When the Covid19 pandemic forced Coleg Menai's campuses to close, and the Welsh Government introduced restrictions on all but essential travel, one member of college staff decided to set herself a challenge and put her time in lockdown to good use.
Learning Support Assistant Val Jones normally works on the college's Parc Menai campus, supporting students on the Level 1 Art and Design course. Inspired by Growing for Wellbeing Week at the beginning of June, which champions the health benefits of gardening and growing your own vegetables, she decided to put these claims to the test herself.
Growing for Wellbeing Week is an annual celebration of the positive effect that growing your own produce can have on your wellbeing, both physically and mentally. Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience mental ill health each year, but there is strong evidence highlighting the health benefits of gardening, and growing your own vegetables in particular, which include improved confidence, communication, concentration and ultimately self-belief.
Admitting that she has very little previous experience in growing her own produce, Val said,
I normally only grow flowers, and I'm no Monty Don, but I do feel that I'm slowly reaping the benefits of this experiment. I've grown everything from seed: peas, lettuce, radish, French beans which I'm eating at the moment whilst waiting for the cauliflower, tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers and beetroot to get bigger! It's been a learning curve to say the least, but it's given me a real sense of satisfaction and the confidence to give things a go, instead of thinking I can't. I've found it very therapeutic, which I guess is the whole point!
Of her work as a Learning Support Assistant, Val said,
I love my job - it's so interesting and no two days are the same. The support we offer can be both practical and on occasions emotional, and we are often the first to notice if students are struggling, either with college work or on a personal level. If it's a personal issue, students will be referred to the relevant support network within the college. The teaching staff at Parc Menai are fantastic, and will always go the extra mile for the students and their colleagues.
You get a definite buzz when you see students start at Parc Menai on a Level 1 course, and progress through the levels, right up to university. It's a brilliant place to work - the teaching staff, students and other Learning Support Assistants make going to work a pleasure, and it feels wonderful to be able to support young people and help them realise their dreams.
In 2017, Estyn (the office of Her Majesty's Inspectorate for Education and Training in Wales) rated the provision of Care, Support and Guidance across all Grŵp Llandrillo Menai's campuses as 'Excellent.'