A thriving theatre that came back from the dead has been hailed as a “national treasure”.
The accolade for The Stiwt, in Rhos, near Wrexham, came during a visit by Ken Skates AM, the Welsh Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure, who said it was a cultural and social icon to be cherished.
The Stiwt dominated social and cultural life of the local community for decades, providing a concert hall, cinema, games rooms, public library and multi-function rooms.
But after a period of serious decline, the theatre nearly disappeared for ever when it closed its doors in 1976 and fell into disrepair and wasa close to being demolished.
The rebirth of the Stiwt was every bit as dramatic as anything seen on the stage there.
The never-say-die spirit of the former mining community led to a remarkable rebirth which saw the theatre reopen in 1999.
The imposing building in the middle of the village now has a busy programme of performances, ranging from plays and dance to concerts and even professional wrestling, which recently attracted a full house of 290. It also acts as a rehearsal base for five local choirs, including the world famous Rhos Male Voice Choir, hosts film clubs, has popular weekly dance sessions and adult education classes.
Mr Skates, who is also the AM for Clwyd South which includes Rhos, met the committee of local volunteers who run the Stiwt, toured the building and sat in on an adult education class.
He said: “The Stiwt is a national treasure. It has a really potent history and cultural presence and a strong identity.
“It’s an incredibly well-loved theatre and a very important cultural centre not just for Rhos but for the entire region of North East Wales.
“It hosts a diverse mix of activities from dance and zumba to adults education classes and film clubs as well as a packed programme of plays and concerts.
“There’s something here for everyone of all ages and from all communities and I am sure that the hard working and enthusiastic volunteers who run it will ensure it continues to go from strength to strength.”
Stiwt Board member Gareth Lloyd said: “It was great to have our local AM here to see what’s happening here because he has always been very supportive of our efforts.
“We want to make the Stwt a real hub for all the community so that people get used to coming here and enjoying what we have to offer whether it’s adult classes we run with the help of Coleg Cambria or zumba sessions.
“We have a magnificent theatre but we also have rooms of all sizes which are perfect for meetings and rehearsals whether it’s for the community council, the local American Baptist congregation or our junior theatre group, Theatr yr Ifanc.”
Pam McLean, of Coleg Cambria, who teaches adult classes at the Stiwt, said: “We have been doing adult literacy and numeracy classes here since December and thee numbers have built up nicely.
“They have worked well together and although it’s done in an informal way it is a structured course and is very important for them, especially for those who may be carers for their grandchildren.”
The Stiwt theatre was built in the 1920s thanks to local colliers – the Miners’ Welfare Organisation levied a penny a ton on coal between 1924 and its opening in 1926 at a cost of almost £18,000.
From then on, it was supported and run on a daily basis by subscription of tuppence a week from the meagre wages of the hard-working miners who managed to raise another £20,000.
The Stiwt hit hard times and was closed and close to demolition after 1976 but it rose again to reopen in 1999 thanks to the efforts of local volunteers and a £2.1 million Heritage Lottery Grant.
In all, a total of £4.3 million was spent refurbishing the Stiwt and 18 years later it has celebrated its 90th birthday celebrations with a concert at its 490-seat proscenium arch theatre.
The Stiwt is a registered charity and is run by the Stiwt Arts Trust Ltd. For more information on the Stiwt call 01978 841300 or go to www.stiwt.com.