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Afghan interpreter’s move to Swansea translates into new NHS career

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Having flown out of Afghanistan, fearing for his life as the Taliban stormed Kabul, Mohamed Ferooz Noori is now helping save lives by working with Swansea Bay’s vaccination programme.

The father of two was relocated to the UK following the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan last August.

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He had been working as a translator alongside the British military, and when he arrived in the UK was originally sent to Cardiff before moving to Swansea. He now works as a call handler in Bay Mass Vaccination Centre.

He said: “I worked with the British military as a translator, so when Kabul fell to the Taliban it was important that I was able to relocate. 

“It was quite a worrying time and there was a lot of tension. I was very fortunate to secure a place on one of the planes and was able to bring my wife and children with me.

“I still have lots of family and friends in Afghanistan so it is not easy. I am particularly worried about my 17-year-old brother, who did some work for the military, so he has to move around to keep safe.”

Mohamed said that he was grateful to have been able to relocate and is pleased to be able to replay the warm welcome his new country has given his family.

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“I am very sad about the situation in Afghanistan. I love my country so it is not easy to see.

“I am just grateful that I have this chance to do something for my new second country, and help people by working for the NHS.

“Everyone has been very kind to us. Swansea is a very welcoming place and I want to do something to say thank you.”

Mohamed has benefitted from a fruitful partnership between the health board’s Vocational Training Department and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) which has provide jobs in Swansea Bay’s mass vaccination centres, or MVCs, for around 200 people since their inception in 2020.

The team works closely with Jobcentre Plus to offer work placements to groups such as young adults, lone parents, older people aged 50 plus, and those from ethnic minorities, including refugees and asylum seekers.

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The programme is proving to be a two-way street however. Marie-Andrée Lachapelle, the health board’s Widening Access and Workforce Inclusion Organisational Development Manager, said the work carried out by new recruits, such as Mohamed, was vital in making Swansea Bay’s vaccination programme such a success.

She explained: “They have been vital to the whole programme. If we didn’t have the staff we wouldn’t be able to get people in in time to have the vaccines.  

“The positions are admin related, they could be working on the telephones in the contact centre or working alongside the nurses, doing administration for the vaccines.”

She added it was important to employ people from the Swansea Bay area.

“We want to be an anchor organisation which is providing employment and work experience for people who live in our local community.

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“That is really important and, hopefully, they will stay with us, but if not, they will have great transferrable skills to go with other employers.”

Members of Swansea Bay University Health Board’s Vocational Training Team and representatives from the Department of Work and Pensions with Martyn Hughes, an employment adviser, and Tracey Esmaail, SBUHB’s Vocational Training Manager (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

Tracey Esmaail, health board Vocational Training Manager, said: “All this amazing work that our vocational training team has done with the mass vaccination centres wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for the good relationship we have built up over the years with the DWP. The partnership has been a great success.”

And, she said, the biggest winners have been those who have gained employment.

“Every time I see them, people are telling me their lives have been totally changed from what they were before they came here. They are a great team here. They are like one big family.” 

Helen Powell, Senior Employment Partnership Manager for DWP in south west Wales, said: “We have a very long-standing and close working relationship with the health board, and recently, during Covid times, that has only strengthened. 

“Since the MVCs were set up we have managed to change almost 200 lives through working collaboratively together.

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“Amongst those we have supported have been refugees, people from ethnic minority groups, and those who have been unemployed for a long period of time.”

Chris Buckley, DWP Employer and Partnership Manager for Swansea, said the opportunity for people to help the vaccination programme made them feel they were doing their bit during the pandemic.

He said: “When we put this out to our work coaches, at the height of the pandemic when a lot of people were losing their jobs, we had an absolutely amazing response.

“A lot of people were given an opportunity to do a type of work, which maybe they wouldn’t have had otherwise. 

“That is the really good thing about it. It made people feel as though they were able to play their part. A lot of heart and soul has gone into it.”

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He added that although not all the jobs are permanent, the experience should prove invaluable.

“The feedback we have had has been excellent. It gives them something excellent to put on their CVs. A lot of the clients come here, get the basics of admin, and fulltime opportunities are arriving. 

“That’s one of the reasons so many people are put forward for these positions, because it gives them the experience necessary to move to other employment so much quicker.” 

Martyn Hughes, an employment adviser, added: “Lots of them have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to work within this environment, and it has led to other, more permanent, positions.

“It gives them the confidence to apply for other jobs within other civil service departments. As a result of having worked here they will go on to other opportunities within the local area.”

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Mwape Burke (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

Another beneficiary is Mwape Burke, who arrived in Swansea three years ago from Zambia and now works in the Bay MVC booking centre.

She said: “I love working here. I started at the very beginning, it was very interesting as things were changing on a daily basis and we had to adapt very quickly.

“To see the team grow, and everything we have accomplished, has been amazing.”

Mwape has used the opportunity to resume a career in pharmacy.

She said: “I worked as a pharmacist back in Zambia. I need to do an internship to be able to practice in the UK but the nearest place I could find was in Birmingham.

“This programme has allowed me to join the NHS in Swansea.

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“It has been a great stepping stone as I have now received a conditional offer from the NHS pharmacy bank. It has definitely opened doors to other opportunities.” 

Another employee, who did not wish to give her name after gaining political asylum in the UK from Egypt, is set to use the MVC as a stepping stone to resurrecting her career as a doctor.

She said: “I love the work environment here. It has given me a great experience of working for the NHS, which is a slightly different system from my work as a doctor in Egypt. 

“I have already started gaining my qualifications to work as a doctor in the UK and hope to qualify next year.”

(Lead image: Swansea Bay NHS)

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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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Swansea

Swansea’s popular land train is back – and you can even take your dog for a ride!

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Taking your family for a day out along Swansea prom? Now your four-legged friend can join in the fun too by hitching a ride on the land train!

Officially known as the Swansea Bay Rider, the 72-seater land train runs along Swansea’s prom from Blackpill Lido to Southend Gardens in Mumbles giving passengers an incredible view of Swansea Bay as they travel along.

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Run by Swansea Council, the land train has been a feature of summer holiday trips for many years – whether it’s to soak up the sights in style, or hop on for a relaxing journey after a day of fun in the sun.

But did you know that dogs are allowed on board too?

The council has highlighted the little known fact that four-legged friends are welcome to ride the land train with their owners, as long as they are wearing a lead and are under control.

With more people than ever taking their dog on holiday or on days out, the land train is another fun activity that all the family can enjoy.

The Swansea Bay Rider is also fully accessible to wheelchair users.

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The land train runs every weekend from 23 April to 4 September, and daily during the school holidays between 30 May and 3 June, and again between Friday 15 July and Sunday 4 September.

The 30 minute ride from Blackpill to Southend runs 7 times a day at 10.30am, 11.30am, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm and 5pm from Blackpill.

Return journeys from Southend are at 11am, 12pm, 1.30pm, 2.30pm, 3.30pm, 4.30pm and 5.30pm.

Can’t get enough of riding the land-train? How about becoming its driver!

Swansea Council are recruiting a land train driver on a zero hours contract for £19,264 per annum (pro-rata). Applications are open until 24 May on the council’s website.

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(Lead image: Swansea Council)

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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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