Category: News

Historic Conwy castle twinning agreement

Pictured  Mayor of Himeji, Toshikatsu Iwami  at Conwy Castle.

Conwy’s iconic castle has undergone the first stage of an historic twinning link with the ancient Himeji Castle in Japan which featured in the James Bond movie, You Only Live Twice.

The mayors of the two communities have  signed an agreement in the form of an illuminated manuscript as part of an initiative which is thought to be the first of its kind in the UK.

The Mayor of Himeji, Toshikatsu Iwami, and Conwy Mayor Samantha Cotton pledged to strengthen cultural and educational ties and promote tourism focused around the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

They put their signatures side by side on a Memorandum of Understanding in which they agreed to build and maintain a close friendship between the two destinations.

The signing took place at Conwy’s Guildhall and earlier in the day the Mayor of Himeji was taken on a guided tour of the town’s castle.

Cllr Cotton said it was an honour to welcome her counterpart and that the agreement would buttress an already strong, long-standing relationship between North Wales and Japan and promote new business opportunities in both regions.

In a second stage, finalising the twinning project, a Co-operation Agreement will be sealed in Himeji City next year when a North Wales delegation hopes to visit Japan as it hosts the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Cllr Cotton said: “The twinning arrangement between these historic castles is a momentous achievement which we envisage will reinforce our friendship, enhance business opportunities and inspire both communities to engage in far-reaching shared cultural initiatives.”

Mayor Toshikatsu Iwami agreed it was a significant step forward. He said: “This is an important opportunity for younger generations to learn more about each other’s history and heritage, and to forge important links between our two communities long into the future.”

The of Conwy was bedecked with Japanese and Welsh flags for the special visit.

Mayor Toshikatsu Iwami and tourism representatives from Himeji City attended a civic reception at Conwy Guildhall. They were entertained by a musical performance by pupils of Ysgol Porth y Felin, and Mayor Toshikatsu Iwami was presented with a gift of  photograph of Conwy and the Castle.

During a four day visit to North Wales the delegation from Japan has been touring the region’s tourist attractions, visiting a school, sampling traditional Welsh cuisine and attended the Proclamation parade for the National Eisteddfod to be held in Llanwrst from August 2-10, 2019 and visiting Trefriw Woollen Mill in the Conwy Valley, where they will meet talented Welsh weaver, Gethin Ceidiog Hughes, who was commissioned by the Arts Council of Wales to create a commemorative tapestry representing the links between Conwy and Himeji.

Among the welcoming party for the Mayor of Himeji was Jim Jones, managing director of North Wales Tourism who has been instrumental in bringing the twinning agreement to fruition.

He has visited Himeji Castle which he described as one of the most breathtaking monuments in the world.

He said the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding, backed by the Welsh Government, was of immense importance.

He said: “A lot of hard work and planning on both sides has gone into forging this arrangement and we are delighted with the way it has gone.

“The positive reception given by the community of Conwy to the Himeji Mayor and his party has been unanimous, with businesses and leisure groups throughout the area all keen to play their part.

“The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding is the start of something exceptional and we are all galvanised by the amount of enthusiasm shown for the project.”

Although twinning arrangements between international towns and cities are commonplace, it is unusual for such an arrangement to be forged between two castles. Mr Jones believes this to be the first in the UK.

He said: “There is great potential for local businesses, retailers and the hospitality sector throughout North Wales to benefit from this and, in a reciprocal process for the Himeji community to see more visitors arriving in their city from North Wales.”

It has been achieved because North Wales Tourism has forged close links with the Japanese tourism industry, greatly helped by Nakajima Takeharu, a Welsh Government representative in Japan, and a member of the Japanese delegation.

Nakajima Takeharu said: “The twinning project is one which we have been working on for a long time. It is a real cause for celebration by both communities.

“We believe this to be a most symbolic event. What is so remarkable is that both these castles were built as fortresses at a time when there were many wars. But today they have become iconic symbols of peace and friendship. Their twinning sets a great example for similar harmonious relationships to be achieved around the world.

“It is also a way for cultures from opposite corners of the world to celebrate their differences. Working in tourism I have come to see how people like to explore cultures and destinations different to their own and to find the threads that bind them. Our two castles are representatives of that fact. They are vastly different visually, but have a number of key similarities.”

Tourism Minister, Lord Elis-Thomas said: “The increased profile for Conwy  and north Wales in Japan in recent years has been an excellent platform for us to promote Wales in a relatively untapped market and to spread the word on what we have to offer the Japanese market.

“The industry in North Wales has embraced the opportunity to attract more visitors from the market and the signing of the MOU is another step forward in developing these links even further.”

Work on constructing them both began within 50 years of each other. The Norman king, Edward I, made a start on Conwy Castle in 1283 and the construction of Himeji Castle began in 1333.

Himeji Castle is a stunning five-storey wooden building. It is familiar to many cinema goers, having provided the backdrop for scenes in the 1967 James Bond movie, You Only Live Twice.

It attracts nearly three million visitors annually, all greeted by men dressed in traditional Samurai costumes. Last year it was named Japan’s top-ranked castle for the second consecutive year by TripAdvisor.

The medieval Conwy Castle, with its eight massive stone towers, is said to be a perfect example of a concentric design where the inner wall is higher than the outer and can be defended from it. It attracted more than 217,000 visitors last year, with many coming from Japan.

The twinning move is especially significant as it coincides with the creation of a new tourism route, the Road of Castles in Wonderland, which takes in many North Wales attractions. The route was created with Japanese holidaymakers in mind after a campaign to boost tourism numbers from the far eastern nation resulted in an 84 per cent rise in Japanese visitors to North Wales.

The Memorandum of Understanding promises to promote sustainable tourism at both sites, helping preserve them for future generations, to promote knowledge about the castles, their histories and the communities around them via educational projects, and to exchange skills and expertise through joint cultural and sports activities.

Eco-friendly baker creates new ponds for wildlife

Village Bakery Wrexham .... Pictured is Director Christien Jones.

A new haven for wildlife is taking shape right in the middle of one of the UK’s biggest industrial estates.

The Village Bakery have spent £25,000 on creating two new ponds at the six-acre nature reserve at Erlas Black Wood.

The site is next door to the family firm’s two bakeries on Wrexham Industrial Estate and will become an amenity for staff and members of the public when it’s finished.

The broad leaf woodland dates back to the 17th century and includes native species like oak, ash and willow.

It’s known there are tawny owls nesting there and it is also an important habitat for greater crested newts.

The company has been working with the North Wales Wildlife Trust and environmental specialists Enfys Ecology to create and manage the habitat for the newts.

Projects director Christien Jones said: “We’ve created two new ponds to add to one that was there already.

“One of them is 40 metres by 20 metres, another them is 10 metres squared and the third one is about 30 metres by 20 metres.

“They’re substantial ponds but they’ve been designed by Enfys Ecology to have certain depths, to have some newt habitat.

“The habitats come in various forms, from piles of logs, decaying logs, to piles of used brick.

“The newts like long grass and undisturbed felled trees so we’ve cleared a few trees and mulched some others, while some we’ve left as stacks of logs.

“Our ultimate aim is to open the area up to our staff and members of the public as an area where people can go for a relaxing walk.

“There are thousands of people working on the estate and I am sure they would welcome somewhere to go during their lunch break instead of doing a circuit around the main road.

The nature reserve project is part of the company’s Village Green campaign to make the family-run business as environmentally sustainable as possible.

Since 2012 the Village Bakery – which has another bakery in Minera – has slashed the use of electricity by 18 per cent

They have also installed more than 1,000 roof-top solar panels. The 250 kilowatt system means in summer they are able to run their bakery just on solar energy during the majority of daylight hours.

Earlier this year the Village Bakery planted the verges and grassed areas around its two bakeries on Wrexham Industrial Estate with wildflower seeds.

According to the company, the newly-sown wildflowers in the verges will create the idea habitat for the endangered Grizzled Skipper butterflies.

The numbers of the butterfly, which has a distinctive chequered black and white pattern on its wings, have halved in Britain over the past 40 years.

In addition, they have created a spectacular four storey high living wall of evergreen plants at their new Baking Academy and Innovation Centre which was officially opened by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall .

The building’s ground-breaking design includes a host of other green features including rainwater harvesting, massive levels of insulation and building panels made of recycled material.

The living wall – believed to be the biggest of its type in Wales – has been planted with hundreds of plants which change colour as the seasons come and go.

Mr Jones added: “Business has a responsibility to the environment to do our duty and set something aside for these purposes because otherwise the whole area will be covered in concrete.

“We want to show that it is possible for business to live in harmony with nature, for the benefit of both.

“We have a track record of investing in the environment. It’s part of our DNA as a company thanks to our chairman, Alan Jones, who has been a champion of the countryside for years.

“As a company, the Village Bakery has had an environmental policy for a long, long time, long before it became a requirement.

“We feel it is really important that we invest in the future of the planet and our nature reserve project makes a real statement about our commitment to the environment.”

Talented young printmaker wins top award


A talented young North Wales designer currently taking the luxury fashion world by storm has just landed a prestigious award.

Gethin Ceidiog Hughes, 26, from Denbigh, has added to his widespread acclaim by scooping the coveted Eirian Llwyd Memorial Award to honour artists who have shown outstanding dedication and creative talent in their field of printmaking.

At the same time, his striking new range of woven silk scarves  is selling well in high-end boutiques and shops after being launched last year.

Eirian Llwyd, the wife of former Plaid Cymru leader and Deputy First Minister of Wales Ieuan Wyn Jones, was herself a distinguished printmaker and founder of Y Lle Print Gwreiddiol – The Original Print Place – on Anglesey.

Following her death at the age of 63 in 2014, her family and the Arts Council of Wales set up a memorial trust in her name to provide financial awards for new and upcoming Welsh artists who specialise in the medium of printmaking.

Gethin is only the third winner of the annual award which carries a cash bonus of up to £2,500 to allow artists to develop and continue their printmaking practice by purchasing new equipment or working on new projects.

Nominations for the award come from the curators of galleries or managers of print centres across Wales and it’s judged by a panel of experts including the Arts Council of Wales’ Portfolio Manager for Visual and Applied Arts, a development officer and a national adviser with expertise in visual arts.

Gethin, who completed his MA at the famous Cardiff School of Art and Design and has rapidly established a formidable reputation as a photographer and printmaker, said the money would help finance new developments and projects.

His range of women’s scarves which are proving such a hit with fashion conscious buyers are based on geometric patterns inspired by the work of Russian painter Kazimir Malevich.

All six designs, which Gethin is marketing under the brand Wilding, which is his mother’s middle name, are derived from Malevich’s iconic 1915 painting Black Square and are variations on the same theme of black and white squares.

He turned to a traditional silk weaving mill in Halifax, West Yorkshire, to have them woven ready for the shops using the traditional weaving process.

Aimed at the luxury end of the market, the scarves retail at £200.

Gethin said: “Things have been going very well and I’ve had lots of positive feedback so far. The scarves are available at boutiques and other high-end outlets across North Wales and northern England.

“I’ve been so busy with the scarves project that I’d almost forgotten that Philip Hughes, the director of Ruthin Craft Centre, had entered me for the Eirian Llwyd Memorial Award.

“This is the first award I’ve ever entered and to win is just fantastic. It was also totally unexpected as I know there such a talented pool of artists to choose from.

The presentation took place during the Creative Conversations event hosted by the Arts Council of Wales at the Volcano Theatre in Swansea.

He added: “I’m very proud to have won such a respected award, especially as I’m one of the first few recipients, and the money I’ll receive as part of it will come as a big and welcome boost to me.

“It will allow me to take my career to the next level. As an artist finding funds is always difficult but this will give me a really good kick-start and push in the right direction.

“It will enable me to do different types of work and to think about new designs and projects. So for me it’s definitely now a case of onwards and upwards.

”I feel hugely honoured that the award is in memory of Eirian Llwyd who was a remarkably talented printmaker who also did so much to promote the medium, as well as providing opportunities for artists in Wales.

Before he came up with the scarves, a landmark artistic project for Gethin came in 2016 when he produced a series of screen prints to visually tell the story behind tracks from a new album by Bristol band Dr Meaker, recently feted as the UK’s hottest live dance act.

In the world of photography Gethin has had assignments for every major event music promoter in Cardiff, which gave him the opportunity to picture a string of major international DJs and music bosses, including the legendary drum and bass producer Goldie.

Examples of Gethin’s powerful work have been published in Complex Magazine, Drum & Bass Arena, Wales Online, BBC Wales and also in regional newspapers.

In 2015 he staged his first photographic exhibition at which he showcased his work as part of the international Diffusion Festival.

This exposure sparked off a boom in his projects, including the Sunfall Festival in London and his collaboration with Dr Meaker.

More recently Gethin has trained with artists and printers as part of the Proof Scholarship scheme at the Regional Print Centre which is part of Coleg Cambria in Wrexham.

Gethin was nominated for the Eirian Llwyd Memorial Ward by Philip Hughes, who runs the Ruthin Craft Centre.

He said: “Gethin is a particularly interesting and innovative young artist designer with a distinctive talent and I’m delighted that he has won this award.

“He has achieved much since he graduated and gained a wealth of relevant expertise to achieve his ambitions.

“He has pursued all the opportunities that have been offered to him including developing commissioned work alongside his own practice. He is now at an important point in his early career and beginning to establish his practice in Wales.

“His recent work is a journey of exploration, at first using silk-screen, but now moving in to etching.

“I believe he has considerable talent. His prints exude a vibrant and joyful use of colour coupled with vital abstract mark-making.”

Course creates marriage made in business heaven

Peninsula Windows 02

A pioneering leadership and management course played cupid to two Anglesey firms.

Peninsula Home Improvements and Gwynedd Garage Doors Ltd have now moved in together in a “marriage made in business heaven”.

They struck up their unique relationship at the European-funded ION Leadership Programme at Bangor University.

As a result, Gwynedd Garage doors are now based at Peninsula’s premises in Gaerwen, with a spectacular view overlooking the Menai Strait towards Snowdonia.

The union has provided a big boost for both companies because their businesses are complementary and they now generate new customers for each other.

It all came about after Peninsula chief executive Ken Grayson met Carys Owen whose brother, Paul, runs Gwynedd Garage Doors, during one of the ION Leadership courses.

As well as selling uPVC doors and windows, Peninsula concentrate on high-end glazing products similar to the ones used on the hit TV show Grand Designs fronted by Kevin McCloud.

In the past they also sold garage doors but it was never a core part of the business.

Ken said: “I was on my second ION course at the university where one of the benefits is the opportunity to network and talk to like-minded people.

“I met Carys and we realised that we weren’t focusing really strongly on garage doors which is something they obviously specialise in.

“As companies, we both had gaps in what we offered so it seemed to be a really good, cooperative way of partnering up.

“It’s a strategic arrangement and it works for both sides so there were no disadvantages for either of us. It just seemed like a marriage made in business heaven.

“The synergy between the two companies means we are now greater than the sum of our individual parts.”

As well as being based in Gaerwen where they pay rent for the office, showroom and warehouse space, Gwynedd Garage Doors also benefit from the Peninsula sales team who drum up sales leads when they are out and about.

Together, the two companies have a workforce of around 30 people, with 23 of them on the Peninsula side.

The agreement is working well for Gwynedd Garage Doors which was founded by Carys and Paul’s dad, Goronwy, in Aberffraw, in the early 1980s.

Paul said: “Our passion is garage doors and the benefit of this arrangement is that it frees up my time to do what I’m good at which is installing doors, and surveying and getting the customer the best door for their budget.

“Having the salesman going out and selling before I go in and finish off the installations, and just being incorporated with a bigger brand is good for our brand.

“This partnership works well for all involved, especially the customer because we’re now a one stop shop for everything they need.”

It was a sentiment echoed by sister Carys, managing director of a business consultancy company, Capacity2learn.

She said: “Moving in together seemed like a win-win situation for us and what  the ION course gave us was the confidence to think outside the box to come up with this imaginative solution to make the most of the strengths of both companies. Lots of positives have come out of it from both sides.”

Gwenllian Owen, the Programme Manager for the ION Leadership project, which is  backed with £2.7 million from the European Social Fund, is proud of both business partners in the new relationship.

She said:  “ION leadership helps develop and grow small to medium enterprises and works with large organisations as well.

“We work with business owners, managers and aspiring leaders to help them develop their leadership skills in order to become more effective at what they do but also to encourage and support their staff to become more effective.

“In this case we seem to have acted like a dating agency for Peninsula and Gwynedd Garage Doors and it’s worked out really well.

“It’s very satisfying because we work very closely with these businesses when they’re on the programmes and encourage them to discuss potential partnerships.

“We have seen a number of partnerships develop as a result of our courses but this is the first one where they are working so closely and based at the same premises.

“It’s mutually beneficial for both partners and long may that continue.”