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£1 million boost for Swansea University MS research.

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THE UK Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Register, based at Swansea University, has been awarded just over £1m investment from UK charity, the MS Society.

The Register is a ground-breaking medical research study that seeks to collect information from people with the disease about what it’s like to live day-to-day with Multiple Sclerosis. Established in 2011, it was the first UK-wide register of its kind for MS. It’s estimated that over 100,000 people live with the disease in the UK.

MS is one of the most common non-traumatic causes of disability in young adults worldwide. MS is a disease of the central nervous system that has a huge impact on the life of people affected by the disease. People with MS may suffer from physical disabilities, visual disturbances, fatigue, depression or cognitive dysfunction. All of which can influence activities of daily living, work ability, social participation and overall quality of life.

Through gathering large amounts of information from people with MS the Register is able to provide extremely rich, anonymised data for the purposes of medical research, which, it is hoped, can unlock some of the mysteries behind the disease. The Register collects data from three different sources;

1. Self-reported outcomes from people with MS via website surveys.

2. Clinical records from 47 NHS partner sites.

3. Other routinely collected data from health and wellbeing services (e.g. General Practice).

The MS Society has remained the principal funder since its inception in 2011. Recognising the contribution of the Register to MS Research, Susan Kohlhaas, Director of Research at the MS Society said: “We continue to be incredibly excited about the potential the Register holds in transforming our understanding of MS. Data science is an area that we as a country need to build capacity in. Big data will revolutionise our understanding and treatment of diseases.”

The MS Register is part of the wider Population Data Science theme at Swansea University’s School of Medicine. It is a multidisciplinary theme of international standing, conducting Population Health Studies including clinical trials. The Register benefits greatly from this location owing to the world class expertise and collaborative research culture. This has evolved from pioneering work at Swansea in the 1990’s on linking health data sets and defining rigorous standards for medical records.

With this investment from the MS Society the Register hopes to further develop its platform, enhancing its usability and increasing the amount and type of data it collects. The Register continues to build on last year’s website re-launch, to improve its online interface with users and provide feedback to participants.

The Register is now looking to develop a similar interface for clinicians at its 47 partner NHS site locations. This will allow specialists in MS to see how the condition is affecting the day-to-day lives of patients away from the clinic, becoming an important tool for discussion around treatment options and lifestyle.

Other technical advancements are also in the pipeline in terms of the Register’s ability to capture more complex data types like MRI scan data. A ‘Machine Learning’ tool is also planned to extract and organise information directly from clinician’s letters to ease any administration burden for NHS staff. People with multiple sclerosis (or people acting on behalf of a person with MS) can sign up to the UK MS Register by visiting www.ukmsregister.org

Business

Swansea Building Society’s new flagship branch exceeds expectations in first year

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The performance of Swansea Building Society’s new, flagship, branch, which opened in Swansea city centre in January 2019, has exceeded all expectations in its first year of trading.

The new branch, on Portland Street, was opened to complement the Society’s head office on Craddock Street and offer customers a more central location to visit the building society. It was hoped it would generate new customers and growth.

This has proved to be the case. Some 1,422 new savings accounts with balances of £21.5 million were opened through the new branch in 2019. Of these, 1,236 were brand new savings customers generating balances of some £19.2 million.

Mortgage balances also enjoyed a positive uplift: some £19.2 million of net mortgage balances were lent in the SA1 and SA4 to SA13 post code areas covered by the new Portland Street branch in 2019.

Jane Parker, branch manager, said: “This represents an excellent performance which positively rewards the Board’s investment in the new premises. We are all extremely proud of the new branch which offers instant access savings accounts and a personal approach to mortgage lending with its focus on niche mortgage products.

“It also confirms there is truth in the old adage: location, location, location. We are thrilled to be located in the heart of the financial district of the city centre and our achievement to date showcases the fact that the Society’s personable, face-to-face business model truly works. Our main focus is to serve the community in a traditional manner. As such, we offer tailor made mortgage products to benefit customers who may find it difficult to be accommodated by other High Street Lenders.”

The new branch is very accessible with members of the public are encouraged to come and speak to the staff without a pre-arranged appointment.

Parker added: “People call in to our smart, friendly environment which offers enhanced facilities for the disabled and a variety of bright, airy, meeting rooms for increased privacy which is definitely appreciated by customers both old and new. The branch has helped improve brand awareness and creates a significantly positive impression compared to some of other city centre empty and deteriorating high street buildings.”

Swansea Building Society’s continued emphasis on the community has been further enhanced by its recent three-year partnership sponsorship with Swansea City Football Club. “We feel we are firmly set on a positive path for continued growth and prosperity,” Parker said.

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Two teams of chefs to represent Wales at the Culinary Olympics

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Two well prepared teams of chefs will be flying the Welsh flag as they take on the best in the world at the prestigious IKA Culinary Olympics in Stuttgart next month.

The senior and junior teams will join around 2,000 chefs and pastry chefs from more than 60 nations at the biggest and oldest international culinary art exhibition from February 14 to 19.

Senior Culinary Team Wales will be led by Nick Davies, culinary craft trainer with Cambrian Training, Welshpool, who combines the roles of team manager and member whilst Sergio Cinotti, from the award-winning Gemelli Restaurant, Newport, takes over the captaincy for the first time.

Junior Culinary Team Wales has Michael Kirkham-Evans, a lecturer at Grŵp Llandrillo Menai, Rhos-on-Sea, as manager and former senior team captain Danny Burke, a partner in Olive Tree Catering, Runcorn, as coach.

Also selected to represent the senior team are pastry chef Will Richards from Cambrian Training, Dylan Wyn Owen, Manchester City Football Club’s executive chef, Matthew Smith, freelance chef from Newtown, Mark Robertson from Coleg Cambria, Wrexham, Jay Humphris from Coleg y Cymoedd and Thomas Martin, a freelance chef from Pontypridd. Logistics manager is Peter Fuchs, culinary director of The Celtic Collection and ICC Wales, Newport.

The senior team has held four events to run through the dishes it will cook for the Restaurant of Nations – one element of the competition – at the Culinary Olympics. The chefs complete preparations with a sold-out dinner at Cobra Rugby Club on January 17.

The team met on January 2 to run through its chef’s edible buffet, a new element introduced for the Culinary Olympics and will complete last minute fine tuning at a final training session on February 3.

“The team has a good mix of seasoned competitors and new members who have brought some fresh ideas to the table,” said Nick, who will be competing at his fifth Culinary Olympics. “Most of the chefs will be competing at the Culinary Olympics for the first time and are understandably excited by the prospect. They have bonded very well.

“Our Restaurant of Nations menu is looking and tasting good and we are perfecting the chef’s edible buffet, which is being introduced for the first time at the Culinary Olympics.”

The team’s Restaurant of Nations menu for 110 covers opens with a starter of halibut, prawn, ravioli, textures of peas, asparagus and wild garlic and Carmarthen ham. Main course is marmalade glazed duck breast, confit leg bon bon, skin granola, root vegetable terrine, carrot puree and port jus. Dessert is rhubarb, apple, white chocolate, stem ginger and pistachio.

The junior team, captained by Callum Smith, The Lion and Pheasant, Shrewsbury, includes pastry chef Alys Evans, Llanerch Vineyard, Pontyclun, Dalton Weir, Home Cooking, Llandudno, Morgan Read, Brook House Mill, Denbigh, Lara Walker, Celtic Manor Resort, Newport, Alice Yeomans, Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Great Milton, Oxford and James Jarvis, Sebastians Restaurant, Oswestry.

The talented young chefs complete their Restaurant of Nations menu run through with a lunch at Grŵp Llandrillo Menai, Rhos-on-Sea on Tuesday, January 28. They put the final touches to their dishes and the chef’s edible buffet at a training bootcamp this week.

The team’s Restaurant of Nations menu features a starter of Pembrokeshire scallop and roe croquette, seabass ceviche, chilled avocado, gin and elderflower cucumber. Main course is dry aged fillet and short rib of Welsh Beef, sourdough crouton, onion puree and Butty Bach jus. Dessert is chocolate black cherry chilled fondant, white chocolate and griottine cherry custard, crème fraiche sorbet, sesame tuille and sour cherry gel.

Both manager and coach are pleased with the young team’s progress and are looking to the final practice dinner to fine tune the chefs ready for the Culinary Olympics. Most of the chefs are aged between 19 and 21.

“Alys competed with the senior team at the Culinary World Cup in November 2018 and two members went as commis chefs to gain experience,” said Michael. “The junior team is better prepared that we have ever been.

“Our Restaurant of Nations menu is packed with flavour and requires lots of different skills from the chefs. With 50 per cent of the hot kitchen marks awarded for flavour, we are hoping to score well for taste.

“The main course is braised Jacob’s Ladder and a small fillet of Welsh Beef, which seems to be working well with the people who have tasted it.

“Danny is working on the menus and has introduced some elements of the dishes that helped him to win the Northern Europe heat of the Global Chef Challenge.

“We are finalising the chef’s edible buffet, which has 12 courses, including canapes, terrines, a hot rabbit dish and a dessert.”

At the Culinary Olympics, the senior team produces its chef’s edible buffet on February 16 and its Restaurant of Nations hot kitchen menu for 110 covers on February 18. The junior team delivers its Restaurant of Nations menu for 60 covers on February 15 and its chef’s edible buffet on February 17.

Culinary Team Wales is sponsored by the Welsh Government’s Food and Drink Wales, Cambrian Training Company, Grŵp Llandrillo Menai, Castell Howell Foods, Hybu Cig Cymru and Harlech Foods.

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Community

Are you missing out on a Council Tax reduction?

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IF YOU’RE struggling to pay your Council Tax bill, then help could be available for you through the Welsh Government’s flagship Council Tax Reduction Scheme (CTRS).

The scheme, which will continue to support vulnerable households in 2020-21, currently benefits one in five of all households in Wales. In the last year almost 280,000 low-income households have received help from the scheme, with 220,000 paying no council tax at all. Many more receive other discounts or exemptions.

You may be entitled to pay less council tax if:

• you believe you live on a low income
• you live alone, or with people/children who do not pay council tax
• you are a student
• you are disabled
• you are severely mentally impaired

Understanding why there are still vulnerable households not benefitting from the help they are entitled to is a priority for the Welsh Government. Last year we commissioned research to understand the circumstances of households in Wales and the effects of the UK Government’s Universal Credit on the CTRS.

The interim report out today shows that for many households, the move to Universal Credit can have a significant impact on council tax reduction awards. Whilst many households currently receiving a 100% reduction will continue to do so, for others, the move to Universal Credit is shown to have an adverse impact, particularly for employed households, self-employed households, and working households in receipt of a Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment.

Full findings of the interim report are available on the Welsh Government website. These findings will now be considered in more detail to inform the next stages of the research and policy development in this area.

Encouraging people to make sure they are not missing out on help they could be entitled to, Finance Minister Rebecca Evans said:

“Ensuring every household in Wales receives the council tax support they are entitled to is an important part of our commitment to making council tax fairer.

“Our scheme is already helping hundreds of thousands of households across Wales, but we know that there are still many missing out on the discounts, reductions and exemptions they are entitled to. I encourage everyone to check the Welsh Government website to find out if they could be paying less.”

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