For a small former mining village on the edge of the Brecon Beacons, a community wellbeing project has brought neighbours together as never before.
Supported by £20,255 from People’s Health Trust raised by Health Lottery Wales, Lee Gardens Pool in Penrhiwceiber has seen a neglected community swimming pool, built decades ago with money from hard-working miners of the local colliery, reborn as a thriving community focal point championing wellbeing, solidarity and mutual aid.
Initially, Lee Gardens Pool was just that; a wonderful rejuvenation project which utilised external funding with internal grit to polish up the local swimming pool. Over a period of two years, volunteers from the village of Penrhiwceiber and with help from partners in the private sector including British Gas and GE Aviation, turned the neglected space into a wonderful oasis in the unassuming surroundings of the Welsh valleys.
As the project continued, its social infrastructure of volunteers and local leaders wondered if more could be done with this newly rediscovered community solidarity. The village of Penrhiwceiber has suffered the economic and social scaring of industrial decline, with almost 50% of children found to be living in poverty as recently as 2019.
In response to the Coronavirus Pandemic, Lee Gardens Pool Committee have been very active within the community distributing Wellbeing Packs to elderly people, Art Packs, Zoom Art and Facebook Art to children, giving out free pre-loved school uniforms, free Period Dignity products, low-impact exercise equipment, agility ladders, sports packs and hula hoops all distributed in the community paid for by a range of funders and supporters to encourage active fitness, fun and wellbeing.
In order to help families needing extra support Lee Gardens Pool Committee have been working in partnership with St Winifred’s Church to deliver weekly food parcels from April 2020, which is currently ongoing.
Diane Locke, a trustee and project manager of Lee Gardens Pool Committee, said: “We wanted to see if we could open the pool a few weeks during the school holidays in the first instance. We started giving free swimming lessons to children and training local teenagers some of whom have now been employed as lifeguards with the local authority. We started as a pool group, but we’ve become a community group and prior to the pandemic we were able to run weekly groups, drop-in sessions, after-school art groups and training sessions.”
“We could only do this because the People’s Health Trust have funded Joanne Neads part-time in her role as training coordinator.”
One of their biggest successes is the Knit & Natter group for people who like knitting or nattering, it has been a stalwart presence in the community. During COVID, this group has seen virtual and doorstep engagement which have kept people in touch and mentally well. This active group of ladies have kept themselves busy knitting and raised just over £2,000 for the pool with their Christmas and Easter knitted creations. This group has actually grown in membership throughout the pandemic. The ladies have also knitted a worry monster at the request of a local school and are providing ‘knitted knockers’ and premature baby items to local hospitals.
For those who are still unsure of leaving their homes owing to the pandemic the Phone-A-Friend project provides the opportunity to have a friendly chat and a chance to catch up on local gossip.
Diane Locke said: “The People’s Health Trust took a chance on us. It wasn’t just money, it was the support that came with it.”
“People’s Health Trust put in a lot of time helping us grow with the initial £20,000 grant and then by funding our Training Co-ordinator.”
Martin Ellice, Managing Director of The Health Lottery, said: “We at the Health Lottery will always encourage projects like Lee Gardens Pool and encourage community solidarity as exemplified by the Committee during this difficult economic and social period. We are delighted by the groups progress.”