A Taibach church that was slated for redevelopment as a residential dwelling has been saved in an unusual partnership between a local undertaker and a lifelong member of the church.
Historic Holy Cross Church on Tanygroes Place was built in 1827 with the permission of Margam’s Talbot family, and is adjacent to a large graveyard still in frequent use by families. But the Church in Wales decided to shut the Grade II listed church in 2008, and put it up for sale.
Planning permission was sought to change the church into a house, which included re-siting several headstones and surfacing over the graves to provide a parking area.
The move was opposed by a vocal local campaign, but planning permission was granted.
Now, Andrew Akins, director of Cockwell’s Funeral Service, has formed a company with church member Malcolm Evans to buy the Church and restore it to use as a Chapel of Rest.
Port Talbot Funeral Services Ltd plans to repair and restore the church, and use it for families wishing to spend time with loved ones before they are taken to funeral services elsewhere.
The plans have been applauded by neighbours of the church, who say they are delighted to see the building open and in use again.
Malcolm is particularly pleased to have the keys to the church in his hands. He has a strong family connection with Holy Cross, as his grandmother was the caretaker for more than 30 years, his father and brother dug graves at the cemetery, and he himself sang in the choir. Many of his family members are buried in the cemetery.
“I’m delighted, because we’ve saved this church,” he said. “This is a church with a lot of ties to a lot of families around here, and it has been wonderful to open the doors and come in to find so much of it still in good condition. The stained glass window is beautiful, it was donated by a Taibach family, and it is still here and undamaged.”
They also discovered a photograph from 1968 commemorating the retirement of a former organist, which had been thought lost.
“We found the photograph on top of a cupboard,” said Malcolm, who was also thrilled to find the box containing the variously coloured altar cloths was still intact and undamaged.
Malcolm and Andrew have now had permission from Cadw to move a stone pillar in order to widen the gate, which will enable scaffolders to start work inside.
“We’ve had some problems with water coming in because of blocked gutters outside,” said Andrew. “So one of our first jobs is to clean out those gutters, then repair the ceiling inside and decorate. We will also be putting up a wall inside to form a workshop where we can install refrigeration units and store bodies until families are ready.”
The pair hope the work will be done by the autumn, enabling small family services to take place.
“We think the cemetery is now full, though we are still working with groundsmen to clear the undergrowth so there may be some plots as we clear that, and there’s work to be done to paint railings and clear vegetation,” said Andrew. “But once we’re open, families will be able to come here for a small private service before going on to Margam or Goytre.”
Call 01639 508 555 or visit www.porttalbotfuneralservice.co.uk to find out more.