When we took over the building it was in a very bad way, well you can imagine that after being unused for 25 years it would be. It was originally part of the comprehensive school at Willowtown, and below is a picture of the actual main rehearsal room as it was in 1913/14, with a cookery class being
of the domes-
blocks at Will-
You can see
the big old fashioned stove in the back of the picture, behind the teacher.
The BBC preserved the room as it was, with a new lick of paint, but however due to modern fire regulations the wonderful door and windows in the right hand side of the picture had to be replaced.
(above, Willowtown School, 1915).
When the old Grammer School was transformed into a Junior Comprehensive School, Willowtown School became a Junior and Infants School, There was no need for a Domestic Science Block in a junior school so it fell unused, it would be too expensive for the council to knock down or renovate so it was leased to us for £10.00 a year. in fact the school was the largest in the area, although sadly following the opening of a brand new state of the art school, the old unoccupied school was devastated by a major fire and demolished in November 2007.
Luckly our building although on the same site was unaffected by the fire.
After numerous meetings and appeals by the end of May 2000 we seemed to be getting absolutely nowhere, we were beginning to think about having to let the building go, as we could see no possible chance of usimg the building in the near future. The unused science block was too expensive for the council to knock down or renovate so it was leased to us for £10.00 a year
A DIY SOS
Our luck changed completely in June 2000 when, following a letter by the building committee's
secretary, Carol Webb,
we had a call from the
BBC 'DIY SOS' programme
who said that they wanted
to take a look at the building.
The building was in such
a state that we all assumed
that they wouldn't want to
touch it, at the time there
was not even any running
water or electricity.
To all of our amazement they got back in touch with us to tell us that they were making a summer special of the programme and that they definately wanted to use our building in the programme, as it would be the most challenging task they had ever done.
We were all obviously quite excited about the prospect of not only having our own building that we could actually use to rehearse but also that we were going to be on television. We then met with the producers of the programme who wanted to explain the process, they told us that they would start filming in a fortnight, we couldn't believe what was happening.
The first thing that needed to could start filming was that the building needed, this meant completely re-wiring the two story building in the course of one weekend, by a stroke of luck the chairman Robert Cotton, happens to a qualified electrician and immediately agreed to re-wire the building with the help of Lyndon Marshall (Deputy Chairman). The local community and businesses were also great and E.W.S, Electrical Wholesalers, Tredegar supplied all of the electrical supplies free of charge.
Filming took place in July and the effects were astonishing, you can see the difference, the picture above is the main rehearsal room before the transformation, also pictured above are designer, Bridgett, and Bob the Builder. Below is the same room after the room was completed with the full team.
Acorn windows kindly
donated the front doors, Ikea
donated items and since the
show Alan's Furtishers of
Brynmawr very kindly
donated a new carpet for
the workshop room.
Many other donations were
made, and we are very
grateful to everyone,
including the BBC team, who
have now became very close friends with the society, after the programme they came in bulk to watch our production of 'Children of Eden'.
Since the program aired in September 2000 we have been using the building for all rehearsals, we also had a fantastic grant of £60,000 from the Silent Valley Trust to install new double glazing windows, a brand new floor in the main rehearsal room, and other improvements throughout the building. Following discussions with the local council who had plans to demolish the building it was agreed that the building was providing a great service to young people in the community, having a new lease of life, doing the job it was originally intended to do, educate young people.