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Swansea unsung heroes saluted for pandemic support

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Unsung community heroes who have helped the people of Swansea through the pandemic were honoured at a special event.

Certificates were presented to more than 80 individuals and organisations – and trophies went to 34 others at a special awards evening at Swansea’s Brangwyn Hall

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The help they have provided to local communities during the Covid crisis has ranged from emergency food supplies to online social conversations and essential medical deliveries to family shopping.

The Brangwyn Hall Unsung Community Heroes awards evening was organised by Swansea Council.

It was supported by partners such as the BAME Mental Health Support, Swansea Bay University Health Board, Swansea Council for Voluntary Service, Swansea University and the Welsh Government.

Council deputy chief executive Adam Hill said: “The pandemic presented new and daunting challenges for our communities.

“The council and other organisations served in new ways with skill and dedication – and so did all the community heroes saluted at the Brangwyn Hall.

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“They went out of their way to help people across our diverse communities cope at a time of great difficulty for many.

“We thank them for all their efforts. They have been – and continue to be – standard bearers for our area’s rich public spirit and vital to community cohesion.”

When Covid struck in early 2020, individuals and organisations across Swansea were quick to help others in a wide variety of ways.

Their outstanding work and extraordinary contributions to the community were a big help to thousands.

This year, council community cohesion officers asked the public to nominate their unsung heroes – and hundreds of nominations were received.

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The subsequent Brangwyn Hall event featured music, food and entertainment supplied by people and organisations from local communities.

Those honoured included these groups and individuals.

Unsung heroes trophy winners

Swansea Muslim Community Service

The Swansea Muslim Community Service was set up by Aisha Rayhanna Amer during the pandemic. It was a response to the severity of the situation, with many families struggling to buy essentials

She collaborated with other Swansea women to help vulnerable local community members. The service’s volunteers include Aisha, Gulnahar Begum, Momena Ali, Shehla Khan, Khadija Salla Adeela Rashid, Farhana Ali, Fatiha Rahman and Shaz Abedean.

They distributed food packs and essentials and were the only service to operate seven days a week for people isolating throughout Swansea and some areas of Llanelli and Pontardawe.

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On one delivery, Aisha saved a life. When the service user didn’t answer the door she realised something was wrong so immediately called 999. Without Aisha’s swift action, the elderly man could have died.

Service members raised funds and teamed up with Swansea Council, the Swansea Mosque foodbank and the Fareshare scheme so that they could reach out as widely as possible.

The Lloyd Family

At the start of the Covid 19 pandemic, the Lloyd family – Claire, Lottie, Edward and Cassie – were one of the first to register with council local area coordinators as street champions in Uplands. Since that time, they have provided a valuable service to neighbours who include a vulnerable, isolated elderly woman living close by.

The children especially have offered remarkable support to her, knocking on her door regularly to ask if she needs anything. They entertain her with their stories of school and other activities. The woman is grateful of this wonderful support.

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BAME Mental Health Support (BMHS)

BMHS is a trusted voice when it comes to public health guidelines and early intervention health information for ethnic minorities in Wales.

The organisation played an active role throughout the pandemic, including vaccination knowledge campaigns and the provision of support to vulnerable community members.

Other achievements include raising the profile of the Mental Health Act 1983 reform and contributing to the overall aims and objectives of Wales’ Race Equality Action Plan.

The organisation is led by Alfred Oyekoya. He has helped provide training, health awareness sessions and dance classes – as well as helping in practical and tangible ways to several community members.

Lizan Abdullah

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Lizan received around 20 nominations for the Unsung Community Heroes awards. Since her arrival in the UK in 2019, she has supported Kurdish community members across Wales and specifically Swansea. She’s a member of the Kurdish All Wales Association. Lizan volunteers with various organisations providing diverse support. During Covid 19 she helped disadvantaged community members through food banks and interpreting. More recently, Lizan set up Kurdish classes for Kurdish children in Swansea and helps women to learn English.

Annaliese Gower

Annaliese has been a committee member at Penlan South Community Centre for five years. She’s worked behind the scenes there throughout the pandemic, undertaking many roles and responsibilities.

After an initial Covid response foodbank ended, the committee partnered with the Trussel Trust to continue this much-needed service. Since then, the food bank has supported up to 20 families a week. It works in partnership with several other organisations and services.

Additionally, Annaliese also started a school uniform bank. This was welcomed by local people. She has also organised discos for families to come together; she understands that attending parties and dressing up is beneficial for the social and emotional development of children. Annaliese has further plans for fundraising and bringing the community together.

Bukky Okunade

At the age of 27, Bukky lost her husband just four months after getting married in Swansea. Despite this, she reached out to others who are bereaved as a result of Covid 19. She volunteered to provide bereavement support by phone to ethnic minorities in Swansea. She uses her multilingual skill to normalise conversations about grief and she volunteers with BAME Mental Health Support.

Dr Rashid Malik

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Dr Malik leads Swansea’s Muslim Hospitality Service; this provides hot food and regular engagement opportunities for homeless people and refugees.

During Covid-19, he continued to support people in need and those who were isolating through provision of food packs and other assistance. He helped provide food to NHS staff as a gesture of appreciation. He arranged Christmas gifts and dinners for homeless people.

Dr Malik is well known within the community and has links with different organisations supporting disadvantaged people. His work is appreciated by members of different faiths and community groups.

The positive feedback on a charity he founded – the Sameera Foundation – and his Facebook pages is evidence of his value to community cohesion.

Lead image: Unsung Community Heroes trophy recipient Bukky Okunade (Image: Swansea Council)

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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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