Cardiff Volunteering Spotlight: Charles Street Art Foundation

Since November of 2015, we have been researching and documenting Cardiff volunteering organisations.

With our research starting in 1914 and working our way through to 2014, we’ve managed to gather lots of information, documents, photographs, and more material about a number of these organisations, and now we will begin to piece together our work to help create a complete picture of Cardiff volunteering history. Continue reading below to learn more about some of Cardiff’s volunteering organisations!

Cardiff volunteering history covers a variety of sectors, including the arts. One of our volunteers has been focusing some of his research efforts on the Charles Street Arts Foundation. Thank you to Mike Hawkins for this contribution!

You may know Charles Street, which runs off Queen Street from the back of M & S towards the Motorpoint Arena. At number 58 is Grassroots, the home of City Centre Youth Project, which aims “to promote self-awareness and self-worth in young people who can often see themselves in a negative light”. The building boasts a music recording studio, film-making facilities, a computer suite and a coffee bar. It also offers a free drop-in advice service.


We were led to this building via some items in Glamorgan Archives labelled ‘Charles Street Arts Foundation’. At first I thought this was some sort of painting club, like the one which complained about the chewing gum left under the tables by schoolkids who shared their room. But no! It led us to Ian Horsburgh, who set up Cardiff Community Concern, Cardiff Flatshop, Charles Street Arts and a variety of other organisations.


He explained how a group called RIB (Rights Information Bureau) moved into 58 Charles Street, but withered away by 1974. He explained how they took RIB’s records across the road and started an alternative advice and information service for young people called Cardiff Community Concern, and then returned to No 58. The income and labour from the groups practising and recording there was essential to renovate the building. They also organised the Charles Street Carnival under the name Charles Street Arts, and Cardiff Flatshop to help young people find accommodation.


Cardiff volunteering - Photo by Hannah Waldram [via flikr]

Cardiff volunteering – Photo by Hannah Waldram [via flikr]

I am used to finding out what I want to know via the internet. But if you google RIB, Cardiff Community Concern, Cardiff Flatshop, Charles Street Arts, even Charles Street carnival – you will find out practically nothing about these organisations. Fortunately Ian has preserved a number of documents from the 1970s which give the history of the street, the building and of the activities there.


Now, through Ian, we have been in touch with a number of people involved in these organisations:

  • Peter of Cardiff Student Community Action who originally rented the building from the council. He also set up Cardiff SCA, Adamsdown Community and Law Centre, SWAPAC, Adamsdown Housing Assoc, etc.
  • Antoinette who was involved with an advice organisation called BIT in London, came to Cardiff and set up RIB.
  • Twiz who volunteered at RIB and at first was too upset to talk to me (it was the morning after the US elections).
  • Alex who through the Cardiff People’s Paper reported on alternative events at the time.
  • Alan whose mother first ran the Grassroots coffee bar and cascaded me with names of musicians, poets and artists associated with the carnival.
  • Maarten who came over from Holland, met Ian and the following day was helping out.
  • Nick whose mother started the café. He was there from the age of 13 and described it as a “no-go area for truant officers”.


We hope to recreate and preserve the history of this building and tell the story of how volunteers (responding to a local need) set up this alternative advice and information service which was an object of suspicion (and observation by the Special Branch) but eventually became the established project that it now is.