Neath locals are working together to bring their historic community hub back from the brink of closure.
Resolven Miner’s Welfare hall is steeped in history, built in the 1920s with money straight from the pay packets of local miners.
It started off as a community hall for the recreation and entertainment of the miners and their families at a time when 80% of the village was made up of miners.
Though things have changed at the venue over the years – such as the coming and going of a cinema on its top floor – the main hall and function rooms have remained a social pillar for the people of Resolven for almost a century.
But in 2020 that all nearly came to an abrupt end.
Not only were those running it challenged with a global pandemic restricting sales, in the summer they were also faced with a serious leak, meaning the entire main hall had to be gutted.
Due to issues establishing insurance money to get the hall back up and running, the future of the Miner’s Welfare looked bleak. Discussions about the possibility of its closure arose.
The prospect was unthinkable for the people who regularly used the venue past and present.
“The very thought of anything closing in Resolven, I didn’t want to think about, but especially the thought of losing the Welfare,” said local resident Diane Sims.
“But the whole time, I just kept one thought at the back of my head, that I will be going back to the Welfare.”
Mrs Sims, 59, has worked at the Welfare for the last 11 years as a steward, but her connection with the place well out dates that – and she is not alone.
“Over the years, my family has always been involved with it. I can remember going to local Christmas parties, then I did a bit of waitressing at the old age Christmas dinner over the years and went there as a teenager.
“But my interest in it came from my mining connections both my grandfathers, my father and my husband all mined. When I saw a job come up, I applied, I just love the camaraderie there.”
Since the 1920s each generation spent time at the Welfare with their fathers and grandfathers, it is the special memories of the community which kept it it so popular for so many years.
In the 1950s miners opened the cinema upstairs which only added to the club’s popularity. While some residents remember visiting the cinema with their families, others recall first dates there with the people they are now married to.
But in the early noughties the cinema had shut its doors for good and ever since, it has remained frozen in time.
Despite the decline of the top floor, the ground floor continued to serve the people of Resolven, functioning as a local bar and meeting place as well as a venue for local clubs and events.
Mrs Sims recalled that in the social club’s heyday it would be jam packed as people stood “shoulder to shoulder” to be served.
Though she said the pub trade doesn’t quite have the same bustle in recent times as it once did, the hall is “well attended and used every night” by the community.
“Before the pandemic we had lots of things going on like quiz night and people practicing playing musical instruments – they have a Ukulele band who practice there. We had a junior’s night on Monday night. The old ladies had bingo twice a week over there.
“Then on the weekends, we did a lot of live music and comedy nights and they were always well attended as well.”
As the coronavirus pandemic took hold in March 2020, events in the Welfare stopped. Though it could reopen at limited capacity while cases eased in the summer, it remained a very uncertain period.
But worse was to come when a serious leak damaged the interior of the main hall, meaning the whole room had to be gutted.
Everything had to be ripped out, including the bar and floor.
In November, delays in insurance money triggered fears that the Welfare would soon have to close its doors forever without locals having a chance to have one last drink or one last laugh at their cherished community hub.
But now in January 2021, the whole village has breathed a sigh of relief, as insurance money was finally released to them for the re-development of the main hall.
Mrs Sims said the eventual reopening of the Welfare would be incredible important for Resolven, that was hit particularly bad by the virus in November.
She said: “Last year, Covid hardly seemed to hit Resolven, it was like a dream compared to other places.
“But since November, it kicked in quite hard. We’ve had loads of people seriously ill and we’ve had a few deaths, some people are still in hospital. We are a small village and we all know each other, we know the people who are going into hospital and going on ventilators.
“Its hit us hard this time and everyone is on a downer. I think people will be glad to see social mixing coming back when it is safe. I don’t mean big events, I mean people coming together and having a chat. They will welcome the club opening.
“Before all this when we were allowed to open for a brief time in the summer, some people, especially older couples didn’t feel comfortable going out. But the under 60s couldn’t wait to come back and the people living on their own I noticed they all came back. It was obviously because they wanted the company.”
Mrs Sims said she is happy to finally be able to look forward to the future of the Welfare after such a turbulent year.
They plan to rejuvenate the main hall and continue with new projects they started shortly before the leak.
It includes the newly refurbished kitchen which is a nod to the Welfare’s original soup kitchen. It was the third soup kitchen in Britain that served the miners during the miner’s strike.
She said: “About a week before we closed down, we had secured funding and refurbished the kitchen. It is separate to the main hall, so lucky it didn’t get damaged.
“We had done all the work and were looking to employ local people, did all the interviews and were about to award the job to someone and then we ended closing, so we didn’t end up opening it.
“But that is what we want to do, we want to develop the food side of things to go alongside the entertainment.”
Matthew Young is on the board of directors who deal with the day-to-day preservation of the not-for-profit organisation.
He said getting the downstairs back on track will help generate more money to sustain the Welfare so they can continue to improve it for the community.
Though refurbishing the upstairs is not yet financially feasible, it is something they will then be able to discuss and hopefully at some point reopen.
“You’re talking three million pounds plus to refurbish the upstairs to get it all in shape and up to health and safety standards, so we really need to start downstairs and make that sustainable first.
“Not just to make it look improved, but so it is generating enough money to sustain itself.
“But most importantly we are hoping that with the downstairs sorted and in use it will prove to funders that there is a real call in Resolven for this place.
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“We’re going to renovate the lounge to make it a restaurant serving food, with a theme paying homage towards heritage in the history of the place.
“One hundred years on it is still very, very relevant in Resolven and there are a lack of faculties that could cater for what the Welfare does. There is still a use for it.”