Fears in Aberfan over centre built after disaster

Aberfan Community Centre
A protest was held after social media posts suggested Aberfan and Merthyr Vale Community Centre would close after 1 April

There are growing concerns about the future of a community centre that was built with funds raised after the Aberfan disaster.

Aberfan and Merthyr Vale Community Centre was built in 1973 as a place "to heal and come together", said survivor Janett Bickley.

Last week a protest was held after social media posts suggested it would not remain open after 1 April.

The council said it was “committed” to keeping the centre open, but added there were “legal hurdles” as it decides on a new operator.

On 21 October 1966, 116 children and 28 adults were killed when a colliery spoil tip collapsed, engulfing a primary school and surrounding houses.

Charitable trust Wellbeing Merthyr has operated centres in Aberfan and Merthyr Tydfil since 2015.

The swimming pool in Merthyr Tydfil has been closed since December 2019 after water leaks were found to have caused structural damage.

The Covid lockdown hampered the repair work but further structural issues were identified and £6m of redevelopment works were carried out.

But Wellbeing Merthyr has experienced significant financial challenges and its contract expires at the end of March.

The council is in the process of appointing a new operator for both centres, but said contract complexities and "legal hurdles" were making the transfer of the Aberfan centre difficult.

It has not yet been announced who will take on the day-to-day running of its leisure facilities.

BBC Wales understands the contract to run Merthyr Tydfil Leisure Centre will be given to Halo, a social enterprise which runs leisure centres in Bridgend County Borough, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Shropshire.

'Such an emotive subject'

Janett Bickley
Janett Bickley, an Aberfan disaster survivor, says the centre is an "integral part of the community"

One of the survivors of the disaster, Janett Bickley, said the centre’s history meant its future must be guaranteed.

“It’s very important, it’s an integral part of the community and has been since 1973," she said.

"It was built after the Aberfan disaster for the people of Aberfan to heal and come together.

"It’s where we all came to be a community. We had nowhere else to go.

"There are 10 clubs run from this centre, there’s 10 small clubs, and there's the swimming club. I myself attend the karate class twice a week."

She added: “It’s such an emotive subject."

Alyn Owen, deputy chief executive of Merthyr Tydfil council, said he was confident services would continue at the centre.

He said: "It's been a complicated situation but the council is doing everything they can.

"We are working with Wellbeing Merthyr on the managed end of its existing contract with Aberfan Community Centre."

Gareth Morgans, regional organiser for the GMB trade union, said the uncertainty was “completely unacceptable”.

He said the plan to hand both leisure centres over to a new provider is "atrocious" and "bad value for the people in Merthyr".

Mr Morgans said staff planned to strike on 27 March.