Meet our New Chair – Professor Stuart Cole CBE
In May 2020, a new Chair for Wales International was appointed, namely Professor Stuart Cole. We decided to arrange an interview with Stuart to get to know him better and find out what his vision is for the future of Wales International.
Congratulations on your appointment! First of all, why were you eager to take the Chair?
Thank you! Well, I have a great interest in Wales in the international context and I have been interested in the work of Wales International for some time. I have sat on the Council for a year and when my name was put forward, I was keen to support and build on the excellent work of the previous Chair, Gerallt Hughes.
Tell us a bit about your background.
I am a Llanelli lad originally and a former pupil of the excellent Grammar School in the town. At 19 years old, I went to East Anglia University in Norwich to study Economics. The group with me on the course were from wealthy aristocratic homes in places such as Chelsea, which was a far cry from my upbringing as a mechanic’s son from Llanelli. My lecturers were progressive and came from various backgrounds such as Cambridge University, the Treasury and the European Union. The lack of knowledge about Wales and the Welsh language among people in England was an eye-opener for me and, unfortunately, this continues to this day. We have work to do to promote and share our passion for Wales and the Welsh language. I see the role of Wales International as an important part of this work and it is something which I am very passionate about.
Do you believe that Wales’ profile is still low in today’s world?
Yes. Before the recent virus, there was no mention of Wales in the press and media in England and beyond, only in a patronising way, overall. Now, as England and the world see our devolved powers and the way that we are responding and operating differently here in Wales, they are now discussing our Senedd and Ministers and explaining the differences – it’s a matter of great disappointment that it takes a pandemic to attract this attention and recognition. I anticipate that Wales International could make a difference to the way the world sees Wales and the way Wales sees the world.
You have worked internationally as an economist; how will you use your international experiences in this new role?
Indeed. I specialise in the transport economics field and I have worked in several countries and spent a lot of time reviving and developing profitable transport systems in countries such as Estonia, Latvia, France, Poland, Canada, America, Peru etc. I was also responsible for creating Traws Cymru, and I remain a Board member and I am immensely proud of this successful development. I researched the effect of the railways on the economy and was also responsible for reviving and transforming a large tea plantation in Zimbabwe. I am also fortunate enough to have the opportunity to contribute in international economic conferences in countries such as India and China.
It is crucial that the Chair of an organisation such as Wales International sees the world in an international context and has experienced different cultures. Understanding why we Welsh are passionate and unique and understanding our role and work internationally is of great advantage to me as Chair, as well as the understanding of how people in other counties view us as a country and Welsh people.
I am very passionate about putting Wales and its people on the map and ensuring that people know that Wales is not a part of England and that Welsh people are not English; every country and every culture is different and we must celebrate that. Wales International has a crucial role to play in giving the confidence and platforms for Wales and the Welsh people to share our passion and culture with the world.
How could Wales International raise the profile of Wales and the Welsh people internationally?
We have a new strategy emerging and we are eager to work with others in order to promote Wales and the Welsh people. We already sit on the advisory panel of the Minister, Eluned Morgan, and we are eager to contribute our expertise and experience and support Welsh Government’s International Strategy. We have members in Wales and abroad. We are keen to increase our membership and collaborate with more organisations, businesses and young people in Wales and the world in order to lead on the work of increasing confidence and celebrating Wales and the Welsh people and our international contribution.
Do you have ambitions as Chair?
Yes! To raise the profile of Wales International and its work in Wales and the world. To raise the profile of Wales and the Welsh people and to become a place people will want to come to in order to find information about Wales and the Welsh people. In order to do this, and sustain Wales International, we must secure our income through our membership and from other sources as well and, as an economist, I have the experience and ability to ensure the best way forward. My hope as Chair is to ensure that everyone knows about our little country and incredible people who do great things in all corners of the world.
You have important and exciting work ahead of you; is there any time left for anything else?
Yes! I remain an Emeritus Professor at the University of South Wales, after becoming the first Director of the Wales Transport Research Centre and prior to that, the first Director of TRaC (Transport Research and Consultancy) at the London Metropolitan University. This year, I am celebrating 40 years of contributing to news and current affairs programmes on the BBC and S4C on transport matters. I have also recently started presenting and producing the transport items for Business Wales News.
I am a member of the Eisteddfod Technical Committee and I am extremely passionate about this Festival. I was a member of the Management Board from 2006 to 2018. I am also a member of the Council of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion and I was Chair of the Finance Committee for a while.
I also enjoy eating out, but not at the moment obviously! My favourite food is Welsh lamb here in Wales, French food in France and Greek food in Greece! I have a great interest in vintage cars also; my father was a mechanic and he bought a Vauxhall Viva for me to learn to drive. This was my father’s old car which dates back to 1964 and I have been renovating the car and I travel throughout Wales (and sometimes England) to exhibit the car in shows. I was meant to go to 15 shows this year but these have now been postponed to 2021.
Thank you very much to Stuart for his time and for sharing his vision with our readers. We look forward to seeing the exciting developments. To become a member and support the work of Wales International, go to https://walesinternational.cymru/en/membership/ – The individual membership fee is £25 a year and includes a contribution of £5 to support the international work of Urdd Gobaith Cymru. Every individual member receives a 10% discount when shopping or ordering online with our business partners and festival organisers here in Wales!
Heulwen Davies, Wales International.