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Animal magic?

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THEY HAVE BEEN MAN’S best friend for thousands of years.

But only now are the benefits of learning with dogs being realised in Welsh classrooms.

Schools in south-west Wales have opened their doors to humble hounds in a bid to raise pupils’ confidence and self-esteem.

The innovative ‘Burns By Your Side’ scheme helps children in a variety of settings to develop their reading and communication skills.

One head teacher has spoken of the ‘calming effect’ it has had on pupils with special educational needs.

The scheme provides targeted pupils with the opportunity to read – on a weekly or fortnightly basis – to a volunteer and their dog, usually in sessions running over the course of a school term.

Typically, a volunteer will spend around 15 minutes with a child on an individual basis and keep a short record of each session.

To date, the scheme has involved a small number of schools (primary, secondary and special) and settings – such as libraries and nurseries – across the south-west Wales region.

An initial study to explore the impact of bringing dogs into classrooms, facilitated by researchers at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) Yr Athrofa – Institute of Education, has unearthed some promising results.

All schools and all children involved have reported favourably on the initiative and teachers have noted that pupils respond positively to the presence of the dogs, look forward to sessions and are keen to take part.

Helen Lewis, Primary PGCE Programme Lead and UWTSD’s Burns By Your Side co-ordinator, said: “The dog is a non-judgemental listener, whose very presence may calm and relax reluctant and anxious readers.

“With well-versed handlers acting to support the reading process, the act of reading to a dog can support children in making meaning of text and can encourage them to express personal responses in a safe environment.

“Dogs do not judge, glance at their watch if it is taking a long time to read a page, or sigh in frustration at mistakes – they are willing companions and their silence speaks volumes.”

Following the success of the reading with dogs pilot study, Burns By Your Side is now working with UWTSD and a greater number of schools in order to undertake a more rigorous body of research.

Organisers are conducting a mixed-methods, systematic review into the impact of reading with dogs on metacognition, attitudes to learning and reading levels in classrooms across South Wales.

In each of the 12 schools currently engaged with the project, four to six children who are struggling to make progress in reading have been identified and receive weekly sessions with the visiting dog and handler.

At the start of the project the children were given baseline assessments, such as standardised reading tests and other measures of attitude towards learning.

A similar group of children who were not in the intervention group were also given the same tests to provide a control measure.

At the end of the intervention, which will have lasted for an academic year, the tests will be repeated and results analysed.

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Railway seeks volunteers

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Seeking volunteers: Llanelli and Mynydd Mawr Railway

LLANELLI and Mynydd Mawr Railway are looking for volunteers to help operate and expand one of Britain’s oldest railway lines.

They will be holding a volunteer recruitment day on October 28 between 11am and 2pm at their Cynheidre base. In September, the L&MMR showed members of the public how much progress they had made, with the first passengers for 30 years being given the chance to ride the rails.

A spokesperson for L&MMR said: “We held our first open day on September 3 and had fantastic support from you, the local community. Many of you expressed an interest on the day and since in coming along to help us move forward.

“We need your help to achieve the many goals that we have set which include opening our buffet car on a weekly basis, extending our running line and expanding the attractions on site. Some of the roles available include the following: We need help with: – Café roles, Event stewarding, Rolling stock restoration, Railway operation, Track laying, Wildlife conservation, and Vegetation management.

“Volunteering can be very fulfilling, especially at a project as diverse as ours and we have many opportunities available. Whether you need to improve your CV or just have some spare time on your hands we would love to meet you. Bring a friend with you too!

“If you think that you can help us in any way then why not come along to say hello and see what you think? You are all invited to come and meet the team and have a look around our site (you can even have a cup of tea on us!). We have a Christmas event on the horizon on December 10 which will be run entirely by volunteers and the more people we have on board the better – see you there!”

Car parking is available, and the site is also accessible via Cycle Path route no. 47. Located at Cynheidre Heritage Centre, SA15 5YF
More information is available online at www.llanellirailway.co.uk and on Facebook at Facebook.com/llanellirailway and on Twitter @llanellirailway

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Accomplished artists come together for new exhibition

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Aberglasney exhibition: An example of the artists' work

A NEW exhibition which brings together some of Wales most accomplished artists will open at Aberglasney Gardens next Saturday (Oct 28).

Andrew Douglas-Forbes’ paintings are held in private collections across the world and are renowned for reflecting a love of all things ‘Welsh’. His latest collection of work will go on display in Aberglasney’s historic Mansion House alongside that of ceramicists Poliana Bandeira and Ann Goodfellow with paintings by Mark Morris.

The group have all taken inspiration for the exhibition, titled ‘The Colours of the Air’, from the poem Grongar Hill written by John Dyer, who was brought up at Aberglasney during the 18th century. Dyer was greatly admired by Wordsworth and his poems were almost certainly responsible for attracting the first ‘tourists’ to the Tywi Valley of Carmarthenshire.

Speaking ahead of the exhibition opening Andrew Douglas-Forbes said: “I’m delighted to be exhibiting at Aberglasney this autumn and am very pleased to be doing so alongside three other such highly regarded artists.”

Andrew grew up on Gower and after training in London as a singer he lived and sang professionally in Italy for six years. He has since returned to Wales and settled in Llandeilo. His career as an artist began when he was a teenager and has run alongside his singing career ever since.

Brazilian born Poliana Bandeira, is a contemporary ceramicist who successfully exhibited at Aberglasney earlier this year. She describes her pieces as ‘functional art’, form coming before function. Poli has a degree in product design from the University Federal of Paraiba in Brazil, a PGCE in Design and Technology from Swansea Metropolitan University and a Ceramics and Jewellery degree from the University of Wales, Trinity St David’s.

Ann Goodfellow has recently moved just a stone’s throw away from Aberglasney. She trained as both a painter and ceramicist but since gaining an MA in Ceramics from the University of Wales Institute in Cardiff in 2006 she has focussed solely on the figure as a means of expression. She has exhibited widely both in Britain and Europe, with two very successful solo shows in France in 2012 and 2013.

Ann said: “Having recently moved to this beautiful area I have a heightened awareness of the countryside and my relationship to nature. Using the poem Grongar Hill as a starting point, I have endeavoured to depict this strong connection to nature by using natural elements combined with the figure.”

Mark Morris has had a passion for drawing since a very young age. After graduating with an honours degree in Mathematics he began a career in teaching. It wasn’t until 2008 that his wife encouraged him to try painting, and after a first successful solo exhibition in the same year things went from strength to strength.

As well as taking inspiration from Grongar Hill and the surrounding landscape, Mark has been captivated by the beauty of the unrestored upper floors of Aberglasney’s Mansion House: “I was instantly taken by the light and beauty – the decaying wattle and daub walls, the wooden floors, voided ceilings and stunning Georgian windows, all these elements point at the history the building holds. This means the main body of my work is a more muted palette of greys as opposed to the greens and blues of Grongar Hill and the surrounding Tywi Valley.”

A special exhibition preview will take place next Friday (Oct 27) from 6.30pm. The exhibition will then be open daily until Thursday, November 2.

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Bakers raise dough for charity

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Jenkins: Shannon Bridgewater, Angharad Morris, Marie Jones, Fiona Snook, Kev Johns and Rachel Ryan

STAFF at Jenkins Bakery shops in Llanelli and the rest of south-west Wales have collected a magnificent £3,200 for Cancer Research UK.

The money was raised during a special summer fundraising campaign when pink cupcakes were on sale at Jenkins Bakery shops.

The company made a charity donation of 10p or every cake sold and customers added to the sum by making their own contributions. Jenkins Bakery staff also organised special fundraising events.

“The Pink campaign in our shops was a huge success,” said Jenkins Bakery area manager Fiona Snook.

“Members of staff dressed up in a pink theme and the shops were decorated to add to the party spirit.

“Our loyal customers were, of course, fantastic and hugely supportive of the campaign, with generous donations to Cancer Research.

“I must give special praise to our staff, who were fantastic, holding raffles, fancy dress events, bikeathons and a quiz night.

“We are into our fifth year of doing this event and each year the fundraising campaign for Cancer Research UK goes from strength to strength. A big thank you goes to all our staff and all our customers for supporting this worthy charity.”

The bakery staff enlisted the help of actor, broadcaster and ‘local hero’ Kev Johns MBE to hand over the cheque to Cancer Research UK at a special event at the Jenkins Bakery shop in Gowerton.

Kev Johns said: “I’m a lover of all things Jenkins, especially chocolate chip pancakes!

“I was delighted to be able to help out and accept the £3,200 cheque from Jenkins on behalf of Cancer Research UK.

“All of the staff at Jenkins have done a marvellous thing for Cancer Research UK, so it’s a very big ‘Da iawn’ and well done from me for all their hard work for the charity.”

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