Club, “Womanby Street is a special place and there’s nowhere like it in Cardiff.” He’s not wrong.

Last month, I wrote about the loss of Dempseys, soon to be a Brains and Bale sports bar and grill, which I hope does well, especially given its location. If that is the first sign of Womanby Street’s gentrification then the second – approved plans by Wetherspoon’s, owners of The Gatekeeper pub to create a 17-room upstairs – has prompted fears that such a development may mean the demise of what has made Womanby Street Cardiff’s preminent alternative live music for the past 30 years or more.

In response to Wetherspoon’s being granted planning permission – against which there was a petition with some 7,000 signatures – a campaign called Save Womanby Street launched last Sunday.

“Save Womanby Street was started to protect one of Cardiff’s most important cultural music scenes. The addition of the hotel is a welcome benefit to the street, however under the current system of law, the venues could be threatened and even face closure,” says Ewan Moor, co-manager of the campaign, which is working closely with Clwb Ifor Bach, the Full Moon, Fuel Rock Club, Tiny Rebel Cardiff and The City Arms.

Time to step up

Recent history suggests Ewan’s fears are far from groundless. In February 2009, a great live venue, The Point, in Mount Stuart Square was forced to close after six years when the owner ran into financial difficulty following refurbishment work. As I understand it, around £100,000 had to be spent on soundproofing because of complaints about noise from occupants of newly built nearby flats.

“The aim of the campaign is to amend the Local Development Plan to make Womanby Street a ‘cultural night time economy’, which will protect the venues and allow them to continue to flourish,” says Ewan, who works at The City Arms.

We will be asking people to lobby their local Councillors in the coming weeks to support the amendment to the Local Development Plan. This is the best way to ensure our street survives and prospers. Change does not happen overnight. Change requires effort. In order to protect Womanby Street we need people’s support and passion. It’s time to step up.”

…And party. Save Womanby Street plans to put on several events to highlight the cause, which are sure to be great fun. Follow @savewomanbyst on Twitter or search Facebook.

And the winner is…

Last week was the Cardiff Life Awards, held at City Hall, co-hosted by everyone’s favourite referee Nigel Owens. We dug out the glad rags because I Loves The ‘Diff was up for awards in a couple of categories and very proud to be considered Finalists we were too.

As it happens we lost out to Jessica Draws in the creative category and, in the retail category, to Leekes (talk about David and Goliath!). I’d like to say many congratulations to them, as well as all the night’s winners, including The Cardiff Story, Cardiff Market’s Cheese Pantry, Boulders climbing centre, The Dead Canary bar, and the Danish bakery Brød.

It was a fun and glamourous night topped off by the wholly unexpected surprise of I Loves The ‘Diff being awarded the very last and seemingly unscheduled award of the evening, that of ‘Special Achievement’. I was quite literally speechless so I was relieved when I wasn’t forced to make one.

It’s a lovely feeling to receive such an acknowledgement from peers. I’m very grateful to the judges, and to everyone who clapped and high-fived me as I stumbled off the stage.

Visit ilovesthediff.com to see original ways to celebrate Cardiff

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