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Former JT Morgan department store in Swansea could become arts centre

The former JT Morgan store, Swansea, which could become an arts centre (Pic: Richard Youle)

A BUILDING etched in many people’s memories as a busy department store – and Wales’s oldest at that – could become an arts centre.

The privately-owned former JT Morgan store on Belle Vue Way, Swansea, closed in 2008 and the doors have remained locked since.

Now the team behind the Elysium gallery and studios want to relocate there from four buildings they occupy on High Street, Orchard Street, Mansel Street and College Street.

The plan is to create 63 studios on the first and second floors and at basement level. The ground floor would be a gallery and an education centre, which would include a cafe, function suite and quiet room. Only Elysium’s bar on High Street would remain where it is.

Inside the JT Morgan store, Swansea, which could become an arts centre (Pic: Dan Staveley)

Elysium founder and director Dan Staveley, who has applied to Swansea Council for planning permission to convert the former JT Morgan store, described it as an iconic building.

He said: “Every person I have mentioned it to has said, ‘Oh my God, that building’s amazing.’ There’s so much regeneration going on in Swansea at the moment. I think there is a bit more confidence.”

Mr Staveley said the ex-department store needed some roofing work but was otherwise in good condition. The plan is to keep the big wooden entrance doors and the brass around the windows, and carry out the £3.4 million project in two phases – the studios first, and the gallery and education centre second. Solar panels are planned for the roof.

Mr Staveley said some funding had already been secured from the UK Government’s Shared Prosperity Fund, the Architectural Heritage Fund and Arts Council of Wales. The Elysium team will seek further grant support and also intends to launch a community share offer to try to raise £250,000 to £300,000. “The share offer is a vital part of the strategy,” said Mr Staveley.

He said the council, through which £650,000 of Shared Prosperity Fund money had been allocated, had been very supportive, as had Elysium’s current landlord Coastal Housing. The 49-year-old photographer, who also lectures two days a week at Carmarthen School of Art, said he felt the prospect of a longer lease at the JT Morgan building gave Elysium more stability and longevity.

Elysium’s operations come under a limited company – Elysium Art – which has 10 directors, including Mr Staveley. Seven of them are volunteers. There are five full-time staff and four freelancers, with revenue generated by rent from the studio artists and the High Street bar.

“We’ve also got Arts Council revenue funding for three years, which will help us grow,” said Mr Staveley. If all went to plan, he said, work would hopefully start on the studios in the second half of 2024.

The planned arts centre would cement that part of Swansea as something of an artistic hub. The nearby Glynn Vivian Art Gallery has been renovated and sits opposite the University of Wales Trinity Saint David’s college of art, while in the other direction the Albert Hall, Craddock Street, is being restored and turned into an entertainment venue.

Cllr Robert Francis-Davies, cabinet member for investment, regeneration and tourism, said: “We’re delighted to be helping fund this project through the UK Government’s Shared Prosperity Fund.

“What’s being planned will bring a well-known empty city centre building back into use, helping boost the arts while also creating more footfall and vibrancy to benefit city centre traders.

“There are so many young creative businesses in Swansea too, so it’s very encouraging that the project will also include incubation spaces for enterprising businesses of this kind.”