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Olivia Grist

Olivia is a second year Journalism student at the University of South Wales. You can hear her read the local news and weather bulletins every weekday morning.

A woman from Barry has self-published a children’s book with the aim of raising autism awareness among primary school children in Wales

Launched this April – Autism Acceptance Month – ‘My Big Brother’ is a rhyming picture book written by 34 year old Leo Johnson and told from the perspective of a young girl who learns what makes her autistic brother amazing. It sets familiar scenes within a family environment that children with autistic siblings would experience. From apparent irrational behaviours to fixations on particular interests, the girl goes onto learn why her brother displays these characteristics.

Pictured: Leo Johnson

The teaching assistant for children with special educational needs explained why she felt it was important to release the book this month.

She said: “My son is autistic and it took a long time for my daughter to understand why her brother was so ‘mean’ to her.

Along our journey, we have learned that autism is something to be celebrated and embraced. 

So, when better to release a book like this than during a national awareness month?” 

April is widely known as autism awareness month with many local and national charities campaigning to raise awareness of neurodiversity. One charity in particular, AP Cymru – based in Tongwynlais, South Wales – will benefit from £1 from each copy sold.

Pictured: Leo and her son

Leo explained her connection with the charity, she said: “AP Cymru provided help and support to us throughout and beyond the diagnosis process, as they do for so many other families. 

“I’ve done a lot of fundraising for them in the past, but this seemed like the perfect opportunity to help further.”

Pictured: Haley Evans

The book has been illustrated by Leo’s sister, Haley Evans, 37, from Peterborough. Hayley is a tattoo artist by trade, but has been doing commission art for many years. 

Haley said: “When my sister told me she had written a children’s book and asked me to illustrate it I was over the moon! 

“This is the perfect way to support my family, and the autistic community as a whole.

“I have illustrated the book in a playful way, but diversity and inclusion are very important to me, so I have tried to make sure that the illustrations reflect this too.”

‘My Big Brother’ will be published through Amazon Direct Publishing and is available to purchase for £8.99, worldwide.

Asylum Seekers have been welcomed to Wales thanks to a unique initiative in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan.

Based in Barry, Stand Up to Racism (SUTR) Vale have teamed up with Butetown Community Centre, and Life Skills Aid, at the first-ever Asylum Seekers Welcome Day in Cardiff.

The new initiative helps those who find themselves forcibly displaced after fleeing their home country due to war or other incidents which put themselves or their families in danger.

Those who attend will receive free clothes, toiletries, a hot meal, and a fruit and veg take-away bag.

This first event took place on the 11th of April and was aimed at men based in the area – many of whom have been relocated from the notorious Penally Camp.

Speaking about the first event, SUTR Vale Treasurer Emma Davies-Powell said: “I loved every minute of it. 

“Being able to make a difference is all I’ve talked about since being home.

 “It’s now something I can tell my kids about, which will hopefully allow them to be more understanding and better people.”

Committee member, Sue White, has also set up Welcome Packs for those leaving Penally. 

The packs contained a hat, socks, gloves, scarf/bandana, towels, deodorant, razors, shave gel, soap, toothbrush, and toothpaste.

Supported by SUTR’s Vale Social Media lead Chelsea Jones, Sue’s idea quickly caught the hearts of the community with very generous donations being made – including a couple of much-needed bicycles.

Next month sees a women and children’s Asylum Seekers Welcome Day, and it is envisaged that both events are just the start of a long-term community effort.

Anyone who would like to get involved should contact Stand Up To Racism (Vale) on sutrvaleofglamorgan@gmail.com

In celebration of International Women’s Day, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Education and Regeneration in the Vale, Cllr Lis Burnett and Cabinet Member for Leisure, Arts and Culture, Cllr Kathryn McCaffer, spoke to Bro Radio about how things have changed for women in politics. 

Women are starting to become more accepted in politics as time goes on, and the Vale of Glamorgan Council now have a gender balanced cabinet – but women are still under-represented in federal parliament. Why do you think this is and what needs to be done to change it?

Cllr Burnett: “I think women need to see it as an option for themselves and if they don’t see women in position of representation then it’s very difficult for them to believe they can fulfil that role. 

“I turn up to a meeting and sometimes I’m the only woman there. That’s not acceptable, so what we need to do is make women more visible and encourage them to stand for more positions where they are representing their communities.”

Cllr McCaffer: “I’m really proud of our gender balanced cabinet – it makes a huge difference. 

“It’s often about women looking at other women and thinking ‘yes, I can do that,’ because particularly for the local authority, it’s perceived as something only older men do.”

There’s a misconception that men are more authoritative than women, so they would make better leaders. Would you say you’ve had to work harder for your roles within the council than perhaps a man would have?

Cllr Burnett: “I’m very much a consensus politician and look to corporation, which I think a lot of women do in politics, so I think we need to look at the way we do politics in the future and look at solutions for everyone in the community.”

Cllr McCaffer: “To me there’s a massive conversation that has to go on about the language we use when talking about women. Men may be described as ‘authoritative,’ but a woman in the same position would be described as ‘bossy.’ That’s the real change that needs to occur.”

Lis recently spoke to Bro Radio about balancing her role in the council with looking after her elderly mother. Kathryn, you’ve had to balance your role with home schooling your children – which is a task that it seems for the majority, women have taken on as a pose to men. How has that been?

Cllr McCaffer: “I think every woman working from home who has children will understand when I say it is a whole other level of multi-tasking.

There are a lot of women in my position and it’s very difficult for us as the care provider, the worker and the educator to be so many things at once.”

What advice would you give for women aspiring to have a career in politics?

Cllr Burnett: “It’s not going to be easy because you will be challenged, talked down to, patronised and spoken across; but it is getting better, and if more women get involved in politics then it will change.”

Cllr McCaffer: “You need to have a thick skin because people will judge you on your actions, on the things you wear as a woman – which is just ludicrous – without having any real understanding on what your motivations are.

“Being a councillor is a learning process, but it’s also really rewarding.

“As a woman in politics you just need to rise above any comments made to you because we are much better than that and we know we are.”

Listen to the full interview:

Bro Radio has been working alongside Dementia Friends to help make the station and the community more Dementia friendly.

Dementia is a condition which is associated with an ongoing decline of brain function and according to NHS Wales, one in twenty people over the age of 65 and one in five over the age of 80 are affected. 

Based in Penarth, Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Friends programme is the biggest ever initiative to change people’s perceptions of Dementia. It aims to transform the way the nation thinks, acts and talks about the condition.

Ingrid Patterson, the Dementia Communities Co-ordinator for the Vale and Cardiff has said of the scheme:

“The Dementia Friendly scheme involves being provided with some resources produced by the Alzheimer’s Society and support provided by Marie Curie to create a simple action plan about how an organisation can become more accessible for people living with dementia and their carers.

“There’s also an opportunity to sign a pledge to those actions, where you’ll receive a certificate as a way of raising awareness locally.

“Small actions are still meaningful actions.”

Andy Woodhead, from Ogmore by Sea, has bravely opened up about the reality of living with Dementia.

Andy Woodland was first diagnosed in 2013

Woodhead said of his condition:

“It’s made me less independent and is a condition that takes away quite a lot of your confidence.

“It’s an illness we call a journey, and where you are on the journey depends how the dementia affects you.”

The 64- year-old was first diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia in 2013, after an investigation for Parkinson’s disease due to a hand tremor. 

A series of mini strokes has since led to the discovery that he also has Vascular Dementia, meaning his overall diagnosis has been amended to Mixed Dementia.

“Initially, it affected me quite seriously because you’re told you’ve got a terminal illness.

“I think everyone has to realise that dementia is now the number one killer in the UK,” he added.

But Andy says he feels like one of the lucky ones as his diagnoses was confirmed early on.

As well as the hand tremor and mini strokes (TIAs,) Andy also experiences hallucinations and phantom smells.

Andy relies on other people for support, so with coronavirus restrictions in place, it’s made things more difficult.

 “I’m a very social person, so before lockdown, if I would volunteer and give public talks about dementia, but all of that stopped.

“I’ve lost many of my social skills, a huge degree of my self confidence and most worryingly, I feel like my dementia journey has sped up.”

But one thing that has helped Andy, is the Alzheimer’s Society’s Zoom social and consultive meetings.

Andy said of the meetings:

“It’s not the same as getting out and seeing people, but it [the meetings] has helped open up the outside world again.”

Andy also added that the love and support from his friends, family and his community have also helped keep him going. 

Whilst there doesn’t seem to be a definite end date to the COVID-19 pandemic, the vaccine has left Andy feeling more positive.

“My message to people now is to be patient, stay safe and get the vaccine if it’s offered to you.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel.”

For more information about dementia and how you can become more dementia friendly, visit www.dementiafriends.org.uk

Exercise has kept many of us going throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, but Roy Gee has been going the extra mile. 

The 82-year-old, from Dinas Powys, decided to cycle 1000 miles – the equivalent of John o Groats to Lands’ End – on an indoor bike after losing his son to a brain tumour.

Pictured: David Gee

David Gee was 49 when he died in November 2019.

He left behind a wife and two children.

Roy describes David as a fit and healthy man who was in the police force.

“I went to visit David’s wife in Sussex and noticed there was an indoor bike that was going to be thrown away, so I took it home.

“Cycling breaks the day up for me, but more importantly it makes me feel closer to David and like I’m doing something for him,” he said.

Roy started his cycle on the 14th of December 2020 and cycles 15 miles a day.

So far he has cycled over 700 miles.

Pictured: Roy Gee on his bike

Roy has decided to use this challenge as a way to raise money for The Brain Tumour Charity.

Initially, Roy wanted to raise £1,000 for the 1000 miles he would be cycling, but he quickly passed his target so changed it to £1,300. 

The total is now £1,740.

He said: “So many people have donated, including strangers.

“I can’t believe it!”

Not only has cycling helped Roy come to terms with the loss of his son, but it has also led him on a trip down memory lane.

“I found a load of old music albums that I haven’t listened to in years in the room David’s bike is in, so every time I cycle, I put a new one on.

He added: “I’ve gone back to the 50’s and 60’s at the moment.”

Roy hopes to complete his 1000-mile challenge by the 21st of March this year.

Anyone wishing to donate can do so on his just giving page.

A Vale of Glamorgan group have been working tirelessly to keep the history of the RAF and its important events alive.

Group 617 is a non-profit organisation based in Penarth, with the aim of supporting veterans and civilians of all backgrounds with mental health issues caused by experiences during service.

It was founded in 2011 by Russ Kitely.

One special member is their honorary President, Sqn Ldr George ‘Johnny’ Johnson MBE, the only remaining survivor of the 1943 Dambusters Raid. 

He turns 100 this year.

George ‘Johnny’ Johnson MBE (left) Russ Kitely (right)

Mr Johnson flew 50 missions during his 22 years service in the RAF and was the bomb aimer in ‘Operation Chastise’ to cripple the Nazi war effort.  He’s been awarded a raft of medals, including the ‘Distinguished Flying Medal’ for his part in this daring 617 Squadron raid. 

The operation set out to destroy three dams deep within Germany’s Ruhr valley in order to set back the country’s war effort, a task that was thought near impossible. It delayed production in the Ruhr quite considerably and contributed hugely to the War effort.  

Tragically 53 of the original 132 service men who went out on that mission lost their lives

Before the pandemic, Group 617 would meet up weekly for a ‘social catch up,’ providing practical, emotional and sometimes financial assistance to those in need. They would also organise regular trips to Holland to honour the War graves.

Group 617 in Holland

But because of current restrictions, the group’s regular meetings and travels have been postponed, leaving the elderly veterans more isolated than ever. 

As it isn’t as easy for them to use virtual resources like Zoom, the group’s RAF Association Welfare Officer, Geoff Horton and his colleague, Kath Fisher, have been providing their support over the phone.

Kath, who is also a Police Officer from Penarth, says: “It’s been a very difficult time, but Geoff and Russ have done a fantastic job of staying in contact with our veterans over the phone – especially our most vulnerable ones.

“A lot of our veterans feel extremely isolated at the moment.”

Although the support for veterans and civilians is a main part of the group, they also spend a lot of time educating people in the Vale and abroad on the Dambusters Raid and other RAF history.

Group 617 visiting a school in Holland

Usually, they would give Dambusters tribute presentations at schools, clubs and museums to promote history and remembrance, but because of the pandemic they have taken to Facebook to do their teaching instead.

Their page, Group 617 ‘Making a Difference,’ provides important factual information to keep those, especially the younger generation, aware of some of the most important moments in British History.

Asked about the importance of young people knowing about events like the Dambusters Raid, Geoff says: “It’s very key to make people aware of the history of the RAF.

“It’s essential that the future generation are aware of what has gone on before to make sure the same mistakes happen again.”

Despite it looking like a while before things return to normal, Group 617 aren’t letting that ruin their hopes of going back to Holland this year. As they are funded by their own members paying a small subscription, as well as donations from George ‘Johnny’ Johnson MBE, the group are looking to raise money to help pay for hotels, wreathes and hosting gifts.  

More information can be found here.

A charity which operates across South Wales is looking for volunteers to join their team. 

Gig Buddies, run by Learning Disability Wales, is a befriending scheme that matches people with a learning disability and/or autism with a volunteer who shares the same interests, so they can go to gigs and events together. 

The project is available in Bridgend, Cardiff, Vale of Glamorgan, Rhondda Cynon Taf, and Merthyr Tydfil. 

It’s also available in North Wales.

Before the pandemic being a ‘Gig Buddy’ volunteer involved befriending an adult with a learning disability and/or autism and attending events once a month.

As there are no events taking place at the moment, the charity has been hosting virtual parties and events on zoom since March last year.

Project co-ordinator, Kai Jones, from Cardiff, said how important it was for the project to keep running throughout the pandemic.

“Even though we’re called ‘Gig Buddies,’ having just a buddy is more important than ever because people are now more at risk of loneliness.”

There’s also support in place for those who may struggle to get online, so nobody misses out.

To avoid people feeling isolated during this strange time, Gig Buddies are running their virtual events weekly instead of monthly. These events include afternoon tea, bingo and karaoke.

Since the project began, it’s expanded all across the UK and has even made it as far as Australia. 

Kai also said it was important for everyone involved in the project to feel connect no matter where they are, which is why they’ve already hosted two worldwide virtual festivals.

But adapting to the pandemic hasn’t been easy for them as their team only works part time and there isn’t a lot of them.

“Our other teams across the UK work full time but our team currently only work part time, so it’s been really difficult to plan everything and try and fit it all in.

“It helps that everyone on the team is really passionate.”

The most difficult thing Gig Buddies has found during the pandemic is they don’t have enough volunteers.

In the Vale of Glamorgan alone, there are around a dozen adults waiting for a Gig Buddy. 

For more information or how to get involved, visit their website www.gigbuddies.org.uk or their social media, @gigbuddies on Twitter and ‘Ffrindiau Gigiau / Gig Buddies’ on Facebook.

The Welsh Government have said they will be providing £40m to help university students who are struggling during the coronavirus pandemic.

The funding includes £10 million pound for student hardship, mental health and student union funding.

It follows pleas for the government to do more from thousands of students studying in Wales as most are still paying for accommodation they can’t currently live in due to coronavirus restrictions.

All university face to face learning has been postponed until at least mid-February and students have been advised not to travel to their term time accommodation until their university tells them to do so.

In a statement obtained by Bro Radio, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: “As autonomous bodies, rental agreements are a matter for individual institutions or landlords. The higher education sector waived some or all accommodation costs for students in the last academic year, which we welcomed.

“We are providing an extra £40m this financial year, including £10m for student hardship, mental health provision and student union funding.

“In Wales we provide the most generous student support package in the UK. We are the only country in the whole of Europe that provides equivalent up front living costs grants and loans for full and part-time undergraduates, and for post-graduates. This already covers campus-based and distance learners and will continue throughout the academic year.”

But 19-year-old Jessica Edwards, who studies at Cardiff University, said more needs to be done. 

Cardiff University

The Psychology student said: “We should be given rent reductions because lots of us, including myself, have lost jobs during the pandemic and aren’t lucky enough to have parents who can financially support us.

“I can’t stay at my accommodation even if my university tell me it’s ok because I’m in the high-risk category so it’s safer for me at home than to share a flat with 6 other people.

Petitions have been set up online for landlords to reduce rental fees for students – one of which has received almost 500 signatures in just two days.

CRM, a private student accommodation company, has said they cannot reduce rental fees or give refunds as there has been no government guidance for them to assist financially.

A spokesperson said: “CRM are acting on behalf of the landlords to collect the rent due, and (at time of writing) there has been no support or guidance provided by the government to assist financially with payments that are owed on the building. This has meant they (landlords) cannot reduce or cancel any payments as this will force them to breach convenance with the bank.  

“As universities continue to offer teaching, in some cases in person, others online, we too have to remain open and safe through this time for our students who have chosen to stay or return to our accommodation.

For some people, the Coronavirus pandemic has been a negative experience – but for one residential home in Barry, it’s been quite the opposite.  

Island View Residential Home, Barry Island, supports those living with Dementia. The home currently has 24 residents, who were all forced to adapt to a ‘new normal’ due to the Government stopping care home visits in March this year, as COVID-19 cases rose.

The home regularly provided residents with entertainment from external companies, but because of the pandemic, Activities co-ordinator, Lucy Kettlety had to re-think the way she kept the residents occupied.  

Activities now include: karaoke, line dancing, mini golf and even just sitting with the residents and chatting.  

The staff also throw Birthday parties for their residents, as well as regularly sitting and eating their meals together – creating more of a family environment. 

Activities co-ordinator, Lucy Kettlety said:

“The most important thing for us is that we make sure the residents feel both important and valued – they have their own voice. 

“It’s a choice for them whether or not they want to get involved.” 

Although families and friends can’t physically visit the residential home now, they’re kept up to date with what their loved ones are up do on the Island View Residential Home Facebook page, as well as via video calls.  

They also use their Facebook page to broadcast performances from their choir formed by the residents. 

Video: Residents perform We’ll Meet Again 

Island View has been overwhelmed by the support they have received from both community and local supermarket donations during this difficult time. 

But, Lucy – who started the role the day before the restrictions were put in place – said she didn’t see the lockdown as hugely negative because it’s allowed some residents to develop a lot more. 

“Everyone has really pulled together and the residents have kept us going. 

“Residents who didn’t used to get involved in activities as much are now coming out of their shell. 

“I have ultimate job satisfaction!” 

The total number of schools with confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Wales has been revealed. 

Responding to a question from Labour MS John Griffiths in Plenary today, The First Minister, Mark Drakeford, announced the total figures since schools have returned.  

Since September 1st,  140 students and 135 staff members across 275 schools in Wales have been affected by the virus. 

The re-opening of schools has been a key test of the Welsh Government’s Track, Trace, Protect strategy. The increased demand for tests is seen as one of the key reasons the UK Government’s privately-run Lighthouse Labs have been failing to keep up with demand.  

But out of all of the schools with confirmed Covid-19 cases, most had not seen a wider outbreak. 

Speaking in Plenary today, Mr Drakeford said: “In 198 of those 275 schools, only one case has been reported. So, in more than seven out of 10 schools, it’s a single isolated case that has been reported so far, although, I agree, it is early days. Those cases have been imported to the school by people who have contracted it for other reasons, rather than being spread in the school environment.” 

Despite a continuous rise in cases, The First Minister has stuck by his promise that schools would be one of the last things to close in the event of a second wave and lockdown. 

 
When questioned about students who may have to spend some time out of the classroom while self-isolating, Mr Drakeford said: “We will continue to prioritise the testing of students and teachers and other school staff members where that becomes necessary in order for us to minimise the risk of transmission and, to respond to the final point that John Griffiths made about continuity of learning for young people, who may still have to spend some of their time outside the classroom. 

“In some parts of Wales, that was done fantastically well earlier in the summer. That learning is being applied now to make sure that those standards can be achieved in all parts of Wales.” 

The First Minister will announce further measures at 20:05 (BST) live on ITV Wales. 

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