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In November 2011, the Caerphilly Miners’ Hospital closed its doors and was demolished.
But volunteers led a campaign to preserve part of the hospital – the Beeches Building – and turn it into a community centre.
Now, nearly ten years after the hospital’s closure, Caerphilly resident and volunteer Katherine Hughes – who spearheaded the campaign to preserve the much-loved building – has been recognised for her efforts.
Katherine, 72, who is now the secretary of the Caerphilly Miners’ Centre, won the Community and Charity category at the National Lottery Awards, ahead of volunteers from across the UK.
The Miners’ Centre was backed to the tune of £250,000 by the National Lottery before it opened in 2015.
The award was presented to Katherine by singer-songwriter Cerys Matthews, who was at the Miners’ Centre on Tuesday, October 12.
Cerys, the former lead singer of Catatonia, was given a tour of the Miners’ Centre, alongside Blondel Cluff, chair of the National Lottery Community Fund, before the award was presented to Katherine.
The story behind the Miners’ Centre
In 2006, after first hearing about plans to close and demolish the hospital, Katherine knocked on neighbours’ doors to gather their views.
By 2008, a group was set up with the aim of preserving the hospital for community use, with Katherine appointed as its secretary.
Seven years later, the building reopened to the community following a large fundraising push, which saw £250,000 of Lottery funding given to the project.
This, combined with donations from other bodies, including the council and Welsh Government, as well as the public, helped the project reach its £925,000 target.
The centre now offers a range of activities, such as language, art, fitness, knitting and dance classes, as well as buddy schemes and other social activities.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, many activities have been held remotely using video conferencing apps like Zoom, while classes have also been held to teach people how to use virtual technology.
“Absolutely over the moon”
After receiving the award, Katherine told Caerphilly Observer: “I’m absolutely over the moon. I really can’t believe it.
“It is nice to have an award and for people to come along and listen to what we’ve been doing.
“Last night, I was stewarding and we had a new person coming to yoga and she sat down and said: ‘This is such a lovely building. I used to deliver papers here when I was a child’.
“I just think it’s so lovely to hear stories about people coming back to a building where they had a link.”
Katherine said applying for National Lottery Funding was “challenging”, but the rigorous process helped “enormously” in creating a sustainable plan and vision for the centre.
She said: “Projects don’t just happen. We started by building everything in small building blocks. So we’ve grown projects, and then we’ve grown the infrastructure and we’ve grown the community engagement over several years.
“We’ve got quite strong foundations now. Having funding is fine, but you’ve actually got to realise what the purpose is, who you’re working with, how it’s going to work, who’s going to benefit from it and who is going to help with it. So all those things have to come together. It can’t just have money.”
The Miners’ Centre opened to the public six years ago, but work is still ongoing to add more rooms.
A number of businesses have also moved in or will be moving in, with a range of activities such as language learning, knitting, technology classes, children’s activities and more also taking place at the centre.
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Cerys Matthews described Katherine as “remarkable” and said she was “utterly inspired” by what she has achieved with the Miners’ Centre.
Speaking to Caerphilly Observer, Cerys said: “To come here and meet this extraordinary lady Katherine Hughes and see the fruits of her efforts and the community’s efforts is utterly, utterly inspirational.
“It’s humbling and inspirational in short. I’m so glad that this building, which served the community, is still here now for the community of today and the future.”
“We all know how much effort it takes to work with bureaucracy and to work without the funds. What Katherine has done is hard and takes a lot of energy.”
Cerys added: “It really is a hub of the community. Community is everything – without community, you’re just floating on this little tiny desert island on your own and to me, that’s not much life. Life is about the people around you and being a useful part of it.”
Blondel Cluff, Chair of the National Lottery Community Fund, said: “It’s a tremendous honour for me to meet people who have that extra something, and by that I mean the ability to draw in not only their local community, but to inspire potentially hundreds of communities across the whole of the United Kingdom.
“People will look at what Katherine’s done here in Caerphilly and they will learn from it and be inspired by it. You can’t help but be inspired by Caerphilly. It’s a wonderful place and these are wonderful people.”
Caerphilly Senedd Member Hefin David said: “Katherine is a key figure within our local community and has built a real sense of unity through the regeneration of what was the Miners’ Hospital. The building continues to be an important landmark in Caerphilly, but now gives residents a place to learn, socialise and feel a part of something special – a real kinship.
“Challenging times always have a way of highlighting the important things and the team at the Miners’ Centre have shown just how important these community connections are during those tough times. The way they adapted through the pandemic gave many people a lifeline which they wouldn’t have had otherwise. None of this would be possible had it not been for Katherine and her devotion to her community. She is a very inspiring person and I’m thrilled to see her being recognised for her achievements.”
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