South East Wales

Rhondda Pop Factory taken over by Valleys Kids charity

Steve Jones as host of The Pop Factory
Steve Jones made his TV debut at the Pop Factory in 2001

The TV studio in a former soft drinks plant which gave Steve Jones his first presenting job is being relaunched as a live music venue and training centre.

The Pop Factory was opened in 2000 at the ex-Thomas & Evans Welsh Hill Works in Porth, Rhondda, by Avanti Media.

The birthplace of Corona pop became the base for a string of music TV shows.

The Valleys Kids charity has now bought the building and is launching the Factory live music venue as the heart of its operations.

The charity says it wants to develop the building as a creative hub for young people keen to work in the music industry or digital media.

Lasting legacy

The factory was originally opened in the 1890s by William Thomas and William Evans under the name of Welsh Hills Mineral Waters.

The brand name was changed to Corona in the 1920s as the company expanded across England and Wales.

The Porth plant closed in 1987 and was on the point of dereliction when it was taken over by Avanti Media and reopened as the Pop Factory multimedia complex in September 2000.

Tom Jones, Cerys Matthews, Larry Adler and the Stereophonics were among the stars attending the opening event.

The Pop Factory has been the base for a range of music, entertainment and youth-orientated TV series for the BBC, ITV and S4C.

US X Factor host Steve Jones was given his first presenting job in 2001 in The Pop Factory series for BBC Wales TV.

Alex Jones from The One Show, former Blue Peter presenter Gethin Jones and the late Stereophonics drummer Stuart Cable are among others who were given their first taste of TV presentation there.

First Minister Carwyn Jones will officially launch Valleys Kids' ownership of the site at a gala event on 24 July.

The celebration will include live music and art exhibitions showing the creativity of local youngsters.

Thomas & Evans Welsh Hill Works
The former home of Corona pop is a local landmark

It will be followed by a series of gigs by local rock bands and visiting stars with plans to host live music every Friday and Saturday by September.

Supporting creativity

Richard Morgan, director of funding and co-founder of Valleys Kids, said they bought the building from Avanti Media which wanted to focus on its core business in TV production.

"We're coming to it from a different end to a commercial company," he said.

"Training was always part of the idea but it didn't come to fruition - it's desperately needed in the south Wales valleys.

"The Pop Factory is a unique facility enabling Valleys Kids to explore its entrepreneurial spirit and will help us to sustain our provision in these communities.

"We are committed to changing the lives and outlooks of young people by offering them experiences and skills in the creative industries.

"This iconic building is a perfect venue, ideally placed to help us deliver this."

In addition to the live music venue, Valleys Kids will run music-related training courses in conjunction with the University of the Heads of the Valleys and community TV production with support from Monmouth-based MONTV.

Avanti Media will remain at the site, retaining its TV studios and some post production facilities.

Magenta play the Pop Factory
Rock band Magenta will return to play the new venue in September

Emyr Afan, creative director of the company, said: "We looked long and hard to find a suitable partner to bring on the legacy of the Pop Factory for the next ten years and beyond.

"Valleys Kids are that visionary organization who have the guts to take such a project on board and make a success of it.

"Avanti will be working closely with them to ensure that success, and to utilise our music and TV industry knowhow, major artists' contacts and facilities to maximum effect in the process".

The building has a number of other creative businesses as tenants with room for more, including the possibility of a "hotdesking" facility for people who don't want to hire rooms permanently.

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