Developing community owned assets

In a small valleys market town something big has been happening to put heritage and music on the map together.

The Ebbw Vale Institute (EVi) has been the backdrop to a secret album recording by a popular band Public Service Broadcasting who spent five weeks at EVi putting together their Every Valley album.

The Grade II listed building constructed in 1849 was in danger of being lost due to the extensive repair and refurbishment then in 2007, Pro-Mo Cymru – a registered charity – restored the historic building into its former glory giving it a new lease of life by turning it into a sustainable cultural centre of community activity and learning through asset transfer.

EVi has now been used for a whole host of community initiatives including private parties, office hire and teaching and comes with its own bistro café, bar, performance stage, function room, audio visual equipment and technical support and has a number of entertainment options including live music, film screenings, DJs, comedians and after dinner speakers.

It has also been used by Public Service Broadcasting for their two night sell-out launch events.

The band’s frontman J. Willgoose, Esq., explains: “I have no personal ties to mining, be it coal or otherwise, and I have no family links to the area, but something about the story drew me in.

“This is an album about community as much as it is about mining; it’s the story of an entire region centred around one industry, and what happens when that industry dies.

“Ebbw Vale is historically a steelworkers’ town but one surrounded by coal mines. It seemed important to record in the valleys, as I wanted this album to feel connected to the area it was written about in ways our previous albums hadn’t been.

“Perhaps something about the romanticism of the valleys and their geography drew me to south Wales in particular, perhaps it was their solidity during the strike of 1984-5 – or, far more prosaically, perhaps it was a response to the furious – mostly Cardiff-based – response to our 2015 UK tour, which featured not a single Welsh date. You can’t always explain these things, as I’ve learned.

“What’s certain in my mind is that this album isn’t just about mining, and isn’t just about Wales. It’s a story reflected in abandoned and neglected communities across the western world, and one which has led to the resurgence of a particularly malignant, cynical and calculating brand of politics.”

EVi was also the venue for DTA Wales’ first networking and learning event for projects taking part in the National Lottery Community Fund’s Community Asset Transfer (CAT) Programme under the support contract. The event, which transferred knowledge and learning from the original community enterprises who took part in CAT1 onto the new groups who are now receiving support from CAT2 in its current form.

CAT2 provides capital and revenue funding from National Lottery Community Fund to support the transfer of assets, such as land and buildings, from individuals, public or private sector organisations to community ownership.

The event gave the new CAT2 projects an insight into the journey they are now on from more established community asset developers and projects which have benefitted from National Lottery Community Fund funding for asset transfer and development previously under CAT1.

Talks were given by Pro-Mo Cymru’s CEO Marco Gil Cervantes on how to maximise income streams, minimise costs and being prepared to adapt while the organisation’s Chairman Meirion Morgan also spoke about the risks and challenges of taking on an asset transfer and making it sustainable.

Paul Griffiths from Xcel Carmarthen, another CAT1 supported group, run a ten pin bowling alley and soft play centre from a former cheese factory in Carmarthen, spoke about how they saved capital costs by buying a second hand bowling alley from Blackpool and re-installed it in Carmarthen. He went on to give valuable details on how they have built different income streams from the asset since it opened 3 years ago. For instance they also recycle furniture and run a foodbank from the site.

The talks centered on the successes of these projects as well as the pitfalls and difficult journeys they have traveled and how they have overcome obstacles they’ve met along the way. Delegates also had the chance to ask questions as well as meet the other groups and share their knowledge.

Rachel Marshall, DTA Wales’ Business & Enterprise Manager, who manages the CAT2 Contract for DTA Wales said:  “Our first networking day was a success and the feedback we’ve had from groups is that they are even more inspired than ever after hearing about how to sustain and develop community enterprises in the assets into the future.”

“We want to help communities become stronger and more sustainable by assisting them to become better connected to like-minded groups, to see beyond the point of transfer, and make the strongest pitch as possible to the National Lottery Community Fund for support for their projects. The hard work really starts once they obtain the asset and in developing this into a long term future in their community. I am glad that this event has certainly helped in getting this message across.”

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