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‘More than a leisure centre’



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Cllr Meryl Gravell talks with Herald Deputy Editor Jon Coles

IN SOME interviews you can often get the best flavour of the interviewee at the end of your time together. By then you have batted questions and answers back and forth and both have a clearer idea of what you both want to achieve from the process.

And so it was with former leader of Carmarthenshire County Council and current Executive Board Member for Regeneration, Cllr Meryl Gravell.

“Too often in West Wales in the past, people have said ‘it will do’.” Cllr Gravell told our reporter, “I think we are far better served by thinking big.”

Referring to Llanelli, Cllr Gravell said: “People said we wouldn’t get a golf course. It took a while, but we did. People said we wouldn’t be able to build executive homes nearby, but we did and they sold.

Nobody can accuse the County Council of lack of ambition in respect of the Wellness project it is part of in Llanelli. In the course of our interview with her Cllr Gravell took considerable pains to spell out the scope of the project.

“It is much more than a leisure centre,” Cllr Gravell agreed. “There IS a need for a new leisure centre in Llanelli, the one there now is out of date, but we are looking at something more than that.”

Indeed, what has been referred to as a Wellness Centre, a Wellness Village, is now to be part of a Wellness Enterprise Zone.

Cllr Gravell told us how she became involved in advancing the proposed development: “I went to a wellness conference and spoke there about wanting much more than a new leisure centre for Llanelli. After I spoke at the conference, I was contacted by the Regional Health Consortium (ARCH) and that began my involvement there.

The key word that occurred several times while Cllr Gravell spoke to us was the word ‘exciting’, and it was difficult to escape the impression that her enthusiasm for the project and what she hoped it would deliver was genuine and unfeigned. The key concepts that she returned to on a number of occasions were the educational and economic opportunities the project could potentially deliver.

There is more to the development than simply providing new facilities, as Cllr Gravell was eager to make clear: “The aim of ARCH (the Regional Consortium for Health) is to be proactive in keeping people healthier for a longer time. It is about ensuring that people are healthy throughout their lives and are supported and encouraged in leading healthy lifestyles.

“It starts before babies are born by bringing pregnant mums together to learn about good nutrition. In my own ward of Trimsaran, we are aiming to create the first Wellness School. We are working with Coleg Sir Gar and the University of Swansea to provide opportunities for learning and training. One thing I know is valuable is providing facilities for those with learning difficulties: I was involved with a drama group for people with learning difficulties, the work of the group helped them with their daily lives and confidence. The sort of space we have in mind will bring those things together. It’s not only about swimming and going to the gym.”

While Cllr Gravell is positive and upbeat about the Wellness Zone, we asked whether there was a tension between the Council’s commitment to it and the asset transfer process. In particular we referred to Labour Leader Jeff Edmunds’s view that the parks and playing fields subject to the asset transfer scheme were themselves individual ‘wellness facilities’.

“Of course I agree with Jeff Edmunds on that,” she responded, “Jeff Edmunds was a member of the Board when we began our involvement in ARCH. The situation there is that there are financial pressures. While some communities have always funded their own playing fields and parks, it is unusual that in Carmarthenshire we have a situation where some communities are responsible for parks and playing fields’ upkeep, others have the same facilities provided by the County Council. It is a question of fairness to everyone.”

Cllr Gravell was also clear on the economic case for the development: “While we were clear on the need for a leisure centre, what we also want to do is deliver jobs. We want to keep people educated in West Wales working in West Wales. We don’t want to export our brains. By providing educational, training and business opportunities we want to provide a career path for young people to stop the brain drain. The Council is committed to playing a large part in that. So students at the University, for example, could do training and develop careers as part of the scheme.

“We looked at one site in Llanelli first, but Delta Lakes provided more land and more scope. Near the site is a place we are building a new school. It is possible that the school would be another Wellness School, the second, and it would be able to use the facilities nearby.”

Cllr Gravell also told us that the County Council would not be alone in making an investment on the project. “While I cannot provide you with details at this stage, we are in discussions with a major international investor who is considering coming on board with us.”

While Cllr Gravell is positive and upbeat about the Wellness Zone, we asked whether there was a tension between the Council’s commitment to it and the asset transfer process. In particular we referred to Labour Leader Jeff Edmunds’s view that the parks and playing fields subject to the asset transfer scheme were themselves individual ‘wellness facilities’.

“Of course I agree with Jeff Edmunds on that,” she responded, “Jeff Edmunds was a member of the Board when we began discussing our plans. The situation there is that there are financial pressures. While some communities have always funded their own playing fields and parks, it is unusual that in Carmarthenshire we have a situation where some communities are responsible for parks and playing fields’ upkeep, others have the same facilities provided by the County Council. It is a question of fairness to everyone.”

We asked how deeply the Council was committed to ARCH and the Llanelli Wellness project. Cllr Gravell told us: “The Council is involved on several levels with ARCH in aiming to bring this project to fruition. The Head of Regeneration, Wendy Walters is on one working group. I am on another working group. The Chief Executive is involved at the level of discussions with the Chief Executive of the Health Board. As a council, we are fully integrated into ARCH and its aims and our involvement is integral to its delivery of this exciting project.”

Cllr Gravell concluded: “This facility will not only be for Llanelli it will be for the benefit of the whole of Carmarthenshire.

“The aim is – well it’s a bit like an all-inclusive holiday. We want people to come here, to be attracted to live here. The area needs GPs, we need businesses to come in to Carmarthenshire. One thing we think will make it a more attractive proposition is the research and development element associated with what we are trying to achieve in Llanelli. Small enterprises, bigger businesses: we want to deliver good jobs and good futures.”

She also pointed out that the aim of the facility was to aim for whole life involvement in wellness as a lifestyle. “We are considering the provision of housing for older people. We want to tackle the problem of loneliness within our communities. This is something which ties together the whole package for Carmarthenshire. The Millennium Coast Path, Pembrey, the Care centre we plan to build. It is part of a bigger picture for the Council. And our key aim is to provide good jobs, good education, and to attract people to come to our area, not only as tourists but with their businesses.”

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Werndale Hospital recognised for outstanding patient care in national award



STAFF at Werndale Hospital near Carmarthen have been recognised for the quality of their patient care. 

The prestigious ‘Private Hospital Group of the Year’ award is presented to an organisation that has shown excellence in its delivery of care, commitment to the community and innovation within healthcare.

Werndale Hospital was also recognised for their initiatives to support staff in their career progression and wellbeing.   

The latest statistics show, 98% of patients at Werndale Hospital were satisfied with their overall level of care, 98% of patients would recommend their care to family and friends, and 98% of patients rated the nursing staff as excellent or very good. 

In addition, independent analysis of Circle hospitals’ hip and knee procedure outcomes of health improvement shows that Circle scored 8.4 versus an independent sector average of 7.8 in the hip category, and a score of 15.4 versus an independent sector average of 13.9 in the knee category.   

The award presented to Circle Health Group, owners of Werndale Hospital, in London in June, also noted the extraordinary contribution the teams at the hospital had made to the community. 

In 2021 alone, Werndale Hospital partnered with Air Ambulance Wales and raised £1,205 to support the charity’s work in the community.  

In addition to the charitable work, Werndale Hospital was recognised for it’s commitment to support staff through a series of wellbeing initiatives and career development opportunities. The judges were particularly impressed with the launch of the ‘Be Heard’ survey at the hospital.   

The survey looks to empower staff to feedback on everything from the working environment at the hospital through to their own career ambitions. Building directly on the feedback from this survey, the ‘Grow Your Own’ campaign was launched which supported staff to work towards specific qualifications from nursing degrees with partnered universities through to bespoke management programmes and MBA qualifications.   

As a direct result of this support for staff at what is a challenging time for healthcare workers, Werndale Hospital and Circle Heath Group were recognised as being a Top 20 Best Large Company to work for.   

At the heart of Werndale Hospital’s approach to treating patients is a commitment to the community they serve.  

 Paolo Pieri, CEO of Circle Health Group, said:  “The award is a testament to what an amazing year 2021 was for Werndale Hospital with considerable investment into the facilities and services on offer to patients in west Wales. I couldn’t be prouder of what our staff and doctors have achieved.”  

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Aberglasney Gardens delighted to win 2022 Trip advisor Travellers’ Choice Award



ABERGLASNEY Gardens is thrilled to have been recognised by Tripadvisor as a 2022 Travellers’ Choice Award winner for being in the top 10% of attractions worldwide.

The Award recognises businesses that consistently deliver great service with the Gardens being rated ‘Excellent’ by 342 visitors.

The award celebrates businesses that have received great traveller reviews from around the globe on Tripadvisor over the last 12 months. As challenging as the past year has been, Aberglasney stood out by consistently delivering positive experiences to visitors.

Aberglasney’s Director of Operations Jim Stribling said: “We are delighted to have once again won an award from Tripadvisor. It is fantastic recognition for the team’s hard work and dedication. To rank among the top ten percent of those listed on Trip Advisor as one of the best places to visit is outstanding.

“We are grateful to all those who take the time to leave us a review after visiting. It is no cliché when I say all the team, be it in the gift shop, the gardeners, the tearooms and the administrative team, all take the reviews on board to help make a visit to Aberglasney the best possible experience for everyone.”

Tripadvisor, the world’s largest travel guidance platform, helps hundreds of millions of people each month become better travellers, from planning, to booking, to taking a trip. Travelers across the globe use the Tripadvisor site and app to discover where to stay, what to do and where to eat based on guidance from those who have been there before.

With more than 988 million reviews and opinions of nearly eight million businesses, travellers turn to Tripadvisor to find deals on accommodation, book experiences, reserve tables at restaurants and discover great places nearby.

As a travel guidance company available in 43 markets and 22 languages, Tripadvisor makes planning easy no matter the trip type.

“Congratulations to the 2022 Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice Winners,” said Kanika Soni, Chief Commercial Officer at Tripadvisor. “The Travellers’ Choice Awards recognise the best in tourism and hospitality, according to those who matter most: your guests.

“Ranking among the Travellers’ Choice winners is always tough – but never more so than this year as we emerge from the pandemic. Whether it’s using new technology, implementing safety measures, or hiring outstanding staff, I’m impressed by the steps you’ve taken to meet travellers’ new demands. You’ve adapted brilliantly in the face of adversity.”

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Council’s plan to expand bilingual education will be a gradual journey over 10 years



Carmarthenshire County Council

CARMARTHENSHIRE County Council’s vision to increase bilingual education in Carmarthenshire will be a gradual journey over 10 years.

The Cabinet met yesterday (Monday, July 4) to discuss the Welsh in Education Strategic Plan (WESP), and emphasised that it was important to give all children and young people the opportunity to develop their Welsh language skills.

However, members stressed that families will still have a choice on the language in which their children will be taught over the next decade and after 2032.

The plan sets out how the council will develop Welsh language provision in schools based on the outcomes and targets set by the Welsh Government.

All councils across Wales have to submit 10-year Welsh language education plans to the Welsh Government in order to meet its target of one million Welsh speakers by 2050.

The outcomes include more nursery and reception children being taught through the medium of Welsh; more young people studying for qualifications in Welsh as a subject, and subjects through the medium of Welsh; increasing provision for learners with Additional Learning Needs; and increasing the number of teachers able to teach Welsh and through the medium of Welsh – with continuing support to develop staff through a comprehensive and flexible training programme.

The Cabinet said it was important for the council to provide more opportunities to be bilingual and referred to the various benefits it brings – from educational attainment to employability and health.

Cabinet Member for Education and Welsh Language, Cllr Glynog Davies said the aim was to meet and exceed the target set by Welsh Government on the percentage of Carmarthenshire pupils receiving their education through the medium of Welsh by 3032 (10-14%).

It included changing the language provision at 10 schools over the next 10 years creating an opportunity for a further 300 learners to be educated in Welsh.

He said: “We want to build on the progress made in early years education provision, and my ambition is clear – equal opportunities across the county.

“It is worth noting that we have the largest percentage 57.5 percent of nursery age children taught through the medium of Welsh. Immersion education is key to the strategy, and it is important that we continue to see an increase in the percentage of children transferring from the Meithrin groups to Welsh-medium education in the Foundation Phase.

“These early years are so important, the children are like sponges, absorbing information and absorbing a new language.

“We must then continue to see an increase in numbers in our reception classes, we say this even though we are the authority with the largest percentage (62.5 percent) of children receiving their education through the medium of Welsh.

“Children must continue to improve their Welsh when going from one school phase to another, and we need to make sure all children have the opportunity to pursue their secondary education through the medium of Welsh.

“At the same time, we need to give children and young people the confidence to use Welsh, in school and in the community. That’s what we want to see isn’t it, more and more using Welsh, hearing Welsh on the street. We need to develop and build on skills and confidence.”

Cabinet Member for Rural Affairs and Planning Policy, Cllr Ann Davies said: “I am extremely pleased to see this document and have a pleasure in supporting it. Working with young children, that is children under three-years-old, I can say that children pick up language very quickly, they absorb it, and the process is very different to learning a language. As they get older the process in the brain is completely different. I am pleased to see that there is an emphasis on early years, that is when we need to start.”

Cabinet Member for Resources, Cllr Alun Lenny said: “It is very important to state that there are many advantages to learning a language, obviously for careers, especially in health and social care where patients and clients must have a choice of language, it’s important particularly for older people, and young children, and people with dementia.

“The Chief Constable of Dyfed-Powys Police has stated he is keen for all his staff to speak a certain level of Welsh, so we have a duty here to support that.

“The advantages of being bilingual are multiple, socially and in the world of work, and this strategy is very much welcomed.”

The WESP has come back to the cabinet for discussion following feedback from the Welsh Government, mainly to include some additional data and detail. It will now be submitted to the Welsh Government for final approval. A public consultation was held last year.

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