As someone who loves live music, it’s been heartbreaking to see so many venues closing. I grew up in Carmarthen, where the Parrot closed (and has now fortunately re-opened after a successful crowdfunding campaign), and even in my new home of Cardiff venues like the Barfly closed due to lack of funds. If venues face problems in a city like Cardiff, what chance of survival do they have in a small town like Bethesda?
Well as it turns out, the chances are pretty good. Neuadd Ogwen has made the most of a Chairman and staff who are passionate about the culture of the town. And when we visited, the hall was getting set to host Sweet Baboo, Welsh Music Prize nominee and darling of 6 Music.
The venue has been a community hall for over 100 years, and in that time it’s been used for several purposes, including selling animals and concerts.
A couple of years ago the Tabernacle made a bid to take over the hall and make it a professional venue with good lighting, whilst focusing on the needs of the local community. As we’re living in a time where public funds are scarce, it’s likely that several voluntary organisations and Town and Community Councils will find themselves in similar situations.
Dyfrig Jones, the Chairman of the Tabernacle, did all the groundwork by taking care of the paperwork that made the dream into a reality. And although the building is now open, there’s still a lot of scope for the hall to host a wide range of projects. I spoke to Dilwyn Llwyd, the Hall Manager, about how they have made the building available for as many purposes as possible.
Firstly, they identified potential sources of income, because more activities means more use by the community. They created a questionnaire to source ideas and identify members of the public that might want to volunteer – about 50 as it turns out. The next step is for these volunteers to be fully trained, on food safety for example, so that they can boost the hall’s income by making as much use as possible of the cafe and bar.
The results of the questionnaire also helped create the hall’s programme. People have brought their own ideas (like yoga) to the hall. There is also a market once a month, kickboxing, events for the elderly, concerts and Cawl a Chan (‘soup and song’) nights, as well as one-off events like birthday parties and weddings.
The hall also acts as a cinema – they show 3 films a month. Children’s films are especially popular, as the nearest cinema is quite a distance away. All of these activities increase the number of visitors, and the high footfall ensures that people are aware of what is happening on a regular basis. And of course because this is a community project, all the profit is re-invested back into the hall. The venue has a target of being open for 100 hours a week, which is ambitious. But it helps the staff to focus on how they can promote the use of the hall for the benefit of the community.
It was interesting to hear how Neuadd Ogwen have made the most of the Jobs Growth Wales scheme to boost the capacity of venue staff. The scheme has allowed them to employ two members of staff to do the marketing, administration and to look after the facility. This has enabled Dilwyn to focus on the hall’s programme and the day to day management.
So the hall is not just looking to survive, it’s set to thrive. And because it’s looking at all the needs of the community as a whole, it is well placed to do so. I’m looking forward to seeing a gig there next time I’m in the North.