They’re the investigators, crime-fighters, problem-solvers; the go-to in times of emergency and crises.
But behind the uniforms, the phones, the desks, they’re also mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, siblings, caregivers.
They’re adventurers, volunteers. They have hobbies, hopes, worries, ambitions, idols.
They’re more than just a uniform. They are the #HumansOfSWP.
In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be giving you an insight in to the people on the frontline and behind the scenes who make up #TeamSWP.
I got married in 2008, and we decided to wait for two years before starting a family. My husband was born in India, I was born here and while we were dating for two years before we got married, we did not live together, so that was going to be our time, to spend with each other learning more about each other. But having a family was always part of the plan.
We just assumed that when we decided the time was right for us to try for a baby, it would just happen, but that was not the case for us. I went on to have three miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy which resulted in me losing my right fallopian tube.
They were all so traumatic and I can remember them all so clearly.
I could just never get past nine, 10, 11 weeks. I remember the second time; something did not feel right but still I hoped, and I prayed – I am a Hindu and my religion is so important to me – but still that wasn’t enough. And I remember saying to the nurse ‘why does this keep happening to me,’ and she said, ‘don’t worry about it, go home, relax and when your cycle starts, you can try again.’ Her remark was flippant and like it did not mean anything. I don’t think she meant anything by it because she must see it all the time. But to me that was my world, my dream, that was my baby. And that was hard to take.
The third time, I sought more advice and tried to lose weight, change my diet etc to make sure I was as healthy as I could be. And even with the previous two miscarriages I still allowed myself to believe that my time would come soon. Every month I would go through the motions, looking at various things you can do to boost you chances, like spending on ovulation kits and all of that. You miss all the fun, you become fixated on conceiving, and start planning your life around what a pregnancy stick is telling you.
Our job in the Public Service Centre (PSC) is incredibly stressful, busy and you have got to listen to those demands and cope with those demands. There is no time to think about yourself when there’s people ringing and telling you about their emergencies. So, it got to the point that I was even planning annual leave around ovulation dates, it was getting silly. It became all about these dates and planning and the excitement of trying to make a new life, a unity between me and my husband, got lost in that.
The fourth time then, by that time I sought further advice and had tests and was advised that there was nothing wrong with me medically. But I kept thinking why, why is it taking so long. We were going to India, so I also had fertility tests done there to see if me and my husband were compatible. I mean, if the answer to that was no what would you do then? But that is how much we wanted it. And we went through those tests because the family over there and the family over here were concerned, so you are just listening to everyone and trying everything of which you can think.
But I had been told that everything was okay, and I was able to have children, it just had not happened yet. It was a confusing time, I kept asking myself why? Why hadn’t it happened if there was no medical reason, I could not carry a child?
It was just relentless. It was just constantly on my mind, and I was in this cycle of trying, getting pregnant, miscarrying and then trying again. It was tough. It was all-consuming.
Where I work, people would bring their newborn babies in to meet the team, and I was always so excited to meet them. I was not negative or resentful at all, I was always there with a smile on my face and the first in line for a cwtch. But that is not to say it did not hurt. I would be asking myself ‘what about my chance.’
I had incredible support; my closest colleagues and my supervisors knew what I was going through and would always check to see if I was okay. And that really helped, they were like family, and it would have been even more isolating if no-one knew. Two of my colleagues, one a Catholic, one a Christian, they both used to pray for me regularly and again that was really comforting to know.
The fourth time, we got to about 11.5 weeks and the excitement was there. We did not tell anyone because we did not want to tempt fate. We went to have early scans, and everything was fine. But I started having spotting and we went for another scan, and they said ‘it’s in the wrong place’ which I now know is called ectopic pregnancy. But I did not hear that word, I just heard ‘wrong place’ and in my naivety, stupidity, desperation, whatever you want to call it, I just said, ‘well can’t you just push it to where it needs to be?’. Thinking medical science could do that. I am not medically trained; I am just a woman who desperately wanted that baby.
He said there were two options; surgery or an injection and return to the hospital the following week to check that everything was fine. They wanted to terminate the pregnancy. I didn’t want any surgery, any intervention anything that would prevent my future chances of getting pregnant again. So, I chose the injection option. I was due to go the hospital on the Friday, and then on the Thursday evening I started having shooting pains in my arm. I took some painkillers and just tried to put the pain to one side. The next day, I arrived at the hospital with my mum because my husband had gone to work, and they told me my right fallopian tube had burst overnight. I sat down, and I just thought, ‘My god, why me? Is there anything else you can throw at me?’ They got me a wheelchair and explained that every hour that passed there was increased risk to my life. They told me they had to take me to surgery, and I was arguing with this consultant that I do not want surgery because I know that will be the end of my chances. Even as they were wheeling me away, I was begging them not to remove that tube, to do everything to fix it. I am a strong lady, and even then, I was trying to be strong, but it was traumatic.
The one thing that held me together throughout everything was this determination that I was going to have this baby. I always tried to keep that light of hope. But every time these challenges were thrown at me, it did get harder and harder to keep that hope.
I came round from surgery, and there was a lovely nurse there, and the first thing I said was ‘you’ve done it haven’t you?’, because I just knew. I knew they had taken it away. I was so upset, and she explained that they had no choice as it had ruptured so much. And even then, all I could say ‘what happens now, am I still able to reproduce?’ And she said, ‘of course you can’. She said I still had a chance, yes, the chances had been affected as I now only had one tube, but it wasn’t impossible.
I’d gone through major surgery, but I didn’t care about that, but for my husband that must’ve been horrendous. He also lost these babies and on top of that he was worrying about me. If it wasn’t for him, I really don’t think I’d have gotten through it. Distraught but still supporting and looking after me.
I had ‘a moment’ then that lasted about two-and-half months where I was upset, angry, confused. I was broken. I took time off work – my work family really supported me through this – and it was then I realised I needed support and had to have counselling. I was a broken woman; I couldn’t take it anymore. I would go to the temple and people would ask me ‘any news?’, and it was all with the best intention and genuine care, but even now I can’t bear to hear those words.
We were planning to go to India in the January 2015, and I had so much to do; I was working through the Christmas period, which is always really busy in the control room, night shifts, six on, four offs. And on top of that it I was planning and sorting my packing, making sure I had remembered gifts to take over for all the family. I got my cycle again and I was really down, but I was due to start IVF when we got back so I was just focussing on enjoying our time in India and coming back to start that.
But during the Christmas Eve shift going into Christmas Day, I was just so tired. And that is just not like me, I’m normally the life and soul, but I was exhausted. And I did think ‘maybe just maybe’ but in the back of my mind I knew I had my cycle. But something just did not feel right, I was nodding off in my breaks and I could even hear my colleagues whispering and they were wondering if I was pregnant too. On the flight to India during take-off and landing I don’t know why but I kept holding onto my stomach.
When we arrived in India, I just knew something wasn’t right, so I decided to get a pregnancy kit, and guess what, the two lines appeared. And my husband’s first reaction was that there was something wrong with it – it could not be. We did not want to tell family, so in the middle of the night we were looking on the internet for local clinics. We ended up at the one where my husband was born many years ago, with the same doctor who delivered him.
We got to the clinic, and I was taken for a scan, My husband was not allowed to accompany me as they don’t allow this, I had to go to the scan room on my own. The nurse saw a little dot appear on the screen. To my amazement she said she could see a baby and explained that I was nine weeks pregnant. I thought I was going to fall off the chair. I just could not believe it. I met my husband in a waiting room full of Indian patients and I screamed in English that “I’m pregnant and you’re going to be a dad.” My Husband nearly fell of his chair too.
I was then advised to see the doctor and when I told him my history, he said he needed to give me injections which are like those given at the beginning of IVF. He said it would give the baby the best possible chance, and I was just holding on to his hand and begging him to do all he could to make sure this baby survived. He promised me he would do everything and explained that I would need to come back for more of these injections while we were out in India. These injections were oil-based and were very painful, but I did not care about the pain, I just wanted my baby to survive.
We were due to go on a pilgrimage and I was worried because it is a long way, lots of travelling, long walks and the doctor strongly recommended I did not go. But I needed to go; I was going to see the Hindu Gods and often it was my faith that had kept me going. I needed them to bless me and this baby. We also could not tell the family, so how would I explain it if I did not go?
So we went, and it was truly the longest three days as I was just so worried the whole time, and I knew my in-laws were wondering why I was being so lazy, not carrying the bags, walking slow, always tired. I eventually told my mother-in-law – my own mother was not there, and I needed that – and she was over the moon, literally cwtched me in and looked after me through the entire trip.
I started spotting again and I just desperately wanted to get back to the clinic to know everything was okay. When we got back, the doctor told me everything was fine, and I was so relieved. He said the injections would need to continue, and he could not allow me to fly back until I was past the 12-week mark, and he was confident that baby was strong enough.
I called work, I couldn’t tell them why because I just didn’t want to tempt it, but my boss was concerned as I sounded really vague on the phone, so I had to tell him. He was emotional when I told him, and I swore him to secrecy. We also told our families, and they were all in tears, and for those extra weeks we were there, they wrapped me in cotton wool and could not care for me enough.
Every month I conquered was a huge triumph, a milestone. But it was a long nine months, hoping and praying all would be good. We did not buy anything, only immediate family knew up until six months and it was very much a long, nervous, anxious wait.
But eventually, she was born. Our daughter. Our beautiful baby girl, our very own bundle of joy. We just could not believe our luck, could not believe she was ours and that she was here, safe and well. After everything we had been through. The Gods blessed her. During our pilgrimage, we were in a temple that was so, so crowded, and of everyone there I was the only one blessed with the garland from the Gods, it was placed around my neck by the priest.
Our daughter, beautiful and very precious. I remember days looking at her in the Moses basket thinking ‘oh my God she is my baby’. During my stay at the hospital the nurses advised me to be careful and told me I had a 6-month fertility window. But knowing my struggles all I heard was 6-month window.
I knew straight away I wanted another baby; I knew neither luck nor age was on our side, so I was prepared for it to be another struggle. The doctor said I had to wait for at least four months before trying again, but to out absolute amazement, I fell pregnant again on the sixth month. My husband was in so much disbelief he made me do test after test – and not the cheap ones either!
I wanted another child, and then just 13 months after my daughter was born, I gave birth to our son.
Our children are now seven and six, and even now I pinch myself, and say to myself that they are ours. I honestly have days where I must stop and remind myself that they are.
My story is for all those people out there in similar situations, I know what it is like to long so much for something and – even while trying your hardest to trust in your faith and to not give up hope – question whether it will ever happen.
I know what it is like to feel surrounded by pregnant women, see prams everywhere, keep smiling, but continuously wonder when your time will come. It can be so lonely and so traumatic, and I just want to say, don’t give up. Do not stop believing that your time will come. After all my miscarriages and the loss of a fallopian tube, if it can happen for me, then it can happen for you, just don’t give up.
- Sunita Sood, Public Service Centre Supervisor with #TeamSWP and Joint Chair of the Black Police Association
I’m a trustee with a charity, Woody’s, which offers support for military veterans and those who’ve served in the emergency services. It’s very important to me – I was in the RAF so I am a veteran, and that side of things holds dear to me, but I’ve also been in the police for almost 15 years. So I come at it from both sides.
I did a tour of Iraq in 2004, in air traffic control. I went to Basra and did four months there. It was an experience, and in many ways it was probably the best four months of my life. I know that’s a really weird thing to say, and luckily I didn't see anything bad, like a lot of people did that have done tours of service in Afghanistan or Iraq, because I was in the air traffic control tower. So my experience was probably quite different to some other people's – I wasn't shot at, for example. We were mortared, so there was that, but you just try not to think about it.
In Iraq I felt like I was doing my job for real, you know, rather than just training, training, training. I was based at RAF Odiham before, which is the Chinook helicopter base. But when I was in Iraq, I was doing my job for real.
Colleagues from all nations were there. We had Italians, French, all sorts of people coming in and out of Basra, so you had to decipher their accents as well. I was helping to get pilots out of any trouble when they came into land – then I would see them in the bar later and have a chat about what happened. I really enjoyed it.
I have always loved flying. As well as being an air traffic controller, I have held my pilot’s licence on and off for around 20 years – I got it when I was 18 – and my current role, with the police helicopter, is the perfect job.
My dad was born in the Rhymney Valley, into a mining family. He did two years of national service in the air force, 1950 to 1952, I think. And he enjoyed it so much that he did an extra three years as an education officer. He used to talk to me about the air force, and said I should go and look at possibly being an officer myself. The more I looked at it, the more I thought, yes, I would love this. And I did. I absolutely loved my time in the air force. It was amazing. So it was because of him that I joined the military.
After I left the air force I retrained as a bodyguard, which I did for three years. That was great. I really enjoyed it and I saw some amazing things, met some amazing people and had some great experiences. But it was always, ‘can you do a job tomorrow for six weeks?’. It was all at the drop of a hat and meant you couldn’t really make plans for life outside of work.
So I thought, what can I do that matches my skills, but where I can go home at the end of the shift? Policing was the natural answer, but I knew nothing about policing – I hadn't even spoken to a police officer before in my life. But South Wales Police were recruiting and so I joined up in 2008. It came as a bit of a shock to the system!
Initially I was on response in Barry, but I have been on the helicopter for nine years now. It definitely helped me to have had a background in air traffic control, but you don’t actually need any previous experience in aviation at all to get a job with the helicopter.
Most of what we do is searching for vulnerable missing people. Then there is tracking stolen cars, vehicles with intelligence on them that might be carrying drugs for example; keeping an eye on what’s going on on the roads, burglaries in progress, or people making off after a crime has taken place – that kind of thing. The job is amazing. It’s massively rewarding, especially when you find someone vulnerable and manage to get them back to their family.
I’m involved in a few other organisations as well. I volunteer with the lifeboat crew at Penarth – I’ve been on lifeboats since 1992, as an RNLI crew member. I got into that doing my Duke of Edinburgh Award when I was 14 and loved it so much that I stayed on. I did have a break when I was at university and then in the military, so had about 10 years off from 1999.
Our callouts are massively concentrated in the summer, but every Tuesday evening we have a meeting, three or four hours down the station, or an exercise. And there's usually one exercise per weekend. I don't do everything all the time, but I try and go to the Tuesday meetings if I'm not on shift with work.
Then there are the veterans’ organisations I’m involved in. I’m really passionate about the work we do with Woody’s and I am trying to get the message out that it is for emergency services colleagues, as well as for former military personnel. We find a lot of front-line officers in police, fire or ambulance services, can be affected by things such as PTSD, because of the nature of the calls they go out on. Because I was in air traffic control with the air force, so I wasn’t out and about with the troops on the ground, I have personally seen worse things in the police than I did before. Obviously there are a lot of veterans who can be significantly affected by the trauma they experience while being in the forces, but I do think it can be similar in the emergency services.
At Woody’s, people can just pitch up and say ‘I’m struggling with my mental health, because of things I have seen’, or whatever it might be, and they are then signposted to specific help – whether it’s for PTSD or other trauma. Or it could be helping veterans claim benefits which they maybe don’t know they’re entitled to.
With veterans, I have found it is often a case of stiff upper lip, although that’s been broken down a bit these days. I also think emergency services colleagues need to ask for help more because they are getting stretched, having to do more and more, and it can become more and more stressful.
Sometimes it can be something as simple as sitting down having a brew in a safe environment. The lodges are quiet places where you can turn up, without an appointment, and just sit down and have a cup of tea with someone and chew the fat, and sometimes that’s a lot of help in itself, just being somewhere relaxed and quiet with no pressure on you.
Once a year a cycling trip is organised to raise funds for Woody's. Last year was Cardiff to Paris and I did that. I don’t know how, because I wasn't a cyclist at all, but I managed it! Last month we went to Normandy, visiting various sites of remembrance, such as the beaches where the D-Day landings took place and the new British Normandy Memorial.
Remembrance is really important to me. I am involved in Group 617, another group set up to support veterans. It’s named after the RAF squadron that carried out the ‘dambuster’ raids during the Second World War. The Dambusters have a link with Penarth, in that Guy Gibson, who was the commanding officer of the Dambuster Squadron at the time of the bouncing bombs raid, lived in Penarth for a time, because he married someone from the town. I wrote an article on the link between the Dambuster Squadron and Penarth, and showed it to this veterans’ group for their approval, and they said ‘We love it. And do you want to join our group?’.
So now I’m a member! Everyone in the group is so sweet and so funny. We sometimes we go out on trips to the Netherlands to thank them for everything that they do to tend to the Commonwealth War Graves, including that of Guy Gibson. The cemeteries over there are immaculate – they're grateful to the British people for Operation Manna, a humanitarian mission to drop food in during the war, and then for eventually liberating them.
The group is all about public awareness, remembrance and telling the Dambusters’ story. It’s to remind everyone that these were people in the teens and twenties going out. Guy Gibson led the raid – he was only 26 when he died.
Likewise, I am on the committee that organises the Remembrance Parade through Penarth every year – we feel it's very important – and I'm a leader on the team organising the annual Royal British Legion poppy collecting. I organise the rota for that and the supplies, and we have loads of volunteers – it’s so lovely. People are so willing to give it their time and everyone is so nice buying poppies, that they always seem to really enjoy it. And they come back year after year, especially to sell the poppies.
I won an award last year at the Welsh Veterans Awards for my community work with Woody's and Group 617. I'm quite into my heavy metal and the awards were on the same night Rammstein were playing in Cardiff, and I had a ticket. I'm thought, I'm not going to win, but I'm going to have to be there because I've been nominated.
When I was announced as having won, I got up on stage and said I was supposed to be at a Rammstein concert – everyone was laughing. But I really, genuinely did not expect to win.
- PC Kath Fisher, Air Support Officer, currently seconded to the National Police Air Service (NPAS)
I suffer with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), which is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease. In basic terms it means my immune system attacks healthy cells in my body by mistake, causing painful swelling in the affected parts of the body. RA mainly attacks the joints, and usually many joints at once.
I first started experiencing symptoms at the age 46 but I put it down to many things: it was probably just my hormones and emotions going wild; I needed more coffee, exercise, or sleep; I needed to lose weight.
When I was finally diagnosed a year later, after many tests, I found it difficult to accept and didn’t really understand the disease. Why couldn’t I push through the pain and fatigue? I thought, ‘it’s just arthritis’, ‘I’m too young for it to be anything serious’, and ‘I look perfectly fine’. But in reality, I was now living with an autoimmune disease and it was doing things inside me that I couldn’t ignore.
I decided to fight my new enemy. I needed the help of a specialist, disease-modifying medications, and more information. One of the best ways to fight, after all, is through education. Educating myself, and educating those around me.
After reading everything I could online, working with Versus Arthritis and squeezing as much knowledge from my doctor as I could, I began to feel comfortable trying to explain RA to my family and friends.
I want people to understand that RA is an autoimmune disease and it is a chronic condition with no cure. A healthy immune system protects the body by fighting off foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria. In an autoimmune disease, the immune system mistakes a person’s own tissues for foreign invaders. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, it’s the synovium, which is the membrane that surrounds the joints. This puts into play an inflammatory process that causes RA’s tell-tale symptoms of swelling and pain which can lead to deformities and disabilities. Because RA is a systemic disease, this inflammation can also affect the entire body – the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, kidneys, salivary glands, nerve tissue, bone marrow, and blood vessels, to name a few.
The symptoms are not just joint pain. Pain, swelling, fatigue, malaise, fever, cognitive dysfunction, memory issues, brain fog, weight loss/gain, and depression are common non-joint symptoms or side effects of having rheumatoid arthritis. We also have comorbidities to deal with – for example, heart or lung disease – which exacerbate our symptoms. Pain isn’t always the most persistent or bothersome symptom either. For me it is usually fatigue and brain fog which has affected my working life and I have had to go part time as a result. I also struggle with my weight as my mobility is affected.
I want people to understand that rheumatoid arthritis is different from osteoarthritis. While there are many similarities between the two, they are quite different diseases. Osteoarthritis is the most common and well-known and involves loss of cartilage between joints due to age, wear and tear, or injury. It can cause significant pain and disability.
I’m not trying to minimise it in any way, but OA is not an autoimmune disease, so the treatment and course of disease progression is quite different from that of RA. Even now when I try to explain my illness to someone I will often get the response “Oh, my Nan has that” or “Yeah, I think I’ve got that in my knee”. Unfortunately osteoarthritis is also a secondary arthritis suffered by RA patients. I have osteoarthritis in both knees and one hip joint and have recently had cortisone injections to help with the pain.
Complex medications are involved. My doctor prescribed me methotrexate, which is a common and often first-line medication used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Today’s RA medications don’t just treat pain and swelling. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, or DMARDs, modify they immune system to help stop inflammation in its tracks. Before I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, I never knew chemotherapy could treat anything but cancer. But methotrexate was originally used as a type of chemotherapy. Then researchers discovered that — in much smaller doses — it could also be used to treat certain types of inflammatory arthritis. Methotrexate for RA doesn’t cause the same degree of side effects that it does in chemotherapy doses, but it still can have side effects, including nausea, GI issues, and hair thinning or loss. I had to get monthly liver tests and I could no longer drink alcohol while taking it.
It’s a rare RA patient who doesn’t endure trial and error to find the right medication, or mix of medications, that works for them. I’ve gone through 11 different medications so far, which has included methotrexate, hydroxychloroquine, sulfasalazine, prednisolone, leflunomide and Imraldi. I am now on a biologic medication called Humira which I have to inject into my stomach or thigh fortnightly. Biologic medications are a newer and more targeted category of disease-modifying drugs. I inject this and daily I take four anti-inflammatory tablets and one tablet to protect the stomach. I also have a Vitamin B12 injection every 12 weeks as I am anaemic which is another common comorbidity alongside RA.
Rheumatoid arthritis, and some of the medications used for treating it, compromises the immune system, leading to more infections. Rheumatoid arthritis can increase your risk of hardened and blocked arteries, as well as inflammation of the sac that encloses your heart. Those with RA have an increased risk of inflammation and scarring of lung tissues. We are at an increased the risk of lymphoma, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and lung disease. And that’s just the beginning of the list of comorbidities.
Because I am classed as high risk and have a compromised immune system, to date I have had eight Covid vaccines, although I still caught Covid twice which has turned into pneumonia. I try not to think too much about the long-term consequences of having RA and basically just get on with it. I am classed as disabled and have a Blue Badge for my car. I can’t count how many times I have heard comments such as “nothing wrong with her” and “Gran’s badge”. I’ve even been shouted at by an elderly lady who, along with a few expletives, told me I shouldn’t be parked there as there was nothing wrong with me. The joys of having an invisible illness!
All I want is to be treated with kindness and compassion. If I can help someone understand the limitations that go along with this disease, then I’ll have made a little difference. It’s not that we are flaky or forgetful, for example, but rather it’s an unfortunate side effect of our disease. Sometimes we just need a friend, sometimes we need physical or emotional help. A little bit of support can go a long way for us, in ways that medicine or health care professionals can’t help with. And luckily, I have a fantastic husband, family and friends who completely get it.
- Sam Spiteri, Station Enquiry Officer with #TeamSWP
I’ve been volunteering with the Samaritans for around five years. My sister, who was the branch director at the time, asked me if I would become a support volunteer and trustee to undertake the role of branch secretary. She knew that I was excellent at organising, administration etc, so she asked if I would consider it. I did need to think about it, only for a little while, as I was already doing a fair bit, volunteering with Girl Guides, working a full time and a part time job and of course, family commitments.
I think the biggest thing that impacted on my decision to support Samaritans was our family and friend’s history, things we’d been through, especially those lost to suicide. Samaritans were an organisation I was very aware of but hoped and prayed that I’d never feel the need to access their services. However, it really resonated with me when she asked. My sister was a ‘listener’ herself for many years prior to taking over as branch director, and my daughter had also been a listener for a while prior to pursuing a career in counselling. It just seemed like the right thing to do, the need to give something back, keep giving to other people, doing good and helping out.
I thought about times when things have happened in our lives where I’ve thought ‘I wish there’d been somebody there to talk to’. Samaritans run a role rotation of three years, which I completed and now I’m a fundraising coordinator. It’s like with everything else, nothing ever happens just with one person – it’s a team effort. So, we’re constantly working on different events, ways to bring in funds. Samaritans is volunteer-based and is funded by kind donations to keep the phone lines open. In some ways it’s similar to my role here with the police – it’s the officers that everybody sees but it takes a lot of other people in those supporting roles to keep providing that service. The listeners are incredible, but there are also 100-plus volunteers at Bridgend that fundraise, raise awareness, sort rotas to keep the lines open, even down to keeping the tea and biscuits topped up. When people are volunteering, those small things go a long way. Like every charity, Samaritans had a real tough time during covid, but managed to keep most shifts open due to the pure dedication of the volunteers.
This year Bridgend Samaritans celebrate their 50th anniversary and the 70th anniversary of the Samaritans organisation, so we’re in the thick of planning the celebrations and events for that. We just completed a 6.5-mile walk with weatherman Chris Jones in Llantwit and around Southerndown and Ogmore-by-Sea. We were also joined by historian Graham Loveluck-Edwards who was telling us some of the history of the places we were walking. It was a really lovely day, good fun and for a really important cause. We had our bright green T-shirts on and the Samaritans van was out raising awareness.
There is always a need for volunteers to help any charity keep going. Some people continue for a while but might end their time because of different circumstances or commitments, or they may take a step back from the listening role, so there are always new cohorts of volunteers being trained. The training is always talked about proudly as being so good at preparing and supporting volunteers. If anyone is interested, I would encourage them to look into it and get in touch. You can apply through the website where there is plenty of information. Even if you weren’t looking to volunteer I’d encourage anyone to look online to understand more and see the online help that is available. There’s interesting information about the nature of the calls Samaritans receive and the volume, which is actually quite a lot more than most people realise.
Listeners come from all walks of life, a real mix of age ranges, personalities and backgrounds, so there’s a lot of experience and aspects of their own lives that people can bring to the role. To become a listener, you will need to go through thorough training for six weeks and then start shifts with a mentor before doing even more training for another six months. Mentors share the calls and listen in once you completed the initial training until you’re ready to go ‘on their own’ as a probationer. But they’re never really on their own because they’re always on shift with another volunteer and there’s always a shift leader available before, during and after every single shift. Listeners offload to their leader at the end of their shifts as it’s important that they get a chance to talk about anything that was particularly challenging to deal with, hard to hear, or which maybe struck a nerve before they leave to go home as anything a person tells a Samaritan’s listener whilst on the call is confidential. Volunteers look after each other to ensure they maintain good personal health and wellbeing as well.
Listeners are there to listen, giving callers the time and space to say it how they want to say it. They give people that breathing a space, a chance to talk about how they’re feeling and think about where they’re at. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to a stranger that doesn’t know anything about you and because the service is available 24/7, listeners are there when often people feel like they have no-one or nowhere to turn to.
For me personally, I don’t feel I could stay composed on the phone to callers, so I know I’m not going to do the callers, or myself, any favours by answering the phone. It is like our call handlers here at SWP, it takes a certain type of person to do that role. I work to my strengths and I’m happy in a support role, helping things to tick over smoothly. It really is so important to have those people there to keep making it possible to have people answering the phones, so it’s a team effort and a variety of roles to suit everyone.
I volunteered with St John Ambulance when I was younger, and also volunteered for over 22 years with the Girl Guides and that only came to an end because I had grandchildren and wanted to be able to devote more time to them. All my daughters were also involved in volunteering to some degree and my middle daughter volunteered with Samaritans for a while then went to university and on to become a senior counsellor. My other two daughters are doctors. So, it must just be in the genes, we’re all of that caring, giving something back kind of nature.
When my daughter was five she was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, and we knew nothing about it. I read every book I possibly could and took as much information from the hospitals, but there didn’t seem to be the kind of information or people to talk to that there are now. These things have given me experiences of thinking ‘if only somebody would have been there for me’. Back then it was different, it was very challenging and quite isolating, thankfully nowadays it’s so different, we did some peer support for Diabetes Cymru to help other newly diagnosed families. You read all the books you can and speak to medical professionals, but the day to day living with it and things crop up and you realise ‘I could really do with having somebody who has been through this to talk to about this’.
Sometimes just talking to somebody about something is really important because it just gives you a bit of perspective. They don’t have to be going through that same thing as you, but it gives you that time to breathe, get things off your chest and hear it out loud instead of in your own thoughts, and sometimes that’s enough to make you realise ‘that wasn’t as bad as I thought.’ Sometimes we just need someone to empathise. There’s always somebody somewhere to listen. And I think that’s the key thing – talking is so important.
Although Samaritans is a well-known charity, it doesn’t mean it’s easy to keep the funds coming in. What people don’t realise is it’s not just the phone lines. They go into the local prison and train up prisoners to be listeners, as an extension of Samaritans. During Covid Samaritans also set up an NHS line so that medical professionals could access additionally trained listeners with a direct number. Bridgend Samaritans are well known across Samaritans UK for their Feet on the Street outreach work, where they take the van out into town centre on a Friday or Saturday night to give people a safe space to go if they’re feeling a bit vulnerable or if they just need somebody to talk to. Samaritans Cymru also has a Welsh language line that Welsh speakers can call to talk in their first language.
As it is a nationwide free number you call, you will probably speak to a different listener each time, however, they all receive the same training and will support you on the call. Listeners never really know the outcome of a call, or if the call has made a difference, but when I talk to the listeners they’re often able to get that sense that they’ve helped turn someone’s mindset around, and potentially saved someone’s life as they can hear the difference in their voice by the time they’ve finished the call. It’s an incredible thing to do. It’s really is such a worthwhile service – especially with so many people suffering and the mental health crisis these days – people often feel like they’re on their own and it’s just somewhere for them to go. Someone to talk to.
I imagine I’ll be doing this for a while yet – how do you walk away from something like that?
- Melanie Thalayasingam, Communications and Heritage Assistant with #TeamSWP
We’d had a lot of people in the family who’d been unwell – my auntie had died of breast cancer in the 80s when people did die a lot of things like that, and I always remember my dad saying that she died because they couldn’t get enough blood in to her.
That stayed with me and when I turned 18, on my birthday, I went to Llantrisant Leisure Centre and gave my first ever blood donation. While I was there, they asked me to join the bone marrow register. They took another little vial off the other arm, and I didn’t think anything more of it.
I’ve been a regular blood donor ever since – I’m up to 179 donations – and then about two months ago, some 26 years later, I got a phone call to tell me I’m a possible match. I assumed I was one of however many people who were a possible match, and they asked me to go down to do some more blood tests to confirm. So, I popped down the road to the Welsh Blood Service in Talbot Green, and provided some samples. A couple of days later they confirmed I was a definite match.
So that was it. I wanted to be as healthy as I could for the procedure, so that day I cut out bread, sugar, sweets, all the good stuff. Somebody else’s life was all the motivation I needed. In the meantime, I was in regular contact with nurses, consultants, other members of the team, all checking I was okay and so on. They couldn’t do enough in fairness to them.
Then I found out I wasn’t just the closest match for this person, I was the only match. From what I understand, some people are luckier than others and are genetically more likely to have more than one option. But I didn’t feel the team put pressure on me to do it – there was a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of encouragement, but no pressure. They considered my wellbeing every step of the way.
As it got nearer to the date, I went for the big talk in Talbot Green to make sure I was 100% happy to donate and to ensure I understood the process, the implications and so on. Once I then committed, the patient was then put on chemotherapy and radiotherapy for the remainder of the weeks. It meant his blood count would be wiped to zero so that he was ready to accept mine. So it was at that point it probably got very real – knowing I was the only match, and he was going to go through that in readiness.
Then off I went to Llandough to have the medical, and it was then that they told me a little bit more about the person. I found out he lived abroad, and a few other details that wouldn’t be right for me to share. And obviously I’m only allowed to know very minimal details.
But to find out I was the only match for a man living in another country was mind-blowing – I might not even be a match for my own kids, so that really is how strange it is. I can only now ever give to this individual, should he need any more donations, or the possibility of my kids. They won’t consider me now for anyone else in the world as I’m basically this one guy’s chance, so I’m basically his tap now!
A week before the procedure, a nurse came out to the house and injected me with a drug called GSCF, which makes your bones spill stem cells in to your blood. So all your joints, your back, your legs, you just feel like you’ve been battered. It’s not so much a pain, just a constant ache, and you’re completely exhausted, wiped out. I couldn’t stand for more 20 odd seconds at a time.
The day of the procedure, my wife came with me to Velindre Cancer Centre. We went there for 7am and you walk in and everyone you’re seeing is ill and a patient. It was really eye-opening, emotional and humbling. It felt strange walking in as someone who was well, but I knew I was coming in to try and help someone in their position.
There’s two different ways of donating bone marrow – one where you’re under anaesthetic, one night in hospital, very little side effects. You have injections out of your pelvic bone, so a bit of back pain after for a couple of weeks after.
The other is the apheresis process, which is what I had. It’s like a dialysis machine really, they take it out of one side, filter it through and it comes back through to the other arm. I was hooked up to a machine for hours on end, not able to feed myself or anything, but the team are fantastic, they can’t do enough for you. They did some samples in the morning and told me ‘if these meds have done their job, we’re hoping to have 40 parts per trillion in this vial’. When it came back at about midday they said it had gone really well and it actually had 123 parts per trillion in there. At the end of the day, about 5pm, they told me the whole donation had been shipped to Talbot Green and counted and there was over 700 parts per trillion and the patient needed 413, so I was delighted with that.
I know that the patient has undergone the transplant, and that it was successful.
The country in which he lives is very strict with data protection, so they won’t pass any details about the person, but I know snippets. Two years after the procedure, he is allowed to know who I am, and I’m allowed to know who he is if he agrees. I would love to meet him. I’m going on holiday soon – I could be walking round a supermarket, and it could be the person next to me and I’d never know.
He could have done something fabulous with his life, and importantly now maybe still can and that’s an amazing thought. My wife’s father had a kidney donated to him and lived with that, dialysis-free, for 20-odd years. I know how death and donation has impacted me and if I can make that difference to someone else’s family, it’s a no-brainer. I can understand why some people might change their mind when they are contacted, there is a lot to consider and that is absolutely their choice, it has to be right for them. But for me it was an easy decision.
I’m a huge advocate for giving blood, and my kids are both really proud of what I’ve just done and think it’s great that there’s someone out there with another shot at life because of it. It’s been a great lesson for them, even though that’s not why I did it.
The blood service has already asked me whether I would go through it all again, it the person needs it, and I’ve said absolutely. It is tough, it is gruelling, but it’s given him another shot at life. If I could give to more people, I would, definitely.
My dad lost both his sisters to cancer, he then died from a cardiac event after having beaten cancer, and my mum was in recovery from breast cancer when she died a year ago. The anniversary of her death was the day of the transplant. It gives me pins and needles to think about it, but it’s why I know I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
- Custody Detention Officer Marc Smith
I’m originally from Ireland. I moved to Wales when I was 18 to study sport performance analysis at Cardiff Metropolitan University. I always wanted to join the police, but on the other hand, I wanted a career in sports. Covid hit, so it never worked out for me. I went with my heart and joined the police as a Police Community Support Officer, and I really enjoy it. In the future I’ll be looking to join as a Police Constable.
While at uni, I attended my freshers' fair, and they were promoting a sport called Aussie Rules, also known as Australian Rules Football or AFL. It looked interesting and I knew I wanted to give it a go. It’s similar to rugby, it’s a physical, fast-paced sport and we play nine-a-side. Three defenders, three midfielders and three forwards. The whole objective is to kick goals, which are worth six points. You move the ball by kicking or punching it with your fist.
I started playing for the university team and as I got older, I joined Cardiff Panthers men’s team. From there, I was selected to represent Wales in the Euro Cup competition. It feels strange representing Wales when I’m Irish, but I’ve lived here for five years now, so fitted the residency criteria. I definitely have Welsh pride and I feel very honoured to represent the country.
I will travel to Kiel, Germany, in July 2023 and compete in the Euro Cup competition. It’s a one-day tournament but we’ll go out there for three to four days. There are 15 men's national teams and 10 women's national teams competing. Wales Men play against Germany, Sweden, Israel, and Northern Ireland in the group stage and will be looking to finish in the top two to secure a semi-final spot. Last year Wales Men finished in fifth place overall and Wales Women finished fourth overall.
The sport has given me so many opportunities. In my second year of University, I was selected to represent the university's All Stars team, which was made up of English and Welsh students. We travelled and played the best of the Irish students. That was my first real tournament and I found it so exciting being with a group of new players. At that stage I was representing Cardiff Met, which was great but now I feel even more pride, representing Wales.
I love playing sport I think it’s amazing for your mental health, and I’ve met so many people. I’ve made new friends, men and women of all age groups and it’s given me so much confidence. I was captain for the team last year and that helped me with my job now, as I’m more confident with leading. It’s more than having a couple of new friends, it’s being a part of a social group.
Anyone can join the men or women’s team, Cardiff Panthers are always looking for new members.
We play in the Welsh AFL league and play against the Vale Vikings, Bristol Dockers, and Chippenham Redbacks. We play against each other twice and then we have a final day. Sometimes we go to tournaments in Ireland, Scotland, and England, so I get to travel often. But it can be costly with time. It’s been difficult, I’ve missed a lot of training, matches and tournaments due to my role as a PCSO. That’s why I was surprised I was selected to represent Wales, as I’ve only been to a couple of games.
But I’m dedicated, I do a lot of my own training to keep fit, I show up when I can, play well and try my best.
- Tom Lindsay, PCSO with #TeamSWP
I’m massively into horse-riding, I compete for Cardiff and Vale horse riding clubs, show jumping, it’s mine and my sister’s passion. We’re inseparable and both have horses, compete and hack out together. Only July 14, 2021, we had a day off and she suggested a ride on the beach. We went to Barry Island where we were galloping on the beach and took the horses in the sea. We had a great day and I felt absolutely fine. After our ride, we returned to the yard, I sorted the horse out and left.
But then I was driving home, and I was near Wenvoe Garden Centre, and the next thing I knew it felt like someone had hit me to the back of the head with a hammer. It was like an explosion inside my head. I just didn’t know what was happening. I thought I was having a heart attack because my heart was racing a million miles an hour, and I felt so nauseous. I lost sight in my right eye straight away and my right arm and leg started feeling numb. How I did it I don’t know, but I swerved on to the grass verge, and managed to press redial on my phone. I didn’t know who it was going to reach but thankfully it was my sister who was still at the yard. She noticed I was slurring and couldn’t speak properly. She got straight in her car and rushed to find me. As soon as she saw me, she could see my face had dropped. She rang for an ambulance, but they couldn’t reach me in time due to the demands of Covid so my sister had to drive me to the hospital, bless her. It was the worst drive for her because I was feeling sick, I had the most horrific pulsing headache, I didn’t know what was happening to me and I honestly thought I was dying. When we got to A&E my sister tried to help me up and I couldn’t walk, my legs had gone completely.
The rest is history really. I was put in a wheelchair, and taken straight to A&E. I couldn’t have anyone with me, again because of Covid. It turned out I had a tear in the main artery in my neck which caused blot clots to the left and right side of the brain and a small bleed. They said it was a one in a million chance of it ever happening, especially of someone of my age and health. I was 49, fit, active, non-smoker, all the things you’re told to be. I used to do 6k runs in my lunch hour, half marathons, I was fit as a fiddle. However, my consultant told me in 20 years of doing his job, he’d never known anyone not to lose their speech and ability to swallow, having suffered injuries as extreme as mine. So, he thinks my fitness levels may have saved me in that respect. When I was on the road to recovery my husband did say ‘that wouldn’t have happened anyway, no chance, no-one would ever shut you up, it’ll take more than that!’
I was in hospital for just over two-and-a-half weeks. Due to Covid they wanted to get me home as quickly as possible. I had to move in with my mum because she lives on one level. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t wash myself. It was hard because I just couldn’t get my head around what had gone on. When you have a stroke or any brain injury it’s really frustrating. In my mind I could see people walking, and I knew that’s what they were doing, walking. But my body was broken and it couldn’t do those things. How the medical team explained it, which really made sense to me, was like taking the same route to work every single day and you know those routes like the back of your hand. All of a sudden, those roads have been smashed up and you’ve got to work out a new route to get you to work. And that’s basically what my brain had to do.
It was tough. The headaches were horrific, the fatigue was unbearable. But I think the competitive streak in me really helped me. When I got home, I got in to bed and in my head I was thinking ‘oh, I’ll walk it’s fine they’re just saying it’, and I know how crazy that sounds, but that’s what I thought. I wiggled out to the end of the bed, stood up, and collapsed straight to the floor. I smashed my head and my side. My mum and my husband came running in and asked what I was doing, and I cried and cried and cried. That was the moment of realisation for me. It really hit me, I really am not well.
They never said I wouldn’t walk again, there was always that hope there, but it did seem like a very long way off. When I left hospital my consultant asked me what I wanted to achieve and I said “I’m going to ride my horse, compete for Cardiff and the Vale Riding Club again and I’m going to join the police”. He just said “what?!”. Most patients just want to start walking again, but I said no, I’m going to do it. I think issuing myself those goals helped me, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. They were really tough times, my family were in tears a lot of the time; my daughter had to wash my hair, sit me up in the bath, wash me down. It was degrading, it took away all my independence. I was used to being the one who looked after everyone else; I was a young mum, and I’ve raised my children to be hard-working and I’m so proud of them all. But they’ve always looked up to me so it was hard to have to rely on them so much. But my children, my family, my support network they were all incredible. And I just knew I couldn’t let them down. My daughter had a three-week-old baby at the time, so it was a lot – I should have been the one supporting her.
I was introduced to my physio James came out, and we just had an instant connection – I cannot praise him enough. We got on brilliantly, and I spoke to him at length about what I wanted to achieve. He told me if I promised to do my exercises, really commit to them, he would find a way to get me to the farm to see my horse, Rio. And to me, that was it, I thought I’m going to do it. He was amazing – he really zoned in to what Iove, my real passion and used it to help me recover. Don’t get me wrong there would be days where I’d be doing my exercises and I’d break down. I was physically and mentally exhausted, the headaches are horrendous and don’t go away, and I was weak. I also struggled with sound – my senses where all over the place. Everything’s against you but you’ve just got to keep fighting and that’s exactly what I did.
Finally, the day came when I was strong enough to go to the stables to see Rio. James explained they would use my horse as physio, it is something they have never done before in the NHS and he was using us as a case study. Rio didn’t have the best start in life, and it took time to gain his trust. I gave him confidence and showed him not all humans are bad, so we have such a connection and are a great team.
That day, my sister pushed me into his stable in my wheelchair and he was so unsure and didn’t understand. He came over to me and sniffed the wheels of my chair, and then put his nose on to my knees. A foal is always taught by their mum they must stand – it’s fight or flight to survive – Rio was hitting my knees with his nose to urge me to get up. It was really emotional, he knew something was wrong, but didn’t understand what. Rio put his head in my lap, and I put my arms around his head and sobbed he knew something was wrong. So, from that day, James worked with me and Rio on my physiotherapy and he increased the exercises more each time. Our exercises started off with me leaning down to touch Rio’s hooves, he didn’t move, he stood so still supporting me as I would try to stand. Rio was so gentle and patient with me. When I took my first steps, Rio was by my side and took little steps with me. I have video of me walking with my frame with Rio, and later with my walking stick, and you can see for every step I take, Rio takes one too. It’s like we saved each other.
Even to this day, I never look back, I never ask why me. I look at my stroke as ‘yes its changed me in so many different ways, but it’s changed me in lots of positive ways too’. I’ve now got the career I always wanted; I always had good jobs in accounts and in the NHS, but this is something I always wanted to do. But you become complacent and maybe find excuses why it’s not possible – you know being a mum, fitting in with the kids, stability etc. But I have friends in the police who said the role for you is 100% community, I looked at the role and I thought, now’s the time, I’m going to do it. I was concerned as you’ve got to remember with any brain injury you have to relearn to process information and retain it, my short-term memory at that time wasn’t very good. I have a brain app on my phone, which I still do every single day, and it just strengthens the brain and targets certain areas. When I was studying, I was struggling with writing and trying to keep that information in, and I soon realised if I kept repeating it over and over, everything I was learning was staying in. So, I’ve got books and books from when I was doing my exams and tests, where there are pages and pages of the same information written over and over again.
It's taken two years – it’s not been overnight, it has been a slow recovery. The stroke was on the 14th of July 2021, and I finally competed for the club on Rio again a year later. I joined South Wales Police last October. I started my role based from Penarth Police Station in January this year. Twice I remember really breaking down during my recovery, after that first day at home, and that was when I first rode on Rio again, and when I passed my training and we had our presentation. It’s a bit embarrassing, but I met the Deputy Chief Constable and I broke my heart as she handed me my certificate and warrant card, because nobody knows how hard I worked to achieve that goal. It was quite an emotional day – my classmates and trainers all know how much I had studied and put every single hour into my training, so there were quite a lot of tears by all. It was a great moment.
Within my role I feel like I can bring a lot of what happened to me and my experiences into situations giving a greater understanding. When engaging with the older generation especially, they always feel like they’re being a burden when they approach you to raise their concerns or just to have a conversation. I know what it’s like to feel like you’re a burden and I never want anyone to feel that way, so I make sure they know that’s exactly what I’m there for. I absolutely love the role of a PCSO, and I’m so glad I made the decision and went for it.
It’s been a lot in a relatively short space of time – although at times it felt like forever. It was very much sweat, tears, never giving up, going for what you’ve always wanted to do. I am proud of myself, I’m an inspiration to my kids and I’m now helping others too. I’ve been asked to speak at the Welsh Stroke Conference in June and share my story to medical professionals and other stroke survivors. When you have a stroke, it’s sink or swim, 100%, and I was never going to sink.
- #TeamSWP's PCSO Leanne Williams
So, there’s my wife Nikki, my stepchildren Esme and Ollie and Teddy’s the baby. He’s 15 months, Esme’s 14 and Ollie’s 10. It’s a busy household as you can imagine. Unfortunately, Esme’s got Leigh’s Disease which is a form of an already-rare illness called Mitochondrial Disease, a progressive condition which basically affects her whole body as well as her cognition.
Esme was born perfectly well but started showing some signs and symptoms when she was a toddler (before I came along) before she got a diagnosis at the age of eight. She eventually lost the use of her legs and was confined to her powerchair, which she controls with a little golf ball. A large secondary issue Esme now suffers from is scoliosis, so her chair has literally been moulded to fit her and give her as much comfort as possible.
A consequence of Leigh’s disease is dystonia which involves uncontrolled and, at times, painful muscle spasms. Esme’s were so severe at one point that her hips would constantly dislocate, and this was addressed with some pretty major surgery that corrected them and saw plates put in place to prevent them from coming out. There is a lot of uncertainty around how Esme’s illness will manifest itself further and so she has a raft of specialists and has regular checks on her organs. But thankfully, she is generally on a level at the moment having meds tube-fed three times a day and weekly physio at school.
I know the diagnosis was horrendous for Nikki particularly as Esme’s condition is so rare, but she has taken it in her stride as much as anyone possibly could. She is a remarkable mother to her and to the boys. Although life will never be ‘normal’ for Esme – whatever normal is – Nikki strives every day to make it as normal as she can for her. We try to ensure that every activity we do with the children is inclusive and Esme can take part with things likes craft, art, baking and accessible walks. We try to have as much balance as possible so that Ollie doesn’t miss out on other activities, so he has his rugby training and weekend matches, play dates and I make a point of taking him to the beach on inset days as Esme’s chair doesn’t work on sand.
The kids are great together; Ollie’s like Esme’s little protector and even though he’ll never say ‘I love you’ he just adores her. The older two dote on Teddy – he’s rough and tumble with Ollie but he somehow senses to be more gentle with Esme, trying to share his dummy with her or stroking her face. He does swoop in and steal her glasses though and she doesn’t mind at all. Both Ollie and Es are very soft with him. They all love it when we get Esme out of her chair and have a bit of a rumble on the floor.
I say to Nik on those tough days when she wishes things were different – like everyone does sometimes – Esme captures everyone’s heart. Without her illness maybe she wouldn’t be so special and be treated as such. But she’s so humbling as well and inspires a lot of people. Her Poppa, who we sadly lost before Christmas, had an amputation three years ago. He was 79 when it happened and his attitude was outstanding, because he said: "I’ve been everywhere, I’ve travelled everywhere, I’ve had a wonderful life". When he was having his physio they remarked on how great his attitude was, but he kept saying that he took strength from Esme because she does humble and inspire you. She makes you think, what have I got to moan about?
Esme understands that she used to walk so mentally it’s also been challenging for her. She’s a massive Ed Sheeran fan and I was getting her ready for school one day and the song Thinking Out Loud, with the line 'when your legs don’t work like they used to before', was playing. She said: “That’s me, my legs don’t work anymore.” Thankfully it was quite dark because I was choked and filling up. But I decided to be really cheeky and wrote to Ed Sheeran’s manager telling him how much she loves him. About three weeks later, having forgotten all about it, I received an email with a personalised video, sat in his own kitchen with a highchair beside him saying “Hi Es, heard you’re a big fan, hope you have a great day.” And she was just over the moon. It meant so much to her.
It’s the little things like that, I say to Es “you know that probably wouldn’t happen if you weren’t special”, because she does have moments where she’s says “I wish I could walk” and “will I ever walk again?”. And with a child like Es, it’s really about striking the balance between remembering she’s a child but also being real and honest. Because we can’t make false promises to her, so it’s about reminding her about how special she is and all the wonderful things that do happen to her. She’s got a wish with the Make a Wish Foundation and has been nominated for Dreamflight where, if she’s selected, she’ll go to Orlando and take over Disney for a day.
She touches a lot of people and they are inspired to do those things for her. It is really important for us to remember the positives like anything in life.
I often try to put myself in Esme’s position, and I don’t know if I’d be so cheerful, but you know she really is. She’s so strong and just incredible. When I was pregnant, I was really unwell with SPD and was on crutches. I remember we went to Tenby for the weekend and I was in a lot of pain and unable to walk so we had to hire a mobility scooter. Esme was delighted with it – although she wouldn’t let me drive faster than her – but for me, I had a really small insight into what it was like to not have mobility, and it was really stressful and frustrating. Suddenly I saw the world in a different way. I couldn’t walk very well at all but still knew I could get myself up if I needed to, and I just remember thinking ‘this is her life every day’. She can clearly remember being able to walk so it must be difficult to take, and she’d be well within her rights to be grumpy, but she’s not.
Esme’s been at Ysgol Y Deri for about four years now and she absolutely loves it. The difference in her is incredible. She’s more confident. Unfortunately, the dystonia severely affects her tongue and therefore her speech, but she’s got her communication aid so she’ll do her homework on it and read it to the class, and she’s also learning a bit of sign as well. Generally, all of us who know her well and her regular teachers can understand what she’s saying with it, so they’re able to push her and get the best out of her. Every Wednesday she spends the day with the nurses because she always wanted to be a nurse. She has her own scrubs and the nurses had ‘Doris the Nurse’ and a little NHS symbol put on them, so she goes in in those, and they’re all just fantastic with her. She is treated as a real member of the nursing team.
Raising awareness about the condition itself and the wonderful charities that help us is key.
The Lily Foundation funds medical research into Mitochondrial Disease and they hope for a cure one day because there isn’t one at the minute. But if they could find a cure, it’s a bit like Alzheimer’s, it wouldn’t reverse what’s been done, but it could be halted. So we do a lot to raise money for them and we go to lovely family fun days with them. We also do fundraisers also for Ty Hafan as she’s also under them. Like the staff at Ysgol Y Deri, these people are angels, they’re incredible and we’re so lucky to have them all in our lives.
I wanted to highlight Esme and her illness because you just never know what people are dealing with or worrying about. I also want to highlight my story to everyone who has any sort of caring responsibilities. I’m a Mum first and a police officer a close second. Balancing both is possible and has not stopped me pursuing my goals.
- #TeamSWP Sergeant Cheryl Irvine
Years ago, I was part of a lifeguard team and some of us liked walking so we decided to do the Three Peaks Challenge and raise some money. We did that and one night were sat chatting over a bottle of wine and someone said ‘We should do Kilimanjaro next’.
And at the time one of the group was going through cancer treatment so doing if for Velindre was an obvious choice for us. And it just escalated from there.
I worked in a travel agent at the time so I handled everything else – the visas, the bookings. We didn’t want the money we raised to pay towards our trip so we did two years of fundraising and saving for it – and training of course. My dog loved that time because there was a lot of Pen Y Fan walks.
There were eight of us and we raised £44,000 for Velindre. We sat down with the head of charity and discussed what they needed, and we paid to have WiFi installed throughout the hospital, because they didn’t have it at the time, and cover three years’ maintenance too. It meant people could go in there and maintain that contact with family and the outside world, something that is a lifeline when people are going through treatment.
When people signed up to the WiFi at the time, it showed a little picture of us and explained where the WiFi came from, so that was a really nice gesture. It was 10 years ago, so it’s probably gone now, but we were really chuffed with that.
The climb itself was phenomenal, you go through every kind of landscape. The first day you get up to 3,500ft and that’s base camp. You have porters and they are incredible, they do everything for you. They’d come running past in their sandals while you’re fully kitted out with the walking gear, and they’ve got your bags on their back, the tents, all the food, their stuff. You’d get to the end of the day’s walk and they would have set up camp. It was amazing. We were fed and watered, had a toilet tent, they did everything we just had to focus on doing the climb and getting through it.
The last day was really hard. We walked about six hours, got to the final base camp, and they tell you to rest but at this point so close to the end you’re not going to rest. Then you get up and it’s dark and that’s when you start the ascent to the summit. Other than head torches it’s pitch black and you can’t see a thing.
It’s hard to describe but you don’t walk straight because it’s so steep, you have to kind of zig zag, and when you look up and it’s like a Christmas tree making its way across the mountain. The porters have this song that they sing, a kind of encouraging African chant, and that is all you can hear. It’s the most surreal experience ever. In terms of experiences, it is pretty incredible. Not many people can say they’ve done it so it’s lovely to be able to say I have.
One of the girls in the team, Hannah, is a DofE instructor and one night we were out – wine always seems to play a part in these challenges we set ourselves! – and she said she’s always fancied doing the Wales Coastal Path. And again, it just escalated. We’re not fundraising, it’s just a personal challenge we’ve set ourselves. Hannah turns fifty in August 2025 and wanted to do it by then, and I’m the only one stupid enough to say yes.
We started last April and we’re walking the whole thing in sections. We started in Chester – that was our big one because it’s so far away – and we finished in Aberdaron. So that was a nine-day trek.
People do have this idea of the walk and think it’s all really lovely, but it is really challenging and underestimated. The last part we just did was through forestry – we didn’t see water for 12 miles – some of it is through industrial estates, and we’ve walked past numerous sewage works. Some of it is lovely, some of it is literally clifftop with amazing views, but there’s also loads of field trudging. I’d say 50% of it is the clifftop walks that people imagine and the rest is everything else you can think of. It's been a real eye-opener, definitely.
We did some more in November, and we’ve just done another this April which finished us in Aberystwyth. We’ll go back now in July do to Aberystwyth to Cardigan and at some point we’ll have to go back and do Anglesey too.
I do really enjoy it, but of course there are points where it is really difficult. The last one we stopped in Aberdyfi, which is just beautiful, and there’s an estuary with an amazing view of where you’re going to end up in Borth. But you can’t get across it, so it’s a 12-mile trek inland to stay in Machynlleth and then a 12-mile trek the following day. That ended up not being 12 miles, more like 16 miles and by the end of that we were exhausted. Because you’re carrying all your stuff on your back – the entire week’s worth of clothes and everything.
We worked out that during that trip we’ve just done, we could have climbed Snowdon four times, and covered 90 miles in six days.
That week has definitely been the hardest yet, because it was constant uphill through forestry, no pretty coastal views. My friend obviously utilises her DofE skills and has all the maps, and the night before she will use her little guidebook to plan ahead. But don’t get me wrong, her map-reading skills have let us down on occasion.
We’ve had a few moments where we’re in the middle of a field and we’ve thought ‘yep, we’re not in the right place’ and we’ve had to double back. So sometimes it can be a bit more luck rather than judgement getting through.
In November last year we got caught in the storms; we were out in 60mph winds, it was definitely the quickest walk we’ve ever done. We always carry a flask of coffee but we couldn’t even stop for that. We just had to keep going, the weather was horrific. We got in and we were like ‘did we actually just walk in that?’.
My stubbornness is always what keeps me going. My friend even said to me ‘of all the people to pick I knew I’d pick you because you just won’t quit, and once you’ve started something you have to finish it’. And realistically, you can’t stop anyway, what are you going to do, find a bus? Half the time you’re in the middle of nowhere so you’ve just got to keep trudging along.
Doing it together is great, there’s that solidarity and company and we’re both pretty easy going. We’re not whingers, and we both know there are moments when we both go quiet and we just need to get in the zone, head down and keep going.
And other times we’ll just be laughing along about something stupid. We’ve been keeping a diary as we go along, and have said we probably should have started a vlog about the realities of walking the coastal path because I think people do have this idyllic kind of vision in their head and it’s definitely not quite like that.
- Louise Piper, Operational Business Support Team Leader
I started with the Friendship Theatre Group about 14 years ago. We’ve got members between five and 80 in the group and everybody does it voluntarily. We do one show a year – a family-friendly pantomime – which takes over the whole of January. My partner was a dancer with them so when we got together, I started to go with her, not knowing anything about the theatre.
Within a couple of years I ended up being on stage, but only in characters where you wouldn’t know it was me – so the giant, the camel, the elephant, the witch. Anything that has a huge costume and requires no acting talent, that’s me.
The first giant costume I had was 13ft tall, on stilts, it took two people on a winch to lower it on to me on stage. I just thoroughly enjoyed it. Safe in the knowledge that nobody knew it was me, no-one could see me, I was able to unleash my inner actor hiding behind this big, huge costume. It was the freedom to just throw myself in to it.
This year our stage manager took a back seat because he’d started a young family during covid. So he was looking for someone to take over and he approached me about doing it, knowing that I was always there for every show and had always helped out backstage. It’s basically the running of the show, so from the minute the audience comes in until that curtain goes down at the end, everything that goes right or wrong is on my shoulders.
We usually do 22-23 shows over the space of three-and-a-half-weeks. The cast will start rehearsing in September/ October but for me, I first see the set and the scenes when we turn up at the theatre and the lorries arrive. So, in the first week of January: Friday night the set arrives, Saturday we build it, Sunday we have a rehearsal, then it’s technical rehearsal for Act 1 on Monday, Tuesday we plot Act 2, Wednesday it’s a dress rehearsal and the first time we run that show start to finish, Thursday we open in front of an audience. So, no pressure at all.
It’s just incredible, every year we get to the dress rehearsal and I think “we are weeks away from being ready” and then Thursday comes and there’s an audience there and it just works. The team are just amazing.
Lots goes wrong, and we try to cover it as best we can. As stage manager I know the show inside out, so if an item of scenery is six inches off its mark I’ll know and I’m panicking, but realistically, the audience don’t even notice because the cast cover it seamlessly. But if things do go wrong, the audience enjoy it anyway.
That first week is intense, but it’s something that everyone involved is so passionate about. And it shows in the tickets sales. It’s an amateur show so no-one gets paid, we all do it for the love of it. And we took £124,000 through the box office this year.
Our group was the first group to put on a show at Ffwrnes Theatre when it first opened, and that’s definitely become our home. But we’re very much a south Wales group and people travel from all over to see our shows. The theatre holds just under 450 seats and we always sell out and have people on the waiting list. Every year our proceeds go to local charities. We’re in the realms of £250,000 we’ve donated so far, every penny to local south Wales charities. We give whatever we can, and it’s usually in the £6-£10,000 mark each year. During lockdown, we know charities struggled so we were desperate to be able to put a show on again this year, having missed a couple of years.
This year we did with Peter Pan, which is a big name. Our show was also almost known as the Denny Twp Panto – he’s the local celebrity who was one of the founding members and did our show for years. He’s in his 80s and has had his health problems so this show was going to be the first without him in it. He’s always been the draw without a doubt, so I felt a huge amount of pressure. But everyone rallied round, and he came to see the show a couple of times too and loved it – which must be so difficult for him as he’d have been itching to get on stage with his friends. But that just shows what the group is like. It sounds cliché but it really is like a big family. There’s not many walks of life where you can go for a beer or a coffee with 40 of your closest mates, is there?!
This year was a massive eye-opener, a real learning curve for me, being the first as the stage manager, even after all the years of backstage work I’ve done. Three of the main characters fly so it was learning the flying rigs, the training, ensuring the same people who are authorised and licensed to use the flying rigs were there every night. So it was running the show and flying people. And then there’s the welfare and the rules around the young performers involved, the Covid protocols and so on. So there’s a lot but it’s a real team effort, and I’m massively proud of being involved.
In 14 years, there’s been so many highlights for me. From seeing members of our group go on to do big things on the West End, to the reaction from the audience when things happen, and the outstanding and really humbling reviews we get. Every year has its own highlights – this year we had a proposal live on stage – and we’re also an award-winning company, having won the best amateur pantomime in Wales and Northern Ireland a number of times.
But the main highlight will always be seeing the kids light up and be absolutely captivated. Panto is often a child’s first experience of theatre and to see the little ones coming to the show, dressed as Tinkerbell or Jasmine or Peter Pan, and seeing their enjoyment just makes it all so worthwhile.
Every show has that one spectacular scene or moment – whether it’s Aladdin on his magic carpet or Cinderella in a flying horse and carriage – and when that works and people leave genuinely not knowing how we’ve made that happen then we’ve done our jobs. We’ve created the magic. We’ve added to someone’s childhood, given back to the community, and that’s a great feeling.
PC Rob Green
I’ve played cricket since I was a young boy and have always loved sport. I started as a police officer back in 1995, but I had wanted to be a PE teacher when I was a boy. But I have still been lucky enough to have been involved in sport both within the police and away from the job.
Earlier this year I had the great honour of playing for my country. I turned 50 last summer, and in March just gone I was part of the Wales squad in the over-50s cricket World Cup in Cape Town, South Africa. It was an amazing experience. I got to see Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, while Cape Town itself was beautiful, with Table Mountain overlooking the whole city.
We compete as Wales at the Over-50s World Cup, rather than as England and Wales. And we really exceeded our expectations: we won the games we had targeted, against Namibia and the United Arab Emirates, but also competed really well against, and gave a few scares to, the higher-tier teams – we even beat Australia.
England won the tournament, while we eventually made it to the Bowl final. It was against the West Indies, and we lost by just one wicket – their last pair got the runs with about seven balls to spare, so it was a really close-run thing. All in all, I had about 19 days in South Africa. It was such a beautiful place to play, and especially to play for my country.
I have always played cricket for the force, going right back to my early days in the police, as well as for local clubs. I played for Landore Cricket Club from the age of 13, then Gowerton and Ynysygerwn, and for the last 12 years I’ve been player-coach at Pontarddulais. Predominantly I’m a batsman, but I do bowl a bit of off-spin and have kept wicket occasionally. My top score was 170 for South Wales Police against the Metropolitan Police at their home ground, Imber Court. I also played rugby for South Wales Police in the late 1990s and was outside half when we got to the final of the national police cup.
I am a member of the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club), and actually I’m also the MCC’s Wales area representative. I’ve played more than 100 games for the MCC and last summer I was their player-manager for a tour to Serbia. When I was there I met the British ambassador and the Serbian sports minister in Belgrade, and I even got on Serbian television! The MCC tours are all about helping to develop the game globally, and it was quite an honour for me to be player-manager on that one.
In the last couple of years I have also been involved in the Wales women and girls setup. There’s been a massive drive in the last few years to boost the standing of women’s and girls’ sports, and there are a number of female cricket professionals who have emerged recently who are real role models for women and girls.
It can all get a bit busy – but it’s my choice! I use my rest days and annual leave to play and coach, and doing so has allowed me to have some great experiences on the cricket field. I’ve been lucky enough to have played at some county grounds and even at Lord’s – for a Wales XI against Ireland in 2019 – when I managed to hit a six into the grandstand!
Despite all that though, I would have to say that my proudest sporting moment was playing for Pontarddulais alongside my son, when he was about 14 or 15. Both my children have followed in my passion for sports, with my daughter doing well in gymnastics and netball, and my son currently a professional footballer and having previously played cricket for Wales.
Paul Rees, Neighbourhood Sergeant in Gorseinon and Penlan
I spent my formative years growing up in the Caribbean. I could read and write with no problem but when I was nine years old an incident happened that would change my life forever.
When I was younger me and my friends used to play by the river in Grenada. One day I nearly drowned. The experience had been so traumatic it completely changed me, and I could no longer concentrate and began to dislike school. I eventually left.
Growing up in Grenada I always wanted to be a Police Officer, but I knew that dream was out of reach as I could not read or write. Instead, I started to train in Taekwondo. I knew nothing about martial arts but as time went on, I started to become good at it. This gave me the opportunity to visit the UK to compete in competitions. It was during this time I started to teach myself how to read and write, it was a struggle but I was determined.
Eventually I moved to Cardiff where a new chapter of my life began. I started working for Cardiff Council and my role was to deal with low-level anti-social behaviour and respond to intruder alarms. I was good at my job and often worked alongside Police Community Support Officers and Police Officers. This reignited my dream of working for the police but thought my lack of qualifications would make it impossible.
One day I had a knock on my door. It was a PCSO, enquiring about an incident in my street. I started asking her questions about her role and mentioned I had always dreamt of joining the police, but convinced myself it was impossible as I had no qualifications and still struggled to read and write. She encouraged me to apply and told me she would contact me when South Wales Police were recruiting for PCSOs. I had already applied previously and failed, but she offered guidance and support for the future. So many people made false promises throughout my life, I thought this would be another instance of that. Little did I know this one encounter would change my future.
Two weeks later the same PCSO and her colleague knocked my door and informed me the application process for PCSOs had re-opened. I couldn’t believe she kept her promise. The support from the PCSOs and my wife encouraged me to try again. Two weeks later I had an email inviting me for an interview, which I also passed. I was ecstatic and grateful for all the support I had received this far. My dream to becoming a PCSO was turning into reality.
Finally, the big day arrived for me to start the ten weeks of training and I could not wait. I was feeling confident and happy. All the setbacks could finally be put behind me and I could start my journey to becoming a PCSO for South Wales Police. Subconsciously I was still nervous about the fact I struggled to read and write.
As the weeks went on, I started to fall behind my colleagues no matter how hard I tried. I noticed it was taking me longer to write my notes and understand in class, which took a toll on my confidence and my ability to make it through the process. I reluctantly spoke with my trainer regarding my concern about being potentially dyslexic, as I thought expressing this concern would hinder my chances of continuing. Instead, I received so much support. The trainers slowed down in class, provided me with print outs on yellow paper and I was contacted by the Neurodiversity Network, where I was able to make arrangements to complete a dyslexia screening test, which came back as 98%. Although I knew there was a strong possibility of me being dyslexic, this score shocked me. Every day I went to class with a smile but deep down I couldn’t help but feel like this was the end of my dream. I decided to let my colleagues know I was dyslexic and was surprised when they all offered me support.
'Derek, you will get through your ten weeks. You will pass out and move on to become an amazing PCSO. We are all here to help you.'
Two of my colleagues invited me to study with them, and from that day we studied everyday for an hour. They taught me how to study and guided me throughout the entire process. My final knowledge check was due, and I can confidently say I passed. After all the years of dreaming, hours of studying, hard work and support from my trainers and colleagues, I could finally say I achieved my dream of becoming a PCSO for South Wales Police. I have been through a lot to get where I am now, and I can’t thank everyone that’s been a part of my journey enough. I couldn’t have done it without everyone’s support.
I would like to say a big thank you to all the wonderful people of South Wales Police for guiding me through.
Derek Johnson, Police Community Support Officer at #TeamSWP
I discovered I had bowel cancer after an accident I had, where I came off my bike and broke my collarbone. I was taken to hospital where I was given medication for the pain, but after finishing the course, I noticed I still wasn’t feeling right and I noticed blood in my stools.
My mother previously had bowel cancer, so I was aware of the symptoms and decided to talk to a professional. After having a negative result returned on my bowel cancer blood test, I was persistent with having further checks as I developed a further three symptoms. My GP checked me for IBS and IBD, which also came back negative. This answer wasn’t good enough as I knew something wasn’t right, so I requested further tests to be taken and was eventually sent to the hospital in July 2021, where I had a sigmoidoscopy to identify whether I had Crohn’s or colitis.
Before my sigmoidoscopy I asked to not be sedated for the procedure, as I was planning on driving back to work afterwards. During the sigmoidoscopy the doctor took a biopsy. The pain was so unbearable I fainted.
When I woke, I remember the doctor taking my hand and telling me I had rectal cancer (one of the four types of bowel cancer) at the age of 39. At that very moment, my whole life collapsed before my eyes. I didn’t want to accept it; I was in shock. My father had to come to the hospital to pick me up and I can remember apologising for having to put him through it again, after my mother had previously been diagnosed.
In August 2021, I started six weeks of IVF in order to harvest my eggs as I was aware that cancer therapies would make me infertile. Then in November 2021 I began five days of radiotherapy in the hope that it would shrink the tumour for the medical team to be able to operate. Two weeks later I started five months of chemotherapy, and it was horrific, I suffered with 53 side effects. Thankfully, the treatment had dramatically reduced the size of the tumour and they were able to perform the operation to remove the tumour.
Throughout my treatment I was determined to train harder than ever before, and just two weeks after my last chemo cycle, I cycled 40 miles of the Tenby Ironman route with my triathlon club. I was absolutely exhausted but I was determined to keep training.
In May 2022, I was faced with the nine-hour operation to remove the tumour and the lymph nodes the cancer had spread to. I initially had a temporary ileostomy (stoma) bag fitted to give me a chance to recover from the major operation.
During the recovery time, just five weeks after the operation I was back to full-time training. I competed in a relay aquathlon race with a friend from Pen-y-bont Triathlon Club. I was dreading it and was worried that my stoma would leak, but one of my triathlon friends who also had a stoma gave me so much support and advice. I completed the aquathlon and got fastest female swimmer that day, placing second overall. A few days later I competed in a solo aquathlon and again got fastest female swimmer, and a few weeks later I ran a 5K race in Cardiff and got first-placed female.
In June 2022 I had the amazing news that the cancer had gone, and I was in remission.
In the September, I was due to have my second operation, this time to reverse the stoma, the doctor said that due to my fitness, the scar tissue had healed so well that it was difficult to cut through the scar tissue.
A week before the operation, I completed my first triathlon at the Newport Sprint (after training for three years and all my races being cancelled due to the pandemic and my cancer diagnosis) and I completed the race within 1 hour and 20 minutes. I got the fastest female swim again and placed eighth overall. During the nine months of treatment, I trained throughout and only missed eight weeks of training.
I have already entered 11 races so far this year, one of them being the Swansea 70.3 Ironman. Cancer has made me a stronger person, both physically and mentally. I am so thankful that I am alive, and I still get the chance to smash my goals, make new dreams and start living again.
Bowel habits isn’t something people like to talk about but now I talk openly about it as I don’t want anyone else to go through the same experience, so I make sure people are aware of the symptoms and am an advocate for bowel and rectal cancer, especially amongst young people.
Laura Butcher, Detective Constable at #TeamSWP
Here are some of the signs and symptoms to keep an eye out for:
• Bleeding from rectum / blood in stool. • A change in bowel habits. • A lump the doctor can feel in the rectum or abdomen. • Unexplained weight loss. • Pain in abdomen or back passage. • Unexplained tiredness or breathlessness. • Unexplained bloating.
I first joined South Wales Police in 1987, and worked in administration, on the front desk, and in major crime in a staff role there. I retired in 2020, but came back in January last year on a part-time basis. But the bulk of my career was in that front-desk role, in Swansea Central Police Station.
Because of that job, talking was my life. But it was largely taken from me when I was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx.
I used to be a smoker. I developed a cough but I thought it was a smoker’s cough. I had a biopsy and they called me back in for more tests. But the tumour kept growing, and one day, in April 2014, it got so bad that I just couldn’t breathe. I threw a shoe at the wall to try and alert my father, as I couldn’t really talk or breathe. My father heard that, saw what was happening, and dialled 999.
When I went to hospital then, they told me that I had stage four cancer. I had the option of having chemotherapy then an operation, or go straight for the operation. I went straight for the operation. I was in hospital until the July, then began six weeks of radiotherapy in the August.
After the surgery, I had a voice valve fitted, and for the first four or five weeks I couldn’t speak at all, and instead I had to write everything that I wanted to say down. I remember my friend came in and brought two notebooks – one for me and one for her, so that we could communicate together. I had to remind her that my hearing hadn’t been affected!
My friends were so good to me, and my parents. I have to say as well, my managers – especially my line manager – were so good with me and with my family.
I was really conscious of the voice valve, especially at the very start. It has meant that I can’t do certain things – I can’t swim, and I have to be careful with what I eat. But it was keeping me alive.
I came back to work in March 2015, doing the same job on the front desk as before. There was some getting used to it, and people getting used to how my voice sounded now, but my colleagues would always come and help if I was ever having any trouble. The organisation was also brilliant – whatever I wanted or needed, I had. I also had great support from the medical teams who treated me, especially the Speech and Language Therapy team.
I really want to raise awareness of cancer of the larynx. To some extent it is a ‘poor relation’ among cancers, in that not as many people are aware of it. But I have been surprised by how common it is.
All cancers are bad, of course, but I want to try and bring attention to cancers such as the one I had, to raise awareness and to give some hope to those who might be going through something similar to me.
Personally, I couldn’t really have had cancer in a worse place, because my job was all about talking to people. I enjoyed swimming, and that went as well. But you learn to adapt. I was playing the tenor horn in a brass band and had to give that up – so I learned the drums instead!
It is life-changing, of course. But I can still talk – I can still shout! And I am alive.
Bev Cousins, Operational Business Administrator at #TeamSWP
When we lived in Ammanford I went to Brownies and then when we moved to Swansea my mum found me the first Girl Guides in Townhill and I went there until the leavers’ age at 16. It was amazing, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
It teaches you such valuable skills. So not only do you earn badges like sewing, crafts, cooking etc, but it also gives you a sense of pride in everything that you do. You’re treated equally and a as a valued member of the community regardless of where you’ve come from and your background.
I had so many adventures in those six years. But the highlight was being nominated by the West Glamorgan Guides and my group leader, to go to a weekend event where they were selecting Girl Guides for different jamborees to mark the millennium. I thought nothing of it, it was just a chance to make more new friends and get involved in different activities for the weekend. I just remember then though, getting a call and them to say ‘Elinor, we’ve selected you to represent the Welsh Girl Guides but also be part of the UK contingent to go to New Zealand for a jamboree’. At 13-and-a-half-years-old, to be told that was just incredible.
I was told that I would be the only Welsh Girl Guide to join four other girls from the UK, no parents just our group leaders, and we would fly out to New Zealand for three-and-a-half weeks for a Jamboree. We met up in the October and that was the first time I met them. I was the youngest, but it was nice because they took me under their wing. We did some kayaking and canoeing on the lakes in Peterborough. We flew out on New Year’s Eve then.
We flew via LA and then on to Auckland in the north, we weren’t there long as it was then a connecting flight to Christchurch. We were set up with host families in Christchurch for a few days, then as a group we travelled the South Island down towards Dunedin to the jamboree. It was the wettest summer they’d had in so many years, so needless to say, they blamed us from bringing the rain with us.
We had to choose different activities so I chose something that I’d never done before – white water rafting. What an experience! I was camping with girls from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Taiwan, all different nationalities. We were camping out in the wet, and then white water rafting in the rain. It is just something I will never forget. It really was the experience of a lifetime.
I kept in touch with my host, Rachel, and a girl called Penny and a few years later Penny flew to the UK to meet family so she came and stayed with us as well. We were able to return the favour and it was just so nice. And obviously now, via social media, I keep in touch with some of them.
I’ve not only got really fond memories but I 100% think it’s helped shape me into the person I am now. It taught me that I can achieve anything if I put my mind to it and I can be greater than I am in my own mind sometimes.
Being in the Guides really built my confidence. When you’re an adolescent and you have various struggles with school or bullying, which I experienced myself because I had really bad skin at the time, it can be tough. But then I was a bit like ‘ta-ra bullies, I’m off, I’ve been given this amazing opportunity and I’m going to jump at it and make the most of it. And you’re not going to hold me back.’
I’m now a neighbourhood officer, based in the same community where I did Guides. A lot has changed in the 20 years since I was a Girl Guide, but I’d say that the problem that the youths face today and what we faced then are not too dissimilar. Social media has definitely made it more difficult, but I want to use my experience and the things I’ve been through to work with the younger members of the community and to be that link for them, not just through my role, but as a human being.
I’ve been asked to go back and give a talk to my old group, and I’m definitely going to do that, and I hope I’ve made my old leader proud.
Elinor Pearce, PCSO at #TeamSWP
Before I became a Police Community Support Officer for South Wales Police, I went to University to study accountancy. I thought that was going to be my career, I was training to be an accountant in a solicitors’, then we reached lockdown.
The distance from being with my colleagues and working from home, doing the same tasks didn’t feel as rewarding as it had been when I was initially studying. I found studying difficult and found it hard to keep my concentration because I lost a lot of passion for it. I kept thinking back to when I was younger and what I wanted to do and thought to myself ‘is this the career path I wanted to be on?’
I reached thirty and felt I was still young enough to potentially change my career. I managed to get a good amount of experience in accountancy, so I thought ‘where could my future possibly go?’ So I applied to join South Wales Police in the HR department and gained a lot of experienced. From that role I was able to eventually transition to the role as a Police Community Support Officer.
I’ve been in the role for three months now and just reached independent patrol status. I really enjoyed the training.
My job is to engage with the community, dealing with low-level crime and Anti-Social Behaviour. I’m finding it really rewarding going around to various schools, PACT meetings, Neighbourhood Watches and engaging with the community but my dream would be to become a Police Detective. I’m really interested in the Fast Track to Detective Programme and eventually I want to apply to get on the course.
I’ve lived in the South Wales area for most of my life. It’s an area I know well and I’m from a background where I do a lot of social activity. I play lawn bowls, I’m part of a running club and used to play darts, so I have a good relationship with different clubs and communities in the area.
It’s something that is important to me and I want to continue to use my experience and grow in an area where I have a lot of passion to help in every way I can.
Thomas Pearson, Police Community Support Officer at #TeamSWP
I was 35 when I was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD.
An opportunity came up in work to apply for a degree programme. I didn’t finish my A Levels because I struggled so much later on in school, but I saw this opportunity and I just thought ‘now is my time’.
When the programme started and the work started to come in, I found myself looking at these essays and I just didn’t know where to start. I was a rabbit in the headlights. I had all these ideas in my head about what I wanted to say but I just couldn’t get them down on paper. I started to question whether I was able to do it. I was thinking, maybe it’s just not meant for me, maybe I’m not meant to have a degree, maybe I’m not intelligent enough.
I’d had years of feeling not good enough. Because at school you’re being compared by your ability to sit exams or get a certain grade and when you’re never quite there even though you’re working really hard – as hard as you can – it’s really tough and isolating.
I had a chat with my lecturer and told her I was really struggling. The university couldn’t have been more supportive. They said right, we’ll get you on this pathway, they got me set up with some direct support and I was asked to complete an initial screening tool called a ‘Do It’ profiler. This flagged up some issues around spelling and numeracy mainly, and then I had a proper assessment. Pretty much right away the lady who completed it said ‘yes you’ve obviously got some difficulties’, the main one being around Phonological Dyslexia. It was like a lightbulb moment.
In my heart I already knew. I knew I was dyslexic just because of the way my spelling is, the way my working memory is, the way I just seemed to have to work that much harder just to keep up with the pack.
But the ADHD diagnosis came as a massive surprise to me, truth be told. That was because of my understanding and my misconceptions of what ADHD is. It’s always that cliché image of a hyperactive child that can’t control themselves, whereas that’s not me. For me it’s my inability to focus on things that don’t light my fire, but if you give me a subject that I’m interested in, that I naturally gravitate towards, then I can hyperfocus on that and do probably a week’s worth of work in a couple of hours.
Those diagnoses turned out to be hugely empowering.
It’s helped me unlock how I understand myself and what I need to communicate to others to help me maximise my full potential. I’m starting to develop my existing coping mechanisms into my working day to make how I work that bit easier. How my mind is wired, competing demands can overwhelm me quickly so I’ve found ways to better manage that. For example, I now tend to do record meetings so I don’t have to go back to ask individuals to repeat what they said, I can listen in my own time. Something as simple as that makes me feel better about myself and, actually, it doesn’t impact my work either.
I’ve realised it’s okay not to have every single day where you’re smashing life and constantly being amazing. Those days when all you can manage is simply turning up, that’s also okay. I’m making a conscious effort to reprogramme how I see myself; very common traits of ADHD and dyslexia are that you have very unrealistic expectations of yourself. I’m a huge empath with others but I am my toughest critic – I love helping people find their own individual sparkle and show them the real difference they make to others. I’ve never been able to see that in myself at all. So there’s been a lot of self-reflection and I’m not afraid to admit I’m a work in progress.
More than anything for me, it’s been understanding who I am for my daughter. Because there is a connection with genetics with dyslexia, and I wanted to better understand it in case, at some point in the future, I also need to support her on that journey as well. So that was a huge driver for me; I’ve gone 35 years and muddled along without knowing any different. I’ve got to where I am, I’m extremely proud of what I’ve achieved – I’m a Sarge, I love my role, I love being a supervisor and I love nurturing and supporting my team and those around me, I really do. I’m also an accredited detective and have worked on complex murder and child abuse investigations. Some of my work with victims has received formal recognition and I firmly believe this is down to my empathetic neurodiverse brain.
I’m no expert on neurodiversity at all, this is all very new to me. But I feel it’s important to speak about it because I want to help break down those pre-conceived ideas people may have about dyslexia and ADHD. I had them myself. And the more I look into it the more it’s educating me so why wouldn’t I want to take that opportunity to educate other people too. Because again you’d be surprised by the amount of people who have come to me since I’ve spoken about my experiences, and said that they can relate to what I’m saying or that they see traits I talk about in their own child and that they’ve been questioning it and don’t know where to turn.
My advice to anyone who is struggling the way I was, would be to always speak up and ask for help. There are more conversations now than there ever has been around neurodiversity – which is great. Knowledge is power in any subject. There is a wealth of material out there via socials, charities, support groups, free webinars.
I am one of the fortunate ones who was able to get that diagnosis, albeit later on in life, so I do feel I should share my experiences in case it can help anyone else. I want people to know that it’s okay to be individual, in fact it’s fantastic. If there’s a little child sat there in school thinking I’m never going to amount to anything or I’m never going to be able to get to do my dream job; I want to be able to tell them ‘you can’. Yes, you’re going to have to work hard, probably harder than others and your path might not follow the traditional route, but you will get there. I know how isolating it can be when you don’t understand why you’re different or that you can’t keep up – I remember constantly questioning myself ‘Am I stupid or am I lazy?’ – so I just want to be able to offer that little bit of solidarity and say ‘I see you, I get you, I’ve been there. And it’s okay.’
Sergeant Myfanwy Beaumont, #TeamSWP
I train and coach for RSD, a gym, dance and cheerleading company based in Treforest Industrial Estate. I train twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays and then coach on Sundays.
My greatest achievement this far is winning gold at the World Championships last year. I was selected for Team Wales Cheerleading in September 2021 and was on a team called adaptive abilities, which is made up of disabled and non-disabled athletes. We trained once a week for four hours from September until April, when we went to the championship in Florida and won.
The entire process was filmed, and a documentary was released on BBC called Blood, Sweat and Cheer. I love that I’m able to go back and rewatch our process. It gives me the same feelings to what I experience in the moment and I’m able to take that with me for the rest of my life. Winning gold was my biggest highlight, you can’t get better than winning gold.
A lot of commitment goes into my dance and cheer career. I compete with my local team RSD, whilst also competing for Team Wales. My normal weekly routine would be to train on a Monday for three-and-a-half hours, then on Tuesdays and Thursdays for two hours. Once a month I would train for seven hours, where I would spend three hours on dance then drive straight to the gym to train for four hours in the afternoon, starting at half past ten and finishing half past six. Both training sessions were different but intense at the same time.
Jasmine Hughes, Operational Support Services and Property intern at #TeamSWP
I was diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s in 2020 when I was 38.
I’ve always been a bit shaky, especially when under stress but I was always told by doctors that it was anxiety. But then in 2019, my younger brother was diagnosed with it at 32, and my husband at the time said ‘I think you’ve got it too’. And it just sort of clicked.
I was under a lot of stress at the time – my dad was ill with terminal cancer – and again I was told it was anxiety. But then I managed to get referred to a consultant. My friend came with me, I had scans and things, that was in the February.
In the meantime my husband left and I was on my own with our two young children and still waiting to find out for sure.
Then we went into lockdown, so I was in the house on my own when I got the diagnosis over a Skype call in the April.
But weirdly it made me feel a million times better because I had an answer.
I’m now on medication and I feel like a different person. I think I had resigned myself to the fact it was probably Parkinson’s by the time I got the diagnosis and I think I would have been disappointed in a way if it hadn’t have been, because I still wouldn’t know what it was. Had my brother not been diagnosed I wouldn’t have even had an inkling, so in a way it was a blessing.
I got medication pretty much straight away and it made such a difference. Before, I’d try to hide my symptoms, I’d be shaking and I would avoid speaking to people and things because I was embarrassed and at times people had even asked if I was on drugs.
My degree is in music, and I perform in a brass band. Stress is the worst thing for Parkinson’s and at times before my diagnosis I would be physically trembling when I performed. I just always thought it was anxiety but as I got more and more stressed with everything that was going on I was in a hell of a state.
Parkinson’s is a condition that gets progressively worse. But right now, a lot of people say they wouldn’t even know I had it. Before I was diagnosed and on medication you’d probably have noticed it more. I would have looked like I was a bit frantic and on the edge, and really shaking. I don’t really know what the medication does, maybe just masks those symptoms, but it has definitely given me my confidence back. I’m still playing in the band and I feel so much more confident doing that now.
I didn’t know much about Parkinson’s before my brother was diagnosed. No-one else in my family had had it and even programmes about it tend to make out it’s just a condition that affects old people and mainly men.
So I did a lot of research, went on a course with Parkinson’s UK, and joined a local support group for young people with Parkinson’s on Facebook. I’ve got a lot of friends and a lot of support through that. A group of us meet up locally – it started off with four of us woman and now we’re up to six of us and my brother. We’re able to laugh at some aspects, find the light relief in our situations, you know like skipping queues at the theme park and things. We do have Parkinson’s in common so I don’t feel alone with it. But most of the time we don’t even talk about the condition, it’s just what brought us together.
To be honest, Parkinson’s has been the least of my worries over the last couple of years – as well as the diagnosis and my divorce and trying to be the best mum for my boys, my dad also died in December 2020.
I just knew I had to get on with it, carry on. You have to do what you can to help yourself and I refuse to just sit there and let it stop me living my life.
Heather Giles, Alarms Administrator at #TeamSWP
I got into it by accident, actually. When I was in university I was doing my field work at a place called Butser Ancient Farm in Hampshire, and a bunch of re-enactors turned up. I got chatting to them and learned what they were about and they asked if I wanted to stay a night with them. I did, and I’ve been hooked ever since because it’s just a whole different world, a really nice bit of escapism.
We stayed in this old Saxon longhouse with the fire roaring, and just dead silence outside, it was just really peaceful. They were doing Saxon living history so you had people spinning, you had people cooking, doing pottery, leatherworking, blacksmiths. This little community had come together and we just joined in.
That was back in 2016/17 and now I’m part of two different groups who do two different periods. We’ll meet up for socials on the weekends, go on trips to historical locations, visit museums all that kind of thing. You know all that lovely, nerdy stuff. But then we’ll have events, like one a month or two-three times a month if it’s the really busy peak season, and we’ll just go round the country. If you go to a castle, that will be your home for the weekend, you sit and talk to the public, put on a little battle for them, which is just quite good fun.
I’m part of the There’s the Ragged Victorians, which portray the 1850s working class. So we’ll go to places like SS Great Britain, and other Victorian sites - there’s been a few around Wales like Blaenavon Ironworks – and depict the grubby, lower classes of the actual workers of Victorian Britain. They’ve got me down as the Muffin Man, so I’ll be walking round with a bunch of crumpets and bits and bobs.
When you’re engaging with the public, you’ve almost got you two faces on. Some people will come up to you and ask a question about the history and they’ll want to learn about it. When you’ve got a little kid and they’re looking at you and they really believe you’re a grotty old Victorian, you play up to the part and you give them that hands-on history. If kids are interested in history, it’s all well and good telling them the facts, but being able to show them, bring it to life, show them how heavy something is, feel the clothes and how itchy the wool is – that gives a whole different dynamic to history that you just don’t get out of a text book.
The other group I’m a part of is a Saxon group. They’re the first group I went with and they do early Anglo-Saxon Britain. So, we’ll do battles, evenings with the Saxons so people can come along, stay in the house, listen to some readings of old English and that kind of thing. And then you’ve got the living history side of that, so you’ve got smiths, sewers, weavers. You could be wearing a piece of kit and you’ll be like ‘my top was made by her over there, my sword was made by that guy there’.
The societies are really good at helping you research and source costumes, and they do become yours, but you’ve also got these lovely, clever, crafty hands onsite and you can’t buy this stuff off the shelf. So you’ve got someone there hand-stitching a tunic for you, or stitch-counting the seams on the ruffs of your top in the Victorian gear. I’ve picked up some skills along the way; I enjoy doing a bit of leather working, so I can make bits like shoes and I do a bit of bronze work so can make some recreations of bits that you find in certain graves.
My family think I’m still a little bit odd. I remember when I used to live at home and I come back with bumps and bruises, smelling like a campfire, and they’d think ‘why on Earth are you doing this hobby’. But it’s one of those hobbies you can’t explain to someone. The only way you’ll get in to it is just by giving it a go, and then you realise what that escape is.
You haven’t got your phone, the only people you’ve got are the ones around you chatting, having a good laugh. You meet people from loads of different walks of life they’re all bonded by this one need to have just a hand-on experience, with like-minded people and nothing else interrupting that.
Lewis Beck, Heritage Officer at #TeamSWP
My role as an international assistant referee has taken me all over the world. Back in May last year I was selected to go to the under-17s Euro 2022 tournament, I’ve done three full international friendly matches, and I’ve even been to the Faroe Islands on four separate occasions!
Earlier this season I got to experience group stage football by officiating two games in the Europa Conference League – Žalgiris of Lithuania hosting Basel, of Switzerland, and then French team Nice against the Czech side Slovácko. It’s the highest level we’ve had as Welsh for officials probably for about seven years now. It was a fantastic experience.
I’ve been working for South Wales Police for just over a year, taking emergency and non-emergency calls from the public and despatching officers to incidents. It can be bit of a juggling act because the fitness requirements needed for officiating at that level is high, so for example in my lunchbreak, or on my break on a nightshift, at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning, I’m often in the gym – I don’t necessarily have other time to do it. I’ve got a young family and so it’s about balancing everything – that’s the biggest challenge of all.
I’m usually in an officiating team alongside Lewiss Edwards, who is a response officer in Merthyr. Because of the way our shift patterns fall, we work on the same team. We started refereeing together about 12 or 13 years ago – we both live in the same town, we grew up together and we’re best mates!
When it comes to travelling abroad, sometimes we don’t get much notice, but work have been phenomenal. I had been a bit worried before going to the under-17s European Championships, which was in Israel, because I needed three weeks off – but fortunately for me my supervisor and the room manager were fully behind it and allowed me to go despite being relatively new to the role at the time.
I enjoy the rewarding aspect of my job here, and it’s the same for refereeing. I try to let that outweigh the negatives, such as any abuse we might get. Generally you learn how to deal with those negatives, but there are occasions when it sideswipes you a bit and it does suddenly affect you, perhaps a few days later. But on the whole I always try to focus on the positives – I get to travel around the world representing my country, something not many people get the chance to do.
In terms of my work, every call is a different challenge. And then, when I’m on radios as a despatcher, every incident is a different challenge. You always come into something new and I absolutely love what I do. The refereeing side of my life has also helped give me a bit more of an insight as to how I can deal with tricky situations or where I need to react quickly to certain aspects of the job. My two ‘jobs’ in life go hand-in-hand, which does make the transition from one to the other quite smooth, and I am always developing.
A few years ago, Lewiss, me, and one other, we went out to Saudi Arabia and did about 15 games in their top league as full-time match officials. I was pinching myself a bit at experiencing that – I was living the dream. But as a part-time official, I still get to live it to an extent. And I love my job in the police, I really do – it gives me a new perspective on life.
John Bryant, Incident Risk and Resolution Officer
I put off going to the doctors for a long, long time and was pushed by my wife to go. I actually went for another reason, for high blood pressure, and then used that as an excuse to disclose to my doctor I was having discomfort.
It’s shellshock, you know. I was praying and hoping that it was down to a trauma – I was hit by a tennis ball many, many months before – and I put it down to that. I was praying it was always going to be that.
But when I actually plucked up the courage, put my big boy trousers on and went to see the doctor, I had an inkling because it had been there for so long. The thing for me is I could kick myself, how long it took me to go and sort it out and put all my embarrassment and everything else to one side.
It was devastating to be told ‘yes, we think it’s cancer’. It took my breath away because you just focus on that one word and you don’t hear anything else after that. All the rest – the blur and the medical advice they’re giving you – is just background noise and you just think of the worst.
And I certainly thought of the worst, planned my own funeral, what songs I wanted, making sure the family were okay, telling my wife where the insurance papers were and that sort of thing. Things that they didn’t want to hear. Particularly very early on when we didn’t really know what the prognosis was. And, you know, testicular cancer has a very high success rate of survival beyond five years; 98%, as long as it’s caught early enough.
But I always had that nagging doubt I’d left it too long. Certainly, I had a secondary cancer, probably as a result of leaving it too long.
It's the not knowing that caused me the anxiety and the stress and the emotions all over the place. I deliberately avoided Doctor Google because you can look at things on there and I’m a bit of a pessimist – I’ve been Welsh rugby fan and a Liverpool fan for years so I can be a pessimist. So I tried to avoid that and leave it to the professionals and trust in their advice and guidance and stayed away from that as best as I could.
But once I knew exactly what I was facing it was easier to focus. The success rates, the statistics are very, very positive. But I was in a very small statistical cohort; 1, I was 46 at the time so that was a bit of an anomaly because it’s seen as a young man’s cancer and 2, I was in the less than 10% I think it is, who require further treatment and I required the chemotherapy. And in my annual review at Velindre, they picked up that I had a para-aortic nodule that was deemed to be cancerous, so I had to go for further chemo and radiotherapy. But in my head I knew I could deal with it.
When I was going back and forth to Velindre, I was in for 40 minutes for my chemotherapy, other people were in for six/seven hours and that blew me away. And they were going in for multiple doses of that, and you know, that was tough. I was sat there, you know, a big burly policeman looking around and thinking ‘I’m lucky and I’m praying for everyone in there’. So I was quite humbled going there.
I always touch wood when people ask now, but at the moment, I’m three years into the journey, but I suppose because of the secondary chemotherapy they class me as just being two years clear at this moment in time, and I’m in that five-year window where I’m still at a slightly heightened risk. So I think five years is that magical figure which I’m looking at positively and I’m still in that cycle of surveillance, having the reassurance that Velindre are looking out for me.
I think throughout this I feel lucky, I feel blessed. I’ve had the support of a loving family around me, it was weird during Covid but it was actually a wonderful time for us as a family on reflection because we were together and that got me through it.
Steve Jones, Chief Superintendent at #TeamSWP
My blood disorder, Neutropenia, is genetic and means a lack of white blood cells to fight infections, which is caused by the bone marrow.
One in a million people are born with it. It’s so rare that I don’t know anyone with it.
As with any chronic illness, in time you learn the best ways to manage it. It’s made me who I am and I always knew I wanted to work in a role that helps people, and also in my spare time I raise awareness of the importance of people joining the bone marrow register.
I think of myself as one of the lucky ones because, for some people, a bone marrow transplant is the only chance of survival.
There is a chance that if I were to have a child that they would also have Neutropenia. I have thought about that, and I’ve spoken to my boyfriend about it, but he always says ‘if they did have it, they’d have the best teacher to deal with it’. And I think he’s right in a way. All the things I’ve learned along the way – you know, when I was younger, whenever I Googled it, the word cancer came up and, even though that’s not what I’ve got, that was really scary.
But treatments are only ever getting better, the NHS is only developing more. I used to have to mix my own injections together as a teenager from the medications I was prescribed, whereas now they come in a tiny little syringe, I just do it, dispose of it. So, if you think how much that’s developed in 15 years, treatments are only going to continue to improve.
Jen Collins, Senior Communications Officer at #TeamSWP
Serving in the Army for 24 years has led me to becoming the person I am today. I felt as if I had plenty of transferrable skills to come into the police. At some stages during my career in the Army I served in Regimental Policing. My role was to look after prisoners, take them back and forth, make sure they were fed and looked after during their detention period. The prisoners were military persons who had detention for crimes they would have committed during the Army. So the transferable skills were easy to slip into my current role.
I served 24 years to Her Majesty the Queen. When she unfortunately passed away in September 2022, I was fortunate to go to London to carry out vigil duties around the coffin. That was an amazing honour and privilege to be a part of and a defining moment in my career.
Sometimes I feel as though I am busy all the time. As a Police Community Support Officer, I engage with the community and work with them, along with councillors to make my patch a better place. I’ve set up various Neighbourhood Watches and invest into them by raising money through running half marathons. This money will then be invested into the community so it can be improved.
Warren Williams, Police Community Support Officer at #TeamSWP