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Home / Latest News / World-renowned documentary maker Nick Broomfield’s latest project focuses on Cardiff’s Coal Exchange

World-renowned documentary maker Nick Broomfield’s latest project focuses on Cardiff’s Coal Exchange

He’s a world-renowned documentary maker but when Nick Broomfield decided his next project would be about architecture, there was only one place he wanted to go.

Nick is well-known for his documentaries, including Kurt and Courtney, and The Leader, His Driver, and the Driver’s Wife.

He is currently in Los Angeles, making a documentary about Whitney Houston, but the project set for release this week is about Cardiff ’s Coal Exchange.

It is part of a documentary which also features Liverpool’s The Wellington Rooms, which looks at those trying to keep heritage and architecture safe from the wrecking ball.

In 1969, as a student, he lived in Windsor Esplanade in Butetown . The Coal Exchange building, he says, was his favourite in the whole city.

Butetown has been ‘trashed and abused’

At that time, it was used for community events and Nick was a regular visitor.

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“I wanted to do a film on architecture because it’s something that I love. I would have been an architect if not a filmmaker,” he says.

But his return to Cardiff’s Butetown was bittersweet.

Picture shows demolition of Bute Street in 1963, Cardiff bay
Bute Street in 1963

Lower Bute Street, looking north, in 1937

“It’s tragic what’s happened to the whole area,” he said.

“It was one of the most amazing areas of Britain. It’s been so trashed and abused. There was no thought given to the incredible heritage that Cardiff has.

“It should be one of the most sought-after areas to live in, but it was all given away for short-term gain.

Praise for Coal Exchange campaigners

“I think it’s tragic because there is an incredible legacy there.”

Part of the documentary shows him meeting volunteers from the Save the Coal Exchange group, including Ian Hill.

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This is how Cardiff’s Coal Exchange will look as a luxury 200-suite hotel

“I think Ian and the campaigners have done an amazing job in keeping the Coal Exchange in one piece,” he said.

Since the end of filming, Signature Living has announced it has bought the building and plans to turn it into a hotel and serviced apartments.

Ian Hill, director of Save the Coal Exchange Ltd

“I think the effect of the rejuvenation of the building could be huge,” he said.

“If it becomes an in place to go to, which it should because it’s so incredible, then all these other buildings could be restored and people will want to live there. It should be the most expensive and most impressive areas in the whole of Cardiff.

“There’s a lot of buildings there which are worth saving. It’s an area that deserves celebrating.”

‘Amazing, incredible people’

During his time here, his landlady was Mrs Carpenter, who ran the Rainbow Club. He remembers meeting Shirley Bassey at the club.

“I remember so many amazing characters and there are still those amazing, incredible people there.”

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He met with modern-day residents and was invited into their homes.

“That reminded me what it was like living down there. It was a real community. It was really heartening to see that still going on.”

It’s not the first time Cardiff has been the inspiration for his work.

‘A folly of a building’

His first work, Who Cares, was shot in Liverpool but the preparatory photography work was in Cardiff.

“It was really Cardiff that inspired it,” he said.

But, when he returned, he described being “horrified” to see what had come of his beloved Coal Exchange.

“When I got down there for the first time, I was thoroughly depressed. It’s a folly of a building but it’s magnificent and beautiful.”

“When I looked at the new development, where the docks had been, it’s so sad.”

Going, Going, Gone, is on BBC4 on Wednesday, May 25.

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