Mazel tov to the Foundation for Jewish Heritage (FJH), which has obtained major funding for the urgent preservation work entailed in the next stage of its flagship project to restore and repurpose the long-derelict Gothic revival synagogue in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales as a Welsh Jewish Heritage Center.
The Foundation purchased the abandoned building last year. Dating from 1872, it is the oldest purpose-built synagogue still standing in Wales.
In an announcement Friday, the Foundation said it had received 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 for emergency preservation work.
In addition, UK heritage body the Architectural Heritage Fund, which has been advising on the project, has provided funding through its project viability grants program “to enable the commissioning of a consultant to carry out research and prepare a detailed business plan.”
FJH CEO Michael Mail told JHE that the grants fully funded the £125,000 that preliminary analysis showed were needed to carry out work to safeguard the building and make it watertight. He said Cadw is covering around 50 percent of the repair work costs, and the three trusts are providing matching grants.
On-site work, he said, is due to start at the end of July.
Among the tasks will be removal of asbestos, internal cleaning, repair of holes in the roof, securing and shoring up flooring, protective sealing of windows, clearing of some invasive vegetation, and inspection and testing of walls, beams, and other parts of the structure.
The stone-built synagogue, a Grade II listed building, is considered architecturally one of the most important synagogues in the UK. It was sold in 1983 when the Jewish community disbanded. It was then used as a community center and a gym, but has been standing empty and deteriorating since 2006.
“The very fabric of the building has been compromised with a gaping hole in the roof and broken windows,” the FJH said.
The seriousness of the threat was recognised when the synagogue became formally designated as a Welsh heritage site at risk.
The Foundation’s vision is to create a “Welsh Jewish Heritage Centre” that would “present the 250+ year history of the Welsh Jewish community, promote inter-cultural dialogue and provide a new cultural venue for Merthyr.”
Local officials and others have expressed strong support for the project and satisfaction that the urgent works can go forward.
“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,” Dawn Bowden, Member of the Senedd/Welsh Parliament for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney said in a statement. “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 forwards.”
Prior to purchasing the building, the Foundation had commissioned Marcus Roberts of JTrails to carry out a feasibility study funded by the Muriel and Gershon Coren Charitable Trust, a key supporter and funder of the Merthyr synagogue project. The late Gershon Coren, who died in 2008 at the age of 90, was born in Merthyr on a family visit from London to visit cousins there, and the town is thus held in special regard by the Coren’s son, Tony, a trustee of the foundation.