LAST week a group of generous volunteers came together to deliver 900 cream teas to 450 vulnerable people in Caldicot, to remind them that they have not been forgotten in lockdown.

To mark National Random Act of Kindness Day on Wednesday, the Caldicot Town Team decided to surprise residents with the deliveries, which were very well received.

But if you are from Caldicot, or live nearby, it probably wasn’t as surprising, because the Town Team – organised by long-time community volunteer Aaron Reeks and his band of trusted volunteers – or “voluntold”, he jokes – has been working tirelessly for years to create real change in Caldicot, and community is always at the heart of their plans.

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Caldicot Town Team has been around since 2013, when money was given to Monmouthshire council for Caldicot as part of ASDA’s introduction to the town.

The Town Team was eventually granted access to £225,000 – of which they spent £115,000 by 2018 – and gave the rest back to the council to be used towards what has now become a £4 million Caldicot Regeneration Project.

The team has also made a stance to support businesses and change the face of the town’s Newport Road high street which is struggling due to rising business rates and the impact of the pandemic, and it has organised countless popular events – notably the Caldicot Market.

South Wales Argus: Aaron Reeks

Mr Reeks’ work is even more impressive considering he does it while battling a chronic illness which has left him with a permanent headache and unable to carry out full time work, and which means he is susceptible to migraines, and even potential strokes.

So what does Caldicot Town Team do, and why, in the face of rising pressures on residents and traders, is the group’s work more important now than ever?

“I have lived in Caldicot all my life, I played at the castle or in the town centre as a kid, and as a young man worked for local traders,” Mr Reeks said. “I worked for Caldicot Cycles and Washbourne’s – which is closed down now.”

It’s a recurring theme in the town in recent years, which has just lost its Waitrose store, which is to be replaced by an Aldi in December.


Mr Reeks went on to become a mortgage consultant, but in 2005 he contracted meningitis which twisted the pituitary gland in his brain.

“I get horrific migraines and it has weakened my left side to the point I can’t stand up sometimes, and the permanent headache can be unbearable,” he said. “My blood pressure can lower to unsafe levels, and I sometimes collapse.

“In December we set up the Christmas Market and on the day I wasn’t feeling great. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it. At 10.30am I had to go home, and later that day my boy found me collapsed.

“It’s rubbish – he’s only 13 and I don’t want him to see that.

“Even my three-year-old daughter has learned the phrase ‘daddy’s decked it’.

“I have 33 injections every three months to paralyse the muscles in my skull.

“The migraines mean my blood vessels expand to the point that they burst, and it can fill my brain with blood.

“There will come a time when I’ll probably have a stroke.”

His condition means he no longer works as a mortgage consultant, but that hasn’t stopped him from staying busy – splitting his time as a part-time 999 call handler with his voluntary work.

South Wales Argus: Aaron Reeks

Thinking back to 2013, he remembered: “I told my wife it (being a director for the Town Team) would be a couple of hours a month – that was wishful thinking.

“But I probably have dedicated myself to it more because of the condition.

“Town Team has given me something to focus on, and I have loved getting stuff done, because I appreciate there will probably come a time where I can’t make as much of a difference.

“I don’t want my kids to grow up thinking it’s normal to be ill at home and not working. Not that it’s a bad thing – I just want them to have the desire to go out and make a positive difference.”

Son Dylan is very much involved in the Town Team, as are many of Mr Reeks’ family.

“That’s because I’ve told them to,” he laughed. “But they’re brilliant, they’ve really thrown themselves into it.

“Dylan is unbelievable; for the last five years he’s been with me at every market, carrying gazebos and speaking with traders. He was out delivering and packaging the cream teas with me on Wednesday. I’m really proud of him.”

Reflecting on the Town Team’s work on Wednesday, he said: “I’m so grateful to everyone involved because the idea was only thought up a few days before, and we’ve mobilised so quickly to get the teas out.”

Clarke’s Butchers helped with the food, while Mr Reeks’ wife Phillipa Reeks, son Dylan, Naomi Swales, John Harris, Shelagh Little, Tony Howarth, Kate Brinkley and Cathy and Andrew Edwards helped deliver.

“It was an amazing day, and it was actually quite nice it was raining, because people were probably feeling a bit miserable – and we did our bit to give them that pick me up," he said. “We had a brilliant reaction – some really lovely comments and we’ve been widely praised since, which is always nice.”

One of the elderly people the team visited on Wednesday was a man who has just lost his wife to coronavirus.

“It was awful to hear, and we were all moved to tears. But he thanked us for what we did and how much we’d helped him. You don’t know what people are going through and even we sometimes don’t have a clue how far that kindness can go.”

Since the turn of the year the Town Team has also been offering free learning packs to children in south Monmouthshire.

They started with an aim of almost 300 – and yet they’ve almost delivered 3,000.

“We managed to get a small grant for running costs to help us through the pandemic,” Mr Reeks explained. “We felt we were in a possession where we can manage, so we wanted to use the money in some way to make a difference.

“Rather than sitting on that money and waiting for lockdown to be over, we thought we’d try and use it to make real changes for people living here now.

“We know everyone is suffering with the pandemic, but we also know it’s the young people and elderly people who this (pandemic) has hit the hardest.

“Even if with these packs we’ve given 3,000 kids an afternoon of fun and the parents some time to switch off, or get on with some work, then it’s absolutely been worth it.

“It’s so hard for parents now – they’re nurses, they’re therapists, they’re all sorts. So we just wanted to challenge ourselves to help.”

On the agenda now is a review on business rates in Caldicot, conducted as part of a public-led county-wide investigation into financial disparities in rates – something Mr Reeks says the Town Team believes has left the high street with lots of empty units.

“It’s a travesty with what is happening with these rates. There are huge disparities with what is going on right across Wales, not just here.

South Wales Argus: Aaron Reeks

“Caldicot high street varies between £68 per square metre and £300, which is bonkers.

“This unit (35 Newport Road) is £300 per square metre, and yet the one across the road (what was Country Flowers) is £225, and they’re in the same place. It makes no sense.

“What really annoys me is that Amazon pays much less per square metre, and we wonder why high streets are dying.

“It’s not fair at all. It’s people’s livelihoods at stake here.

“It’s heart-breaking to see traders leave, and this town has changed a great deal in the last 15 years.

“I remember as a kid having a great time in Henderson’s Toyshop, and then growing up working for the independent traders. They’re memories my kids might never have, which is really sad.”

He believes Aldi will make for a welcome addition to the town, and says conversations are already happening among volunteers as to how Caldicot can use the new store to benefit independent traders, and fill those empty units.

“It’s a very popular store and undoubtedly will attract people here, which I don’t believe ASDA has,” he said.

South Wales Argus: Aaron Reeks

“Once Aldi is here I’m really confident people will come here. Our job is to keep those people here, and we can do that by pushing our events to the next level, making our market even better, and really putting glasses on people to show them what we have to offer.

“And we have so much to offer. Before 2013 Caldicot hadn’t received any investment for decades. But this week we’re seeing work start at Church Road, we’ve seen updates at the Cross (top of the high street), and we’re soon going to have some brand-new seating areas around the town centre. It has the potential to be a thriving place to be, so we’ve got to be on the ball and keep driving that forwards.”

On the horizon is a post-pandemic “knees-up” for residents on Newport Road – in true Town Team style.