At the heart of Mountain Ash lies The Feel Good Factory, a community centre which is home to the Bryncynon Strategy charity. The Bryncynon Community Revival Strategy provides much needed social engagement and support to tenants and residents in the area. As well as this, they run a second building which facilitates the Growing Together family centre, offering after-school clubs, mother and baby groups, and school holiday activities.
Known as the ‘hub of the community’, The Feel Good Factory offers a huge range of services, in particular for local older residents. Included in this is The Listening Project run by Nina Finnigan, who moved down from Scotland 11 months ago to take up the post as Project Co-ordinator.
Nina describes the scheme as “a befriending and volunteering project, which is so important’. She added, “We couldn’t manage without our volunteers. They do telephone befriending for older people who can’t come out and don’t want to come out, as well as face-to-face befriending.”
The centre also offers health education and promotion, clinics, exercise and dance classes, and visits from the Citizens Advice Bureau. Meal delivery is a key part of the volunteering efforts provided by the charity, with more people being served by the Bryncynon Strategy than ever before. Nina said, “When I first came, we were doing 50 weekly hot meals, and now there are 100 older people who are on our books, and we deliver 136 weekly hot meals to these people.”
But The Feel Good Factory is reliant in the generosity of grants and funding to keep providing these vital community services.
In 2021, Nina and Lee Thomas, Head of Operations of the Bryncynon Strategy, reached out to Trivallis to apply for a grant from the Trivallis Community Investment Fund, set up to support groups and projects in the communities where its tenants live.
The Trivallis Community Investment Fund, which is managed and promoted by independent charity Community Foundation Wales, is split into two streams: a fast track grant for up to £1,000 and a larger grant from £1,001 to £5,000.
The Bryncynon Strategy was initially approved for the £1000 fast track grant, to be used for the advertising of the communal activities and befriending service via their newsletter. However, they were then approved for the larger grant, worth £5000, allowing the centre to fund regular afternoon tea sessions for older and isolated local residents, free of charge for attendees.
Nina has seen the effect COVID-19 has had on the isolation of vulnerable individuals, and how much The Feel Good Factory means to so many in the community. She said: “Trivallis’ Community Investment Fund has allowed us to put on tea parties to try to get people out of their houses, as there is a lot of vulnerability and anxiety.
“We try to be like a family, and for those that can’t make it, we send out one of our afternoon teas to be delivered to them”. Nina explains that for many “this is their lifeline, they love it, and they hope they can keep coming.”
The afternoon tea now runs weekly thanks to additional funding through a partnership with Tanya Dower and James Lowe, part of therapeutic music group Music Now, and has proved hugely successful.
Residents from surrounding villages are provided with a spread of teatime treats and entertained by the Music Now duo. Local residents can have a catch up with friends old and new, and a weekly raffle fuels the competitive spirit of many attendees.
The Feel Good Factory often sees regular faces attending bingo on a Wednesday followed by afternoon tea on a Thursday, which is described by visitors as ‘a lot of fun.’
Edwina Rogers, Betty Thomas, and Shirley Young are long-standing tenants of Cwrt Ynysmeurig, a Trivallis Sheltered Scheme in Abercynon. They visit the centre twice a week along with their neighbours to take part in the activities run by Nina, Lee, and other volunteers.
When speaking about the afternoon tea, Edwina, who has lived in Cwrt Ynysmeurig for eight years, wants to “make this a regular thing; we really enjoy it” while Betty explains how it “gets us out of the house and we get to see people, it’s lovely!”
Shirley added: “Everyone is kind, caring and attentive and the food supplied is excellent, it’s nice to have it prepared for us. It makes us feel better about ourselves mentally, and they do a lot of good…. we would be lost without it, and it is something to look forward to and enjoy each visit.”
Lee has been pleasantly surprised with the uptake of the sessions, joking “we thought we would have difficulty getting people out, but look at us now! It is a really positive event, since lockdown it is really nice to see that we can put things on like this.”
Founder of a local 60+ walking group Jane Wilson regularly used the centre as a meeting place for her 24-member group, but since COVID-19 they have struggled to get everyone out of their homes.
“We really appreciate the fact that the centre is here to use for all sorts of things. This is our first time at the afternoon tea, it’s an ideal opportunity for everybody to get back together again, and it is such a great central location.”
Trivallis Partnership Officer Lisa Roberts said “the work that Nina, Lee, and the kind-hearted volunteers carry out is invaluable. The Feel Good Factory is often the only social interaction that residents receive during the week, and with free transport to and from the centre, people are always welcomed with open arms. The funding they received from Trivallis has allowed them to be there for those who need it, and we are so grateful for all the hard work they continue to put into the community.”