We look out for each other – inspiring way one community is pulling together

The Afan Valley near Port Talbot is a beautiful place to live, but it’s not without its problems, as resident Simon Matthews knows only too well.

“We live in a beautiful village and we do see a lot of tourism,” he says. “We’ve got mountain biking trails and a lovely country park. But it’s an ageing and declining population, with few job opportunities. At the height of coal mining, 3,000 people lived here; now it’s 1,300.

“Over the past few years, though, we’ve seen retired people moving to the village because they love the scenery and the friendliness.”

Simon runs Gwynfi Miners Community Hall, which offers practical support to the local community, including a food bank, and initiatives that help people’s mental and physical health, tackling isolation and loneliness.

It’s just one of the many projects People’s Health Trust supports using money raised by Health Lottery Wales. Every time you play The Health Lottery, you’re helping to raise money for good causes, providing assistance with issues such as dementia, loneliness, learning difficulties and mental health.

“It’s a close community and we’re quite resilient, but there’s a lot of deprivation. The nearest town is six miles away and there’s inadequate public transport,” says Simon.

“People are limited by when they can get to work, or have trouble getting to hospital appointments.”

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The closure of the local school was another blow for the community, and it means pupils now have to travel 12 miles every day.

But people like Simon understand what their communities need – and how to wisely spend the money they get. Thanks to £15,000 of funding raised through The Health Lottery, they now have a project worker to organise activities for those who need them, including a Men’s Shed, aerobics and dance classes, and a children’s cinema.

“During the Covid pandemic, a group of volunteers set up a befriending and shopping service, open to anyone who was isolating or had no family or friends nearby to help them out,” says Simon.

“Now we offer coffee mornings, a walk-and-talk group and a community cinema to especially help older people who are isolated. If we haven’t seen someone for two or three days, they’ll ask around and then contact them. We’re a community that looks out for each other.

“Some families are feeling depressed from being at home for so long, and some have lost their jobs. So now the cost-of-living crisis has hit, they’re really struggling.”

The community is facing tough times, but without the project receiving funding through The Health Lottery, things would be even tougher.

“It’s making a massive difference,” says Simon. “Of course you might win when you play The Health Lottery, but even if you don’t, that money is helping us target additional activities where they’re needed, supporting people’s mental health and preventing isolation.”

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