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Community urged to help revitalise historic Swansea landmark building

The people of an historic Swansea community are being urged to help secure a lively future for one of Wales' most celebrated buildings.

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A plan is being drawn up to revitalise the 146-year-old Morriston Tabernacle - and local residents will play a key role in shaping it.

The building, at the heart of Morriston, is one of only two Swansea structures with a Grade 1 listing, an official rating applied only to buildings of exceptional interest.

Morriston was key to Swansea's growth as a 19th century industrial powerhouse and the Tabernacle was central to its hard-working community.

Swansea Council wants to help it regain its position as a pivotal local location.

Robert Francis-Davies, cabinet member for investment, regeneration and tourism, said: "Morriston Tabernacle was once the heartbeat of the local community - and it can be again.

"I ask local people and organisations to tell us what they need from the building and what ideas they have."

The building is currently cared for by two charitable bodies: Morriston Tabernacle Congregation and the Tabernacle Building Trust.

The congregation helps to fund the trust with events such as concerts and community activities.

Cllr Francis-Davies said: "We want to support them in their future endeavours at the Tabernacle and to make it a place which thrives on Morriston's heritage, community and culture."

The council's revitalisation plan comes at a time when the building is in better condition than ever in living memory. However, it is used only for a limited amount of time each week.

Now council officer Jacqualyn Box is based at Tabernacle from where she will gather the views of people and organisations across the community and understand their aspirations. These will include existing venues with which the Tabernacle could dovetail in future.

A launch event is planned for her 18-month project, which may result in funding applications to bodies such as the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

The revitalisation plan - Morriston Tabernacle: Sustaining for Future Generations - is being funded by the HLF under its Resilient Heritage Programme.

The £71,300 HLF award is supporting the work of part-time development officer Jacqualyn to develop a business plan and fundraising plan. This will include developing a new governance and management model for the chapel. It will consider legal changes needed for a new way of operating, find new complementary uses for the building that generate income allowing it to be sustainable and will develop and support volunteers. 

At the end of the 18 months an event will be held and documents produced to share learning and good practice for other groups and organisations facing similar challenges.

Jacqualyn Box said: "Tabernacle is an amazing building and a key part of Swansea's rich cultural heritage.

"It would be fantastic to see heritage, community and cultural activities happening here every day. I want to ensure this prestigious building is well connected with the local community and becomes a place that people and groups in the area come to support and feel is a space for them.

"Over the coming weeks I look forward to meeting many people, businesses and organisations with a keen interest in the building. I want to find out what the Morriston community needs.

"This project is close to my heart, as I sang and performed in the chapel years ago and care deeply about the building having a positive future. I feel honoured to have been given the opportunity to fill it with life again."

Richard Bellamy, head of HLF in Wales, said: "Thanks to National Lottery players, custodians of historic buildings can access Resilience Heritage funding to explore options for the sustainable use, management and administration of historic buildings. Tabernacle Chapel Trust, in partnership with Swansea Council, will engage with local stakeholders, explore new income streams and strengthen the governance of Tabernacle Chapel, one of the most iconic chapels in Wales."

David Gwyn John, secretary for the Tabernacle, said: "I'm grateful to all involved in this new project which, I hope, will help preserve this unique listed building for current and future generations. The work being carried out by Jacqualyn Box will raise awareness of the Tabernacle in the community."

Huw Tregelles Williams, co-ordinator of the Tabernacle Steering Group, said: "To construct this iconic building in 1872 was an heroic venture; to restore it to its former glory has been rewarding; to maintain it to current legal requirements as congregational numbers and funding decline necessitates a range of community activities and income sources. I welcome partnerships with Swansea Council and other bodies to achieve this goal."

Christine Moore, of the Welsh religious buildings trust Addoldai Cymru, said: "Addoldai Cymru, as the organisation set up to support significant chapels in Wales, welcomes the opportunity to work with Tabernacle in finding a successful future for the building."

More info: Contact Jacqualyn Box - email Jacqualyn.Box@swansea.gov.uk, phone 07827 307968.

Morriston Tabernacle: Did You Know?

  • The Tabernacle was completed in 1872.
  • It stands in the heart of Morriston, the UK's earliest example of a planned industrial town.
  • It is thought to be Wales's largest and tallest chapel. The spire is 160ft tall.
  • In his 1996 book Welsh Chapels, Anthony Jones wrote that the Tabernacle was "the largest, grandest and most expensive chapel built in Wales."
  • The façade features eight huge Corinthian columns and arches.
  • The interior is an impressive display of carpentry, with a downward-swooping choir gallery.
  • The chapel's celebrated organ was installed in 1922 and restored in 1998.
  • The Tabernacle is one of only 12 Grade One listed chapels in Wales.
  • It was voted Wales' favourite place of worship in a National Churches' Trust poll last year
  • It has featured on TV shows such as Songs of Praise.
  • It has been visited by Royalty, generations of celebrated preachers, singers and leading concert organists.
  • Online www.morristontabernacl.org

Photo Robert Francis-Davies, Swansea Council's cabinet member for investment, regeneration and tourism, left, at Morriston Tabernacle with, from left, Christine Moore, of Addoldai Cymru, council officer Jacqualyn Box, and the Tabernacle's David Gwyn John and Huw Tregelles Williams.


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