Room at the inn for community spirit

Joint enterprise: Villagers transform derelict pub into a thriving music base
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It might seem like any other pub in industrial South Wales, but Dai Prosser and the rest of his darts team can only gather in the tap room of the Pontardawe Inn because of a great community effort that has transformed the place from a derelict shell to a thriving business.

The initiative to restore and reopen the pub, which closed 18 months ago as rents soared, has brought about a collaboration between locals and the organisers of the annual Pontardawe Folk Festival, who wanted a base and a round-the-year venue for bands.

Now darts and cribbage go hand-in-hand with such esoteric music as a group playing traditional songs from theirnorth-east Indian homeland.

Mr Prosser, a 55-year-old lorry driver, was a regular at the pub for 30 years and is now one of a team of volunteers who help to keep the pub going. Apart from a full-time manager, all aspects of running the pub are tackled by unpaid helpers responsible for everything from bar work to the accounts.

Mr Prosser said: "Everybody was disappointed to see it closed, but there is now a big improvement. There is no 'them and us' atmosphere in the place. We called them the folkies in the beginning, but now everybody gets on. We all like listening to the music and we persuaded them to have the darts teams back." The pub itself dates back to 1750 and stands at the crossing of an old drovers' road which linked Neath with Ammanford. It has hosted generations of miners, metal workers and farmers. Now the pub is owned by the local community the tradition is set to continue.

Helen Matthews, a community education worker and marketing director for the festival, said the idea of acquiring the pub was originally put forward tongue in cheek at a meeting. The majority of the festival organisers live in the village and had drunk at the pub before it closed.

With the backing of the Crown Buckley brewery, the pub was purchased from the brewers Guinness and volunteers refitted it within six weeks, ready for its opening last summer. It is committed to providing a venue for live music from around the world as well as being a traditional local.

Ms Matthews said "People in the village have responded magnificently to the challenge we set ourselves in turning what was a ruined pub into a place of warmth and music and a real centre for the community."