Helena Williams - Monlife

Monmouthshire County Council celebrates inaugural creative arts event

Artists from in and around Monmouthshire took part in the first ever council-led Celebration of the Arts in the county last week (Friday, 19 April).

Inspired by the council leader, Cllr Mary Ann Brocklesby, the event will become an annual fixture, showcasing how artists, performers, musicians and others contribute to Monmouthshire’s vibrant culture and economy.

MCC Leader, Cllr Mary Ann Brocklesby welcomes guests

Cllr Brocklesby opened the event by saying, “This is a stepping stone in our commitment to creating a new cultural strategy that will belong to everyone and provide a focal point for networking, support, and inclusion across all our communities.”

The day served as a starting shot for the council co-ordinated project, which underlines that the area is an inspirational place for creative artists of all types to live and work. Local landscapes, scenery, flora and fauna inspire artists of all kinds, which in turn reinforces the culture of the county.

Monmouthshire County Council works with artists from across the county, providing access to funding and locations to showcase their work. Over the past months, the council has been working with local artists as part of a ‘Creative Cluster’ programme.

It acknowledges that the area is already rich in creative and visual artists, including woodcraft, jewellery making, photographers, painters, sculptors, ceramicists, musicians, dance and theatre, writers and poets, textile artists and more. The list is almost endless.

Whether people have lived in an area for a lifetime or are visitors, encounters with the arts and with artists provide new perspectives on communities, place, and their history.

The creative industry contributes £84.1 billion to the UK economy and Monmouthshire’s creative artists play a vital role locally and nationally.

At the event, Director of Creative Economy Professor Sara Pepper underlined that almost ten per cent of the nation’s jobs are in the creative economy.

Work by local artists Patricia Statham Maginness, Gemma Williams, Mike Erskine and Tiffany Murray was on display for the first time, and others set up stalls to showcase their work.

The council is further enhancing its cultural strategy as part of the Community and Corporate Plan commitments.

To find out more about the council’s work, please visit: https://www.monlife.co.uk/heritage/.

Director of Creative Economy, Professor Sara Pepper, addressing guests
Dance Blast entertained guests with a spectacular Aerial Circus showcase
Red Kite sculpture by Gemma Williams
Patricia Statham Maginness (left) discusses her artwork with a guest

A warm welcome greeted the guests at County Hall


Chepstow Museum celebrates 75 years of community heritage

On Tuesday, 9 April, MonLife Heritage and the Chepstow Society came together to commemorate a significant milestone: the 75th anniversary of Chepstow Museum. 

The museum is rooted in the community, working with local groups to foster not only an interest in the past and a sense of continuity but also to enliven the cultural and educational life of the town. 

The event saw MonLife colleagues, the Chepstow Society, current and former volunteers and museum friends gather to share stories, memories and explore the current exhibitions.

Founded in 1949 by the Chepstow Society, the museum’s inception was championed by Ivor Waters, a local historian and respected teacher in Chepstow. Under his guidance, the Society was established in 1948 to create a museum in Chepstow. On April 9th, 1949, the museum welcomed its first visitors in a small room above Chepstow’s medieval Town Gate, inaugurated by Lord Raglan.

Chepstow Town Mayor Cllr Margaret Griffiths, Anne Rainsbury (Community Museums Curator MCC), County Councillor Meirion Howells (Chair of Monmouthshire County Council), County Councillor Angela Sandles (Cabinet Member for Equalities & Engagement),

Driven by volunteers, initially led by Ivor Waters and later by his wife, Mercedes Waters, the museum flourished. Two decades later, outgrowing its initial home, it relocated to the old Board School in Bridge Street. 

The Chepstow Society managed the museum until 1976 when it was entrusted to the care of Monmouth District Council, now Monmouthshire County Council.

In 1983, Chepstow Museum found its current residence in Gwy House, the former Chepstow & District Hospital, expanding its displays and enhancing exhibition spaces and storage facilities over the years. This evolution has been made possible by the enduring support and dedication of volunteers who have woven themselves into the museum’s narrative.

Monmouthshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Equalities and Engagement, Cllr Angela Sandles, said: “It was fantastic to welcome members from the Chepstow Society, the Chepstow Mayor, town council and valued current and past volunteers. To celebrate the museum’s 75th year with everyone was fantastic, and it provided us with an opportunity to say thank you to all the volunteers throughout the years. If you are in the area, remember to pop along to see the exhibitions.”

Cllr Angela Sandles

For more information about Chepstow Museum and upcoming events, please visit: https://www.monlife.co.uk/heritage/chepstow-museum/ 

Keith James (President of the Chepstow Society), County Councillor Meirion Howells (Chair of Monmouthshire County Council), Guy Hamilton (Chair of the Chepstow Society) and Chepstow Town Mayor Cllr Margaret Griffiths


Wellness made accessible through MonLife’s ‘Passport to Leisure’

MonLife’s Passport to Leisure Scheme (PTL) is designed to make fitness and wellness accessible and affordable for residents of Monmouthshire. If you are in receipt of benefits, you may be eligible for up to a 50% discount, unlocking a world of fitness opportunities, including access to the gym, swimming, classes, and more!

Our PTL membership is designed with flexibility, allowing you to enjoy the benefits without being tied down by a minimum commitment period.  We offer two convenient options for our PTL membership: Pay as You Go or Direct Debit. With Pay as You Go, you can pay for the services you use as and when you need them. With Direct Debit, you can enjoy the convenience of automatic monthly payments, ensuring uninterrupted access to our services. 

Additionally, members can gain concessionary discounts on our Community Learning Leisure Courses, available at our Community Hubs around Monmouthshire. We also plan to expand these benefits to include other aspects of MonLife Services.

Monmouthshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Equalities and Engagement, Cllr Angela Sandles, said: “Everyone has the right to access wellness facilities and our Passport to Leisure scheme ensures people can access the fantastic facilities that Monmouthshire County Council offers. Keep an eye on Monlife’s and Monmouthshire County Council’s social media feeds, as we’ve got some fantastic offers coming out across the year.”

Cllr. Angela Sandles

If you have questions, contact our membership team or our friendly staff at your local leisure centre.

To find out if you are eligible for the Passport to Leisure scheme or to find out how to sign up, visit:  https://www.monlife.co.uk/monactive/memberships/passport-to-leisure/


Monmouthshire County Council host Leadership Academy Conference

On Friday, March 8th, 60 pupils from the Monmouthshire County Council Leadership Academy Scheme attended the Leadership Academy Conference at County Hall in Usk.

The young ambassadors, who came from the four secondary schools in the county, received leadership training and inspirational talks to help them with their volunteering work in their schools and communities.

They participated in workshops to further develop their skills and had the opportunity to network with other ambassadors and learn from each other.

Various partners from the sector held workshops, including the Youth Sport Trust, which delivered a workshop on ‘The Role of a Young Leader’ -with Street Games delivering a session on ‘Youth Voice and Consultation’. These aimed to empower the young ambassadors to work closely with their peers and help shape physical activity programmes.

Amber Stamp Dunstan from MonLife, shared her experience of joining the leadership pathway and becoming a full staff member while also working with the Welsh Rugby Union. The young ambassadors also participated in a debate following a session on communications. Led by Monmouthshire County Council’s Youth Service, this provided the young people the opportunity to share their thoughts on the leadership programme and how we can continue to improve it going forward. 

The Leadership Academy conference coincided with International Women’s Day. To mark the occasion, Chief Constable of Gwent Police, Pam Kelly, spoke of her experiences throughout her illustrious career to mark the occasion.

Group of people holding their hands in a heart shape.

Cllr Angela Sandles, Monmouthshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Equality and Engagement, said: “Being able to bring our young ambassadors together at County Hall is fantastic. Hearing and seeing everyone engage with each other and learn from different experiences will allow the young people to develop their leadership skills further. Hearing from Amber and Chief Constable Pam Kelly on International Women’s Day was inspirational. Thank you for sharing your experiences with the young ambassadors.”

To learn more about the Leadership Academy or to find out how you or your children can get involved, please visit: https://www.monlife.co.uk/connect/sports-development/


Monmouthshire School Swimming Programme makes a splash at the 2024 Swim Wales Annual Awards

Monmouthshire School Swimming Programme has won the ‘School Swimming and Water Safety’ award at the 2024 Swim Wales Annual Awards.

The awards held on the 20 January saw the MonLife Sport and Leisure Department walk away with the prize following a fantastic 2023. The programme aims to ensure that school swimming is accessible for as many children as possible across Monmouthshire, a collaboration between schools and leisure to provide vital life skills.

In 2023, The MonLife swimming programme saw 100% participation from Monmouthshire Primary and Secondary schools. Over 3500 children were exposed to aquatic experiences that followed the Nofio Ysgol Framework. The programme saw a 12.5% increase in pupils achieving the Nofio Ysgol Award in year 6, with over 62% of pupils achieving the curriculum outcomes by the time their Primary school journey ended.

The programme places great emphasis on water safety, and during Drowning Prevention Week, all attendees received a bespoke drowning prevention lesson. This was further supported by the specific Water Safety session that all participants received in their first session.

Cabinet Member for Equalities and Engagement, Cllr Angela Sandles with students from Magor Church in Wales Primary School at their school swimming lesson.
Cabinet Member for Equalities and Engagement, Cllr Angela Sandles with students from Magor Church in Wales Primary School at their school swimming lesson.

The programme has also allowed MonLife Leadership Academy students to gain experience working in sporting events. In the summer term of 2023, Leadership Academy students assisted MonLife staff in delivering four Primary School Swimming Festivals. The festivals saw 345 children participating in inclusive aquatic activities. Festivals in Abergavenny, Caldicot, Chepstow and Monmouth Leisure Centre’s allowed pupils to participate in a series of non-competitive fun events, including floats, strokes and woggle races.

Monmouthshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Equalities and Engagement, Cllr Angela Sandles, said: “This award is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our Sport and Leisure Department, swimming coaches and school teachers. Providing learners access to developing skills that are vital for them to live an active life and skills that can save lives. Congratulations and thank you to all the staff running and supporting the programme.”


Proposals for Community Nature Spaces in Abergavenny

The Monmouthshire Local Nature Partnership, which Monmouthshire County Council hosts, will be delivering the Community Nature Spaces Project in Abergavenny this winter and next spring, following on from similar projects in Monmouth and Chepstow.

Over the past few months, residents and stakeholders have been asked to share their views on ideas for improving the area. The response has been positive, with the ideas now being developed into final designs. You can now provide feedback on the designs before any work begins.

The eight Abergavenny sites that will be taken forward at this time are:

  • Major’s Barn / Underhill Play Area
  • Croesenon Parc
  • Dan y Deri (Green Islands)
  • Dan y Deri (MCC green spaces)
  • The Bus Station
  • St Helen’s Close/Union Road Play Area
  • Lower Monk Street Verge
  • Park Close

These sites have been selected based on responses received during the first stages of the consultation and where nature and people will benefit the most. 

Residents, businesses, and community groups are encouraged to visit the Community Nature Spaces webpage to view the designs and share their feedback by 19th January, 2024. The Council aims to continue managing and improving green spaces beyond this project and welcomes ideas about areas in your communities that could be considered part of future plans. To give feedback or share your ideas on community nature spaces, please email localnature@monmouthshire.gov.uk

The Community Nature Spaces Project, supported by the Welsh Government’s Local Places for Nature funding, aims to improve our green spaces for nature and help support opportunities for health and wellbeing. This can be done in various ways, such as planting trees, adding raised beds for community food growing, and increasing wildflower planting for pollinators. They will be places to get up close to nature and get active.

To find out more, visit: https://www.monlife.co.uk/outdoor/green-infrastructure/gi-and-nature-projects/community-nature-spaces/consultation-community-nature-spaces/    

Please email us at localnature@monmouthshire.gov.uk


MonLife host Christmas Celebration for valued Volunteers

Volunteers play a crucial role in MonLife services and are essential to the local communities. They help officers deliver opportunities and events to residents of Monmouthshire.

On Wednesday, 13 December, MonLife held a Christmas Volunteer Celebration at Shire Hall, Monmouth. The event allowed volunteers from different service areas to meet and share their valued experiences and allowed us to thank all volunteers for their work within MonLife.

People of all ages volunteer throughout MonLife for various reasons, including gaining experience, building confidence, enjoying themselves, or helping others and their community. Many volunteers have gone on to full-time employment within Monmouthshire County Council services.

Monmouthshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Equalities and Engagement, Cllr Angela Sandles, said: ” I want to thank all our amazing volunteers who contribute to our work throughout the council. Seeing so many at Shire Hall for us to thank them was fantastic. Volunteers have had an impact this year, not only in economic value but also at a community level, providing support for our MonLife services and helping with events across our MonLife provision. If you want to get experience in a particular field, meet new people, or help us serve the community, please look at the volunteer options available.”

From April to September 2023, 282 volunteers participated in 32 volunteer opportunities, including sports development, Borough Theatre, countryside and working within our museums. These volunteers contributed a total of 6,289 hours, which has an estimated economic value of more than £85,000

When you volunteer, you can access a full training program, a complete induction, an assigned ‘buddy,’ and our online Volunteer Kenetic site. You will also have regular access to 1-2-1 or group support and an opportunity to meet new people from your area and across the county.

If you are interested in volunteering, you can find out more here: https://www.monlife.co.uk/connect/volunteering/


New Members wanted for Monmouthshire Local Access Forum 

Eagle's Nest Viewpoint
Eagle’s Nest Viewpoint

Monmouthshire County Council is recruiting new members for the Monmouthshire Local Access Forum.

The Local Access Forum advises the Council, Natural Resources Wales and other organisations on improving public rights of way and green spaces in Monmouthshire.

These are voluntary positions to advise on countryside access issues and help support improvements to local access.  

Although members are appointed on a personal basis, according to their knowledge, skills and experience of accessing the countryside, we are particularly interested in hearing from prospective members who have excellent and active connections with relevant local organisations, partnerships, and interest groups. 

The Forum looks to balance the interests of landowners and land managers, all types of access users and those representing other interests, such as health, access for all and conservation. We are looking for members to bring a wide range of expertise and interests, which can support Monmouthshire County Council’s commitment to improve access to the countryside.

The Forum is part of the Countryside & Rights of Way Act 2000 requirements to advise on improving public access for open-air recreation and the enjoyment of the area and to advise and assist with implementing the Countryside Access Improvement Plan. It consists of between 12 and 22 members. Members are appointed for three years. Meetings are typically held quarterly.

Further information and the application form are available from https://www.monlife.co.uk/outdoor/countryside-access/ or contact countryside@monmouthshire.gov.uk

Completed forms are required by 12 January 2024 


Access Improvement Grants are now available

Amanda Harris in Chepstow during her epic journey along the Wales Coast Path. Credit @amandascoastalchallenge
Amanda Harris in Chepstow during her epic journey along the Wales Coast Path. Credit @amandascoastalchallenge

Applications are now open for two new Access Improvement Grant schemes aimed at improving access at Monmouthshire’s visitor attractions or visitor related events.

The two grant schemes are funded under the UK Government’s Shared Prosperity Fund.  The first is an Access Improvement Events Support Scheme, which offers revenue grants of up to £5,000 for applicants looking to improve access at visitor related events and/or to offer new inclusive activities at events in Monmouthshire.

The second is an Access Improvement Capital Grant Scheme, offering capital grants of up to £25,000 to organisations in Monmouthshire seeking to improve access at visitor related attractions and events.

Applications for both grant schemes will be assessed on a rolling basis between now and the end of December 2024 (when the scheme closes) or before if all the funding is allocated.

Monmouthshire County Council Cabinet Member for Equalities and Engagement, Cllr Angela Sandles, said: “These grants provide a great opportunity to improve the accessibility of events and attractions in Monmouthshire for the benefit of everyone, whether they are here for a day, a week or a lifetime. I would urge any organisation who thinks they might be eligible to put in an application.”

The grant schemes are part of a wider UK Government Shared Prosperity Fund project to develop Monmouthshire as a destination for all. Other planned activities include developments to improve the accessibility of the destination website, www.VisitMonmouthshire.com and specialist advice and training for tourism businesses on access and inclusivity.

You can read more about both new grant schemes and the eligibility criteria here: www.visitmonmouthshire.com/destination-management/access-improvement-grants.

Monmouthshire County Council Cabinet Member for Equalities and Engagement Cllr. Angela Sandles
Monmouthshire County Council Cabinet Member for Equalities and Engagement Cllr. Angela Sandles


New sports facilities at Caldicot Leisure Centre.

Photo on the new MUGA at Caldicot Leisure centre. From left to right, Cllr Jackie Strong, Cllr I R Shillabeer, Caldicot Town Council, Chair of Monmouthshire County Council Cllr Meirion Howells, Cabinet Member for Education Cllr Martyn Groucutt, Joe Killingley, Caldicot Leisure Centre Manager and Jack Harris, Community and Sport Development Officer.
Cllr Jackie Strong, Cllr I R Shillabeer, Caldicot Town Council, Chair of Monmouthshire County Council Cllr Meirion Howells, Cabinet Member for Education Cllr Martyn Groucutt, Joe Killingley, Caldicot Leisure Centre Manager and Jack Harris, Community and Sport Development Officer.

Monmouthshire County Council held an official opening of the Caldicot Leisure Centre’s new basketball, netball and tennis courts on the 1st of November.

The dual-use site will cater for both curriculum usage, with the on-site secondary school and local cluster primary schools, as well as the community usage during evenings and weekends, thanks to the new LED bulb floodlights above the courts. Bookings can be made via the website, app or at the reception in the leisure centre.

Caldicot Leisure Centre provides a fantastic base for many clubs, especially during the winter months. In addition to the new dual-use courts which have brand new state-of-the art height-adjustable basketball hoops, that cater for all ages and abilities, visitors can access a floodlit 3G pitch (FIFA approved), full-size Astroturf pitch, multipurpose sports hall, fitness suite, squash courts and a 20m swimming pool. To find out more about the leisure centre, please visit https://www.monlife.co.uk/monactive/caldicot-leisure-centre/.

Monmouthshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Equalities and Engagement, Cllr Angela Sandles, said: “The new courts that are officially opening today will play a crucial part in allowing local pupils, youth groups, residents and the wider community to lead a healthy active lifestyle all year round. I can’t wait to see everyone reap the benefits of this amazing new facility.”

Cabinet Member for Equalities and Engagement Cllr Angela Sandles Joe Killingley, Caldicot Leisure Centre manager on the new improved Basketball court at Caldicot Leisure Centre
MCC Cabinet Member for Equalities and Engagement Cllr Angela Sandles Joe Killingley, Caldicot Leisure Centre manager on the new MUGA at Caldicot Leisure Centre