My name is Jac Owen Paul I have been asked by Gwlad to offer an article for their News Portal. I’m an independent political activist for Aber and Blaengwynfi in the Afan Valley, south Wales. Many of you reading this may or may not know who I am, so I’m going to tell you a bit about myself, it might be of interest for you.
I’m very interested in politics, always have been. But I’ve always been told that I couldn’t participate in politics due to my mental health issues. Every day, though I learn something new and I feel very proud to be able to say I’m proving my doubters wrong!
What I want to achieve is more support for people with mental health issues. I feel that mental health is something that is being ignored, this needs to change as more and more people are becoming ill due to a lack of support, especially in the Afan Valley.
My own experience of mental health has been really bad in the past. Suicidal thoughts, depression, anxieties. And being diagnosed with ADHD hasn’t helped. But the big saving grace for me was having a strong support network around me. My family and friends supported me and have helped me become who I am today. But not everyone has that support, which makes dealing with everyday things harder. Isolation, or rather suffering in isolation is a killer!
But going back to the politics. I was a member of Plaid Cymru for over a year as I thought they were able to help with removing the Labour party as I see them as a major problem, not just for the mental health stuff but also the valley itself and the communities of Aber and Blaengwynfi. Public services in the area have been decimated, there’s hardly any work here for people to earn a living. And more recently we’ve had the closure of our secondary school to fight against. It seems like everything is being centralised to Port Talbot. Our valley is being punished and slowly being forgotten about.
I soon came to realise Plaid Cymru wasn’t the party I thought it was, so I left a few months ago and decided to follow and Independent path. I stood in the recent By-election for Aber and Blaengwynfi. Every morning from 9am ‘till 6pm most days, my group of six would go out knocking doors asking the people what they wanted to see happen in their community. Many people told me how they felt the same as I did, that Aber and Blaengwynfi and the Afan Valley as a whole had been forgotten, that they felt the council wouldn’t be happy until the valley was a wasteland. Standing as candidate was a great experience and something I want to do again.
The valley has been Labour dominated for decades, but 2017 saw that change as the then Labour councillor for nearby Cymmer, left the Labour Party and became an independent. Councillor Jane Jones, also an independent, won the seat to make the whole upper Afan Valley an “Independent valley”.
Aber and Blaengwynfi are generally referred to as “The Cape” by residents of the two villages. That comes from when the villages were marketed as “The Cape of Good Hope” during the years when coal mining was very important to the valleys. But that’s all gone now, and when the mines went, the work went too. From that, people’s hope and dreams of a good life went too. Even though that happened years before I was born, I still see the side effects of decisions made years ago.
Mental health problems have risen considerably the last few years, unemployment has risen, public services are being cut left right and centre. The valleys can’t continue to fight this level of neglect for much longer, the valley’s communities will disappear, and Wales will be worse for it. The Cape of Good Hope is no longer, it feels like the Cape of No hope these days.
My past experience with Plaid has made me feel doubtful of party politics, but saying that, there’s a new party in town, called Gwlad. They’ve offered me this opportunity to write an article for their News Portal, which I’m hugely grateful for.
From what I’ve read and heard about them, they seem to actually give a monkey’s about Wales and the people that live here. Time will tell if they can break through and make a real difference. But I’m hopeful that they can do that, they may have another member joining soon?