The Aberfan Disaster Fund

The Aberfan Disaster touched the hearts and consciences of not only Britain but the World. The loss of so many young lives, together with the underlying suspicion that this was the price of years of cheap coal, led to a widespread anxiety to do something to help. The Mayor of Merthyr immediately launched a Disaster Fund to aid the village and bereaved. Donations flooded in out of sympathy, grief and guilt. By the time the Fund closed in January 1967, nearly 90,000 contributions had been received, totalling £1,606,929. The Fund's final sum was approximately £1,750,000. In 1997 pounds this represented approximately £17.5 million.

From its outset the Fund faced difficulties. Its legal status was unclear and there were fears that any money it gave out immediately could influence future compensation claims against the NCB. Yet the provisional committee, largely consisting of members of Merthyr Tydfil Borough Council and other local dignateries, decided to pay out some money forthwith to those affected. As the Fund grew, so too did the worries of the village and donors over how the money would be used. The minimal representation the village had on the provisional committee added to the concern and disquiet. Media exaggerations of the split that existed between the committee and the village fuelled the flames. Some donors wanted the entire fund to go to the bereaved, others felt that it should benefit the wider community, a few that it should be used to remove the remaining tips.

The disputes did not cease after the Fund was put on a firm legal footing under the auspices of a permanent committee with clear local representation. The Fund's Trust Deed specifies that the money was:

1) For the relief of all persons who have suffered as a result of the said disaster and are thereby in need and

(2) subject as aforesaid for any charitable purpose for the benefit of persons who were inhabitants of Aberfan and its immediate neighbourhood (hereinafter called 'the area of benefit') on the 21st day of October 1966 or now are or hereafter become inhabitants of the area of benefit and in particular (but without prejudice to the generality of the last foregoing trust) for any charitable purpose for the benefit of children who were on the 21st day of October 1966 or who now are or hereafter may become resident in the area of benefit.

This wide remit allowed the Fund to finance a number of different schemes to aid the regeneration, both physical and emotional, of Aberfan. Beyond donating money to the bereaved, the Fund paid for a memorial, house repairs, holidays for villagers and a community hall. The well publicised and widespread fears that the money would just stagnate in investment accounts (as had happened with many other disaster funds) were proved unfounded. Controversy did reappear over the salary of the Fund's secretary/treasurer and the situating of his offices in Merthyr rather than Aberfan, but the biggest scandal was still to come. After the NCB and Treasury refused to accept full financial responsibility, the Fund ended up having to contribute £150,000 for the removal of the remaining tips overlooking the village. Despite the outrage of donors, villagers and the local MP, it was not until 1997 that this money was repaid to the Fund.

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