We live in forgotten town where it’s too dangerous to run buses & teen yobs torch homes… council has made problems worse | The Sun

When David Burgess scrubbed himself down for the final time at the coal mine where he’d worked since the age of 16, he was promised the “white heat” of economic revolution.

Instead, he got the mould and dampness associated with poor housing and a life of poverty in Caerau, South Wales.

David, who is a carer for his wife Gill, whose lungs have been left crippled by the effects of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), says: "I've lived in this house for over 45 years and we’ve had to live with the problem of damp here for as long as I can remember.

“They still haven't fixed the problem and I’m wondering if they ever will.”

The local council received funding to better insulate its housing stock in the area, but residents we spoke to claim it's had the opposite effect.

David, who turned 66 last week, adds: “When the council eventually got round to putting up cladding on the outside of the house, all it did was make the damp worse because it prevented the walls and roof from breathing.


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"As a result, the damp is just trapped inside. These houses are made of stone and the walls are more than two feet thick.

"All they’ve done is wreck our health even more. I'm very worried about how it is affecting my wife's condition.

"You hear such terrible stories about what this type of damp can do to people’s health.

“I'm also concerned about the empty house next door because I'm frightened it's a fire hazard.

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David reveals just one of the damp spots that is affecting his wife's healthCredit: Nigel Iskander

"We've had our window sills replaced seven times. The trouble is there are a lot of cowboys set up to take on the work from these government grants and some of them just make things worse in my opinion.

"There are a lot of empty houses here, about 25 near me.

"I've been to loads of public meetings and made my views known… but it feels as though they don't care about us up here.

"We've had to throw out clothes and furniture because the damp has ruined them.

"I've been told I have to wait until April next before they'll come and try to sort out our problems."

Little wonder, then, that Caerau finds itself, according to a Welsh Government report, “deep-rooted” in deprivation.

The study placed the village, on the outskirts of Bridgend, the fifth most deprived in Wales.

Half of all housing in the area is rented – the overwhelming majority of it social housing – and it has above-average households with dependent children.

Census area classifications also place the area in the “hard-pressed communities” category, which is associated with high levels of unemployment.

'Life is tough'

One of those who has struggled to find work is Nigel Thomas, a 46-year-old plumbing and heating engineer.

As a single parent with three boys, one of whom is disabled and another autistic, he needs a strong income to meet the family’s needs.

"I used to live in Bridgend and sold up so I could buy a bigger house up here 10 years ago," Nigel tells us.

"The biggest problem I found has been getting work around here, although that is getting better now.

"I used to have to travel to Bristol and Somerset for work, but I don't have to travel that far now.

"Things have changed so much in the valleys since the mines shut down in the late-70s and early-80s.

"Since then many people from outside the area have moved here because houses are cheap. Others move here to retire.

"Eventually it will bring more prosperity to the area, I hope.

"But the infrastructure in and around so many of valleys' villages like ours is bad. The railway used to come right up here, but they have not reconnected it.

"I know life is tough for many people, I used to work for Housing Associations so I've seen it first hand."

'Too dangerous' for buses

Factory worker Steve Tidball, 53, says transport links in the town are severely lacking.

"There are serious issues – like our bus service. It was cancelled because kids were throwing stones at the buses and in the end they cancelled it for good because it was dangerous," he says.

"If you don't own a car, you have to use your feet. To catch the bus you have a half-mile walk to the main road before you'll be able to get one, and if you miss one you'll have a good half hour to an hour for the next one.

"It's a big problem for old people or folk with disabilities."

The bus service here was cancelled because kids were throwing stones at the buses and in the end they cancelled it for good because it was dangerous

Another retired miner, Gareth Howells, 69, says there's been "no real support" since they started shutting down the mines.

"There's nothing up here," he says. "There's nothing for the kids to do.

"The council decided the kids’ park was too dangerous, but instead of fixing it they closed it.

"Now the kids all whizz about on electric scooters playing their loud music and being a real nuisance.

"We have loads of empty homes boarded up and used by kids and druggies. There must be at least eight empty homes near me.

“Trouble is, they are a real hazard. One empty, boarded-up building was set on fire in the village not so long ago and the people living next door had to get out.

"They are back there now, but can't sleep at night in case it happens again.”

Mr Tidball also cited the scourge of inadequate, damp housing and its effects on locals’ health.

"There's no denying there are problems in these valley villages with transport and housing problems like damp," he says.

"My sister lives just a few streets away and her house suffers badly with damp.

"By the time the council got to this village the money for this work had run out.

One empty, boarded-up building was set on fire in the village not so long ago and the people living next door had to get out

"We all think they must have given in to cowboys because so many places have worse damp now than before the insulation work that was supposed to fix it was carried out.”

Just over a decade ago the Welsh government announced funding for low-income households to help with energy efficiency through a scheme called Nest, previously called Arbed.

In 2012, the installation of external insulation on 25 properties in the village was contracted by Bridgend council, using funds from the Arbed Scheme, with a further 79 funded through the UK government's Community Energy Saving Programme (CESP).

This type of insulation is applied to the outside of a property and can lead to big energy savings. But when it’s not installed correctly or isn’t right for the property, it can cause serious damp problems.

Within months, Caerau residents reported serious problems with damp.

The contract for the work was awarded by Bridgend council to a company which was run by one of its cabinet members, and councillor for Caerau, Phil White.

The company no longer exists and Mr White died two years ago.

An internal audit report by Bridgend council subsequently found "a number of significant concerns" with the scheme, with no procurement process followed and "no due diligence checks” carried out.

Many residents have complained that they developed breathing problems, including Julie Goodridge who was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Damp started coming through into bedrooms at her house after it was insulated, and she says it's now "freezing".

"The bedrooms – I've never seen anything like it," she adds.

Others have suffered significant stress and anxiety, while some victims have spent more than £20,000 of their own money trying to fix the problem.

Richie Humphreys, 78, says he and his wife Rosaline's home was "completely ruined" by insulation on the front and rear of their terraced house.

It caused the damp to come through the living room walls, causing damage to some of the electric sockets.

"I would rather my house go back to the way it was," he says. "The distress it has caused my wife and myself is beyond." 

Steve says what keeps Caerau going is a "strong village community spirit".

“I have a social club and a great pub near me where we all congregate and go on organised tours and the like," he says.

"In that sense, it's the best village in the world. In fact, I'd say our pub is even better than the Woolpack in Emmerdale.

'Pockets of deprivation'

Paul Davies, who lives in Caerau and is a councillor for nearby Maesteg Town Council, wants better bus routes for urban areas like Bridgend, Cardiff and Swansea.

He tells us: "You're never going to see huge jobs in the area again now.

"An industrial revolution isn't going to take place again so I think we need better transport systems to get people in Caerau out working in different places."

He adds: “Caerau isn't a bad place to live, and there are lots of community groups you can get involved with… Not everywhere is bad, and not everywhere is good. There are pockets of deprivation everywhere."

Proud history

Fellow councillor and resident Andrew James said he has been heavily involved in a street art graffiti design by “Lloyd the Graffiti” on a building on Caerau Road, designed to brighten up the town.

"The art on the wall reflects our industrial heritage and background," he says. "We can look back forever, but a lot of people can do it with rose-tinted glasses. This artwork… recognises the village's present and future prospects."

Huw David, council leader for Bridgend Council, says: “There is a strong sense of community within the Caerau area… reflected in the many, well-utilised community services available in the village.

“Caerau Market Garden has recently claimed a Community Award in the Green Flag Awards, recognising its strong community involvement, environmental management, as well as it being a welcoming place.

“Our partners at Halo’s Maesteg Sports Centre have recently received funding of £400,000 for refurbishments.

"These are now underway and promise improved accessibility, as well as wellbeing benefits for residents right across the Llynfi Valley.

“Collaborative investment from Bridgend County Borough Council, Halo Leisure and Sport Wales has ensured that the local community will receive the best service possible.

"We have an employability programme designed to help those aged 16 years and over who are unemployed, are looking for more hours, a second or new job.

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“Welsh Government funding is also supporting the phased roll-out of Flying Start provision across the county borough.

“The council has also been supportive of the recent expansion of Siderise Insulation, which has opened a new £1million innovation centre which reinforces the company’s long-term commitment to the county borough, as well as creating more employment opportunities for local residents."

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