Anyone looking to trace their roots in the South Wales Valleys will soon be able to do so using some of the most advanced technology available, with a sneak preview of a £12 million Visitor Centre available to the public this July, ahead of its official launch in 2011.
The family history and genealogy Visitor Centre at The General Offices at The Works: Ebbw Vale, which will open to the public for the first time in July, will be the first of its kind in the UK. The centre will feature the latest developments in interactive and 3D technology, which will help bring the past to life for millions of people across the country.
The cutting edge facility will link genealogy searches with geographically represented data which will include digitised newspapers from the past, photos, maps, recordings, records and films. In addition to a map room, which will offer a 360° immersive experience, the centre will also offer a state of the art 5-Dimensional Cinema.
The Centre does not officially open in full until 2011, however the public is being offered a sneak preview of areas in the unique facility to coincide with Wales’ National Eisteddfod, which is being held on the same site known as The Works. The Works was the largest former steelworks site in Europe and is currently undergoing a £350 million regeneration which includes the genealogy centre.
Deputy Minister for Housing and Regeneration, Jocelyn Davies said:“This exciting new facility is set to revolutionise access to genealogy for those of us whose family roots are in the Valleys. It will be easier than ever for people with links to the region, to look back through their family tree and discover more about past generations.When the whole attraction opens, it will include a ‘Names’ room, a ‘Map’ room, a ‘Home’ room and an ‘Are you Belonging’ room, all brought together by Microsoft Touch Surfaces and the other cutting edge technology throughout the building. By utilising these new, emerging technologies visitors will have access to a vast collection of historical information, literally at their fingertips.
“I am sure that the Visitor Centre will make a huge contribution to the Works by providing opportunities for local people to learn more about their families and area as well as attracting tourists tracing their roots.
“I’m delighted that visitors to the Eisteddfod will have the chance to see the cinema and other parts of the building which will be showcased during the Eisteddfod ahead of the official opening next year and I hope that the sneak preview will encourage many of them to return once the centre is fully open.”
To further boost its genealogy offering, the centre has formalised a partnership with Find my Past.com, which has access to the 1911 census. The Centre will also be home to the Gwent Records Office, which has one of the largest archives in Wales, and will form the cornerstone of the multi-million pound visitor attraction, which is the only one of its kind in the UK.
The cinema is expected to be a major hit with visitors to The General Offices Visitor Centre, playing in 3D with 5D effects, which will include aroma, bubbles, fog and dry ice. It will have 30 seats, which will include 4D effects such as seat drops, vibrations, air blasts, leg ticklers and water spray – and will be a must-see experience for everyone visiting The Works.
The new genealogy centre will be internationally marketed and is anticipated to become a major attraction for tourists. It will be of particular interest to those attending the National Eisteddfod from 31 July to 8 August 2010, and the Homecoming event which has been linked to the worldwide interest generated by Ryder Cup Wales being held in Wales in October 2010. The Valleys Homecoming event is to encourage people of Welsh descent to visit their roots.
Councillor Des Hillman, Leader of Blaenau Gwent Council, said:“We are calling on to all those whose families originate from the South Wales Valleys to return and experience where their relatives came from and see the Valleys in their modern attractive setting.A new purpose-built, environmentally controlled extension will be built at the General Offices to house the Gwent Records office archives, which forms part of the larger regeneration of The Works project as a whole.
“The Centre will be able to offer much more than merely access to records and data – the vast amount of easily accessible information will also enable people to paint a picture of the world their ancestors lived in, and provide a snapshot of Welsh history.
“As over half a million people left the Valleys in the inter-war years, there are many, many people out there, from all corners of the UK and even beyond, who will be able to benefit from this development.”
The Visitor Centre is funded by the Heads of the Valleys programme and is aiming to be a family history centre with a real ‘wow’ factor, incorporating multi touch surfaces, interactive games and a 5D cinema. The project is a joint venture between Blaenau Gwent Council and the Welsh Assembly Government.