Helena Williams - Monlife

Celebrating MonLife volunteers this #VolunteersWeek

MonLife volunteers were the guests of honour at a recent celebration event held on Wednesday 5th June at Old Station Tintern as part of the UK-wide Volunteers Week. The event was held to thank volunteers, during the UK-wide celebration that shines a light on the incredible impact that volunteers make in our communities, and provide an opportunity for volunteers from different service areas to meet and share their valued experiences.

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.

The Volunteer Celebration event was supported by local suppliers and supermarkets including: Cinder Hill Farms, Isabel’s Bakehouse, Wigmore’s Bakery, Waitrose, M&S and Tesco.

There are currently around 344 volunteers actively engaged with MonLife over the year, volunteering across 36 opportunities across all service areas. This equates to a total of more than 13,104.35 volunteer hours with a monetary value of more than £177,000.

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/


Monmouthshire’s pupils ignite passion at the PlayMaker Conference

Last week, MonLife Sports Development Team hosted Primary school pupils from across Monmouthshire at their annual PlayMaker Conference.

The aim was to bring Monmouthshire’s young leaders together for training and to celebrate their leadership journeys. Around 750 children from 26 out of 30 Monmouthshire primary schools took part in a carousel of activities delivered by MonLife Services, Monlife Leadership Academy, and external partners, including Rogiet and Dixton Parkrun groups, Monmouthshire Community Hubs (and libraries), Bowls Wales and Newport County in the Community.

The events included developing play opportunities, promoting Active Travel, pupil voice, National Governing Body workshops, Team Building, Wellbeing awareness and many more.

The week-long programme of events received fantastic support from Caldicot, Chepstow and Monmouth Comprehensive Schools, who provided facilities for the events as well as Abergavenny Rugby Club and Abergavenny Bowls Club at Bailey Park. 

The MonLife Sports Development Team has been delivering the Sports Leaders PlayMaker award throughout this academic year, engaging with all 30 Monmouthshire primary schools. After the pupils have achieved the award, they assist with providing a positive impact on wellbeing within their schools. This is the first stage of Sport Development’s leadership pathway, before transitioning into the Year 6 Bronze Ambassador scheme and the Secondary School Leadership academies.

Across the week, 34 Leadership Academy volunteers supported the events, recording 156 hours between them. For more information about the PlayMaker programme, or wider Sport Development initiatives, please visit – www.monlife.co.uk/connect/sports-development or email sport@monmouthshire.gov.uk


Monmouthshire Community Learning programme receives glowing report

Monmouthshire County Council’s Community Learning programme, which is part of the Greater Gwent Adult Learning Partnership, led by Coleg Gwent, received a glowing commendation after a recent Estyn inspection.

The council’s Community Learning programme offers a variety of opportunities for residents to learn new skills and build on existing ones.

Here in Monmouthshire, we have five Community Learning centres across the county, with various courses available. These include courses in Mathematics, English, IT, Arts & Crafts and English for learners.

Estyn, Wales’ education inspectorate, recently visited the partnership. The final report highlighted the transformative impact the partnerships’ work has on learners and the community.

Estyn’s report highlighted the profound impact of our programme on learners’ lives. When interviewed by inspectors, many learners shared heartfelt testimonials about how the programme has been a lifeline, especially during challenging circumstances. It has also boosted their confidence in developing digital skills.

A vital aspect of any Community Programme is the tutors. Estyn’s report praised the tutors’ dedication to creating an inclusive learning environment. The Community Learning team in Monmouthshire is dedicated to providing the best support to all learners. They aim to create an environment that will allow learners to improve their health and well-being while at the same time providing them with a place to learn and upskill their knowledge.

Our dedicated team has also been praised for its collaborative work in continuous improvement. The partnership was praised for its robust self-evaluation and quality improvement planning. All staff will carefully analyse all learners’ assessment data, monitor progress and provide opportunities for feedback throughout the learners’ journey.

Monmouthshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Education, Cllr Martyn Groucutt, said: “The Estyn report reflects the hard work and dedication our Community Learning programme officers carry out daily. I want to thank them all for their hard work. Every day, they provide opportunities for learners from Monmouthshire to learn new skills or upskill themselves in many topics. Education doesn’t stop in the classroom. If you want to learn new skills, please look at our Community Learning pages on the website for the latest course.”

Cabinet Member for Education, Cllr Martyn Groucutt

As we celebrated the achievements of the council’s Community Learning programme as part of the Greater Gwent Adult Learning Partnership, led by Coleg Gwent, we also acknowledge the hard work and dedication of the learners. Their hard work allows our officers to continue to improve and provide new courses throughout the year.

If you’re interested in learning more about our Community Learning programme and the courses we offer, visit our website today: https://www.monmouthshire.gov.uk/communitylearning/


MonLife Museums ensures collection holds relevance to local history

In 2020-2022, MonLife museums took part in a Collection Review Project. This allowed our museums to discover more about the objects within their collections and their connections, if any, to Monmouthshire’s story. The review was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and the project has enabled officers to develop a more sustainable way of caring for collections. Within the project, some items have been identified as without a clear connection to Monmouthshire. 

Over the last few years, a number of these items have been transferred to other museums and learning departments, including MonLife’s learning department. In 2022, the museum also used a public auction to move items, which was conducted under the Museums Association’s Code of Ethics. All money raised from the auction was then used to enhance the MonLife Museum’s collections and conservation work. 

Following the success of the 2022 auction, the museum will now use a further public auction in line with the Museums Association’s Code of Ethics on the 3rd and 4th of May at the Salesroom, Pontrilas, under the supervision of Nigel Ward & Company. 

Removing carefully chosen items from the collection is a vital part of our ongoing commitment to preserving the history of the people and places of Monmouthshire, making sure that the items we hold within the collection are relevant to local history. 

The money raised from the auction will be used solely and directly to benefit the museum and its collections in the long term.

The enhancement of collection work continues in Monmouthshire, thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund. A full inventory of the Monmouth Museum’s local history collection is underway as part of the Dynamic Collections project. Why not take a look at the collections here: https://www.monlifecollections.co.uk/ 

Monmouthshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Equalities and Engagement, Cllr Angela Sandles, said: “By carefully removing items from our collection, we can ensure that the collection is relevant to local history. Following industry standards, officers have identified items to be removed, which ensures we have space to store items of importance to Monmouthshire.”

Cabinet Member for Equalities and Engagement, Cllr Angela Sandles

To find out more about current exhibitions, visit https://www.monlife.co.uk/heritage/


Abergavenny Museum’s 2024 exhibition – the Big Fish

Abergavenny Museum has unveiled a new exhibition to celebrate the largest salmon caught in Wales. 

In 1782, a record-breaking fish was hauled from the River Usk, just a few miles downstream from County Hall, Usk. The salmon weighed 68 ½ pounds, the size of a small cow, and was approximately 1.5 metres in length! Incredibly, it was caught by two men balancing in their own coracles with a net in between. 

To commemorate the occasion, an artist started working on a painting a few hours after the extraordinary catch. For the first time, the painting is now on display alongside another larger piece of artwork at Abergavenny Museum. 

On Thursday, 25 April, Abergavenny Museum hosted a viewing for those who’ve been involved and contributed to the exhibition and project. 

Monmouthshire County Council Chair Cllr Meirion Howells, Council Leader Cllr Mary Ann Brocklesby, Cabinet Member for Climate Change and the Environment Cllr Catrin Maby, Cabinet Member for Equalities and Engagement Cllr Angela Sandles

The new exhibition is a great way to discover more about the story of this catch and the history of the River Usk. Learn more about why we don’t see as many big fish in the river now and how we can work together to help the rivers thrive. 

As part of the exhibition, you’ll hear from many passionate people about the rivers, hear their thoughts on what makes rivers unique and their vision for the future. Visitors will also have the opportunity to share their thoughts on important questions surrounding the future of our rivers. 

Monmouthshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Equalities and Engagement, Cllr Angela Sandles, said: “Having the Big Fish painting on show at Abergavenny Museum is fantastic. It allows us to celebrate this part of our rivers’ history and open up about our rivers’ future. If you have an interest in local rivers or a wider interest in local history, come along to our wonderful exhibition at Abergavenny Museum.”

A range of fascinating exhibits are displayed in the museum, and there is something for all ages. If you’re thinking of making this a family trip, you’ll be able to play salmon snakes and ladders, master a fishy jigsaw and take part in a quiz. There is also a challenge for you to leap as high as our Big Fish!

The Big Fish project will also see museum officers conduct school workshops on the history of the Big Fish, work with Welsh Water to host workshops on caring for our rivers and water quality and work with MonLife Countryside officers to host events. 

The council is committed to building on the work of protecting the rivers that flow through the county. As the Big Fish project brings a historic event to the forefront, the council will continue its commitment to protect rivers for future generations, highlighting the changes needed to reduce the impact of climate change on the rivers.

Abergavenny Museum is open Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 4pm.

Find out further information the museum here: https://www.monlife.co.uk/heritage/abergavenny-museum-castle/.


Abergavenny Leisure Centre secures podium finish in fitness challenge

Abergavenny Leisure Centre secured a podium spot in a national fitness challenge earlier this year, finishing third in Technogym’s Lets Move for a Better World 2024 Fitness Campaign.

The leisure centre saw off competition from all but two of the other 237 competing clubs.


760 of Abergavenny’s members and staff worked together to collect 1,304,579 MOVEs, Technogym’s metric for measuring physical activity, logged by gym equipment or GPS physical activity trackers such as a Garmin.

Abergavenny exceeded the 1,000,000 MOVEs threshold and received a Technogym Wellness Kit, which will be donated to the local Health Board to support the delivery of Exercise sessions for people living with Dementia and their carers.

The campaign, which is in its 10th year, had 107,808 participants and aimed to promote people’s health and physical activity.

Club member Denis Murphy collected the maximum possible 32000 MOVEs and credited the centre for their help in his recovery from a serious leg injury.

Monmouthshire County Council Cabinet Member for Equalities and Engagement, Cllr Angela Sandles, said: “It is wonderful to see the efforts of the members and staff at Abergavenny Leisure Centre.

“What an achievement and what a positive example to set.

“The benefits of keeping active are well-known and challenges like this can be fun too.”

More information about the campaign can be found at technogym.com/en-GB/lets-move/]technogym.com/en-GB/lets-move/


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/