Major outdoor pool revamp to transform future of community health and wellbeing group

KIND-HEARTED villagers went to great lengths for vulnerable and elderly members of their community during the Covid-19 pandemic.

And the unique Lee Gardens Pool project will be able to help even more people in future as a £500,000 redevelopment project is due for completion this summer, funded by the National Lottery Community Fund with support from the Landfill Tax Communities Scheme and The Welsh Church Act.

Led by retired schoolteacher Diane Locke and a hard-working committee – and supported by volunteers – the charity is centred around a popular outdoor pool and Penrhiwceiber Old Age Centre in Penrhiwceiber, Rhondda Cynon Taff.

Working closely with Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board – and in support of the Welsh Government’s Help Us, Help You campaign, encouraging the public to ease the burden on NHS staff and access services safely this Winter – they run a host of programmes and activities all year-round.

From Feed the Family, coffee mornings and drop-in sessions to the Gardening Gang, Phone a Friend, After-School Art and Caring Through Crisis, the committee is focused on trying to help combat mental health issues, poverty, and isolation.

The volunteers also give out pre-loved school uniforms and sanitary products to those in need, and – thanks to a grant – were able to purchase mobile phones for elderly residents to keep in touch for popular Knit and Natter events in lockdown.

The group have come a long way since a fundraising campaign and successful grant applications saw them reopen the pool in 2016, three years after its closure due to council spending cuts.

Since this time, with grant assistance, they have been able to train young people to become lifeguards, five of whom gained employment with the local authority leisure department, and there are free swimming and rookie lifeguard lessons for children.

“Our biggest priority right now is the renovation, which should be completed soon and is part of a wider five-year plan we have to further improve and extend our services,” said Diane.

“At present it’s a building site but a lot of progress has been made and we can’t wait to see the finished article so we can restart free swimming lessons, lifeguard training and welcome back visitors from Penrhiwceiber and beyond.

“Among the improvements are the pool itself, a new toilet facility and meeting room. This is not just about the facilities, however, it’s to secure the sustainable, long-term future of Lee Gardens Pool, so generations of families and elderly people can continue to enjoy it.”

Trustee Joanne Neads added: “Nothing has stopped us, not even the pandemic, and when things had to go online, we embraced that and so did our regular users with children and parents joining in with Zoom Art while our Knit and Natter group kept in touch with each other via mobile phone.

“And the use of Penrhiwceiber Old Age Centre has been vital to us as it’s provided a base to run our activities while the pool itself is under construction. Because of this facility we are able to take referrals from the Wellbeing Officer placed at the GPs’ surgery and from the local authority.”

Their positivity and adaptability was evident over the festive period as Christmas dinners were cooked and delivered to villagers in partnership with The Feel Good Factory, and wellbeing and craft packs and weekly food parcels were donated to those most in need, referred by local schools and supported by St Winifred’s Church.

With upcoming education courses and more volunteers joining their ranks, Diane says they are in buoyant mood as Spring fast approaches.

“Lee Gardens Pool is the hub of the village, people of all ages and backgrounds benefit from it, and from a health and wellbeing perspective it has been a lifeline for so many of them, especially during Covid,” she said.

“We listen to what our community want and deliver it for them and with them, we are here 24/7 and if there is one positive thing from the last two years it’s the incredible spirit shown by everyone here.”

Professor Kelechi Nnoaham, Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board’s Director of Public Health, praised Diane and the committee for their dedication to improving the health of local people.

“It’s wonderful to see how the people of Penrhiwceiber have come together to support each other’s mental wellbeing and physical health,” he said.

“The work that Diane and the committee are doing is a shining example of how communities can help each other to live healthier lives – something that is a key priority for our Health Board too.

“With our regional partners and communities, we are having a conversation around CTM 2030: Our Health, Our Future, asking what does good health mean to our local population as they progress through life’s journey?

“Our work towards a new organisational strategy for CTM aims to ensure that people of all ages have the best opportunity to live happy and healthy lives, as well as access to high-quality services that are affordable, efficient, sustainable and above all, safe.”

For the latest news and information from Lee Gardens Pool, visit www.leegardenspool.co.uk.

If you need support this Winter, contact the NHS CALL Helpline for confidential listening and emotional support. Lines are open 24/7 on 0800 132 737 or text ‘help’ to 81066.

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

NOTES: Lee Gardens Pool has one full-time staff post which is currently funded by The People’s Health Trust and TNLCF. Finding funding to keep this position in place is a constant struggle and the group is always on the lookout for potential supporters to maintain this vital role. Email leegardenspool@yahoo.co.uk for more information.

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