No stay of execution for the Berwyn Centre

(Pic: Digicase Photography via BBC Wales)


The Berwyn Centre is an arts, entertainment and community centre in the village of Nantymoel in the Ogwr Valley. Originally a Miners’ Welfare Hall, it was saved from closure in the 1970s. After falling into a state of disrepair, the centre is to close at the end of the year, and be subsequently demolished.

A special meeting was held by Bridgend Council cabinet on Monday to discuss the matter, following a decision by the committee responsible to call it in. The cabinet decided against postponing demolition “until a full intrusive survey” is carried out “to establish beyond doubt the structural integrity of the building.”

The Glamorgan Gazette report that the council cabinet believe enough surveys have been done already.

Efforts will be made “to secure and safeguard paintings and artifacts within the building that were of value and significance to the community.”

It’s claimed that the centre has fallen into disrepair to the tune of £800,000. You have to ask how this was allowed to happen in the first place, especially if it’s now so bad, it poses a (supposed) risk to the public. BCBC have said it would cost £400,000 to make the building immediately safe, with another £400,000 on top of that needed to secure its longer term future.

The cabinet report says that, while the original cost of demolishing the centre was priced at £100,000, that figure didn’t include the costs of asbestos removal. BCBC will now pick up any demolition costs above £100,000, and councillors have requested that none of that comes out of the £200,000 earmarked towards a replacement centre.

There are concerns that no “interim (community) facilities have been identified for all user groups”as “a matter of urgency”. The £200,000 will only part-fund a new centre, other funds would need to be found too (i.e. lottery and charity funding). This isn’t expected be found until 2015 – BCBC have extended the timetable to secure funding to reflect that.

So Nantymoel could be waiting until 2016-2017 at the earliest for a proper replacement, and only if BCBC can secure the funds. BCBC will now seek to set up a “representative community group” (committee’s – the Welsh solution to everything) to bid for funding, and possibly run any new centre.

BCBC will also be obliged to “give commitments to the community” should any bid for funding “be unsuccessful”, which you’ld expect them to.

You also have to wonder – if it would cost £400,000 to make the building safe immediately, why don’t BCBC just match their £200,000 with another £200,000 from elsewhere? That’s cheaper than building a completely new centre, isn’t it? But maybe they’re concerned about ongoing viability, or deep down, acknowledge that a new centre won’t be built.

The story also has a personal significance for BBC Wales’ Vaughan Roderick. The Berwyn Centre was named in honour of his uncle, Berwyn Roderick. He was a teacher, and indirectly save the centre from closure in the 1970s, by encouraging Cambrian Theatre Company – who took over the centre – to go into acting in the first place.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say the Berwyn Centre is “iconic”, but it’s the first significant building you see when you come into Nantymoel from “over the Bwlch”. It’s fair to say – the art deco frontage at least – is a local landmark.

You can’t really blame the council for doing this when they have to find millions of pounds in savings over the next few years. If the building’s unsafe, it’s probably best for it to go.

The Berwyn Centre is just another casualty of austerity – the arts, culture and leisure are soft targets when cuts are made, as highlighted by today’s report from the WLGA. Standing aside education and social services, you can understand why.

It’s also the slow, lingering death of proudly self-contained communities. When you think about what has replaced that – from the 1930s right through to the present – it’s rather depressing.