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Green light for conversion of former department store into arts centre

The former JT Morgan store on Belle Vue Way, which is to become an arts centre (Pic: Richard Youle)

PLANS to convert a former department store into an arts centre have been given the go-ahead by Swansea Council in a decision described as “brilliant news” by the man behind the project.

Dan Staveley, the founder and director of Elysium gallery and studios, said: “We’re over the moon, really. It confirms the support for the project and moves it forward.”

Elysium director Dan Staveley outside Swansea’s former JT Morgan department store, which will now become an arts centre and cafe (Pic: Richard Youle)

Elysium, which occupies four buildings on High Street, Orchard Street, Mansel Street and College Street, will move to the old JT Morgan building on Belle Vue Way, subject to funding being secured.

The first phase of the project will result in 63 artist studios on the first and second floors and at basement level, plus a new roof with solar panels. The second phase will create a ground floor gallery and education centre, which will include a cafe, function suite and quiet room. Only Elysium’s bar on High Street will remain where it is.

Elysium’s bar on High Street, which will remain in place while the rest of the venture moves to the JT Morgan building (Pic: Richard Youle)

Mr Staveley said more than 100 artists – painters, illustrators, sculptors, designers, print makers and photographers among them – currently rented space with Elysium, and that larger premises were needed.

“We wanted to show that creative industries can be entrepreneurial,” he said.

Some of the artwork currently on display at the Elysium gallery, High Street (Pic: Richard Youle)

The planned £3.4 million revamp of the JT Morgan building already has some funding from the UK Government’s Shared Prosperity Fund, the Architectural Heritage Fund and Arts Council of Wales. Mr Staveley said he was waiting to hear back from another potential backer – the Community Ownership Fund – and that an application for Transforming Towns funding would be submitted to the Welsh Government.

In addition a community share offer is to be launched, with expressions of interest sought from March 7. Mr Staveley said he hoped that £250,000 could be raised this way. If all went to plan, work could start on the studios later this year.

Some of the artwork currently on display at the Elysium gallery, High Street (Pic: Richard Youle)

The privately-owned former JT Morgan store shut in 2008 and the doors have remained closed since, despite attempts to attract retailers, although squatters spent time in there in 2012.

Speaking in December, photographer and part-time lecturer Mr Staveley 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.”

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Some of the artwork currently on display at the Elysium gallery, High Street (Pic: Richard Youle)

Council planning officers said the project had the potential to see an increase in footfall in the city centre and help revitalise the area.

One of the conditions they stipulated was that the building had to be used as a multi-purpose arts centre and not other uses within the relevant planning category.

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