Scales and Tails display rejuvenates Storiel

Mel in the museum

Mel is passionate about her voluntary work for the university’s Brambell Museum.

One of Bangor Universities own students has recently seen her own display made center stage in the entrance to Storiel Museum. The Scales and Tails exhibit is the culmination of months of hard work by the student and museum curators.

Originally from Northern Ireland, Mel Green, 34, escaped the 9-5 drudgery of an office job to study Herpetology and Zoology at Bangor in September 2015 as a mature student.

Having spent four hours a week volunteering at Brambell Natural History Museum in the university for the past two years, Mel admits that she was surprised but honored to be asked to help to curate the exhibit.

She says: “Well Helen, the curator at Brambell, had asked if I was interested in helping out in setting up a display at Storiel so of course I jumped at the opportunity to get involved.”

Sitting in Brambell Natural History Museum, surrounded by skeletons, fossilised remains and taxidermy, Mel seems happy with her role as a mature student within the University. She says: “I try to get involved with a wide range of students as you always learn from being around different groups of people.

“I think having life experience means I’m better at organising and managing time than some of my younger counterparts, and knowing myself a bit better means I know where my limits are.”

Now coming to the end of her second year at the University, it is clear that Mel has thrown herself into all aspects of academic life, despite the age gap between her and many of her fellow cohort.

Her need to get as much out of her University experience as possible led to her getting involved with the natural history museum located at in the Brambell building on a voluntary basis.

Her responsibilities are fairly simple and involve helping to maintain the collection, keeping pests to a minimum and cataloguing a lot of the specimens on view, specimens that include all manner of wildlife such as apes, giant cats and birds.

Speaking of the display in Storiel, Mel said: “In the display at the minute there’s a variety of reptiles. We’ve got some skeletons, a snake skull for example which is actually articulated to show the way the jaw can come apart and things which is unique to snakes.

“We’ve got some tortoise shells, we’ve got a lot of dead snakes, lizards and turtles all in fluid. A lot of it was chosen to represent the things you’d find in the museum. These are the ways we preserve specimens and they come in useful for further research and the history of the animals.”

Beyond her degree, Mel is hoping that her experience with the Scales and Tails exhibit can lead onto greater opportunities. She said: ‘It can lead into working in actual museums doing similar things and as Helen herself is the museum curator, it can lead into that kind of career.’

While the display was expected to draw a lot of interest, Mel is still happy with the positive feedback she has had since the display went public. She said: “I’m very pleased with the feedback I’ve gotten from the display.

“I didn’t expect it to have been as popular as it has been. It’s not likely to be everyone’s cup of tea, but if it gets people talking and thinking about museum collections and reptiles, that’s all I could ask for.”

Storiel Museum in the shadow of Bangor's Main Arts building

Storiel sits in the shadow of Bangor’s Main Arts building. (photo courtesy of Seren)

Originally known as the Gwynedd Museum and Art Gallery, Storiel opened it’s doors for the first time in January 2016 following an extensive £2.6M renovation, £1.4M of which came from the Lottery heritage fund.

At the time of the museums reopening, Prof Jerry Hunter of Bangor University, said: “The Storiel project is proof of the successful co-operation between all of the partners and offers a unique opportunity to open doors to Bangor University’s collections and provides an array of opportunities for future co-operation between Storiel and Pontio.”

Aiming to provide more opportunities for Bangor University students to help with curating displays, the museum has been a huge success story following its renovation welcoming 80,000 visitors through its doors in its first year alone. This is compared to just 12,000 when it was in its previous state.

 

 

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Former Bangor student plotting to follow in Danny Boyles footsteps

Dion Wyn headshot

Dion was a student at Bangor

One of Bangor University’s more famous alumni is acclaimed film director Danny Boyle and one former History student at the University, now barman, is attempting to follow in the Oscar winner’s footsteps.

Dion Wyn, 30, from Bangor has been working on bringing his vision to life for nearly a year now and is getting closer to making that vision a reality. His film idea, a horror/drama is set against the backdrop of the Snowdonia National Park.

Despite boasting breath taking scenery which wouldn’t look out of place in a sprawling cinematic epic, North Wales is not renowned for being a film making hub. With his potential welsh blockbuster, Dion is hoping to change all of that.

Although he has always been fascinated with film, he originally studied History at Bangor University before taking a job at the cities student bar, Bar Uno. That was six years ago, around the same time he started to indulge in his appreciation of film by becoming a film critic.

With David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick and Wes Anderson amongst the main inspirations behind his work, Dion said: “I became a critic as I wanted to learn more about cinema. I also wanted to explore different kinds of cinema.”

From his website, a YouTube channel has grown and now Dion appears as a weekly guest on Radio Cymru. He also has plans to do a Masters in Cinema followed by a possible PhD. However, it is his work for Radio Cymru which has had the most bearing when it comes to his film.

While the film is going to be in Welsh, he is keen for it to appeal to a wider audience. He says: “My radio work is on a Welsh station unfortunately so it’s quite inclusive in the fact that most people have no idea what the hell I’m saying.

“I’m trying to avoid that with this film, although it is in Welsh. There will be subtitles once we get to editing. Of course, that is introducing new problems because my script writer doesn’t understand Welsh.”

Appealing to a wider audience beyond his native Wales is obviously very important to Dion and it isn’t all about the language. “North Wales isn’t a place that’s filmed in too often.

“There have been a handful of recent movies, the Guy Ritchie helmed King Arthur being a prime example but it is still not as filmed as you may think which is a crying shame in my opinion, especially when you consider the natural beauty of the region.”

Snowdonia valley

Dion is keen to show off the breathtaking scenery on his doorstep

This need to show off his homeland is also the driving force behind Dion’s decision tofilm in black and white. He says: “Filming in black and white will give the film a more atmospheric feel which kind of fits well with the North Wales landscape.

“I’m also hoping that we’ll get some traditional Welsh rain which will help to add even more atmosphere to the film, especially with the black and white. Ideally, I’ll have sunshine in the day and rain and wind at night.”

In terms of how far along he is with his project, he is now at the casting stage having completed a first ninety-minute draft of his script. Originally, he was hoping to start filming in the summer but that has had to be put on hold until the autumn while he completes a film course.

While desperate to see his vision become a reality, Dion faces an anxious wait for possible funding from a variety of sources, one of which is the Media Investment fund set up by welsh ministers in 2014.

Worth an estimated £30 million over five years, the fund targets films which can shoot 50% of their principle photography in Wales. Aiming to support between 6-8 films a year, the usage of the fund has recently been criticised by language campaigners.

Despite spending £7 million on films in English, just £40,000 has been spent on films in Welsh since 2011 which equates to 0.57% of the total cash on offer. Campaigners argue that film is an important means of promoting cultures, especially those expressed in minority languages such as Welsh

Carl Morris, chair of the digital group of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, said: “It is a matter of great disappointment that our government, which is partly responsible for promoting Welsh, can favour the English language to such an extent, especially considering the talent and ability to create films of the highest standards in Welsh.

“An investment of £7m over three years in English is very substantial, and the paltry £40,000 is an insult to those who want to produce films in Welsh, the film and television industry working in Welsh, and supporters of the Welsh language more generally.”

A spokesman for the Welsh Government said: “These comments from Cymdeithas yr Iaith only take account of funding to feature films and do not recognise the substantial support given by the Welsh Government to Welsh language projects that are broadcast via other media such as television and online platforms.”

With Dion’s project possibly relying on funding from the Welsh Government, as well as other sources, it remains to be seen whether it will ever see the light of day. However, he is determined to make the film whether he gets funding or not.

He said: “Even if I don’t get the money, I will make it. Media is a very difficult industry to get into, especially film. You have to try and go it alone otherwise you’ll never get anywhere.”

As for future projects from Bangor’s newest budding film maker, he has a slow burning idea for a musical based on Brexit and, following some advice from Bangor alumni Danny Boyle, is keen to direct a theatre production.

Students demand better accommodation from lax landlords

Old Debenhams on Bangor High street

The site of the proposed new student flats. Picture by Eric Jones (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Plans to convert the old Debenhams store on Bangor High Street into student flats have been met with a mixed reaction by students and locals alike.

The plans, to create accommodation for 49 students, will free up student housing for local residents however there are grave concerns by locals at how much student accommodation is already available in the city centre.

In a statement, agent Cadnant Planning said: “Not only will the proposed development be of benefit to individuals moving into the accommodation but also it will have the added positive impact of freeing up the current private housing stock for families and younger couples.

“One of the problems facing Wales is that young people are moving out of areas such as Gwynedd due to the lack of housing available to them. This proposal will no doubt help to alleviate this problem.”

Among the student population however, the main concern appears to be not how much student accommodation is available but the standard of it with many complaining of sub-standard living conditions and landlords who don’t seem to care.

Natasha Froggatt, 21, of College Road, Bangor, has had problem after problem since moving into her current house with the first issue being the front door. She said: “The lock was barely catching and it was super weak, it would have taken only a shoulder barge to open it. The police came around (they were making the rounds in Upper Bangor during freshers week) and basically told us it was useless and we would be robbed.

“We contacted the landlord and nagged for one but we were basically ignored. Eventually in January 2016 our front door actually broke, and we were unable to shut it properly so we had to get a new one.”

Unfortunately, the front door was only the first in a long line of problems she and her housemates have endured since they moved in to the property. Broken radiators, an oven that has never worked and perhaps most concerning of all, the landlords long delay in fitting a carbon monoxide detector despite constant requests by his tenants.

The last straw for Natasha came when alarmingly, her bedroom wall began to cave in behind the wallpaper. She said: “Apparently, there had been a crack on the outside wall (my room is on the semi-detached side) and a lot of rain had come in. They had dealt with the external stuff but didn’t fix any internal issues. So, my wall started crumbling and falling down.

“I contacted Varcity [the agent in charge of the property] and they sent the maintenance guy around. He pulled down my wall but didn’t cover up any of my stuff so everything was covered in wall dust and stuff.”

While Natasha’s case may seem extreme, it is far from an exception. Charlotte Mansell, 21, left Bangor after completing her undergraduate degree last year but she tells of constant problems while living in her house on Penchwintan Road in Upper Bangor.

The main problem was a simple leak from the bathroom into the kitchen however it appears her landlady was less than helpful when dealing with it. She says: “She wasn’t happy and she wanted us to turn off the stop cock which we had no idea where it was as we hadn’t been shown.

“She also requested we go into my other house mates room. However, as she was not in Bangor the room was locked. She was annoyed and questioned us as to why we locked our rooms before stating that we should leave them open.”

While some students were happy to be named, some were fearful about what landlords would do were the state of their properties made public. One student, who stated that she didn’t want to be made homeless by her landlord, took a house in lower Bangor last year.

Upon moving into the property, she found the house still filthy from the previous tenants. The walls and mattresses were all stained as were the toilets. The houses also lacked basic safety equipment required by law such as fire extinguishers.

The safety issues were not limited to the lack of safety equipment though with a potentially catastrophic gas issue being narrowly averted. She said: “We had a gas issue, and it turned out the cooker was actually completely unsafe and had to be replaced so we had no cooker for a week.”

Another student, who also wished not to be named, said: “I’m reluctant to share my identity because I know that a lot of the landlords in Bangor know each other and I don’t want to get a name for myself for being a troublesome tenant as I’ve still got another year at university and I’m scared it’ll prevent me from renting a new place.”

She also took a place in lower Bangor last year and is currently living with black mold covering the walls, a broken oven, no heating and no hot water. She said: ‘The house is wet. The walls are wet. The wardrobe is unusable on one side because the walls are sodden and slimy. Everything smells musty and stale. Laundry takes almost a week to dry properly even with the windows open.

“None of the taps run hot. Luckily the shower works fine, but you have to boil a kettle to do the washing up. There’s cracks in the brickwork and window frame setting so you can see the street outside and feel the wind blow through the holes.”

It is not as though the landlords don’t know about these problems, it seems to be a case that they have no interest or inclination to sort them out leaving many of Bangor’s students living in squalid conditions.

For some students, things don’t seem as bad. One student who stays with his girlfriend on Belmont Avenue in Upper Bangor, Andy Cartwright, 32, couldn’t speak highly enough of her landlady. He said: “The house is really nice, with fast internet and the landlady is always round doing repairs and checking on the state of the house.”

Whether these new planned student accommodations live up to the standards promised by the builders and agents remains to be seen. In the meantime, it would seem there is still work to be done with regards to the current living conditions of many students in the city.

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