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Senedd approves extension of NHS COVID pass to include cinemas, theatres and concert halls

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Members of the Senedd have approved the extension of the NHS COVID pass to cinemas, theatres and concert halls in Wales.

The first vote to introduce the scheme was tight, passing by only one vote after a member of the Welsh Conservatives had technical problems voting remotely.

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The vote to extend the COVID pass scheme passed easily after Plaid Cymru supported the Welsh Labour motion, having previously voted against introducing the scheme.

Following the vote, the Minister for Health and Social Services, Eluned Morgan said: “I am pleased the extension has been agreed today following the vote. Covid has not gone away and cases remain high and we need to continue take steps to Keep Wales Safe.  The NHS COVID Pass is one measure among many to help to keep businesses open while also helping to control the spread of the virus. 

“The decision to introduce them has not been taken lightly and the venues that will be covered are indoors and see large numbers of people being closely together for prolonged periods of time.

“Since 11 October, people have been required to show an NHS COVID Pass or recent negative lateral flow test result to enter nightclubs, similar venues and events and the service is working well. We have received positive feedback from a range of businesses and organisers of major events, including following the recent rugby internationals.  We will continue to work with the sectors who are implementing the scheme to best support them.”

The Welsh Conservative constitutional spokesman Darren Millar said there were “many ethical and equality issues with Covid passes”, repeating concerns that results from lateral flow devices are self-declared.

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“You can swab your dog and put its result in that system and still get your vaccine passport to be able to attend any event, nightclub, cinema theatre or anywhere else, it is ridiculous.”

The Welsh Liberal Democrats, whose sole AM, Jane Dodds MS also voted against the motion said the party was disappointed to see the COVID pass system extended.

Jane Dodds MS said: “Our view remains that the system is both illiberal and unworkable and we have not been provided with evidence to the contrary. The Welsh Government has broken trust by expanding a scheme it initially stated was for very limited circumstances.

“Despite requests to the Health Minister, we have not been provided with any evidence that shows the scheme has been effective in keeping down case numbers. There has also been no evidence provided to as why cinemas, theatres and concert halls have been singled out specifically.

“Both the Government’s own advisory unit and Chief Medical Officer have themselves admitted in the last week that the impact of the scheme is likely very small.

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“It is deeply concerning the impact this decision will have on small businesses across Wales, over the last few weeks a number of community cinemas and theatres have gotten in touch with to express their fear of how they are meant to hire new staff to enforce this scheme without any financial support from the Welsh Government.

“Beyond the practical implications of this scheme remains an example of poor law-making with no set review period. How long will the passes be in place? Where and when will they be expanded to next?

“There will be serious financial repercussions if the scheme is expanded to other forms of hospitality including restaurants and cafes. We could also end up in the same situation as Italy, which has now mandated COVID Passports for public transport.

“Finally, I find it utterly hypocritical for the Conservatives to pretend they are the ones defending civil liberties and evidence-based policy when their Party is currently trying to push through voter ID against all evidence showing that it is ineffective and unnecessary.

“The willingness for Plaid Cymru and the Conservative to only stand up for liberal values and civil liberties when it suits them best shows exactly why the Welsh Liberal Democrats are needed in the Senedd.”

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Commenting on the U-turn by Plaid Cymru Jane Dodds said: “In their U-turn Plaid Cymru have also shown us today that they will only stand up for liberal values when it suits them politically. 

“The facts on the ground have not changed at all since the last vote has been held. Unless Plaid Cymru knows something the rest of us don’t, there is no reason they should have changed their mind.”

Following the vote NHS COVID passes will now be needed in cinemas, theatres and concert halls from Monday 15 November.

(Lead image: Photo by Luis Quintero / Pexels.com)

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Dance

Doctors prescribe dance classes to keep patients on their feet

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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(Lead image: Swansea Bay NHS)

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Books & Literature

Author uncovers the lost tale of Swansea fairground legend

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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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Swansea

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

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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(All images: Ffotonata)

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