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Metal Box Factory officially opens its doors in Neath

Local business leaders and dignitaries at the official opening ceremony and open day for the Metal Box Factory in Neath

An official opening ceremony and open day for the Metal Box Factory in Neath, one of the most historic and iconic industrial buildings in South Wales, was well attended by local business leaders and dignitaries last week (Thursday October 13). Attendees learned of the ambitious plans of its occupants and moves to put the site back at the heart of the local community.

Special guest Max Boyce was invited to officially reopen the 55-acre site, which once employed almost 500 people. The Welsh comedian, singer and entertainer worked in the factory for five years before paving his current career, and famously references the experience in the last verse of his iconic song ‘Duw It’s Hard’. “It is amazing to see the place reopened,” he said.

The event was hosted by Ministry of Furniture and SO Modular, two of the anchor companies responsible for the regeneration of the site. The event was attended by the many stakeholders interested in the future economic prosperity of the region including leaders from business and local authorities.

Other celebrities in attendance included rugby legends James Hook and Lee Byrne, representing their venture the FabFour Coffee Company, who rubbed shoulders with dignitaries including Martin Trainer, the deputy Lieutenant of West Glamorgan.

The event focused on “Y Dyfodol – The Future” with speakers sharing their insights into 21st Century education buildings, investment, regeneration, job creation and the hidden challenges of agile and hybrid working. Guided tours took place, including around SO Modular’s extensive site where timber frame and timber modular homes are constructed.

The event featured a keynote presentation by Dr Debra Williams, the Chair of Global Centre of Rail Excellence, a £300 million investment planned for Neath Port Talbot, which will create a high-speed rail testing facility. She described the huge opportunity the site represents in terms of job creation and an economic boost to the region.

Other speakers included Simon Brennan, Head of Property & Regeneration, Neath Port Talbot Council, who delivered an opening address, and Stuart Moyse, Educational Building Consultant, who discussed the creation of learning environments for the 21 Century. This theme was developed further by Andrew Beadle, Director of Education at Powell Dobson Architects.

Jon Rae, Director of Resources, Welsh Local Government Association, discussed the Hidden Challenges of Agile & Hybrid Working. Finally, Dean Curran, Managing Director of Vortex, also a resident in the Metal Box Factory, discussed innovative solutions to air pollution.

The Metal Box Factory in Neath, known locally as “The Box”, was occupied for more than 70 years and was a core employer in the region. Previous occupier the Crown Packaging Company closed in 2016. It was then vacant until 2019 when a deal between local timber frame and offsite construction specialist SO Modular and Neath Port Talbot Council kickstarted the regeneration of the site.

SO Modular has invested over £10 million in acquiring and regenerating a large part of the iconic site. The company, which currently employs around 150 people in Neath, anticipates it will double its workforce in conjunction with its expansion to the site. The move will allow SO Modular to increase its capacity to 3,000 homes per year.

More recently, Ministry of Furniture, an education & workplace interiors specialist, took a further 8,000 sq ft of space over two floors on long-term lease from Neath Port Talbot Council. It has plans to take a further 40,000 sq ft of manufacturing space in the future, supporting further expansion and new jobs.

Other parts of the massive site have been taken by The Safety Letter Box Company and Vortex, part of Marston Holdings, a company at the forefront of smart city technologies, which builds environmental sensors, networks and data solutions to support decarbonisation efforts globally.

Graham Hirst, Managing Director, Ministry of Furniture, said:

“We were delighted to welcome so many stakeholders and influential leaders to see for themselves both what has already been achieved in terms of the regeneration of this iconic site and to also understand just how much more potential it has. There is true innovation already taking place here – but so much more is possible.

“We are a business with social aims. That is our history and our present as a company. We transform workplaces and classrooms, and we want to play a role in further transforming this suite. We want to expand our manufacturing facilities here in a way that will create another 75 local jobs.

“But in addition to developing our business and expanding our offering, we also want to help develop the site, so it once again sits at the heart of the community in the region. Once upon a time, this was a vibrant hub with local sports teams and other community groups all using the space. We want to play a part in making that a reality again.”

Charlotte Hale, Director of SO Modular, said:

“It was fantastic to see so many people show an interest in the site and attend the open day. The tours we offered around our premises showed how interested people are in the future of manufacturing, the innovation we have invested in, and our commitment to renewable technologies.

“The entire site is well on its way to being carbon neutral. We have ambitions that are bigger than our own business. We have always wanted to benefit the local economy by creating a sustainable, redefining building that restores the site to its former glory but in an innovative and eco-friendly way; we want it to be a landmark of the town again, which the community can be proud of, while also benefiting the local supply chain and keeping jobs and money in the region.”