We’ve recently written about STAMP’s involvement in regenerating Caernarfon through the arts. Previously we’ve written about similar schemes in Liverpool and Merthyr Tudful. In this article, we’re looking at the regeneration of Cardiff Bay.

In the 1830s the rapid growth of trade in iron and coal in South Wales highlighted the need for better docks, so several were built in Cardiff. After a while, the dockland area of Butetown grew in population, and sailors from many overseas nations made their home in what was to become known as Tiger Bay. It’s estimated that people of some 50 different nationalities settled there.

Within half a century Cardiff was the biggest town in Wales, with a port that handled more coal than any other in the world.

But demand for coal decreased after WWII, and by the 1960s there were virtually no coal exports leaving Cardiff’s docks. With the closure of East Moors Steelworks in 1978 – and the accompanying loss of over 3,000 jobs – it was only a matter of a couple of years before Cardiff Bay had transformed from a bustling international centre of trade to little more than a ‘neglected wasteland of derelict docks and mudflats’.

With above average unemployment and social exclusion among its ills, Cardiff’s docklands area had seen a total reversal in its fortunes.

But before long the area was to see more big change, this time for the better. In April 1987 the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation was established, as part of the UK government’s Urban Development Programme which aimed to breathe new life into some of the UK’s most deprived inner-city areas.

By the end of March 2000, the Corporation was formally wound up after fulfilling its mission to improve the area. Its achievements included 16,750 new jobs, 4,800 new housing units, 695,000 square metres of non-residential developments, 79 hectares of new open space created and a further 327 hectares of land reclaimed, and 42 kilometres of roads either built or upgraded.

Today, Cardiff Bay is unrecognisable from the wasteland that was left behind after the last war. A thriving part of Wales’ capital city, Cardiff Bay has reinvented itself as a popular place to spend days out, as well as a great place to live and work. There are many attractions and activities for visitors, including:

  • Cardiff Bay Barrage – a wonderful place to walk or ride a bike, with amazing views over Cardiff Bay and the River Severn. There’s also a children’s play area, a skate park and an outdoor gym
  • The Enormous Crocodile bench – a tribute to the author Roald Dahl
  • Cardiff International White Water – a white water adventure centre which is part of Cardiff’s International Sports Village. The centre offers a great choice of activities including white water rafting and stand up paddleboarding
  • Butetown History and Arts Centre, where visitors can learn about the history of migrants and minorities in Wales
  • Cardiff Bay Wetland Reserve, which supports a diverse range of plant and animal species and offers a viewing area that extends over the water
  • The world’s only Welsh-themed carousel, which features wonderful dragon chariots as well as the usual horses and organ music
  • The Wales Millennium Centre – the home of Welsh performing arts and one of the UK’s top cultural attractions

While the usage of Cardiff Bay has changed completely in the time since it was built, when it comes to the fortunes of the area we can’t help thinking that the former Tiger Bay’s favourite daughter, Dame Shirley Bassey, might say it’s like a little bit of history repeating. And while Caernarfon’s regeneration is on a much smaller scale than Cardiff Bay’s, we’re hopeful that we’ll see a similar improvement to our town’s fortunes, both cultural and economic.