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New Gnoll Park seating area a reminder of Mike Charles

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Mike – also known as “Charlie” – was a regular visitor to the country park having grown up at his family home in nearby Woodland Road.  

Mike Charles

He spent most of his working life as a civil servant, including a period in Swansea, and he worked in Bristol from 1984. He lived with his partner, Sue, in Bristol for many years until he passed away in 2017 aged 71.  

Sue said: “Mike always maintained close links with Neath and with his family and friends there, returning regularly throughout his life. He went to Alderman Davies Primary School and Neath Grammar School for Boys, after which he went to university. 

“He continued to stay in the family home whenever he visited, catching up with friends (including his old classmates from Neath Grammar School).  Mike was a supporter of Neath Rugby Club continuing to watch them at home on his visits as well as later supporting the Ospreys. 

“The game was very important to him and later in his life he followed Wales on many of the national team’s summer tours abroad, loving the travel and the conviviality of these trips. Travel was one of his many interests.

“Neath retained a central place in Mike’s heart and he left legacies to the town. One of these made a substantial contribution to the new outdoor seating area at the Cafe and Visitor Centre in the Park.”

While the majority of the costs of the seating area came from Mike Charles’ legacy, Neath Port Talbot Council also contributed to the project and local councillors, Cllr Alan Lockyear and Cllr Mark Protheroe put up several thousand pounds through community infrastructure funding.

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A plaque installed at the seating area now reads:

“Mike Charles (Charlie) loved and explored the Gnoll throughout his life.

His contribution to this outdoor area remains

as part of his legacy to Neath,

The hometown of his youth.”

Cllr Annette Wingrave, Neath Port Talbot Council’s Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Sustainable Development, said: “We are extremely grateful for the generous legacies left to Neath by Mike Charles including the one which has led to this new seating area which I’m sure will be very well used and which will now enhance the park’s facilities for visitors.

“It will be a lovely reminder of a man who clearly never forgot Neath and who held the town close to his heart throughout his life.”

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Environment

Grab a spade to help woodland charity plant largest community woodland

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The Woodland Trust in Wales are calling for communities to help plant a new native woodland in its industrial heartland.

On 4 December 2021, The Woodland Trust; or Coed Cadw as it’s known in Wales; will host a community tree-planting event at Brynau in Neath, with the aim of creating the largest ever native woodland to be undertaken by the charity. 

The Community Tree-planting day will follow National Tree week, whereby school children from across South Wales will have already started planting this new woodland with their classmates. 

Sophie Thomas, Engagement Officer for Coed Cadw said that the event was “a great way to work together to combat climate change and the nature crisis”.

“We know that many people in Wales are worried about the environmental challenges we’re currently facing and are looking for ways to make a difference”, she said.

“By helping us plant a new native woodland at Brynau, we can all do our bit to combat the climate and nature crisis, whilst providing a tranquil retreat for the community at the same time”. 

Community tree planting at Brynau Wood. in Tonna, Neath (Image: Coed Cadw)

Miss Thomas continued, “Planting and protecting woods and trees is essential. Trees are a natural way to help combat the climate emergency– we just need more of them”. 

Earlier this month, the world was focused on the outcomes of COP26 which showed that Wales is at risk of failing to meet its carbon net zero ambitions unless woodland is created and restored and the state of trees, woods and hedges is improved. 

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Brynau wood was secured for the future thanks to public response to an urgent appeal; once completed, new woodland added to the site will be the size of some 100 rugby pitches. Brynau is also designated Plant! site, meaning there is a tree planted for every child born or adopted in Wales as part of a scheme introduced by the Welsh Government. 

Brynau Wood in Tonna, Neath (Image: Coed Cadw)

In 2021, The Woodland Trust’s State of the UK’s Woods and Trees report highlighted some stark warnings on the health of the UK’s trees and woods.

It found ancient woodland is rare in Wales, covering only 4.5% of the land surface. The ancient woods of Wales also include Celtic rainforest, an ecosystem of national and international importance as a home to rare plants and wildlife.

Since 1999 Coed Cadw has recorded a total of 584 ancient woodlands potentially threatened by development in Wales. Of those 584 cases, 337 have been saved, 98 have been lost or damaged, and 149 are currently under threat.

Only 2% of non-native woodland in Wales is in good ecological condition, and only 9% of native woodland. Those in poor ecological condition are characterised by low levels of deadwood, low diversity of age and species, and few open woodland habitats.

Two thirds of the woods in Special Areas of Conservation in Wales are in unfavourable condition.

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Between 2006 to 2013 some 7,000 large trees were lost. Between 2009 and 2013, 159 out of our 220 towns showed an overall decline in tree cover.

In Wales, a quarter of all hedgerows were removed between 1984 and 1990, and 78% of remaining Welsh hedgerows are in an ‘unfavourable condition’.

Just over 99% of all woods in Wales exceed nitrogen pollution levels. This has damaging effects for woodland plants and wildlife.

(Lead image: Coed Cadw)

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Food & Drink

New Neath Abbey ALDI celebrates opening with Team GB Olympian

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A brand new Aldi store in Neath opened its doors to customers this morning at 8am, with Team GB Olympic Rugby hero Sam Cross, cutting the all-important red ribbon alongside pupils from Abbey Primary School.  

The Abbey Road store is the new Aldi to open in and around Neath, and will be run by Store Manager Geraint Davies, along with a team of 25 colleagues from the local community.  

In celebration, Team GB silver medallist Sam Cross gave away complimentary bags of fresh fruit and vegetables from Aldi’s famous Super 6 range to the first 30 customers in the queue, before delivering an inspirational virtual assembly for pupils at Abbey Primary School as part of the supermarket’s initiative, Get Set to Eat Fresh – which has already inspired over two million school children aged 5-14 years to learn more about the benefits of cooking fresh, healthy food with their families.  

Olympian Sam Cross hands out bags of super six items to customers at Aldi’s New store opening at Neath Abbey

As Aldi has been fuelling Team GB with fresh, healthy food since 2015, the silver medallist from Rio 2016 focused on the benefits of eating healthy food and the importance of exercise and believing in yourself. He also talked to pupils about his experience of competing as an Olympian and shared his challenging training regime.  

Store Manager Geraint Davies said: “It’s been a wonderful morning here at the opening of Aldi Neath. It was lovely to welcome our new customers into store, and I look forward to meeting more of the community in the coming weeks. I’m also thrilled that we’ve been able to support Abbey Primary School through our partnership with Team GB.”  

Team GB hero Sam Cross added: “I’ve had a fantastic time opening the new Aldi this morning. It was an honour to officially open the store and welcome customers inside for the first time. 

“It was great to speak with the children at Abbey Primary School about the importance of eating healthily and how it can be fun to plan and prepare meals as a family. Hopefully I’ve also managed to inspire the pupils to keep active and try different sports.”  

Olympian Sam Cross with Store Manager Geraint Davies and Aldi team members at Aldi’s New store opening at Neath Abbey

The new Aldi store offers large chillers and freezers dedicated to fresh, Welsh meat products, a ‘Food to Go’ section at the front of the store, and an exclusive section full of Health & Beauty products.  

Neath customers can also take a walk down the ‘Aisle of Aldi’, where they will find legendary Specialbuys which are available every Thursday and Sunday. During opening week, the store will be offering a wide range of toys, including Barbie colour reveal dolls for £16.99, Meccano 150-piece buckets for £19.99 and Christmas Squishmallows for £7.99. 

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Aldi’s new store at Neath Abbey

Additionally, the new Aldi store is calling on local charities and food banks in Neath to register with Neighbourly, a community engagement platform that links businesses to charitable organisations in the local community.   

Local charities that register will be able to collect surplus food and perishable products, such as fruit, vegetables and baked goods, up to seven days a week. Any charities in the area that would like to partner up with the new Aldi store should email aldi@neighbourly.com.  

The new store is located at Abbey Road, Neath, SA10 7BR and will be open Monday to Saturday from 8am to 10pm, and on Sunday’s from 10am to 4pm.

(Lead image: Olympian Sam Cross with Store Manager Geraint Davies and Aldi team members at Aldi’s New store opening at Neath Abbey)

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Briton Ferry

£30 million ultrafast broadband boost for south Wales

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More than 87,000 additional homes and businesses across south Wales are a step closer to a major broadband boost thanks to a £30million investment by Openreach.

People living and working in communities across south Wales are due to be upgraded following the company’s latest build announcement, with a new, ultrafast, ultra-reliable ‘full fibre’ broadband network being built to most premises in Bridgend, Port Talbot, Neath, Gorseinon, Skewen, Briton Ferry and Seven Sisters.

More than 87,000 additional homes and businesses across south Wales are a step closer to a major broadband boost thanks to a £30million investment by Openreach – the UK’s largest digital network provider, used by more than 660 service providers including the likes of BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Vodafone and Zen.

The news comes as the digital network provider announces it has already reached more than 6 million homes and businesses across the UK with Ultrafast Full Fibre, including around 400,000 properties in Wales.

The latest plans are a further boost for Wales as they follow news earlier this year that hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses would be getting access to Openreach’s new network, including tens of thousands in rural and harder to serve areas of the country including Abersoch, Bethesda, Borth, Cardigan, Nefyn, Nelson, Narberth, Llantwit Major & Kidwelly.

Welcoming the announcement Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters said: “The importance of fast reliable broadband has become even more apparent utility and we welcome this investment as a key part of the market effort to boost connections across South Wales”.

Connie DixonOpenreach’s regional director for Wales, said: “Good connectivity is vital – whether it’s to work from home, access education and care services, or for gaming and streaming entertainment – and that’s why we’re investing across the UK to upgrade our network to 25 million premises.”

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“Nobody’s building faster, further or to a higher standard across Wales and the rest of the UK than Openreach, and we’ve already reached six million homes and businesses with ultrafast full fibre technology, including around 400,000. It’s proving popular as well, with around 23% already choosing to start using it.

Our engineers and build partners are reaching more communities every week and we’re not just building in cities and urban areas. Many rural and hard to reach communities are already benefitting and we plan to reach many more in the coming months and years.”

Across the UK, more than one 1.3 million homes and businesses have already ordered a full fibre service from a range of retail service providers using the Openreach network. But this means millions are yet to start benefiting from some of the fastest, most reliable broadband connections in the world and have yet to upgrade.

Recent research by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) highlighted the clear economic benefits of connecting everyone in Wales to full fibre. It estimated this would create a £2 billion boost to the local economy.

Openreach engineers have been working hard to make the technology available to as many people as possible throughout the UK – at times reaching 47,000 premises a week – and work will continue between now and 2026

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The company’s plans are fundamental to the UK Government achieving its target of delivering ‘gigabit capable’ broadband to 85 per cent of UK by 2025. The company plans to reach a total of 25 million premises by the end of December 2026, including more than six million in the hardest-to-serve parts of the country defined by industry regulator Ofcom.

(Lead image: Openreach)

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