"THE building is part of our history," volunteer Clare Potter says as her community fights to save one of the few miners' institutes left in the south Wales valleys.

Cefn Fforest Miner’s Welfare Hall was constructed during the inter-war period using money from the Miners' Welfare Fund.

Built during the height of the industrial period in the Gwent valleys, the institute served as a meeting and educational venue for miners and their families. Built and run on the contribution of miners, the institute fell into decline as the coal industry shut down in south Wales. It is thought to be one of only 48 miners' institutes left in the region

But one band of volunteers is determined to save the welfare hall from decline and put back at the heart of the community once again.

Clare told our sister site, the South Wales Argus: “The building is part of our history and that can’t be discarded which is why the community are so passionate about saving it especially with the family links and what it could mean the future.

“There’s not a lot of places for the kids to go, we need to look after people’s mental health and needing somewhere to go to stay connected.

“There’s a lack of commonality so you need places like this to bring people together again.

“This building is solid, if this building was knocked down we would be knocking down our heritage.

“We can help shape the younger generation, some of them may not have a printer at home so this place is so important for their future.”

Cefn Fforest Miners Welfare Hall charity is in the process of working to restore the main hall which will then be hired out as a multi-purpose room with a stage, changing rooms and a bar.

The charity applying for lotto funding for the main hall, once the income is generated the funds will be put towards a café and offices upstairs that can be rented out.

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The Coal Field Regeneration Trust gave £6,000 to the Miner’s Institute whilst Caerphilly Borough Council has a community fund which could help replace some of the windows.

Blackwood Comprehensive School has put construction on its curriculum and the children will be able to come from September onwards to work on the building as part of their coursework.

Pupils will have the opportunity to do tiling, putting skirting boards on and painting. But their involvement will be about more than just free labour and education, as volunteer Dean Jones explained.

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“Doing work on the building will give the children a real purpose, they are the future of the building and are the future trustees, secretaries and chairs," he said.

“It is important to us that the children take ownership in the building, they can show their work off to their family and friends and take pride in it.

“I know a lot of the young people quite well and they get a lot of bad press.

“It is a crime that you see all the young people sitting outside

“We will get it open; we are very determined to see this place restored; we won’t fail.

“We see the importance of this building for all ages that people just want to meet up and chat and give them a place to come too.

“In 1930 this was a place for people to meet and this is just as vital now.”

Mr Jones, who lives opposite the hall and has seen the gradual deterioration, donates his time every Tuesday and Thursday alongside Thomas Nipper and Christopher Williams.

Teenager Travis Turner even has DJ decks set-up on the main hall and hopes to perform there when it opens. He helps with the manual work in the meantime and told the Argus it would be great for him and the other young people to use this space once it is up and running.

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The restoration is a huge project and Cefn Fforest Miners Welfare Hall is appealing for donations of money and time.

The idea to restore it came about in 2018 after filming of a BBC Wales documentary called The Wall & The Mirror, made by Clare Potter.

During filming some of the former miners returned to the hall and were devastated at the state of the building and shocked by the lack of togetherness.

The reading wall used to have big stands and daily newspapers and a plaque was awarded to the miners when the hall was opened in 1930.

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Ronald Stoate, ex miner, said: “Miners' institutes were built for same reason as the miners’ hospitals.

“People didn’t have enough money to afford healthcare, so they decided to pay into these buildings in order to have access to healthcare and community clubs."

In 1960 changes were made turning the building into a working man’s club. 

The views of another local former miner, Nat Thomas, were pivotal in the campaign to restore the building. Nat died two months ago so will not see the end results but the volunteers fondly recall his passion for the hall. 

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Committee member Amanda Thomas said: “Everyone who knew Nat knew that it was his dream to get this up and going and it is in motion because of him.

“There are only 48 miners’ institutes left and for the miners we need to keep this place open for their memory and be proud of our heritage.

“I am proud to say I am from Cefn Fforest and I am a coal miner’s daughter.”

Tanya jones from Caerphilly borough council, a senior youth worker based in Blackwood Youth Centre added that when it is safe to do so they will come in to paint and also create bird boxes.

The volunteers are also appealing for their Bardic chair to be returned to them. The chair was donated by a a local poet called Trefin, who won it for his poem Y bore at the Caerffili Eisteddfod in 1930.

You can find out how to support the restoration and get involved at the Friends of Cefn Fforest Miners' Institute Facebook page. The volunteers are holding an open morning on Saturday, August 6, between 10am and noon, where people can see the work done so far. 

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