South West Wales

Neath's fire-hit Gwyn Hall reopens after £10m refit

Neath's Gwyn Hall has reopened four-and-a-half years after a fire gutted the Victorian theatre.

Around £10m has been spent creating a new arts centre in the 125-year-old listed building.

Councillors say it will be the focal point of efforts to regenerate Neath town centre in the years to come.

The glass-fronted hall now includes a 395-seat theatre, a 73-seat cinema, a dance and rehearsal studio, and a cafe and bar.

School children and local arts organisations performed at an opening concert on Thursday evening.

The cause of the fire that ripped through the hall on the evening of 18 October 2007 has never been established.

But it left the listed town centre building, which had staged thousands of concerts, shows and events since it was built in 1887, little more than just a shell.

Neath Port Talbot council leader Ali Thomas said what had risen from the ashes would now anchor further regeneration in the town.

"We have at last reached the end of a long road," he said.

"The result is mind blowing. I think operatic groups, theatre groups and dance groups are going to be queuing up to come here.

"I think this theatre and the whole facility is going to become something very, very special to everybody.

"This kicks-off our future ambition to regenerate the whole town of Neath."

'Total despair'

These include new shops, restaurants, bars, and a heritage centre which are planned for the site of the old council offices which have been demolished.

Over £1m is being spent restoring the Victoria Gardens in the centre of Neath.

Image caption The cause of the fire on 18 October 2007 has never been established

Council cabinet member for regeneration David Lewis remembers visiting the Gwyn Hall the morning after the fire.

"There was total despair," he said.

He said although the inside of the building was now state-of-the-art, builders had been required to restore the outside to its original state due to its listed status.

"Historically it's very important. Now it is surrounded by modern buildings but it is a statement from the past we felt deserve preserving," he added.

"Architecturally we've maintained the integrity of the building and it's been done beautifully.

"It is a completely different building internally."

The hall will be run and maintained by the Celtic Leisure Trust - a not-for-profit organisation that operates other leisure facilities within the county.

Trust chairman Mike James said the Gwyn Hall would now operate without any subsidy from the council.

A full programme of events is planned in the coming months including the musical The Full Monty staged by the Melin Crythan Amateur Operatic Society, and a performance by singer Cerys Matthews in April.

The public can tour the new building on Friday and Saturday.

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