Landscape, Community, Rugby and Tom Jones

Rhys David looks at a new study into how young people feel about Wales and Welshness

There is good news and bad news about how that Holy Grail of the marketeeer – young people aged between 18 and 35 – feel about living in Wales and being Welsh. Yes, their views are positive and confident and they do seem as a group to genuinely like being Welsh. However, if politicians had been hoping that they were warming to Wales’s new political institutions they are going to be sadly disappointed. Reactions to the Assembly vary from “Lame Duck” to “Hasn’t done much for me” or more worryingly “Know nothing about it”.

The findings appear in a new kind of survey carried out by Wales’s biggest market research company, Beaufort Research. The new system is an online method of constructing what are essentially focus groups. But, instead of gathering people together in one room, they are contacted online and can answer the questions posed over a set period of time.

As with a conventional focus groups, participants – usually between 15-20 in number – are selected according to a particular set of criteria and given a password for accessing the site. Their comments are moderated and where necessary follow-up questions are posed. There are some drawbacks. The fact that the members of the group are not in the same room means non-verbal clues such as facial expressions and body movements will be missed and participants may be less willing to comment on what other people in the group have posted than if they heard the same remarks in conversation. In addition the subject has to be one that is sufficiently challenging to keep people engaged during the two-three day period in which their responses are being gathered.

Balancing this, however, is the ability to gauge the views of individuals who might not otherwise be drawn into focus group discussions, for example people living in rural areas away from the centres of population. As such it offers the prospect of obtaining more representative samples, as well as making it easier to subdivide and analyse the groups by different characteristics, such as rural or urban.

For its first use of the technique in Wales, Beaufort set out to explore Welsh identity among younger people, rural and town dwellers, Welsh-speakers and non-Welsh speakers. Welshness to this group, all aged between 18 and 35, was, as other surveys have shown, bound up with communities and friendship. “We’re like one big family,” said one respondent. “Everyone seems to help each other out”.

Pride in Wales is another strong feeling in this age group, with urban and non-urban alike expressing a strong attachment to the land. “Our countryside and unique views are privileges we have on our doorstep,” comented one respondent. “What is unique about Wales is the heritage,” said another. “One of the great things about Wales and being Welsh is that we have so many great historical points of interest,” were among typical comments.

The environment was seen as a great Welsh resource, with wildlife on the doorstep and a general feeling of being safer. Amenities in Wales, the range of activities, architecture and the process of regeneration were all regarded favourably. Some respondents were concerned, however, that parts of Wales were dying, with smaller shops closing, smaller towns losing out, pubs shutting down, housing becoming too expensive, and insufficient attractions for teens and young people generally in rural areas. “The cities in Wales seem to have all the funding and small towns don’t see any of it,” was one view.

When asked to name typical Welsh qualities those brought to mind were positive. Young Welsh people see themselves and others as friendly (but wary of outsiders); passionate, but with a bit of a temper; espousing traditional values; community minded; family focused; hard working; possessing a sense of humour; and proud of the Welsh language. Rugby inevitably was also seen as an important part of Welsh identity.

It was when the questions turned to the the National Assembly that the answers suddenly became more negative. One individual indicated that he was just not interested, the main reason being that he did not fully understand the Assembly and politics. Others felt the institution had yet to prove itself, was wasting money, was a lame duck or at best needed more power.

“The new Welsh Assembly building is very lavish and grand – a complete waste of money. The money should have been spent on the NHS and improving schools. I have really lost faith in MPs since the expenses scandal – they should all be sacked,” was the comment of one female respondent, a Welsh speaker from mid Wales.

This group did, however, have their icons. The Welsh people they admired were understandably drawn roughly from within or just beyond their own age group – apart from one notable exception. There was no place for any of Wales’s politicians, businessmen, scientists or other representatives of the great and good. Step forward as the heroes and heroines of the young Welsh: Ryan Giggs, Gareth Thomas, Katherine Jenkins, Shane Williams, Catherine Zeta Jones — and Tom Jones.

Rhys David is a trustee of the IWA

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