Llanelli HOPE not hate: solidarity in the face of discord and exploitation

- 24 07 23

A pride celebration and a community picnic have provided a breath of fresh air in Llanelli against the backdrop of chaos around the ongoing anti-migrant demonstrations outside the Stradey Park Hotel and their exploitation by far-right figures.

The Home Office announced its plans in June to house asylum seekers in the Stradey Park Hotel in Furnace village, next to Llanelli, with little notice. These plans have been met by strong resistance from locals, including a camp-out protest outside the hotel that is entering its third week. No asylum seekers have arrived yet in Llanelli, and it is unclear when they will be arriving. Although camping outside a hotel site is a novel approach, the protest follows a wave of demonstrations outside temporary asylum seeker accommodation sites, which forms part of a massive uptick in anti-migrant activity in 2023. 

The people protesting represent a broad range of perspectives. Some concerns related specifically to the local area, such as the loss of jobs and cancelled weddings at the hotel, whilst other concerns make use of harmful rhetoric around immigration – for example, arguing that asylum seekers will bring criminality and violence to the area, that women and children will no longer be safe or that asylum seekers are all economic migrants who are “gaming” the system. This rhetoric has been supported by the arrivals of political figures and far-right individuals from outside Llanelli/Furnace coming in to stir up trouble and take advantage of the newfound attention on the town. 

Given this growing sense of hostility in the community, a group of local people have come together under the name Llanelli HOPE not hate to stand in solidarity with both asylum seekers and the LGBTQIA+ community. The group has been organising support services and providing a public voice to those who understand the importance of compassion in the face of an incredibly difficult situation. At two solidarity events held on the 15th and 16th of July, Llanelli Pride and a Parc Howard picnic on Sunday, there was a clear and hopeful alternative for local people who don’t want to be dragged into the infighting and tensions of the local demonstrations.

Picnic attendees gather in Parc Howard with the Stradey Park Hotel in the background

How did Llanelli HOPE not hate form?
A core message of Llanelli HOPE not hate is that even if people are frustrated with the use of the Stradey Park Hotel as accommodation for asylum seekers, this must not be taken out on asylum seekers themselves as it is the Home Office and hotel owners who are making the decisions. The members of the group are able to acknowledge the abrupt and difficult circumstances in which the decision to use the Stradey Park hotel was made, whilst also agreeing that if the plans go ahead then the asylum seekers should be received in the community with compassion, and not be held responsible.

The group’s purpose is to stand up for the dignity and rights of asylum seekers and other marginalised groups, which means there is something clear and positive for people to get behind. Regular community meetings are being held in which people plan support for the asylum seekers upon arrival, discussing everything from Welsh language lessons to baby formula to multi-faith and multicultural support. One volunteer is also running a Facebook page which shares facts, stories and myth-busting about migration.

The leaflet distributed at the Llanelli Pride event on Saturday 15th July

What events were Llanelli HOPE not hate at?
On the 15th July, Llanelli HOPE not hate members attended the local Pride celebration with leaflets that emphasised the importance of standing up to all kinds of hate in the community. The leaflet explained the importance and power of groups who have been marginalised by society standing together, which is an important principle of Pride events. In this case, the leaflet urged members of the LGBTQIA+ community to stand in solidarity with asylum seekers and reject hate in the community.
The spirit of inclusivity carried over into a community picnic the next day, which was organised as a response to the protests outside the hotel as a way of showing that there are locals in Llanelli who want to rise above some of the hate and fear mongering and do what’s right for the asylum seekers. In the park, a rainbow “Love has no borders” banner was proudly displayed and heart-shaped Welsh cakes were shared. 

Heart shaped Welsh cakes were shared at the picnic as a symbol of kindness and generosity

The idea of a picnic arose from the need to organise something away from the hotel that would ease people’s nerves around confrontation, and also give like-minded people a place to gather and gain strength from each other in the face of online and offline negativity. A peaceful event like a picnic is dignified, undisruptive and captures the spirit of generosity and kindness. A press release for the event was sent out to local journalists meaning it was covered by ITV Wales and multiple local newspapers, spreading the positive message even wider.

What’s happening with the protesters outside the hotel?
Llanelli HOPE not hate continues to stand unquestionably for kindness, compassion and inclusivity, whilst the opposition splinters and falters. The departure of security guards from the hotel last week was hailed as a victory among the Llanelli protestors and across anti-migrant circles online, but that facade seems to be cracking. Tensions have been high amongst protesters outside the hotel and there are also a number of highly active community Facebook groups in which there is a lot of discord and resentment around issues such as the distribution of food to children, who has access to the funds raised by protesters and whether some posts are crossing a line from anger at the particular situation to general racism and xenophobia. With no core principles to get behind and lots of people trying to take credit and push their own agenda, it remains to be seen how long these fragile coalitions will last.

How have the far right been involved?
Far-right and radical right actors such as the fascist group Patriotic Alternative and the anti-migrant media outlet Voice of Wales have tried to join in with locals and are using the demonstrations outside the hotel as a way of introducing their agenda to a new audience. Neither group is local to Llanelli. Katie Hopkins also attended the protest to meet locals for photo opportunities, although soon after a tweet in which Hopkins belittles the Welsh language was shared round to local dismay. It is a clear example of local people initially welcoming anyone who supported their cause without realising this was being taken advantage of.

In addition to posting inaccurately and unfairly about migration more broadly and posting frequent but inaccurate updates on the Stradey Park Hotel, Voice of Wales have been posting hateful and alarmist content in local groups about the trans community and their concerns around the teaching of relationships and sex education in schools. They have also used their newfound audience and access to community groups to promote their own documentary on Stand Up to Racism. They are exploiting the attention on Llanelli as a reason to push their own various agendas and boost their own numbers.

Katie Hopkins’ 2018 tweet which angered local protesters in Llanelli and Furnace

Members of the much more extreme Patriotic Alternative (PA) have been leafleting and protesting in Llanelli. Their principal Welsh activist, Jeff Marsh, is a known football hooligan with at least three convictions for violence, including for stabbing two men in a brawl and throwing a female protester down a flight of stairs. The PA leaflets range in content from anti-migrant vitriol to pushing the organisation’s position on 15-minute cities, which has no relevance to the protests outside the hotel. Again, this activity is an example of how far-right extremists are exploiting the local and media attention for their own personal gain.

Overnight, it has been announced that the owners of the Stradey Park hotel are taking legal action against the protesters outside the hotel, petitioning to remove them from the hotel site and preventing them from blocking the entryways. If the High Court application is successful, this would be deeply damaging to protesters.  

How have radical right politicians been involved? 
Voice of Wales have hosted UKIP at two public events in the area which have essentially been recruitment drives for the party with attendees signing up to join and taking forms home for friends and family. First, the UKIP National Chairman Ben Walker attended a meeting to discuss local concerns, in which a panellist encouraged people: “act like you are living in a dangerous country and know where your daughters are at all times”. In the next meeting, UKIP leader Neil Hamilton addressed protesters at the hotel, in which he urged people to stop voting for the “old parties” because they would not be radical enough in changing immigration policy. A few days after Hamilton’s visit, Reform UK leader Richard Tice joined in on the action. This was seen by some protesters as an attempt to grab the spotlight, and some found his exposure of the number of people on “night watch” in the camp out to be suspicious and detrimental to their cause. 

By contrast, Llanelli HOPE not hate remains a group by local people, for local people. It continues to stand unquestionably for values everyone can get behind – kindness, compassion and dignity for all.

Written by Anki Deo, Community Response Coordinator at HOPE not hate


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