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Mental health nurses’ pandemic experiences used as muse for poems



Three mental health nurses from Cefn Coed Hospital have turned to poetry to process their emotions of working through the pandemic.

Maria Anderton, Dawn Griffin and Deborah Morgan collaborated with Pembrokeshire-based writer Kerry Steed to create a collection of poems which communicates their experiences over the past 18 months.

The collection, The Close Language of Distance, is part of a project called Unlocking the Poetry: Sharing the Story, which aims to work with NHS Wales staff to articulate how Covid-19 has impacted upon them.

Prue Thimbleby and Sarah Goodey, arts coordinators from Swansea Bay and Aneurin Bevan university health boards respectively, offered guidance and support.

The nurses met Kerry via a video call to discuss their trials and tribulations before the poet transcribed their conversations and worked their words into what was described by Dawn as ‘the most beautiful collection of poems’.

Dawn (right), Swansea Bay University Health Board’s Directorate Manager for OPMHS, said: “I had to hold it together reading them because I was so emotional.

“We are so thrilled with the outcome. Kerry took so much from it, and turned something that was really challenging and emotional into something quite heart-warming and beautiful.


“I have shared the collection with family.  I am thrilled they can gain a sense of what I’ve experienced from the poetry.

“I was so worried in every aspect of my personal and work life, and wouldn’t show it.  So for others to read this, they were really touched by the poems.

“Going through something like the pandemic, we didn’t take a minute to step back and think about it. This opportunity has given us the chance to reflect and learn from it as well.” 


Maria, Head of Mental Health and Learning Disabilities Nursing, was also impressed.


She said: “When Kerry sent us the completed poetry, it absolutely blew us away. I get hairs on the back of my neck when I think about it. When I first read the poems I cried, it was just so powerful. I thought, ‘look at that, hear that, that’s what we went through’.”

As the pandemic intensified, Maria, who usually works in a management role, changed back into her scrubs and PPE and joined her colleagues on the wards, delivering clinical care rather than working from home.

She said: “For me, it was absolutely the right thing to do morally. You know we were all so scared. I had a family to go home to, the others had families to go home to. So it was a massively conflicting time.”

Her decision paid off as she felt part of a tight team.

“We rose to the challenge, with lots of support from the team and the community. We went from feeling like we were in the middle of the eye of the storm, and we were just floundering, to feeling like we had this whole team around us that allowed us to feel much stronger.”


Deborah, Derwen Ward Manager, expressed her love for one poem in particular as she felt strongly about her perceived lack of attention and support for the mental health hospitals during the pandemic.

She said: “I’d love to share the poetry, especially the one titled ‘For the Forgotten Hospitals, I am speaking’, because I feel very strongly that as mental health hospitals we are always forgotten. We are never mentioned in the media. They thought Covid wouldn’t hit the mental health wards for some reason.”

Deborah admitted a need for psychological input during the pandemic, as she felt angry and began to experience nightmares following the loss of people’s loved ones that she had nursed for a long time.

She said: “When I went to put it into words I didn’t feel so angry. Feelings came differently, so when it came to talking to Kerry I could look at the whole situation in a more positive light instead of that anger.

“When I read the poetry it just took me back to that place. But I just think it was because everything that I locked away again had come flooding back. But actually, the more that I read the poetry and understood it, the better I felt.


“I’d I just like to thank Kerry a lot, because the way she captured it took my anger away. It made me look at it more, it really made me look at things and made me realise what we have achieved.

“I don’t think people realise that with mental health there isn’t an open wound or something that you can heal or something you can operate on. People don’t understand the real challenges that you have, so I think it’s important to talk about it.”


Kerry (pictured right: photo credit Cara Gaskell) firmly believes writing can be beneficial for mindfulness, creativity and general wellbeing.

She said: “I think it’s vital that anyone who’s been working intensely through the pandemic has an opportunity to process that experience and to mark it, to give voice to it. I offered out the project by way of enabling that.

“During the hour we spent together they were listening to each other, sharing story and acknowledging the emotions that they had felt as they were going through Covid, emotions which perhaps hadn’t been acknowledged between the three of them before.”



The Lioness

Lioness, I had the pleasure
of working alongside you.

I remember your strength, Lioness,
such strength.

And how it was so tough, so challenging
internally panicking while showing
that leading lioness face,
while supporting, pulling everyone together.

Remember, Lioness, your strength in relation.
And the normally mundane things,
the time spent on those things,
they didn’t matter.
We mattered,
Lioness, we mattered.
We that were doing it,
the people we were doing it for.

How frightened we really were
to keep people alive, frightened
to save them.

You remember, Lioness, how we felt?
Frightened, but such bravery
amongst that, such strength.


You’re strength, Lioness, you’re superhuman strength,
fighting to save people.

Be proud of that, be proud.

Lioness, I had the pleasure
of working alongside you
and remember, I say,
remember, Lioness, how you mattered.

We’ve Got This
The respect for each other totally changed, we showed respect, more care for each other. I think maybe it’s always been there, but when you’re working with people everyday, well, you don’t really see it, until you get something like this.

Something like this and you realise
how important the person next to you is,

and the things you all share,
the thoughts,
the feelings,
like on a night shift when you’ll share anything;

nurses and senior management all sharing
on the same level, and the work
is everybody’s.

And the community sharing spirit,
the donations, the food.


How heartwarming, how humbling
how people are sharing,

even when they’re not there
you sense community.

And you realise how important
the person next to you is
and the next
and the next
and the next,

and how much you care,
and that’s when you know,
we’re doing it together,
we’ll get through this together,

and that’s when you know,
we’ve got this.


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Doctors prescribe dance classes to keep patients on their feet




Over 65s in Swansea Bay are being encouraged to attend dance classes in a bid to keep them on their feet.

Five of the health board’s clusters – groups of GP surgeries working together within a geographical area – are backing the scheme as the exercise to music is proven to aid falls prevention.


Each class is led by a trained dance teacher with participants encouraged to follow a range of routines, designed to develop their strength and balance, with the option of using a chair for support if their mobility is limited.

The Dance for Health programme is a collaboration between the health board, clusters, local authorities, and Aesop, an arts focused charity.

Alyson Pugh, Programme Manager at Aesop, said: “We are delighted to be working with our partners in the health sector to improve the health and wellbeing of people aged over 65 through the medium of dance.

“During each class participants will move to a variety of music from all around the world. The classes are fun and vibrant, increasing fitness, mobility and strength.

“Afterwards, participants will have a good chance to get to know one another over a cup of tea or coffee. No previous experience is needed, everybody is welcome.”


So far classes are held in Pontardawe, Morriston, Seven Sisters, Cwmavon and Briton Ferry, Upper Killay, Reynoldston, Mumbles and the Waterfront Museum.

Alyson said: “The health board asked for 12 classes across Swansea Bay and funded the management side while the GP clusters are funding the delivery of the classes. They wanted it to be grass roots up.

“Anyone can walk in but they wanted the main referrals to come from the virtual wards and local area coordinators and social prescribers, a whole community approach.”

Lizzie MacMillan (Image: Swansea Bay HNS)

Dance artist Lizzie MacMillan (left), a development officer for Dance for Health, said: “It’s for older people and people who are struggling a little bit with perhaps balance issues, mobility issues as well, so we are not expecting them to foxtrot along the floor on the first class or anything like that. It builds up over the weeks.

“We start off quite gently, just seeing where everyone is in the class – I like to gauge the class first of all to see if people are having problems with balance or perhaps giddiness or joint problems. I like to get to know each person in the class so that I can look after them and know their capacity for movement.

“We use the chairs quite a lot if someone is unsteady on their feet. They can still do a variation using the chair for support. We also do a standing variation if people are a little fitter or a little bit more able to push themselves further in the class.”

Over 65s in Swansea Bay are being encouraged to attend dance classes in a bid to keep them on their feet. (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

Mike Garner, Cwmtawe Cluster lead, said: “We are delighted to be participating in this programme as it fits in perfectly with our goal of improving well-being and helping people remain fit and healthy.”

One participant, Pauline Anderson, said: “I’ve been to four or five classes. I thought I would try it to see what it’s like and it’s been very good.

“As you get older you become more immobile. I’ve been struggling with my knees and joints, so I have found it helpful.

“I would advise anyone thinking about it to just come along.”

Another participant, Betty Didcock, said: “I try to keep active as much as I can. I used to enjoy dancing when I was younger. I’ve made friends here. If you’re a bit shy, it’s a wonderful place to come to get used to talking to people. I’m a quiet one. I don’t always do it right but I have a go.”

While Amber Davies said: “I thought I’d come along to see what it was like. It’s important to keep busy and remain active. It’s also a good way of meeting new people.”


(Lead image: Swansea Bay NHS)

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Books & Literature

Author uncovers the lost tale of Swansea fairground legend




From Swansea Bliz survivor to fairground strongman – an author discovers his grandfather’s fascinating story as The Welsh Hercules.

In the early half of the 20th Century, Jack Lemm was a household name in Wales. As the Strongman star of fairgrounds and Music Hall, he was famed for his feats of strength, wrestling and his dangerous headlining act, The Whirl of Death.


Times and entertainment trends change, however, and now the once-famous showman is almost forgotten.

For one man, however, the story of the strongman had special meaning. Glaswegian Steven Blockley had always thought that his Great Grandfather deserved to be better known.

“I never actually met Jack,” he says. “I grew up listening to my uncles and aunts telling fascinating stories about all his incredible achievements around the Swansea area and I always knew I wanted to write a book to bring them to a wider audience. As I dug further into his past, however, even I was surprised by what I found.”

Looking into the background of Jack, Steven and co-author David J Thacker uncovered a rich life story and the perfect antidote to our troubled times.

Steven continues, “Jack lived through some harsh years – he was on HMS Lion at the Battle of Jutland in World War 1 and was a survivor of the Swansea Blitz in the Second World War – but his focus was always to put family first and to provide for everyone at home, even if doing so took him away from them.”


David takes up the story. “Jack came from a Greek family and his given surname was actually Lamnea, but his exploits on stage and at fairs all over the UK, including at Neath, were not always popular, especially with his authoritarian father.

“A lot of the tension in our book comes from that relationship, of a son trying to live up to the ideals of his father.”

The resulting book, The Welsh Hercules, took over a year to research and write but in doing it Steven found a kind of resolution.

“While we were writing the book, I turned 60. At that age, Jack was still doing 40 shows a day at the fairgrounds and even after he retired, he was helping roadworkers outside his house to fix the roads!

“Age really was just a number for him and I think that’s a great attitude to have.”

The Welsh Hercules tells the story of Jack, from his humble beginnings on Swansea Docks through to becoming a renowned boxing coach and fairground star. It takes him through two World Wars, as a survivor of the Battle of Jutland and the Swansea Blitz, and introduces a whole new world of showmen, acrobats and colourful characters.


But at its heart, Jack’s story is one of family – of the challenges met, the hearts won and the enduring romance of a Showman and his wife.

The Welsh Hercules is available in paperback on Amazon priced at £11.99

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New Welsh musical ‘Milky Peaks’ heads to Swansea next week




North Wales’ Theatr Clwyd are touring the world premiere production of Seiriol Davies’ brand new Welsh musical Milky Peaks, which heads to Swansea’s Taliesin Arts Centre on 21st May 2022.

Set in a fictional village in Snowdonia that is nominated for the ‘Britain’s Best Town’ award, this hilarious comedy follows three lost souls and a shabby drag queen as they try to save their community’s heart all while the dark side of the award threatens to blow the community apart.


The show welcomes back many original cast members including: Seiriol Davies (How To Win Against History (UK Tour) and Mission Control (National Theatre Wales)), Dylan Townley (How To Win Against History (UK Tour), Austentatious (Piccadilly Theatre)), Matthew Blake (How To Win Against History (UK Tour), The Third Day: Autumn (HBO/Sky Studios in partnership with Punchdrunk)), Sophie Winter (Jude Starbeam and the Shadow Planet (The Albany), Don’t Panic! It’s Challenge Anneka (UK Tour)), and Lisa Jên Brown (Praxis Makes Perfect (National Theatre Wales), Sleeping Beauties (Sherman Theatre)).

New to the company for 2022 is Tanya Bridgeman (Shoes To Fill (Fair Play & Iris Theatre)) and Miriam O’Brien who performed in Curtain Up! at Theatr Clwyd. 

Milky Peaks is a production by Theatr Clwyd, Áine Flanagan Productions and Seiriol Davies. The show reunites collaborators Matthew Blake, Alex Swift and Dylan Townley who alongside Seiriol Davies and Áine Flanagan Productions co-created the acclaimed, award-winning musical How to Win Against History. Milky Peaks has been recognised by The Stage as one of the best musicals to watch in 2022. 

For some, the title Milky Peaks may sound familiar. Back in 2020 the show was in its final rehearsals when the pandemic hit, and the venue was forced to close. It’s a day that Tamara Harvey, Theatr Clwyd’s Artistic Director, remembers well: 

“I walked into the Theatre with a sinking heart. Our Milky Peaks company were just finishing their sound check – we had to tell them that the Prime Minister had advised everyone in the UK not to go to theatres and so we were sending our team home.

“They asked to perform the first and last numbers from the show. I sat in the darkened auditorium, laughing and weeping in equal measure at this brilliant show that was suddenly in limbo.


“It means more than we can say to be bringing it back to life now – the wildly funny and bitingly satirical world that Seiriol Davies and the company created all those months ago feels more vital than ever to share with our audiences here and across Wales.”

When asked about returning to the project, writer and performer Seiriol said: “It is surreal and brilliant to be coming back to Theatr Clwyd and to finally be opening Milky Peaks.

“It feels gorgeous and right to be telling this dark, sparkly, stupid-ferocious fable about our crazy world, which has not in any way de-crazied in the last two years.

“The creative team is on fire (not literally), the cast is also on fire (literally: it’s a rehearsal technique): EVERYTHING is in place. Come on, Milky Peaks!”

This brand new musical has been supported by Theatr Clwyd, the National Theatre New Work Department, Arts Council England, Arts Council Wales, Cyngor Celfyddydau Cymru, Battersea Arts Centre and Ovalhouse.


(All images: Ffotonata)

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