Neath call for national rugby museum – but is it really the home of Welsh rugby?
Ted Peskett, local democracy reporter
Calls for a national rugby museum, similar to the national football museum being proposed in Wrexham, have been aired by councillors.
During a discussion on town centre revitalisation at a Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council (NPTCBC) meeting, Cllr Jamie Evans said he would like to see Neath celebrating its (heavily contested) identity as the “home of Welsh rugby”.
The discussion came about after Cllr Nigel Hunt said he would like to see more done to attract people to town centres in the county borough.
Speaking at the Regeneration and Sustainable Development Scrutiny Committee meeting, Cllr Hunt said: “I can’t really think of many cultural centres that are opening. I know that we have the Princess Royal Theatre, but that is open for the night time economy.
“We really are short of galleries and museums in our towns and I think we should try and focus on that or at least consider [it].”
Cllr Jamie Evans mooted calls to diversify town centres in the county borough, and whilst he recognised the boost that a new leisure centre planned for Neath could bring, he said he would like to see previous plans for a museum revisited.
“Whilst I am supportive of the new leisure centre, there were plans for a rugby museum in the shape of a ball,” he said.
“Neath is disputed with Lampeter as the home of rugby in Wales. Granted we are not at our peak at the minute. But, we are on our way back up, hopefully.
“I think there is more that can be done around [promoting culture in] Neath, Port Talbot and Pontardawe.
“I would like to see, and it would involve Neath Rugby Club as well, something like we are seeing in Wrexham now, where we have got a national football museum proposed.
“I know we might have competition from Lampeter, who claim to be the first team in Wales for rugby, but I personally think it is something that we need to be proud about in Neath.”
Lampeter’s claim to being the birthplace of Welsh rugby is based on the fact that it is where the first known rugby match in Wales – between Lampeter University and Llandovery College in 1866 – was played.
However, Neath RFC is widely recognised as being the first Welsh rugby club, having been founded in 1871.
In response to Cllr Nigel Hunt’s comments, NPTCBC’s Head of Property and Regeneration, Simon Brennan said: “We have been looking to diversify our town centres for a little while, even pre-pandemic when we put the plans in place to deliver the leisure facilities in the heart of Neath town centre.
“Across the board we have been looking at how we can do that. The Plaza development [will be] a big part of it for Port Talbot as well.
“Retail won’t be the only reason people go to town centres going forward and I think everyone accepts that and it is [about] making town centres interesting in a different way.”
Mr Brennan said that Cllr Evan’s calls for a national rugby museum for Wales in Neath will be noted.
He said: “The council is in the process of developing its culture and heritage strategy.
“Some of the items that Cllr Evans mentioned will be picked up in that.
“It will include an understanding of the sporting heritage as well as the cultural heritage.”
The council’s culture and heritage strategy will be used to attract funding for projects that support Neath Port Talbot’s history.
Re-buffing Cllr Evans and Cllr Hunt’s calls for the council to think more about how it can promote the history of the county borough, Cllr Sheila Penry said: “I have been on about this for about 10 to 12 years, to have a museum if it is possible in Neath.
“The people in Neath and the schools in Neath are asking why we can’t have a museum, because this would be a great education for the children.”
Cllr Hunt added: “As a member for Aberavon and as someone who, on Boxing Day would be wearing the blood and black, I have to say the thought of a rugby museum in Neath is fantastic.
“It has such a great tradition of rugby, it is known as a rugby town, it has got great history [and] it would bring footfall and tourism.
“Not only would it benefit Neath, but it would benefit the whole of the county [borough].”
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