From the Valleys to Venice, these learners went the extra air-mile for their future career

A group of learners from South Wales have jumped on the opportunity to get an international perspective on their dream careers working with children, after swapping the Valleys for the Mediterranean to take part in an intensive work placement in northern Italy.

Keira-Lee Walker (18), Sian Lawrence (17), Gemma Lynch (35) and Leah Oakes-Bickford (18), have spent the last fortnight working abroad as part of a trip arranged by their college tutors.

Organised as part of the ERASMUS+ EU funding programme, the trip allowed the four children’s care learners from Coleg y Cymoedd to gain experience with a nursey and primary school in the Northern Italian town of Castelfranco Veneto, just 25 miles from Venice.

The two-week trip was an opportunity to experience different education systems and approaches to childcare and early years education. During the placement the learners gained insights into how the Italian curriculum and culture differs to the UK, while also sharing the child care skills they’ve gained in Wales.

Keira-Lee Walker from Aberbargoed hopes to become a teaching assistant after completing her studies. Reflecting on the opportunity she said: “I’d always wanted to experience teaching in another country and this trip has been incredibly eye-opening.

“It’s so interesting to see the differences in how early years are taught in Italy and I hope the experience working aboard with children from different cultures will help me to stand out when I finish college and look for my first job. Everyone at the schools was very friendly, I felt at home amongst the staff and felt like a part of the school despite the language barrier.”

Sian Lawrence, from Caerphilly added: “When I heard about the placement, I knew I had to apply. I saw it as the perfect chance to push myself and try something new. Going to Italy was lovely, but I think it’s the confidence gained from facing the challenge of trying something so different that will really benefit in my future.”

As well as gaining hands on work experience in Castelfranco, the learners also got the chance to explore some of Italy’s culture, taking part in sight-seeing trips in the region and visiting the nearby city of Venice.

Discussing the benefits of a placement abroad, mature learner Gemma Lynch, who hopes to work as a community nurse added: “If anyone else has the opportunity to study abroad, I would say go for it. You’ll learn so much, both professionally and personally.”

Back in Wales, each of the learners is studying for a level 3 Extended Diploma in Children’s Care, Learning and Development at Coleg y Cymoedd’s Ystrad Mynach campus. At the end of the year, they’ll have the choice of progressing to university or launching careers as teaching assistants, one-to-one support assistants, nursery nurses, or children’s holiday reps. 

Leah Oakes-Bickford, plans to take the university route to a career as a one-to-one teacher: “It has been so interesting to see how other children are taught in another part of the world. The experience has increased my skills working with children and helped me to build my confidence.” Angela Jones, course tutor at Coleg y Cymoedd’s School of Care said: “The trip to Italy was a great chance for Keira-Lee, Sian, Gemma and Leah to seize the opportunity to experience different styles of teaching and utilise the skills they have worked hard to develop here at the college.

“Experiencing different approaches to education in other cultures offers a chance to explore new practises which they can use in their future careers. It’s a skillset that is sure to help them stand out from the crowd and we will continue to offer our learners the chance to access similar opportunities that will to help them excel.”

Brave teenage amputee set for the States to compete in global cheerleading competition

A brave teenager who decided to have her own leg amputated after years of pain is set to fulfil her dream of competing in an international cheerleading contest after securing a place on Wales’ first ever paracheer team.

Carys Price, 18, from Ynyshir, will be heading to Orlando later this month to represent Wales at the 2019 Senior World Cheerleading Championships – a dream she has had since she was little girl.

The college learner, who is currently studying childcare at Coleg y Cymoedd, will compete in the paracheer category – a division of the sport designed for people who have disabilities.

Having started cheerleading at the age five, Carys’ goal had always been to compete on an international level, but her hopes were thrown into doubt two years ago following life-changing surgery.

Born with talipes, otherwise known as ‘clubfoot’, Carys suffered for years with pain and difficulty walking. After battling through 49 operations to correct the deformities, Carys was left in excruciating pain and, at 16, made the brave decision to have her lower leg amputated to relieve the pain.

Carys explained: “I’d had so many surgeries to try and correct my condition, but nothing helped, in fact my condition was getting worse. I wasn’t able to do things other children could do and I was living in constant pain, so I decided to go through with my amputation.

“Doing so was the best decision I’ve ever made. I’m no longer suffering, and I can do so much more now with one leg than I ever could with two. There were so many things I struggled with before, but I can now do them with ease. I’ve adapted to life really quickly – it was surprisingly easy to adjust, and I feel as if I have had an amputation all of my life. I couldn’t be happier.”

Determined to get back into the sport that she loves and refusing to let her disability stop her, Carys joined Team Wales Paracheer – a 20 strong team made up of both disabled and non-disabled athletes.

After impressing coaches with her skill, passion and determination, Carys has been selected to be part of the Welsh squad heading to the World Cheerleading Championships. The competition, held at Orlando’s Walt Disney resort, sees top cheerleading talent from all over the world come together. It will also be the first year that Wales has a paracheer team competing in the contest.

Carys said: “After my operation, I never had any doubt in my mind that I would get back into cheerleading. I thought to myself, if I could do it with two legs, I’d find a way of doing it with one. I managed to get back into it easily – it’s amazing what your body can do and I’m proud of how far I’ve come.

“I’m so excited to compete in the world championships. This has been a dream of mine for a very long time and now it’s coming true. I was over the moon when I got selected and I’m really looking forward to the competition. It’s amazing how many friends I have made through cheerleading and I’m happy that I’ll be sharing the experience with them.  We are all just going to give it our best!”

Alongside her cheerleading, Carys is currently studying a diploma in Childcare at Coleg y Cymoedd and has hopes to become a play specialist on a children’s ward, wanting to help children and young people who are in hospital.

“I love cheerleading, but I am also really looking forward to progressing my career. I want to give back to other children and help those that might be in a similar position to how I was growing up.

“The college has been fantastic supporting me with my cheerleading, allowing me extra time to complete assignments and permitting me to miss the first week back after the Easter break so that I can participate at the championships.”

Katie Sutton, Carys’ tutor and lecturer at Coleg y Cymoedd’s school of care, said: “We are very proud of Carys. She has worked so hard to get to where she is today and is an incredibly determined, positive person with a truly inspiring outlook on life. We are wishing her the best of luck representing Wales in this fantastic competition.”

Carys will compete as part of Team Wales Paracheer at the International Cheer Union (ICU) 2019 Senior World Cheerleading Championships on 25th April at the Walt Disney Resort in Orlando, Florida, USA.

Cymoedd ‘raises the bar’ for Skills

A celebratory event took place at Cymoedd’s Nantgarw campus in recognition of the success of over 80 Cymoedd learners who competed in a range of Skills Competitions throughout the year.

The college is delighted to have seen an increase of 107% in the number of competition categories that Cymoedd learners have competed in, ranging from Beauty to Construction.

In 2018, 61 learners registered for the Skills competitions, whereas this year the number registering has risen to 104, a welcomed increase of 70%.

The college has played a significant role in this year’s competitions, not only with the number of entries but also in hosting a number of the Skills Competition Wales events – Hair & Beauty, Construction, Inclusive Media and Culinary. The organisation for hosting such events has proved challenging at times but definitely worthwhile.

A number of college staff have also embraced Skills Competition Wales and completed the Expert Practitioner in Inspiring Skills qualification, congratulations to Ange Fitzgerald, Chris Summeril, Phil Gorman, Steve Robins, Sam James and Geraint Kettley.

Business Tutor Sam James, who teaches on the Ystrad Mynach campus said” It was a really good way to network with colleagues from other colleges, gain insight into skills competitions and develop my knowledge of them and how learners can benefit from the experiences”.

Cymoedd are proud of all the learners who took part in the competitions, they have been excellent representatives of the college, developing their 21st Century skills in readiness for their future careers.

One such ambassador for the college is Alys Evans who after completing her GCSE’s at school enrolled on a Level 2 VRQ in Professional Cookery and a Level 3 NVQ in Patisserie, at the Nantgarw campus.

Whilst at Coleg y Cymoedd Alys entered several Skills competitions and following her success at Skills UK she has been on a fantastic journey; training for the possibility of representing the UK at Worldskills in Kazan.

Despite her grit, determination and hard work Alys lost out to a learner from Hull College. However, this has not deterred Alys and she has recently travelled to Belgium with the Welsh Culinary Team. Alys is an excellent example of how the Skills competitions can open doors to new challenges; when she completed her studies at Coleg y Cymoedd she could not have dreamt of the future that lay ahead of her.

Congratulating the learners and staff Lesley Cottrell, Enterprise, Skills and Employability Manager said” The College is delighted to have seen an increase in the number of our learners being given the opportunity to take part in Skills Competition Wales,  it is encouraging to see many new categories added to the competitions, enabling learners from across the college to participate.

A number of our learners achieved top positions in their competitions and I’m delighted to say that overall the college secured 5 Gold, 3 Silver and 6 Bronze medals – an amazing result”.

Cymoedd host Learning Curve Celebrations

Family and friends joined learners at Coleg y Cymoedd’s Nantgarw campus to celebrate the achievements of over 100 learners who attend courses at the Aberdare, Rhondda and Nantgarw campuses and Learning Curve Centres, throughout Rhondda Cynon Taf.

The annual presentations celebrate the achievements for the academic year 2017-18 and include a range of part-time courses and units from the OCR Life and Living Skills qualification.

In his role as Compere for the event, Assistant Principal Jonathan Morgan,                                         welcomed the learners and their guests and thanked the staff at the college and Nicola Richards, Day Service Manager, Learning Curve Services and her team for jointly organising the event.

There was an air of anticipation in the Big Room as the learners waited for their awards to be announced; in front of a packed audience.

Proud Course tutors introduced their learners and congratulated them on their success, as they came forward to receive their certificates for achievement or 100% attendance.

After receiving her certificate Elizabeth Nichol who attends the Treforest Learning Curve said, “I liked just being there and getting my certificates. It made me happy”.

Presenting the awards, Andy Johns, Vice Principal at Coleg y Cymoedd congratulated the learners on their achievements and recognised the huge part played by their families and the staff. He remarked on the enthusiasm of those receiving certificates and wished them well for the future, whether it be further studies or work placements.

Al Lewis, Head of School for Vocational Access joined the celebrations to present the learners with their certificates for 100% attendance.

The event concluded with a lively performance of Bouncers and Shakers, by the Creative Arts & Media learners under the guidance of Course Tutor Angie Fitzgerald.

Following the event Ben Frelford a learner at Treforest Learning Curve commented “There was dancing and they were singing. It was good fun”.

Nicola Richards, Day Service Manager, Learning Curve Services said, “On behalf of Learning Curve Services, I would like to say thank you once again for all the accreditation provided by Coleg y Cymoedd. Individuals attending the part time courses, have an opportunity to increase their independence skills, by attending accredited courses, using excellent facilities and resources at the three campuses across Rhondda Cynon Taf. Once again all groups were very proud to receive their awards at the ceremony, also enjoying a superb performance by the Creative Arts & Media group”.

Co-ordinator of the Learning Curve classes at Coleg y Cymoedd, Rachel Wallen stated, “It was wonderful to see the Big Room filled with excited learners, who were receiving certificates, as well as many parents, guardians and carers who were there to witness their success. The presentation is an opportunity to see the full-scale team effort from both staff at the college and Learning Curve Centres within Rhondda Cynon Taf.

Caerphilly plumbing apprentice’s victory in national competition

A college learner from Caerphilly has won a national contest to be crowned the UK’s top plumbing apprentice.  

Nineteen-year-old Lewis Blakely, from Caerphilly, has bagged himself the top prize at the grand finals of this year’s HIP UK Heating Apprentice of the Year competition, which aims to find the most talented young tradespeople in the country.

Beating off stiff competition from across the UK, Lewis, who is currently studying a Level 3 plumbing diploma at Coleg y Cymoedd’s Ystrad Mynach campus, came out on top after a close contest held over two days in Cheltenham.

Putting plumbing skills to the test, the challenging event saw seven winners from each of the regional heats have just 12 hours to install a boiler, shower, toilet, radiator, pipework, and underfloor heating.

Lewis’ triumph saw him take home a cheque of £1,000 as well as a vast collection of professional tools and equipment. Coleg y Cymoedd’s plumbing department also received £1,000 as a result of his success.

Speaking about his victory, Lewis said: “Going from the Welsh heat to the final was a huge step in terms of the difficulty of the challenges and level of ability tested. The tasks were tough and all of the other finalists’ work was exceptional, so winning the final title came as a real shock to me.

“I did put a lot of work in ahead of the competition and I am so glad that it paid off. My tutors and employers were very supportive. Winning the competition has really boosted my confidence and I’m excited to continue my career in plumbing. I’m hoping to become a full-time gas-engineer once I finish my apprenticeship and I think that this award will help me immensely.”

The talented apprentice landed himself a place at the finals after winning the Welsh regional heat held at Gower College Swansea in February.

With places to enter the competition limited to one student per campus, Lewis also faced strong rivals from within Coleg y Cymoedd to secure his spot at the Welsh stages. Currently, the college trains over 200 plumbing learners at its four campuses in Nantgarw, Aberdare, Rhondda and Ystrad Mynach. 

As a Level 3 student and apprentice, Lewis’ time is split between college-based learning at Coleg y Cymoedd and his apprenticeship with Aberdare-based facilities management company, Blue Hill Facilities Management.

Lee Perry, plumbing lecturer at Coleg y Cymoedd: “We are immensely proud of Lewis. Winning the awards is a huge achievement and is testament to his talent, hard-work and dedication to his profession. He has put in a lot of work to prepare for the finals and is a very deserving winner.

“As a college, we have a good track record with the awards. Lewis is our fourth finalist in the last five years, and we have had five learners compete in the last six years, which demonstrates the talent of learners and teaching we have at the college. This is very pleasing as we work hard to demonstrate the highest standard of plumbing to our learners, so it’s amazing to see so many of them thrive.”

Learners Voices Heard at Conference

The Annual Coleg y Cymoedd Learner Voice Conference took place recently at the Nantgarw campus to discuss a range of issues relevant to the learners.

Over 40 representatives from the Learner Voice Councils from all four campuses;-Aberdare, Nantgarw, Rhondda and Ystrad Mynach were joined by staff, to reflect on the topics identified by the learners.

The Learner Executives were involved in setting the programme for the event; this included an ice-breaking quiz provided by Friends of the Earth, interactive Workshops, a range of presentations and plenty of opportunity for lively discussion.


This year’s Conference topics included:

Aberdare campus - Topic title: Digital Literacy Survey

Nantgarw campus – Topic title: Mental Health

Rhondda campus – Topic title: Work Experience

Ystrad Mynach – Topic title: Drugs

Opening the event Chair of the Conference Kian Griffiths welcomed those present and explained the format of the day, including the lunch break; when a range of refreshments including pizza would be served. Liam Francois then introduced the Launch of Walkers Crisps Recycling Initiative highlighting how important it is for everyone to take ownership of the care of our planet.

Closing the event, Principal Karen Phillips said “The college is always keen to hear the opinions of our learners and we value the time spent listening to their views. I’d like to thank the NUS who support the Conference, and also our staff for the guidance and encouragement they give our learners. The Learner Conference was definitely the highlight of my week – the learners were brilliant”.

Rhondda learner goes the extra mile to give back to Cancer Centre

A college learner from the south Wales valleys has helped raise £12k for Velindre Cancer Centre after taking part in a fundraising trek across the ancient kingdom of Nepal in aid of the organisation.

Eighteen-year-old Jake Phillips, from Miskin, Rhondda Cynon Taf, took part in a five-day hike across mountainous and remote land in the region to raise money for the Centre.

Taking on the challenge with his father, Simon, Jake wanted to thank the Centre for the outstanding support and treatment it had provided to a member of his family over the last year.

Joining 50 other trekkers for the trip, the pair spent 6-8 hours trekking through steep and rough conditions every single day.

The engineering learner, who is studying a Level 3 Certificate in Engineering at Coleg y Cymoedd, found out about the trek through comedian Rhod Gilbert, who is a family friend and patron for the Velindre Cancer Centre.

Speaking about his motivation to join the trek, Jake said: “Velindre provided amazing support for my family through a very difficult time and we wanted to give something back to them for all of the hard work they do. When we learnt about the trek, we felt it was the perfect way to raise money for the Centre and to show how thankful we are.”

To prepare themselves for the challenge lying ahead, Jake and Simon completed numerous treks in the months leading up to the trip away. That included visits to the Brecon Beacons, carrying out walks of various lengths and steepness, and climbing South Wales’ highest mountain, Pen Y Fan, several times. The pair also joined the gym to work on their fitness, with a focus on improving their endurance.

When discussing the most challenging elements of the trip, Jake said: “Trekking was already a hobby for both of us, but we’d never taken on anything like this. The intense Nepalese heat was an element that was hard to prepare for and definitely made the walk more difficult, especially combined with having to carry heavy bags for the duration of the trek.

“A highlight of the trip was when we reached a breath-taking valley. At the beginning of the trek we were each given a colourful Nepalese prayer flag and we all decided to tie them together and hang them across the valley. It was a very emotional moment and reminded us all of why we were there and the worthy cause behind the trek.”

Jake and his father have raised £12,000 for Velindre Cancer Centre, which will go towards funding the vital treatment that it provides for cancer patients.

Jake now plans to participate in more trips organised by the centre and hopes to continue fundraising for cancer research.


Wellington Street
Rhondda Cynon Taff
CF44 8EN


Heol y Coleg
Parc Nantgarw
CF15 7QY


Rhondda Cynon Taff
CF40 2TQ

Ystrad Mynach

Twyn Road
Ystrad Mynach
CF82 7XR

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