The village hall in Brynberian began life in 1878 as a school. When it closed in 1972 with only 12 pupils, the community stepped in, and with the aid of a small council grant, a lot of fundraising and donations from past pupils, bought the building for £11,250. Since then, what has been the community hub for the area has seen a host of activities and events, not least the annual Eisteddfod.
When I first met Sandra Llewellyn over a year ago, plans were being drawn up for a huge renovation project, the last having taken place over 25 years ago. Sandra who has a deep connection through her family with the area, told me then of the ambitious plans that the community had for the future.
Nothing less than a complete renovation that would bring the building and its usage into the 21st century
Well, things have moved on a pace since our first meeting and the project is heading into the next stage of its development.
At a meeting in the chapel vestry recently, to discuss the past present and the future of the Hall, Sandra told a packed room just how far the project has come and to ask this thriving community for their further involvement in making the dream a reality.
Funding has come from a variety of sources and the presentation showed just how much work has already been undertaken. It’s been something of a roller coaster for the dedicated team who have drawn in thousands of pounds, and the process has not been without it’s disappointments, as well as its triumphs. Not all funded hoped for has materialised, and the woodworm in the roof meant losing some of the original ceiling, but the new building is triumphantly arising from the old and there is every reason for celebration.
Sandra told us about what is needed to ensure that the building becomes fully operational again. These involve creating a garden which will house the World Peace Flame brought to Brynberian by Julie Marsden. (You can read about the lovely Julie and her Peace Walk here in the magazine.)
Decking is also required. So are fixtures and fittings. Large windows that will make the most of the gorgeous location that the building is set in are going to be a major feature and to ensure sustainable heating a ground source heat pump is planned. There will be underfloor heating…so no more freezing or doing Yoga in overcoats as one local person joked. The stage has gone and will be replaced by a moveable one. An extra room has been created in the roof space and a whole new toilet block are underway.
It is hoped that the centre will also offer start-up space for the development of small businesses as a means of encouraging local people to improve their circumstances.
The local community has raised funds through the 100 club, donations and activities. Local people have offered their services in demolition work and in applying for national funding and now more grant applications are underway.
Sandra outlined the thinking behind the whole project, telling us that most important for the community was a need to secure a continuation of the Welsh language and traditions. The intention to reduce the carbon footprint is uppermost in the plans too, hence the ground source heating plan.
Improving health and well-being is another priority. As Sandra explained, we are moving into an age where we must take greater responsibility for our own and our communities health, instead of relying up beleaguered health services.
Brynberian is steeped in history and local legend, and the centre also plan to include a heritage centre available to locals and visitors.
Naturally, recreation and entertainment will be a priority. In the spirit of getting feedback from the community to ensure everyone has a say, a questionnaire with a list of ideas as to the kind of activities people would like included was available. A call for skills and from local people was also requested.
Funding is also being sourced to employ a part-time person for three years to promote and manage the centre. This presents another potential opportunity for a local person in this rural area with high unemployment.
Cris Tomos who is a county councillor for the area, went on to describe the work being done by other community centres that has made them sustainable. He spoke about Hermon which is a community centre he has worked with closely and which was also bought by the community. Their project was largely funded by the forming of a cooperative offering shares to its members. In the spirit of sustainability, it generates some of its funds through its bar sales. Hermon has opted for air sourced heating and is a timber-framed eco building. They have a person employed to manage the building paid for by lottery funding.
Cris went on to describe the many innovative ways other communities have built or renovated their centres. These include a variety of ways to keep running costs down and to raise funds. He spoke of the renting out of industrial units, offering accommodation to visitors and in one case setting up a fully automated system for opening and closing the premises without the need for anyone to venture out on chilly nights.
Cris concluded by reminding us that there are two things to consider above all else, and those are to keep things local and to ensure sustainability for the future by developing income strands that really work.
The meeting ended with questions from the floor.
The meeting was filmed by Caroline Juler as part of her two-year BTec in Media Production The course is being run at Coleg Ceredigion in Aberystwyth. Caroline explains “Because of my interest in Brynberian, I thought it would be fun to do something about the rebuilding of the Community Centre.”
We look forward to seeing that, and to writing more about Caroline in a future article.
If you have any questions, or if you want to offer skills, or time please contact:
If you are involved in a community venue in Pembrokeshire and would like to know more about our Communities Online project , please get in touch below!