Countryside and Community Research Unit

Presentation of Case Study Cameos that could be Further Investigated in Phase Two of the Research

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3. Presentation of Case Study Cameos that could be Further Investigated in Phase Two of the Research

A Blaenavon World Heritage Site

This case study was chosen because Blaenavon World Heritage Site is a participant in the ‘Boundless Parks, Naturally!’ programme (EU Interregional IIIB) which aims to realise a better spatial dispersion of, and improved access to, nature in densely populated North West Europe. The programme targets are: sufficient recreation facilities for people; access for visitors (gateways); sustainable conservation and development of nature close to metropolitan areas; a better relationship between inhabitants/visitors and public authorities (rangers, communication, promotion); transition of landscapes; and, capitalising on opportunities to enhance local employment. Blaenavon is also a gateway to Brecon Beacons, and the local Council is also developing an ‘informal recreation’ project encouraging people to get out and about in the countryside, but retaining the community element that already exists. Blaenavon is being established as a visitor destination.

  1. Characteristics of the area

Blaenavon Industrial Landscape World Heritage Site (WHS) is situated on the north-eastern rim of what was the South Wales Coalfield, 40km north east of Cardiff. The area is focused on the former coal and iron town of Blaenavon and includes areas within Torfaen County Borough Council and Monmouthshire County Council, and 45% of the WHS is within the Brecon Beacons National Park. The designated site covers 3,290ha of upland mountain landscapes which have been extensively mined, quarried and remodelled as a result of over two centuries of the coal and iron-making exploitation. Torfaen’s Regeneration Strategy (2004-2016) is designed to capitalise on Torfaen’s heritage especially its industrial past and environmental assets. The site is accessed by three roads (B4246, B4248, and A4043 plus two small country lanes with good access to the A465 ‘Heads of the Valleys’ road and the M4 motorway. Designated a World Heritage Site (WHS) in 2000 (one of 23 in the UK), the site includes mountain land and valleys and diverse habitat including moorland, semi-natural ancient woodland and also 4 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), 12 Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAMs), 82 listed buildings and two urban conservation areas. Uncontrolled grazing by sheep is preventing re-vegetation of old tips and mine areas. The old spoil tips are subject to motorbike scrambling and four wheel drive activity. Ongoing projects include: development of walks and cycle routes; improvement of visitor attraction and amenities; community and education initiatives; and the development of a community wood. The Garddyrys Forge site is now regionally important for fungi. The population of Blaenavon is around 6,000.

  1. Management

The World Heritage Site is managed by the Blaenavon Partnership comprising Torfaen County Borough Council, Monmouthshire County Council, Brecon Beacons National Park working with Blaenau Gwent Borough Council, Blaenavon Town Council, Cadw, Royal Commission for the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, National Museums and Galleries of Wales, Countryside Council for Wales, Wales Tourist Board, British Waterways and the National Trust. Below the strategic management group there are two delivery groups: Operations and Marketing.

The Management Plan for the World Heritage Site is based upon conserving the built, archaeological and natural heritage of the area in order to present the story of landscape created by coal mining and iron making in the late18th century. Also, it aims to make heritage accessible to visitors and the local community through enabling them to appreciate, understand and enjoy the unique heritage regeneration through a change of perception.

The Blaenavon Partnership has developed a ‘dispersed gateway strategy’ within the framework of the existing visitor dynamics, reflected by ‘Big Pit’ and ‘Blaenavon Ironworks’. There will be 21 dispersed gateways sited at key access points (from the road network) all incorporating car parking and nodes of visitor activity across the whole area. These will include boundary gateways, viewpoints, landscape features of interest, e.g. lakes and reservoirs and existing sites where visitors and local people congregate, providing an opportunity for interpretation and orientation about other visit opportunities. Gateways are defined as the point of engagement with visitors and local people as they set out to explore protected areas. Eventually there will be two primary gateways at Big Pit and St Peter’s School when the Blaenavon World Heritage Centre is completed at St Peter’s School in April 2007.

A hierarchy of signage is being developed including boundary signage, orientation, information and interpretation at dispersed gateways, and, more interpretation at the visitor attractions. The hierarchy of gateway sites reflects the road network, landscape features (viewpoints) and attractions, and aims to reflect the structure of the visitor experience. The World Heritage Site is promoting: access for all, life long learning, formal educational opportunities and regeneration through community investment. Marketing is aimed at developing the existing markets, encouraging the involvement of local people and attracting visitors from disengaged groups.

A key social driver has been that of insufficient recreational facilities and a need to monitor visitor pressure and steer recreation into areas that have the capacity to accept increased usage. The area is moving from an industrial economy based on coal, iron and steel to one based on cultural heritage, nature and tourism.

  1. Visitor characteristics and use of area

Big Pit is the prime focus of visitor activity and has a key role in orientation, information, interpretation and referral. It provides an opportunity for spin-off as it has a high proportion of groups and schools. There are two main visitor groups - those that book in advance and casuals. Interestingly, there are more school parties from France than Wales. Core visitors include: local audiences, families, formal education groups, staying visitors – both domestic and overseas, informal education (special interest) groups. In future additional groups will be targeted e.g. older people, and socially and economically excluded groups.

At the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park the World Heritage Site is central to visitors seeking cultural excursions as part of holidays to the Brecon Beacons, Wye Valley and Forest of Dean. There are more day visitors than holiday makers to the Brecon Beacons National Park. 53% of visitors were reported as being day visitors from home, 30% were holiday visitors staying outside the Park, and the rest were holiday visitors staying within the park. Two-thirds of the visitors tend to be in family groups with 8% being in in organised groups. The majority (93%) travel to the Park in their own vehicles, 4% by private coach and 3% by minibus. Thus road transport links are by far the most important in relation to carrying visitors to the area. The natural environment was of key importance for visitors with 61% of the visitors citing the landscape and scenery as the reason for their visit. More than one quarter were repeat visitors. The average length of stay for day trip visitors was 3.3 hours.

WHS has many opportunities for a variety of walking needs including walks along the canal and hill walking, and a series of walks are being especially developed (‘Wisdom and Walks’ Valley consortium). The Brecon Beacons National Park borders the northern part of Torfaen and panoramic views of the Usk Valley can be seen from the summit of the Blorenge Mountain. Likewise, in the southern part of Torfaen a gentle walk skirting the Llandegfedd Reservoir is very popular. Leaflets giving details of guided walks throughout Torfaen are available from the Tourist Information Centre (TIC). Hang-gliding, paragliding and caving are popular activities in the area. The local authority is developing a countryside services website with downloadable routes for walks, cycle networks, horse trails and fishing events etc. and these will also feature in the Brecon Beacons National Park Welcome Guide. Events are advertised in Town Guides e.g. Cwmbran and Pontypool. The largest outdoor event is the Garn Lakes Country Crafts and Recreation Fair which attracted 2,300 visitors in 2005 (+150% visitors compared with 2004) and is now being promoted as far afield as Gloucester and Taunton. In 2006 it is being linked with the World Heritage Day (Saturday) and taking place on the Sunday in order to make a weekend of events in the heritage site.

A small 2005 survey of 56 visitors to the World Heritage Site (at car parks) identified that 43% were from Blaenavon; 10% from Abergavenny; 7% were from Pontypool; 30% were from other local areas and 13% were from outside the South Wales area. 71% had come to walk; 21% to walk their dogs and 8% had come for an educational visit. The main issues of concern to visitors were: lack of information; litter and lack of litter bins; lack of signs; lack of interpretation; abandoned cars; lack of toilets; lack of refreshments; lack of integration between attractions; and, poor public transport.

  1. Key attractions within the catchment area

There are two major preserved sites of historic importance: Big Pit (circa 150,000 visitors per year) an historic coal mine and museum managed by the National Museums and Galleries of Wales and Blaenavon Ironworks (SAM) which receives 10,000 visitors per year. In May 2005, Big Pit won the Gulbenkian Prize for Museum of the Year 2005, an award which celebrates innovation and excellence in interpretation and Museum practice. During 2005, Big Pit was also awarded the Sandford Award, a chartermark for excellence in Heritage Education, and a BECTa award for collaborating with Education partners on the ‘Children of the Revolution’ web resource. Big Pit is funded directly from the Welsh Assembly Government as an Assembly Sponsored Public Body (ASPB). 

Proposals for the future include the creation of a World Heritage Centre in St Peter’s School which it is estimated will attract around 25,000 visitors per annum. The existing Tourist Information Centre is at Blaenavon Ironworks (10,000 visitors per annum) and may be relocated when the new World Heritage Centre is opened in St Peter’s School. There is also the Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway and the Community Heritage Museum. The Iron Mountain Trail, a figure of eight, is being developed. The area is finding its feet as an attraction.

The Torfaen TIC promotes the heritage linked visitor attractions – Griffithstown Railway Centre, Pontypool Museum, The Folly, The Grotto, Llanyrafon Mill, Llanyrafon Farm and Greenmeadow Community Farm as an informal day visit package. At a Community Farm at Cwmbran, children are encouraged to feed and touch selected farm animals and rare Welsh breeds. There is also a Farmhouse Café. Regular events are held throughout the year and there are facilities for meetings, conferences and parties.

Brecon Beacons

Blaenavon is a gateway to the Brecon Beacons. Two day visit centres: the Mountain Centre near Libanus (170,000 visitors a year) and Craig-y-nos Country Park (73,098 visitors per annum) both have one teaching room, a tea room and are multiple use centres. These are 100% funded by Brecon Beacons National Park Authority. The Mountain Centre came into being 40 years ago when funding from the Carnegie Trust rejected by the Peak District National Park was offered to The Brecon Beacons National Park for a purpose built centre, Breconshire County Council gave a grant of £35,000 and the Authority then bought a suitable plot of land and built on it. The feasibility study envisaged 20,000 visits per year, but, as already noted, actual visits are significantly higher. Marketing is by inclusion on OS maps, websites and in some local / regional press. There is a full time Warden at each centre along with Admin / Information Assistants at each and one overseeing Manager. The support staff are in-house – grounds, cleaning etc.

4) Further detail on Big Pit visitor centre

Management arrangements

Big Pit is part of Amgueddfa Cymru National Museum Wales and is managed by the Keeper and Mine Manager (one post), who answers directly to the Director for Social and Industrial History. Under the Manager is a management team, comprising of Senior Deputy (responsible for Guiding staff and underground tours), Mechanical Engineer, Electrical Engineer, Retail Manager, Catering Manager, Education Officer, Curator, Marketing Officer, Administration Officer.  This team meet on a fortnightly basis to ensure all developments on site are communicated effectively.


Big Pit is a relatively large employer for a visitor centre. There are around 65 staff and around 80% are employed for twelve months of the year with 70% being FTE. 

Purpose(s) of the centre and who it caters for

To promote understanding and knowledge of the history of the mining industry in Wales and the society it created. The unique selling point is the authentic underground tour, but there are a range of facilities to provide a broad experience for visitors of all ages and backgrounds. 

Description of visitor centre user groups and level of use by each

During 2005, 19% of all visitors to Big Pit were domestic1 education visitors, ranging from KS1 to degree and post-graduate level. Around 45% of this figure was accounted for by KS2 (age 7-11). A further 16% of Big Pit’s visitors in 2005 were education visitors from overseas, most notably France. Big Pit has attracted a large proportion of French students for a number of years, mostly booked through agencies in the UK. There are a number of theories as to why Big Pit is so popular with this audience segment2 : certainly the French curriculum involves comparative studies of French and Welsh coalmines. During 2003, 52% of ‘casual3’ visitors to Big Pit were staying in the area rather than attending as ‘Day Visitors’4. As the Brecon Beacons and south-east Wales area is developed and promoted as a tourist destination, more domestic tourists are coming to the area on short breaks. In the same 2003 visitor research, 77% of all visitors travelled less than one hour to reach the site, this figure encompasses the whole of the south Wales valleys, Cardiff, Newport and Swansea, the south-eastern corner of Wales (Wye Valley), the Brecon Beacons and the southern end of the West Midlands. Over-arching all of these key markets are families. There is also the hugely lucrative ‘Visiting Friends & Relatives’ (VFR) market. Many visitors to Big Pit come because they have been brought by friends or relatives they are visiting, or are the hosts themselves.

The main coach access is via Pontypool, on a road that has a 40mph speed-limit on its whole stretch. Big Pit is serviced by buses from Newport. This, however, is restricted to four a day (Monday to Saturday) during the main season, and this service is said to be fairly unreliable.

Promotion and marketing of the centre and the way in which it promotes the local area

At key points during the 2004 and 2005 seasons, direct mail was used as a vehicle for promoting activities to members of the Amgueddfa Cymru mailing list. The aim was to encourage bookings for underground tours during shoulder periods to level out capacity throughout season and the tours continued throughout the winter 2005/6 (except for January) for the first time. Much of the promotional work of the Museum is done in collaboration with other Amgueddfa Cymru museums, especially the three other sites in south-east Wales (National Roman Legion Museum, Caerleon, National Museum Cardiff, St Fagans: National History Museum). These campaigns usually target local markets around school holidays, and help to reinforce the identity of Amgueddfa Cymru as a ‘family’ of Museums. Big Pit is represented as part of Amgueddfa Cymru at public events (Big Cheese/Blaenafon World Heritage Day etc.)

Big Pit has participated in joint ventures such as the European Route of Industrial Heritage (ERIH). Big Pit, as part of Amgueddfa Cymru, is also looking at how it can develop new audiences from hitherto excluded sectors of the community, including families from economically excluded areas, older people and people with disabilities. There are now opportunities to participate in joint marketing activities within Blaenafon Industrial Landscape. Internally Big Pit has been looking to: promote surface exhibitions and attractions to groups that may not wish to take the underground tour; provide a rolling programme of activities for younger children, so that families with children of different ages don’t feel that there is nothing for the whole family to do; develop a programme of activities and events that encourages retention and repeat visits; promote the academic content of the surface exhibitions to special interest groups; promote audio guide as ‘added value’ activity to enhance appreciation of surface buildings and exhibitions; and promote via the website.

What is found within the centre? Description of the centre itself, the way it is laid out and facilities/information on offer.

Big Pit is a preserved colliery, which offers an authentic underground tour and a chance to see historic colliery buildings.  There are also surface exhibitions and facilities, gift shop merchandise, a canteen and a coffee shop. The gift shop is managed by Amgueddfa Cymru Enterprises along with the counter service canteen, and in response to the high numbers of school children who visit, an extensive range of ‘pocket-money’ items are stocked by the shop. There is a also a coffee shop on site which serves a range of hot and cold drinks and snacks, and is open through the high season (Easter to end of August).

In 2004, a major capital redevelopment was completed which allowed Big Pit to expand the visitor experience and create new attractions around the site.  The £7.1 million re-development was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Welsh Assembly Government, Wales Tourist Board, the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Lloyds TSB Foundation and a number of private trusts and foundations. The redevelopment of Big Pit created two new spaces which are suitable for use for Corporate Hire. The larger of the two, the Temporary Exhibition room in the Pithead Baths is a multi-function space which can seat up to 90 theatre style. This space is used on a daily basis as a packed lunch facility, and also houses regular temporary exhibitions. However, hiring this room out for conferences etc. does not generate the level of revenue which justifies the disruption caused by not having this space available for its normal use. The Resource Room in the Operations & Resources Building seats up to 14 around a large boardroom style table and has restricted. Hire of this room is usually restricted to Amgueddfa Cymru staff and local authority and other public sector groups, and generates a negligible amount of income.

5) Sustainability of centres within the area

Big Pit is in a unique position in that it is the main honey-pot attraction for Blaenavon, and the range of experiences offered there allows all other attractions to complement what Big Pit does.  Big Pit tries to sell on other attractions such as the Railway and the Ironworks to visitors as another piece of the industrial heritage jigsaw, as well as the landscape.  Many local attractions and initiatives work to 'exploit' the volume of visitors to Big Pit by offering linked offers: staff from the the Railway often fly-post cars in the car park offering discounts for Big Pit visitors, and vintage buses running from Big Pit to local attractions have also been used.  The thinking behind such initiatives is to complement the experience rather than try to compete. It is anticipated that there will be around 15,000 general ‘free’ visitors to the new World Heritage Centre at St.Peter’s school and over 9,000 paid admissions to a range of events, exhibitions and tours programmed for the centre. The effect of seasonality may mean that the centre closes to the public during some of the winter, but is open for programmed community events in the evenings and weekends, or, considers weekend only opening in the winter months, or, has a skeleton staff throughout the year.

The smaller charity owned attractions are not in competition with the local authority attractions, but complement the visitor offer. Regarding visitor infrastructure there is concern that the visitor offer is underdeveloped, with local traders in the town centre unable to deliver, and issues about quality e.g. keeping shops and cafes open all day every day and not closing early. There is also the possible collapse of Blaenavon Booktown potentially causing negative publicity for area.

The justification for establishing the TIC was to keep the Ironworks open - originally the museum was staffed by volunteers which relied on good will and so the management of the museum tended to previously be ‘hit or miss’. It is now manned seven days a week from Easter to September and the one could not exist without the other. A stand alone TIC would not work as the staff would not have enough to do and the local authority could not justify double manning. CADW (similar to English Heritage) own the Ironworks and TIC have a contract to operate there: the former provide the building and the latter deliver the service.

The marketing strategy is to package ‘Destination Blaenavon’ with the emphasis on events. The aim is to promote an understanding of the cultural and historical relevance, and access to, the surrounding landscape. The marketing strategy targets: local residents and day visitors within 90 minutes; tourists from the UK and overseas, including visits to friends and relatives; group visits (e.g. education), specialist interest groups and coach tours; industrial heritage interests; and, a calendar of events to ‘build the brand’. The TIC buys into partnership activities to ensure Blaenavon is represented in overseas marketing and in the UK domestic marketplace and also undertakes UK marketing for south east Wales. There is a Blaenavon World Heritage Site leaflet. The council also carries out solus marketing on behalf of the World Heritage Site, attends trade shows (some in partnership and some on their own representing all partners). It is difficult to do ‘money off attractions’ because of the range: the Big Pit has free admission (Welsh Assembly 2001, instituted free entry to all museums and galleries of Wales) unlike the Ironbridge Museum in Telford, a passport scheme is not possible here. The Big Pit as a free attraction has found it difficult to give incentives for people to visit or add value. Without the Big Pit bringing in 100,000+ visitors per year the area would be struggling. Big Pit’s policy is to ensure no PR activity clashes with activity across local Amgueddfa Cymru sites. Big Pit aim to continue to build close relationships with partners within Blaenavon World Heritage Site, especially WHS Visitor Centre (St Peters), which opens in 2007, in order to establish Blaenavon as a cohesive tourist destination. Countryside events are being promoted on posters and leaflets through the TIC and locally in doctors’ surgeries, dentists, libraries, civic centres and similar.

Big Pit’s major competitors include:

  • Other ‘underground’ and industrial heritage attractions throughout south Wales including Rhondda Heritage Park, Dan-yr-ogof Showcaves, Clearwell Caves.

  • Other heritage attractions in south-east Wales including other Amgueddfa Cymru museums, Llancaiach Fawr, CADW sites (e.g. Raglan Castle, Tintern Abbey etc.), Cyfarthfa Castle & Park

  • Other family/leisure activities in south Wales and south west including Greenmeadow Community Farm, Festival Park Shopping, Bristol Zoo, Brecon Beacons National Park.

Factors affecting sustainability/viability of visitor centres in the area


Ex Explanation of Role in long term sustainability of centres in the area generally

World Heritage Site Designation and ‘Destination Blaenavon’ marketing

Opportunity for more international promotion (major SE Wales attraction) and greater visitor numbers to centres and the area as marketing gathers momentum.

Completion of new WHS visitor centre at St.Peter’s School April 2007

Important resources for interpretation of the area and opportunities for cross referrals and event marketing.

Development of town infrastructure

Greater throughput of visitors.

Countryside activity development led by Torfaen Borough Council

Increased resources for publicity attracting higher levels of community involvement and visitors.

Dispersed gateways

Improved visitor management that is strategically spread.

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