Welsh church celebrates after receiving £950,000 funding for urgent repairs

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The roof at St Illtyd’s Church and Community Centre in Dowlais, Merthyr Tydfil, has deteriorated at an alarming rate, leading to damaging leaks within the Grade II Listed building.

St Illtyd’s has been forced to rope-off parts of the building, as falling debris from the roof poses a significant health and safety risk. Rainwater is also causing extensive damage to the fabric of the church.

Thankfully help is on hand. Urgent repairs have been generously supported by The Albert Gubay Charitable Foundation, the National Churches Trust and Welsh Government. Combined with support from the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme, more than £950,000 has been made available to undertake these repairs.

The project will replace the failing asbestos roof covering with natural slate preventing water from entering the building. Community activity includes collaborating with Brecon Cathedral (Church in Wales), working with the local Malayalam and Filipino communities alongside schools and other community organisations.

Addressing the climate and nature emergencies, the roof will incorporate solar panels to reduce energy consumption alongside wildflower planting.

Situated on a characteristically steep Welsh hillside, the church operates on split levels, the ground floor containing the worship space, with the undercroft / lower ground floor housing a busy Community Centre. St Illtyd’s was built by Irish migrants fleeing the Great Famine of the 1840s and the church and community centre continues to be a home to a thriving multi-national and multi-ethnic community.

Canon Barry English, parish priest at St Illtyd’s Church, said:

“We are so grateful to our generous funders, were it not for their support I don’t know how we would have kept the building open”.

Archbishop Mark O’Toole, Catholic Archbishop of Cardiff, said:

“The Archdiocese of Cardiff is grateful to everyone who generously contributed towards the cost of restoring and renovating this important Catholic landmark”.

Peter Heberlet, Grant Manager at The Albert Gubay Charitable Foundation said:

“We are pleased to be able to support this much needed project at St Illtyd’s Church and Community Centre. After helping to fund a small project at the church a few years ago, we realised that this bigger project was needed so that the parish and its partners will be able to fulfil all their plans to support the community for many years to come.”

Claire Walker, Chief Executive of the National Churches Trust, said:

“The National Churches Trust is excited to be able to support St Illtyd’s Church to enable them to carry out urgent roof repairs. This will safeguard the unique heritage of this historic church and keep it open and in use for the benefit of local people.”

“Whether seeking quiet reflection, access to community services or a place to worship, the National Churches Trust helps hundreds of churches”

The project would also not be possible without the generous support of Welsh Government in the form of Cadw and the Community Facilities Programme.

History of St Illtyd’s Church and Community Centre

Fr James Carroll, initiated the building of the original church in 1844 funded by Dowlais Iron Works and local miners. St Illtyd’s was the first Catholic church built in the Valleys. Fr Carroll died of cholera in 1846 and is buried in the church. As the Industrial Revolution took off the church was reordered and extended in 1894 by Benedictine monks who also installed an ornate reredos.

In the 1900s the church had a congregation of over 4,000 Catholics with schools, Processions, a Social Club and a key role in the town. The large stained-glass windows behind the altar depict Ss Patrick, David, Benedict and Illtyd. The church includes a recent work by Kevin Sinnott the well-known Welsh painter depicting the growth of the Church in the Valleys.

Albert Gubay Charitable Foundation

The Albert Gubay Charitable Foundation’s purpose is to fund projects run by registered charities in England, Wales, Isle of Man and Republic of Ireland which change the lives of people most in need as well as supporting the Roman Catholic Church and its associated registered charities.

Albert Gubay was an exceptional man; an entrepreneurial genius who, in his lifetime, created a business empire that was worth over £700 million. His determination, drive and passion to create a lasting legacy was borne from a pact he made as a young, penniless man where he vowed to give half of the wealth he created to the service of God. That vision was to become a reality, but he went much further and ended up leaving most of the wealth he created to AGCF so that causes such as those above could be helped.

Albert Gubay’s ambitions for the charity perpetuated his philosophy: “Every penny wasted or lost reduces the pot available to the charity.”

In February 2011, Pope Benedict XVI bestowed upon Albert Gubay the Knight Commander with Star of the Order of St Gregory the Great. This is an order which is given for conspicuous service to the Church and society. The award was bestowed on Albert Gubay for the philanthropic work he carried out over many years and in recognition of the establishment of AGCF.

National Churches Trust

Since 1953, the National Churches Trust has provided funding of over £130 million to support the UK’s church buildings, almost all of it raised thanks to incredible generosity of philanthropic trusts and individual donors.

We work with churches of all denominations and are UK-wide, providing support, training and advice to keep UK churches open and in good repair.

In 2023, with the support of the National Heritage Lottery Fund, the National Churches Trust launched Cherish a new three-year support programme for churches in Scotland, Wales and the North West of England. This is bringing experienced support officers to help local people deal with the challenges of looking after church buildings and £1 million of extra funding for repairs and maintenance.

In 2024, the National Churches Trust launched Every Church Counts, a six point plan on how to save the UK’s church buildings. It offers a blueprint for how these buildings can be kept open and in use.