By: Chloe Phillips
The unique history of South Wales is world famous. Each year, thousands of tourists from home and abroad flock to this area to gaze in wonder at our magical castles, to stroll through our ancient villages and to discover more about our mining heritage. Our history has made south Wales a must visit destination for people the world over – but like all good things right on your own doorstep – we sometimes don’t appreciate what others see, or we simply forget what a special place we live in. Because of the fast pace of modern life, it can be hard to stop and remember the many local events and people that have helped to shape our history, but thanks to social media, it’s easier than ever to share and remember our history with others.
It was a desire to bring people together through a shared love of local history in Abergavenny that spawned the creation of a Facebook page called Forgotten Abergavenny back in September 2013. At the time, a small team from Cardiff University’s School of Social Sciences were working in the town on a community research project which included putting on theatre performances, working with resident groups and consulting with Abergavenny businesses. The project was successful, but the team realised that they needed to reach and involve even more people, so started the Forgotten Abergavenny Facebook to attract attention to the project.
“We uploaded a couple of interesting old photos of the town and included some information on the project and hoped for the best,” says Sassy Hicks, the Administrator for Forgotten Abergavenny. “I remember thinking that I hoped we would get a few likes and followers within six months of starting the page, but by the end of the first week, we had over 900. It was then that I realised the people of Abergavenny really love and value their local history.” Within days, photos of long forgotten Abergavenny events, old landmarks and people were being sent in by the pages followers – and not just from the town itself – but from across the world. “It was amazing to see,” adds Sassy.
“We were getting images sent in from people as far away as Australia.”
After meeting with Liz Davies, the Editor of local newspaper, The Abergavenny Chronicle, the Forgotten Abergavenny Facebook page was given a boost. The newspaper published several articles about the project and included old photos of the town, but their support didn’t stop there. “Liz and her team really believed in Forgotten Abergavenny and supported us so much,” admits Sassy, as she shows me some press clippings from the paper. “She then gave me the email address of a German man called Udo Schultz, who has visited the town each year since the 1940s. Udo has a wealth of old photos and he agreed to share them with us.”
The photos of Abergavenny taken by Udo Schultz span an incredible sixty years and show the many changes that have taken place in the town, yet they also reveal how the local landscape hasn’t fundamentally changed. Streets and shops are still recognisable today, but it’s the photos of old landmarks such as Bailey Park pool and the cattle market that people identify with most and bring long lost friends back together. “Forgotten Abergavenny stands as a great example of how cohesion can be developed in a community through allowing people to publically express their sense of belonging to the community they live in,” explains Dr David Studdert from Cardiff University.
Forgotten Abergavenny has also made the leap off Facebook and into real life. Hundreds of people that follow the Facebook pages attended a gala day at Bailey Park to commemorate the old swimming pool, took part in painting a mural based on photos from the Facebook page and hundreds more took part in a Forgotten Abergavenny music video.
Followers continue to send in photos and old film clips and Forgotten Abergavenny has helped many old friends make contact with each other again. “What started as a simple Facebook page documenting Abergavenny’s history has become so much more: it is now a community in its own right with followers from ninety countries and nearly 4,000 followers,” says Sassy.
So what is it about Forgotten Abergavenny that resonates so strongly with people? “Forgotten Abergavenny is an amazing page and my husband and I very often sit and look at the photographs and reminisce the past,” says Barbara McCarthy, an active follower. For those living far from their birthplace, Forgotten Abergavenny helps them to stay in touch and reconnect, as Steve Batten explains: ” I loved growing up in Abergavenny, was born in Victoria Street but now live in Southampton, it’s just really nice to see and hear about other people’s memories and reliving days gone by brings me closer to home!” Our history really is connecting people here in South Wales..