South East Wales

NHS birthplace hospital 'should be knocked down'

Aneurin Bevan

A building key to the formation of the NHS is a dangerous eyesore and should be knocked down if no use can be found for it, some residents have said.

Tredegar General Hospital shut in 2010 and the health board that owns it is trying to find "the best way forward".

Blaenau Gwent AM Alun Davies called it a key part of local history and said it must be saved.

Aneurin Bevan was its management committee's chairman in 1928 - 20 years before founding the NHS.

Other buildings that played a role in its development include the listed former base of the Tredegar Medical Aid Society - however, Bevan's office is now a store room for a creative company and other artefacts from its past, such as signs and a safe, are scattered about it. But there are plans to return it to its former glory later this year.

Across the road on The Circle is another listed building - the former town hall - where Bevan spoke and his election victories were announced from the balcony.

It was more recently the National Coal Board Club, but it is now empty, with some windows smashed.

Councillor Tommy Smith hopes all of the historical buildings can be re-energised.

Image caption The chamber at Bedwellty House, now used by Tredegar Town Council

For a town of about 16,000 people, Tredegar has perhaps contributed to the Labour party more than any other of a comparable size.

In the small council chamber of Bedwellty House - itself saved in 2010 with a £5.6m restoration - the walls are adorned with pictures of the heavyweights that have debated there.

As well as Bevan, there are former party leaders Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock.

"It's an eyesore, it looks bad and needs a use," town councillor Tommy Smith said, pointing at the former hospital, about 200 yards up the road.

"Different uses have been looked at for it, such as a home for (charity) the Hospice of the Valleys. But they didn't stack up."

Mr Smith's concern is if it is left too long, it will fall into a similar state to the truck shop - a listed structure from Tredegar's ironworks era - that is being held up.

"Scaffolding is costing hundreds of thousands of pounds. Perhaps the site should be cleared," he said.

"I wouldn't want the hospital in that state in 20 or 30 years."

Image caption A metal statue of Aneurin Bevan stands outside the former town hall in Tredegar
Image caption The former truck shop was where ironworkers bought their goods - but it is now being held up by scaffolding

Resident Cath Hares thinks ideally a museum or children's centre could be created at the hospital site.

"I would like to see it developed, as it is an eyesore and has squatters in it," she said.

"As family living opposite, it is not great. But it is an iconic building, I'd just like to see it used."

But June Zeraschi has lost patience, and said: "It should be demolished. It needs too much doing to it.

"There are children on the roof, ripping off the tiles. Something could happen, like someone setting fire to it. The health board aren't interested."

Blaenau Gwent AM Alun Davies said the "whole of the public sector" has a responsibility to maintain it and ensure the building has an end use that brings it "back to life".

He added: "Tredegar hospital must be saved.

"It is a key part of the town's heritage, it is of great significance to our history and a symbol of Tredegar's grassroots healthcare system."

The local health board - which carries Bevan's name - closed it in 2010 when services moved to Ysbyty Aneurin Bevan in Ebbw Vale.

A spokesman said: "In order to determine the best way forward for the hospital site and primary care in the Tredegar area, we are continuing to work with the local community and are having active discussions with a number of local organisations, although no decision has yet been made."

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Media captionSaving NHS formation historical buildings
Image caption A sign found at the former Tredegar Medical Aid Society building has been left on display on a staircase

The hospital opened in 1904, with construction paid for by wages of local iron and coal workers.

Its creation was the vision of what became the medical aid society - which was considered far in advance of any similar initiative as it gave sick pay, medical benefits and funeral expenses to its 3,000 members.

Between 1915 and 1933, Walter Conway - considered a mentor to Bevan - was its secretary.

By the time he finished, it was supplying the medical needs of 95% of the local population, employing five doctors, two dentists, pharmacy dispensers and a nurse.

In a nod to how it inspired him, when he set up the NHS, Bevan said: "All I am doing is extending to the entire population of Britain the benefits we have had in Tredegar for a generation or more.

"We are going to Tredegarise you."

While there is a plaque on the outside of the listed building, there are a few other symbols of its former use inside what is now the base of a number of creative companies.

'Community hub'

Kevin Phillips found a "Tredegar Medical Aid Society" sign and has left it on display on a staircase.

What he thinks was Bevan's former office is now a store room for film reels and recording equipment.

"There are many features that remain from that day including a wonderful old safe which I believe all the pay rolls of all the workers were kept in," he said.

He described No 10 The Circle as "a wonderful building" and said its owners had secured funding to return it to how it was in the 1930s.

Just six years ago, Bedwellty House - where former Ebbw Vale MP Bevan launched his career - was derelict.

But a £5.6m investment has seen it turned into "a community hub", according to Cllr Smith.

He added: "It is bringing the community together and is a place to go.

"There are heritage tours, while it is a regular meeting place with afternoon teas, Sunday lunches and weddings."

Just like the town provided the template for the NHS, he hopes its revival will act as a catalyst for the redevelopment of many of the other historical buildings wrapped up in the area's history.

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