I visited the Discovery Centre near Margam Park today to see the Mentro Allan ( Venture Out) project in action. It’s a collection of projects supported by the Big Lottery fund and a national partnership with the aim of increasing physical activity levels among young people at risk of disengagement.
The visit was organised by the Sports Council of Wales in conjunction with Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council. I decided to find out more about what is happening in the area with physical activity and well-being partly because I am the culture spokesperson for Plaid Cymru at the National Assembly, and met with Sports Council staff on a Wales level to talk about some of the main issues, and also because I feel passionately about using the natural environment as a way of increasing physical activity, ultimately seeking to encourage people to take ownership for the local programmes, and get their own communities involved.
I have shadowed staff from many different organisations as an AM, from Gofal Cymru and Trothwy Housing Association Officers to following a welfare rights officer, and I wanted to see how the local authority worked with the Sports Council in making schemes like 5×60 work on the ground, as well as implementing Dragon Sports and other projects like it.
I was very impressed with the Discovery Centre. I had not been there before, and it is an excellent facility for groups which can use it for a variety of activities. I was given a presentation of the work that the council carries out in relation to this field, and was told about how it works strategically with the Sports Council and the Welsh Assembly Government in delivering their aims.
As might be expected, there are problems arising from grants and other various funding streams coming to an end soon, and that Wales has been hit by the decrease in Lottery funding. I promised to pursue this with the Welsh Assembly Government and other funding bodies.
We were also shown a video of the 5×60 work that takes place in Cwrt Sart Comprehensive School in Neath, and informed of the work of the 5×60 officers in the schools. It is clear that Neath Port Talbot, like every other authority in Wales, is facing cuts in its budget, so it’s important that schemes are put in place which are sustainable and do not cost huge sums of money to run effectively.
I later met with a group of pupils from the area who are part of the Mentro Allan scheme. The pupils on the scheme were making bird feeding boxes to later place around the park. They carried out this work with enthusiasm- and without hurting themselves! The work that the volunteers do with these groups is phenomenal, and it was great to meet them, as they too had once benefited from the Mentro Allan scheme when they were in school.
Following on from that, I went to meet those who were taking part in a workshop to set up healthy food in schools forums, which was taking place in the Orangery building of Margam Park. Children from schools across the borough had turned up voluntarily to learn about nutrition and healthy eating, so that they could then go back to their schools and set up forums on how to guide their schools on the appropriate food for their school canteens. I hope to keep a keen eye on this development, and assess whether such forums can work in practice especially if schools have outsourced catering, where business rules the day.
All in all, I had an enjoyable morning despite the rain. I intend to visit them again to look at how other projects work on a grassroots level. Considering the high levels of inactivity in the borough, its vital that the council, the Sports Council and the Welsh Government work together to ensure that these statistics are improved upon, and that the facilities that are available are something that we can all be proud of – and use regularly.