Aspiring young female netball and rugby players invited to free taster sessions at leading Welsh college

Coleg y Cymoedd is calling on girls aged between 14 and 18 who have a passion for sports to attend free taster sessions designed to give them an insight into what it could be like to study them full-time at a specialist female academy.

Coleg y Cymoedd is hosting eight two-hour taster sessions in rugby and netball throughout July and August ahead of the launch of its dedicated female sports academy in September, which will provide professional training and tutoring alongside academic qualifications.

The new Female Sports Academy, which will run in partnership with the University of South Wales, will offer learners aged 16 to 18 practical and theory-based teaching from leading strength and conditioning experts as well as experienced coaches. These include Wales women’s rugby under 18s head coach, Catrina Nicholas McGaughlin, former Welsh rugby union player, Gareth Wyatt, and Celtic Dragons netballer, Shona O’Dwyer.

The taster sessions will give young girls in South Wales the opportunity to see what it could be like to follow their sporting dreams and attend the Academy themselves. They will include an introduction into their chosen sport, speed and agility fitness training as well as strength and conditioning advice tailored specifically to the female body. Learners will also have access to Coleg y Cymoedd’s brand new state of the art Sports Facility Centre of Excellence which is due to open in May at its Nantgarw campus.

The summer tasters have been added following the popularity of an initial four sessions run by Coleg y Cymoedd in February, which saw more than 90 girls attend each session.

Commenting on the success of the initiatives, Rachel Hughes, head of the Female Academy at Coleg y Cymoedd said: “It’s been amazing to see so many passionate girls attending these sessions – really getting stuck in – and leaving feeling excited about their futures. We had initially only planned five sessions, but due to the demand we’ve now upped the total to 12.

“It feels like an exciting time to be a woman in sport, as our leading coaches and trainers can show these girls how their bodies respond to different types of training tailored to them rather than providing them with the male physiologically focused training plans we so often see.”

Alongside their two years of sports training at the college and local clubs, learners joining the Academy can also study higher education qualifications such as A Levels, diplomas and BTEC, at Coleg y Cymoedd in any subject they choose.  They will also have access to mental health and wellbeing support from the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS) – a programme funded by national sport governing bodies designed to help athletes aged 16-plus find a happy medium between their education and sporting development, to help the future stars of national and professional teams.

Rachel added: “Essentially, we wanted to make sure that we’re evening out the playing field for boys and girls as best we can. We want girls to have the opportunity to study art, maths, or anything they enjoy and are good at while receiving leading training in their sport and getting support on how to balance all these elements healthily.

“At Coleg y Cymoedd, TASS learners follow a timetable that prioritises a healthy work-life balance, as we consider students’ academic deadlines alongside their sporting commitments. The learners take their classes together to build both an on-pitch and off-pitch community, contributing to team morale and support.”

The sessions will take place on the 13th April (USW Sports Park), 26th & 28th June, 3rd & 5th July, 21st, 22nd, 29th & 30th August (Coleg y Cymoedd, Nantgarw) between from 9:30am – 12pm. Any girl aged between 14-18 is welcome to attend the taster sessions. For more information on Coleg y Cymoedd’s Female Academy and the netball and rugby taster sessions, please contact Rachel Hughes at

My Experience Working at Coleg y Cymoedd: An Armed-Forces Friendly Workplace

We’re proud to be an Armed-Forces-friendly workplace.

As silver award holders for the Defence Employer Recognition Scheme, we welcome job applications from veterans, Reservists, and those with military-serving relatives. These staff members immediately benefit from membership in our Armed Forces Network, plus an extra 10 days of paid leave per year.

In a bid to shine a light on our current employees benefiting from the scheme, we asked Employer Engagement Officer, and Royal Air Force veteran, Paul Rees, to share his experience of working for Coleg y Cymoedd.

Tell us about how you joined the British Armed Forces

After leaving school at the tender age of 18, I had a few years of not really knowing what I wanted to do. Joining the police force was something I aspired to, but due to a minimum height requirement -which I didn’t reach, no matter how much stretching I did – there was no chance for me there.

On a shopping trip to Cardiff with my mam, I walked past the career’s office for the Army, Navy, and RAF, and decided to join the Royal Air Force. Talk about impulsiveness! I signed up for six years in 1990 – just in time for the First Gulf War.

How did you find your time in the Royal Air Force?

My 6 years in the RAF were exceptional. I travelled all around the world and gained qualifications whilst doing so. Like all good things, however, it had to come to an end in 1996, when my job – the one I was doing in uniform – was civilianised.

What was it like to leave the military?

My experience of leaving the Royal Air Force was not great. The worst thing was that I had become institutionalised… everything was done for me.

Before, I knew that my room and food would automatically come out of my pay… I had medical and dental on base, and what money I had left was mine to do with what I wanted. When I left the ‘military bubble’, I had no job and no money. Then, after six years of independence, I returned to live back home with my family.

You are supposed to go on a resettlement course, which would have helped me gain skills to help cope with the transfer back to the real world, but the only course I was offered was in Computer Maintenance, something I had no real interest in. I left with a computer that I had built, and no real prospects of getting a job in that industry. 

How did you come to work for Coleg y Cymoedd?

Like everyone in the Upper Rhondda in the mid-90s, I had my time in Griffin Windows, following on from one month claiming benefits, until I started a sales job in Trustmark Stationery in Talbot Green.

I found sales easy, and soon became a Sales Rep. Sales would be my life for the next 14 years. I took on various managerial positions working with local independent companies, to multinational companies like Asda and Focus.

Whilst at Focus, I began to realise I was not getting any younger, and my role was due to be made part-time. Coleg Morgannwg were looking for part-time exam invigilators, so I applied for weekly roles on various campuses, and soon realised that I could do this type of work.

And you weren’t just an employee, but a student here, too?

Yes. It was at this point that I enrolled onto an Access to Humanities Course to become a Social Worker. However, I was being taught English Literature by Lesley Roberts who ignited a passion for Shakespeare in me. From this, I soon decided to gain a degree to teach at the college.

In the meantime, another role had been made available within the college which suited my skillset, so I applied to become an Employer Engagement Officer (EEO) as part of the European Funding Project. This is what I still do today.

Whilst in post, I’ve had the opportunity to undertake a PGCE through the college and gain my teaching degree.

Describe your experience working for Coleg y Cymoedd

The support offered by the college was invaluable in achieving my teaching degree. I used it to continue my progression, and gained an Assessor Qualification, which I used to teach as part of my continuing education development to benefit the college.

…and as a member of the Armed Forces?

I would say that both myself and the college has benefited from me being a member of the Armed Forces.

In my time here, I have used transferable skills from my RAF experiences to benefit both students and staff.

Coleg y Cymoedd has given me the support and confidence to pursue other sides of my job role and have resulted in me becoming an Armed Forces Champion, to encourage other members of the Military Family to share their experiences.

We’ve developed a network where we can not only support each other, but help recruit other service personnel. They may not have considered the FE college an environment as rewarding and accessible as it really is.

We hope to see the college Armed Forces Network grow and to increase our provisions for armed forces veterans and Reservists as part of our DERS award in the future.

Discover workplace benefits through our current job vacancies:

Coleg y Cymoedd learners receive boost to educational and employability skills thanks to Welsh pilot scheme

30 students from Coleg y Cymoedd are benefitting from a new online support programme designed to bolster their applications to jobs and Welsh universities.

Level 3 Health and Social Care learners from the Aberdare, Nantgarw, and Ystrad Mynach campuses are participating in the year-long Reaching Wider Project, where they receive 1:1 online mentoring from undergraduates studying in Wales.

Established following a recommendation by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) last year, the project aims to ‘expand [the] horizons, and grow the confidence, skills and aspirations’ of learners in Welsh FE institutions, who have been found to be underrepresented amongst university applicants.

Ultimately, the project hopes to present equal opportunities to learners aged 16-19 who live and study in communities identified as a priority by the HEFCW.

The Project’s six areas of focus aim to:

  • Support mentees to increase their confidence when transitioning from FE to HE studies or their chosen career
  • Raise the aspirations of, and motivate learners to progress to a higher level of study
  • Promote lifelong learning and encourage learners to fulfil their academic potential
  • Develop vocational and soft employability skills and increase career aspirations
  • Promote equal opportunities and inclusive approaches to learning
  • Ensure a focus on Welsh identity and culture

Through the securely monitored Brightside Online Mentoring Platform, the learners chose their mentors from a list of trained volunteers who are taking part in the mentoring scheme through their university.

Izzy Reynolds, Project Officer for the North and Mid Wales Reaching Wider Partnership, explained: “The project is a great opportunity for learners to access 1:1 support from undergraduate mentors who are also studying at institutions in Wales. The mentors have been able to guide learners through the process of deciding what their options are, and how to go about making their goals become a reality.”

The Project’s benefits have already been felt by Coleg y Cymoedd learners, who are preparing to make applications to employment or study University degrees next September.

Commenting on the experience so far, Ystrad Mynach learner, Kayleigh-Marie Phillips, said: “I have really enjoyed being able to ask questions to someone who has experienced university and the application process first hand.”

“Their replies are always full of information, including opinions on different universities and advice on how to best balance your work and your personal life.”

A learner from Nantgarw added: “I have found that I always have a quick response from my mentor. She regularly sends messages to check in. We have discussed options for university and she has sent links to anxiety support and understanding the UCAS point system. She’s pointed me in the direction of support for work placements and has shared very honest accounts of her own experiences too.”

The mentoring sessions will run up until 5th June 2023, when the scheme will be reviewed and rolled out to the next set of students in September.

UCAS, Careers Support Administrative Co-ordinator for Coleg y Cymoedd, Samantha Hobby, hopes that more learners can benefit from the scheme in the years to come: “This fantastic programme has really raised the aspirations of our students who are looking to apply to university. Sometimes they’re the first in their family to apply, and the application process can be very daunting.”

“We’re really hoping it will be extended so that more students can experience this. We have found they appreciate the opportunity to have frank discussions with their peers and get insider information on university life. As the mentors are still undergraduates, they can easily recall what they wish they knew when applying for university, and are able to share this with a new set of applicants so that they get the head’s up.”

To find out more about Coleg y Cymoedd’s Futures provision, visit: Futures Team – Coleg y Cymoedd

Two Coleg y Cymoedd learners awarded first-team squad shirt numbers at Salford Red Devils

Two graduates from Coleg y Cymoedd’s National Development Academy, run in partnership with the Welsh Rugby League and the Salford Red Devils, have kickstarted their dreams of playing rugby professionally after securing contracts with the Super League team.

Joe Coope-Franklin, 21, and Billy Walkley, 18, have been awarded shirts on the Salford Red Devils’ first team squad for the 2023 season.

They are the first players from the Academy to break into the Red Devils’ Super League team since it was set up just over two years ago.

Joe, from Oakdale, initially joined the Salford reserves’ squad in 2021 and has already made his Super League debut, having appeared in Salford’s final game of last season. The centre now wears shirt number 29.

Billy, a half-back or full-back from Caerphilly, joined Salford’s U18s team in 2021 and was in the reserves last year, finally being awarded shirt number 30 for the first squad this season. He has also been a Wales U17 and U19 international, having played in last year’s European Championships, and was named in the Wales Rugby League Team of the Year for 2022.

Joe said: “Being selected for the Salford Red Devils’ first-team full-time is a great achievement and something I have been aiming towards since I started training at Coleg y Cymoedd.

“Becoming a professional rugby player has always been a dream of mine and being part of the Rugby League Academy at Cymoedd, which had an established partnership with the Salford Red Devils, helped to make that dream happen.

“While at the Academy, Stuart Wilkinson, Head Coach at the Red Devils, travelled down to Wales numerous times to coach us and teach us the fundamentals of Rugby League. He sparked my love for the game and made it clear to me that it was the path I wanted to take. With the help of the Coleg y Cymoedd and the Salford coaches, my ambition to be a professional rugby league player has come around sooner than I thought.”

Billy added: “I’m thankful for the opportunity given to me to join the first team which I wouldn’t have had if it wasn’t for the support I received from Coleg y Cymoedd’s Development Academy. The Academy benefitted my rugby league understanding and skills and opened up the door for me to join the reserves team, which really took my game to the next level and helped me get to where I am now.”

Hosted at Coleg y Cymoedd’s Ystrad Mynach campus, the Wales Rugby League National Development Academy is the only Rugby Football League officially accredited dual academy in Wales.

The Academy offers aspiring rugby players elite coaching from the Salford Red Devils, Wales Rugby League and Cymoedd’s expert team of coaches, while also enabling them to study a BTEC Level 3 Diploma in sport. Players at the academy split their time between practical training and academic studies, learning about a variety of topics including sports nutrition, sports injuries, fitness testing, match officiating, anatomy, and physiology. It also provides learners with a direct pathway to achieve their dreams of playing in the Super League.

Ian Blease, director of rugby and operations at the Salford Red Devils, said: “Our partnership with Coleg y Cymoedd and the Welsh Rugby League Academy has been an immense success for the Red Devils so far.

“When the head coach, Paul Rowley, and I, went down to Wales in 2021 for our first training session, we could immediately see the talent and ambition that was already there. I share my sincere thanks to everyone involved for all their efforts so far in making this partnership flourish and become the success that it has been up to now – long may it continue.

“As the partnership continues to grow, everyone across all parties involve is looking forward to seeing more Welsh-born Super League players come through the WRL Development Academy at Coley y Cymoedd, especially as we leadup to the 2025 Rugby League World Cup.”

For more information on the academy, visit

Two Coleg y Cymoedd learners make the finals of prestigious UK chef competition

Two young bakers from the south Wales valleys have made it to the finals of a national competition designed to find the UK’s top young pastry chef.

Coleg y Cymoedd learners Mali Leese, 18, from Merthyr Tydfil, and Jack Morris, 18, from Caerphilly, are the only Welsh finalists in this year’s Chef’s Forum Student Pastry Chef of the Year competition.

The pair will compete against each other, as well as six other talented young chefs from across the UK, at a grand final in West London College on Wednesday 10th May, to secure the coveted title of top pastry chef.

They will have to impress a panel of 11 judges, made up of some of the country’s best professional pastry chefs, including TV stars Cherish Finden and Benoit Blin, from Channel 4’s Bake Off: The Professionals.

Now in its third year, the Student Pastry Chef of the Year competition is open to students and apprentices currently studying hospitality or catering courses or apprenticeships. Developed in response to the current shortage of highly skilled young pastry chefs, it aims to showcase the great young talent present in UK colleges and universities.

The winner of the competition will take home a range of prizes including a voucher from commercial catering equipment supplier, Mitchell & Cooper, a £300 voucher from Wedgwood, and a number of products from Henley Bridge – a leading provider of ingredients for baking and pastry chef professionals.

During the final, Mali and Jack will need to design and create a plated dessert, which must use a specific mold and include passionfruit puree, for a taste and visual assessment by the expert judges.

Their achievement making the finals comes after another Coleg y Cymoedd learner, Josie Wheeler, won last year’s competition, inspiring the two to apply, and marking a strong year of catering success for the college.

Jack, a current level 3 patisserie learner at Coleg y Cymoedd’s Nantgarw campus, is no stranger to competition success, having won gold at last year’s Skills Wales Patisserie and Confectionary contest last year.

He said: “I have always loved baking, having grown up learning how to bake with my nan, and I am really enjoying my patisserie course as it’s something I am passionate about. Winning a gold award last year at the Skills Wales competition was a real highlight and I feel it was good practice for me ahead of the student pastry chef awards. It has helped set me up and put me in a more confident position for them and I hope I can continue that success.”

Mali, who is currently studying a level 3 professional cookery course at Cymoedd’s Aberdare campus, has dreams of becoming a professional pastry chef and plans to complete a dedicated patisserie qualification at college next year.

Entering her first competition earlier this year – the Skills Wales Patisserie and Confectionary contest – where she won silver, Mali also took part in the Welsh International Culinary Championships in February, filling in last minute for another learner who had to drop out due to personal reasons. Despite having only eight days to train, she impressively managed to secure one bronze, two silver and two ‘best in class’ awards.

Mali added: “I love cooking which is why I chose to do a cookery course, but I also love making sweet dishes – I found myself making a lot of desserts during my level 2 course and I’m always baking at home. I’m looking forward to also doing a patisserie course to expand and develop my skills further.

“I didn’t have the confidence to enter any competitions until this year when I decided to just go for it. I’ve got a mix of nerves and excitement about the final as I’ll need to adjust to a new kitchen and working environment and I’ll be presenting my desserts to judges from top restaurants around the country. It’s a once in a lifetime experience though and it’s an amazing feeling knowing I’ve been chosen as one of only eight!”

Speaking about Jack and Mali’s success, Benjamin Barnett, hospitality and catering lecturer at Coleg y Cymoedd, said: “The fact that Jack and Mali have been recognised as being among the top eight young pastry chefs in the UK just goes to show the level of talent these two have. They have both put in a lot of work and are so deserving of this achievement – we wish them the best of luck! Having not one but two learners from Coleg y Cymoedd make it this far, and being the only college in Wales to reach the final for the second year in a row, makes us very proud.

“It has been a phenomenal year for catering at Coley y Cymoedd in terms of competition success. In the last 12 months, we have won gold and silver culinary and confectionary awards at the Skills Wales competition, achieved 19 medals at the Welsh International Culinary Championships, had a new learner come runner up in the Junior Chef of Wales competition, and have become the first Welsh college to have a team make the semi finals of the young restaurant team of the year competition!”


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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