Page last updated at 18:41 GMT, Thursday, 29 July 2010 19:41 UK
Eisteddfod's role in regeneration of Ebbw Vale
Eisteddfod Maes in Ebbw Vale
The eisteddfod Maes takes shape on the former steelworks site

Civic leaders in Blaenau Gwent are hoping that the National Eisteddfod in Ebbw Vale will help the regeneration of the area.

The annual cultural festival is taking place on a former steelworks site which has been earmarked for redevelopment.

The vacant site gave Blaenau Gwent a one-off opportunity to host the event before construction begins on the £300m regeneration project at The Works.

The eisteddfod starts on Saturday and continues until 7 August.

Organisers hope to attract about 150,000 visitors over the week to see nearly 4,500 competitors and some 300 stalls and stands.

Only Boys Aloud on board a train
Only Men Aloud have been training a choir of boys to sing at the eisteddfod

Research into the 2006 and 2008 Eisteddfods indicates the event can generate as much as £8m for the local economy of the host area.

The eisteddfod field - the Maes - has been created on a large area of the 185-acre former steelworks site, which has been cleared for housing, education, arts, leisure, business and transport use.

Des Hillman, leader of Blaenau Gwent council said: "As the site is ready for redevelopment, we can host the National Eisteddfod.

"This is an exciting opportunity to demonstrate that we have the confidence to stage one of the biggest cultural festivals in Europe, to attract 150,000 visitors and bring the best in the arts, science and technology as well as economic benefits to our area.

"We are taking a giant step forward to making Blaenau Gwent a better place to live, to work and to visit."

The Works redevelopment is a partnership between Blaenau Gwent council and the Welsh Assembly Government aimed at bringing fresh prosperity to the Heads of the Valleys after the decline of heavy industry.

Ebbw Vale was dominated by its steelworks when the town last hosted the National Eisteddfod in 1958.

Aneurin Bevan and Paul Robeson at the 1958 eisteddfod
Proud valley: Aneurin Bevan invited Paul Robeson to the 1958 eisteddfod

The American singer and activist Paul Robeson gave a speech at the event as a guest of Aneurin Bevan, the former Labour cabinet minister who was MP for Ebbw Vale at the time.

There was also a lively debate about the breaking of the well established "Welsh rule" to allow Bevan and others to speak in English from the Pavilion stage.

Bevan used the occasion to call for an end to the term 'Wales and Monmouthshire', which was still in common use at the time due to historical ambiguity about the border county's legal status.

More than half a century later the eisteddfod returns to Ebbw Vale with its traditional fare of Welsh music, art and culture along with a number of 21st Century innovations.

These include an art exhibition in an underground bunker, robots playing football, and an iPhone application to give visitors information about the week's events and attractions.

Paul Robeson's granddaughter Susan will attend as a visiting fellow of Swansea University, which is unveiling an educational resource based on his life and work and inviting people to share their memories of him.

Richard Davies, chair of the Blaenau Gwent and Heads of the Valleys eisteddfod's executive committee, said: "The eisteddfod's visit is a great opportunity for us to show the rest of Wales what the valleys have to offer.

"People still think that they're quite dull places with scarred industrial landscapes, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Silent film showing preparations for the 1958 National Eisteddfod in Ebbw Vale

"We live in an exceptionally beautiful area, and there's also a real welcome here - a real Valleys welcome - and this is what's waiting for people from across the whole of Wales."

"We've made great progress over the past 18 months, with committees, activities, fundraising and so on - it's been so busy, but it's also been a lot of fun.

"There's a good crowd of people who've been working locally, and they've all worked so hard to make sure that next week goes well, not only for us here locally but for the whole country."

As part of the Sunday free entry scheme 20,000 tickets have been given out.

The eisteddfod will be preceded by a concert on Friday starring Only Men Aloud and a choir of boys from across the valleys who they have trained especially for the occasion.

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