Cynefin y Werin | ‘Common Ground’, 1998-2014 -Grassroots Networking & Campaigning Organisation

by Stephen Thomas, former for WCIA Director 1996-2010

Cynefin y Werin1 came into being in the first half of 1998. A group of like-minded activists felt that it would be appropriate to organise an event for grass roots bodies and their members as an alternative to the European Council Summit meeting that was hosted by Cardiff on 15/16 June of that year, during the UK’s presidency of the Council.

(The Summit was held in various buildings in the Civic Centre, Cathays Park. The Temple of Peace itself acted as the base for the delegations of Germany and Denmark, to consult and to carry out media briefings. Chancellor Helmut Kohl conducted TV interviews in the Garden of Peace.

See: for more details: the event was memorable primarily for the presence of Nelson Mandela in Cardiff, as a guest of the EU heads of state.)

The Cynefin y Werin alternative gathering took place a few days earlier and used Tabernacl chapel in the Hayes, Cardiff as its location (see programme ). There was enough enthusiasm from the broad range of peace, human rights, environmental and other organisations that had contributed to that first meeting that a desire to create a more permanent body under that name was expressed by many.

The WCIA/Temple of Peace from an early stage took up some of the co-ordinating responsibilities for the network: while never its ‘HQ’, the fact that much of its financial, secretariat and administrative duties were carried out by WCIA staff meant that it played a much bigger part than most of the other organisational members in keeping the network going for over 15 years. It received modest funding from the network to fulfil these roles (though relevant postage/ photocopying etc. costs were covered by Cynefin y Werin); but it can be claimed that the network contributed ‘in-kind’ in many other ways, for example paying for the 2005 Conscientious Objectors stone in the Garden of Peace. It is true that the creation of WISeN in the Noughties, with its co-ordinator James Maiden based at the Temple of Peace, meant that there was a more financially viable means of supporting Cynefin y Werin than would otherwise have been the case. Cyfanfyd, Wales Fair Trade Network and Wales Overseas Agencies Group also came under that WISeN umbrella.

Although the term ‘Common Ground’ was used as an English language alternative for the organisation, this never really caught on. The Welsh nomenclature was the one used by all to denote it, effectively. Cynefin y Werin took on the strap-line ‘The All Wales Network Promoting International Peace, Social Justice, Human Rights and Equality’ over the coming years (or sometimes the shorter ‘All Wales Network for Peace and Global Justice’). As this was the exciting period of the creation of the National Assembly for Wales, there was a natural and new focus for Cynefin y Werin to concentrate some of its efforts in lobbying and advocacy work on prospective politicians (in particular at the 1999 and 2003 Assembly elections) and to make itself known to figures in the nascent Welsh governmental set-up.

During its most active years, Cynefin y Werin held regular events (sometimes called ‘day schools’) in its own name in Newtown, Bangor, Aberystwyth, Cardiff and elsewhere. These were means to hear guest speakers, to carry out training sessions, to raise awareness of key campaigns, and, as ever, to re-enthuse individuals to keep up their efforts for whichever member organisation(s) they were active. These events were lively and well-attended on the whole up to the late Noughties, when the first signs of a network that was becoming a little sclerotic began to show. Yet 2008 nevertheless saw publication of the bilingual Non-Violence Training Handbook for Wales as the last output of the ‘A Oes Heddwch?’ sub-project within Cynefin y Werin, which a few years earlier had produced The Pocket Book of Peace; a small grants application process was established at about the same time; and initiatives on citizen engagement/a civil society forum for Wales were undertaken.

Two important campaigns with which the network was associated, and to an extent took the lead, were the No to the Military Training Academy at St. Athan, Vale of Glamorgan (2007-10); and keeping interest alive in the concept of a Peace Institute for Wales. The Training Academy never did materialise, primarily because of budget cuts at the MOD following the financial crisis of 2007-8. But Cynefin y Werin protested at the site, took part in a public planning enquiry on it held at Barry, and produced much literature to back up its views. On the Peace Institute it would be true to say that the network’s vision was of a more campaigning (some called it ‘partisan’) institution than the one which has come to fruition in recent years.

It was during 2010-11 that thoughts of winding up the network first began to form. As ever, it took longer to carry that out than had initially seemed likely; first there were those that were of the opinion that the network should continue in slightly different form; then there was the employment of a part-time Co-ordinator whose main role was to reflect the increasing move to on-line activism; and, as shown by some of the materials on the files, there was also disagreement among the four-person Management Group, in whose hands the running of the network had been delegated, as to the best course to follow.

Ultimately, the agreement was to utilise the money that Cynefin y Werin possessed to make a series of grants to member, or related, organisations and so bring the network to a financial (and de facto) close. By far the biggest sum it held was an investment fund it had received in 2007 from the remaining trustees of the former Peace Shop in Mackintosh Place, Cardiff, which had closed down many years earlier but which still had some capital from the sale of its building. This represented almost all of the £28,470 that was disbursed in 2013-14, with 22 grants made altogether, that brought the curtain down on Cynefin y Werin.

Stephen Thomas, November 2023

1 A literal translation of the name would be ‘The People’s Habitat’ / ‘The Populace’s Place’.