The Big Conference

Impressions from Bethan Jones Parry, president of Dyfodol, on The Big Conference with First Minister Carwyn Jones in Aberystwyth on July 4th

“A process not an event” – these words are a modern cliche by now. And the Firstt Miister acknowledged exactly that when he opened “A Living Language: The Big Conference” in Aberystwyth, but he didn’t apologise for that.

He told the 150 delegates there that the conference needed to be considered in that context in order to “secure a future for the Welsh language” adding that starting a discussion like this was long overdue in order to find new ways to strengthen and develop the language.

All delegates were there by invitation – a mistake according to some – though many more were following the event online and contributing comments via Twitter.

Without doubt the conference had been organised to the last second but by trying to squeeze in discussions on topics such as the economy, education, planning, raising awareness and confidence, into two sessions of barely three quarters an hour each many thought, myself included, that it was all like trying to pour the Atlantic into a pint pot.

We had an opportunity to ask questions by writing on bits of paper with the questions being selected by somebody before being handed over to  Rhodri Llwyd Morgan to present to the panellists.

Yes, questions were asked on TAN 20, on planning in general, on sports provision in Welsh, on standards and even how to harness the success of those Welshmen who are members of the Lions squad to benefit the language – but there wasn’t a discussion. There was no space for comments.

For me the main purpose of the conference was to have the opportuity to see and listen to the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, as he starts on his new role in charge of the Welsh language portfolio in the Government.

He stayed at the conference all day. I’m not being sarcasticwhen I say that this is something quite unusual for government ministers usually, even if they are in charge of the topic being dicussed. And as he called on Chief Executives and other heads to take responsibility for promoting the language in their organisations one had the distinct impression that he was genuinely serious about making a difference.

There will be “further steps” he said as the conference drew to a close and he emphasised it was imperative for us to “move forward”.

So what exactly was “A Living Language: The Big Conference”? A talking shop or a significant event? Time will tell. And there’s another cliche for you!

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