(image) Housing minister Huw Lewis talks to electrician Howard Francis
St John's Church is one of the first properties in Wales which will benefit from the Welsh Government's £10million Houses into Homes scheme.
The idea is for local authorities to offer interest-free loans to property owners so they can renovate properties which have been empty for more than six months.
The church's owner Will Lysaght said he had planning permission to convert the church into severn homes several years ago but could not fund the whole conversion at that time.
He said the credit crunch meant lenders became reluctant to provide developers with working capital.
But he said: "The Houses to Homes scheme was perfect and has provided sufficient capital to enable us to build six of the units."
Mr Lysaght was met by housing, regeneration and heritage minister Huw Lewis who visited the church on Friday.
The minister said: "Empty homes are not only a wasted resource, especially at a time when the need for housing is so great, but they can also attract vandalism and anti-social behaviour and can damage the appearance of our neighbourhoods. This development is one of the first of many across the country which will go some way towards improving our communities and increasing the chances of families to find a suitable home."
Under the scheme, the converted homes can be put up for sale or rented and the loans will be repaid over a fixed period making the money available for other properties in the future.
Blaenau Gwent AM Alun Davies last week visited Wales’ only NHS weight management clinic for adults, at Ysbyty Aneurin Bevan, Ebbw Vale, and called for action as Wales closes the gap on the world’s fattest nation, the USA. Figures from the latest Welsh Health Survey show that the Gwent valleys have some of the highest levels of obesity, not just in Wales, but in the Western world.
The average number of obese people in each of Wales’ local authorities is 22 per cent, with Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly and Torfaen among seven that have figures above that. They all posted an average of between 26 and 27 per cent of their populations who are obese, with Mr Davies saying the most effective way of tackling this is addressing unhealthy lifestyles.
He said: “I don’t accept that legislation alone can deal with the public health problem. Legislation cannot dictate people’s lifestyle choices, but we can play a part in educating against the wrong choices. We have to clearly demonstrate the links between poor health in later life being associated with fatty foods and unhealthy habits.”
Mr Davies visited the weight management clinic with Dr Nadim Haboubi, chairman of the National Obesity Forum for Wales, who revealed the obesity epidemic is getting worse, with the Gwent valleys a hotspot. Mr Davies added: “Social and economic, as well as health factors have been included in the reasons for the differences (between areas). This has in part re-branded the endemic problem as the ‘disease of the working classes’, with lifestyle clearly playing a key part in differing health outcomes.”
Dr Haboubi said the problem is “huge, massive, worse than England, worse than anywhere in the UK and among the worst in the Western world, I would argue. “The worst is probably the USA but we’re certainly not far behind,” he said.
Police also said that they had received reports that parents were seen dropping their children off at the park with alcohol. Ebbw Vale sergeant Julie Pearse said: “With the increasing use of social networking sites to inform each other of where groups of friends will be during the evening we are now seeing large groups of children forming around the park, which can be extremely intimidating for residents.
“On one evening we had reports of over 100 youths, clearly in possession of alcohol and acting in an anti-social manner, causing alarm and distress to local residents, which is unacceptable.” Letters are now being delivered to parents about their children’s behaviour and individual children have been spoken to by police. “We’d like to remind shop owners, parents and family members it is against the law to supply under- 18s with alcohol – if you are caught supplying alcohol you will be fined,” Sgt Pearse said. Are you a resident affected by the anti-social behaviour? Call Will Bain on 01633 777242 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The campus boasts specialist facilities for construction, science, hair and beauty, performing arts, art & media, IT and Independent Living Skills (ILS). Students will also benefit from enhanced IT spaces with video conferencing, a fully equipped Learning Resource Centre and a roof garden.
Emily Morgan, 20, is studying hairdressing. She said: "I think the campus is brilliant. I’ve always wanted to be a hairdresser. I had been on an apprenticeship but didn’t get to finish it, so I’m really excited to be here."
Bethan Taylor, 16, is studying public services at the new campus. She said: "It’s really massive. It’s far nicer than our old comp. It’s really good, but we are definitely going to get lost. We are in the aqua blue zone but we still haven’t worked out how to get there yet." John Sexton, campus director, said: "Feedback has been extremely positive which is absolutely fantastic. The building is fabulous; the staff are experts of a very high calibre and I’m confident we will make a massive success of the Learning Zone for the benefit of the people in Blaenau Gwent and the surrounding areas.