Life expectancy in this village is nearly 10 years lower than its neighbours down the road

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-Credit: (Image: WalesOnline)

Like many counties across the UK, the county of Bridgend is marked by significant health inequalities. So much so, that a 10-year gap exists between the area with one of the highest life expectancy rates and the village with one of the lowest, and they're just down the road from each other.

In the village of Litchard, the average lifespan reaches 84.25 years. Although local figures from the 2021 statistics have not yet been broken down into specific areas, the 2011 census revealed a concerning disparity in life expectancy across the county.

This is highlighted by Bettws, just 3.9 miles away from Litchard, where people are only expected to live until 75. For the latest Bridgend news, sign up to our newsletter here

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Nestled within Bridgend County Borough and surrounded by hills, Bettws lies approximately five miles from Bridgend town. According to the 2021 census, it has a population of 2,243 and is roughly three miles from Junction 36 on the M4 Motorway.

The tucked-away village has just a few local shops, a single pub, and a couple of takeaways. Almost all children between the ages of three and 11 can be found at Betws Primary School on Betws Road. The closely woven community residents are well-acquainted with their village's every nook and cranny.

I paid my first visit to Bettws in June 2023, and was keen to hear what locals thought about the statistics suggesting they might have shorter lifespans because of where they live. Making my way there from Bridgend, I took a taxi because the public transport options in the area seemed fairly unclear, which locals later confirmed is often a hindrance to their own day-to-day lives.

During a chit-chat about the area, the taxi driver asked if I'd ever been to Bettws before. I admitted it was my first trip and while he navigated his way towards the village, he explained: "It has good bits and bad bits like anywhere, but it is very cut off, a lot of people find, which makes it harder." I didn't think much of the comment until I started having more conversations with locals, where it quickly became a theme in the village.

Woman pictured in community centre
Janna Sinmper, who moved to Bridgend after growing up in Bettws -Credit:WalesOnline

"It's not what it used to be." This was the view of Bridgend resident, Janna Sinmper, who spoke to us last year. "My grandparents had eight children and so it was quite crowded back then - we didn't have so many houses. I left when I was 18 and I don't think I would like to move back up here because it's out of the way and I don't drive now.

"And as far as life expectancy is concerned I don't think people were conscious of healthy living here when I was growing up. My father was a miner, and it was all about what you could get at the time with the money they were on."

"Although my father worked, money was still tight. Thruppence means nothing now, but if you even had a thruppence to take to the shop you were rich.

"But we'd still try to get out all of the time, and I'd say Bettws isn't what it used to be like when I was growing up. My parents used to take us outside, we'd be out exploring in the fields all day and in the fresh air, but a lot of families now are so reliant on their kids being behind a screen - so even though we weren't rich we'd try and find a healthy way of living. I think being in front of a computer if you are isolated up here does you no good."

Woman sitting on chair
Kim Hore said she had lived in Bettws for 30 years. -Credit:Bethany Gavaghan/WalesOnline
Community centre in village
Outside the Bettws life centre, which Kim used to manage and still volunteered at when we spoke to her. -Credit:Bethany Gavaghan/WalesOnline

One resident who said she had lived in Bettws for 30 years believes that there are a number of things which have affected people's health in the area, but was still shocked by the life expectancy statistics. Speaking last year, Kim Hore said: "The funerals we seem to be going to lately are for people in their 80s. I went to one yesterday where a woman was in her 80s. I'd like to see the new census to see the comparison."

Kim referenced some houses at the top of the village that she said were once "extremely damp" but have now been knocked down as one of the differences in recent years. She recounted: "My sister-in-law lived used to live in one, and she said that when people used to walk through them on the carpet sometimes you would feel your feet squelching because it was so bad. So that's one difference that there could be."

Kim also pointed out the combined issues of poverty and how its location contributes to an existence where it is hard to live a varied lifestyle, let alone be health-conscious for some residents. She explained: "I know that some children here just don't leave the village. They don't go on days out, and get down to places like Porthcawl for a day out."

Considering the logistical challenges, she added: "If their parents don't drive it takes four buses to get to a place like that, and then with the added expense of tickets, and then costs once you get there, some people just don't do it. Of course we've got Bridgend down the road which has gyms and everything but if you can't get there easily, none of that is very good."

Discussing the area's long-standing deprivation, Kim shared: "I lived in quite a well off area in Maesteg so had some reservations about making the move. I met my husband here so that's why I ended up coming over. I love the village life. I love the community feel, and where I live I can go out my back gate and I'm able to get into green spaces easily."

However, she noted the physical demands of living there, which may also deter people from moving around the area. She said: "But you've also got to be fit to live in Bettws because of the hills. Say you want to walk from one side of it to the top, you've got a big hill to go up and vice versa - if you come down you've still got to go back up."

House in Bettws which overlooks the rolling hills in the area
One of the many houses in Bettws which overlooks the rolling hills in the area -Credit:WalesOnline

Former manager of the Bettws life centre, Kim, dedicated countless hours in an attempt to uplift the community during her time there. When she spoke to WalesOnline in 2023, she spoke about her role volunteering at 'Sew and Sews', a local craft group that has organised weekly meet-ups to foster connections within the community.

She said: "I did a lot of voluntary work and put on lots of different events like Tai Chi and would think loads of people would come. But over the weeks people started dropping off and in the end there were about six of us. That was including me and I was only staying to make up the numbers. People don't realise how much organisation would go into it."

Man who works in a garage- Peter Daniel, 68, in Bettws, Bridgend
Peter Daniel said everyone had a different perspective on life -Credit:Bethany Gavaghan/WalesOnline

Meanwhile, Peter Daniel, a long-time resident of Bettws and owner of Bettws Service Station, was relatively unperturbed by the reported shorter lifespan in his village when we last visited, but did express concern for its youth. He explained: "You get different attitudes to health everywhere. Everyone has a different perspective on life - we all do."

Elaborating, he said: "We all want a better life, every one of us. But I think for the younger generation today there ought to be something done to help them live a better life. With teenagers smoking, and doing drugs that doesn't help. And they are getting out less because they're on their phones.

"But it's quite a good community in its own way. There's a few businesses in the area so it's a nice place to live. There's a few self-employed people in the community which is a good thing, and we all pull together don't we. People come and go here but I'd say not a lot feels like it's changed here over the years."

Despite being faced with health and facility concerns, Bettws stuns with its green landscapes stretching across the valley. The residents are all lovely, vibrant people and the sense of community is seamless. But it isn't difficult, even just by spending one day there, to understand what people's everyday struggles might be.

Essential corner stores like Premier do cater to immediate needs, but without convenient transportation, planning your week's meals could become quite challenging, and it looks like it would be easy to resort to highly-processed, quick-fix foods which do not benefit people's health.

Food shelves
Food shelves in Premier, Bettws -Credit:WalesOnline
Field in Bettws, Bridgend- which has beautiful natural scenery
One of the many green spaces in Bettws, Bridgend -Credit:WalesOnline

Taking Bridgend's larger demographic into consideration, the official statistics by Welsh Government indicate that while women can live to around 80.6 years of age, men tend to fall slightly behind at an average lifespan of about 77 years.

Recent data from the Office of National Statistics show that the life expectancy at birth in Wales was 78.3 years for men and 82.1 years for women between 2018-2020. The research points to a correlation between lower life expectancy and living in deprived regions in Wales. Men in the most underprivileged areas could expect to reach an average age of 74.1 years, compared to their counterparts in the least deprived zones enjoying 81.6 years of lifespan.

Similarly, women born in poorer sections had a projected lifespan of 78.4 years, while those in affluent places could have an average lifespan of 84.7, as per the Office for National Statistics' report. Rhys Gibbon, Public Health Wales' Principal Public Health Intelligence Analyst, spoke with WalesOnline last year about these disparities' complexity.

"The factors that can influence life expectancy are complex and can vary considerably when we compare small areas such as Bettws and Brackla and Coity. Some of the factors that can influence how long people might expect to live in these areas include education, economic and commercial forces, access to services and unequal distribution of income, wealth and power. One of Public Health Wales priority areas are influencing these wider determinants of health so that we all have the opportunity for good health."

But things in Bettws, like any area are constantly shifting. Since WalesOnline visited the village in June 2023, plans for 20 affordable new flats in the area were approved in May. The council has not yet specified how much the homes will cost to live in but the planning, design, and access statement confirms the development will be "100% affordable housing".

Another positive change came in September, when Bridgend County Borough Council announced that there would be a new Welsh-medium hub built on the former Boys and Girls Club site in Bettws. This is part of a £2.8m investment into Welsh-medium childcare, which also involves establishing facilities at Blackmill, Bridgend and Porthcawl.