Wales’s most important bard has paid a poetic tribute to a unique chair that’s been designed to combat loneliness by encouraging people to sit down and talk to each other.
Archdruid Myrddin ap Dafydd has written a special englyn – a four-line strict metre verse – in praise of the Cadair Sgwrs (Conversation Chair) unveiled by housing association Cartrefi Conwy today (Tuesday, August 6) at the National Eisteddfod in Llanrwst.
The chair has been created with the help of Cartrefi Conwy tenants and local schoolchildren, guided by top artist Catrin Williams and bespoke furniture maker Rhodri Owen.
The intergenerational project was made possible by part-funding from Arts & Business Cymru’s Culture Step programme.
Myrddin ap Dafydd commended the Cadair Sgwrs as a way of promoting social inclusion.
He said: “I think this is a great idea. I love the fact that encouraging conversation is being done via a chair which links in so well with the National Eisteddfod for which chairs are hugely symbolic.”
After the Eisteddfod Cadair Sgwrs will be placed for set periods of time at easily accessible locations on housing estates managed by Cartrefi Conwy.
The idea is that it will become a symbol of friendship, a talking point, encouraging people to sit down, have a chat, make friends and socialise.
Llanrwst-born Myrddin, who founded the Gwasg Carreg Gwalch publishing company and has written numerous poems and Welsh language children’s books, added: “I believe the idea to locate the chair in different parts of the local community will be a lovely way to get people talking.”
“I used as my inspiration an old Welsh saying which roughly translated means that conversation should flow like a river. As we have the River Conwy running through Llanrwst it seemed to me to fit in perfectly with the theme of social inclusion.
“Hopefully people who see it and sit on the Cadair Sgwrs will be able to converse, share their thoughts and laugh as freely as the river flows.”
The vibrantly coloured chair is enveloped in a stunning outer surface comprising a compilation of more than 80 artworks created by tenants of Cartrefi Conwy and Clwyd Alyn housing associations, members of Llanrwst Men’s Shed group, and pupils of Ysgol Bro Gwydir, Llanrwst.
It is made out of polystyrene and fibre glass materials in what is a change of direction for carpenter and furniture maker Rhodri, of Ysbyty Ifan, who also made the Bardic Chair for the 2017 National Eisteddfod. He traditionally works with wood.
He designed the chair in collaboration with artist Catrin, a member of the Royal Cambrian Academy, who is based on the Llyn Peninsula.
Catrin divides her time between running art courses and producing her own work. She was commissioned by Cartrefi Conwy to work with about 20 tenants and other volunteers who agreed to help with the Cadair Sgwrs project.
Over recent months they have been meeting at Hafan Gwydir Extra Care housing, Llanrwst, to produce a selection of artwork which has been collated together to form the unique overall design now permanently embossed onto the chair. Their art has been based around the key themes of what makes them happy and what community means to them.
Catrin said: “It’s been personally rewarding for me leading this group and helping people discover their natural artistic talent.”
Rhodri Owen was inspired to use polystyrene and fibre glass by his interest in surf boarding.
He said: “I like to mix things up a bit and try new, inventive ideas so this was a fun way to do that. I used the same sort of process that is used to make patterned surf boards. There were more than 80 pieces of art produced and I think I’ve managed to get most of them on there. We’re all really pleased with the end result.”
Arts and Business Cymru chief executive Rachel Jones said: “Arts & Business Cymru was delighted to invest in Cadair Sgwrs and support the strong and creative partnership between the National Eisteddfod and Cartrefi Conwy. The Culture Step panel was hugely impressed by the inclusive and innovative approach of the project, which directly engages local people and communities in such a far-reaching and tangible way.”
Attending the unveiling of the chair at the Eisteddfod, Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, Lord Elis-Thomas said: “This is a fantastic partnership project and one which all those involved can be rightly proud of.
“This shows the powerful way in which Art can bring people together – and I hope that Cadair Sgwrs will continue to bring people together as it tours north Wales.
“It’s also a pleasure to see that the chair also records the work of my peers.”
One of the Cartrefi Conwy residents involved in creating the artwork Annabella Orr, of Scotland Street, Llanrwst, said: “I’m so proud to have had the chance to be part of this. No matter where it goes we will always be able to say we played a part in the making of that chair. And the reason for its creation, combatting loneliness is so important.
“I feel extremely lucky to have been a part of this and have made some good new friends because of it.”
Another Cartrefi Conwy resident Tilly Goodwin, 79, also of Scotland Street, whose art appears on the chair, said: “It is a great idea to help combat loneliness in such a novel way.
“There are so many people these days who live alone and don’t see a soul throughout the day. Some can be quite shy or reserved and might not like to join a group, but this is such a simple way for them to meet with neighbours and make friends just by sitting together on a chair. The fact that it is covered with all our artwork gives them an immediate talking point..”
The art group members were each presented with gifts of sketch pads and art materials as Nerys Veldhuizen, Cartrefi Conwy’s Older Person’s Engagement Officer, said: “It has been a lovely project to work on because it has already brought people together and new friendships have been made.
“It bodes well that the Cadair Sgwrs has also become something of a talking point at the National Eisteddfod and we hope it will be an effective tool in helping to combat loneliness in our communities.”
Gwynne Jones, the Managing Director of Cartrefi Conwy, said: “The tenants and the children have produced art pieces that paint a picture of what makes them happy and what community means to them.
“We believe that Cadair Sgwrs will strengthen communities by building social networks and enabling people from different backgrounds and ages, who may not otherwise meet, to come together and form connections and friendships.”
Myrddin ap Dafydd’s englyn to the Cadair Sgwrs
Sgwrsio’n braf fel lli’r afon – a chreu cylch
O’r cof a’r hanesion;
Daw Conwy drwy’r gadair hon
A gwêl ysgafnu’r galon.