I first met Buffy Williams in 2013. She wasn’t the first member of her family whom I encountered. That was her daughter Georgina, who wrote to me from Pentre Primary School, where she was a pupil, to make the case against its closure. Buffy, meanwhile, was at the heart of the campaign to try to keep the school open, organising meetings at St Peter’s Church – ‘the cathedral of the Rhondda’ – and organising protests and petitions. For years afterwards, when introducing Buffy to anyone new, I would teasingly call her ‘the woman who got me sacked as Education Minister’. But that’s another story for another day.
Buffy has been at the heart of a wide range of community activities in the Rhondda and not least in her home village of Pentre where she and her husband David have been firmly engaged in attempts to rejuvenate the high street. She is one of those key activists you find in all communities, more often than not women seeking to protect or sustain or improve community life and organisation. It was Buffy’s activism I had in mind when developing our plans for reform of local government based on activist councils, more diverse in their membership, more responsive to local communities:
I also want to encourage more of those people who are active in their communities to stand for elected office. Throughout my constituency I come across community activists who would make great councillors and elected politicians.
But most of them would probably run a mile if asked to stand for public office.
After the closure of Pentre Primary, Buffy developed a vision for a new form of community centre in Pentre. She badgered Andrew Morgan, RCT Council leader, until a building was found that could be transferred into community ownership. I was proud to open Canolfan Pentre in 2016. It is now an expanding community facility which has been central to helping local people, not least through a series of crises including traumatic flooding and Covid-19. Buffy has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds to develop the centre. Her achievements have been externally validated, with her nomination for the BEM in 2020 and St David’s Award in 2019 and 2021. On Christmas Eve, 2017, BBC viewers could tune in to see a special ‘Bake-Off’ Christmas meal cooked at the centre with Mary Berry, Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins in attendance at Canolfan Pentre.
From 2013 on, Buffy became more involved in Rhondda Labour politics, becoming Women’s Officer, and standing for RCT Council in 2017. She was very active in my campaign in 2016, during which I apparently inadvertently outed Elizabeth Williams as ‘Buffy’ by including her nickname in her endorsement of me in my leaflets. Her younger daughter Saff, seen in the picture above, virtually became our campaign mascot in 2016. I kept my fingers crossed, after I made it known in 2016 that I would not seek to be Labour’s candidate to win back the seat in 2021, that Buffy would win the selection to be Labour’s candidate, and I was delighted when she did.
This 2021 election campaign has been very different from 2016, and not just because of the pandemic, where the Welsh Government’s careful and cautious approach has been widely endorsed. Jeremy Corbyn is no longer leader of UK Labour. Leanne Wood is no longer leader of Plaid Cymru. The controversial RCT school reorganisation, which Plaid cleverly turned against me as a former education minister in 2016, has been largely concluded. A and E facilities have been guaranteed at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital, a campaign in which Buffy played her part.
Meanwhile, it’s not every Welsh Labour candidate who has the personal endorsement of Sue Perkins:
One day we may think of Buffy in the same way as another Rhondda woman community activist – Elizabeth Andrews (no relation), who led the campaigns for pithead baths and nursery schools, resulting in the first nursery school in Wales at Llwynypia, for clinics, for trained midwives, and later indeed for local telephone kiosks to ensure speedier access to services. She, like Buffy, was a Rhondda community champion who turned vision into delivery.
But that’s to look too far ahead. Today is Buffy’s day. It’s a great day for her, for her family, for the Rhondda Labour family, and a transformative day for the communities of the Rhondda whose champion she has been elected to be. She will know what an honour that is.