Mark Drakeford visits historic Merthyr Tydfil synagogue
Mark Drakeford has visited Merthyr Tydfil’s historic synagogue today to see the progress being made to convert the Grade II listed building into a Welsh Jewish Heritage Centre.
The Synagogue, which is among the most significant historic buildings in Merthyr, opened in 1877 and closed in 1983 and had been unused since 2006, its condition deteriorating to the extent that it was formally designated as being at risk.
A painting of the Synagogue by Lowry was recently sold for £277,000.
The Foundation for Jewish Heritage conducted a Feasibility Study in 2018, funded by the Muriel and Gershon Coren Charitable Trust exploring the viability of a Heritage Centre at the Grade II listed building.
It went on to purchase the site in 2019 and carried out urgent repairs in 2020 with financial support from private Trusts, individual donors and Cadw, the Welsh Government’s historic environment service.
The First Minister was met by Michael Mail, Chief Executive of the Foundation, and the Heritage Centre Project Manager Neil Richardson. He received a detailed briefing on progress with the project’s current development phase, and the planned future steps leading to the eventual launch of the Heritage Centre.
Once established, the Heritage Centre will present the 250+ year history, culture and contribution of the Welsh Jewish community, and will also address contemporary issues relating to diversity and social inclusion, promoting cross-cultural understanding.
Also taking part in the visit were National Lottery Heritage Fund Wales Chair Denise Lewis and Dawn Bowden, Member of the Senedd for Merthyr Tydfil.
Dawn Bowden is a Special Ambassador for the project along with local MP Gerald Jones.
She said: “I am delighted that the First Minister of Wales accepted our invite to visit the synagogue. This is a very important project, not only for the town itself but also to a wider and international community. The Foundation for Jewish Heritage has worked very hard to put in place the project team and to develop their plans for the future of the building.
“I thank the funding partners who have helped the project to get this far. Today we learnt more about their evolving plans. I would urge people to visit the website and read about this project. I wish the Foundation every success as they prepare for future funding bids in order to restore this splendid gothic building as a Welsh Jewish Heritage Centre”.
Mr Drakeford said: “It is a great pleasure for me to visit this important project and to learn more about the Foundation’s ideas for the future. The development of a sustainable plan for the future of this historic synagogue building is an interesting challenge and today’s discussions have been a very useful part of that process”.
Andrew White, Director of the National Lottery Heritage Fund in Wales added: “This is a special place in Merthyr and it was lovely to visit and hear more about its history and potential future. It was uplifting to speak with such enthusiastic local people and their connections with the synagogue.
“We’re delighted to support the Foundation with a development grant to refine their plans and apply for additional funding to realise their ambitious vision for a Welsh Jewish Heritage Centre.
Preservation of Jewish heritage
The London-based Foundation for Jewish Heritage works internationally on the preservation of Jewish heritage at risk and the Merthyr synagogue/Welsh Jewish Heritage Centre is its flagship project.
Mr Mail, The Foundation’s CE said: “We are thrilled to have the First Minister visit our special synagogue project in the company of Dawn Bowden. Adding to the significance of the day was the fact that we were joined by NLHF Wales Chair Denise Lewis Poulton and Director Andrew White. T
“The visit underscores the importance of this unique project, and we are so grateful to NLHF and the Welsh Government for their financial support which is enabling us to take the project forward. This historic synagogue represents shared heritage – it is a recognised Jewish and Welsh landmark building that had fallen into disrepair which we are saving and giving an important new purpose.
“We are confident that the Heritage Centre will have a big impact, in Merthyr, across Wales and beyond.”
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