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Community centre built for residents following Aberfan disaster facing closure – reports

07 Mar 2024 6 minute read
Left: Aberfan Community Centre – Right: The Aberfan Disaster

Emily Price

A community centre built for the people of Aberfan following the disaster which killed 116 children in 1966 is facing closure, according to reports.

The news came on Thursday afternoon (March 7) following an image which was shared on social media of a sign displayed in Aberfan Community Centre’s foyer.

The sign states: “As of the 1st of April Aberfan Community Centre will be shutting.”

The leisure centre, which boasts a pool, fitness suites, large hall and a cafe was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1973.

It was built alongside a special memorial garden using donations which poured in from around the world following the Aberfan Distaster which saw a landslide of coal waste crash into Pantglas Junior School killing 144 people.

Just a very short walk from the community centre is the graveyard where the victims of the disaster which struck the small village have been buried.

Following the tragedy, the Aberfan Distaster Fund received donations from around 90,000 contributors raising £1.75m – £150,000 of which was used to pay towards the remaining colliery tips’ removal.

Three decades later Labour Welsh Secretary, Ron Davies, returned the £150,000 to the fund and a decade after that the Welsh Government gave the fund £2m to make up for the lost interest.

Over the years, money from the fund has been used to help keep the community centre running.

‘Horrendous’

In a post to the Merthyr Tydfil Matters Facebook page, resident Richard Harris said: “This community centre was built with money from the Aberfan Disaster Fund for the people of Aberfan and surrounding areas after such a horrendous tragedy.

“It is now set to close in April. This cannot and must not happen. It would be too much of a blow for the people of Aberfan and a total disgrace plus lack of respect for the disaster that occurred.”

The community centre is currently run by the Wellbeing Merthyr Trust and is owned by the Aberfan Trust.

The Wellbeing Merthyr Trust was formed in 2015 to manage and develop the leisure and cultural facilities within Merthyr Tydfil on behalf of Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council.

Following the printed sign being displayed declaring the centre would close, local politicians expressed confusion and shock over the news which they say they had no knowledge of.

In a Facebook post, Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council opposition councillor Darren Roberts said: “Like everyone on Facebook this afternoon, I was shocked to see posts saying that Aberfan Community Centre is closing on April 1st.

“Last Saturday, I spoke to a packed cafe at the centre to calm concerns raised by residents. Here are the facts as it stands.

“Myself and other councillors have NOT voted to close the centre. The trustees of Wellbeing Merthyr (Leisure Trust) are responsible for the building, the running of services and the staff.

“At no point have I, or others been privy to any plans to close the facility.

“I have publicly said ‘as long as I have a breath left in my body I will fight for the centre to continue to run’.

“I have just been to the community centre and staff are naturally angry and concerned. Rightly so. It is absolutely deplorable that they have not been kept informed by the Trust, who are responsible for them as their employer.

“I have spoken with the Deputy Chief Executive of Merthyr Tydfil Council who is confident that if the Trustees of Wellbeing Merthyr engage with him and the council leisure services will continue. I cannot express this enough.

“Any decision to put signs up at the Community centre was done without my, other councillors or the council’s knowledge. Who has made this decision? I like everyone else who is concerned want answers.

“I have lived in Aberfan all my life and know how much this building means to people.”

Merthyr Tydfil MP Gerald Jones said: “Aberfan Leisure Centre is a well-used and well-loved facility.

“Merthyr Tydfil CBC MUST act to secure the future of Aberfan Leisure Centre for its customers and staff.”

Member of the Senedd for Merthyr Tydfil Dawn Bowden also appeared to have no knowledge of the decision to close the leisure centre.

In a Facebook post she said: “In light of the Council’s announcement this evening about Aberfan Leisure Centre, I have written to Cllr Geraint Thomas, Leader of Merthyr Council, to ask for an urgent update.

“As soon as I know more, I will post here. Unfortunately, at this stage, I have no more information than anyone else.”

A statement posted to Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council’s social media pages stated: “The Council is currently working with Wellbeing Merthyr to ensure that leisure services run out of the Aberfan Community Centre continue after 1st April.

“The Council does not own Aberfan Leisure Centre so special arrangements must be put in place with the Trustees of the Centre.”

Confusion

A later post to Facebook from Merthyr Tydfil Council caused confusion amongst residents after the council stated it was “confident” that services at the leisure centre would continue as an “alternative provider” had been appointed.

The post stated: “We would like to clarify the situation and dispel some of the rumours that are currently circulating on social media.

“Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council is confident that services at Aberfan Community Centre will continue beyond 1st April 2024.

“Over recent months the council has been working with Wellbeing Merthyr on the managed end of the existing contract.

“Our aim and priority is to keep all leisure facilities open, including Aberfan Community Centre.

“We have appointed an alternative provider which has considerable experience within the leisure industry and meetings are ongoing to facilitate the handover of the leisure centres.

“Aberfan Community Centre is owned by Aberfan Trust and therefore there are some additional legal hurdles that we face in order to transfer the facility to the new provider, however we are working through those as quickly as possible.

“We have reached out to Wellbeing Merthyr and the Aberfan Trustees to ensure the seamless continuation of service at the centre. We will endeavour to update all our residents as we make progress with this.”

A Change.Org petition has been launched calling for the community centre to be saved.

Wellbeing Merthyr were invited to comment.


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Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
1 month ago

‘Wellbeing Merthyr’…..clearly a contradiction in terms 😥

Last edited 1 month ago by Leigh Richards

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