South Wales Echo
Heritage hub plan for ex-synagogue
A FORMER Merthyr Tydfil synagogue which is to be turned into a Welsh Jewish heritage centre and cultural venue has secured major funding to preserve and repurpose the historic building.
The plan to restore the oldest purpose-built synagogue still standing in Wales has also been boosted by the announcement that Welsh tech billionaire Sir Michael Moritz and comedian David Baddiel have both agreed to become patrons of the project.
After purchasing the site last year, the Foundation for Jewish Heritage has secured major funding, in the form of grants from Cadw, the Welsh Government’s heritage agency, and three major foundations – the Pilgrim Trust, the Los Angeles-based GRoW @ Annenberg and the Philip King Charitable Trust.
In addition, UK body the Architectural Heritage Fund, which has been advising on the project, has provided funding to commission a consultant to carry out research and prepare a detailed business plan to provide vital information on the synagogue’s future use and long-term viability.
The Gothic Revival-style building is considered one of the most architecturally important synagogues in the UK.
Merthyr Tydfil was the industrial powerhouse of Wales in the 19th century, with a large Jewish presence in the town since the 1830s. The synagogue’s construction in 1872 reflected a growing and prospering community.
Worship at the site came to an end in 1983 when the Grade II-listed synagogue was sold. Since 2006 it has been lying empty, its condition deteriorating, with a gaping hole in the roof and broken windows. The seriousness of the threat was recognised when the synagogue became formally designated as a Welsh heritage site at risk.
The Foundation for Jewish Heritage bough the building in 2019 to save it, with the vision of creating a Welsh Jewish heritage centre that would present the 250-plus year history of the Welsh Jewish community, promote intercultural dialogue and provide a new cultural venue for Merthyr.
Gerald Jones, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney MP and Shadow Minister for Wales, said: “I’m delighted that this exciting regeneration project is progressing. The synagogue is an important part of the history of Merthyr Tydfil and I look forward to this building, which has so much character, being brought back into use.
“I will continue to work closely with the Foundation for Jewish Heritage and offer whatever support I can to ensure that the synagogue is fully restored for this and future generations.”
Dawn Bowden, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney MS, said: “This is great news for the town as this significant building moves ever closer to being restored and can therefore play a part in our future, as it did in the past.
“I am particularly pleased that Cadw has been able to provide funding and my thanks to the other organisations who are also funding to bring this important project forward.”
Michael Mail, chief executive of the
Foundation for Jewish Heritage, added: “The listed Victorian Merthyr Tydfil synagogue is an important piece of Jewish and Welsh heritage.
“Its very future has been in doubt, which is why the foundation decided to intervene. We hope to preserve the building and, while respecting its past, give it a meaningful role for today’s society.”
■ Find out more at www.foundationforjewishheritage.com