CHAMPAGNE was flowing at Cwmbran’s Congress Theatre as the volunteers reached their target of £100,000 for the refurbishment of the building.

At the launch of the appeal last August, the theatre’s manager, Martyn Redwood, explained that £100,000 was required to refurbish the building, which was built in 1972.

The theatre’s 78 volunteers embarked on the fundraising challenge hosting bucket collections, a walk, bric a brac sale and a raffle.

Yesterday, during the raffle draw, Mr Redwood made the announcement that they had raised £11,000 independently, which means the successful bids of £50,000 from the Arts Council of Wales, £50,000 from the Community Economic Development Programme and £10,000 from the Cwmbran Trust, are now accessible to the theatre to pay for the refurbishment.

The theatre’s chairman, The Rev Canon Harald Thomas MBE said: “We have a wonderful band of volunteer who really have this theatre at heart and have driven the fundraising effort by raising the profile of the theatre with a range of events.

“In my eyes the refurbishment will make it one of the finest theatres in this part of Wales, which will attract even bigger names to perform, so it’s the start of a great future.”

Pushing the theatre to its total, was the raffle, which raised £1,036, and Barclays Bank pledged to match fund the theatre £1,000.

Volunteer Joyce Liddle, 69, raised £800 by hosting a bric a brac sale, £250 from serving tea at Melin Homes offices and around £200 for a sponsored walk.

Melin Homes supported the campaign, by asking Mrs Liddle to stage a Twitter Takeover at their headquarters in Pontypool.

As part of her fundraising effort, Mrs Liddle took a tea trolley round the office and undertook a news-gathering exercise to learn about the many ways Melin helps the community, and posted her thoughts on Melin’s Twitter account.

In return, Melin awarded The Congress Theatre £250 from its community grants scheme, The Jump Fund.

On top of hosting a fun walk and bric a brac sale, her independent raffle in May raised £120 and her prize bingo session raised £95.

As well as donations from Barclays Bank, Tiffins Indian Restaurant in Cwmbran made a donation to the fund of £100, and Amplifon Hearing Aids in Cwmbran also joined in the effort.

Then a final donation came from Pontypool Roundtable of £2,344.

Joining in the celebrations was Torfaen AM, Lynne Neagle and Cwmbran shopping manager, Paul Rich.

Mr Redwood added: “The public gave a great response to our fundraising effort so we can’t thank them enough.

“But there is no rest for our volunteers as annually they need to fundraise around £160,000 to cover running costs, and with council cuts of £18,000 their efforts will continue.”

The project to revamp the auditorium, foyer, toilets and lounge is the biggest that has ever been undertaken at the theatre which has seen Jim Davidson, Max Boyce, psychic Colin Fry and Owen Money perform.

Intimate venue is run by volunteers

THE Congress Theatre was built in 1972 and its regular stage groups include the Cwmbran Woodland Players and the Congress Youth Theatre, as well as numerous dance schools.

It was originally built as a conference centre, but it soon evolved into a central entertainment attraction.

It prospered until the mid-80s, when local government cutbacks began to take their toll, resulting in a reduction of staff, difficulties with budget control and maintaining an affordable programme.

The culmination of this was the withdrawal of support by the local council, just 23 years after opening.

But it was saved by the community, when a trust took control in 1992 to run the theatre for local community groups.

Today, its main source of income is through hire of the theatre, by both amateur and professional organisations and for private functions.

Support for the fundraising venture came from Owen Money, who starred in Aladdin at the theatre earlier this year.

He said: It’s a lovely venue that is supported by the community and a team of volunteers. It’s looking a little dated so a refurbishment would brighten it up.” After hearing the news, Max Boyce, called it “a lovely intimate theatre for performers”.

Local support came from assistant stage manager Leonie Hamilton, 24, from Pontnewynydd, who said she owes her career to the venue as being a member of the Congress Youth Theatre sparked her interest in behind the scenes work.

Also the 2013 Miss Torfaen, Charlotte Hunt, 21, called it “the heart of Cwmbran’s Gwent Square” and the winner of Big Brother nine, Cwmbran’s Rachel Rice, said she had wonderful memories of the venue from her childhood and called it “an amazing theatre”.