South East Wales

Revamped Penarth pier pavilion opens doors again

Penarth Pier's refurbished pavilion
The art deco pavilion will be open fully once again in December

A first event has been held at a Victorian pier pavilion in the Vale of Glamorgan after a £4.2m refurbishment.

Penarth Pier Pavilion's Room 617 has been opened, which marks the resort's links to Dambusters and local hero Wing Commander Guy Gibson.

Other test events will follow until the pavilion reopens fully in December.

Director Dr David Trotman says the pier's community use would help it survive in the future.

The launch of the Room 617 was attended by members of the armed services and representatives from the current 617 squadron who flew down from Scotland especially.

Wing Commander Guy Gibson
Wing Commander Guy Gibson, the Commanding Officer of 617 Squadron, lived in Penarth for a time

The honour has been given to the revamped pavilion's seaward facing Observatory Room and in part remembers Gibson, who led the famous Dambusters' raids on two German dams in World War II.

Gibson married a local woman and lived in Penarth before the raids.

"He was one of those iconic figures who a lot of people still recognise," said Dr Trotman.

"One of his favourite pastimes when on leave was to play golf at Penarth's Glamorganshire Golf Club.

"It was here that he heard the news that he had been awarded his Victoria Cross (for the Dambusters' raids)."

The room will also have a future use in helping those from the services with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The event on Friday was also attended by members of local support groups for PTSD.

Dr Trotman said the reception showed their commitment to support service veterans of conflicts ranging from WWII to the current day Afghanistan who have the condition.

Plans to restore the art deco-style pavilion on Penarth pier were given the go-ahead in March 2011.

A postcard view of what the Penarth sea front used to look like in the 1930s
A postcard view of what the Penarth Esplanade used to look like in the 1930s

The pier originally opened in April 1895, and drew hundreds of visitors, many of whom arrived there by paddle steamer.

A wooden pavilion was built originally but burnt down and the current structure first opened in 1929.

In WWII the pavilion played matchmaker to the US troops who met their partners there.

In the 1950s and 1960s, it became a nightclub hosting acts like Tom Jones, Petula Clark and Gene Vincent.

But in the 1970s, the pavilion's fortunes began to wane and a campaign later started for public funding for the current revamp.

Dr Trotman said at the heart of the new pavilion which will be serving the community of Penarth, the Vale of Glamorgan and Cardiff.

He also has plans to reignite the kind of old fashioned tourism which Penarth, and neighbouring Barry, used to be famous for, with visitors arriving there by train.

A community based cinema will have silver screening and Saturday morning cinema.

There will also be a gallery for hosting exhibitions and events like concerts and musical evenings and a learning space which will provide a programme of work with local children, young people and disadvantaged groups, among them people with Alzheimer's and dementia.

The target is for 50,000 visitors to the pavilion in the first year.

"I suppose you could say we are bucking the trend of what's happened to many piers around the country," said Dr Trotman.

"But there's an amazing amount of good will and I'm confident it can work."

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