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Breathing New Life and Creativity into a Disused Department Store

7 July 2023

The Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF) is delighted to announce that it has awarded a Project Development Grant to Elysium Arts to advance plans to bring a former department store back into use to support charities and creative industries in Swansea. This is one of four awards made at the latest Grants Panel, where projects across Wales were awarded funding totalling £73,243.

First opened in January 1961, The JT Morgan Department Store is a good surviving example of post-war architecture. It was built on the site of terraced houses on Belle Vue Street and Grove Place, which were cleared away after being badly damaged during the Blitz. The exterior of the four-storey building has a striking appearance; the ground floor is constructed of white blocks and the first and second floors of contrasting red brick. Additionally, the windows on the ground floor have copper frames to match the JT Morgan signage. Closed in 2008, when the family-run business went into administration, the building has lain vacant and inaccessible to the public ever since.

Elysium Arts is an artist-led organisation established in 2007 to support and promote the arts in Swansea and beyond, with an emphasis on collaboration and community. As Wales’ largest studio provider, it serves as an incubator for a thriving group of Swansea artists. Elysium Arts currently operates four venues throughout Swansea city centre, providing workspaces, community-focused activities, and professional development support. However, none of these venues are viable long-term options.

For this project, Elysium Arts plans to bring the former JT Morgan Department Store back into use as its new base, bringing together its activities from across its current sites and delivering them all under one roof. The ground floor will house a gallery, a café, a function suite and an education centre, while the basement will consist of 14 studios, a darkroom, a second exhibition space and a storage facility. Further, the first and second floors will have 50 studios/ incubator spaces to house charities and freelancers in the creative industries.

The AHF grant will support the cost of architect’s fees to develop plans to apply for full planning permission. It will also contribute towards additional hours for a Director to manage the project during the development phase and coordinate the production of a sustainability strategy.

Menna Jones, AHF’s Wales Trustee on its Grants Panel, commented:

“Reading this application was very nostalgic for me because of our family visits in the 60s and 70s to JT Morgan. Our shopping trips were focused on special events like Christmas, weddings and 'Gymanfa Ganu'*, as well as clothes and school uniforms which we discovered on the many floors of the department store. My mother treasured her special shopping pass to JT Morgan, and it was a long journey to Abertawe (Swansea). It was the first and most important stop of the day, and we'd spend hours up and down the flights of stairs seeking out our purchases.”

* Gymanfa Ganu is a Welsh congregational singing festival.

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