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Afan Lido and its colourful past
Afan Lido sign
The lido was 'a symbol of new prosperity in the 1960s'

The Afan Lido at Aberafan has been more than just a leisure centre.

It was a music venue, a community centre and had real importance for the local economy.

Badly damaged by fire in December 2009, it had been officially opened by the Queen in June 1965.

The building was able to host large-scale concerts, and the bands who played there crossed musical eras, from Spencer Davies to Pink Floyd and more recently Coldplay and McFly.

Its first manager was Graham Jenkins, the brother of the legendary actor Richard Burton, who was born in nearby Pontrhydyfen.

Mr Jenkins said: "I knew I was going to be the manager in advance, and I watched every brick being put up there.

"When the Queen came to open it in June 1965, it rained torrentially - it was impossible to go outside.

The Afan Lido at Aberafan, pictured in the mid-1960s
He very kindly put a couple of bottles in the cabinet of my office so that next time he called, I'd have a bottle there for him!
Graham Jenkins, Afan Lido's first manager, on his actor brother Richard Burton

"We had all the big names there - Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Vera Lynn."

Among those names was Richard Burton himself, though his visits were on a more unofficial basis.

Mr Jenkins said: "He did visit, Liz [Taylor] didn't, but Richard came a couple of times to the Sportsmen's Bar. He very kindly put a couple of bottles in the cabinet of my office so that next time he called, I'd have a bottle there for him!"

"But this fire, this fire, is a terrible blow for the people of the town."
During the 1984-5 miners' strike, the Afan Lido was used for union rallies.

Cultural historian Peter Stead recalled how, at a time when passions were running high, the TUC's general secretary Norman Willis was filmed by television addressing a rally there. As he urged the strikers not to resort to violence on the picket line, a noose was dangled from above.

He said, "The Afan Lido was was the first modern building of its type in Wales - it represented the beginning of a new age and was seen very much as a turning point.

"In those days Port Talbot was a prosperous town - the steelworkers were very highly paid and the lido was a symbol of that new industrial prosperity."

I really feel for the people of Port Talbot and hope that like the phoenix it will rise again from the ashes
Meyrick Sheen, father of actor Michael Sheen

When first built, its facilities included a 50m competition swimming pool, which was later converted into a 25m leisure pool.

'Bitter blow'

Meyrick Sheen, the father of another big name actor, Michael Sheen - star of such films as Frost/Nixon and The Damned United - said: "It is a bitter blow.

"We've attended many events there from sports events, boxing to concerts, everything, over many years.

"The reason that they had music was because they had a big sports hall with moveable seats - so they could take the seats out and stage concerts with the bigger bands. At one time it was one of the biggest venues in south Wales.

Miners' leader Arthur Scargil rallies pitmen during the 1984-5 strike
Miners' leader Arthur Scargill rallies pitmen during the 1984-5 strike

"I really feel for the people of Port Talbot and hope that like the phoenix it will rise again from the ashes."

Bands who played at the venue included Motorhead, Pink Floyd, Coldplay, Catatonia, UB40, Manic Street Preachers, The Jam, Super Furry Animals, and McFly.

Uncle Bryn

Briton Ferry town mayor and local historian Hugh James said: "It was the most modern building of its type - it had an Olympic-sized swimming pool in the early days.

"People from Neath, Port Talbot, Bridgend even, and surrounding areas would all come to it.

"There used to be a character there called Uncle Bryn, Bryn Thomas, who looked after a lot of the entertainment - he was well known to all the people locally.

A swimming competition when the venue staged the Urdd Eisteddfod in 1983
A swimming contest when the venue staged the 1983 Urdd isteddfod

"At that time people did not go abroad for their holidays and he would be down on the beach organising a typical holiday-camp type entertainment - he was marvellous."

"But they had all the top events there as well. I really feel for the people of the local area and the local authority."

Steven Stokes, who grew up in Port Talbot, said: "It really is gut wrenching to see the desecration of the Lido.

"It may seem strange to some people that a 'leisure centre' could cause so much of a reaction amongst the people of the town, but its been a big part of many people's lives.

"Personally, I learned to swim there; I played football there - both outdoors and indoors - over the years; school sports activities revolved around it; I completed part of my GCSE PE studies course within the lido; it was my local gym for a time. I think it's the same for a lot of people."

Asbestos found at lido fire site
23 Dec 09 |  South west
'Devastated' by Afan Lido fire
17 Dec 09 |  Wales
Promise to replace fire-hit lido
17 Dec 09 |  South west
100 firefighters tackle lido fire
16 Dec 09 |  South west


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