A LISTED Swansea chapel which was built for the extravagant sum of £18,000 is getting a helping hand from the council.
Morriston Tabernacle Chapel needs support with a project to create a hall and spaces to hire in the vestry, along with a new kitchen and toilets.
Like many places of worship congregation numbers have dwindled, maintenance costs risen, and the need to forge a viable future become increasingly pressing.
A group called the Tabernacle Morriston Congregation Charitable Incorporated Organisation will now get council help to manage the vestry project.
A report before the council’s cabinet said: “If this capital project doesn’t move forward, it will likely lead to the closure of the building within the next two to three years.”
It said the building would then become an eyesore on the main shopping street in Morriston, and added: “If left to deteriorate further there would be a significant threat of the 160ft spire collapsing onto the surrounding streets and buildings. Both (Welsh heritage body) Cadw officers and the council conservation officer have recently noted that the Tabernacle is at risk due to sustained water ingress in the tower area.”
The report said the chapel was one of only three grade one listed buildings in Swansea, the other two being the Guildhall and Swansea Castle.
The council will also help with chapel grant applications, and the project will lead to a new volunteering programme and potentially heritage tours.
Morriston and the Lower Swansea Valley are synonymous with tinplate and copper production and rapid industrialisation. Rural workers who became swept up in the non-conformity religious movement poured into the area – and the Tabernacle chapel was completed in 1872 for £18,000.
Chapel secretary David Gwyn John, known to most people as David Gwyn, said a £2,000 or £3,000 outlay was considered normal at the time for a new chapel. “Morriston at the time was Swansea’s powerhouse,” he said. “That’s where the money was.”
Architect and carpenter John Humphrey based the chapel on one in Leeds which, according to Mr John, was now Britain’s largest Indian restaurant.
Mr John said the vestry had been cleared ahead of the renovation project, which he estimated would cost around £750,000. The work has planning consent and tenders have been received from contractors.
Mr John said sufficient funds had been secured to appoint a contractor and he hoped that the work might be completed by next summer. He said the chapel currently had 75 members, with average congregations around 30. It also hosts concerts and can seat more than 1,000 people.
Mr John said the tower was a separate issue and that grant funding was being sought to address the water ingress. The aim after that, he said, was to install a lift from vestry area to the chapel above.
Cabinet member and Morriston councillor Andrea Lewis said the Tabernacle chapel was of key historical significance to Swansea. She added that choirs had recently performed there in a concert which raised £36,000 for the Morriston gas explosion fund. The fund was set up following an explosion on March 13 on the junction of Clydach Road and Field Close.
Fellow cabinet member, Cllr Robert Francis-Davies, said it would not take long for the chapel to fall into disrepair without support.
“It does not belong to the council, but we do have an obligation to listed buildings to ensure that they can survive,” he said. “It’s part of our cultural history.”