Mike Williams: Volunteering to sustain Amlwch’s heritage

Amlwch is a small town (pop. 3800) on the north coast of Anglesey. It’s about as far north as you can go in Wales without getting wet, and is where I was born and brought up (also where I later served as a governor in my old secondary school).

One of the major claims to fame of this small community is that, just to the south, is the ancient copper mine of Parys Mountain (‘Mynydd Parys’). Whilst the ‘mountain’ might be optimistic the claim to fame certainly isn’t, for copper has been mined on this site since the Bronze Age – culminating in the ‘great discovery’ of 1768 which led to over a hundred years of mining, a time when the value of copper throughout the world was set from the Parys mines. Such was its importance at the time that the scientist Michael Faraday was amongst its visitors and the copper for lining Nelson’s fleet came from here (hence the expression ‘copper bottomed’).

This period saw the tiny hamlet of Amlwch grow to over 10,000 people – making it the second largest town in Wales at the time, after Merthyr Tydfil – and the creation of thousands of jobs for local people, although most of the wealth remained in the hands of the mine owners.

Against this background, when I was invited in 2009 to join Amlwch Industrial Heritage Trust by my sister – already a member – I could hardly refuse. The role of the Trust is to keep the history of the area alive by promoting the mountain itself and running two new heritage centres in Amlwch Port, from where the copper used to be shipped, much of it via Swansea. The links with local schools and colleges is most important as we strive to make people aware of the world-class heritage which this small corner has to offer, and to make it accessible to as many as possible.

After three years I was invited to become chair, a position I was – and am –proud to hold. Much of my involvement centres around chairing our monthly board meetings and trying to ensure the organisation remains sustainable through our various trading activities. This is crucial as we employ a manager and part-time seasonal staff; it also allows us to continue to share the educational message both locally and further afield.

The Trust has an active board of seven, all of whom volunteer many hours of their time for this cause. Their experiences and knowledge bring a varied range of skills to the table, including academic, business and financial. It is certainly something which requires dedication and a willingness to devote more time than you originally planned! We are helped in our efforts by four patrons who have strong public profiles: Baroness Kinnock, the former deputy first minister Ieuan Wyn Jones, newsreader and broadcaster Huw Edwards and former weather presenter Siân Lloyd whose great grandfather worked in the Parys Mountain mines.

Ultimately, though, our ambition is not only educational but also to try and help re-vitalise the area in our own small way by spreading the word and encouraging more tourists to come to this far corner of Wales, thus having a positive effect on its local micro economy.

Mike is a Business Adviser for Social Business Wales, based in the Wales Co-operative Centre’s Bangor office. This blog was written for Volunteers’ Week, a national campaign taking place between June 1st-7th.

Image courtesy of Creative Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14175364

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