In its heyday Merthyr Tydfil was the biggest town in Wales. At its lowest point it was hit by economic turmoil and high unemployment. But the area’s fortunes have improved in recent years after investment in the Arts and the Welsh language through Canolfan Soar, a Welsh language centre which is bringing many social and economic benefits to the area.

In 2011 the former Zoar Chapel in Merthyr Tydfil reopened its doors as Canolfan Soar, a Welsh language centre which provides a variety of opportunities to the people of Merthyr Tydfil through the Arts, culture and heritage.

By 2015, when a specialist research firm was hired to assess the economic and cultural impact of Canolfan Soar on both the local and wider community, it became clear that the initiative was providing many benefits – both economic and social.

Canolfan Soar is home to a community theatre – Theatr Soar – as well as a Welsh language centre. There’s a cafe, rooms to hire for meetings and training, and office accommodation which local businesses can rent. There’s also a Cylch Meithrin for young children.

Several Welsh language organisations which serve the community of Merthyr Tydfil are also housed at Canolfan Soar, including Menter Iaith Merthyr Tudful, Urdd Gobaith Cymru and Cymraeg i Oedolion.

The research company’s report was published in mid-2015 and makes interesting reading.

The research firm analysed a wide range of data, including audience numbers, expenditure on goods, services and staff, details of any further investment that had been attracted, and details of all revenue generated.

When all the data had been analysed, it was clear that the Canolfan has had a very impressive impact on not only the local community in Merthyr Tydfil, but also for South Wales as a whole.

During 2014:

  • Canolfan Soar generated up to £608,537 for the local economy
  • Across the South Wales economy, the economic impact generated by Canolfan Soar was as much as £1.3m
  • The £173,000 in grants received by Canolfan Soar generated a gross economic impact of as much as £331,170 within Merthyr Tydfil, and up to £709,810 across South Wales
  • Every £1 of income received by Canolfan Soar is worth up to £1.91 within Merthyr Tydfil and as much as £4.10 within the wider South Wales economy

The centre has also brought many social benefits to Merthyr Tydfil.

For example, thanks to providing affordable accommodation for local businesses, Canolfan Soar and its tenants make a positive impact on the local community by employing local people and purchasing from local suppliers

Integrating with other local regeneration schemes, Canolfan Soar’s development means local people have a place to meet, learn, socialise and engage with education and the arts. In this respect, Canolfan Soar is encouraging people back into the town centre, as well as strengthening the position of the Welsh language in an area where the language was in a state of decline for a century (68.4% of the population were Welsh speakers at the 1891 census, compared to 8.9% in 2011).

Canolfan Soar’s mission has always been “to contribute to the regeneration of Merthyr town centre, by providing a place for people to meet, learn, socialise and engage with education and the arts. Its activities aim to raise confidence, increase self esteem and broaden horizons through the arts and education while contributing to local economic development.”

It would seem that Canolfan Soar is not only meeting its objectives, but is far exceeding them by providing so many economic and social benefits to what has for many years been considered one of the most economically disadvantaged parts of the UK.

Could the forthcoming Slate Quay development provide similar benefits to Caernarfon and North Wales? This remains to be seen, but we’re confident that any impact the development has on the area will be very positive indeed.