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Student in recovery from eating disorders celebrates graduation

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A woman who has struggled with poor mental health and an eating disorder, is today celebrating as she graduates from Swansea University with an undergraduate degree in Sport and Exercise Science.

Francesca Murphy, 25, from Pembrokeshire, developed mental health problems in her late teens following a sailing accident. Throughout this time Francesca did her best to carry on and continued to work at Fishguard Leisure Centre and credits her co-workers as giving her a strong support network which helped her recovery. As her recovery progressed, she also began work at a primary school .

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She said: “I loved my time at the primary school and also working at the leisure centre, but I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do long term – I wanted to go to university. After everything I’d been through, I knew it would be hard but thought, ‘I’m going to try.’

“Swansea wasn’t originally a place I’d given much thought to, but I came to an open day with my mum and we both loved it. I still remember the day so vividly. Something clicked when I was on campus, and I knew it was where I was meant to be.”

Before enrolling in 2018, Francesca had been doing well for quite some time.

“I was in a good place when I first had contact with the University’s Wellbeing Service. I would check in with the team, which was all I needed at the time – they were amazing.”

It wasn’t until just before the pandemic that Francesca realised things had started to go downhill. In February 2020, she received some sad news and then, once lockdowns were introduced across the UK, “everything spiralled.”

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On this time, Francesca said: “When the pandemic hit halfway through my second year, I started feeling unwell quite quickly. Soon, I found myself finishing the end of the academic year in and out of hospitals.

“My third year was very much the same; in the last few months of my degree, I ended up submitting my dissertation and completing my degree whilst in Cotswold House, an eating disorder unit in England. The unit was quite some distance away and due to the pandemic, I felt very isolated from my family, friends and university, which was very difficult.”

Although she faced many challenges, Francesca did not take an official period of leave from her studies. She was determined to finish what she had started and thanks her lecturers and support staff at Swansea for helping her.

“I’m not sure whether I would have just dropped out or deferred, but there’s no way I would be graduating this week if I had gone to a different university.

On the other people who helped during those most challenging times, Francesca said: “I realise I’m lucky to be alive, and I know part of this is down to the fantastic individuals I’ve met during my studies who genuinely care.

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“When I had received the bad news back in February 2020, I didn’t know what to do and so I just walked to the Sport and Exercise Sciences department, where one of the lecturers, Dr Dr Andrew Bloodworth, kindly connected me with the right people – they made a real difference to me.”

“Judith Evans-Jones from the Wellbeing Service would stay in contact with me while I was receiving treatment and would arrange video appointments. She would always make sure that I was okay and would ask if she could help me with things like extensions for my assignments.

“Lecturers like Dr Denise Hill, Professor Mel McNarry, Dr Rachel Churm and Professor Kelly Mackintosh went way above and beyond to ensure that I had everything I needed. Nothing was too much trouble. Whilst in Cotswold House, if I couldn’t attend online lectures, they would make arrangements so I wouldn’t miss anything.”

“I’m also fortunate to have extremely supportive family and friends who have seen first-hand what I’ve gone through, and I can’t thank them enough.”

Despite these challenges, Francesca still managed to make the most of university life, joining the music society and the sailing club, where she was the beginners team captain, as well as working as a student ambassador.

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She has also been recognised with an award from the Students’ Union for individual contribution when she was a student representative in her final year, and also from her Faculty for her contribution to the Sport and Exercise Science environment.

Francesca has since returned to Swansea to study for a KESS-funded masters degree by research with South Wales Police and Crime Commissions Office, something she would never have imagined possible years ago.

 “I’m not very academic, but after my lecturers made me aware of the research, I decided it was the right next step for, and I’m now in the final stages of my masters degree.

“I was back in Cotswold House at the end of last year, but like last time, I was lucky enough to have the support of people like my supervisor Dr Jo Hudson – she has been my rock through the whole experience.”

On what she would say to people facing similar challenges, Francesca said: “I genuinely believe that you get out what you put in, from university and life in general.

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“Yes, challenging things happen to us all, but know there is always support available.

“It can often be difficult, but don’t ever feel embarrassed to accept help. If I hadn’t had support from my family and friends, the University, my therapist and Hywel Dda Tier 3 Eating Disorder Services, I don’t think I would be where I am now. Diolch i chi gyd.”

(Lead image: Swansea University)

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Charity

Fishguard woman to become first person with spinal cord injury to swim English Channel without a wetsuit

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Paula Craig MBE will attempt to become the first person with a complete Spinal Cord Injury to swim the 22 miles of the Channel without a wetsuit, taking on the challenge to mark the 21st anniversary since she was injured.

Fishguard-born Paula will swim as part of a relay channel swim team for Aspire, the national charity that supports people with Spinal Cord Injury.

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Her previous swimming challenges include the Solent in 2014 and The Dart 10k in 2019. An attempt at swimming the Channel with the team last year was thwarted by bad weather.

In May 2001 Paula, an elite marathon runner training for the GB national triathlon team and a serving police officer with the Metropolitan Police, was knocked off her bike whilst training.

Paula in training

Following the accident Paula was supported by Aspire and says, “The support and opportunities provided by Aspire in the days and months after my injury were invaluable both in terms of my mental and physical health.”

She subsequently went on to compete in the London Marathon in a wheelchair (making her the only person to have run and pushed the London Marathon), and came second to Tanni Grey-Thompson.

She also competed as a wheelchair triathlete at an international level and continued working as a policewoman, becoming a DI and working in the murder squad, internal affairs and counter terrorism.

In 2005 she was awarded the MBE for her services to policing.

Asked about the impending swim Paula reflects, “21 years ago this year my life changed in an instant when I was hit by a car whilst out cycling, leaving me paralysed from the waist down.

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“As a police officer and marathon runner, I had no idea what the future would hold but, thanks to Aspire and the amazing work they do, I was able to return to both and to live life to the full.

“To mark the anniversary of the accident and to celebrate my achievements of the past 20 years, I will be taking on the waves, the cold water and the jellyfish to raise much-needed funds so that Aspire can continue its vital work helping those affected by Spinal Cord Injury.”

The team of six, known as the Aspire Mutts in recognition of Archie, Paula’s cockerpoo and constant companion, will be leaving Dover at 01.30 am 4th August.

Paula has raised over £20,000 so far for the charity. To find out more or to sponsor her swim, visit her JustGiving page.

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Stena Line suspends Fishguard to Rosslare ferry route

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Stena Line has cancelled all of its Irish Sea crossings between Fishguard and Rosslare until 12 April.

The move comes as the ferry company looks to plug gaps left by P&O between Northern Ireland and the UK mainland over goods and food supply fears in the region.

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Stena Nordica, which usually sails between Holyhead and Dublin has been sent to add additional capacity on the Northern Irish route between Cairnryan in Scotland and Larne.

Stena Europe has been sent from its usual Fishguard route to plug the gap caused by this movement.

Passengers intending on travelling to Ireland from Fishguard are being advised to book crossings with Irish Ferries from Pembroke Dock instead.

Simon Palmer from Stena Line is reported as saying that: “Due to the suspension of P&O’s services into Northern Ireland there were supply fears in the region.

“The issue is also compounded by the timing of the crisis happening during our annual dry-docking period, where our ships take turns going into the shipyard for a makeover.

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“Otherwise we would’ve had a spare ship. The Stena Horizon from our Cherbourg route is currently in dry-dock, with that route being covered by the vessel Stena Estrid, which has been moved from her normal route on Holyhead to Dublin.”

Lead image: Stena Europe (Image: Wikimedia / Richie Queally / Creative Commons)

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Grassroots sports in Wales get £1.3m investment in UK Government Levelling Up announcement

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Beneficiaries of an initial £1.3 million investment in grassroots football facilities across Wales this year are announced by the UK Government.

In the Swansea Bay Region, Mumbles, Pontarddulais and Fishguard football clubs see over £140,000 in investment.

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Seventeen projects across Wales will receive funding to create and improve pitches, changing rooms and pavilions, so that more local communities can access high-quality facilities.

Projects have been chosen for their ability to deliver improved facilities in deprived areas, support multi-sport use and increase participation among currently under-represented groups, including women, girls and disabled players.

Mumbles Rangers AFC

Mumbles Rangers AFC who play at Underhill Park (pictured above) will receive £19,332 for essential grass pitch maintenance machinery. The club say this is so the pitch can effectively service the rugby and football teams across all age groups who use it.

The pitch has been upgraded over the last two years and supports two-day male and female football festivals with teams competing from across South Wales

The club will also invest £2,148 of its own funds towards the scheme.

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Pontarddulais Town FC

Pontarddulais Town FC who play at Coed Bach Park will get £98,842 to renovate an old changing room block that is no longer fit for purpose, bringing it back into use. The club say the funding will provide female toilet facilities and allow other community groups to benefit from the increased capacity.

The club will also invest £8,000 of its own funds into the scheme, in addition to £2,000 from Funds for Wales, £1,000 from Mynydd y Gwair wind farm and £3,477 from a voluntary works labour contribution.,

Fishguard Sports AFC

Further West, Fishguard Sports AFC who play at Tregroes Park will receive £26,072 to improve the drainage of the second pitch and purchase portable floodlights, so that it can be used into the evenings. The club say the poor drainage has prevented the club from expanding its offer, especially for ladies football, cricket and the U16’s disabled team which this project will unlock.

The club will invest £1,897 of its own funds, as well as £1,000 voluntary works labour contribution towards the scheme.

Investment in community facilities

The funding, combined with contributions from clubs and other local partners, will improve the quality of community facilities, bring people together to enjoy playing sport in their local area, regenerate communities and enhance social cohesion.

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It forms part of a £25 million UK-wide investment in grassroots facilities during this financial year, out of a total of £230 million set to be invested to help to build or upgrade up to 8,000 quality pitches across the UK over the next four years. The funding will also support the construction or refurbishment of clubhouses, changing facilities and community buildings.

The Football Association of Wales is delivering the programme on behalf of the UK Government in Wales. Following the UK Government’s commitment, the Welsh Government has also opted to invest £1.3 million to improve grassroots facilities this year – the FAW is working with both governments to maximise the benefits of this combined investment for local communities.

UK Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said: “We are committed to improving access to high quality sports facilities for the underprivileged and underrepresented in Wales.

“From female changing rooms at Treborth Playing Fields in Bangor to new pitches in Welshpool and Swansea, this will ensure more people can enjoy the physical and mental health benefits of sport at top class facilities in their local community.”

Secretary of State for Wales Simon Hart said: “Grassroots football clubs are at the heart of their communities, providing sporting opportunities but also bringing incalculable health and social benefits to local children and adults.

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“They play a hugely important role and I’m thrilled that the UK Government is making this investment in facilities the length and breadth of Wales which will help the clubs and groups receiving this funding to continue their fantastic work.”

Chief Executive Noel Mooney from the Football Association of Wales said: “The Football Association of Wales is pleased to be working closely with the UK and Welsh Governments to improve facilities across Wales and are grateful for their support.

Improving the facilities across Wales is the FAW’s number one strategic objective. This initial round of funding marks the beginning of an exciting journey, and the FAW will continue to work closely with all of its stakeholders, to create a facilities investment fund in order to deliver impactful projects across all corners of Wales as we strive to make football inclusive and accessible to all.”

Joint UK bid for Euro 2028

Today’s announcement follows a joint ‘Expression of Interest’ submitted to UEFA by the Football Associations of England, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Scotland and Wales on Wednesday (23 March).

The Governments of the UK, Ireland, Scotland and Wales have confirmed their support for the EOI submission and, given the Northern Ireland Executive is currently not meeting formally, officials there continue to observe the process closely.

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Formal discussions on the technical specifications for the tournament are expected to take place with European football’s governing body over the coming weeks, before a final decision is made on submitting a formal bid.

On the prospects of hosting UEFA EURO 2028, Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston added: “This is welcome news from the FAs, and the Government remains committed to working closely with them and our partners in the Government of Ireland and the Devolved Administrations to bring UEFA’s flagship festival of international football to the UK and Ireland.

“Our unprecedented partnership creates the potential for the best EUROs ever, and we are passionate about bringing another world-leading sporting event here, creating a real celebration of football for people across the UK and Ireland.

“The government continues to demonstrate its commitment to sport and recreation, recently announcing that it is also investing £30 million to refurbish more than 4,500 tennis courts across the UK.”

(Lead image: Go Underhill)

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