AFTER a decade of planning, fundraising and feasibility work, a heritage trust is finally starting to restore a vast railway goods shed in Llanelli.
The building was constructed in 1875 at a cost of just over £3,700 and was where all manner of cargo was unloaded from wagons and dispatched by horse and cart and lorry throughout the town.
Among the goods were sheep and cattle which were ushered through the streets to a slaughterhouse on Llanelli’s Swansea Road.
It ceased operation in 1966, although the office building at the western end finally locked its doors in 2000 after a stint as a rail training centre.
Llanelli Railway Goods Shed Trust was set up in 2011 with the aim of restoring the grade two-listed structure and bringing it into community use.
The volunteer organisation has planning permission, listed building consent, funding for the first phase of the project, a contractor, and now – the last piece in the jigsaw – control of the building from Network Rail.
Chairwoman of the trustees, Nia Griffith MP said it was an exciting time.
“One of the great things is the lift it will give to the surrounding area,” she said.
“The building is deteriorating, and unfortunately would have gone to wrack and ruin – another sorry tale of heritage that could have been saved.”
Ms Griffith said the trust was extremely grateful to all organisations which have provided funding.
The first phase is an £850,000 revamp of the office building by Ammanford-based TRJ Ltd to create office and meeting space for organisations, business start-ups and community groups.
The aim is that these tenants will provide a source of revenue, helping the trust move on to the restoration of the main part of the building – the goods shed. Ms Griffith said this large area would be flexible and lend itself to educational uses – potentially including youth theatre – skills training, and meeting other community needs.
She said pupils and teachers from local schools have already been involved, exploring the industrial heritage of the town.
Standing in the cavernous goods shed you can only imagine the din as wheels clanked, wagon doors clattered, and dozens of workers set about ferrying goods to and fro.
A report from 1931, cited in an article by Lyn John and published on Llanelli Community Heritage’s website, said:
“The doors of the wagons are opened to disclose a heterogeneous collection of goods destined for the merchants of the town, cases of butter, wines, various groceries, drugs etc, bags of sugar packages of furniture, wireless sets, agricultural implements, builders materials, castings, crates of bicycles all duly labelled to various consignees for delivery within the established free delivery area of the town, or perhaps beyond, for which an extra charge is made.”
Swansea architect Huw Griffiths, who has been working with the trust on the project, said: “The biggest gift you can get from a listed building is good ventilation and adequate guttering and drainage.
“Fortunately we have been blessed with good ventilation.”
He added: “The big challenge is to ensure the restoration is carried out in a sensitive manner to allow future generations to access and enjoy it.”
Ms Griffith paid tribute to trust secretary Richard Roper for his unstinting efforts.
Mr Roper said:
“I’m interested in heritage buildings, and I used to work for Network Rail.
“There are not many buildings – in terms of railway buildings – of this significance left.
“We’ve had a lot of support from the Railway Heritage Trust, and Network Rail has been very good.”
Bill Kelly, route director, Network Rail Wales and Borders, said it was delighted to be finally handing over the keys to the goods shed and office.
“It’s a magnificent building and such an important part of our railway heritage here in Wales – we can’t wait to see it transformed into a social and economic hub for the local community,” he said.
“This is the result of many years of hard work, and I’d like to thank residents, the trust, and everyone at Network Rail who has helped make this happen.”
The goods shed is in Tyisha ward – one of the more deprived wards in Wales.
Carmarthenshire Council is behind a multi-million plan for Tyisha to build new houses, offices and shops, which incorporates the goods shed scheme.
Ms Griffith thanked the county council for its support.
“There is so much planned for this part of Llanelli and the renovation of the goods shed will give a real boost to the area and will complement the council’s regeneration programme,” she said.
Funding for phase one of the project has come from the county council, Railway Heritage Trust, Welsh Government’s targeted regeneration initiative, Garfield Weston Foundation and the Pilgrim Trust.
A Carmarthenshire Council spokeswoman said it shared the trust’s aspirations of “creating something special”, and that the project tied in with its wider Tyisha plans.
“For now, we are continuing to work closely with the trust, providing advice and guidance on funding streams to ensure that the project is sustainable for the long term,” she said.