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Animal magic?

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THEY HAVE BEEN MAN’S best friend for thousands of years.

But only now are the benefits of learning with dogs being realised in Welsh classrooms.

Schools in south-west Wales have opened their doors to humble hounds in a bid to raise pupils’ confidence and self-esteem.

The innovative ‘Burns By Your Side’ scheme helps children in a variety of settings to develop their reading and communication skills.

One head teacher has spoken of the ‘calming effect’ it has had on pupils with special educational needs.

The scheme provides targeted pupils with the opportunity to read – on a weekly or fortnightly basis – to a volunteer and their dog, usually in sessions running over the course of a school term.

Typically, a volunteer will spend around 15 minutes with a child on an individual basis and keep a short record of each session.

To date, the scheme has involved a small number of schools (primary, secondary and special) and settings – such as libraries and nurseries – across the south-west Wales region.

An initial study to explore the impact of bringing dogs into classrooms, facilitated by researchers at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) Yr Athrofa – Institute of Education, has unearthed some promising results.

All schools and all children involved have reported favourably on the initiative and teachers have noted that pupils respond positively to the presence of the dogs, look forward to sessions and are keen to take part.

Helen Lewis, Primary PGCE Programme Lead and UWTSD’s Burns By Your Side co-ordinator, said: “The dog is a non-judgemental listener, whose very presence may calm and relax reluctant and anxious readers.

“With well-versed handlers acting to support the reading process, the act of reading to a dog can support children in making meaning of text and can encourage them to express personal responses in a safe environment.

“Dogs do not judge, glance at their watch if it is taking a long time to read a page, or sigh in frustration at mistakes – they are willing companions and their silence speaks volumes.”

Following the success of the reading with dogs pilot study, Burns By Your Side is now working with UWTSD and a greater number of schools in order to undertake a more rigorous body of research.

Organisers are conducting a mixed-methods, systematic review into the impact of reading with dogs on metacognition, attitudes to learning and reading levels in classrooms across South Wales.

In each of the 12 schools currently engaged with the project, four to six children who are struggling to make progress in reading have been identified and receive weekly sessions with the visiting dog and handler.

At the start of the project the children were given baseline assessments, such as standardised reading tests and other measures of attitude towards learning.

A similar group of children who were not in the intervention group were also given the same tests to provide a control measure.

At the end of the intervention, which will have lasted for an academic year, the tests will be repeated and results analysed.

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Community

Ceredigion lifesavers go the extra mile during lockdown

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Loyal blood donors in Ceredigion have responded to a request from the Welsh
Blood Service to ‘donate differently’ by rolling up their sleeves to make a
lifesaving donation at one of the Service’s new regional hubs.

Across Wales, of the 6,808 individuals that visited a Welsh Blood Service donation
session in May 63% of donors attended a clinic that was not their usual donation
venue.

In Ceredigion, 293 donors came forward to give blood in May, with 34 attending a
donation session for the very first time.

Following a series of Covid-19 related venue cancellations and social distancing
restrictions, the Welsh Blood Service was unable to host donation sessions at the thirty
community venues it would typically visit across Wales each week.

The Service introduced a new collections schedule at the beginning of April which saw
collections taken from five regional donation hubs at different locations in Wales each
week. Donors were asked to travel to donate at their nearest hub.

Alan Prosser, Director of the Welsh Blood Service, said: “When it became clear we
couldn’t continue with business as usual, we knew we’d have to ask donors to donate
differently. Our regional donation hubs have replaced our usual local collections
programme and the response from donors has been remarkable.

“98.3% of the appointments we’ve made available since lockdown have been taken
and many of these appointments have been taken by donors who have been prepared
to go even further out of their way than they usually would just to make a potentially
lifesaving donation.”

The Service has also observed a sharp rise in the number of new donors coming
forward to donate.

Mr Prosser continued: “In May 2019, around 11% of those that attended our donation
sessions were new donors. This May, around 19% of our attendance has been people
who had never given before.

“We’ve also see a surge in the number of donors who haven’t given in years returning
to our sessions to help us boost stocks. It’s been amazing and we’re hugely grateful.”

Blood stocks in Wales have remained healthy throughout the pandemic as the reduced
collections activity has mirrored a reduction in the volume of blood used by hospitals.
However, the Service is urging donors to continue to attend their local sessions as and
when lockdown restrictions are lifted.

“Blood stocks are currently very healthy thanks to the commitment of new and existing
donors but we need people to keep giving blood to ensure we can continue to meet
hospital demand in the coming months. Travel to donate is considered essential travel
and anyone who is fit, well and eligible to donate can book an appointment through the
welshblood.org.uk website.”

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Community

Porth Cymorth Cynnar supporting residents in Ceredigion

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During this challenging period, Porth Cymorth Cynnar has established a virtual platform to ensure that we are able to keep in touch with vulnerable residents across Ceredigion.

Due to the restrictions introduced to safeguard our communities against COVID-19, many residents are not able to access their usual provision or support such as parent groups or GP Referral Exercise Classes. Instead, we are ensuring that all residents whom are known to our services, and others, are kept in touch with, through regular welfare calls, should they wish.

Around 2000 residents from young people to families to carers, who may require or benefit from regular contact whilst their service is not operating in its usual form, will receive communication from our staff.

To date, almost 2000 welfare calls have been made, and have been well received by people across Ceredigion. Residents have said that it is great that someone is keeping in touch with them, to give them an opportunity to have a weekly phone call and someone to talk to.

Mrs Jones* (name changed for anonymity) who is 92 and lives alone, is used to receiving regular visits from Ceredigion’s mobile library was identified as benefiting from a weekly phone call, to check how she was doing, now that her usual library service would not be visiting for a while. Porth Cymorth Cynnar aimed to get in touch with Mrs Jones, but did not have a contact number. After tracking down a contact number through the local directory, a member of the Porth y Gymuned team was able to make contact. Luckily Mrs Jones has the support of family and neighbours to collect groceries, but nonetheless was extremely grateful to have someone to talk to, and to check that she is OK. A weekly phone check in has been organised with Mrs Jones, to ensure that she is doing well and to organise if she is in need of anything.

If you, or anyone you know would benefit from the Keeping in Touch Service, please get in touch with our Customer Services team on 01545 570881 or clic@ceredigion.gov.uk who will triage your query to Porth Cymorth Cynnar.

Porth Cymorth Cynnar are also regularly updating resource lists which are available on the Ceredigion County Council website here: http://www.ceredigion.gov.uk/coronavirus

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Community

The latest on plastic free Ceredigion

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At its meeting held on 17 March, the Council’s Cabinet received an activity update from the Plastic Free Ceredigion Task and Finish Group, which was set up after full Council approved a motion on 22 February 2018.

Full Council approved the ‘Plastic Free campaigns throughout the County, including Plastic Free Aberporth and Plastic Free Aberystwyth’ motion to ensure that the Council helps to reduce the amount of single use plastics used in our day to day operations.

The motion involved a number of factors including; reducing single-use plastics within Council facilities and offices and encouraging local businesses, organisations, schools and communities to move away from single-use plastics and use sustainable alternatives. Promoting the use of sustainable alternatives to single-use plastics at all Council supported events, supporting beach cleans and any other events which aim to raise awareness of the issues of single-use plastics.

Since 22 February 2018, the Council have removed 5 single-use plastic that were used across the local authority, implemented projects in conjunction with NRW with local primary schools, worked closely with communities throughout Ceredigion and commenced the provision of Water bottle re-fills on request to all visitors to our public facing buildings.

In January 2020, the Schools Service were successful in bidding for funding from the Circular Economy Capital Fund, which allows for the purchasing of milk dispensers which will remove the need for the provision of plastic milk bottles and straws by 1,979 pupils at Foundation and Key Stage 2. This is equivalent to a reduction of 376,010 plastic milk bottles per school year.

Councillor Alun Williams, Member Champion for Sustainability said, “These are initiatives which, together, make a real difference to the amount of single-use plastics going into the waste stream from Council activities. Whilst it’s important that everyone seeks to minimise their use of single-use plastics, it’s particularly important that large organisations like councils take these kinds of actions because they can have a wider effect which, in turn, can lead to industry changing to more sustainable practices. Ceredigion Council is trying to lead the way in showing what’s possible within an organisation.”

This supports one of the Council’s corporate priority of Promoting Environmental and Community Resilience.

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