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Y Festri: The former chapel building in Llanberis turned community arts centre

Y Festri (Image: Plaid Cymru)

Y Festri is a charity promoting and developing community arts initiatives and projects in the Gwynedd village of Llanberis.

The arts initiative is based in the former vestry building of Capel Gorffwysfa, a chapel that was located on Llanberis High Street and was demolished in 1982.

The name acknowledges the building’s past, a ‘vestry’ traditionally being a room or building attached or belonging to a chapel, that became places to host cultural and community events, rehearsals or meetings.

The building’s former life as an annexe of Capel Gorffwysfa, a Methodist chapel built at the bottom of Goodman Street in 1867 has a rich history, being home to the chapel’s Sunday School, Band of Hope as well as hosting rehearsals of Llanberis’ Brass Band. After serving its religious purpose, the building was known for some time as Theatr Fach, and run by the charity Cwmni Drama Llanberis.

Before the Covid lockdowns Y Festri was a thriving hub for the CircoArts art and circus classes for the young people of Llanberis, as well as being used for yoga classes, birthday parties, and community shows. The building was renovated in 2016 with support from the community and is run and maintained by volunteers.

According to Merlin Tomkins, the charity’s Chair, Y Festri’s mission is “to promote and instigate community visual, digital and performing arts in ways that celebrate the Welsh language and culture.” Nevertheless, when 2020’s first Covid lockdown hit, Y Festri had to find new ways of delivering projects which enabled community participation.

Early in the pandemic CircoArts drew in funding from Mantell Gwynedd and UnLtd to give free art and circus equipment to children and families who used to come to Y Festri. They also ran art and circus classes on Zoom, and put community art exhibitions in the phone boxes on Llanberis High Street. Y Festri’s daffodil project encouraged Llanberis residents to display daffodils in their windows as symbols of hope and resilience.

When classes were able to resume, the funding provided equipment for all the children. Most recently Y Festri and CircoArts commissioned 3 artists as part of the LleCHI bid to secure the successful World Heritage Site status, to create pieces to go in the phone boxes that celebrated the cultural and industrial history of Llanberis and it’s relationship with slate.

As Director Thomasine Tomkins said: “When it was impossible for people to visit art galleries, we took the art to the people!

“We feel that Y Festri has an important role in rehabilitation and recovery as the pandemic becomes less of a problem to our community life.

“It is vital that communities have a safe space to come together, connect and socialise. Y Festri hopes to support the community with a special emphasis on wellbeing and creativity.”

Y Festri was recently visited by Siân Gwenllian MS, the local representative in the Senedd: “The vestry was a staple of Welsh cultural life, and there is a sense of continuation, seeing Y Festri serving its original purpose as a communal and cultural focal point for the village.

“The arts and culture are both integral parts of all our lives. It would have been hard to imagine life hadn’t it been for the arts and culture during the Covid lockdowns.

“We are a creative nation, that find creative solutions to the constant challenges that we face, and the village of Llanberis has its fair share of challenges.

“The pandemic has been a massive hit to the Welsh arts industry, but it’s encouraging to see that initiatives such as Y Festri have carried on.

“For the sake of our young people’s resilience, confidence, and mental health, it’s vital that projects such as Y Festri thrive. They give young people transferable, analytical skills, and the ability to think independently and express themselves.

“Recently we have been reflecting on the rich history of the area, in light of UNESCO’s decision to designate Wales’ slate areas as a World Heritage Site.

“The slate area’s artistic and cultural contribution over more than a century is immense. It’s terrific to see Y Festri continue in that tradition.”

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