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Library and Archives amongst first tenants of new city centre hub as planning approved

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Proposals for a new central Swansea location for the city’s main library and other key services took a big step forward today.

The plans, for Oxford Street’s former BHS/What! building were given the go-ahead by planners.

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The council say that work can now start in earnest to convert the building to offer people convenient access to key services from across the council and other organisations.

Council services being considered to relocate there include Swansea Library, the West Glamorgan Archive Service and the Contact Centre.

All are now accessed by the public at the Civic Centre which is due to be redeveloped as part of the city’s council-driven £1bn regeneration.  

Other services due to move to the hub include the council’s Revenue and Benefits service, Housing Options and Tenancy Support Unit (TSU), Employability, Life-long Learning and Local Studies and Family History services. 

The council say that staff have been told, and that they and the public will be kept up to date on plans. The council added that they continue to consider options for their future locations of other Civic-based services.

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The former BHS building as it currently looks (Image: Swansea Council)

Council leader Rob Stewart said: “The transformation of this building is hugely exciting. 

“It will create a fantastic new library and local services hub in the city centre, right next to the new Castle Square Gardens. 

“There will be tangible benefits for the community and the council through the relocation of the library as well as a number of other key public and third party support services into a single building with an open and welcoming environment.

“The project will be a fine example of sustainable city centre redevelopment, reinvigorating existing buildings, and reducing carbon use in the fight against climate change.”

Artist’s impression of the new city centre hub at Swansea’s former BHS building (Image: Swansea Council)

Cllr Stewart added: “This first group of customer-facing services illustrates how useful the hub will be to the public.

“Many services will be easier to access in a more welcoming environment – and no services will be lost in the move.

“The development will bring increased footfall for city centre businesses, creating and maintaining city centre jobs; it’s a key factor in our aim to regenerate Swansea.” 

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Plans for the hub reveal a striking fresh design just yards from a new-look Castle Square Gardens, Kingsway and Wind Street. It’ll be a short walk from the Quadrant bus station and other public transport services.

How the inside of the former BHS currently looks (Image: Swansea Council)

The designs by architects Austin-Smith:Lord Ltd on behalf of Swansea Council reveal a new look for the former BHS/What! building.

Designers say the appearance of the structure – built in the 1950s – will have impact appropriate to a public building, with open and active shop frontages to maintain vibrancy to Oxford St and Princess Way.

The ground floor exterior is largely windows and that upper floors feature large glazed openings to show activity and a welcoming ethos.

Artist’s impression of what the new city centre hub will look like (Image: Swansea Council)

Cladding will give the building a more consistent look than at present. Translucent cladding could be backlit to act as a beacon to help attract visitors.

There will be a green wall and planting on a roof area.

Inside, the library will act as a “spine” and there’ll be a feature grand central staircase.

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Contractors began preparatory work on site in October – and the building could open in its new guise next year.

(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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