The staff pictured outside the printing and publishing firm in Wales

Harry Mottram reports

The Welsh printing company Y Lolfa based in Tal-y-bont has expanded its machine range by bringing in a digital press to complement its litho offering.

Established back in 1967 by Robat Gruffudd to help drive the revival of the Welsh language the firm has seen slow and steady growth in line with an increased interest in the language. Robat’s son Garmon Gruffudd is the current managing director while his brother Lefi is the general editor with Paul Williams as production manager.

“We have two litho presses which we are keeping,” says Garmon, “but we are buying a new digital press because it is ideal for shorter runs, especially for reprinting when some customers want small print runs. We are involved the Welsh language publishing project with four or five other publishers to print more books in Welsh for people wanting to learn the language. It’s a growing market with the aim to get one million Welsh readers and speakers.”

With 20 employees the firm is something of a success story in the worlds of magazine, newpaper and book printing as it is difficult to find its equivalent in England. It all began with a basic small offset litho printer turning out material for Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (The Welsh Language Society) as well as printing its own satirical magazine called Lol which evolved into the firm’s name. The idea was to publish reading material in the Welsh language which had been in danger of becoming so marginalised it could have died out and over the years had been subject to hostile legislation such as the Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542 which decreed only English could be used in legal cases, the courts and in Government. It led to an increase in the use of spoken English encouraged in all walks of life including schools and was only partly reversed in 1967 with the Welsh Language Act. In 1993 the language was finally put on an equal footing with English with the second Welsh Language Act which accounts for the dual translations in official documents, road signs and all manner of instructions and printed material. It’s been a boon for the print industry across the misty covered Cambrian mountains.

For Y Lolfa it meant a continued revenue stream as the public began to demand novels, works of non-fiction, poetry, plays, magazines and school material to be printed in Welsh.

“With the Welsh language books it is mainly for Welsh speakers, but also for schools for children learning the language,” comments Garmon, “that’s become a big part of the market. The books in Welsh are distributed through Welsh language book shops in market towns across the country. There is a lot of interest in England in the language and throughout the world to be honest.”

The firm occupies a former police station and has had to build an extension to provide space for the continued growth with more than half a century clocked up. However despite the success the company continues to stay close to its roots printing various community newspapers and periodicals and also printing in English as well although the themes and contents are always essentially Cymbru and the land of my fathers.

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