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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 March 2008, 18:22 GMT
Blaenavon heritage centre opened
First Minister Rhodri Morgan at the Blaenavon centre
First Minister Rhodri Morgan at the Blaenavon centre
The UK's first dedicated World Heritage Centre has been officially opened in the south Wales valleys.

First Minister Rhodri Morgan opened the 2.7m visitors' centre on the site of a once rundown school in Blaenavon.

The former ironworks town in Torfaen won world heritage status in 2000 and the council estimates 40m has since been spent on regenerating the town.

The town has been transformed and Mr Morgan said the special status had proved a catalyst for regeneration.

Unesco designated the town and surrounding area a world heritage site because of the importance of south Wales as the "world's major producer of iron and coal in the 19th century".

The organisation said the "components of the Blaenavon industrial landscape make up an outstanding and remarkably complete example of a 19th Century industrial landscape".

Blaenavon Library before regeneration
Blaenavon library has been transformed from this...

The World Heritage Centre has been built in the former St Peter's School in the town, a Victorian building which closed in the 1980s and had become a local eyesore.

Nearly 1.2m from the Heritage Lottery Fund has been spent with support funding from other public bodies.

Inside the centre, exhibitions and interactive computers will explain how and why Blaenavon was given the same world heritage site honour as India's Taj Mahal and the Acropolis in Athens.

Torfaen Council said since the exclusive status was granted, projects to improve the town include 7m being given to some of its 6,000 residents to renovate the outsides of their homes, while 800,000 has been spent on Blaenavon library, and shops in the main street have been repaired and restored.

The town has also garnered a growing reputation as a book town.

Torfaen Library now
...into this since world heritage status was granted

Torfaen Council leader Bob Wellington said Blaenavon had an important role during the industrial revolution.

"Iron was exported from this town and used around the world to construct everything from railways to buildings.

Mr Morgan said: "Achieving world heritage status has proved to be the catalyst for regeneration of this area.

"In fact, research shows than Blaenavon is the UK world heritage site which has benefitted most from world heritage status."

Mr Morgan added: "A derelict building has been brought back to life in order to offer local people and visitors an excellent facility that will support the growth of the tourism sector in Blaenavon and the wider heads of the valleys area."

Dan Clayton Jones, chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund for Wales said, the project had helped to turn around Blaenavon's fortunes.

He said it was a fantastic example of the positive impact lottery players' money can have in terms of conservation and regeneration and was "bringing a sense of pride back into the community."



SEE ALSO
Leisure centre to be demolished
19 Jul 07 |  South East Wales
What is a World Heritage site?
06 Apr 99 |  UK News

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