IT’S now less than one month to go until the Queen’s Baton Relay arrives in Blaenau Gwent and the community is gearing up to support it. HAYLEY MILLS reports.
THE Welsh leg of the Queen’s Baton Relay is just weeks away - as the Commonwealth Games baton makes its journey across 70 nations.
Touching down in Wales at Cardiff Airport on Saturday, May 24 and coming straight to Blaenau Gwent, the baton will then spend seven days travelling across the country.
Owner of the Six Bells Hotel, Janet Warren is excited about The Queen’s Baton Relay's arrival: "It was great to hear that it will be in the area and we are hoping to get involved to mark it.
"It will have a big boost to businesses in the area as a lot of people will turn out to see it."
It will build support for the Welsh athletes set to travel to Glasgow to compete for Wales, with the baton reaching its final destination of Llandegla on Friday, May 30.
Minister for Culture and Sport, John Griffiths, said: “The Queen’s Baton Relay visit presents Wales with an opportunity to showcase and promote our sporting and cultural identity, diversity and heritage.
“I hope the event will serve as a source of inspiration and provide a lasting positive impact.
“Each stage of the relay will remind us of the unique contribution our communities have made to our proud history as a nation and will continue to make to future generations.”
Several events have been organised in Blaenau Gwent to mark the relay.
Assembly Member for Blaenau Gwent, Alun Davies, said: “The Queens Baton Relay coming the Blaenau Gwent is a real honour for the borough. Plans are already well under way for a host of celebrations in Tredegar, Ebbw Vale and Six Bells to mark the relay’s arrival.
“There was such enthusiasm here when the Olympic torch came through these valleys and thousands of people lined the street to cheer on the torch bearers.
“I’m sure the same enthusiasm and sense of occasion will once again grip our towns and turn out and join in the celebrations.”
Events in the area include a Six Bells Pit Party, between 11am and 4pm.
Councillor for Six Bells, Denzil Hancock, said: "It’s a good event, it will uplift the area and it will put us on the map again and will bring tourists into the area."
While Six Bells councillor, Mark Holland, added: "We’re really looking forward to it and there will be a lot of events and things for the public to do.
“It will bring people to the area who can see how lovely the area is and the stunning countryside."
At the event enjoy mini sports tournaments, a fun fair and arts and crafts stalls.
Abertillery Male Voice and Ladies Choir will be performing and also ‘The Troup’ singers. Enjoy Wood Carvers, learn more about Abertillery Museum and Big Pit.
Browse stalls that includes the Tudor Brewery and Blaenavon Cheese plus many more and a variety of activities.
The Ebbw Vale Sports Centre will host a street games bonanza between 1pm and 5pm, With lots of sports activities to suit all the family.
At the event, take part in badminton, table tennis, trampolining, free running, Futsal, plus many more activities.
Councillor for Ebbw Vale South, Brian Clements, said: "I hope it goes very well, it’s wonderful. We can only hope it brings more trade to the area."
The Chairman at Ebbw Vale Business Forum Phillip Edwards said: "It will bring people into the area to see it, as did the Olympic torch relay, which will boost trade.
"But I'm disappointed that it will by-pass the town centre and head straight to the leisure centre- I hope I'm wrong and people venture into the centre."
There will also be a celebratory party in Tredegar Town Centre and Bedwellty Park Party, from 5pm.
Enjoy a procession led by Tredegar Town Band from the gold post box at Tredegar Shopping Centre, along Commercial Street to receive the Queen’s Baton in Castle Street where local sports people will carry the baton to Bedwellty Park.
There will be a Party in the Park, between 4pm and 8pm in Bedwellty Park.
Throughout the afternoon community organisations will be providing activities including art and craft stalls, storytelling, face painting, fairground rides, a climbing wall and browse community stalls.
There will be demonstrations from the Tredegar Young Fire Fighters and watch sports demonstrations and take part in activities including mini rugby, football and tennis.
Enjoy a BBQ, browse a sports themed exhibition by Tredegar Camera Club, and show your support and cheer the young baton bearers as they run the relay through the park.
The secretary of the Tredegar Business Forum, Carol Forwen, believes that it will be a boost to businesses that are open in the evening.
She said: "Certain businesses will see a great boost to their business, such as pubs, but unfortunately due to the late time many businesses will be closed."
WELSH stars such as BBC The One Show’s Alex Jones, former Olympian and Commonwealth medallist Iwan Thomas and Welsh tenor Wynne Evans have also been announced as baton bearers alongside 16 other members of the community.
On the baton’s first day in Blaenau Gwent, Bethan Williams, 19 a committed netball coach from Tredegar will carry it.
Platinum Young Ambassador, Bethan, volunteers at Tredegar Netball Club, and not only does she coach the mini nets, junior teams and netball ladies team, but she also drives teams to league matches and tournaments.
Taking up the relay is Samantha O’Callaghan, 37, a netball club champion from Ebbw Vale.
A dedicated netball coach and chairperson, Ms O’Callaghan has been involved with Ebbw Vale Junior Netball Club for the past six years.
She carries out administration roles as well as coaching and developing young leaders.
Under her guidance the club has gone from just one team to eight teams taking part in junior leagues.
The 1960 pit disaster hero and keen golfer, Joseph Price, 82 from Abertillery will carry the baton next.
The miner turned hero, Mr Price narrowly avoided the Six Bells pit disaster of 1960 and played an integral role in rescuing those trapped underground.
He is the last surviving deputy from the pit at that time and has spent 40 years raising money for various charities, visiting people in hospital and organises an annual Christmas dinner for all the widows of the Moose International organisation.
Next to take the baton is Chloe Williams, 16, a netball and tennis enthusiast from Blaenau Gwent.
She plays and coaches netball and helps deliver mini tennis sessions.
A committed sports volunteer from Blaenau Gwent, Luke Rees, 17, will take the baton.
He has undertaken volunteering opportunities with 5×60, Street Games and Dragon Sport in a Welsh medium primary school, where he learnt basic Welsh.
Next it will be passed to Matthew Berrow, 16, a passionate sports volunteer from Blaenau Gwent.
A pupil at Pen Y Cwm Special School, he actively volunteers at numerous events including the Dragon Sport Festivals held across the community.
An aspiring gymnast from Tredegar, Naomi Jarman, 11, has been chosen to carry the baton as she has previously been part of the Elite Preparation Welsh squad, representing Wales at the National Grade 7 British Finals.
She suffered a setback after a fall from the bars caused an injury to her elbow, but she back in training and working towards her next grade.
Currently the head girl at Queen Street Primary School, Ellie Eversfield, from Blaenau Gwent, will carry the baton.
She has represented her school in both football and netball tournaments.
Volunteer and dodgeball enthusiast, Rachel Whitehouse, 17, from Blaenau Gwent has been picked as she volunteers to deliver dodgeball sessions.
At just 11 years-old, James O’leary is the secretary of the school council at St Josephs Primary School and has been chosen for his important role.
Keen sports coach and volunteer from Ebbw Vale, Aled Davies, 16, has been picked as he is a valuable member of the Young Ambassador team in Blaenau Gwent.
Sarah Gratton, 26, is a Special Olympic’s silver medallist from Tredegar.
Having travelled all over the UK and Europe representing Wales at judo, Ms Gratton, who was born with Down’s Syndrome, represented Great Britain at the Special Olympics in 2007 and won the silver medal.
She now runs a judo club in Tredegar.
Malcolm Higgs, 69, a former cricketer from Tredegar will carry the baton.
He was a talented bowler, playing 570 matches for Southend from 1969-2002.
Over those 33 years he was also club captain, treasurer, chair and fixture secretary.
On retiring from cricket, he took up bowling in 2002 and played for Bedwellty Park Bowls team where he still plays.
He has also run the Tredegar Quiz Wizards for 33 years, raising thousands of pounds for charities.
Tredegar's Stuart Lane, 60, has also been picked. He played for Cardiff, Newport and Newbridge and capped for Wales in 1978 and was selected for the British Lions tour of South Africa in 1980.
Both a keen tennis and table tennis player, Gerald Watkins, 80, helps to turn the younger generations into professional athletes.
Having played for Tredegar Tennis Club, he was instrumental in reforming the club in 1970 and has held the position of secretary for over 40 years.
He’s also been playing table tennis since 1947 and has set up leagues across Blaenau Gwent.
Susan Woodward, 55, a swimming coach from Tredegar will carry the baton.
Currently the chairwoman of Blaenau Gwent Otters, she has been involved with the swimming club for 36 years.
Tredegar’s Mark Colbourne, 44, a World Champion and Paralympic gold medal-winning cyclist will also be taking part.
In 2009, he broke his back in a paragliding accident and against the odds went on to link up with the GB cycling squad.
He competed at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, adding two golds and a silver medal to his trophy cabinet.
THE Commonwealth Games Wales bosses are urging the Welsh public to get behind Team Wales by coming out to welcome it.
CEO of the Commonwealth Games Council for Wales (CGCW), the organisation responsible for selecting and sending a Welsh team to Glasgow 2014, Chris Jenkins said: “All the plans are in place and we now want to ensure that as many people in Wales as possible get to experience the relay as it makes its way across the country.
“Local authorities and other partners have worked hard to ensure that the baton will get a very warm welcome as it reaches their areas.”