TOWN and community councils across Torfaen have been busy electing their new chairmen and chairwomen for the upcoming year.

In the first of a two-part feature, The Free Press spoke with Cllr Anthony Bird, the new chairman of Cwmbran Community Council, Cllr Joanne Gauden, the new chairwoman of Croesyceiliog and Llanyrafon Community Council, and Cllr Jac Denley-Jones, the new mayor of Blaenavon, to find out more about them, and to look forward to their plans and aspirations for the next 12 months.

At 29 years old, Cllr Anthony Bird is the youngest ever chairman of Cwmbran Community Council.

Cllr Bird was elected to the council in 2017, having previously worked as a lobbyist and in the Welsh Government.

He said: “It is a big year for Cwmbran as the town is celebrating its 70th year.

“I was the vice-chairman last year. It was a good experience for me – going to events and meeting everyone.

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(Cllr Anthony Bird celebrating 70 years of Cwmbran town. Picture: Cwmbran Community Council)

“I want to highlight that Cwmbran as a town is still going from strength to strength.

“We have a lot planned for the year. We want to make the most of this special year for Cwmbran.

“We are hosting our Big Event this year without funding from Torfaen Council. Also, we are doing all that we can to engage with the public and local businesses and groups.

“We face bigger and harder challenges, greater demands of the time, resources and expertise of this council.

“But I look around this chamber, at all of my colleagues assembled here and I rest easy in the knowledge that in this, our town’s 70th year, we can face those challenges together.”

“It is a fantastic accomplishment to be the youngest chairman of the community council. It’s great that we have two young councillors as the vice-chairman is very young as well.

“It is good to show that the council is open to everyone, not just as something to do as you approach retirement.”

Cllr Bird has selected Trac 2 and the British Legion in Pontnewydd as his chosen charities.

The new vice-chairman of the council is Cllr Leighton Johnston.

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(Former mayor Cllr Gareth Davies with the new mayor of Blaenavon Cllr Jac Denley-Jones. Picture: Blaenavon Town Council)

A former soldier, paediatric nurse and university lecturer has become Mayor of Blaenavon.

Having travelled the world with her career, Berkshire-born Cllr Jac Denley-Jones settled in Blaenavon six years ago, and was elected to the town council in 2017.

“I feel honoured to be Mayor of my adopted town,” she said. “Since being elected in 2017, I’m proud of the way that the council has launched a range of exciting initiatives and projects that are benefiting local residents.”

Cllr Denley-Jones said the council was also making a name for itself in Welsh local government after winning two One Voice Wales awards in the past year, following its first one in 2018.

“It’s a great time to be Mayor of Blaenavon and I’m really looking forward to seeing us achieve even more in 2019/20.

“There is a lot going on in the town, and I am keen for the council to continue to be seen as being at the heart of that.

“I enjoy being involved in community projects, doing things with the local people. For example, I want to organise a family fun day in the town and a big community dog walk over the summer.

“It’s about showing that the council is active and developing that community spirit.

“My husband and I lived in Greece for nine years before moving to Blaenavon, and before that we lived in Garndiffaith. Even then, I loved going to Blaenavon as it was in the countryside and it had a real community feel.”

Together with husband Rod, she set up the Dawnswyr Blaenafon Welsh folk dance group and ‘Dance on the Mountain’ – a growing annual summer dance festival now in its fifth year.

The group perform in the traditional clothes of the workers in Blaenavon.

Cllr Denley-Jones will be supporting the British Heart Foundation and the local branch of the Royal British Legion.

Teacher and lecturer Cllr Lewis Evans, who has served 13 years on the Town Council with two terms as chairman, was elected vice-chairman.

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(Cllr Joanne Gauden is the new chairwoman of Croesyceiliog and Llanyrafon Community Council. Picture: Croesyceiliog and Llanyrafon Community Council)

Cllr Joanne Gauden has been selected as the chairwoman of Croesyceiliog and Llanyrafon Community Council.

Having previously worked in a local special needs school, Cllr Gauden, who is also a ward councillor with Torfaen Council for Croesyceiliog North, said that she hopes to encourage greater inclusivity in the ward.

She said: “I have pushed for greater inclusivity. This included a community pantomime where local residents could come along and local children could take part in. It was an inclusive event where everybody was encouraged to be themselves.

“I am passionate about ensuring Woodlands Park is more inclusive. There is no equipment there for children in wheelchairs, so able-bodied children are not able to play with children with disabilities. I am really keen to address that.

“Our community council has 12 members, and only two are women.

“We need more women in politics so hopefully I can be a good role model and share my experiences.

“The youngest community councillor is 52, so I will be looking to start up a youth council to mirror the work of the community council.

“If that is not possible, then we could look at having a mentoring scheme so in the future we can have a more diverse representation on the council.”

Cllr Gauden is a relative newcomer to the community council, having prepared for life in politics as a Unison representative and chairwoman of its local branch.

“I have been on the community council for two years, so it is a privilege to be elected as the chairwoman despite being a relative newcomer.

“I was also proud to be elected as vice-chairwoman last year.”

  • Next week, we will speak to the chairmen and women of Pontypool Community Council, Ponthir Community Council and Henllys Community Council.