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A Design For Life - BIG Lottery Fund Magazine Wales, Winter 2014

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Title: A Design For Life
Publication: BIG Lottery Fund Magazine Wales
Date: Winter 2014
Photos: Nick Treharne

BIG Lottery Fund Magazine Wales - Winter 2014.jpg

He's performed to sell out crowds in the biggest arenas all over the world. Now James Dean Bradfield, the lead singer of the Manic Street Preachers, has come back home to open a new library in the building where he worked as a barman in the 1980s

After more than 30 years of neglect, the first phase in restoring the dilapidated Celynen Collieries Institute and Memorial Hall buildings in Newbridge is complete thanks to a grant of £500,000 from the Big Lottery Fund. In a restoration project costing £5.9 million, the Institute has been completely renovated and now boasts a brand new library and IT centre, community meeting rooms and a new link building to the adjacent Grade 2* listed Memorial Hall which is also being lovingly restored.

Between 1986 and 1989 Manic Street Preachers' James Dean Bradfield worked as a barman in the 'Memo (as the Memorial Hall is affectionately known) and described how the venue helped shape his guitar-playing and musical career.

In the 1970s and 80s, the Memo was on the national circuit for up-and-coming bands, many of whom went on to become rock legends in their own right. The Stranglers, Iron Maiden, Dire Straits, Motorhead and Whitesnake are a few of the names who inspired locals to get involved with music and form their own bands - the most notable example being James and the Manic Street Preachers.

"It was the only place that would give me a job and it educated me," says James, who now lives in Cardiff.

"It was a proper earthy place and I was amazed how the community came together. It used to be packed every Sunday and it was a really warm place to work. I was learning how to play guitar at the time and it played a big part in my development."

When he began working at the Memo, fellow Manics Nicky Wire and Richey Edwards had left their hometown of The Memo in the early 20th century Blackwood to attend University in Swansea, with James re-sitting his A-Levels, doing occasional labouring on building sites and busking on the streets of Cardiff.

He worked there on Tuesday nights for the ballroom dancing, for weddings on Saturdays and the famous Sunday night Blues sessions.

"There were regularly six hundred people watching a concert here. It sometimes kicked off, but the atmosphere and excitement was incredible. "It was an amazing place, with a lot of amazing musicians and talent passing through," he says.

"They would sign my records. Seeing these bands gave me confidence; it was an education. I saw how they acted and how not to act on occasions as well."

Originally opened in 1908, the Institute building was financed by a group of local miners who wanted to improve the area's social amenities. According to James, preserving the legacy of these working class men is vital.

"This building is a testament to a generation that had heart, soul and imagination," he says.

"That generation was forged in hard, tough and dangerous industries but they still had the foresight to actually build these places off their own backs. It's up to this current generation to use and treasure this building in the same way they did.

"It's good that the Big Lottery Fund has given money to regenerate the place because the place still had a soul and had a purpose. The fact that they gave half a million pounds to this place is absolutely vital to its future, there's no denying it. And you can't do anything but applaud that."

Project chair Howard Stone has lived in Newbridge for over 50 years and was one of the locals who came to the rescue when there were threats to tear the unique building down and build a car park or a block of flats over the site.

"The intention of this project is to return the building to its original use," says Howard.

"The library was originally part of the Institute and was re-located to a pre-fabricated building across town in the 1960's. But now it's back.

"The Institute library was apparently one of the best stocked libraries in South Wales. There were numerous first edition books here and lots of miners learned to read here — my father being one of them. "Institutes like this were considered to be the 'Universities of the Valleys' and people like Aneurin Bevan even taught themselves to read in places like this."