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Skills winners celebrate with Deputy Minister

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PEMBROKESHIRE learners have been rewarded for their successes at two major skills competitions, in an event celebrating talent across Wales.

Winners gathered at St David’s Hotel and Spa in Cardiff Bay to be honoured for their achievements at Skills Competition Wales and The Skills Show.

The event saw Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology, Julie James, hand out medals to 39 students, trainees, apprentices and employees who all won at competitions in 2014.

Pembrokeshire College students and graduates Annalea Lawrence, 39, from Pembroke; Luke Lawrence, 20, and Nicola Ashby, 32, from Pembroke Dock; Gabriella Coates, 19, from Tenby, and Marie Crayford, 44, from Saundersfoot, each took medals after triumphing in their chosen skill sector.

The Deputy Minister said: “This event is about celebrating the successes of our Welsh winners at Skills Competition Wales and The Skills Show, a group of people who will now act as role models to young people in Wales.

“These competitions help drive up standards in vocational skills and help us showcase the talent we have in Wales all over the world.

“We’re showing that we have talented students, trainees, apprentices and employees and we have forward-thinking training companies, colleges and employers.

“These competition winners are a testament to what can be achieved through dogged determination as well as skill.”

During Skills Competition Wales, the country’s most talented learners battled it out in competitions ranging from reflexology to web development to be named the ‘best in Wales’ in their chosen skill.

Initially, entrants competed against colleagues within their college and the best were then entered to compete at a national level, as part of heats organised within colleges across Wales by Skills Competition Wales (SCW).

In addition, The Skills Show, at the NEC in Birmingham then saw over 600 participants from across the UK take part in more than 60 competitions to be named the ‘best in the UK’.

Annalea and Nicola were awarded bronze and silver medals respectively in the reflexology category at Skills Competition Wales; Marie in aromatherapy, while Gabriella took gold in beauty therapy. Luke Lawrence was highly commended in the welding category at The Skills Show.

Gabriella said: “The Skills Show experience has been absolutely amazing.

“It’s one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done but I learned so much from it and the end result was definitely worth it. I’d recommend it to any learner.”

Backed by the Welsh Government, through the European Social Fund, Skills Competition Wales promotes the importance of developing a highly-skilled workforce, aiming to boost high level skills in Wales.

Barry Liles, WorldSkills Wales Champion and principal at Coleg Sir Gâr, who hosted the event, said:

“Taking part in skills competitions increases employability, employee skills, employer competitiveness, business growth and ultimately improves the economy of Wales.”

“The amount of passion and concentration shown at these events, the results of months and years of hard work, is always fantastic to see and every person involved should be hugely proud of what they have achieved.

“I’m extremely proud to be a part of such an inspiring scheme that has gone from strength to strength over the past four years.”

To register your interest for the next cycle of WorldSkills UK Competitions, visit www.worldskillsuk.org

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Badgers saved in ‘bizarre’ situation at canal wall

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AN RSPCA officer has labelled helping two badgers trapped on a ladder in a Torfaen canal as “the most bizarre and unusual” day in her 15 years on the frontline. 

The animal welfare charity teamed up with firefighters from the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service to help two badgers, who had – unfathomably – got stuck between metal steps and the wall, on Pentre Lane over the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal in Cwmbran.

Video footage captures the badger’s plight and the moments they were saved.

RSPCA Cymru was called, with rescue officer Sian Burton and inspector David Milborrow rushing to the scene. They enlisted the support of the fire service as they sought to help the trapped badgers. The rescue took place on Friday (5 February).

A large animal rescue team from the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service attended, and abseiled down the canal wall, with their ropes tied to an RSPCA van for security. Inspector Milborrow got hold of one of the badgers using a grasper – while firefighters held nets below him for extra security.

The second badger jumped into the water as the first was rescued – causing “serious concern” for the RSPCA. However, the badger then, amazingly, climbed up the ladder and into reach of the grasper, where he was also pulled to safety.

Both badgers have now come into the care of the RSPCA for a period of rehabilitation before an anticipated return to the wild.

ARO Burton said: “Without doubt, this was the most bizarre and unusual day of my 15 years spent on the frontline for animals. These poor badgers were stuck fast between the ladder and high wall, with no route to escape and the canal waters below them.

“Fortunately, we were able to reach the badgers with a grasper, as firefighters abseiled down the wall and looked to usher the animals towards safety. After we got the first badger, the other fell in the water – which did cause us some serious concern. But he got out of the water – and climbed up the ladder, and we soon grabbed him too.

“Both badgers are a bit rough, and have some cuts – so have come into our care for some rehabilitation. We really hope we can release them back to the wild soon. 

“We’re so grateful to the member of the public who spotted them – and the incredible firefighters and large animal rescue team from the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service. It’s a great advert of what we can achieve together for animal welfare.”

The badgers had initially been spotted by local resident Mandy Williams, who sounded the alarm after her dogs – Tara and Bella – showed an unusual amount of interest in what was happening at the canal wall.

Mandy said: “Last week, my dogs had spotted a squirrel at the canal – and when Tara went back there, I assumed she wanted to have another look. But then Bella ran over too, so I had a look myself – and was shocked to see two badgers staring back at me, trapped between the wall and metal ladder steps.

“They were wedged stuck and tightly together. I contacted the RSPCA – and waited with the badgers while they came. Occasionally, one would become loose and they’d fight a bit – so I did my best to reassure them.

“I don’t know if it’s because it is particularly slippy – meaning they’d fallen in, but both badgers were trapped and sadly without help there was no chance of escape from the canal. 

“The fire brigade and RSPCA staff were absolutely marvellous – and I’m so happy to hear both badgers are doing okay and are now in safe hands.”

A spokesperson for the South Wales Fire & Rescue Service added: “It was lovely to work with the RSPCA on this rescue. It was a once in a lifetime experience, not only did we have the opportunity to save one badger, but two. We’re pleased we were able to support the RSPCA in rescuing them before they are returned to the wild.”

Should you wish to help the RSPCA with their rescue work, you can donate online.

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Shock brain tumour diagnosis inspire mum’s challenge to help find a cure

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A school-based youth worker from Llanelli in Carmarthenshire is raising money for Brain Tumour Research, in support of her 21-year-old son, who is living with a brain tumour. 

Mum-of-three Michelle Griffiths, 45, is taking on the 10,000 Steps a Day in February Challenge to raise vital funds for the charity. It’s after her son James Griffiths, a mechanical engineer, was diagnosed with a grade 3 oligodendroglioma in November 2020, after suffering seizures over several months. 

Michelle, James and Alex

Michelle, who also has a 24-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son, said: “James is really into his mountain biking and motocross. He was doing a competition one day in July 2019 when he fell and took a bump to the left side of his head. He had been wearing his helmet and felt OK, so decided not to go to hospital. Then, a few weeks later he was complaining of headaches and he was feeling more tired than usual. We wondered if it was the after-effects of his accident. I also noticed a slight change in his mood but it was nothing to write home about.

“Then, in December 2019, he was at work when all of a sudden he was unable to speak. He went to his GP, who said because James was young and healthy, there wasn’t much cause for concern but he was referred to the epilepsy clinic at Prince Philip Hospital for a head scan. We came away feeling reassured.”

James’ headaches and tiredness continued and months later he was still waiting for his referral when, in August 2020, he suffered a major seizure on a day out with friends in Mumbles in Swansea Bay.

Michelle, who works at St John Lloyd Catholic School in Llanelli, said: “I got a phone call to say James was at Morriston Hospital in Swansea. He’d collapsed and hurt his arm. His friends said he’d bitten his tongue and was frothing at the mouth. It was really scary.

“When James came round, he couldn’t remember anything. They took some details and referred him to the neurology department and he was sent home. I couldn’t help thinking that because of his age and the fact he’d been enjoying a day out with his mates, they were dismissing him as being drunk or drugged. That just wasn’t the case and he and I knew something was wrong.”  

A couple of days later James had another seizure and his dad, Gerard Griffiths, took him back to Morriston Hospital. James had an MRI scan and was told it was all-clear.

Michelle added: “Rather than relief, James came away feeling that nobody was listening. He was convinced there was something in his head but the fact they’d found nothing was a mystery. Meanwhile, he went back to work, which involved driving and using heavy machinery. With hindsight, it was so dangerous.”

James had another seizure in September 2020, when he was in the bathroom at his dad’s house. Gerard found him collapsed in the shower, paralysed on one side and covered in vomit, so he took him straight to Prince Philip Hospital. Frustratingly, James was checked over and sent home with paracetamol.

A few weeks later, James had a call from consultant neurologist Professor Powell at Morriston Hospital, to tell him that they had, in actual fact, found some swelling on his brain.

Michelle said: “After the phone call James couldn’t recall much of the conversation, so I rang and asked to speak to somebody. The following day, I got a call from a different doctor to tell me that James had been diagnosed with a large tumour on the left side of his brain. At that point, my world fell apart.”

James was put on steroids to reduce the swelling in his brain, while he waited for his case to be discussed by the multi-disciplinary team (MDT) in Cardiff.

Michelle said: “In the meantime, James’ sister Lucy took him back to Prince Philip Hospital, where the doctors explained more about the tumour, showing them the scan images and confirming its exact size and location. I was extremely grateful for that and then they quickly got the ball rolling for the MDT meeting.

“After that we had a video call with consultant neurosurgeon Kathrin Whitehouse, who talked us through the next steps. The way she dealt with James was amazing, putting him at ease. I felt confident putting all my trust in her.”

On 20 November 2020, James had a six-hour craniotomy at University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff. His surgeon was able to remove 80% of the tumour and a sample was sent away for a biopsy, which revealed it was a grade 3, meaning he would need further cancer treatment.

Michelle said: “James has nearly finished a 6.5-week course of radiotherapy at Singleton Hospital in Swansea, which has made him feel really tired and sick. He is having a week’s break before he starts a 12-month course of chemotherapy, to try to shrink the remainder of the tumour.

“It’s been particularly tough for him to deal with, as the COVID-19 restrictions mean he can’t see his friends in between treatment. He has also had to surrender his driving licence, which has been really hard for someone who usually loves driving.”

Inspired by James, Michelle and Lucy are joining thousands of other fundraisers around the country by putting her best foot forward in February, to part in a 10,000 Steps a Day in February Challenge, to raise money for Brain Tumour Research.

Steps can be completed however and with whoever participants like, ensuring they follow COVID-19 safety guidelines. Whether it’s heading to the local park to enjoy some fresh air, discovering a new running route every day or staying at home and completing the challenge around the house or garden, the possibilities are endless. Registrants can step out on their own, with members of their household or support bubble – whichever suits them best.

Michelle said: “I think in this kind of situation you either sink or swim and I have decided to try to do the latter and do something positive. You never think this will happen to you but it has and I’m having to deal with it and try to accept it. I’ve been able to do that thanks to the incredible support of Lucy, Gerard and all James’ family and friends.

James and Lucy

“Through James’ diagnosis I was shocked to discover that brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer, yet historically just 1% of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to this devastating disease. I’ve joined the 10,000 Steps a Day in February Facebook group and have been inspired reading other people’s stories. Before our own experience, I didn’t realise just how many people are affected by this awful disease. I hope by sharing my story, I can encourage other people to recognise the early signs of a brain tumour and to push back if they’re not happy with a doctor’s assessment.”

“James is amazing, taking it all in his stride and staying optimistic. He is my motivation and I want to make him proud.”

Joe Woollcott, community development manager at Brain Tumour Research, said: “We were so sorry to learn about James’ diagnosis and wish him all the very best with the next stage of his treatment. Our thoughts are with him, Michelle and the whole family.

“What Michelle and Lucy doing in support of their loved one is really inspirational and will be with them every step of the way, helping to get us closer to a cure. James’ story reminds us that brain tumours are indiscriminate; they can affect anyone at any age. We are determined to continue in our mission to find a cure for this terrible disease, to help prevent families like the Griffiths from dealing with this devastating diagnosis.

Brain Tumour Research funds sustainable research at dedicated centres in the UK. It also campaigns for the Government and the larger cancer charities to invest more in research into brain tumours in order to speed up new treatments for patients and, ultimately, to find a cure. The charity is calling for a national annual spend of £35 million in order to improve survival rates and patient outcomes in line with other cancers such as breast cancer and leukaemia and is also campaigning for greater repurposing of drugs.

To donate to Brain Tumour Research via Michelle’s fundraising page, visit: https://www.facebook.com/donate/407939230416154/

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Scarlets’ grassroots clubs show community spirit in delivering vital food packages

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Scarlets community clubs have been working together to help deliver vital food packages across the region.


Volunteers from grassroots clubs and WRU girls hubs across Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire have been helping take the food packages to vulnerable members of society who are self-isolating during the Covid-19 pandemic.


The clubs have teamed up with the Scarlets Community Foundation — the charity arm of the Scarlets — and Carmarthen-based food wholesaler Castell Howell, while Scarlets players Osian Knott, Kieran Hardy, Ryan Conbeer and Jac Morgan have also lent their hand to the operation.


More than 300 packages were due to be delivered on Monday and Tuesday (April 6 & April 7), with the initiative highlighting that even without any action on the field, rugby clubs remain at the heart of their community.
Scarlets Community Foundation manager Caroline Newman said:  “We have been overwhelmed with the support that we have received from local clubs, the number of people prepared to volunteer to help the most vulnerable in our communities has been touching.


“People’s reasons for requesting packs have often been heart-wrenching and it really has made us appreciate what we have.


“The foundation has worked closely with Castell Howell to make sure the packages are ready to go to those whose need is greatest, managing to turn things around pretty quickly and I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone involved in making this happen, our funder, Castell Howell, all the clubs, our helpline volunteer and the foundation members.
“Great teamwork which has made me proud to be part of the fantastic community that rugby creates.”

Here are the rugby clubs and WRU girls rugby hubs taking part in the initiative

Aberaeron, Aberystwyth, Amman Utd, Ammanford, Burry Port, Betws, Bynea, Cardigan, Cefneithin, Felinfoel, Fishguard & Goodwick, Furnace Utd, Haverfordwest, Kidwelly, Llandeilo, Llandovery, Llandybie, Llanelli Wanderers, Llangennech, Llangwm, Merched Mynydd Mawr, Milford Haven, Narberth, New Dock Stars, Newcastle Emlyn, Neyland, Penybanc, Pontyates, St Clears, Stradey Sospans, Tenby Utd, Tumble, Tycroes, Whitland, Yr Hendy.

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