South East Wales

Newbridge Memo gets ready for restoration work

Architect's impression of Newbridge Memo restoration
Image caption An architect's impression of the new library and IT centre to be built in the first phase of the Newbridge Memo restoration

Work is finally about to begin on a £5.6m project to restore an art deco hall in the south Wales valleys.

A library and IT centre will be created at the Memorial Hall and Institute in Newbridge, Caerphilly county.

Memo chairman Howard Stone said the delayed work would begin "within weeks", with refurbishment of the ballroom and theatre due later in 2012.

"It's going to be lovely to see the work done ... some said it would never happen," he said.

Miners' initiative

The plight of the Grade II listed Newbridge Memo won national recognition when it was runner-up in the BBC's Restoration TV series in 2004.

Originally opened in 1908, the Celynen Collieries Workmen's Institute was financed by a group of local miners who wanted to improve the area's social amenities.

The adjacent Memorial Hall opened in 1925 to honour service personnel who died in World War I.

The first phase of work, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, will refurbish the institute where up to 30 local groups and organisations hold their meetings and activities.

It will also incorporate a library and IT centre to be run by the local authority, Caerphilly council.

Mr Stone said the library would help cement the Memo's place at the heart of the community, with between 800 and 1,000 people already visiting the venue every week.

"The library was originally part of the institute and was relocated to a pre-fabricated building across town in the early 1960s," he said.

"It will be lovely to see a modern facility brought into use for the benefit of the whole community in the centre of town."

Mr Stone said he welcomed the prospect of work getting underway after a delayed start and an eight-and-a-half year campaign to save the building.

'Prestigious' project

Although work had been due to begin in February 2011, he said the major refurbishment had partly been delayed due to the process of selecting building contractors.

Image caption The institute's original library became a snooker room

Mr Stone said once the contractors had been chosen, work could begin by Christmas.

"The council have been very supportive," he said.

"We've used their procurement officer to choose the contractor.

"It's ensured that we as trustees are not put at risk - their input has been vital.

"We thought we'd be well under way by now, but we're looking to the new year with a lot of enthusiasm."

Mr Stone added: "It's going to be lovely to see the work done. The townspeople will realise this has been a serious project over the last eight and half years.

"You always get people saying it'll never happen but now they'll be proved wrong."

Caerphilly council said it was keen to move the library in Newbridge to new premises, and was pleased to be involved in the "prestigious" Memo restoration.

Film set

A spokesman said: "The historic building, which was once a bustling social venue in the heart of the local community, will now be transformed as part of a major improvement scheme that will see the whole building receive a facelift.

Image caption The art deco auditorium will be restored in a later phase of the project

"The library will benefit from more space, a light and airy interior and new fixtures and fittings, and residents will benefit from an improved facility right in the centre of the town."

Community groups have been invited to hold their meetings at a nearby church hall while refurbishment of the institute takes place.

The second phase of the project will see the restoration of the Memo's auditorium and ballroom.

Supporters say the auditorium is one of the UK's finest surviving early 20th Century art deco cinema theatres, used only as a film set since it last functioned as a cinema in 1972.

Below the auditorium is a ballroom, still in use and described as the largest in the south Wales valleys.

Acts as diverse as Joe Loss, Clara Novello, Tom Jones, the Stranglers and Manic Street Preachers have played there over the years.

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