Putting the heart back in Wrexham
Wrexham’s story goes back into prehistory. It was at the centre of Wales’s medieval independence wars, transformed by the industrial revolution, and by the mid 19thcentury a prosperous market town. Then it lost its heart.
In the late 20thcentury Wrexham’s industrial lifeblood seeped away with the loss of coalmining, the steelworks and the brick industry. Industrial estates and out-of-town shopping precincts developed on the outskirts, and the centre became little more than a ghost town.
But this historic and much-loved town as had a heart transplant, with the opening of Tŷ Pawb – which means “everybody’s house” – in early April. https://www.typawb.wales
An integral part of Wrexham’s £12m urban revival programme, £4.5m has been committed to the cultural project, in a building housing the moribund People’s Market whose future would have been demolition. It has had the support of the Welsh Assembly and the Arts Council of Wales as well as the borough council
Tŷ Pawb, explains its creative director Jo Marsh, is a bold experiment to revive the town centre with a combination of the cultural activity and the market. It is the key to Wrexham, where culture has always had a big part. It has a small theatre, a museum and a library which for 43 years shared its Victorian building with the contemporary art gallery, Oriel Wrecsam. The library’s co-habitee is now the police station
Oriel has now been absorbed into Tŷ Pawb, just three streets away from the libratry, in what is now a flourishing community resource where specially designed stalls sell everything from ear-piercing and records to wool and Welsh-inspired tapas, mixing with performance and visual art. Two new exhibitions open tomorrow (June 30). Tŷ Pawb is now the venue for Focus Wales, the annual international music festival, and cinema club is starting in September
An early plan to divide the market and cultural activity by a wall has been abandoned, as has an intention to incorporate individual artists’ studios – five minutes’ walk away is Undegun, opened in 2013 with creative spaces for artists, musicians, and dancers, where Jo Marsh, also an artist, has a studio.
Instead Tŷ Pawb is a rethinking of the civic role of cultural programming, the means to draw in a public that was being driven out to the town’s outskirts. It offers what the architects, Featherstone Young, call “baggy space”, a light designers’ touch that allows others to fil in the gaps. The building had been stripped out and cuts in the fabric bring natural light into the spaces.
The market stalls, exhibition and performance space are on the ground floor, offices, large studio spaces for hire and break-out spaces on the second. Above are four storeys of car parking, providing a source of revenue for the centre. Furniture maker Tim Denton has designed and built furniture for the spaces in collaboration with community groups in workshop sessions, and artists in the area have been involved, as have local college students.
“From the outset this was a very exciting project for us” says Sarah Featherstone, the lead architect. “The mix of facilities presented a challenge from which we developed a new model that breaks from the traditional art gallery environment and provides an opportunity to be more relevant to people in their everyday lives.
“The car park typology also presented us with challenges – notably, a heavy concrete structure with low ceilings and deep plan, which we opened up to be lighter and more welcoming. A palette of raw, robust materials with a streetscape aesthetic provides a uniform neutral backdrop to the wide spectrum of activities that will bring the building to life.”
And Tŷ Pawb has come back to life, with a recent study showing between 100 and 150 visitors each hour. “The key focus for the next couple of years will be on the co-existence of the arts and the market stalls under the same roof” says Jo Marsh, formerly Wrexham’s learning and engagement officer whose idea the mix of market and art was.
“We want to create a programme centred on dialogue, and our new home is a flexible space in which we can engage the public in a variety of ways” Marsh says. “We want Tŷ Pawb to be local and rooted, and also nationally-facing; for it to be as much a part of daily life for people living in Wrexham as it is a destination for people living further afield.”