Welsh first minister visits Merthyr Synagogue Heritage Centre project

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Welsh first minister visits Merthyr Synagogue Heritage Centre project

"A great pleasure, " says Mark Drakeford during meet with Foundation of Jewish Heritage, the charity behind plans to present the 250+ year history, culture and contribution of the Welsh Jewish community

First Minister receiving commissioned artwork from Michael Mail
First Minister receiving commissioned artwork from Michael Mail

The Welsh first minister has paid a visit to a grade II listed, Victorian Merthyr Tydfil synagogue which is being turned into a Welsh Jewish Heritage Centre.

Mark Drakeford was invited by Dawn Bowden, Member of the Senedd (Welsh Parliament) for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, to find out more about the project, which is being overseen by The Foundation for Jewish Heritage, a charity that owns the synagogue building.

The First Minister was met by Michael Mail, chief executive of the Foundation, and the Heritage Centre project manager Neil Richardson. He received a detailed briefing on progress with the project’s current development phase, and the planned future steps leading to the eventual launch of the Heritage Centre.

Michael Mail, Andrew White, Jennifer Harding-Richards, Neil Richardson, Denise Lewis Poulton, Ashley Davies outside the synagogue

The development work is being carried out by a professional team that includes the project manager, lead architect and design team, cost consultant and community engagement officer.

Once established, the Heritage Centre will present the 250+ year history, culture and contribution of the Welsh Jewish community, and will also address contemporary issues relating to diversity and social inclusion, promoting cross-cultural understanding.

Michael Mail, Dawn Bowden and First Minister reviewing old synagogue deeds

Also taking part in the visit were National Lottery Heritage Fund Wales Chair Denise Lewis Poulton and director Andrew White. The development of the project was made possible as a result of funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Welsh Government and Merthyr Tydfil Country Borough Council.

The synagogue, which opened in 1877, closed in 1983 and had been unused since 2006, its condition deteriorating to the extent that it was formally designated as being at risk. The Foundation bought the building in 2019 with the vision to create the Heritage Centre.

Dawn Bowden, a special ambassador for the project along with local MP Gerald Jones, said: “I am delighted that the First Minister of Wales accepted our invite to visit the synagogue. This is a very important project, not only for the town itself but also to a wider and international community.

Michael Mail describing the Synagogues architecture to the First Minister

“The Foundation for Jewish Heritage has worked very hard to put in place the project team and to develop their plans for the future of the building. I thank the funding partners who have helped the project to get this far. Today we learnt more about their evolving plans. I would urge people to visit the website and read about this project. I wish the Foundation every success as they prepare for future funding bids in order to restore this splendid gothic building as a Welsh Jewish Heritage Centre”.

First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford said: “It is a great pleasure for me to visit this important project and to learn more about the Foundation’s ideas for the future. The development of a sustainable plan for the future of this historic synagogue building is an interesting challenge and today’s discussions have been
a very useful part of that process”.

Andrew White, Director of the National Lottery Heritage Fund in Wales said: “This is a special place in Merthyr and it was lovely to visit and hear more about its history and potential future. It was uplifting to speak with such enthusiastic local people and their connections with the synagogue.. We’re delighted to support the Foundation with a development grant to refine their plans and apply for additional funding to realise their ambitious vision for a Welsh Jewish Heritage Centre.

Michael Mail, Chief Executive, Foundation for Jewish Heritage said: ‘We are thrilled to have the First Minister visit our special synagogue project in the company of Dawn Bowden. Adding to the significance of the day was the fact that we were joined by NLHF Wales Chair Denise Lewis Poulton and Director Andrew White. The visit underscores the importance of this unique project, and we are so grateful to NLHF and the Welsh Government for their financial support which is enabling us to take the project forward.

“This historic synagogue represents shared heritage – it is a recognised Jewish and Welsh landmark building that had fallen into disrepair which we are saving and giving an important new purpose. We are confident that the Heritage Centre will have a big impact, in Merthyr, across Wales and beyond.’

The London-based Foundation for Jewish Heritage works internationally on the preservation of Jewish heritage at risk.

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