The first coal mining museum in Wales celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this weekend, and is opening its doors for free throughout the bank holiday to mark the occasion.

In the early 1970s, in the face of a declining coal industry, a number of miners from the Afan Valley up the road from Port Talbot got together to voice their concerns about the threat to the industry in their area.

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This meeting wasn't so much to protect their jobs, but to protect the stories that their jobs represented. The award-winning South Wales Miners' Museum (SWMM) was founded in 1972 to preserve the history of coal mining in the area and to secure the story this once-crucial industry told about the people of the valleys.

In its early years the museum drew in around 100,000 a year, but despite the ebbs and flows of the museum's fortunes over half a century, its constant presence and driving force, according to directing manager Charlene Rodger, has been the work of its volunteers - most of whom worked underground.

The National Wales: The winding gear at the South Wales Miners' Museum (Image: Instagram/South Wales Miners' Museum).The winding gear at the South Wales Miners' Museum (Image: Instagram/South Wales Miners' Museum).

It's thanks to the efforts of those volunteers that the museum as it is today exists. "I think past volunteers would be very proud of what we've achieved," she says.

It's the authenticity that volunteers have provided over half a century, including their first hand experience, that have made he museum such a success.

There's a lamp room, a working blacksmith's forge, a miniature steam train and an operational winding engine - helping to cover all aspects of life for those working both on the surface and underground at the pits.

Most of the volunteers are now over the age of 75.

Charlene is hoping that the museum can attract new volunteers to learn directly from those who worked underground in order to preserve the history and tell the crucial stories of the area for another 50 years.

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To celebrate the anniversary, the museum is opening its doors for free for the three days of the Bank Holiday weekend (Sat 27th - Mon 29th).

Talking about a new volunteer who joined the museum in the last few of years who had previously worked underground, Charlene says that as soon as he walked through the museum's doors he said that he "felt at home".

"The banter these guys had underground still happens, and it's an honour to work alongside them," she says.