31 March 2008
Plans for Ebbw Vale to host a unique multi-million pound high-tech visitor centre for the Heads of the Valleys were announced today by Leighton Andrews, Deputy Minister for Regeneration.
Mr Andrews, who chairs the Welsh Assembly Government’s Heads of the Valleys programme, said the centre which would have a family history theme, would be based at The General Offices - an imposing Grade 11* Listed building at the heart of the £300m redevelopment of The Works, the former Ebbw Vale Steelworks site.
He said the vision is to create a place where the very latest technologies will be used to bring history to life at the touch of a finger tip through a range of highly imaginative and innovative ways, using interactive displays, touch screens and 3D displays.
“Our aim is to create a family attraction that will be technology driven, easy to use and an interesting and fun experience for people of all ages, building on the growing fascination with family history.
“People will be able to access information about their own history through the most up-to-date technology. This is an opportunity to build on this global interest in family history and create something that will be unique.”
Genealogy is one of today’s fastest growing leisure industries and pursuits that has gained momentum through mediums such as BBC’s Who do you think you are, and on-line services such as Ancestry.co.uk which has nearly three million members. Although still in its initial early planning stages the Deputy Minister described it as an exciting and ambitious project that could provide a huge boost for the region and become a key tourist attraction that would link in to heritage sites across the South Wales valleys.
Cllr Hedley McCarthy, Leader of Blaenau Gwent Council, said that the project was part of the local authority’s strategy for restoring heritage buildings for community use.
“The restoration of the General Offices is a significant part of The Works partnership project – and part of our strategy for reviving heritage buildings like Bedwellty House, the Met at Abertillery and Llanhilleth Institute for visitors and the local community.
“I worked in the General Offices for more than half my 30 years service with British Steel – including the last three years when I was secretary of the multi-union works council – and I am confident the restored building will be at the hub of our visitor economy.
“Around 500,000 people left these Valleys looking for work between the wars and we expect to attracting tens of thousands of their descendants back to find out about their family heritage at the visitor centre and record office.”
A feasibility study is underway to look at ways of harnessing and maximising the tremendous interest in genealogy. Discussions are also being held with other local authorities to explore the feasibility of moving the Gwent Record Office into the site and talks are also on going with a number of private sector organisations that are leading this field.
The project is led by the Heads of the Valleys regeneration team and officials at The Works, a joint venture regeneration programme by Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council and the Assembly Government.