A History of Rhyl South West Central Residents Association

Incorporating Save Botanical Gardens Campaign 2003-2007

The above named voluntary group was the result of a petition begun in August, 2003, against the proposed relocation by Denbighshire County Council of the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages from Rhyl Town Centre to the Café in the centre of the Botanical Gardens, Grange Road. The plan would have meant chopping down long established and rare trees in the gardens to create a staff car park and the loss of a community facility, ie the café, which the County Council had closed the previous year. 

A small group of local residents organised a vigorous press campaign and petition, located in a number of shops and businesses in the town, against this plan. The petition, which finally totalled 4200 signatures opposing the move, was presented to Denbighshire County Council and by November 2004 the Council had taken note of the local opposition, reconsidered their plans and located elsewhere. 

Having saved the café from becoming offices the campaign organisers decided to attempt to reopen the café and run it with volunteers from the local community. There being no Residents’ Association in this part of South West Rhyl and following advice from the then Mayor, Councillor Glyn Williams and also Ann Weir, Rhyl Community Agency, we set up the Rhyl South West Central Residents Association (RSWCRA) in November, 2003. The thinking was that we would get more support from the Council and others for our plans if we were a properly constituted body. 

A Public Meeting was called in November and a committee of six was formed from the large group of residents who attended, plus a chair, secretary and treasurer were elected. Since then we have not looked back and a wealth of support and voluntary help from the local residents has been drawn together which, apart from the café, attends to the usual issues that occur in a residential area like this, ie anti-social behaviour, street lighting, street cleaning, planning issues, etc. 

The Botanical Gardens Cafe, which had been closed for some time, was reopened by RSWCRA, assisted initially by Clwyd Leisure, and we are now the legal tenants. The café is run seven days a week for the first time by volunteers from the local community and has become a Community Centre which the area previously lacked. Also, for the first time since the Botanical Gardens opened in 1928, the café, previously let commercially, has been successfully kept open by the volunteers continuously throughout the winter, where previously it opened for the summer season only. 

The centre is now regularly used for meetings by: Rhyl Alzheimer’s Association, Autistic Children, Children’s Library Book Reading Group, Community Learning Groups, Food Coop Group, Food Hygiene Courses, Gingerbread Group, Hafan Deg Residents, Llys Nant Home Residents (local homes for the elderly and the disabled), New Era Pensioners Group, Over 50s Club, Parent and Toddlers Group (for whom we obtained funding), Recycled Teenagers Club (elderly), Rhyl Area Partnership Steering Group, Rhyl Festival Week Committee, Rhyl Mountain Bike Club, Rhyl South West Central Residents Association (AGM, General Meetings, Committee Meetings), Social Services, Surgeries (Police and Welsh Assembly Member), SW Strategic Partnership Steering Group, Swimming Club, Townswomen’s Guild, War Memorial Court Residents (Ladies). We also hold Table Top Sales, Whist Drives, functions for children’s parties, anniversaries etc which all helps to increase the use of this very valuable town asset. Therefore, what had previously been a derelict facility has become a thriving local centre for young and old. 

Denbighshire County Council, which had previously seen this closed facility as a burdensome problem, have welcomed these new developments and supported our efforts with help and advice on grant applications and in 2003 gave us an initial setup grant from the Communities First budget of £2,900 for equipment and stationery etc. In 2005 we were granted a total of £46,500 from DCC and £25,000 from Enfys (Welsh arm of the Heritage Fund) to spend on various projects in the gardens, ie security shutters around the café, new fencing, new rose arch, replanting flower beds, restoration of the pond and fountain. New lighting has beeen installed which allows the café/centre to be used in the evening for further meetings and activities by groups in the community, especially during the winter months. To date over £100,000 has been raised for improvements to the café and the gardens. As a result the Botanical Gardens, which had in latter years been sadly neglected, is now being rejuvenated and a haven of peace and tranquillity has been saved for the community by the community. 
On Sunday, June 20, 2004, to celebrate the reopening of the cafe, we held a Family Fun Day with various attractions including a brass band, choir, tea dance, barber shop quartet, balloon race, Punch and Judy, Historic Film Show, Bouncy Castle, Vintage Bus, plus a visit from the NW Police Helicopter, which landed in the park and gave a demonstration of the technology on board used in the fight against crime. The Fun Day was attended by the Chairman of the County Council, MP Chris Ruane, the Mayor of Rhyl, Glyn Williams, AM Ann Jones and hundreds of the men, women and children of Rhyl and district who came to show their support and enjoy themselves. The café did a roaring trade, especially with the strawberries and cream. The Family Fun Day, with added attractions, has been repeated on each year with increasing success and has now become an annual event. 

None of this would have occurred without the time and effort put in voluntarily by the local people who have joined RSWCRA. The lynchpin on the committee has been Secretary/Treasurer Eric Black, a retired bank manager, who has done sterling work in applying for grants, meeting council officials, overseeing works and ensuring the financial success of the project. A spin-off of this grass roots activity has been that members have also become involved in other spheres of local activity such as Communities First and the Rhyl Area Partnership and RSWCRA has also set up its own Crime and Disorder Sub-Committee.
The Botanical Gardens was created in its present form by Rhyl UDC in 1928, in the teeth of an economic depression, as a place of recreation for visitors and the people of Rhyl, with eleven Tennis Courts, Rose Gardens, two Bowling Greens, and a café. Now, in the 21st century, Rhyl has declined as a holiday resort and parts of the town have become areas of deprivation. The Botanical Gardens are located the South West Ward which is eligible for Communities First Aid because of various social and economic problems. The Botanical Gardens were in a neglected state in a town which a recent county survey had shown to be 80 hectares short of green space, has high unemployment and crime levels and where some wards are among the 50% most deprived in Wales. The town has also suffered a considerable amount of bad publicity and needs a more positive image. 

Therefore the spontaneous local grass roots response to the possibility of further erosion of facilities by the disappearance of the café in the gardens has been welcomed by all sides including the MP Chris Ruane, AM Ann Jones, County and Town Councillors, officers and police alike. This voluntary spirit has in turn fed into and complimented the plans to promote and invest in the town as proposed in “Rhyl Going Forward”, a Denbighshire County Council Action Plan for the future. 

This voluntary activity started by RSWCRA in 2003 has not been a flash in the pan as some predicted but has continued and expanded and as a result the future for the café, the gardens and the community looks rosier! 

Compiled by George Owen, President, Rhyl South West Central Residents’ Association, June, 2007.

Copyright © rbg.wales by kind permission of Mr George Owen MBE