Pontypridd Museum reopens two years after devastating flood - Museums Association

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Pontypridd Museum reopens two years after devastating flood

Basement stores of South Wales museum were inundated during Storm Dennis
The museum in the midst of its restoration in July 2021
The museum in the midst of its restoration in July 2021

Pontypridd Museum has welcomed its first visitors back two years after suffering severe damage during Storm Dennis.

Flooding caused by the February 2020 storm inundated the museum’s basement storerooms, destroying some of its collection. The salvage operation had only just got under way when Wales went into its first Covid lockdown in March 2020.

The building, a former Baptist Chapel built in 1861, has now been repaired and renovated, with stored collections dispersed across four smaller storage spaces. A new community space with kitchen facilities has opened in the basement, which will host local organisations and events. In time the council also hopes to rent the space out to hybrid workers.

The renovated museum pictured in March 2022

The museum has created two new temporary exhibitions to celebrate its reopening, which explore the impact of Storm Dennis and the work to restore the museum, as well as the history of the building.

It hopes to redevelop its permanent displays in due course. The museum was officially opened by Dawn Bowden, Wales’ deputy minister for arts and sport, last week.

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“Our overriding feeling is one of relief,” said the museum’s curator Morwenna Lewis. “It’s been such a long time coming.”

Lewis said the aftermath of the flood had felt like “one crisis after another” for staff. “We were all absolutely exhausted, working in a cold environment,” she said. “In a way the first lockdown was a bit of respite because we’d been at it solidly for a month.”

Lewis, who went on maternity leave shortly after the first lockdown began, said although it had been a “tough time” for her colleagues, the pandemic had brought an opportunity to regroup.

Object evacuation in February 2020

“We were waiting for the building to dry out so the timing was good because it meant we could turn our attention to other things. It was nice to have that breathing space.”

The museum launched its first digital exhibition and was also able to transcribe and digitise some of its archives during lockdown. The reorganisation of the collections was also an opportunity to “put a bit of order to the chaos” and make the building’s space more fit for purpose, said Lewis.

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The museum’s core collections had a lucky escape in the flood, said Lewis, which destroyed some unaccessioned books, a number of framed items, and world war one diaries and photographs that had fortunately been digitised.

The recovery was not without bumps in the road. Restoration work was delayed by Covid and the museum’s first opening date had to be pushed back when a ceiling was found to be unsafe. The museum’s planned reopening before Christmas was then postponed when the Omicron wave hit. “It took a lot to keep morale up,” said Lewis.

The museum has enjoyed huge support since reopening. “We’ve had a lovely reception,” she said. “People are really pleased to come back in. There’s a nice buzz around the place after being really dormant here for the last couple of years.”

One of the museum’s new storage spaces

Lewis said staff had been overwhelmed by the support that the museum received after the disaster. “The support from our community has been absolutely incredible, and we had really amazing support from the museum community and our volunteer teams, who turned up in the worst conditions. I can’t thank them all enough.”

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