Abandoned on the mountainside – the estate that feels like it’s been left to rot


Most people who live in the isolated mountainside estate of Penrhys in the Rhondda will tell you that the reputation it has is undeserved, or rather that it isn’t like it used to be. Yet they feel abandoned, out of sight and out of mind.

Towering over the rest of the Rhondda at 1,170ft, with incredible views as far as the eye can see, Penrhys has one of the most stunning locations of any community in Wales. But when you turn around, you see disused, abandoned and tattered blocks of flats and houses. There is only one store, a takeaway and a church on the site. The children’s play park was closed due to vandalism. And access to amenities is poor, with the nearest doctor’s surgery only accessible by bus or car.

It is one of the poorest communities in Wales, the fourth most deprived in Wales according to the most recent official statistics. And residents who are proud of their home believe more should be done to support them and the community they have built despite the adversity they have faced. For them, the biggest problem is not the abandoned buildings or the prejudices they still face, it is the fact that they feel neglected on the side of a mountain in the valleys.

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Separated from Ystrad and the rest of the Rhondda by the extremely steep hill of Penrhys, residents of the community say their isolation has strengthened their community. Callum Williams, from Aberdare, has lived on the site for several years. He said: “The best thing about Penrhys is how tight-knit the community is. Anyone will do anything for anyone. Just ask the church which is the center of Penrhys and everyone will come together to help you.”

The estate’s image for many foreigners was set in the 1980s and early 1990s when arson attacks were reported in abandoned blocks and firefighters were pelted with rocks when they came to help. However, things have changed. Almost two-thirds of the houses were demolished and others were rebuilt and renovated.

Yet despite the determination of the community, which says its spirit and willingness to help those in need faithfully reflects the spirit of their valleys, they feel that the authorities have not done enough to nurture and sustain the domain. They’re miles from a train station or doctor’s surgery, with Treorchy and its Great Britain Street of the Year 2020 a few miles away. To keep up to date with news from the Valleys, you can subscribe to our newsletters here.

Ashley Rees has lived on the site since birth and said people still think Penrhys is the same as it was decades ago.

An old, damaged ice cream truck was still lying on the estate.

Penrhys once had a bustling shopping center for its residents, but now has a shop, takeaway restaurant and church.

Ashley Rees volunteers at Llanfair Church which has become a hub for the community where they run after school homework clubs, and is a source of support and information for the whole estate.

Ashley has lived at the site all her life and said Penrhys still has the reputation based on past events from decades ago. He said: “People still think of Penrhys as it used to be, rough. It used to be, but you won’t find community spirit anywhere else like you do here. In the snow people were knocking on doors to ask if people needed anything. It’s the only time being on a hill is a problem, but everyone was on their quads and in their jeeps to help each other.”

The site once had over 950 houses, but only around 300 remain.

Paul Evans said: “There’s a real sense of frustration here, the community feels abandoned.”

Developed in the late 1960s, Penrhys consisted of 951 houses built on 61 acres, which was at the time the largest public sector housing site in Wales. It was built on the site of a former monastery that became an important center of pilgrimage.

Paul Evans, originally from Cardiff, has lived on the site for nearly two years. He said it’s no wonder people think he has a bad reputation – because people have been completely let down. He said: “It’s really shocking the state Penrhys has been left in. It can’t be good for anyone, the behavior has deteriorated over time with litter because people don’t respect the area to because of the state of what was left behind. . There is a real sense of frustration here, the community feels abandoned.”

In the Welsh Multiple Deprivation Index, Penrhys falls in Tylorstown Area 1. It is the fourth most deprived community in Wales out of over 1,900 communities of a similar size and has worsened since the first index compiled in 2005. It has the 7th lowest average income in Wales, is 10th most deprived in health and 11th most deprived in employment. It has been described as a “deeply rooted” area of ​​deprivation that has consistently been among the 50 most deprived areas since the index was first compiled in 2005.

Ivor Williams has lived on the site since it was built – he moved here aged 10 in 1969. He said: ‘This place had a huge drug problem, there were always problems, it was wild here. It’s not like that anymore, it’s a community, everyone knows each other and everyone wants to help each other. What disappoints now is the site, not the people, the state of the buildings and the fact that here there is only a corner shop, takeaway and church.You can’t blame people anymore, when that’s what they have to work with.

Ivor Williams has lived on the site since it was built, moving here aged 10 in 1969, he says despite Penrhys notorious reputation it does not reflect what it is today.

The local authority hoped to provide spacious social housing that was totally different from the traditional Rhondda terraced houses which met the National Coal Board’s request for 250 housing for miners in the North East. Yet, before the building work was completed, the coal council withdrew its application as the decline of mining in the Rhondda had already begun, and therefore the demand for social housing would halve.

This then meant that when the Penrhys estate was opened many of its early residents were unemployed and were considered outcasts by the rest of the Rhondda. Putting nearly 1,000 houses on a hill, what did they expect?

Over the years the size of the site has shrunk from the 951 houses that were opened here in the late 1960s. In the 1990s demolition of many buildings took place and some of the remaining properties were renovated.

Ron Belmont has lived on the site for over 40 years, he said the site has undergone many changes over the years, but like everywhere there is good and bad. He said: “Years ago you had to fight to get into the pub, rightly then Penrhys had a name for itself, there were so many drugs here and so many problems. When you finally walked into the pub there would be people in there with crossbow shooting and bats.

Ron Belmont has lived at the site for over 40 years, he said: “Even though this is my home, and where I have lived for 40 years, if they asked me to leave, I would leave tomorrow.”

“Still to this day there is nothing here for children, the park has been padlocked for vandalism, nothing is being done to improve it, we have been left to our own devices here. I worked on a number of sites during my time but this is by far the worst, you open the shutters in the morning and just see these stinky houses in front of you.

“Even though this is my home, and where I lived for 40 years, if they asked me to leave, I would leave tomorrow.”

Penrhys Park has been padlocked at each entrance with a sign attached to the gates reading: ‘This play area is closed to vandalism’.

Penrhys Park is locked with a padlock with a sign that reads: ‘This play area is closed due to vandalism.’

Buffy Williams, MS for the Rhondda said: “Over the years Penrhys has slowly become a household name in Rhondda for all the wrong reasons. We see and hear old stories, especially in the media, about alcohol, drugs, anti-social behavior, you name it. If there’s a crime to be committed in Rhondda, it’s as if we’ve been hardwired to assume it’s Penrhys. The reality is that it doesn’t. There are neither more nor fewer problems in Penrhys than in other communities in Rhondda, but that is not to say that the community does not have its challenges.

“For too long many have believed and fueled the negative perception of the estate without any good reason to do so. For me Penrhys is a warm and welcoming community looking out for each other. Church and school are paramount in this sense community network, ensuring that no one falls through the net, regardless of age or youth.

“You’d be hard pressed to find many other communities that experience the sense of pride that residents of the estate feel, and that’s in part due to the support of a handful of active volunteers, Daniel, Neil and Sharon. The Labor Day team and night to support the residents, and are determined to see the estate prosper.”

Penrhys notorious reputation seems to be the result of a community that was abandoned on the side of a mountain and left with very little funding or support to improve living conditions. Its people showed courage and determination to make the best of an impossible situation by being there for each other.


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