Coleg y Cymoedd learner wins Young Student Pastry Chef of the Year

A teenager from Pontypridd has been crowned the UK’s top young student pastry chef after winning a national competition.

Eighteen-year-old Josie Wheeler, who is currently studying a Level 3 professional patisserie course at Coleg y Cymoedd, beat seven other budding patisserie stars from across the UK to take home the title at the 2022 Young Student Pastry Chef of the Year competition.

She scooped the top prize after impressing a star-studded panel of industry leading judges, including Bake Off the Professional’s Benoit Blin, with her creations at the grand finals held at the Hotel Café Royal in London.

Run by the Chef’s Forum, the Young Student Pastry Chef of the Year celebrates the very best young talent in the patisserie industry and is open to all pastry chefs currently in education.

Josie was selected from hundreds of applications as a finalist after submitting a photo, video and description of her own dessert creation. During the finals, she was tasked with designing and creating 12 portions of a ‘dessert on the go’ out of ingredients supplied on site.

Josie said: “The competition was an incredible experience and I’m so happy to have won. I’m really grateful to have met such amazing people during the competition, especially all the judges. I have always believed that if something doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you. Being challenged is important to developing your skills and I thought if I don’t challenge myself now, when will I?”

The competition had a stellar judging chef panel including names like Bake Off The Professionals judge Benoit Blin, pastry chef at The Dorchester in London, Michael Kwan, pastry chef at The Savoy, Daniel Pearse, and Pastry Sous Chef at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, Jamie Houghton.

Josie’s triumph saw her win a £400 voucher from Mitchell & Cooper, a range of products from HB Ingredients, a selection of cooking utensils and equipment , a HB Ingredients pastry demo at the college, as well as afternoon tea for two at The Dorchester.

Once she completes her studies, Josie aims to secure a position at a well-known patisserie restaurant where she will be able to experiment with new flavours and techniques and learn from experienced members of staff. She hopes that winning the competition will open the door to great opportunities in the future. 

Ian Presgrave, Hospitality and Catering lecturer at Coleg y Cymoedd, said: “We are incredibly proud of Josie for her fantastic achievements, which highlight the immense talent that we are producing at Coleg y Cymoedd within the catering department. Josie should take pride in herself for her success and dedication to the art of Patisserie.”

Dream comes true for Cymoedd Alumnus

Twenty year old Lucia Chiara Carpanini from Blackwood is a proud alumnus of Coleg y Cymoedd. From a young age Lucia had a passion for playing sports and when she left school she found that the college offered the perfect course.
The Level 3 BTEC in Sport was the ideal choice as it provided the flexibility for Lucia to train alongside her studies and gain the qualifications she required to progress to Higher Education.

The college boasts first class training facilities plus the support network of excellent coaches and tutors; many coming from professional sporting backgrounds. Eager to be part of the Women’s Football Academy Programme, which was well established at the college, the staff ensured Lucia’s studies did not suffer as they understood the pressure of elite sport and when she was on International Camps, they provided assignments etc., ensuring she kept up on her academic work.

The course gave Lucia a solid knowledge base from which to build upon and the confidence to apply to university. On completion of her course at Cymoedd Lucia enrolled on the B.Sc. Strength and Conditioning course at University of South Wales and graduates this year.

With her academic studies completed Lucia set about following her passion and secured employment as a Strength and Conditioning coach with the FAW Female Youth Academy.

Keen to help the next generation improve their physical development Lucia has also set up a successful Personal Training business ‘Limitless Fitness’ in Newbridge, Caerphilly. Her business encourages all ages and abilities to improve fitness, health and well –being and offers sport specific training.

Speaking about her time studying at Cymoedd, Lucia said “Not only did the course open my eyes to the possible jobs available within the sporting industry, but it also gave me the foundation and drive I needed to actually pursue my goal.
I would definitely recommend the college, I made friends for life and have so many unforgettable memories, which will stay with me for life. It was an amazing opportunity to play football at a high level alongside full-time education. I started off playing football at an elite level and now I’m a strength and conditioning coach at the same level – it is a dream come true”.

Coleg y Cymoedd scoops three awards at national food competition

Coleg y Cymoedd’s Scholars restaurant has been crowned ‘Restaurant of the Year’ at the 2022 Food Awards Wales, beating over 40 other establishments across the country to win the top prize.

The award is one of three scooped by Scholars at the national competition, with it also being named ‘Cookery School of the Year’ and ‘South East Restaurant of the Year’ at this year’s awards, which were held at a black tie event in Cardiff City Stadium.

The Food Awards Wales recognise and reward the successes of local professionals and establishments working within the Welsh food industry.

Winners are voted for by members of the general public from each region.

Scholars, based at the college’s Ystrad Mynach campus, has been praised for the quality of its food and service since it first opened in 1973. The restaurant is run by learners studying on Level 1,2,3 Professional cookery, Food service and Patisserie courses and currently boasts a five-star rating on TripAdvisor.

Hayley Hunt, Deputy Head at Coleg y Cymoedd, said: ”I am still speechless following the awards. Coming home with not one, not two but three awards, including the overall restaurant of the year is an incredible achievement. We have put a lot of investment into our catering departments and courses over the year so it’s great to see this recognised.  

“Our restaurants are run by our learners and college staff so it’s fantastic to see everyone’s hard work and passion rewarded.”

The awards follow a string of successes for Coleg y Cymoedd’s catering departments over the last year, with learners from the college having also received six awards at the 2022 Welsh Skills Competition.

The awards, which challenge learners, trainees and apprentices from across Wales to compete in a series of challenges related to their chosen sector, saw Coleg y Cymoedd bring home four golds in the competition. These included a gold in the Culinary Arts and Patisserie and Confectionary categories as well as two in the Inclusive skills restaurant service categories.

Coleg y Cymoedd joins forces with international partners to support wildlife in Wales and Namibia

Coleg y Cymoedd, has collaborated with a Welsh manufacturer and a number of international organisations to investigate how human activity is affecting wildlife across the world.

The global acoustic monitoring project to study wildlife using sounds from nature has seen Coleg y Cymoedd team up with semi-conductor manufacturer, Newport Wafer Fab, and Welsh TV and film professional, William Todd-Jones, alongside a network of creative and environmental partners; Wild Connect, Natural Resources Wales, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

The project will assess and compare levels of biodiversity – in this case the variety of wildlife – in both Wales and Africa, by monitoring the sounds of animals and ecosystems in the regions using specialist remote sound recorders called ‘Biophones’.

Environmental consultancy, Wild Connect, saw a need to develop a robust audio monitoring device – a Biophone – that both professional and amateur conservationists could use to record and analyse sounds from nature. The result is a device that is valuable to science in the area of eco-acoustics and a tool that can help re-engage the public with the natural world.

Within the wild, animals use sounds for a number of reasons, from communication and navigation to hunting and territorial defence. Analysing these sounds can provide ecologists and conservationists with rich data about the environment and animal populations, helping them understand where certain species live, how many there are and what they are doing. This can help to reveal behavioural and population changes as well highlight the impact of human activity on local wildlife.

As part of the project, staff and learners across Coleg y Cymoedd’s Engineering and Creative departments joined forces with Wild Connect, Newport Wafer Fab, CSA Catapult, and GX-Group to create 35 Biophones.

The devices will be placed around Wales and Namibia over the next year, allowing the monitoring and analysation of pan-Wales data, together with wildlife agencies gathering the data from the Namibian deployment.

The pilot study will put the device through its paces in extreme conditions – those being Wales, with its wet and cold landscape and Namibia with its scorching dry deserts.

The relationship with Namibia came as a result of project partner and environmentalist William Todd-Jones’ longstanding involvement with wildlife charities in Africa.

Both sets of recordings will be analysed to provide regional environmental insights and evidence of ecosystem diversity between the two areas. The findings will help reveal how the contrasting climates, human population levels, and degrees of development in Wales and Namibia affect the surrounding natural world in the two regions.

Alistair Aston, Creative Industries Coordinator at Coleg y Cymoedd and Project Lead, said: “The ‘Biophone project offers our creative and engineering learners a great opportunity to be directly involved in a project designed to make a difference. It is also a fantastic display of how art and science can be used together to tackle key issues affecting our planet.

“We are really looking forward to obtaining the recordings from Wales and Namibia which will help us to discover truly amazing things about our wildlife and how we can play our part in shaping the future of our planet.”

Iestyn Llŷr, senior embedded software engineer at CSA Catapult added: “This is a great example of Welsh companies working together to explore how a conceptual idea can be commercially developed. CSA Catapult aims to bridge the gap between research and industry within the compound semiconductor world, as well as inspiring the next generation of engineers through our Skills Academy and STEM programme. This project showcases the innovative ideas of aspiring engineers and how they are solving issues that will impact us all.”

Natural Resources Wales has provided expert advice and helped roll out the initial pilot testing for the Biophones at sites in Wales ahead of their arrival in Namibia.

Holly Butterworth, Specialist Advisor for Futures and Innovation at Natural Resources Wales said: “We are really pleased to support the Biophones study. We’ve worked with the team to provide test sites and connected them with field experts to explore potential applications for the device, particularly around biodiversity.

“It’s exciting to see the developments and it is wonderful to be part of a project that brings together so many experts and young people to achieve innovative technologies that will work to tackle the climate and nature emergencies”.

Established by the College, Wild Connect and Newport Wafer Fab to gather data on the impact of climate change and increasing urbanisation on wildlife and animal populations across the world, it is hoped that the findings from the project will help inform and shape key environmental policies in both countries.  

Following the completion of the project’s first phase in 2022, learners will be able to gain a hands-on learning experience using prototypes of the Biophones to record and analyse sounds themselves.  This will help deliver on the project’s aim to promote participation from the general public with science and art under the wider STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) initiative by the college and project partners.

Coleg y Cymoedd teams up with African football tournament to help stop animal poaching

Creative learners at a college in the South Wales valleys have made a giant rhino mascot for a football competition in Africa which is designed to put an end to animal poaching.  

Learners at Coleg y Cymoedd have spent the last six months tirelessly working on developing a six-foot rhino which will be used to kick off this year’s Rhino Cup Champions League. The mascot was flown out to Mozambique earlier this month in preparation for the tournament.

Founded in 2016 by animal charity, the Wild and Free Foundation, which works to protect wildlife and habitats in Africa, the Rhino Cup Champions League was created after representatives from the foundation travelled to rural villages in Mozambique, where a high percentage of young men were being arrested or killed after being involved in poaching rhinos.

With these villages bordering the Kruger National Park – home to 85% of Africa’s rhinos – the charity wanted to find out directly from the villagers what could be done to prevent poaching. Following feedback from the community members, the charity organised the football league to keep the men of the villages busy and motivated.

Originally launching with 12 teams, the cup has since grown to have 24 teams with over 600 players, coaches and managers. This year, following a two-year break due to Covid, the competition is expanding to cover Namibia and Zimbabwe alongside Mozambique. It is also developing several women’s leagues.

Richard Embling, lecturer on the BA Hons tv and film: prop making at Coleg y Cymoedd, said: “This has been an incredible opportunity for our learners, enabling them to use their skills and creativity to help with a very important cause. It has allowed them to gain experience dealing with a real client, where they have learnt about budgets, planning and deadlines.

“We are incredibly lucky to be involved in such an impactful project. Creating the mascot means that rhinos become less aggressive in the eyes of the community. We look forward to hopefully collaborating with the Rhino Cup Champions League again in the future.”

Coleg y Cymoedd became involved in the Rhino Cup Champion League after developing a relationship with Welsh puppeteer, performer, director and avid environmentalist, William Todd-Jones. The star linked the college up with Matt Bracken, Founder of the Wild and Free Foundation, after hearing about the foundation’s desire to create a mascot for the tournament.

As part of the project, six learners studying the prop making course at Coleg y Cymoedd developed three concepts which they pitched to Matt Bracken via video calls, who selected the final design.

The learners had six weeks to create the human-sized mascot out of ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) foam and nylon. Throughout the process, they had to ensure that the final product’s design allowed for adequate ventilation and vision for the person inside and was robust enough to travel. Since the Rhino Cup Champions League was introduced, the villages in Mozambique have seen a 90% reduction in the number of deaths and arrests of young men due to rhino poaching. In 2019, estimates suggested the cup had helped save 10 rhinos a month during the football season.

In the future, Coleg y Cymoedd hopes to produce further mascots for each individual country involved in the cup, which would lead to more hands-on experience for learners. The college is also looking to support the women’s league by getting its own women’s football team involved in the tournament.

Molly Morgan, a prop making learner at Coleg y Cymoedd who was involved in the project, said: “Working on this project has been an unforgettable experience, especially knowing that our costume will be used to make a real difference for both the rhino population and the local people in Africa.”


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