Aberfan residents worried about losing community centre that 'helped them recover'

  • Video report by ITV Wales correspondent Hannah Thomas

Residents in Aberfan fear losing the community centre which "helped them recover" from the 1966 disaster which claimed the lives of 144 people.

Many fear they could lose access to the community hub in Merthyr Tydfil which was their "beacon of hope" if a legal dispute is not resolved.

Aberfan and Merthyr Vale Community Centre, which opened in 1973, was paid for with money donated to the 1966 Disaster Fund and is now the beating heart of the village, with King Charles visiting to mark the 50th anniversary of the disaster in 2016 to deliver a heartfelt message from the late Queen.

But contract complexities threaten its future.

The centre is currently operated by Wellbeing Merthyr, formerly known as Merthyr Leisure Trust, but their contract to run the facility is coming to an end on March 31, and work is ongoing to try and approve a handover of the centre back to Merthyr Tydfil council, who want to appoint an alternative provider to run the centre.

Gareth Morgans, from GMB union, said of worried staff who work at the centre: "They're angry. They've got an uncertain future. They don't know if this place will be open from the 1 April. Obviously they're concerned about their future.

"We are trying to bang some heads together. The council don't seem to be talking to the leisure trust, and vice versa. We are trying to get them to talk to each other to try and get the stewardship and guardianship back into the local authority."

Gareth Morgans from GMB union said: "We are trying to get the stewardship and guardianship back into the local authority." Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Denise Morgan, who lost her sister in the 1966 coal tip disaster, said the "Aberfan building was a beacon of hope" in the village's recovery.

She said: "That building helped us to recover. And it was obviously a beacon of hope at the time that we could go somewhere and forget in part about what had happened and make more memories with the generations that were growing up in Aberfan then."

Denise Morgan from Merthyr Tydfil said the "building helped us to recover." Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Now, the centre welcomes visitors of all ages, and has been the home of the only public swimming pool in Merthyr for a number of years.

New mum Jodie Williams and baby Mila attend Aqua-tots classes every week at the centre, and want to see the centre's future resolved.

Jodie said: "Being on maternity, it is quite lonely. So I do like to go to these classes.

"I'm a PE teacher, so going swimming for me is like a breath of fresh air, and taking my daughter thinking 'okay, I know she's not going to be swimming lengths', but it's just that confidence that she's gaining in the water."

Jodie Williams said: "Being on maternity it is quite lonely. So I do like to go to these classes." Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

The local authority said they "appreciate the historical significance" of the building ut this is a complex legal issue.

Ellis Cooper, chief executive of Merthyr Tydfil council, said: "The council has been very clear in its intention of what it wants to do. We want to maintain services for the people of Aberfan.

"We want the trust to meet us half way, and work with us and find that resolution for the people of Merthyr Tydfil, and for Aberfan in particular."

Wellbeing Merthyr told ITV Wales they want to alleviate concerns of the community and they want a managed return of the services in this building to the local authority, and they will be working with the council to achieve that.

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