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Education

School leaders union urges Welsh Government to reconsider removal of Small and Rural Schools Fund

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School leaders’ union, NAHT Cymru have urged the Welsh Government to reconsider the removal of grant funding for small and rural schools in Wales.

While introduced initially to promote innovation and support greater school to school working, the union say the fund has become essential in keeping these schools open.

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Laura Doel, Director for NAHT Cymru, says this will be a hammer blow for small and rural communities. “Small schools are at the heart of every locality, be it a village, town and city. But as one of the groups hit hardest by budget cuts, for thousands of small schools the future remains uncertain.”

As a sign of how important this money has become to small schools, NAHT Cymru has highlighted how heads have been forced to use funds to provide essential services.

While covering for cleaners, one school leader has used the grant to reduce her teaching commitment by half, to concentrate on the 35% of students at her school who have Additional Learning Needs (ALN). As well as covering staff absences since September 2021, she has also been a teaching school leader, lunchtime supervisor as well covering for the cleaner, supporting the breakfast club and after school club.

Another school leader used the fund to extend the hours of a part-time teacher by a day to allow her to prepare a group of local schools for ALN transformation. As well as covering for two members of staff suffering from long Covid, the caretaker and the cleaner, she says the fund has provided the only way for the group of schools to collaborate at all.

Ms Doel has urged the Welsh Government to look at how it supports schools in similar positions.

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“This is a terrible state of affairs when you think about how vital these schools are. In many places, the school is the last public service left standing in their community. The post office, the police station, the library, the community centre have all gone. We cannot afford to allow the school to be next. These schools may be small, but their loss would be incalculable.

“All schools have suffered as a result of budget cuts, but small schools have been hit particularly hard. These schools play a vital role in their communities and they must be protected. Clearly, current funding arrangements are not working for these schools.”

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Film & TV

Documentary project unites University and community to put spotlight on Gower

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A unique film project which brought together Swansea University students, staff and the community to showcase the beauty of Gower will be officially launched next month.

The Gŵyr documentary series is a collection of films which each capture elements of local history, culture, ecosystems and natural resources.

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They have been created by a not-for-profit community-driven project which saw residents sharing their experiences while working with students and filmmakers.

The project has been led by media and communication lecturer Georgios Dimitropoulos and the films will all be available for free on YouTube following a special premiere at Taliesin Arts Centre on June 10.

The event will mark the end of a five-year-collaboration between 25 students and more than 40 contributors ranging from Gower residents, farmers, environmentalists, and scientists to academics, historians, and research scholars.

Georgios said: “It has allowed us to not only offer innovative teaching and practical learning experiences to students but also gave us a chance to engage with the community and private sector, collaborate with the third sector and forge partnerships with creative industries.

“Our films aim to present the harmonious blend and integration of Welsh culture over time. Our mission is to capture and document Gower’s natural beauty and cultural, historical, and environmental characteristics.”

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For the project, the team collaborated with award-winning actor and producer Vincent De Paul who took part in the films and represented them at film festivals around the world as well as private screenings with Hollywood executives. So far, the Gŵyr series has picked up 17 awards for Best Documentary, Best Film, and Best Cinematography.

Now Georgios is eager the films receive as wide an audience as possible.  He said: “The series has been five years in the making, and it has been a long and wonderful journey. We want our work to be available for everyone to see. But this is just the start, we plan to carry the project on and produce another season of films.”

Filming the Gŵyr documentary (Image: Swansea University)

Associate Professor Richard Thomas, head of the Department of Media and Communication, said: “Georgios’s work is a great example of how our students are integrated into professional projects – the work experience they get is invaluable for them. A key element of our department’s success is that our teaching is always relevant for the sorts of jobs that our graduates might be moving into after their degrees.”

One of the students who took part said being involved had been very exciting: “It exposed us to professional standards.

Another said: “The University’s Film Hub has amazing facilities and the shoot was an opportunity for us to really get to know the business better,” while another described the experience as an adventure and a challenge. “I would definitely do it again,” she added.

Head of the School of Culture & Communication Professor Sian Rees added: “This is a great example of the way that staff and students within the School are connecting with our local environment and culture, positioning ourselves at the heart of our local and wider community in Wales.  It has also provided our students with an invaluable opportunity to understand and experience professional creative media production in practice.”

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Guests at the Taliesin premiere will include project collaborators, representatives of the Gower Society as well as Welsh Finance Minister Rebecca Evans, who represents Gower in the Senedd, and Swansea Lord Mayor Mike Day who will both take part in the panel discussion.

Proceeds from ticket sales will go to The DPJ Foundation, a mental health charity which supports the agricultural community across Wales and was chosen by the film-makers after they  spent time with Gower’s farming community.

Georgios added: “We often think farmers are tough due to their physically demanding jobs but because of those tough conditions, hard-working farmers need support and recognition for their efforts and contribution to society.

“I believe that documentary films offer different perspectives, share knowledge and experiences, promote specific themes, regions, history, and nature, and raise awareness of emerging problems and possible solutions. Farming is one of the areas that we document, and present in our documentary films as we explore how important it is for a sustainable future.”

Tickets are available in advance or at the venue at the premiere.

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(Lead image: Swansea University)

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Education

The Secret Hospitality Group provides enterprise education programme to three Swansea schools

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The Secret Hospitality Group is thanking the local community for its support during COVID by providing the Bumbles of Honeywood enterprise education programme to three local primary schools – The Grange Primary School, Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Llwynderw and Brynmill Primary School.

Created by Swansea-based 2B Enterprising Ltd, The Bumbles of Honeywood is a suite of bilingual resources mapped to the national curriculum to help primary schools embed enterprise skills into their day-to-day learning. It’s delivered in schools via the 2B Enterprising Corporate Engagement Partner programme, which pairs businesses with local schools.

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As Corporate Engagement Partners, members of The Secret Hospitality Group have been visiting The Grange, Llwynderw and Brynmill primary schools to introduce the Bumbles of Honeywood programme and talk to pupils about what it’s like to run a business.

Cultivating entrepreneurship and enterprise skills from a young age has been shown to be of huge value in equipping pupils for their future lives and careers – and it’s now required as part of the national curriculum in Wales.

The Secret Hospitality Group is an example of entrepreneurship in action. It started life in 2017 with one venue, The Optimist in Uplands. In 2019 the company won the tender to run The Secret on Swansea seafront, and since then it has also taken on The Green Room next to Swansea Arena and the iconic Castellamare restaurant at Bracelet Bay.

Now the group has sold The Optimist to focus on landmark locations, creating venues that are as memorable as the views. As the company’s strapline says, “the view is just a bonus.”

The company was founded by brother and sister Lucy and Ryan Hole, who have since been joined by their siblings Amy and Tom. During the COVID lockdowns the team ran a coffee kiosk on the seafront in Swansea and the experience made them feel even more connected with the local community. Now they want to give something back by supporting three local schools.

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“Opening the kiosk was a turning point for us during the pandemic,” says Lucy. “We had such a great response from the community, and they rallied round when the kiosk was vandalised. The kiosk became a real hub and the beach just became alive. Now we want to give back to the community as a thank you for what they did for us during that hard time.”

Lucy and her siblings have chosen to support The Grange, Llwynderw and Brynmill primary schools because they are local to them and they have family links with two of them.

All the Hole siblings attended Brynmill Primary School, as did their father Greg Hole, who has run local news agents including Uplands News for decades. His father and grandfather, who ran the businesses before him, also attended Brynmill Primary School.

“We grew up in Uplands and used to walk through Brynmill Park to get to the school,” says Lucy. “We have really fond memories of the school, and all the teachers knew who we were because generations of the family had been there. It was a lovely school.”

Amy’s children attend The Grange Primary School and the family decided to also support Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Llwynderw to help bring The Bumbles of Honeywood to a local Welsh medium school too.

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The Hole siblings have gone into each school to meet with the children, talk about their businesses and introduce the Bumbles of Honeywood programme. They have also welcomed children to their businesses so they can learn more about how restaurants are run.

“The children were great,” says Lucy. “They wanted to learn and asked a lot of good questions. They were eager to learn the skills taught by the Bumbles of Honeywood programme: to be confident, brave, kind and strong.”

She and Ryan also enjoyed being able to demonstrate that there are many different paths to forging a successful career: it doesn’t have to include going to university.

“We didn’t excel at school, but I think making pupils aware of the different routes they can take is really important,” says Lucy.

2B Enterprising founder Sue Poole, welcomes their contribution.

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“It’s really important for the children to meet and talk to homegrown talent,” she says. “Lucy and her sister and brothers are local entrepreneurs who show the children what you can achieve if you work hard and support each other.

“It’s about the support you have from your family, your community, with everybody working together, businesses will succeed.

“The Secret Hospitality Group is a young company that started off with one small restaurant in the Uplands and is now opening iconic venues right across Swansea Bay.

“It’s exciting from that perspective, and because of the history of the family, who have been entrepreneurial for probably over 100 years, I think they’re really great role models for young people.”

Lead image: Children from The Grange Primary School visit Castellamare with (L-R) Lucy Hole, The Secret Hospitality Group, Abigail Cooper, Operations Co-ordinator, 2B Enterprising, Mrs Tucker, Teaching Assistant, Ms Suff, Teacher, Mrs Minty, Year 1 & Year 2 Teacher and Mrs Griffiths, Year 1 & Year 2 Teaching Assistant.

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Charity

Swansea student in triathlon challenge for Heart Research

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A student at University of Wales Trinity St David is taking on UWTSD Swansea Triathlon on 28-29th May to raise vital funds for the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and put a positive spin on what’s been a tough time for her family.

Sophie Taylor, originally from Cardiff, who is studying a BA in Product and Furniture Design at the university’s Swansea campus, decided to raise money for the BHF because her sister Hollie’s partner has a heart condition and is grateful for the medical research and treatment which has enabled him to live a happy life.

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Alex Martin, who now lives in Abergavenny and is originally from Hereford, found out he had congenital heart disease just before his 24th birthday during a medical examination when he was in the process of joining the army.

Alex was born with a bicuspid aortic valve, and the discovery meant he couldn’t sign up. But thanks to progress in science, surgeons were able to replace his heart valve, giving Alex a future with his partner, Hollie.

Alex says, “From a very young age I’ve always wanted to join the army, however, this was turned on its head at the age of 23. After undergoing an army medical check, it was discovered that I had heart valve disease and I had to have open heart surgery to replace the valve. Through the diagnosis and surgery my girlfriend Hollie has been my rock. We’ve been together since we were eighteen and our relationship has never been stronger.

“When Sophie approached me about doing a triathlon last year, I was super excited for her. Like everything, it was postponed, and here we are less than 2 weeks away from Sophie attempting her first multi-sport event. It was made even more special when she told me, that she wanted to do it for me! When I say, ‘me’, I mean on behalf of me for the BHF. I thought, ‘what a lovely idea,’ and was more than happy to help in any way possible. Be it training advice or letting her use my kit for the big day. I could not be prouder of her and cannot wait to see all the hard work pay off on race day.

“Without people like Sophie doing events like this and raising money for the BHF who knows where I would be. So, thank you Sophie – Now let’s go and smash race day!”

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Alex and Hollie

Sophie says she’s taking on the challenge to turn a potentially negative situation into a positive one, “Life so far for my family hasn’t been easy and my mental health has suffered. When we found out about Alex’s condition it was a big strain on my sister and I saw how much it affected her. Myself and Hollie are very close and have always been rather active, but this is one of the biggest things I have ever done in my life. I can’t say it’s been easy juggling my second year at university and training as I have had to balance my time well; but it’s the smile on my sister’s and Alex’s face that will make this all worth it as this is just the beginning of what I want to do for the British Heart Foundation.

“I think Alex is the main reason I am doing this as he’s always been inspiring for me when it comes to sport as he’s always encouraged me to explore in different activities, and since his operation he has been limited to the activities he can do. So this is me doing it for him and showing myself also what I am capable of.

“I just want to give something to those who are battling every day, because if we all did the same the world would be a different place.”

She adds, “Since it was established the BHF has helped halve the number of people dying from heart and circulatory diseases in the UK each year, but sadly every day hundreds of people still lose their lives to these conditions. It’s only thanks to support from people like us that BHF-funded researchers can help create new treatments. £24 could pay for two hours of research by an early career scientist, but every pound helps so I wanted to take on this challenge to do as much as I can for people living with heart conditions.”

Alex’s partner, Sophie’s sister Hollie says, “I could not be prouder of my sister for getting out there and doing something she has never done before. More than anything I would like her to be proud of herself and realise how far she has come. Like many students, Soph has been struggling with her mental health since starting her degree during the height of covid. It really took its toll on her. However, she has used this triathlon as a challenge to help her overcome her struggles.

“When Sophie mentioned she would like to do the Triathlon for the British Heart Foundation, Alex and I were choked by the gesture, as the charity has been of huge support to us and our families over the last few years.

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“In November 2019, Alex was sat in an army medical room unaware that he was waiting to be told that his life was not going to turn out how he planned it to be. The medical uncovered the signs of a congenital heart condition known as a bicuspid aortic valve which caused the dilation of his ascending aorta. Through many consultations and appointments, it was clear that Alex required urgent treatment.

“In October 2020, with a number of setbacks due to the coronavirus global pandemic, Alex finally underwent open heart surgery at the age of 24. Since, his surgery, Alex has made a speedy recovery, and although the dream of an army career has been halted, he is able to live his life as close to normal as possible and looks to join Sophie in her next Triathlon Event, whenever that maybe.

“Both our families have recognised that without the support, research and aid offered from the British Heart Foundation and the cardiac specialist, the outcome of Alex’s story would be very different.”

Jayne Lewis BHF Fundraising Manager said: “We are so grateful to Sophie for supporting the BHF’s research. For more than 60 years the public’s generosity has funded BHF research that has turned ideas that once seemed like ‘science fiction’ into treatments that save lives every day. But millions of people are still waiting for the next breakthrough.

“Today in Wales around 340,000 people are living with the daily burden of heart and circulatory diseases. We urgently need the public’s support to keep our lifesaving research going, and to discover the treatments and cures of the future. It is only with donations from the public that the BHF can keep its lifesaving research going, helping us turn science fiction into reality.”

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To support Sophie, go to: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/sophie-taylor91

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