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The high cost of leaving?

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screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-16-16-43A STUDENT group has criticised the cost of a ‘Garden Party’ farewell for departing Aberystwyth University Vice Chancellor Professor April McMahon. Making a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, the group learned that Aberystwyth University spent £843.65 on refreshments, with university staff serving and preparing the party.

The group, calling themselves ‘Ffrindiau Pantycelyn’ (Friends of Pantycelyn), campaign for re-opening Pantycelyn halls and on other university matters. A spokesperson for the group, Jeff Smith, told The Herald: “After the university insisted that money was scarce and this would endanger the re-opening of Neua dd Pantycelyn (Pantycelyn Hall of Residence), it defies all common sense that the university has paid nearly a thousand pounds to hold a farewell party for a Vice-Chancellor who has driven the university to the abyss. This is concerning for anyone who wants to see the university thrive, and we call on the university to invest wisely and keep to its true financial priorities, such as re-opening Neuadd Pantycelyn.”

Professor McMahon’s tenure as VC was controversial. According to Ffrindiau Pantycelyn, it was fraught with ‘accusations of bullying, sackings and a culture of fear’. The group contest that her tenure also coincided with a number of steep declines in the university’s rankings in league tables, along with a decline in the number of students applying to the university. Professor McMahon’s tenure officially ended this summer, with Professor John Grattan becoming the Acting Vice- Chancellor. Interviews for a new Vice- Chancellor are expected to be held on December 5 and 6.

Responding to Ffrindiau Pantycelyn on the subject of Professor McMahon’s farewell party, Aberystwyth University told the Herald: “When a senior member of staff leaves, it is normal practice to hold an event like this to mark the occasion and give colleagues an opportunity to bid a formal farewell. The university monitors all spend closely and these costs were in line with the institution’s guidelines.”

No photographs of the private party were available.

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION

Freedom of Information (FOI) requests have changed the landscape of civil society activism across the board in the UK in recent years. We asked Friends of the Earth’s Guy Shrubsole to explain them. Guy told us that FOIs can be a powerful tool to hold government and others to account. Famously, in 2010, an MP’s expenses scandal was uncovered through an FOI request. Other examples include the FOIs that exposed Defra’s redacted shale gas report, which warned of fracking ‘industrialising the countryside’; FOIs that revealed that climate sceptic, former Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson had turned down a briefing on climate science from the Met Office; FOIs showing that oil giant Exxon have been lobbying the Department for Transport against electric vehicles. After the 2015 general election, the Government set up a panel to review the FOI Act, seemingly with a view to ‘gutting it’. After a public outcry, that threat to the FOI Act receded.

However, Guy Shrubshole told us: “There are other threats to freedom of information – not least the civil service’s desire and ability to actually deliver it. Since Brexit, I’ve noticed a real slowdown in responses to my FOIs. An investigative journalist told me the same. Maybe it’s the added workload of Brexit, or maybe it’s the fact that government remains unwilling to fully embrace a culture of openness.

They maintain plenty of ‘exemptions’ to disclosing information they consider sensitive. Another threat to freedom of information may come from Brexit itself.

Thanks to the EU, since 2004, we’ve had a powerful set of Environmental Information Regulations (EIRs) that allow for particular access to information on pollution, the environment and emissions. It’s unclear whether Brexit will see those regulations slashed or kept.”

NEW VC MUST SPEAK WELSH

Getting back to tensions between Aberystwyth University and Welsh-speaking students, Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society) are demanding that the new Vice Chancellor needs to be able to speak Welsh fluently in everyday work, and to understand the Welsh-speaking community in the university.

They contest that, although learning Welsh is a condition of appointment, April McMahon did not do so. Acting Vice Chancellor John is not fluent in Welsh. Elfed Wyn Jones, Chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith’s Pantycelyn cell, said: “The only way to ensure that the next Vice-Chancellor is fluent in Welsh is to demand that fluency in Welsh is essential when advertising the job. There is no reason why the Welsh language should not be an essential skill to this job and others.” Cymdeithas yr Iaith students are also question the cost of the recruitment process for which, they claim, Aberystwyth University are unnecessarily using a head-hunting company.

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Join the stand against scams

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CEREDIGION residents will get the opportunity to learn more about how they can protect themselves against scams in an event to be held at the Bandstand, Aberystwyth on 27 September between 9:30am and 1:30pm.

Ceredigion County Council have joined the National Trading Standards (NTS) Scams Team and Wales Against Scam Partnership (WASP) who will be touring Wales holding scam awareness events between 24 and 28 September.

Friends Against Scams is an NTS initiative that aims to protect and prevent people from becoming victims of scams by empowering communities to ‘Take a Stand Against Scams’.

Councillor Gareth Lloyd, Cabinet Member with responsibility for Public Protection Services said, “Scams often target the most vulnerable people in society but the reality is that anyone can become a victim of scams. Scams damage lives and can affect people financially and emotionally so I’m proud that Ceredigion County Council has joined the work of the National Trading Standards Scams Team, Friends Against Scams and others who are working together to prevent people from being victims of scams. By signing up as an organisation we undertake to actively promote the Friends Against Scams initiative.”

Each year scams cause between £5bn and £10bn worth of detriment to UK consumers. In addition to the financial impact, scams can have a severe emotional and psychological impact on victims.

Louise Baxter, Team Manager in the National Trading Standards Scams Team said: “The tactics used by scammers leave victims socially isolated and ashamed of telling their friends and families what’s really going on behind closed doors. It is fantastic to have a great organisation to help us tackle this problem on a local, regional and national level and I would encourage all those that are interested in showing their support to join the campaign and be part of our growing Friends Against Scams network.”

Call by at the Bandstand, Aberystwyth on 27 September between 9:30am and 1:30pm to learn more on how to protect yourself from scams. For more information about becoming a Friend Against Scams, visitwww.friendsasagainstscams.org.uk

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Victim speaks out about the impact knifepoint robbery

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Teifion Lewis: Robbed the man at knifepoint

THE VICTIM of a knifepoint robbery has spoken out about the impact the incident has had on his life as Dyfed-Powys Police takes part in a national knife amnesty aiming to get weapons off the streets.

The 24-year-old was approached by a man he didn’t know while walking his dog in Carmarthen on July 20 this year. A knife was held to his chest, and he was forced to hand over the money in his wallet.

His attacker, Teifion Lewis, of Llammas Street, Carmarthen, was arrested and charged with robbery within four days, and was sentenced to 40 months in prison.

Looking back at the incident, the victim, who has asked to remain anonymous, said: “At first, I didn’t realise he had a knife on him. I just assumed he was another man who was out partying, given he was young and it was late on a Friday night.

“Even when he was right in front of me with his hand on my chest, I assumed he must have had too much to drink and just stumbled into me. Once I saw he was brandishing a knife, though, that changed everything. It was at that moment that I realised I was in far more danger than I’d first thought.

“I suppose the only real thing that was going through my mind at the time was to talk to him, do as he says, and get out of there as soon as possible without becoming hysterical. I just had to keep as calm as possible for the time he was blocking my route.”

He explained that it was only when Lewis had taken his money and walked away, that he realised what could have happened had things gone wrong.

“I thought about how easily he could have stabbed me and I’d have been left out in an empty street, cold and alone, bleeding to death, without even a mobile phone on me to call my friends and family to tell them I love them,” he said.

“I’ve never given much thought as to what my inevitable death will be like, but I’d never have thought it could have ended that way.”

The victim had walked his dog every night for two years – using this particular route for seven months – with no issue. Since being robbed, he has become wary of going out at night and hasn’t been able to walk down the lane where he was stopped without suffering flashbacks.

“It’s not necessarily the whole event that comes back to me, but different parts, such as when he started to sob to me about his home life, or when he apologised for ‘having to mug me’,” he said.

“By far, what’s stuck with me the most are the words said to me as I was being mugged. The words ‘I want your money, I don’t want your life’ have been repeating in my mind every day since then, without failure.”

On September 2, at Swansea Crown Court, Teifion Lewis was sentenced for robbery and possessing a knife in a public place. The victim read out a statement directly addressing Lewis, urging him to get his life back on track and forgiving him for what he did.

“You asked me that night to forget that the robbery had ever happened,” he read. “My assumption is because you were fearful as for what might subsequently happen to you. I’m afraid though, that the image of a knife being flicked towards my chest, and the phrase ‘I want your money, I don’t want your life’ is something I will never be able to erase from my mind, no matter how much I wish for it to go.

“I want you, however, to improve. I want you to use your punishment as your wake-up call, and as a doorway to improving both your future and the future of those who you are close to. There is help available for you, even in prison, and even when it seems all hope is lost. If I can get my life back on track after my autism diagnosis, so can you.

“You’re young, you’re able bodied, and you still have time. Use it wisely. I can’t forget what you did, but just this once I will forgive you.”

The victim has spoken out about his experience as Dyfed-Powys Police takes part in Operation Sceptre – a national week of action aimed at cracking down on the illegal possession of knives. A knife amnesty is taking place during the week (Sept 18-24), with people able to bin their knives at specific locations across the force no questions asked.

The 24-year-old has backed the operation, and the chance to get knives out of our communities.

“I’d prefer it if these people who carry knives with them be honest about who they are and why they have them on their person,” he said. “But it’s much more important that it’s an opportunity to get these weapons off the street.

“If the ability to do this anonymously is what gives these people the confidence to rid themselves of their weapons, then so be it.”

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A brand new Welsh language ukulele orchestra

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CAN you play the ukulele and would like to join a ukulele orchestra? Or would you like to learn a new skill and to socialise in a Welsh-speaking environment? Why not join Cerddorfa Iwcs a Hwyl?

On Monday, October 15, Cered: Menter Iaith Ceredigion, Aberystwyth Arts Centre and Learn Welsh will launch Cerddorfa Iwcs a Hwyl which is a brand new, Welsh language ukulele orchestra in Aberystwyth for free, for those aged 16+.

Cerddorfa Iwcs a Hwyl will practice weekly between 6pm and 7:30pm every Monday night during the school term and practices will take place at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre. There is no need for any experience or ability on the ukulele and there will be instruments available to borrow so that you can have a taste before buying your own ukulele.

Welsh will be the main language of Cerddorfa Iwcs a Hwyl but there is a warm welcome to everyone whatever your level of proficiency in Welsh. Cerddorfa Iwcs a Hwyl is supported by Learn Welsh as a great activity for learners to practice their Welsh outside the classroom in a fun and new way.

Cerddorfa Iwcs a Hwyl’s conductor will be Steffan Rees who has held a number of Iwcs a Hwyl workshops over the last year as Cered’s Community Development Officer. Steffan is also a musician who composes and performs as “Bwca” and he has been playing the ukulele for years.

Steffan said, “I have really wanted to start a Welsh ukulele orchestra in Ceredigion for a while having seen the successes and popularity of those in Cardiff and South East Wales. The ukulele is an instrument that excites people of all ages and with some patience and perseverance, it is an easy enough instrument to master. I’m looking forward to developing a repertoire with the orchestra and play a few gigs; the National Eisteddfod in Tregaron in 2020 perhaps!”

Numbers for the first term of the orchestra are limited so contact the Arts Centre Box Office on 01970 632 232 to book your place in Cerddorfa Iwcs a Hwyl.

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