Haverfordwest iconic buildings and extraordinary pioneers – Alchemy for revival

It is not a local issue. Globally the grandeur of the past has been torn down and replaced with upright shoebox and sometimes lozenge shaped buildings which reflect nothing of us, neither craftsmanship, culture, faith, nor local materials. The universal boxes have only the soul of corporations if there is such a thing.

And they produce no joy, consumerism yes but cultural or community life, not so much. Things get bought at pace, GDP graphs zig zag upwards and downwards, while the consumers sicken and go mad and the earth dies.

Our children are sacrificed on the alter of an obsolete God of greed. Wars are currently stoked to feed the insatiable beast consuming the earth and civilisation.

Out of the gloom emerge local champions. Richard Blacklaw Jones is a known figure in Haverfordwest. Jones the Bones is his osteopath name, but he is as multifaceted as the Elizabethan men of old. Brought up in a monoglot Welsh household, his bright beautiful mother died happy without the benefit of the English language, he went to be a policeman in London, assuming it a worthy career. Dismayed by the rampant racism he refused to take part in (his colleagues called him Trostsky!) He returned to practice, write about and chair Osteopathy in the UK. He is a pioneer and artist, and created meaningful art out of the detritus of humanity transformed by the sea into smooth and gleaming pearls for his sculptural collages.

His passion is recreating a future out of his land, people and materials. He organised organic conferences 30 years ago where, listening to the needs of farmers, he initiated an abattoir in Pembrokeshire – the least obvious location. He asked his long list of farmers and butchers to invest, and trusting him, they all did. I was asked too, and seeing this amazing list of local investors I joined them. The Welsh Assembly (senedd), also super impressed, trebled the sum and an abattoir arose, bucking the trend of closures. This lasted many decades. When it finally closed all us original investors met with the buyer, he decided then and there to return our money, moved to honour our unswerving commitment to local farming.

Richard knows all the hidden steps and lanes connecting the fabric of the historic town like the muscles of his body. He felt the town’s decay and abandonment while public and private money went on modern shopping centres and buildings unrooted in any local soul. Instead of moaning he tried to buy the dying buildings back to restore them. Tried, got support from investors but blocked by the powers who preferred them removed as too bothersome and expensive to repair. This effort fruitlessly absorbed years of his life, until…

Haverfordwest Heritage was founded by Richard and team in spring last year. They have acquired their first building, Temperance Hall, with funding and plans for its future uses.

But before this, another pioneer, Gitti Coates, bought the gigantic post office building and with her team, and heroic struggles against all forms of adversity, mostly from above, created a cultural meeting centre. Iconic central Haverhub is now the beating heart of the town. It holds events of all kinds, day and night, hot desking spaces and a modest café. It has catalysed the stirrings of civic resurrection for the town and is the first reason some consider returning to their birth town, working remotely.

There are two more groups buying back and developing old buildings. On Monday I gathered these four groups of pioneers together to begin collaboration. A great moment. Stories of their pioneering ventures to follow. 

Over to Our Heritage website for why this matters – honour the past, protect the future.

“Haverfordwest’s dense concentration of historic buildings tells the story of nearly 1000 years of human activity from the 12th century castle to the quayside where sugar ships navigated into the town as late as 1936.

But Haverfordwest is not the vibrant town it was. Several of our town’s heritage buildings have been out of use and degrading for many years. Fifteen structures in the town are on the Heritage at Risk Register. 

The town centre has declined with many premises vacant, or in meanwhile use by charities.

21% of the town’s class-A premises are vacant, almost double the national average (PCC Retail Survey Data 2022). This is due to a combination of reasons, including the rise in internet shopping and the exodus of commercial and retail businesses to out-of-town locations, and high rent and rates (The South West Wales Regional Plan for Regeneration, 2018).

Many of these vacant buildings are iconic anchor sites within the townscape, with tremendous place-making potential as demonstrated by Haverhub – the reopening of the old Post Office as the vibrant and popular community space.

Our neglected heritage buildings are a visible bellwether of the town’s fortunes. Unused and left to deteriorate further they reflect the decay in the town. But renovated and reopened they could be a critical catalyst helping to improve the town.”