WHEN Abergavenny’s Tudor Street Day Centre closed its doors during the first COVID lockdown in 2020, it had a devastating and profound effect on the people who relied on it day in, and day out.

Nevertheless, during a global pandemic sacrifices had to be made and the family of people who considered Tudor Street a second home, were more than willing to wait for a time when the shadow of COVID passed, the world returned to normal and they could once again spend time in the company of old friends in familiar surroundings.

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way!

Subsequent lockdowns and the general air of malaise, incompetence, and indifference which has often defined a post-COVID society, entailed that 2020 turned into 2021 and the once bustling and welcoming building that rang out with laughter and noise, stood silent, locked and lifeless.

Tudor Street
The once open gates now padlocked and unwelcoming! Tindle News (Tindle)

Surely 2022 would be different? But no! As the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months, the air inside Tudor Street Day Centre became stagnant and stale with inactivity and a lingering lack of purpose.

And then, right at the end of the year there was a movement of sorts, but it wasn’t the sort that the people wanted.

As the old building watched and waited for better times when it could welcome home familiar faces, Monmouthshire County Council’s Labour cabinet member for social care announced that he had approved the permanent closure of the site and in its place, housing would be built.

The announcement awoke a sleeping giant!

As a collective force, the friends of Tudor Street decided enough was enough. They hadn’t been consulted or informed about this momentous decision. It had simply been issued like a thunderbolt from County Hall.

As one they marched to save the building that had played such a pivotal role in their lives.

As their campaign grew in numbers the voices grew louder.

“Why! Out of all the empty buildings in Abergavenny, was the Tudor Centre earmarked for demolition?” They cried!

Addressing the crowd who had gathered on Tudor Street during a fateful showdown, the cabinet member for social care ignored the heckles and protested that the decision hadn’t been taken lightly.

He explained, “There has been a great decline in the number of people regularly using Tudor Street since 2014. The building is not in a good condition and would need a huge investment to bring it back up to standard to re-open and there is a huge demand for affordable housing.”

The people argued back that there was also a demand for a day centre that acted as a safe place where people could meet their friends.

Sarah Griffiths explained at the time, “When I was going to the Tudor Day Centre it was three or four times a week and I could talk to my friends but we can’t do that now. My mam brought me up to fight for what I believe in and this is the fight for the centre to stay open. It does get lonely for me and I don’t see my friends like I used to.”

The Gathering
Members of the 'Tudor Street family': Tindle News

At the same protest, the cabinet member told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that MCC’s vision of how they support adults with learning disabilities was changing and explained, “The whole system is changing to more individual packages, such as going out for a day with carers, which we pay for, or holidays and things like that.”

One mother whose 27-year daughter suffered from the neurological condition Rett Syndrome and who had previously relied on the services offered by Tudor Day Centre, said, “We need a day centre, or a hub, that can be a warm place that people can meet their friends and have somewhere to go, not just going around Abergavenny spending their time in cafes.

“If that is what the council thinks is good for them then you need to think twice, where is the care?

“If you spent a day looking after someone like my daughter you would soon find out about the stress and the strain, my husband and I have to go through, you have to get a new hub whether in there or another place in Abergavenny.”

Wellbeing Information Centre
Gathering volunteers Bill Phillips, Jo Waters, and the therapy dogs Dora and Jimmy: Tindle News

The wave of pubic backlash that swelled and roared in the aftermath of the announcement to close the Tudor Day Centre was like a tsunami.

In the face of such an overwhelming force, the council chose not a stance of defiance but nor did they capitulate. The leader just issued a statement that read, “I can categorically state we got the process wrong.”

It could be interpreted as a holding tactic, or it might have been genuine remorse but either way, nothing had been truly resolved. Yet it did provide the friends of Tudor Street Day Centre with that most valuable asset that can change everything - hope!

In early 2023 the council held meetings and suggested other venues could be used in its place such as the library, the theatre, and the community centre. More meetings and more talk all amounted to not much at all, until a review of the My Day, My Life Service by independent consultants recommended that “the service should have safe and accessible buildings.”

However, there was no mention of the Tudor Street building, just that those supported by the service need “to have available to them safe and accessible buildings.”

Time ticked on and the council appeared to drag its feet about deciding the future of the building.

In July last year, things became heated when campaigner Owen Lewis told MCC in a meeting that their decision-making on Tudor Day Centre in September was simply not good enough.

“That is not moving at pace. You could open the Tudor Centre sooner than September, you are not taking it seriously,” he said.

The wellbeing hub
(The Gathering's current base: Tindle News)

Yet after nearly a year-long battle to save it, the campaigners were dealt a cruel blow in October 2023 with the news that the council was set to ignore their pleas to save Tudor Day Center and declare it “surplus to requirements.”

Yet despite the Melville Centre being bandied about as a suitable replacement, in December there were questions raised if the £150,000 estimate to bring the Tudor Street Centre up to scratch was an overestimate. And wouldn’t the “leaking roof and water damage” of the Melville incur higher maintenance costs?

Yet assisted with a grant of £150,000 to restore the Melville Arts Centre, the council finally agreed that a room there could be adapted to provide a suitable base for the My Day, My Life support service.

As 2023 turned into 2024, the Tudor Street Day Centre remains padlocked and empty. Once a beacon of inclusivity, it has now been rendered obsolete by a bureaucracy’s dire lack of momentum, abject shirking of responsibility, and appalling indifference to a genuine need in the community.

Yet the battle to save the old building rages on. The foot soldiers who are fighting the good fight refer to themselves not as an army but as The Gathering - a movement that believes fiercely in the DIY ethic of taking matters into their own hands to get things done and help people out.

The Gathering
Banging the drum for a brighter future: Pic supplied (Banging the drum for a brighter future: Pic supplied)

They believe that the Tudor Street Centre should be reopened as a centre for the council’s My Day, My Life service for adults with learning disabilities, and have prepared a business plan with a proposal to take over the building.

The council has advised The Gathering to revise substantiate and strengthen their initial proposal before they make a decision, which is expected no sooner than July.

In the meantime, The Gathering has been allowed to use the council’s former Tourist Information Centre (TIC) in Abergavenny as a Well Being Hub, which also acts as an interim base for My Day, My Life.

Owen Lewis, who alongside Jenny Powell, helped form The Gathering, told the Chronicle, “We’re a community group, made up of volunteers, offering a social space and activities for adults with a variety of needs including mental health issues, learning disabilities or physical disabilities. We have combined two other groups: Find Yourself in Crafts started by Jenny and the Monday Club started by myself.

“Find Yourself in Crafts has supported several of our members since COVID to help their mental health by getting involved in craft activities. This is still a large part of what we do. The Monday club was formed to cater to individuals who used to attend Tudor Street but who, since COVID had nowhere to go. It also provided creative activities but other activities such as keep fit, meditation, quizzes, and music workshops.

“Several volunteers have joined us from Find Yourself in Crafts: Lynne Franklin, Joanna Draig, and Jean Mann and we have some new ones including Jo Waters who is also our treasurer. Since moving to the Wellbeing centre, we have been trying to expand our activities, including a radio project. We have had some activities provided at low cost or for free such as the keep fit, storytelling, and a drum workshop.

“We also have committee members including our secretary, Sarah Griffiths, who have helped us to fundraise, apply for CIO status and funding, and write a business plan to persuade MCC that we can take over Tudor Street to expand our group, including providing more accessibility for those who are currently unable to attend due to more complex needs. Our aim is also to enable other community groups to use the space there.

Anyone interested in learning more about what we offer or who would like to volunteer to help us is welcome to come and see us on a Monday and Tuesday from 10 am -3 pm.”

You won’t meet many more individuals passionate about the Tudor Street Centre than Sarah Griffiths. She made many friends and shared many invaluable experiences there.

She told the Chronicle, “Before the Wellbeing Hub opened, people were left isolated, lacked confidence, and didn’t know what day it was, as their daily routine was thrown into chaos.

“People lost touch with one another and were leading unfulfilled lives. Where was the help then? There was none. Covid and the closure of Tudor Street had destroyed so much until Jenny, Owen and the rest of us decided no more. People had suffered enough.”

Sarah added, “The Gathering has been a lifeline that people badly needed, so half of the jigsaw is already completed. But the icing on the cake will be when Tudor Street is up and running.

“I have no objection to the Wellbeing Hub, but we find that place a bit too small to provide a wide range of activities. We are restricted as to what we put on.

“It’s been a long hard journey throughout, but I think we will see light under a tunnel at some point, I can see it coming.”

The Gathering
David Newin, Nicola Jones and Olly Havard having a chat with the Chronicle! Tindle News (David Newin, Nicola Jones and Olly Havard having a chat with the Chronicle! Tindle News)

Sarah’s sentiments are backed up by Nicola Jones and David Newin who both explained that shutting Tudor Street was, “Disgusting! It needs to be reopened. We don’t have the room or facilities here to cater to a lot of people. It’s great that we’ve got it but it gets really crowded and it’s not open enough of the time.”

The last words go to Olly Havard who wasted no time in cutting to the heart of the matter when he told the Chronicle, “We need it open! We need to get it done and get back to where we belong!”

Walk down Tudor Street today and you won’t see much that points to Abergavenny's past. Many of the street’s old and unique buildings that gave this part of town its character and charm have already been lost to short-term thinking and an uncompromising cost-cutting drive. So much of its history and community has already been swept aside by the wrecking ball and poorly made plans.

It would be sad if the last man standing also disappeared into dust and oblivion.

Tudor Street Day Centre may simply be a building made out of bricks and mortar but it is also an Abergavenny institution forged out of friendships, memories, and the ties that bind. If that’s not worth fighting for, what is?

Tudor Street
A signpost to the future? Tindle News