Interview with Ian Horsburgh about his work with Charles Street Arts Foundation, and numerous other volunteering ventures in Cardiff. Recording at his home on 1 October 2016.


The Chronicle Project is a community heritage project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and run by VCS Cymru with the aims to document the history of volunteering in Cardiff, from 1914 to 2014.

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My name is Ian Horsburgh and I am going to start by explaining how I got involved with voluntary work.

And it goes back to 1959 when was just 10. And perhaps if I just read this letter that I received from the matron of Swandene Hospital in Worthing, and Worthing is where I grew up, and it says, “Dear Ian, you would like to know that I have given your gift of 10 shillings over to the finance department and it will be spent on fruit for the children on cubicle ward. This was the wish of you and your friends. We now have six children that came in soon after you left me and as soon as they can eat fruit, I will get it for them. Will you please thank your mother for helping you with your jumble sale. Thank you once again for very kind of thought of Swandene Hospital.”

And what happened was that my friend and I put a table outside his house and, I can't remember where we got the bits and pieces from, we just did a sale and we raised 10 shillings and I can remember going to visit the matron of the hospital, at the age of 10, and I can remember the room and sitting down having afternoon tea because she was so pleased.

And two years ago I took a copy of this letter, because I had to take my mother back to this hospital, and I took a copy into the hospital and they were rather surprised to receive it. The only other fundraising I did at that age, I have no idea why (I could understand the hospital because that was near my home), was to St Peter’s, ah that might be a clue to it because my friend was called Peter, was the donkey club holiday home in Sussex. And we had another jumble sale and that one raised three pound, five shillings and one penny. And that was in 1961 and they made me, I didn't realise this, a life member, [Laughs] …this was a sort of home for retired donkeys. So at a very early age I was involved with, um, doing voluntary work. Where I got this idea from I don't know, just part of me. It wasn't from my parents who are still very much alive at 96 and 97 but the…ah… I was brought up in Sussex in Worthing, the most conservative part of country, of the UK.

And I think at about 17 I got involved in the Young Liberals who were fairly radical at that time, were very active in the town and they had their own clubhouse which is even more amazing, and they had lots of schemes going on including one where they had a system which was followed from the Provos in Amsterdam of leaving free bicycles around the town painted orange, for people to use.

And I think we had about 50 bikes and I can remember having about eight at one time in my own home and having to paint them all orange and then we just left them around and years later you still see the odd one lying around.

And I was then of the age of, I don't know, 17, I was made press officer of the organisation, I don't know why, and I learnt to type on some decrepit old typewriter and sent the most horrific press releases out that caused absolute mayhem in various places.

Luckily I then went to college at 18 to study town planning in Leeds and I joined the Liberal Society in Leeds and then got involved, again just by accident, there happened to be a very active bloke working in what were really the slums of Leeds, and it was a very interesting time working there with [Councillor] Michael Meadowcroft. And then I went to America in 1971 and got disillusioned with the sort of straight politics and it was the time at the end of the 60s and all the hippy stuff and whatever, I got interested much more in alternative things.

In 1972 I ended up getting a job with Cardiff Council and I worked all my working life with Cardiff Council, in various jobs in the planning department, and that's where I started in 1972. So I came down to Cardiff and was interested in community projects. And there was a great turmoil at the time because the city centre was being redeveloped, there was a lot of community action, a lot of old houses were being pulled down, there was lots of problems and there I was stuck right in the middle of all this.

At the same time there was a building called 58 Charles Street and I sort of thought this was quite interesting because it was running an alternative advice service. And this was started by somebody called Toni Corlett and I just recently found out that she obtained the building via somebody called Dave Smith for a pound a week from the council. And she had been involved in something called BIT in London and then moved down to Cardiff and set up the Rights and Information Bureau. And then one of the first things she did, apart from running the advice service, was to sort of run a food kitchen which was open at lunchtime and as officer workers from the planning department we went down there to have our lunch. It was all fairly chaotic with the chef throwing pots and pans around now and again but it was really nice food.

Then, I don't quite know what happened but she then, there was some sort of… I don't quite know what happened but she left. And this three story building with a basement um had hardly been used; all she had done was use two rooms on the ground floor. And there I was, I had just noticed that there was this service that being operated that was very valuable and it could end up being, er, lost completely.

So I don't know, I just took it on myself to … I said well we must rescue all the files and all the information that is here. And we took it out of the building because we didn’t have the rental agreement with the council and we moved, there was a room across the road at 55 Charles Street, actually the room where, just by coincidence, the Claimants’ Union now have their office, and it was in that room that we put all the files. And we thought well this is such a valuable amount of information perhaps we should try and keep the organisation going. But it had a bad name, RIB, because it was hippy and alternative and people were worried about it so we thought we’ll set up a new organisation. So we looked at the initials of Cardiff City Council, CCC, played around with it and came up with another CCC, Cardiff Community Concern. I don't think the council realised we'd sort of used the same initials.

So there we were in this office in 55 Charles Street whereupon a lady called Jill Hutt who is no longer with us, and not to be confused with Jane Hutt who is a minister in the Welsh government, and Jill Hutt then looked at it all and decided, er, that, she was very good on administration and computing, a very logical mind, and she said I'm going to set up a report, write a report, to see how this can progress. And I think we involved the Citizens Advice Bureau, all sorts of people, and from that she did a report.

And we accepted it, and we then sort of got moving. We had lots of people just come in off the street or just phone up with their problems.

In particular, there was a problem with homeless young people. So we set up a system of crash pads so if they needed somebody’s home to stay in overnight they could do that. And we then decided that a lot more, there was a particular problem with 16 to 17-year-olds, this was going back to 1973-74.

Unfortunately that problem has not gone away, it's actually got worse. But we decided to set up, er, something called Cardiff Flatshop and we applied for Urban Programme funding from the government and I think the city council must have supported that, and we had a committee, a bit later on, with people from social services and probation, and the person who represented probation is now a minister in the Welsh government, it was Mark Drakeford. And so that was one of the early things that we were concerned about, was the number of homeless people that were coming in.
We then decided, as the building across the road was empty, that perhaps we could do a bit more than that.

So we thought perhaps, and this was about 1975 I think, that, er, why don't we set up a centre for young people, an entertainment centre, or something like that, together with the advice service. So we negotiated with the council, and again I can’t remember, I think it was, well I know it was Ivor Morgan in the Valuer’s department, and he agreed a peppercorn rent, again I can’t remember, it might have been a pound a week, something like that.

The council at that time wasn't interested in the building because they had so many derelict properties themselves to look after and if someone else could just take responsibility, that would be fine. So we moved from 55 Charles Street back into 58 Charles Street. We moved into the front room, we had our files, we had a desk, we had a chair and a phone. And I can distinctly remember the rain coming through the roof, coming through three floors, into that room. That was the state of the building.

So from there, this was about ‘75, we thought we’d better do something to this building. So luckily there was a government program with Manpower Services Commission and job creation and we employed some people who had been helping us fund raise, and fund raising at that time was done through benefits, in primarily the Montmorence Club on a Wednesday and the New Moon Club, which is long gone but well remembered. And from there we applied to Manpower Services Commission and we were successful in obtaining money to employ five people, most of whom were in a band, and also I think we had Urban Programme funding to run the office but I can't quite remember that. And we then started to work on the building and the aim was to make it a place without alcohol where young people could meet.

The problem was that although we had the labour, had very limited money for materials, and work was a bit erratic. Then we also started international work camps, that came along to help. I think the first one was done through, the first ones were done through United Nations Association, organised by Robert Davies, and they came from all over Europe to come and help with the work.

We had a lack of money for the materials so we came up with the idea, well if bands could rehearse in this building then the money from the rehearsals could go into the building materials. And that was the start of the link between the bands, and that has, as far as I know, continued to this day, all these years later.

That was the crucial thing; the music was vital. And at one stage I think there must have been 30 odd bands rehearsing there day and night, all week. So the problem was the building materials and, um, building regulation approval, well we weren't quite sure what that was, but we just did it and hoped for the best.

And an example was the gas board at the time said, well British Gas said, “Look we can see you've got a problem, Brian has said we can't get materials, we'll give you the van. And they gave us a van but we didn't have any money to tax it or to pay for the diesel to go and get the materials.

So the idea that we came up with was that the band could rehearse for nothing, they could use it (this is the people working on the building who were involved in the band), they could use it for their gigs in the evening, and it would become their van, and the money to pay for the running of the van would come out of their wages. So from very little money, you used ingenious ways of trying to get things. So the building work continued and it went on for quite a long while.

We then also were helped by people on community service orders, and they were quite interesting people who came to help.

There was one person who, as I understand, had been in prison or been arrested for manufacturing some drugs, he was an Oxford graduates, quite a clever chap, an engineer, quite eccentric, but he was very interested in the building and he did the electrics in the building. But he also got very concerned about the state of all the bands and all their electrical equipment and he said, “Look I think we ought to get all the bands together to go through their equipment. So one Sunday afternoon all the bands were called in and it was to my amazement that that downstairs was completely full of people. And I said, “Where has this lot come from”. And they said these are the people who are rehearsing in the building [chuckle]. So we went through, so I started by saying what music do you play and one band said they played the Beatles, and it was at that point that I felt old for the first time, because the Beatles were fairly recent to me, but to them it was old.

Um, and the music scene carried on and bands played there, we had an opening party, with alcohol, no music and dance licence, no alcohol licence. I think the police were called, they were very nice about it, and said perhaps you'd better not do this again; and I think we did, but without the alcohol.

Applying for licences wasn't something we did, although we must have done because my solicitor Stuart Hermer very clearly remembers going to the council to apply for a music and dance licence, and it was fairly controversial. So the bands carried on, and then they had a sort of recording studio, as far as I know, downstairs, and they made an album which then, that was in 1979, moving on a bit, which was very successful and was played by John Peel and there are still copies of that around.

So, the office continued, and it was by about 1977, one of the things that came through the post was a letter from the council, saying “To community groups in Cardiff”.

And it said this is the year of the Queen's Silver Jubilee, and if you would like to have a street party, would you please fill in the form and send it back. So we sat there and thought, at that time the street was still open to traffic being in the middle of the city, it was just one way. So we thought, well, if we have a carnival what would we do.

Then we thought, well, we've got a community here in our street, and the street had churches, it had community facilities, VCS was actually in there in the street, Claimants Union, there was a range of businesses and there were actually quite a few people living there, as well as our building being there. But then we thought, well if we're going to have a carnival, let's have a community carnival, but it would be the opportunity for community groups from the whole of the city to have their say, to explain what they were doing, and that was a totally new idea, hadn't been done before. There had been the start of Ely carnival and one or two other bits and pieces in residential areas, but this was so…so different.

So, Jill Hutt then rang the council, the engineers, and said, “I am just checking on the arrangements for the closure of the street, because we are having the carnival in July”. There was silence. “You can't shut the street, it's impossible.” And I said, “Well I've got a letter back from you saying it was okay”. “No, no, you can't do that.” “Do you want me to go to the Echo and tell them? “No, no, well you can't do it.” So I don't know why, but it must have been a wet day, but I can remember her going off in her wellington boots to meet Ewart Parkinson to tell him, “We are going to have our carnival”. And he agreed. He said,” Well, on this occasion, okay. We'll just have to do it.”
So, having been given the okay for the first carnival, it was quite an extraordinary event.

People put their stalls out in the street and the different community venues we used, Oriel bookshop was there for example, there was poetry in there, there was Ernie Singer doing his infamous conjuring tricks in the Friends Meeting House, there was teas in the garden of the Friends, and the United Reformed Church did things inside, all sorts of things were going on. And it was funded with almost nothing. We approached South East Wales Arts Association, John Prior, for funding but he really wasn't very keen to give us funding because, he said, quote “we aren’t a community”, which we disagreed with. So we built on that and the carnival carried on in various forms for, I don't know, for another 20 odd years. I wasn't involved at the end, the last two or three. Ah, some of the carnivals were quite small, because we had no money. If you took probably the whole of the 20 years of the carnival, the funding for the whole lot is probably equal to, less than a couple of days of the Cardiff Festival as it is now.

So we, um, people loved the carnival because it was just ordinary people involved in community groups, and voluntary bodies, just showing what they were doing.

And we had a little bit of trouble because, ah, should you have political groups or whatever; what groups shouldn't be allowed. So we came up with a thing that no group that was taking part should be sexist or racist or oppressive. Political was okay, so you would have the ladies Conservative, women’s Conservative group from Riverside sitting next to Socialist Worker's Party. It was all mixed up and that was the great thing. And people absolutely loved it, people still talk about it and sometimes it was the only time, once a year, when people would get together. And it was a strange experience with the street shut off and these things happening in there.

There was also very strange acoustics, we had bands even on top of buildings and things, and the music would just sort of flow down the street. Because we had no money for the event, or very little money, shoppers going into Marks and Spencers had no idea what this was. Suddenly they found themselves in this festival.

And then some years, um, oh the next year the street wasn't shut-off, but we still had the carnival. And there was cars coming through the street, we still had it. After that the police relented, and the council relented and it was closed off, except for one year when the police totally forgot.

And I had the Chief Constable actually come to the office and sit down and apologise to us for the fact that this had happened. It was quite interesting, because it’s not often get the Chief Constable apologise. Because it was dangerous, because there were so many children around, and cars and coming up and down, or the potential for cars.

So, all sorts of…so many things happened in the carnival but one I do remember was that there was a wedding in the Catholic cathedral and this entourage came up the street because, although it was shut, we had to let the wedding through.

But the people in the carnival thought this was all part of the carnival, and half the carnival came into the cathedral to enjoy the wedding, and then realised it was not actually part of the carnival. [Laughs] A few years later we had a stall at the top of Queens Street to advertise the carnival, because we had no money to advertise the event, and to my surprise a lady came up to me and she said, “My goodness, Charles Street carnival”. And I thought, “Oh dear, here we go”. “Ah, how wonderful, it was the best day of my life.” I said, “What do you mean”. And she said, “It was the day I got married, and the cathedral was full of people cheering. It was fantastic”.[Laughs]

The coincidence of that, and I do remember asking the vicar from the United Reformed Church, um, for the next year, could he let me know (I don't really know why I said this), I said, “Could you let me know in advance of any wedding or funeral is you've got”. So he looked at me and he said, “Weddings I can tell you about, funerals I can't predict”. [Laughs.]

The very first carnival we were helped in the office by a gentleman from Ireland who actually only had one leg, Paddy of course, (That may not have been the first one, it might have been later on.) Unfortunately, Paddy did like drinking, and he ran off with all the money. And there was a court case with his colleague, I think, I can't remember if they found them and brought them back. But anyway, I remember going to court and having to testify, and also to my horror reading in the paper that the judge criticised me for being naive and letting these people do this. I can't remember what happened, whether they went to prison or whatever.

So, the carnival days were chaotic. One of the highlights was the Cardiff Giant, which was done by Terry Chinn. And he recreated a giant in a tent made of papier-mâché, and we charged people to come into the tent to look at it. And what it was, was a recreation of the real Cardiff Giant in New York State in the 19th century.

And this giant had been created. It was alleged to have been dug up and they alleged to have found it and he charged people to come into this tent to look at the giant, but it was all a hoax. Um, but it made a lot of money and the replica of the giant, I think, is still in New York State, or it was an exhibition there in Cardiff, New York State.

What was hilarious was that we explained all this to people, that this was a real story about a hoax, but people didn't believe us. They said, this is a hoax isn't it. Well, ha ha, it was a real story about a hoax. They didn't get it. Um, I can remember that there was a problem in dismantling the giant, and eventually bits fell off, and had been left in the Friends Meeting House garden, and I had a phone call one day saying, would I mind coming to collect the Cardiff Giant’s head, because we are fed up with it rolling around on the lawn at the back. [Laughs.] So, I have got so many memories of the carnival.
We were lucky that we then also applied to the Manpower Services Commission to set up the Charles Street Arts Foundation.

And I’ve mentioned about Cardiff Community Concern earlier which is the umbrella organisation for all these activities, which we formed as a charity, a registered charity. And also Cardiff Flatshop I’d mentioned was also set up as a charity.

The Charles Street Arts Foundation we thought was a grand sounding name and we applied to the Charity Commissioners. By then, I think, they were getting suspicious and they told us that under no circumstances were we to use this name. But of course we did, we carried on. And we applied to Manpower Services Commission for a team of people to do community arts projects. And this was a very successful project. Some very good people, Allan Herbert, very, very good people, got the carnival going. Some amazing people came to see us, asked to take part; a famous poet Benjamin Zephaniah, who wasn't very well known at that time, he took part in the event.

And there was many murals and different things done. One is still around. It's at the back of Chapter Arts Centre, some figures, at the back of the church, and that was…that came from, I think that came from us. But the one important one was the water tower for the old steam engines next to the Central Station, which was painted as a big daffodil. It has now been more recently painted over, but this daffodil became quite a landmark. People, when they were travelling into Cardiff, would see the daffodil and many people commented on it. So there were many, many projects that the Charles Street Arts Foundation did. It did research into the history of the street.

And fairly early on, in 1975, we thought the street was so interesting that we prepared a report and, about the need for this to become a conservation area and we were successful. And that report will be in the planning department. But that was made into a conservation area which still remains to this day.

I should go back a little bit further when talking about bands and music, and one thing I forgot to mention, in the early days of Cardiff Community Concern, when we were in 55 Charles Street, there was a group called the White Panther Party. And there was a person called John Dyer, somebody called Jegsy who has now passed away, extraordinary people, and they were very interested in the whole idea of an entertainment centre and an advice centre. And Jegsy, who was a bit of a talker, and he said that he knew very well somebody in Pink Floyd; why don't we get the Arms Park to have a concert, and the money from that can go into the entertainment centre.

So myself and the technician at work produced a very nice glossy report which was sent to the Welsh Rugby Union to have Pink Floyd there. And we met the Welsh Rugby Union, who were very pleasant. We were taken out onto the pitch. And we were later told there was no way that the Arms Park would ever be used for any pop concerts, they were not in the business of doing that; they might do it at Wembley but the pitch was too sacred, there was no way at all. How things have changed. [Laughs]

Anyway, going back to Charles Street Arts Foundation.

The ideas of doing improvements and murals, um, all these ideas were regarded as fairly radical at the time, were actually became rather accepted; and then strangely in my own work, we were able to get funding to do community projects although I was told, when we were successful, that there was no way the planning department was there to spend money, it was there to supervise things, but we got money and we did many projects. So it changed from being alternative, and outside the system, and then through my work, it then became…in my own work we started to do those same things, it became accepted. So, the Charles Street Arts Foundation finished. The Cardiff Flatshop, I think, was eventually taken over by Cardiff Council. Cardiff Community Concern became City Centre Youth Project, which I think is still the name.
I haven't been in the building for 20 odd years, but I know it backwards, I know every door in there, every brick almost.

Other things that happened were that we had ah, one volunteer…there was about a year after the funding of the office finished, it must have been 78 I'm not sure of the date, we had no money. The coffee bar was open but we had no money for staff and there was a year when the whole organisation was completely voluntary and it was the most extraordinary year I can remember.

Anne Humphries was running the office, this was all unpaid people, helped by volunteers. The coffee bar was run by people, in particular an ex-café owner in Canton, Irene Liss, who was quite an extraordinary larger than life lady and she ran the coffee bar. The bands were all going, bringing money in. And in the middle of all this there was volunteers coming in to help.

There was one chap who had difficulties, a young person by the name of Tony Bennett, no relation, [Laughs] and as the buildings were being demolished around us to make way for city centre developments, he scrambled into one old building above a barber's shop and he found a treasure trove. He found all these items about the history of Cardiff, from the, going…which explained all the history of Cardiff. There was pictures and documents and photographs, an amazing amount of stuff.

And he kept bringing it in to the building, and we laid it out on the coffee bar, and we didn't quite know what to do with it all because he just kept bringing this stuff in, which was valuable. And then the Schools Officer for the National Museum said this is really important, this should be on display. And there hadn't up to that time been a proper museum about the history of Cardiff so he got some display cabinets from the museum and he put them on the first floor and we put all this stuff out and opened it to the public.

And it was in the newspaper and it was amazing, the response we had. This was really the first time artefacts from Cardiff had been put on display. And again it was all voluntary, and I can remember bringing my boss down from the city planning department because he was interested in antiques, he wasn't interested in what I was doing in the building, he wondered what on earth I had been up to. And he came down and he was just amazed and then he started to get interested in what we were doing.

I should add that everything wasn't plain sailing. There was a time, and I can't remember, 1978 or ‘9, I can remember the time, but I think it must have been about the time when we applied for the music and dance licence, and the council decided, what on earth are we doing there. Who is this person who has been doing this, that was me. My name was mud and I was called up and, ah, we then had to go to the paper to fight.

I can remember the leader of the council, Ron Watkiss, coming down, who was quite a reasonable man, listening to what we were doing, that this wa ffasfsacentre for the unemployed, that there was a crisis, we had no money. And a former mayor, Albert Huish, stepped in to help and he was invaluable. He really pushed things forward and we won the day, we were able then to stay there. But my own, the council where I worked, were very suspect of what I was up to. They weren't quite sure what I had been doing and I got into a lot of trouble, but in the end it got through. So there we are.

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