I attended the funeral of my dear friend Ceridwen Rogers, known as Crid. Many years ago I met Alan Rogers, former MEP and former MP for the Rhondda, and his wonderful wife Crid. We saw one another often from 1983 until 1998, but we have lost touch over the subsequent years. However, I was delighted to meet their daughter Catherine, Acting Principal of NPT College Group, chair of Welsh Netball, and their son-in-law Mark Dacey (married to another daughter, Alison), Principal of Neath College, in 2014 and we have become close friends. Crid was a pillar of the local community wherever they lived all over the world. A socialist, feminist, Alan’s office manager, member of Cefn Hengoed Ladies Choir (who sang at her funeral) and so much more. Gelligaer Church was full of Crid’s family, friends, and members of community organisations. RIP my friend.
As part of the Stonegate Group’s annual investment programme, it has invested £174,000 into the Castell-Nedd Arms in Neath town centre. I was delighted to take my staff to visit and see the improvements. We met with the operator of the pub Kayleigh Strinati, the Group’s area manager Danny Cross, and the bar staff. Kayleigh told us that she had worked in the pub trade for a number of years, and she felt that it was time to take that step up to managing the Castell-Nedd. She completed the training requirements, and then Covid struck. But when the pub re-opened again, the customers gradually came back to what had become a social hub for many people who live in Neath. The new challenge is the “cost of living crisis”, but Kayleigh is providing a very warm welcome for people to gather, talk, listen, watch TV, use the Wi-Fi, as well as great refreshments. The refurbishment includes new windows and seating area overlooking Angel Street, a pool and darts section, and many more facilities.
I visited the Churches Together Nativity Scene which this year is displayed in the Greyhound Trust Charity Shop Window, instead of in the Town Square. It is secure and able to be seen by all passers by. Massive thanks to the charity shop.
I met with Mark Fisher, NPT Council Unison Representative, to discuss Fair Funding for the council. Mark has always done a fantastic job representing Unison members, and although it was announced this week that NPT has received a better than anticipated settlement of 7.1% from Welsh Government, he shared his concerns about pressure on future budgets, and the continuing “cost of living” challenges faced everyday by every one of his members. Mark will be holding a Fair Funding Event at NPT Council for local elected representatives and his Unison members on Friday 13th January 2023.
After the meeting, Mark and I joined the Royal Mail workers who are striking for a fair pay settlement and no diminishing of their terms and conditions, on their Picket Line which was outside the Royal Mail Sorting Office in Neath. There was a great turnout, and many passers-by supported the strike. People were dropping off food to keep the workers going in the freezing, sub-zero temperatures. In solidarity, I bought all the strikers coffee from our superb local coffee shop, Brew & Co.
Mynydd Fforch Dwm Windfarm is a proposal by Naturalis Energy to provide clean, carbon free energy to homes and businesses across South Wales, including a renewable energy park near Tonmawr. Naturalis is a joint venture between Falck Renewables and REG Windpower energy companies. A number of constituents have contacted me regarding the proposal, asking me to call into the one of the Naturalis public consultation sessions. I dropped into the one held at Neath Little Theatre to view the plans and listen to a presentation by Naturalis staff. As part of the Development of National Significance (DNS) planning process Naturalis are required to undertake a comprehensive programme of pre-application engagement consultations. As an MP I have no remit over Welsh Government or Local Authority Planning applications. My role is to pass on the views and concerns of all my constituents to the stakeholders involved in a particular planning application. Please email me and I shall make sure that your questions are passed onto the stakeholders involved in this application.
My brother James was suddenly taken seriously ill and was rushed to Basingstoke Hospital. My daughter Angharad and I visited him in hospital, but James died following his fight against his illness which turned into pneumonia. My big brother was always there to look after me, after the death of my father, when I was seventeen. James was an industrial pharmacist, worked all over the world, and had many friends and colleagues. James was brought up by my grandparents who owned the Walnut Tree Pub in Kenfig Hill. He was a product of Bridgend Grammar School, Loughborough and Cardiff Universities. James organised the old boys network for former pupils of his old school. My grandfather was a founder of Kenfig Hill RFC, and my parents managed the bar. Rugby was part of James’ life, and he was proud to play number 8 at schoolboy rugby for Wales. I have lived with my brother all over the world at various times during my life. He was my mentor, my hero, my rock. I am devastated at the passing of my beloved brother.
Being a member of the congregation of St David’s Church Neath has been a great source of comfort to me. The people who go to my church are genuine, caring, supportive, never forget that life is very challenging, and we are always there to help each other through the good and the not-so-good times. It was so good to see my friends at the Choir Coffee Morning at St David’s Church, Neath. Many thanks to everyone who came to help and support. Coffee, cake, festive music with loyal friends in the beautifully Christmas decorated church.
It’s an honour to be a patron of YMCA Neath and I really enjoyed the Christmas Fayre. There were stalls, arts and crafts, jewellery, face painting, glitter tattoos, pottery painting, tombola, lucky dip, raffle prizes, and refreshments. It was so good to catch up with Centre Manager Claire Hicks, and Admin Officer Jessica Kennedy. As a lifelong vegan, it was good to meet YMCA staffer Rhys Oliver who has recently started her delivery business “Vegan Kitchen – Food with a conscience – Made in Wales”. Rhys was selling a taste of her produce, vegan sausages, pasties, and chocolate cakes. Her menus are changed weekly and are made freshly on the day of delivery. And all packaging is environmentally friendly. Please email Rhys on DaffodilBach@gmail.com or telephone 07947715435 to place your orders.
I dropped into The Haven to meet my dear friend Major Mary Wolfe, her successor Major Neil Duquemin, and Skills Coordinator Christina Davies. On the day of my visit, The Haven had provided 48 Christmas lunches to their regular clients, but their door is always open to anyone who wants to call in and have a substantial breakfast for 50 pence, and a choice of lunch for a pound. On Wednesdays, agencies are based in The Haven for the day to offer help and advice, including Citizens Advice, the Wallich, Medical Staff, and Jobcentre Plus. Christina delivers skills courses including “budgeting on benefits”, and “cooking on a limited income”. My heartfelt thanks to Mary, Neil, Christina and all the volunteers who give up their time everyday for the homeless and people in need.
It was an absolute delight to meet the winner of my Christmas Card 2022 Competition Caitlin Vaughan, aged 6, and her mother Hannah. Thank you to all the children who sent in their designs. It is always a very difficult task to select a winner, but Caitlin’s card was exceptional for one so young. Special mention for Gorazd Trajkovski from Skopje, Macedonia, aged 10 who won the International Prize.
On the last day in the Neath Office, I took my wonderful Neath Office staff for Christmas lunch. This is our first Christmas lunch since the onset of the pandemic in 2020. My I take this opportunity to wish all my constituents a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy New Year!