Tributes have been paid to Howard Stone, the man who led the restoration of Newbridge Memorial Hall and Institute, ahead of his funeral tomorrow (Thursday, July 11).
Mr Stone helped form the Friends of Newbridge Memo group in 2003 and later became its chairman leading the £5.6m regeneration of the building.
The Newbridge Memorial Hall, known as ‘The Memo’, is a Grade II listed 1908 workingmen’s institute and adjoining Grade II* listed 1925 memorial hall.
In 1908 the miners of Newbridge built the institute which included a billiard hall and reading room, from which many of the workers learned to read, often while waiting for their chance on the billiard table.
Ten years later dreams of a greater project were realised as men returning from the First World War set in motion the construction of a cinema and art-deco ballroom that became the envy of The Valleys and a host to names such as Tom Jones and the Manic Street Preachers.
It served the community well from 1925 before it became symbolic of the decline of mining communities, with the cinema closing in 1972.
The closure of the two pits in Newbridge, Celynen North and South, seemed to also mark the end of the institute that had served as the strike headquarters for the miners in 1984.
Speaking to Caerphilly Observer in 2014, Mr Stone said the group of miners who owned the building split in the years following as they searched for alternative jobs.
The building was taken over resulting in its closure with the threat of sale or demolition.
But action had to be taken to save the listed building, to reward the sacrifice from the miners’ pockets and ultimately protect a memorial to 75 local men who died on the battlefield.
Mr Stone, who was speaking as the project neared its completion in 2014, said: “We brought it to the attention of the MP at the time, Don Touhig, and a meeting was called which 300 people attended.
“I suggested we return it to its original use as part of the community on the condition it did not become a political project.”
Mr Stone’s interest in the project was personal as well as communal.
The 79-year-old, who died last month, was born in Newbridge and worked as a colliery blacksmith for six years. His father mined Celynen South the year the Memo opened and later became chairman of its members’ group.
The fate of the building took another turn in 2004 when supporters were approached by the BBC, who had seen the building on the register of risk. This resulted in it coming runner-up in the broadcaster’s restoration series.
The community was deflated – a win would have seen the memorial restored to its former glory with great publicity and, more importantly, BBC money and architectural expertise.
Mr Stone’s attitude was “we started the project without the BBC and we’ll go on without them” and he found inspiration from the Cwmaman Institute Renovation Project.
The restoration work was eventually part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Big Lottery, Cadw, Caerphilly County Borough Council, Trustees of the Institute and Memo and the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, amongst others.
This culminated in a Royal visit from Prince Charles who officially reopened the Memo in December 2014.
Mr Stone’s funeral will be held on Thursday, July 11 at 12.15pm in St Paul’s Church, Newbridge. This will be followed by committal at the Gwent Crematorium, Croesyceiliog.