Written by James Williams
It was the summer of 2016, the year that the Welsh football team successfully reached the semi-final of the European Championships in France.
I was living in the Dordogne at the time and was fortunate to attend some of the games, but even more fortunate to just be living in France as a Welshman at such a special time.
It was special because as the tournament progressed, the Wales team and their army of enthusiastic fans brought an extra dimension to the competition. Patriotic, passionate, and proud accompanied with song, togetherness, and unique humour; they introduced France to what I refer to as ‘Welshness’ that summer, and the French (and all the other nations for that matter) loved them for it.
The French media praised us and our fans for the way we conducted ourselves and for that four-week period, we led the footballing world, we done it the Welsh way and left the dragon’s footprint on the hearts of many.
The Championship ended, there was an exodus of football fans and I was left to meander around the enchanting villages of the Dordogne. While sitting in Queyssac, sampling their red wine and foie gras, the French continued to ask me about ‘Pays de Galles’. With the afternoon sun on my face and a smile, I told them about a country that was small in stature yet huge in character, a country whose coal fuelled the industrial revolution and human progression, a country that had seen many hardships but continued to reinvent itself, evolve and adapt to change.
As the wine continued to flow and the sun slowly set, I told them about summer walks along the Pembrokeshire coast, the autumn sunrise in the Brecon Beacons and the snow-capped summit of Snowdon at winter, where at times you can hear the Gods.
I told them about a land of myths, legend, and magic, where poetry, song and dance naturally run through the valleys in the same way as the water runs from the mountain tops.
Continuously, I referred to Wales as ‘my’ country as if claiming some sort of ownership, but I explained that this trait is found in most Welsh people while talking about Wales – for Wales is part of them and they are part of Wales.
Today is St. David’s Day – Gŵyl Dewi and it presents us all with an opportunity to celebrate those things that we hold dear – ein gilydd, ein bro a’n byd – each other, our communities, and our world. Just as we did in that magical summer of 2016, we again have a chance to showcase Wales to the world and sprinkle a touch of ‘Welshness’.
From a business and economic perspective, we’re proud of our industrial heritage, centred on coal, manufacturing and heavy industry. But through innovation, drive and creativity our business landscape has now very much diversified.
Multinational companies such as Airbus, Sony and General Dynamics rely on our skilled workforce and Welsh Government’s Economic Action Plan is based on the principle that public investment should have a social purpose – not just stimulating growth and productivity but making Wales a fairer and more competitive nation in which to do business.
Within that fairer business environment, there are entrepreneurial opportunities and I am always amazed to read and learn about the various businesses operating within Wales. For example, in Swansea we have Marine Power Systems, developing the WaveSub, a device that can turn the
motion of waves into clean, affordable energy; while in the North, in Anglesey, Halen Môn are a company using the Menai Strait to make salt that is sold and exported globally (and even used by top Chef Gordon Ramsey!).
It’s also important to recognise some of our business output headlines: 50% of the world’s passengers fly on aircraft with wings made in Wales; Wales generates twice as much electricity as it uses, exporting the surplus and the Royal Mint based in Llantrisant makes five billion coins a year for 60 countries.
The transformational programme of our transport network, being delivered by Transport for Wales is visionary and as it evolves it will improve people’s lives. An £800 million investment into rolling stock will ensure that within a few years, 95% of journeys will be on new trains, with more than half of those trains being assembled in Wales.
Now, I may be slightly biased, but I believe that the South Wales Metro is currently Wales’ most exciting project – a three quarter of billion-pound investment that will revolutionise the way we travel with quicker journeys, greater capacity, and much greener services.
The greatest part of the South Wales Metro story is that throughout the South Wales Valleys there is a skilled and hard-working workforce, many of whom have worked, for most of their career, all over the UK delivering major rail infrastructure works. However, now, through the South Wales Metro, they are back working in Wales and building something that will benefit themselves, their communities, families and future generations. They are part of something much bigger than themselves and are building for the future of Wales – that’s inspirational.
Finally, to finish this celebration of Wales, we must acknowledge the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. A truly unique legislation being implemented in Wales, allowing our small nation to respond to global challenges by radically rethinking its duty to future generations.
The Act connects social, environmental, economic and cultural well-being and looks to solve complex issues through better decision-making.
I will end with a quote from Nikhil Seth, UN Assistant Secretary General, commenting on the Act:
“What Wales is doing today, the world will do tomorrow”
Happy St. David’s Day – be sure to spread a bit of ‘Welshness’.