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Rhondda's new netball charity is giving opportunities to hundreds of girls across the valley

A newly-formed netball charity is taking the Rhondda by storm - with at least 250 youngsters regularly taking part since it started in September.

Now, Rhondda Netball has announced a sponsorship deal with Leekes, which gives it a platform to continue operating in close connection with local primary and secondary schools.

It all started around six months ago, when it formed with the help of the Sporting Marvels charity which operates within the Rhondda.

The idea was that Rhondda Netball would take full responsibility for the charity's netball operation by January 2017, when, having previously received financial help from Sporting Marvels, it would operate independelty.

Rhondda Netball's mission is to help girls and women to stay active and healthy, and to help build their self-esteem and belief.

Since September, it has established five new clubs in Treorchy, Tonypandy, Ferndale, Porth and Cymer, which support under-11s and under-13s teams, as well as pilot session for under-15s.

There are also Rhondda representative sides at under-11s and under-13s as well as four senior netball teams, and its in-school operation covers eight secondary schools in the local area.

More than 250 girls make up the five local clubs while more than 500 girls have got involved in total.
Rhondda Netball's five clubs have been set up in Ferndale, Porth, Treorchy, Cymer and Tonypandy

Lawrie Davies, one of the pioneers of Rhondda Netball, said: "Indeed, the huge participation figures have already made us one of the most impressive community sports initiatives in Wales and we’re delighted that Rhondda’s female athletes now have an outlet - both inside and outside school - to play sport, which allows them access to all the benefits that sport brings to whole person health and wellbeing."

He added that the sponsorship of Leekes has allowed the operation to start so strongly.

He added: "The Leekes brand is instantly recognisable, while their commitment to Welsh sport is massive.

"But first and foremost, their chairman Gerald is a man of the Rhondda, and when we presented our proposals to him, his passion and desire to help was truly inspirational.

"Having Leekes financially involved has meant that we've been able to speed things up dramatically, and already there are hundreds of girls who owe a big thank you to them."

Leekes chairman Gerald Leeke added: “Rhondda Netball is an exciting all-community cause that we are thrilled to support.

"Our family and business originated in the Rhondda, and although my parents moved from Clydach Vale before I was ten years old, I am still very much a Rhondda boy at heart.

"So when I was shown the excellent Rhondda Netball vision document and saw the obvious popularity of netball in the community, I was eager to see what we could do to help."

 

Mums-to-be can now monitor their baby’s heart rate from their own home in a UK first
Cwm Taf UHB the first in the UK to pilot this ground-breaking technology

Waiting to give birth is an anxious time for mums-to-be, particularly if they need careful monitoring before birth, as frequent trips to and from hospital can cause undue stress.

But Cwm Taf University Health Board has become the first in the UK to pilot ground-breaking technology which uses Bluetooth and a mobile phone to record vital information – meaning mothers don’t have to make the journey into hospital.

The innovative project allows pregnant women across Merthyr and Rhondda Cynon Taff to use Bluetooth technology to send real-time information about their baby’s heart rates to the hospital midwife or consultant, who can analyse the data and decide if they need to come into hospital for further observation or not.

Before the pilot, the women, who have been identified as needing closer monitoring during their pregnancy but are not high risk, would have to make a significant number of lengthy and sometimes difficult journeys to the hospital for their appointments.

Now they will only have to make these journeys if the team spots anything that they want to have a closer examination of.

As the technology transmits the data in real time the midwife or clinician sees the heart trace at the exact time the mum-to-be is using it, so if there are any concerns they can be brought in to the hospital straight away.

Rosie Pritchard, a midwife at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital, said she had to look after one lady who was 19 weeks pregnant and had to come in alternate days, as her waters had broken early.

Rosie said: “She had to come in every other day until the baby was born, so for nearly 20 weeks.

“She was a single mum so had to bring two children with her and she had to catch three buses to get here. It was a nightmare for her.”

Waiting is an anxious time for mums to be especially for those whose babies need careful monitoring before birth. But thanks to new technology adopted by Cwm Taf University Health Board pregnant women can now check their baby's heart rate at home.

The pregnant woman takes the monitoring device home with her and the reading of the baby’s heart rate is transported back to the hospital via a Bluetooth device.

If there is a problem with the heart, a red box on the hospital monitor will flash so they know immediately if something is wrong.

Rosie thinks the technology will help the hospital act more quickly if there is a problem with the baby.

She said: “I think it’s going to reduce the poor outcomes for women. We can get them seen quicker and possibly prevent a still birth or a poor baby, really knowing they’ve got this machine.

“It gives them a bit of reassurance that they can just listen to their baby’s heart rate.”

Kimberly Jones, from Pontypridd, was 35 weeks pregnant when she started using the remote heart monitoring technology.

Kimberly said: “I did have a liver dysfunction, which caused me to itch and go into premature planned C-section, which they are trained to monitor now in order to prevent any harm to the baby.

“I have a monitoring system to take home. It’s really, really good – any queries or problems, one phone call and they’ll ask you to come in, so I’m really confident in it.”

Natasha Dolloway, from Trehebert, was travelling around 13 miles every other day, including weekends, to get to the hospital but has recently been given the remote monitor.

She said: “I travelled from Treherbert so it is quite a distance and it is quite stressful.”

She added that being able to monitor her baby’s heart from home will make a “big difference”.

“Not having to come in every day is going to be a lot easier on the baby and me, stress-wise, and it does save petrol and money as well. Maybe I’ll be able to have a bit more of a life as well – just until he comes.”

Hospitals under Cwm Taf were the first in the UK to pilot the remote telemonitoring system but the system is now also running in several other areas, including Blackpool, Newcastle, Northumbria, Jersey, and Nottingham.

In 2009, doctors issued warnings against foetal heart devices which claimed to give an accurate reading of a child’s heart and could be bought over the internet for as little as £25.

The British Medical Journal reported that the devices, which pick up the sound of the baby’s heartbeat, can give “false reassurance” and cause unnecessary anxiety in untrained hands.

The warnings came after a 34-year-old pregnant woman delayed a visit to hospital after she felt her baby move less frequently and her baby was tragically stillborn.

She had reassured herself by listening to the baby’s heartbeat but an urgent ultrasound showed the baby had died in the womb.

Doctors believed the patient had been picking up her own heartbeat or placental blood flow with the device.

However, the monitors being piloted by Cwm Taf are not used for high-risk mothers and are only used with the supervision of the hospital.

A Cwm Taf spokesperson said: “We don’t use monitors with any high-risk mums, who are always seen in hospital.

“This technology however offers reassurance to lower-risk mums-to-be and is in ‘real time’ so the midwife or clinician sees the heart trace at the exact time the mum is using it so if there are any concerns they can be brought in to the hospital straightaway.”

Rachel Fielding, head of midwifery, gynaecology and sexual health at Cwm Taf University Health Board said: “In Cwm Taf we are embracing technology and new innovations to not only help improve the quality of care for women, but also their quality of life.

“The remote monitoring system gives mums-to-be, who have been identified as having a need for closer observation and monitoring of their baby in pregnancy, the reassurance they need that all is well, without having to make long and often stressful journeys to hospital when they don’t need to.

“The technology, which is really simple to use, allows them to do a trace of their baby’s heart rate at home and send it via Bluetooth and a mobile phone to the midwife at the hospital, who can view it in real time and then discuss the ongoing plan with the obstetric team.

“It identifies any problems straight away which may then require admission to hospital, but mostly supports the women to stay in the comfort of their home when all is well, inbetween their regular hospital visits.”

 

A woman had to quit her job because of the constant ringing in her ears
But Bev Frowen is encouraging sufferers to find a way of living with tinnitus

When Bev Frowen developed a loud ringing in her ears, she put it down to her demanding job and a busy spell at work.

The 57-year-old worked in local government and loved her job and felt she was coping well with the pressure.

Bev, from Talbot Green in Rhondda Cynon Taf said: “I knew I was under a lot of stress and hadn't been sleeping well but I was sure that after an early night, the ringing would be gone.”

That was in July 2011. It didn’t go away and it never has.

After the ringing began, Bev barely slept for four days. She said it kept changing from a high pitched ring into white noise or a loud vibration which gave her headaches and made her nauseated.

After barely sleeping and “feeling like she was having a nervous breakdown” she made an appointment to see her GP.

Her doctor was sympathetic and knowledgeable on her condition, tinnitus, and she was referred to the audiology department for further tests. She was also prescribed anti-depressants and told to take a break from work.

Action on Hearing Loss say an estimated 10% of adults in the UK have mild tinnitus – that’s six million people. Around 1% of adults (about 600,000 people) in the UK have tinnitus that affects their quality of life.

They say it’s a common condition that can happen at any age, but is more common in people aged over 65 and can develop gradually or suddenly. It can be continuous or come and go, and affect people in different ways.

Former professional bass player Paul Gray on the impact tinnitus has had on his life

Most people with tinnitus describe it as a ringing sound, but the sounds heard can vary from person to person. Sufferers may hear it as buzzing, whistling, humming, whooshing or hissing.

It was when Bev saw the audiologist that she had more answers.

She said: “After waiting a month, the audiologist diagnosed me with a mild hearing loss, which was exacerbating the tinnitus.

“We discussed how other people cope and one suggestion was to try hearing aids with sound maskers to cover the tinnitus but she was frank; there is no cure for tinnitus and you would have to find a way of living with it.

“I was glad she was honest, but wished there had been more peer-to-peer support and advice available.”

Welsh suffer most in 'everlasting noise'

Her GP referred her for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), which she described as “tremendous” and helped her to learn new ways to control her anxiety and panic attacks.

The help of her employers also made a difference but she had to adapt.

“My employers were supportive and I worked with my line manager to create a new role and returned to work.

“At first the distraction was helpful. However after another year, it was clear that I couldn’t balance the demands of work and living with tinnitus. I needed a major adjustment.”

But it still wasn’t working and that’s when Bev decided to work on a freelance basis.

“Being in charge of my own time means I can try new things and by taking a more positive view about the tinnitus, new opportunities have opened up.”

In 2013 she was “delighted” to be asked to join the Advisory Group at Action on Hearing Loss Cymru.

“Reducing your stress is the most common advice you’ll receive. I think it’s more complicated than that. I often reflect on periods of calm when my tinnitus is bad and periods of extreme anxiety when it’s relatively quieter.

“Tinnitus isn’t logical and I now prefer to take each day as it comes.

“Putting together a collection of activities and support aids that work for me has really helped. I think of it as a toolkit, with different ways of coping depending on my circumstances and how I am feeling.

She said everyone has different ways of dealing with it and it’s a case of finding what works for individuals.

“Everybody’s tinnitus is different, so everyone’s way of coping will be different too.

“For me it’s a mixture of medication, working less, regular exercise and noise. Yes noise! That was surprising, everything I’d read told me to avoid noisy places as it would exacerbate the tinnitus. Not for me! Coffee shops, swimming pools and watching loud action movies are all great.

“My husband thinks it’s hilarious that I will often suggest that we curl up on the sofa and relax in front of an action movie like Rambo - but the loud noises distract me and actually send me to sleep!

“My biggest piece of advice would be to find a way to live with your tinnitus and continue to enjoy life. And you can.”

 

The Knowledge

Local taxi drivers could soon have a to take a driver knowledge test, as part of plans being considered by Rhondda Cynon Taf council .

At the moment, people who want to apply for a Joint Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Vehicle drivers' licence must achieve a BTEC qualification - in Transporting Passengers - which was a requirement introduced in February 2013.

Prospective taxi drivers must also provide a satisfactory medical, pass a DVLA check on their driving history and provide a Disclosure and Barring Service check.

Now, in a report by Louse Davies - RCT's head of environmental health, trading standards and community safety - it is revealed that the local authority will consider adding the driver knowledge test.

It will "further improve customer experience", match the policy of neighbouring Cardiff and Caerphilly councils, and address "poor local knowledge and the communication skills" of people applying to be taxi drivers.

The report says: "The aim of the driver knowledge test is to further enhance the protection of public safety and provide public reassurance.

"This in turn will ensure a more professional customer service is delivered to taxi/ private hire vehicle users.

"There has been a rise in the number of 'out of area' applications and changes in market forces.

"In the absence of a local knowledge test there is an expressed perception from applicants that it is easier and cheaper to licence as a driver in RCT than with other local authorities.

"The driver knowledge test introduction will address poor local knowledge and the communication skills of potential applicants."

If agreed, the test will have to be passed as a pre-application requirement - and will cost the applicant around £30 to cover the cost to the council of administering the scheme.

RCT council's cabinet members will discuss the proposal on Thursday, February 16.

 

 

If you're a dog owner in Rhondda Cynon Taff, a huge clampdown could be coming your way

You'll be able to have your say on increased fines, dog bans on sports fields and schools, and fines if owners don't carry bags

There could soon be a big clampdown on dog fouling in Rhondda Cynon Taff - including potential fines for pet owners who don't carry bags to pick up dog mess.

Also being considered are bans for dogs on marked sports pitches and schools, a requirement for them to be kept on leads in playgrounds and cemeteries, and an increase in the maximum fine for irresponsible owners.

Separate suggestions for a clampdown have been put forward by the Labour-led council and the Plaid Cymru opposition group.

Plaid, at the end of January, revealed to us that their proposed action is one of its main pledges if they took office following the local election in May.

The RCT Plaid group said it would take immediate steps to introduce a £75 fine for those who can't prove they have a bag, or other means, to pick up dog mess - if they are questioned by a council officer.

They include highlighting areas where dogs would be banned (marked sports pitches and schools) and where they must be put on leads (council playgrounds and cemeteries), as well as an increase in dog fouling fines to a maximum of £100.

People will also be asked about the requirement for people to carry dog bags, or other means of picking up dog mess.

Pauline Jarman, councillor for Mountain Ash East, said Plaid's announcement came about after an online survey revealed that 95% of participants are concerned about dog mess on streets and public places, and 74% are very concerned.

She added that 69% of people who responded to the survey believe the amount of dog mess has increased and that communities want to see more action on the matter in RCT.

The leader of the local Plaid group said: “The proposed new rule is designed to target the irresponsible dog owners who fail to pick up dog mess because they do not carry the means to do so.

“Enforcement officers will have the authority to approach any dog walker and ask them to produce evidence that they either have bags or other means to clean up if the dog should foul.

"The offence is committed if the dog walker is unable to show the enforcement officer that they have that means.

“Most dog walkers would be able to satisfy the enforcement officers that they have the means to clean up should their dog foul because they carry sufficient bags.

“A Plaid Cymru-controlled council would trigger the public consultation shortly after they took office in May. Public opinion will valued and be fully taken into account.”

Meanwhile, the council's cabinet members will consider starting a public consultation to get residents' views on a wide range of dog fouling issues.

Andrew Morgan, leader of the council, said: “The issue of dog fouling has been a prevalent one, particularly over the last year to 18 months, and one which we have tried to tackle through awareness-raising, enforcement where necessary, provision of free dog bags and the installation of a number of new dog bins across the county borough every year.

“Recent engagement with residents at consultation events and feedback received via social media has consistently flagged up dog fouling as an issue and unfortunately it is clear that there are still some irresponsible dog owners who refuse to clean up after their dogs - and it can’t continue.

“Unfortunately there are some who don’t even carry dog bags with them when they walk their dogs.

"In this instance officers currently provide bags free-of-charge to encourage them to clean up after their dogs, but the introduction of a Public Spaces Protection Order would allow the council to be much tougher on irresponsible dog owners."

Councillor Joy Rosser, RCT cabinet member for prosperity, well-being and communities, added: “There are a range of options available to councils and we want to seek the views of residents regarding what measures they would like to see introduced in RCT to tackle this issue.

“In the meantime we are grateful for the support of South Wales Police who have agreed to a major joint enforcement operation involving dozens of police and council enforcement staff aimed at tackling anti-social behaviour - which includes dog fouling."

 

Here's when free parking and reduced charges will start across five Rhondda Cynon Taff towns
People in Aberdare, Pontypridd, Porth, Mountain Ash and Tonypandy will soon benefit

Free or reduced parking across five Rhondda Cynon Taff towns will come into force in two months' time.

During January, RCT council's cabinet members agreed to introduce the measures in a bid to boost the local economy - going beyond recommendations to reduce the charges in Porth, Mountain Ash and Tonypandy by abolishing the fees.

The reduced fees - including a 50p short stay of one hour (down from 75p) and £1 two-hour stays (down from £1.50) - will still come into force in Aberdare and Pontypridd.

Long stays will also be reduced from £2.50 to £2 in Aberdare and Pontypridd, along with monthly permits from £37.50 to £20, annual permits from £375 to £200, and all-day Saturday parking from £2.50 to £1.
The changes will start from April

It has now been confirmed all of the changes will come into effect from Saturday, April 1.

RCT council leader Andrew Morgan, writing in his latest blog on the council website, said: "Significant reductions in charges were agreed for our key town centres of Aberdare and Pontypridd and charges will be removed in Mountain Ash, Tonypandy and Porth from April 1.

"We fully recognise that the trader environment for local shops and businesses is the most challenging it has ever been and the rationale for this decision was simple – to encourage more residents to opt to shop locally in our town centres, to improve local trade and to boost the local economy.

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