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Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Tracing the Change at Cardiff Bay: a Britain from Above Community Project, Butetown

Cardiff Bay has seen a lot of change since Aerofilms Ltd first visited 90 years ago. Once the home of bustling docks, the bay has been redeveloped into an almost unrecognisable landscape of modern cultural importance: the Senedd (National Assembly for Wales) is now housed on the waterfront, as is the Millennium Centre, an important hub for the arts. When contemplating Cardiff Bay images from the collection hosted by Britain from Above, the extent and significance of this change begin to emerge.

General view of Cardiff showing docks

As part of its Activity Programme, Britain from Above is using Aerofilms images of Cardiff Bay and the surrounding region as a starting point for an intergenerational community project in the Butetown area of Cardiff. The project involves the residents of Red Sea House (a Taff initiative to house retired Somali seamen) and the Somali Youth Association group (SoYA).

The Butetown project ultimately aims to put together a short film capturing how everyday life in the area is experienced by different generations. The film will explore both the elders’ reminiscences of living and working in Butetown, and the children’s more recent experiences of change taking place in their neighbourhoods.

View of Cardiff showing docks and Butetown

Rather than simply interviewing the participants, the project is encouraging the children to take an active part in the filmmaking process. Film company Big Mouse Productions are lending their expertise, leading sessions that focus on the basics of professional film recording. They also teach the children how to be accomplished interviewers and ask questions that will elicit interesting answers.

The children of SoYA have had excellent fun practicing their new skills on each other ~some finding out what their friends want to be when they grow up (doctors, for the most part), others talking about places they’d lived in (as far and wide as the USA and Netherlands). One child remarked on how many more pavements there are in Wales compared to the USA! These sessions help the children develop a range of skills they can repeatedly draw on, for any projects they may like to work on in the future.
General view of Cardiff docks

During the industrial heyday of the city, Cardiff Bay was the largest port in Wales, with a constant stream of ships, sailors and dock workers pouring through. The industrial heritage of Wales is now being recognised as a key part of Welsh history, and work is being done by heritage organisations to record details of the lives of people involved in the day to day running of the bay.

View of Bute East dock, Cardiff and surrounding area

However, not as much work has been carried out exploring the experiences of visiting seamen and the lives they later made for themselves in Cardiff ~and it is precisely this gap that the Britain from Above Butetown project addresses. The Aerofilms collection is a unique and invaluable resource that can be used to help stir memories and recollections. By encouraging the younger generations to find out about the history of the place they live in and about the experiences of the older members of their community, and by asking them to share their own experiences of change, the project hopes to trace a microhistory of life in Cardiff Bay, as seen through the eyes of Butetown residents.

View of Cardiff Docks

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