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Young Custodians from Neath find out more about their local heritage

Deputy Minister for Arts, Culture and Sport, Dawn Bowden recently visited Neath Abbey to see how a Cadw scheme is sparking interest and pride among local school pupils for the impressive monastic site – right on their doorstep.

Over the past year, Cadw has linked with Dŵr y Felin Comprehensive School in Neath to launch a Young Custodians’ scheme for this important Cistercian abbey site.

Young Custodians Wales is part of a larger Cadw initiative – to encourage young people to take ownership of their historic environment.

Cadw has Young Custodians at sites in north Wales, but its introduction at Neath Abbey represents the initiative’s first appearance in the south.

The aim of the initiative is to create partnerships and learning spaces that complement the Welsh Curriculum within communities and to encourage the Young Custodians to value and respect their Cadw monuments and the wider historic environment.

Deputy Minister for Arts Sport and Tourism, Dawn Bowden, said: “Over the last year, Cadw has delivered innovative programmes to increase the engagement of Welsh communities with Cadw sites and the wider historic environment.

“This work demonstrates the contribution that our outstanding heritage can make to the well-being of the people of Wales and in particular its health and educational benefits.

“The response to the Young Custodians’ scheme at Dŵr y Felin has exceeded everyone’s expectations and I’m delighted that Cadw and Dŵr y Felin are working together to build on the strong foundation created by the initial success of the scheme.”

Beverley Bowen, Head of History at Dŵr y Felin, said: “For the past year we have worked closely with Cadw in order for our pupils to become Young Custodians for Neath Abbey. After an introductory assembly, several pupils showed interest in the scheme and have since enjoyed exclusive visits to the site and a workshop with a professional artist. They have done extensive research on the history of Neath Abbey and meet weekly to work on the creation of a comic art strip representing the history of Neath Abbey. These pupils are certainly developing a love for and pride in this site and are keen to aid in the development of their historic environment.

“In addition to this – at the end of the summer term, Neath Abbey became an open-air classroom, where the entire year group not only studied the history of the Abbey, but also took part in cross-curricular activities including Maths and English. This was an unprecedented and invaluable learning experience for all these pupils and every pupil left Neath Abbey with a better understanding of the importance of this fantastic monument which has always been right on their doorstep!”

“We are very excited to continue with the scheme this year and are looking forward to more excellent opportunities for our pupils.”

Since 2016, Cadw has completed four phases of planned conservation at Neath Abbey. By the time the fifth and final phase is completed, it is estimated that nearly £1.7 million will have been spent on consolidating and conserving this imposing building. This work has included ‘reroofing’ the dormitory undercroft, which has stopped significant water ingress into this beautiful room — one of the most important monastic interiors in Wales.

Working in partnership with Visit Wales colleagues and Neath Port Talbot Council, the Abbey has successfully secured Brilliant Basics funding to develop a designated car park adjacent to the monument, which will be completed in March 2025. A new Interpretation Plan is also being developed for Neath Abbey to better tell the story of the monument.