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New research shows how surfing may boost wellbeing of brain injury survivors

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Generations of surfers know there’s nothing like catching the perfect wave, but now new research has looked at just how beneficial the power of the sea can be.

The Swansea University study examined how a group of adults living with the consequences of acquired brain injury benefited from group-based surf therapy on the Gower coast.

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Lead researcher final year PhD student Katie Gibbs said: “Nature has long demonstrated the capacity to facilitate wellbeing. Increasingly interventions involving the natural environment are used to help aspects of wellbeing in clinical populations.

“But we wanted to find out how nature-based interventions such as surf therapy could be used when it comes to promoting wellbeing in the context of neurorehabilitation.”

Katie and her colleagues from the School of Psychology  interviewed 15 adults with acquired brain injury following a five-week intervention where they worked with Surfability UK, a Gower-based community interest company which specialises in providing surfing experiences for people with additional needs.

Their findings have just been published by online journal PLOS ONE.

Scientists at the University have been collaborating closely with clinicians from Swansea Bay University Health Board  and Hywel Dda University Health Board to re-examine our way of thinking about health and wellbeing and consider how these insights could be used to support people living with pervasive impairment after stroke or acquired brain injury.

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Katie said: “We know physical health and psychological wellbeing are influenced by many things including healthy eating, sleeping well, or physical exercise. But our health and wellbeing are also influenced by whether we gain a sense of meaning, purpose, and achievement in our lives; whether we have a sense of belonging and it can even be dependent upon how connected we feel to our natural environments.”

One group which often struggles to experience various determinants of wellbeing are people with acquired brain injury. In addition to having emotional, cognitive, and physical difficulties, many feel isolated and unable to reintegrate into their communities.

A majority of stroke and brain injury survivors have difficulty returning to work or engaging in the leisure activities they once enjoyed, which in turn means opportunities for social connection, joy, meaning, and purpose are limited.

To address this, clinicians looked for diverse ways to give people with stroke and brain injury opportunities to experience wellbeing in their local and natural environments. This resulted in the partnership with Surfability UK, whose work offering surfing experiences at Caswell Bay led to it being featured on BBC1’s DIY SOS.

Since teaming up around three years ago, up to 50 stroke and brain injury survivors have enjoyed two-hour surfing session for up to five-week periods.

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In interviews conducted with 15 of those individuals, Katie and the team learned just how life-changing the experience had been.

She said: “Over and above everything else we found surfing nourished the belief that despite ‘being a bit broken in some places’ participants could experience wellbeing.

“Many said their experience gave them a ‘valid reason for being alive’.”

The research looked at the positive changes the participants experienced over those five weeks and beyond, where they enjoyed the benefits of being in nature and connecting to the present moment in a safe and supportive environment.

The group activity also meant they could connect with similar others, gaining a sense of belonging and community that they struggled to experience elsewhere. Within this community they began to reappraise themselves and what they were capable of, with help from the clinicians who worked with them to set meaningful goals.

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Katie added: “Our themes capture how immersing individuals in natural environments can provide the context for stroke and brain injury survivors to experience various pillars of wellbeing which they are often sorely lacking in.”

For her research, Katie has been working with Professor Andrew Kemp and Dr Zoe Fisher who have previously published research on the importance of taking a wider approach to wellbeing and considering how it can be influenced by the surroundings within which we live.

Read the article in full: Riding the Wave into Wellbeing: A Qualitative Evaluation of Surf Therapy for Individuals Living with Acquired Brain Injury

Lead image: Surfability lead director and head coach Ben Clifford with Lowri Wilkie, a member of the research team, at Caswell Bay. (Image: Swansea University)

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Charity

Action for Children and Swansea Council unveil new caravans for supported families

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Action for Children and Swansea Council have unveiled three brand new caravans for supported families at Llanrhidian Holiday Park, Gower on Thursday 23rd June.

Swansea Council has provided the funding for the caravans for Action for Children to help support families with children with disabilities who use their short breaks service in the Swansea area. 

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The caravans were officially opened by Cllr Louise Gibbard, Swansea Council’s Cabinet Member for Care services.  She said: “Everyone loves a short break on Gower with its opportunities to enjoy brilliant scenery and fresh air.

“Now disabled young children and their families will be able to get a wonderful change of scene together rather than having to go on holiday separately, which has often been the case in the past.

“Working together with Action for Children, we’ve purchased the caravans near each other on a holiday site in Llanrhidian. They are fully kitted-out to make sure the children and their families get the best possible short break experience.

“Action for Children, who already do a lot of great work supporting children with disabilities and their families, will operate the caravans and assist the families while they’re there.

“It’s a really good, new initiative and it’s great to see this kind of partnership between the council and Action for Children delivering the best for our community’s disabled children and their families.”

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Cllr Gibbard (top right) with the Action for Children and Swansea Council teams who made it happen (Image: Action for Children)
Shaun and Natalie with their son, Leo at the caravan launch (Image: Action for Children)

Caroline Lewis, Action for Children’s short breaks practice manager, said: “Our families face very difficult challenges every day and we are delighted Swansea Council has worked with us to provide these wonderful facilities.  The caravans will provide a much-needed break in beautiful surroundings with fully accessible amenities for children with disabilities. 

Caroline added: “The value of a break from your everyday routine is priceless and I’m sure our families will relish all the Gower has to offer and make lovely new memories.  We are very grateful to Swansea Council for their incredible support and generosity in making this happen.”

(Lead image: Action for Children)

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Cycling

Council awarded over £8m for new cycle and walking routes in Swansea

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Walking and cycling routes in Swansea are set to be expanded after Swansea Council secured millions in Welsh Government funding.

The Council has received confirmation from the WG of more than £8 million of transport funding which will be invested in the city’s growing walking and cycle network.

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Part of the funding will also be used to improve main routes in the city for public transport, in a bid to improve bus services and speed up journeys for passengers.

In total, £8.325 million has been awarded to the Council after it submitted bids earlier in 2022.

A report to Cabinet will seek to approve a list of transport schemes that will help boost sustainable transport and encourage more people to walk and cycle.

Just over £7 million of the funding will be spent on developing new walking and cycling routes.

Included in the plans is a new route across Clyne Common, linking up the village of Bishopston with a recently completed walking and cycling route on Mayals Road.

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New routes will also be developed in the north of the city, including a new route between Grovesend and Pontarddulais and a new link between Penllergaer and Gorseinon.

Funding will also be used to fill gaps in the walking and cycling network along the Tawe corridor in and around the Morriston area.

Andrew Stevens, Cabinet Member for Environment & Infrastructure, said: “Once again, Swansea has been successful in securing important funding that we want to invest in our transport network in the city.

“We have been working extremely hard for a number of years, creating new walking and cycling routes that give residents and visitors alternative ways to get around without needing to use a car.

“Our aim is to make walking and cycling a serious option for people, even more so with fuel prices continuing to rise across the country.

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“Swansea is a vast city with many communities and we are continuing to plan and develop routes that link up these communities. Residents have already taken part in city-wide consultations on new routes so that we can plan ahead and we will continue to work with residents, cycle groups and other representative bodies to ensure new routes help achieve our aims.”

Some of the funding (£1.2 million) will also be used to improve main routes in the city – specifically targeting routes used by public transport services.

Cllr Stevens added: “We need to ensure busy routes used by public transport services are improved and can assist in making bus services more reliable and more attractive for potential passengers.

“The latest funding will assist us in improving bus priority as well as upgrading bus stops.”

(Lead image: Swansea Council)

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Gower

Gower farmers take part in trial of new biosecurity app to help lower farm disease risk

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Trials have started on a system to help farmers in Wales identify and resolve weak spots in their biosecurity, and so reduce the need for antibiotics.

Featuring the piloting of a Biosecurity App, the trials are part of Arwain DGC – a project designed to help combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria in animals and the environment in Wales.

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Developed by Cefn Gwlad Solutions Ltd in consultation with vets, the app’s trials are being organised by Arwain DGC veterinary delivery partner Iechyd Da. 

Working with farmers, vets will carry out a simple risk-based analysis of a farm’s biosecurity. The easy-to-use Biosecurity App will help identify the major weak spots in the farm’s biosecurity measures and enable the vet to give practical advice on improvements. Any changes made will then be reviewed with the farmer during a follow-up visit later in the year.

Gower vet Ifan Lloyd, one of the vets involved in developing the tool, said, “We’re looking forward to trialling the use of the biosecurity risk assessment App. We have designed a series of questions that will enable the farmer and vet to make an objective assessment by applying a score to each of the risks. 

“This will generate an overall risk score while also permitting the farmer and vet to measure improvements in biosecurity as a result of implementing any agreed actions that must be practical, achievable and cost-effective.” 

Robert Smith of Iechyd Da said, “By leading on this innovative trial, Iechyd Da hopes to develop a simple and practical means of assessing a farm’s biosecurity risk using handheld technology. The app works by highlighting to the farmer where their biggest biosecurity risks are. 

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“By using the scoring system, vets can then advise the farmer about the best measures to reduce infectious disease transmission onto their livestock unit.  In reducing disease spread between farms, the stock will be healthier, more productive and fewer antibiotics will need to be used.”

Seven veterinary practices are set to pilot the Biosecurity App on 20 Welsh dairy, beef, and sheep farms.

Gower sheep farmer Dan Pritchard, who farms at Weobley Castle Farm in Llanrhidian, is among the first to take part in the trial, and is working with his vet Ifan Lloyd.

He said, “Being able to identify, and then rectify, biosecurity weak spots are something we are very keen to do as it will help lower the risk of infectious diseases being brought on and off the farm. 

“We have just started using the Biosecurity App with our vet, and it has been a quick and easy process. I look forward to seeing the results and working with our vet to reduce the need to use antibiotics.”

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Also, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) will be discussed by vets at next week’s Vets Cymru conference in Aberystwyth (June 17th & 18th).

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