Inspirational Army veteran and foster parent lights up the lives of South Wales community

A KIND-HEARTED foster parent and Army veteran lit up the lives of struggling families, pensioners and vulnerable adults throughout the Coronavirus pandemic.

Passionate Rhondda Cynon Taf (RCT) resident Dawn Parkin set up The Lighthouse Project two years ago, initially as a service supporting bereaved families in the area.

Operating from home to begin with, Dawn seized an opportunity to take over the Tonyrefail Community Centre in January 2020 – which in her own words needed some “TLC”.

In less than two years, the Project has joined forces with leading charitable, housing and health and wellbeing organisations across the Cwm Taf Morgannwg region.

Wellbeing coordinators within RCT (operating from within GP surgeries) already refer a lot of people who are lonely, isolated or in need of mental health or economic support to Dawn’s services, helping to lessen the strain on their practices.

As Welsh Government and Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board (CTMUHB) reiterate the Help Us, Help You message this Winter – encouraging its communities to think about alternative healthcare options to best suit their needs – Dawn is keen for the centre to further strengthen its links with GP surgeries and health workers.

“We are just pleased to play a small part in doing whatever we can to make life easier and safer for our CTM doctors and nurses who are under so much strain, especially at this time of year”, said Dawn, who left the Armed Forces as a Major having spent 35 years in Logistics and Welfare, travelling the world over.

“This is an area which has long struggled with economic issues and a lack of opportunity. The Lighthouse Project is trying to address that; it’s about giving people who didn’t feel they had a reason to get out of bed in the morning a place to go, a welcoming refuge from their troubles.

“Whether that’s mental health problems, unemployment or poverty, whatever it is, we are here for them.”

Unfortunately, Dawn had to shut the centre’s doors after a matter of weeks when Covid-19 took hold in the UK last Spring.

Undeterred and relying entirely on donations and goodwill, she and a group of volunteers set up a foodbank in her garage and began collecting items from supermarkets and convenience stores to distribute to hard-hit families in the area.

And when the building did eventually reopen, because of the “huge amount of trust” built up among the community there was a buzz of activity and interest.

“The foodbank has continued – with gifts, toys and up to 150 food hampers set to again be delivered to those who need them most this Christmas – and since the summer we’ve introduced new services and support networks which have been well received,” said Dawn, who has fostered nine children since leaving the Army and has a daughter of her own.

With people starting to think about unwinding for Christmas, Dawn has no plans to slow down and has even bigger and brighter plans for the centre for early 2022.

“We already have an over 50s club tackling isolation and loneliness; a senior citizens social group; parent and toddler activities, and in January we are launching a wellbeing drop-in centre, a breastfeeding clinic and advice service, a ‘chill out zone’ for secondary school pupils and men’s mental health sessions – we have literally not stopped,” she said.

“And next year, our project aims to forge even closer relations with partners such as Interlink RCT and our wider community partners across CTM.”

Dawn added: “I love The Lighthouse Project; it keeps me alive, it’s what I’m made for.

“What makes me most proud is that people come here at their lowest ebb, we help them and so many of them become volunteers and then help other people, it’s amazing.

“My vision is to see Lighthouses across the Valleys, even worldwide! My dream is to set one up abroad, I want to leave a legacy and affect future generations. I have a very strong faith and that is the fuel for my passion and the fire inside me to serve others.”

Changing perceptions of her community is another issue Dawn wants to address.

“You see negativity about the Valleys, about poverty and deprivation, but richness comes in many forms,” she said.

“We are rich in spirit, and you can’t buy that – it’s priceless.”

Paul Mears, Chief Executive of Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board, congratulated Dawn on her “incredible efforts” over the past two years.

He said: “As a Health Board one of our top priorities is building healthier communities together, and the Lighthouse Project is a perfect example of that.

“Our organisation has four main goals – Creating Health, Improving Care, Inspiring People and Sustaining our Future – these are all underpinned through Dawn’s vision.

“We are truly inspired by the way in which the centre has united the community during such a challenging time; it shows how one person’s passion and determination can make a huge difference – Dawn has changed lives.

“We look forward to working together to bring mental and physical health and wellbeing support to those who need it most and thank Dawn for being such a beacon of hope and kindness in the Tonyrefail community.”

To donate to The Lighthouse Project and for more information you can contact Dawn via the Facebook page: www.facebook.com/groups/181989913012650/.

If you need help or advice, before contacting your GP, visit: www.111.wales.nhs.uk/LiveWell

To find out more about GP Wellbeing coordinators offering support services in your local area, speak with your local GP practice.

Please use the hashtags #HelpuNiHelpuChi and #HelpUsHelpYou to support the Help Us, Help You campaign.

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