YMCA to operate ‘transformed’ historic cinema in Port Talbot

YMCA to operate ‘transformed’ historic cinema in Port Talbot

Once it was packed with people eager to see the latest offering from Hollywood. These days it’s a dilapidated wreck with just echoes of its former self.

Old Plaza Cinema lobby
Old Plaza Cinema lobby

From the outside it still boasts that classic cinema architecture, which is why it’s Grade II listed.

People no doubt stroll by and wonder what’s left behind that 1930s facade.

Now they can see for themselves, thanks to new images released by Neath Port Talbot Council at the same time as plans are moved forward to bring the building back into use.

Derelict, decaying and with holes in the roof, the pictures show the art-deco cinema as a sad shadow of its former glory, having welcomed the young Anthony Hopkins and Richard Burton in its heyday.

The old ice cream and cafe area (Image: Neath Port Talbot Council)
Entering the building, a dirty old ‘Cafe / Pepsi’ sign hangs above the entrance as a promise of what’s inside.

In the foyer, where people would have bought their tickets from the person in the little booth, paint is peeling from the walls and wooden doors and frames are beginning to slowly rot.

A ‘Reserved’ sign still hangs on the door to the ticket booth, but these days, no-one is taking advantage of the privilege.

Tables sit empty in front of the old ice cream concession, and what looks like an old bottle of lucozade sits on one of them.

Large slithers of ceiling hang down above it.

In the cinema itself, the large white screen is still there, nothing having played on it since Prince of Egypt in 1999, the rows of seats in traditional cinema burgundy, all empty with nothing to see.

A mucky grime covers the once white walls.

Those walls are missing in places, along with bits of the roof, sunlight shining in through overgrown vegetation, a scene ironically reminiscent of the post-apocalyptic worlds so often served up by Hollywood.

But all this could soon change.

In a £6.5m project led by Neath Port Talbot Council, the building is to be transformed into a new community and business hub, operated by YMCA Port Talbot on a 25-year lease.

With builders expected to be on site in December, and a 15-month construction period, it is due to open in early 2021.

And while the new development will no longer have a cinema screen in it, its operators do have their own links with the big screen.

Sir Anthony Hopkins is the patron of YMCA Port Talbot, the place where as a teenager he discovered an acting group preparing for an Easter play.

Joining in, he found himself on stage with a sheet over his head and got to perform one line.

The new plans for the building involve demolishing part of the back of the cinema but the old cinema’s distinctive facade will be retained.

On the ground floor there will be two retail units at the front, with a community shop and cafe area being spoken of, a training kitchen area, a digital area and a large recreational hall which could take up to 250 people for an event.

The training kitchen will be used to help homeless people that have links with the YMCA to gain experience and skills that could help them gain future employment.

The Plaza cinema – key facts

The Plaza Cinema, Port Talbot, 1974

  • The Plaza cinema was built in 1939 and opened in April 1940.
  • Port Talbot-born stars Richard Burton and Sir Anthony Hopkins were among its early customers.
  • It initally closed as a cinema in 1983 when it was converted into a bingo club.
  • It reopened as a cinema on October 18 1985.
  • The cinema showed its last movie (Prince of Egypt) on January 4 1999.
  • The cinema was listed Grade II on August 4 1999 because it was considered a very rare example in Wales of 1930s cinema architecture, with an interior which was largely intact.

In 2009 Neath Port Talbot Council acquired the cinema with the aim of safeguarding the building and developing a future use.

In October 2017, the council received a ‘funding in principle’ offer of a £5.5m European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government’s Building for the Future programme.

The council’s head of regeneration, Simon Brennan, said: “We needed something that was sustainable in order to satisfy our funders.

“The building will be open from first thing in the morning right through to the evening, and offer the community quite widespread opportunities.”

The plans for the revamped Plaza have been put forward by Neath Port Talbot Council (Image: GWP)

It would offer a series of new spaces for the benefit of the community including a cafe, kitchen and gym

The first floor will include space for starter businesses or hot-desking with an emphasis on creative industries.

There will also be a gym with a focus on cardiovascular workouts geared to people who wouldn’t normally use a gym.

Then on the top floor there will be more office space for people who may want to work remotely but don’t have the space at home.

Council leader Rob Jones said: “The feedback we have had so far on the plans has been overwhelmingly positive.

“The building has been vacant for over a decade.

“People have fond memories of the building and want to see it used for the benefit of the community and local businesses.

“We have been meeting with representatives from the Plaza campaign group looking at various options which ranged from theatres to art centres.

“We have now gone out for a pre-planning application consultation and once that has finished, there will be a full planning application.”

Meyrick Sheen, the father of Hollywood star Michael Sheen, has been involved in discussions to re-develop the Plaza for a number of years and will be involved in the project as a member of the YMCA Port Talbot board of trustees.

Dinosaur fans fill the foyer of the Plaza, Port Talbot, in 1993 as the rush to view Jurassic Park begins (Image: South Wales Evening Post)

He said: “I am very, very happy that the re-development of this iconic building is now progressing well to the planning stage and I will be pleased to be involved in the development of the Plaza as a new community hub for Port Talbot right in the centre of town.

“As someone who has worked for many years to ensure this building has a future it is fantastic to see the plans are now starting to come to fruition.”

The cinema was acquired by Neath Port Talbot Council in 2009 with the aim of safeguarding the building and developing a future use.

Andy Brown, chief executive of YMCA Port Talbot, said: “The new Plaza will enable the YMCA to expand and develop in the town, providing new services and opportunities to local residents, businesses and other community groups.

“When it opens, we will be able to offer state-of-the-art, modern facilities creating a step change in the sort of things that we can deliver, whilst at the same time honouring the proud history and heritage that the building already has.”

The council has commissioned Asbri Planning Ltd to undertake the pre-application consultation on the proposals.

Anyone wishing to make comments on the proposals has until July 1.

Source: WalesOnline

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