As you drive through Garw Valley in south Wales, you quickly see familiar scenery in the area, including rows of terraced houses along the road, streets going up the sides of mountains, and it's all nestled in a bowl of green fields and trees. But as you get closer to Blaengarw, the hills seem to grow bigger until you feel completely surrounded.

Even though the wind can be strong in the valley, the village is extremely peaceful. Blaengarw sits right at the top of the Garw, so the only way out is to go back the way you came. This means there's not much traffic, with only locals or people walking their dogs on one of the many paths in the area. It might feel unusual to come into such a close community as a visitor, but the people of Blaengarw are known for their warm and friendly welcomes.

If you visited 40 years ago, the place would look very different. The Garw Valley was known for its mining, with most families having at least one person working in the mines and many people coming to Balengarw for work. When the mines closed, the village had a tough time and many people had to go down towards Bridgend town to find jobs. Despite this, many people who grew up in the town don't think about the bad times when they remember their past. For the latest Bridgend news, sign up to our newsletter here

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We visited the community in 2022 and spoke to a number of locals. One of them, who had lived his entire life in Blaengarw, was Gareth Poulton, 65, who reminisced fondly about his childhood: "We'd play football in the streets in those days, went to the local school before going to Ynysawdre, plenty of walks to take the dogs on."

Gareth Poulton
Gareth Poulton said the area was perfect for walking dogs, like his new puppy Rosie
Blaengarw - the village at the top of the Garw valley with a road out in only one direction
Blaengarw - the village at the top of the Garw valley with a road out in only one direction
Row of terraced homes
Andrew moved up the valley from Pontycymer

Recalling the town's mining history, he shared: "My grandfather used to work in the pit. That closed not long after the strike though. I was nearly an adult when the strike was on, my mate was a miner so I used to help him out. You then had people coming around the houses collecting for the miners, there was a real Valleys spirit."

Blaengarw, in spite of losing jobs when the pits closed, is not as deprived compared to other parts of the old coalfield. It scores well for safety and access to services according to reports like the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation. After the closure of the mines, many have travelled outside of Blaengarw, into Bridgend, for work. As such, it became increasingly apparent who was from the area and who wasn't. Even recently, Gareth noted he could recognise new faces walking up the valley during lockdown, looking for somewhere new to walk their dogs.

Despite the halt in tourism due to lockdown closures, this local found joy in seeing new faces around town. Gareth said: "It's nice and quiet here from my point of view. You're always peaceful, so peaceful, you don't get a lot of trouble either. It's a very quiet valley, especially up by here you don't get a lot of traffic, dead-end at the top of the road here."

Blanegarw is a peaceful place, only disturbed by the sound of running water near the shut-down coal mine site. The main indication of the afternoon during weekdays is the laughter and joyful noises of children from the neighbourhood primary school, and the village centre comprises of just the essential services, such as a school, a local shop, post office, hotel and pub, and a working men's hall. Yet, this seems to be sufficient to attract newcomers to settle in the area with an average house price of £97,314, as per Rightmove's data. Support award-winning journalism with WalesOnline’s Premium app on Apple or Android

Maxine Lewis, a local resident who was born and raised in Blaengarw, had also noticed the influx of new faces when we spoke to her in 2022. "Growing up here was brilliant, it was lovely," she said, reminiscing about her childhood from within the William Trigg community centre. Despite moving to England as an adult, Maxine returned to the valley eight years ago, hoping for her son to experience the same upbringing she had.

But, she observed that the community had changed significantly, adding: "It wasn't the same. It was so different because people have left and new people moved in, and in a way, we've lost a bit of our sense of community." This is surprising considering the bustling activity at the community centre, with people visiting the pantry, coming to the café, and attending various classes.

Maxine also believed that the community spirit needed to be revived, especially in these challenging times. She said: "I think we need community spirit again because times are getting so tough, everyone needs to help everyone and that's going back to the old times then where people did. Now more than ever that is needed." There are signs of this spirit returning, with Maxine running a successful youth club at the community centre, although activities had to pause during the pandemic.

She said: "Seventy-five kids screaming on a Friday, imagine the noise. You had a big smile on your face because you knew seventy-five kids were safe, they were warm, and they were entertained. We had to close because of Covid, and I'd see some of the kids in the street and they'd be like 'Miss, Miss, when can we start again?'"

Rod Shaw
Rod Shaw has worked hard to reintroduce activities for the elderly in the valley
Blaengarw sits right at the top of the Garw
Blaengarw sits right at the top of the Garw, so the only way out is to go back the way you came

Another beloved aspect of the area is the community centre, which now also reaches out to the older members of the community thanks to Rod and Mandy Shaw, who run many activities daily, as well as a community café. Rod, who despite his West Country accent has integrated perfectly into Blaengarw said: "My wife was born in Wales, I can't say that. Wales is, I guess, my adopted country. At the time when we moved here, I worked in Bristol.

"This was the furthest I could commute, 120 miles, 60 miles each way." Rod explained. "We came up and down several valleys and communities from Monmouth across really, but when we arrived here, we came back three times because there's something really drawing about the Garw Valley and part of it is that the people are really open and welcoming."

Rod, a big fan of the outdoors with five English Pointers, was drawn to settle in the valley with his family. He said: "It's stunningly beautiful. I think it surprises most people - because it's a headless valley you can't go anywhere else - so you have to have a reason to come here, and when people do come up, they're really quite surprised."

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At the top of the Garw Valley, Blaengarw has long had a strong community
At the top of the Garw Valley, Blaengarw has long had a strong community
Maxine Lewis
Maxine Lewis moved back to the village to raise her son
There is only one road in and out

A few years ago, he got involved with the community centre through his charity Calon y cwm. This is the same place where Maxine also sits on the chair of trustees. He and his wife were asked to help out and have since turned the building into a hub for locals, and local artists can sell their work there, residents can get essentials from the food pantry, Thai Chi lessons are available via a remote instructor who is projected onto the wall from Caerau, and affordable breakfasts and meals are served daily by Rod's wife Mandy. This allows older residents to meet others after a time of being alone.

Getting around in isolated places can be a struggle, and Blaengarw sees this issue more than most. Andrew Whittingham, who moved to the valley thirteen years ago was familiar with these issues when he spoke to us in 2022. "It's quite unreliable, if they haven't got a bus driver they just cancel it," he revealed.

Memorial in Blaengarw
A memorial in the village highlights how important the community support is for the residents
Andrew Whittingham
Andrew Whittingham
A bus at a terminal in Blaengarw
One of the only downsides in the village was said in 2022 to be the unreliable public transport.

But not everybody uses or has access to social media, where cancellations are announced. "I'm Dad's taxi normally," Andrew joked.

Despite this, the overall feeling in Blaengarw was one of peace and happiness. Yes, being this high up means you might see snow more often than the rest of the valley, and bread and milk might vanish from the shelves a bit quicker than in other places. But when your home is surrounded by such a friendly community and lovely nature, it's hard to find anything not to like."

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