Written interview with Bleddyn Evans, Chair of Yr Heliwr (Sportsman), Nefyn, Gwynedd
What is the pub’s history?
“There is a record of the Sportsman being used as a hotel dating back as far as the 1860s, with coaches stopping outside. Over the decades, it has been a popular pub, and the name has been immortalised in the song ‘Cae yn Nefyn’ by the band Anweledig – “Heliwr wedi cau a phawb ‘di mynd i’w gwlâu…” (The Heliwr has closed, and everybody has gone to bed). More recently, there has been quite a considerable amount of spending on the building, and the pub had been lying empty and on the market for a while. Finding a buyer was a hot topic in the area! A group of local people decided to call a public meeting in January 2018 to see if there was an interest in trying to re-open.”
Tell us about the process of buying a pub and what the intention was?
“The meeting was full to bursting, there was so much enthusiasm, and everybody had different ideas. A Voluntary Committee was established with people of all backgrounds, from an architect to a carpenter. The Wales Co-operative Centre offered advice, and we successfully registered as a Community Benefit Society. The committee launched a community share offer for £50 each. During the summer of 2018, we successfully sold enough shares to buy the building, and by November 2018, we had the keys to the Sportsman in our hands, and the community owned a community building!
We then researched the available grants and received money to redo downstairs from the Welsh Government Community Facilities Programme. We were lucky enough to receive money from the National Lottery Community Fund’s People and Places grant to furnish the ground floor. Funding was secured to pay for the renovation of the accommodation upstairs from Volunteering Wales (WCVA). Pots of funding came from Llŷn AONB, Arloesi Gwynedd Wledig, Hunaniaith, the Town Council, Asda, Calor, Tesco, Cist Gwynedd and Adra to go towards designs, some equipment and things like branding. We have been fortunate.
During this time, we carried out community consultation events, such as information stands and open days, designing questionnaires to find out what people wanted to see happening at the pub – and the answer was – a comfortable place to socialise informally!
The committee applied for grant funding to transform it into a modern, warm and welcoming community building.”
What kind of role does the pub have in the local community?
“For decades the pub has been an important building in the centre of the town, providing accommodation to travellers during the coach ages. It is said that there have been a significant number of taverns and pot-houses in Nefyn over the centuries – it is likely, as a popular seaside town with a thriving shipping and herring fishing industry, that the place was bustling.
Today, the Sportsman has a new look and is now known as Yr Heliwr. Further funding has been secured to employ a Community Development Officer, and Gwenno has already started to organise community activities at the pub and working together with the community.”
You mentioned the grants to renovate the building itself (which has made a big difference to the look of the place in recent months)… but what about the Climate Action Boost fund in particular? What was the inspiration for this project? Why a food/gardening project?
“Due to stricter Covid restrictions at the time, The National Lottery Community Fund suggested we apply for Climate Action Boost Funding. The idea of having a small garden where we could grow some produce and create a place where people could get together outdoors to do some gardening was appealing. Several community groups, like the Church, Youth Service, the school and a residential home for adults with disabilities, had shown an interest in working with us. Planning leisurely and social activities appealed to many people, so the application was made, with help from Renew Wales, and we received funding and plans for the project, which is currently underway.”
What have you used the money for, and how have things been going?
“After several months, volunteer committee members have been able to negotiate a small piece of land for the community garden from the Rhug Estate in Nefyn. A lease has been signed, and a local contractor has started treating and fencing invasive plants next to the piece of land. The contractor has also started clearing the overgrown thorns there. Gwenno, Development Officer at Yr Heliwr, and members of the sub-committee are now working on designing the garden.”
What about the mentoring support that you received from Renew Wales?
“We received support from Renew Wales and from an experienced mentor who had worked on successful projects such as Incredible Edible Porthmadog. It was beneficial – planning and knowing what and when to plant, for example.”
Are there plans for any further community projects?
“Yr Heliwr, as a whole, is a community project. As covid restrictions have eased and people are starting to become more confident, we have started small community events at the pub. E.g. being the pick-up destination for litter picking equipment and an art and wellbeing project in conjunction with the Lleu project.”
What would you say to anybody else thinking of starting a project that helps with tackling climate change? What would your advice be?
“Any environmental project is great, but especially one that is outdoors as the situation stands at present. People are craving socialising and getting together for a chat, and it will be a great benefit to people’s mental health and working outside in the open air will be safer. Volunteers have already come forward to help with fundraising and clearing the pub, so the hope is that a group of people of all ages will be able to take part in this exciting project.”
What significance does this kind of project have on a community like Nefyn and the wider society?
“We held consultation events when the development of Yr Heliwr began, and it was clear that the community wanted social events for people of all ages. Following the hard months of Covid, a community garden like this is even more important as a haven for children and adults to meet in the open air for a chat and to work together. It will certainly have a positive impact on the mental and physical wellbeing of a variety of ages and will give people the confidence to start mixing again.”
“Here is the location of our community garden allotment at Iorweth field, or ‘cae pysgodyn’ (fish field) as the locals call it, on Stryd y Plas.”
“We are looking forward to this garden being created and giving the community a chance to be a part of creating and cultivating it. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but this is an exciting time for the enterprise and the area!”