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The case for a valleys heritage offer

January 26th 2021

Lloyd Jones sets out the case for a coherent heritage ‘offer’ across the valleys

Caerphilly castle 1

Photo of Caerphilly Castle by MOT15 on Pixabay

Making the most of our valleys heritage

The diversity of heritage assets in the valleys is striking. There are over twenty museums as diverse as a baked bean museum in Port Talbot through to Caerphilly Castle. Currently these are run by different organisations from statutory organisation through to small community groups or even individuals. Some are well known, national historic sites – others are hidden gems, relatively unknown except locally and sometimes quite literally hidden. Developing and bringing together this heritage through a coherent offer could raise their profile and widen the fantastic heritage experience available in the area.

Working under a coherent strategy is possible. National Museum Wales currently manages seven museums spread across all Wales. Valleys Regional Park has twelve ‘discovery gateways’ managed by different local authorities, each offering a unique experience for the visitor.

There are plans in place to promote the heritage landscape of Merthyr Tydfil and see it become a leading tourist destination. The plans look to repair the iconic Cyfarthfa Castle and blast furnace to create a new 100 hectare heritage park as well as ‘re-discover’ assets like Pont-y-Cafnau bridge. The bridge is the oldest iron bridge in the world. Incredibly, it is currently difficult to access and sits rather unloved behind an industrial estate. There are plans too to create Wales’ first Forest Town in Treherbert with a zip line and roller-coaster opening on the site of Tower Colliery and re-open the Rhondda Tunnel that ran between the Rhondda Fawr and Afan valleys as a cycle way. Once open, the tunnel would become the world’s second longest tunnel cycle way.

Collaboration not competition

Rather than see these places compete for visitors or funding, they should be promoted and developed as part of a valleys wide experience. The plans at Cyfarthfa already look to link to Merthyr’s other assets such as Bike Park Wales. Something encompassing the whole south Wales valleys – its industrial and social heritage within an incredible landscape would be a natural progression. Why not consider a valleys heritage ticket that promotes multiple attractions under one banner? Alongside guides that encompass the whole valleys area on where to stay, eat out and shop – to support local businesses and drive trade their way. There is even potential for job creation in managing the sites, specialised maintenance roles, wardens, digital marketing and so on.

Part of a post-Covid recovery

While we cannot enjoy this type of vision with the current restrictions in place, it is one that can be realised when circumstances change and we can once again venture out. The heritage sector will need a boost and this type of offer is a great way to do that. Covid has allowed for a renewed appreciation for where we live. It is an opportune time for a fresh approach and to use heritage as an integral part of post-covid recovery plans as outlined in our recent valleys manifesto.

The south Wales valleys have fantastic heritage assets that are currently under-utilised and some little known. By ensuring that all heritage assets are under one coherent umbrella it can deliver mutual benefits for all of them, driving up visits and increased appreciation of what is on offer. This ensures that the heritage assets in the valleys can reach their full potential in providing benefits for all who live here.

Lloyd Jones is a project support officer at the Bevan Foundation

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