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Mining Village: Partnering with communities and nature (sample case)

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Rethinking possibilities for Treherbert, Wales: How can we co-create a new future in partnership with communities and with nature?

Introduction to Case Studies

At 'Case-Studies' you will find one of the outlines of the workshops we conducted throughout the fall and winter of 2017, including details about the case used and the specific design challenge proposed. The cases were built around archetypes of regeneration challenges. You will find an example of storytelling that might serve as a source of inspiration. Based on our experience, the sample workshop structure include a list of methods used (excluding the opening and closing in plenary). We hope they can be helpful for both novice and experienced facilitators when designing an event.

Workshop Outlines

The cases include workshop outlines generally developed for a 1.5-2 hours workshop. In all workshops, participants were divided into small subgroups of 5-8 people per table, which allows participants to move through the exercises quickly and can help foster a trusting atmosphere.


In the various workshops, we experimented with different ways of facilitating. For example, at the Transformations 2017 Conference, with a total of roughly 40 participants, we assigned one master facilitator and one table facilitator for each small group. The master facilitator welcomed all participants, led a short warm-up, gave an overview of objectives and theoretical inputs, and then led the final closing of the event. The table facilitators guided their group throughout the workshop, working with different case studies and different methods. During such a high-paced workshop, it was useful to have the master facilitator keeping time and keeping each table on track. In Aveiro we used an in-between structure, wherein each group had a table host that supported participants by handing out materials, answering questions, and generally setting the tone. The master facilitator took the main role of guiding the process, supported by a timekeeper and assistant.

The Cases

The stories we crafted for each case were based on the principles of storytelling. For each case, certain imaginative aspects were deliberately highlighted. For example, in the case of the abandoned farmstead, natural elements and beings were given a central role in the story, in line with a shift to a more-than-human perspective. In the other variation of the abandoned farmstead case, the story highlighted the spiritual and religious history of the region to evoke a more enchanted perspective on the future of the farm. In the case of the new city centre and the dismissed military area, the idea of expanded time was combined with a more-than-human perspective.

A mining village

Workshops conducted with this case

Welsh Government, Llanrwst and Cardiff, UK (the outline presented below was used for a full day event engaging staff across the Welsh Government). 

Case Summary 

In South Central Wales, the village of Treherbert is looking to create a future in which local people are healthy, prosperous, and happy, and local ecosystems are thriving. With its recent history based on the boom and bust economics of Welsh coal and steel production, many people are working to create new social and economic systems, and new connections between people and the land. 

Design Dilemma 

As frontline staff for the Welsh government, how can we support Treherbert? What kinds of experiments and projects can Treherbert undertake as it plays an active role in redefining social, economic, and cultural norms towards supporting regenerative societies? 

Old Story: Operation Treherbert 

We have a problem 

A century of rapid industrialisation followed by, in the last 30 years, the globalisation of both trade and capital; has left a legacy of economic, environmental and social deprivation and rising inequality. Across the developed world, communities are faced with the closure of industries that defined the societies they created. Steelmaking, mining, shipbuilding – industries and societies have been left stranded as capital seeks higher returns in new geographies. Coal and steel created the Valleys communities. The population of the Rhondda rose from 542 in 1801 to 163,000 by 1921. Yet, both mining and steelmaking had ceased by the end of the 20th century. 

How do you solve a problem like Treherbert? 

Treherbert, at the head of the Rhondda Fawr, has a population of around 6,000, and is beset by many of the post-industrial problems common in the Valleys. Over three decades, considerable public and private investment has done little to improve the long-term economic prospects of the Welsh Valleys. Unsuccessful, industrial diversification strategies have left a legacy of one of the poorest societies in the UK. 

You are Project Manager of Operation Treherbert 

Operation Treherbert is designed to address core economic, social and environmental issues, and be anticipated to fulfill specific criteria and attain specific key outcomes. 

Within the challenges and opportunities anticipated due to Brexit and the Well Being of Future Generations Act, Operation Treherbert is designed to address: 

Threats caused by climate change, species loss and environmental degradation; The legacy of welfare dependency in the area; Low educational attainment; Poor health and low life expectancy; Geographical and psychological isolation; High unemployment and compromised access to economic opportunities 

In addition to Natural Resources Wales, various stakeholders are involved in Operation Treherbert, including the regional and town councils, local community groups, the local health board, landowners and regulators. 

Operation Treherbert has funding for the next 2 years and after this period is expected to be self-sustaining.

Re-Story: Treherbert, the Next Chapter 

The town of Treherbert is nestled into the deep folds of a valley in South Central Wales. Its story is both universal and unique - of ancient forests inhabited by lions and hippos, of the Rhondda River carving out a valley and supporting a complex web of life. It is a story of expansion, contraction, stagnation, clashes of cultures, subjugation, and of the new hopes and despairs enabled by a global tide of industrialization. It is a story with an uncertain future, full of possibilities and perils. Our question is, can Treherbert flourish again, learning from others and teaching others to flourish in the process? Across Wales, across Britain, across the world, people are looking for islands of sanity and lights that illuminate a way forward. Treherbert, along with all of us, is in period of limbo. It is in these in-between times that communities can be the most creative. 

To put “Treherbert, the Next Chapter” in context I will remind you that waves of transformation have passed through and around Treherbert since the beginning. 

Don’t forget that until the last Ice Age, around 10,000 years ago, Wales and the rest of Britain formed part of the greater European whole. Before that, back in 250,000 BC small groups of humans foraged to the north and west of this land, leaving evidence of their passage in the form of a human tooth in a cave near Denbigh, North Wales and a hand axe unearthed near Cardiff. Surely some of these ancient ancestors wandered across the ground we now call the Rhondda Valley. 

Later, Neolithic settlers left us the traces of their existence in over 150 cromlechs or burial mounds scattered through Wales which still stand as a legacy of these people and their knowledge of stone and flint working. They had developed skills in agriculture, animal husbandry and mining for flint. They were Wales’ first farmers and first miners. After them came the Celts, and then the Normans, each manifesting their own culture and imaginations in their habitations, places of worship, and their relationship with the non-human elements of the land. Wales has been a land of the Bardic Dreamers, of Celtic Saints, connecting us with transcendence and forces greater than ourselves. Wales has been the engine of the industrial revolution, revealing a capacity for innovation, hard work and perseverance. More recently Wales has nurtured the green shoots of new beginnings that prioritize a dedication to healing the land and the people from their battle scars. To many, Wales now represents new possibilities for simple living, nurturing future generations and inspiring ‘One Planet Developments’. 

One of our emblematic birds, the Red Kite, was nearly driven to extinction. Yet, from a few surviving pairs in the wild hills of Wales, it has re-emerged, and its high call and glorious flight can be witnessed in many places across the land. At the same time that our ancestors stripped the land of forests, we have created small havens of biodiversity and possibility for human-nature cooperation in the tangled practicality of hedgerows. We have the potential to forge new alliances with old and nearly forgotten allies. The beaver, for example, might be welcomed as a collaborator to help reshape and engineer our waterways, diversifying habitats for other living beings. 

By celebrating our alliances, both human and non-human, we are capable of having a larger experience of time, a richer experience of community, different kind of power, and a wider - more ecological - sense of self. 

The people and the land in Treherbert are suffering from restricted opportunities, poor health and isolation, although the river is slowly reviving. The land that surrounds the town, previously owned by private mining companies or individuals, is now largely in public ownership. Seeds of new relationships are being planted and showing new possibilities. For example, initiatives to connect health and wellbeing with walking in the local Cwmsaebren woodland. 

How could the future be different if this land was owned or managed for the long-term by the community? What might be done with the land economically, socially, culturally? What kind of experiments, projects, processes, or new landscapes of imagination, could support Treherbert to become an exemplar of well-being for future generations? For future generations that include all life? What kind of projects can transform the current culture of disconnection and support local people to be stewards of their own land? 

Workshop outline (Pages numbers refer to toolkit)

Taken from our toolkit on art-based methods (p.82-83). Download your copy here!

Links to methods referred at the outline above

Convene: Circle of Objects
Observe: Storytelling, Contrasting Text & Tweet
Reflect: Inviting Non-Human Stakeholders, Prose Poem
Act: Collage
Reflect (second round): Close observation ,
Act (second round): Visual storytelling, More-than-human intervision
Harvest: Circle of Objects

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