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EDITIONS
Monday, 25 November, 2002, 17:17 GMT
Checks lead to Urdd host ban
The Maes
The eisteddfod is changing following policy reviews
Children and young people have been banned from staying in host families' homes during the Urdd Eisteddfod because of new stringent criminal records checks.

Next year's Urdd Eisteddfod in Port Talbot, south Wales from 26 to 31 May, will see youngsters being housed in groups in hostels, instead of using private homes as well.


It is with some sadness and frustration this is happening - it is a sign of the times.

Jim O'Rourke

The move has been forced by new government guidelines on vetting people who supervise children.

Around 13,000 youngsters go forward annually from the preliminary heats to take part in the Urdd, the biggest youth festival in Europe.

Traditionally, the organisers have relied on people's generosity, allowing children to stay in their homes during the summer celebration..

Chief Executive Jim O'Rourke said: "It's been under discussion for six months or so.

"We have been looking at 32 proposals to change the nature of the eisteddfod and we feel it is no longer appropriate for us to use private homes to accommodate children."

Mr O'Rourke said parents and teachers have already expressed their concerns about the Urdd's policy.

He said youngsters were not housed singly in people's houses, but in pairs or more, as a safeguard.

Llangrannog centre
The Llangrannog centre overlooks Cardigan Bay

But this year the Department for Education issued a string of guidance to education employers over vetting job applicants for their suitability to work with children.

The department advises that checks should be made on all people, including volunteers, seeking positions which will bring them into contact with children.

Mr O'Rourke said relying on supporters' kindness had been a "wonderful" part of the Urdd experience and had been enjoyed by around half a million people over the last 60 years.

He said there had not been any incidents during the Urdd's history.

Children, from junior school years' five and six and secondary pupils, had been given the chance to see another aspect of life in another part of Wales, he said.

Eisteddfod crowd
The Urdd Eisteddfod draws thousands of visitors every year

But the current public debate over children's safety and people's own concerns have also made it unworkable in the future, Mr O'Rourke added.

"It is with some sadness and frustration this is happening, it is a sign of the times," he said.

Mr O'Rourke said the timescale between the Urdd competitors being chosen in March and going forward to the national competition by May make it impossible to make the necessary Criminal Records Bureau checks on hosts.

In the future the timetable of events could be altered so more youngsters could travel to the festival on the day.

A 10m investment programme by the Urdd into their residential centres across Wales has also been revealed.

Accommodation

Jobs will be funded at the Urdd's centres in Llangrannog, Ceredigion, Glan-llyn and Cardiff Bay as accommodation is boosted.

And the Urdd Council intends to have all youngsters perform and compete on the maes on a chosen day, instead of using schools' facilities outside of the festival site.

"This is really positive and will give a more festival feel by having everybody on the field," he said.

Organisers will look in detail at the syllabus of the festival and possibly bring in new competitions by 2005.

The Wales Millennium Centre, which is being constructed in Cardiff Bay, is expected to house the Urdd Eisteddfod once every four years.


More from south west Wales
See also:

18 Oct 02 | Wales
05 Sep 02 | Education
02 Jun 02 | Wales
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