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Council to spend £350k on Gower visitor and environment improvements

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Swansea Council has secured £350,000 of Welsh Government grants to help protect Gower’s natural beauty at some of the region’s most scenic locations like Clyne Valley, Pennard Castle and Fairwood Common.

At the same time some of the money will be going to help manage the pressure of visitor numbers on locations like the Blue Flag beach at Port Eynon and nearby Horton.

David Hopkins, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Delivery and Operations, said there is already feasibility work underway to develop improved and more resilient visitor facilities at Port Eynon.

It’s proposed the latest grants from Welsh Government totalling £75,000 for Port Eynon and Horton are aimed at upgrading facilities such as car parks, toilets and recycling stations at each location to ease the pressure at the height of the summer season.

Cllr Hopkins said: “The Gower AONB is the greatest natural asset we have. As a council we’ve been there supporting local businesses and the natural environment through the pandemic.

“Now, as we emerge from the pandemic, the grants we’ve secured will help us protect natural habitats and tackle invasive non-local species like Japanese knotweed. The grants will also help us manage the return of visitors and staycationers while protecting and promoting the environment they’ve come to experience.”

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The blue flag beach at Port Eynon (Image: Swansea Council)

Apart from the Port Eynon and Horton improvements, £50,000 each has been earmarked for projects on Fairwood Common and Clyne Valley Country Park.

At the park some of the money will be used to control invasive non-native species like Rhododendron and knotweed in a bid to restore wildlife habitats and encourage local flora and fauna to flourish.

Working alongside Pennard Golf Club, which owns and cares for Pennard Castle, the council aims to spend £30,000 on improving the condition of the iconic location, access and way-marking to routes around the castle, events and interpretation facilities.

At the same time £20,000 has been earmarked to improve footpath and way-marking links between Reynoldston and Cefn Bryn for visitors wanting to visit and find out more about Cefn Bryn Common and its famous Arthur’s Stone, a Neolithic burial chamber.

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In addition to these initiatives, the Welsh Government support includes a £100,000  Sustainable Development Fund that the Gower AONB Partnership grants to local projects that promote and protect the area.

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Cllr Hopkins said: “Alongside the Rural Development Programme and community crowdsourcing initiatives like the ‘two-minute’ litter clean stations at beach locations like Swansea Bay, Port Eynon and Langland, there’s a real sense of everyone coming together to make the most of our natural environment and protect the AONB for future generations.

“As the summer season starts in earnest this latest round of grants from Welsh Government is a real boost.”

The proposals for spending the Welsh Government grant will be considered by Cabinet at its meeting on June 17. 

(Lead image: Swansea Council)                               


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Education

Neath Abbey Welsh medium primary school given go-ahead

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Neath Port Talbot Council’s new Rainbow Coalition Cabinet has agreed to move forward with plans to open Neath Port Talbot’s first ever Welsh medium primary “starter school” at Neath Abbey.

The new Welsh medium starter school in premises previously occupied by Abbey Primary School at St John’s Terrace, Neath Abbey, could welcome its first pupils next January if fully approved.

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Part of the council’s strategy to increase Welsh medium education across the county borough, the Cabinet agreed to move the starter school plan to its next stage – publication of a statutory proposal to establish the new school.

The starter school model is used when establishing a new school, gradually allowing the facilities and staff to be used efficiently while the school grows to its full potential.

Under the plans, £200,000 would be set aside for refurbishments and improvements including the provision of learning walls and digital equipment ensuring the school can deliver the new curriculum.

Cllr Nia Jenkins, Cabinet Member for Education, Skills and Training, said: “This council has a ten year target to increase the number of Year 1 children taught through the medium of Welsh from 16.8% in 2020/21 to 31% (460 pupils) by 2032 and this proposed new school will help reach that target.

“It also complements the national vision for the Welsh language, to have a million Welsh speakers by 2050.”

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(Lead image: Neath Port Talbot Council)

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Swansea Bay NHS

Maggie’s making a big difference for adults with learning disabilities

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For over a decade, Maggie Higgins has made a big difference to the lives of people with learning difficulties and hearing loss – contributing to work which can help reduce the risk of them developing dementia.

Her support has even helped one adult hear birds singing clearly once again.

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For others, it helps fulfil their potential and maximise their independence despite any difficulties they may face.

Now her work has been recognised through a major NHS award.

Maggie’s responsibilities within the speech and language service, which is managed by Swansea Bay and hosted in Cardiff and Vale, involves supporting adults with a learning disability, particularly hearing loss.

She has helped improve services around successful assessment, diagnosis and ongoing support for hearing loss, while a key part of her role includes overseeing the Positive Approaches to Supporting the Senses (PASS) group, which she set up with clinical psychologist Dr Sara Rhys-Jones.

PASS works closely with audiology experts to support patients, many of whom have had no concerns highlighted about their hearing, or had not been assisted in attending hearing tests or follow up appointments.

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Significantly, Maggie’s work has led to a sustained sevenfold increase in referrals to audiology services for people with a learning disability – lowering the likelihood of undiagnosed or misdiagnosed hearing losses, which can decrease the risk of developing dementia.

Maggie has helped develop innovative new innovative learning disability and sensory impairment awareness training for professionals, families and carers. (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

Maggie said: “This is particularly encouraging following a Lancet Commission report in 2020 which identified that ‘unsupported hearing loss is the single greatest preventable risk factor for developing dementia.’

“People with a learning disability are at far greater risk of having undiagnosed or unsupported hearing loss and are known to be three times more likely to develop dementia than the general public.

“I raise awareness and get people seen and supported appropriately to reduce the risk where possible.

“Sensory loss is particularly prevalent and frequently undiagnosed and unsupported amongst people with a learning disability. The responses that might indicate someone has a problem hearing are very often mistaken for characteristics of their learning disability.

“It is essential that we understand what someone can see and hear so that we provide the best possible support. We cannot accurately estimate the impact of a person’s learning disability unless we are aware of what they can see and hear.”

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Now in her 20th year with the speech and language service, Maggie has spent the last 12 years focusing on the impact of sensory loss on people with learning disabilities.

It is an area which she is particularly passionate about.

She said: “When I started this work, the link between unsupported hearing loss and dementia was not known but that was not the primary reason that I started to work on it.

“It was the fact that people weren’t recognising the signs of sensory loss and people were not accessing assessments. The work has become even more important now that we understand there is a link.

“You can’t underestimate the difference it can make to the lives of people with previously undiagnosed issues who go on to have hearing aids fitted.

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“One lady left her hearing aid fitting appointment and burst into tears because she could hear the birds singing.

“It is terribly frustrating for individuals who, given the right support, could be involved to a much greater degree.

“When hearing aids are fitted or communication is adapted appropriately, the difference in people’s ability to engage with others and their environment can be overwhelming to see, irrespective of whether or not they use verbal communication.”

Maggie also created My Hearing Action Plan to help people with learning disabilities and their carers understand their hearing loss and the methods they can implement.

Following diagnosis of hearing loss, Maggie and her team support individuals, carers and staff to understand the impact of that person’s particular hearing loss on their communication and daily living.

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Working with Occupational Therapist Maura Shanahan, she developed innovative learning disability and sensory impairment awareness training for professionals, families and carers, which enables them to experience particular levels of hearing loss.

It has led to an increase in the use of sensory-supportive approaches that help people with learning disabilities improve their health, well-being and quality of life.

Her efforts over the past decade have recently gained recognition in the form of being named the outright winner of The NHS Employers Award at the 2022 UK Advancing Healthcare Awards.

The award category identifies an outstanding achievement by an apprentice, support worker or non-registered technician in an allied health professional or healthcare science service.

She added: “I was totally amazed to be shortlisted, let alone win the award in my category.

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“I have thoroughly enjoyed working in the speech and language service for 20 years, so it was a really lovely way to celebrate that landmark.

“Working with adults with a learning disability is an absolute privilege.”

(Lead image: Swansea Bay NHS)

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Ambitious plans for city’s future unveiled

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Ambitious plans for Swansea have been unveiled by the leader of the council – including further transformation of the city centre.

Building on success stories like the Swansea arena, new schools and play areas and a £750m new deal for the city centre, the city is set to be transformed in the coming years.

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And as Swansea heads into a summer packed with major international sports, music and cultural events, they’re helping set the stage for an optimistic and vibrant future for the city.

Rob Stewart, Leader of the Council, said that plans being set out for the next five years include the transformation of Castle Square Gardens, the rejuvenation of Mumbles and the sweep of Swansea Bay and the delivery of new, exciting visitor attractions.

And he pledged that none of the city’s communities would be left behind thanks to tens of millions of pounds of investment in road improvements, street cleaning and community facilities alongside support for struggling families and the homeless.

Castle Square is due to be transformed in the coming months (Image: Swansea Council)

He said: “Swansea has always been a city of ambition. Now it is a city delivering on our people’s priorities.”

Among the highlights of the city’s ambition for the future include the delivery of a £750m city centre transformation that started with the arena, delivering a city centre community hub and a new role for the former Debenhams store.

Other pledges include making progress on the £1.7bn Blue Eden renewable energy scheme set to include a tidal lagoon, developing a new aquarium and building new hotels in the city centre and near the Swansea.com Stadium.

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The opening an outdoor adventure park on Kilvey Hill in 2025 that would include cable cars, ziplines and luge runs.

Plans for the Skyline adventure park on Kilvey Hill form part of the council’s future vision for the city (Image: Swansea Council)

The council will also build hundreds more energy-efficient council properties, while also upgrading existing homes to help reduce fuel bills.

Highways are set for investment with a £10m boost for road repairs, new PATCH road repair teams being rolled out, more electric vehicle charging points and more walking and cycling routes.

Other commitments for Swansea communities include Cleansing, littering and weeding teams dedicated to every neighbourhood,

Continued support to encourage eligible households to claim the Welsh Government £150 cost of living payment, investment in thousands more trees, our parks and biodiversity with investment also seeing play area upgrades and improved skate facilities.

Swansea Council say they will spend £10m on road repairs in the next year (Image: Swansea Council)

Cllr Stewart said the free bus travel initiative and upgrades for outdoor play areas was helping families make ends meet at a time when every penny counts. At the same time city centre regeneration spearheaded by the council was attracting millions of pounds of private sector investment.

He said: “The cost of living crisis and climate change will be among the biggest challenges any of us will face over the coming years.

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“From food banks to free bus travel, from better homes to better schools, we’ll carry on supporting families and communities who are struggling to get by.

“We’ll continue investing in major projects and community priorities like schools, children’s welfare and adult wellbeing. This combined investment enables resilience and promotes wellbeing. It creates and protects jobs and it makes Swansea a better place to live, work and do business.

“And by investing in green energy, growing our green spaces and welcoming new people, new investment and fresh ideas, we can look forward to building a better future.”

(Lead image: Swansea Council)

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