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Penarth Welcomes Strangers (i)

24 hr installation by Parry & Glynn. An affirmation responding to the Big Draw Beyond Borders celebration at Penarth Pier Pavilion.

Artists Parry & Glynn responded to a Big Draw ‘Beyond Borders’ event in Penarth Pavilion on 1st October with the erection of a sign at the junction of Windsor Road and Plassey Street.
RM Parry reflects on the idea of Penarth and welcome:

We were pleased to make this piece of art called Penarth Welcomes Strangers to coincide with the ‘Beyond Borders’ event which took place at Penarth Pier Pavilion and on the town beach. It is a simple work - a sheet of white plastic 4.2 m x 85cm upon which is printed in black the words ‘Penarth Welcomes Strangers’. The work was hung on a signboard at a prominent location for 24 hours near a busy road into Penarth. Permission to install the piece was sought and granted.

At a very simple level the text described exactly what was happening on the pier at the Beyond Borders event that day. Penarth Pier Pavilion described themselves as “delighted” to host the programme of music, family activities, drawing, clay making, fossil hunting, beach art, stories and international literature. Many people from all over the world took part or became involved.

The words of the piece we displayed on entering Penarth also work as an affirmation of our common humanity. There are age old traditions and customs that help us to host people whom we have never previously met. Life today has many etiquettes and social graces that allow us to greet and make relationships with strangers.

And yet the text also appears problematic. Penarth Welcomes Strangers. It raises questions like:  How can a whole town unanimously speak with one voice when it comes to the matter of a welcome? Who has the authority to make such declarations? Can such a wide-ranging statement ever be meaningful?  I still remember when, as a child in West-Wales, my family visited a neighbouring town which displayed an impressive sign upon entry that declared “Milford Haven welcomes careful drivers”.

Perhaps a single street can speak with one voice. Householders get together and make declarations of community intent and will. Street parties happen. Neighbourhood Watch areas are formed. On the Saturday, after the Beyond Borders event at the Penarth Pavilion, I visited on the way home, round the corner from where I live, a couple newly arrived to Penarth who had confidently invited our street to come over to their new home for a gathering to say hello. It was a wonderful example of strangers coming together.

Something the size of a city can also be involved in welcome. London’s huge population, with over 300 languages spoken, may seem too big to express communal ideas of hospitality, but London enjoys the status of one of the most wealthy places on earth, and that prosperity is founded on people coming together from all over the world, as strangers, to create energetic and creative community. The concept of people from different places coming together to meet is one of the very essences and attractions of London.

But small towns are bigger than streets, and much smaller than London. Wales is full of them. In what ways can small towns participate in welcome? Is ‘Penarth Welcomes Strangers’ impossible to say with meaning?

Image: Chris Glynn. The Balmoral arriving at Penarth Pier from England, Oct 2016. 

Image: Chris Glynn. The Balmoral arriving at Penarth Pier from England, Oct 2016. 

Perhaps Penarth’s history can help us. The town is relatively new. Today it is easy to take for granted the shops and houses of Penarth, but until the middle of the 19th century the area was mainly agricultural land with only a few hundred inhabitants. The new town profited from and contributed enormously to international shipping, connecting industry and people all over the world. And, presumably, the town pier wasn’t built solely as a pleasure promenade for Penarth people - a local pier for local people? It was constructed as a bold statement that would attracted tourists and visitors to enjoy the coast and entertainment provided by the town. And people still come to Penarth to enjoy the sea front and the town’s hospitality. Shops & businesses depend on existing customer bases, but of course, always need new customers and clients. Many businesses actively engage with strangers, and seek to serve them. In creating the modern town we know today thousands of people uprooted themselves and developed this cliff-top site seeking a good quality of life and access to the beautiful coastal views.

When we leave the house, every day, we ourselves become strangers to others in some way. We also meet or pass others who are unknown to us. Towns are places where individuals are brought into community. People come. And people go. And the community continually is breaking and reforming in new ways. Sometimes the new arrivals are outsiders, refugees, old friends, family, seekers, returners. Sometimes the newcomers are our changing attitudes and our changing selves.

RM Parry, October 2016

Earlier Event: August 1
Bugeiliaid Newydd [new shepherds]
Later Event: October 22
Between the Lines