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Schools of Pharmacy and Engineering build bridges between students and the community

14 June 2023

Engineering students
Petar Krcunovic, Will Dunlop, Robin Crundwell, Hannah Gray, Emily Mulley, Alex Rudd, Darshan Sudarsan, Oscar Llinares-Perales

A new bridge in a nature trail in the former mining community of Abercynon has been built by volunteers from Cardiff University’s School of Engineering.

Since 2021 the School of Pharmacy, with their flagship Pharmabees project, have been partnering with Cynon Valley Organic Adventures to create a nature trail for wellbeing in the area. As well as establishing a green and pleasant space for local residents and wildlife alike, the project is intended to provide data to GPs for the emerging field of green prescribing. It has been a long-held belief that spending time in nature benefits mental health and this project aims to solidify the scientific evidence behind this.

With real world data of how the natural world provides health benefits to patients, it is hoped the trail can provide an additional tool for doctors in the fight against mental illness, as well as serving as an example of best practice.

The innovative trail sees its visitors walking through time, from a section where ancient woodland grows, to a Celtic roundhouse and ancient grain meadow, to a Roman physic garden and on to a medieval medicinal garden inspired by the writings of the physicians of Myddfai. Continuing along the trail visitors arrive at a modern pollinator patch and a sensory garden.

A schematic of the trail

The nature trail sits close to the river Cynon and through the garden flows a small feeder stream, across which users need to pass to get around the site. The original bridge had fallen into disrepair and needed replacing. Professor Les Baillie, who leads the Pharmabees team, and Phoebe Nicklin, who manages the Abercynon project for Cardiff University, approached their colleagues in the School of Engineering about the construction of a new bridge and were put in touch via Dr Aled Davies and  Professor Adrian Porch with Emily Mulley, an undergraduate student with a passion for community engagement.

Utilising the skills learned from her personal experience and degree Emily designed a timber bridge and recruited some of her peers to aid in the construction of the 3.6 metre structure. After cutting the materials in Engineering’s Queen’s Buildings, on a cold February morning Emily and her volunteer team of Will Dunlop, Robin Crundwell and Oscar Llinares-Perales headed for the site.

Volunteers hard at work
The volunteers hard at work (Emily Mulley, Sam Gregory, Hannah Gray, Darshan Sudarsan)

As part of their community work, the award-winning social enterprise Cynon Valley Organic Adventures (CVOA) seeks to help people with mental health issues by recruiting them into the upkeep of their five acre patch. One such volunteer is Mike Jenkins who, as an experienced chainsaw technician, was on hand to help put the foundations in place. He said, “It was good to work with Emily and team in the construction of the bridge, we got to share skills and work collaboratively with the Uni students.” Mike spoke movingly about his experiences in the gardens, where he now holds the role of Head Gardener and Volunteer Site Manager, on BBC’s Countryfile.

Site Manager
Site Manager, Mike Jenkins

Building bridges between the student population and local communities is a priority for Cardiff University and this very literal collaboration has been a gratifying experience for everyone involved. Phoebe Nicklin said, “This collaboration has allowed Cardiff University students and Community members to work together to create something that can be enjoyed by all site visitors. The bridge now allows safe passage to the ancient woodland area and the peaceful river bank where you can enjoy watching for the local Otters and busy Kingfisher.”

With the foundations in place Emily returned to the site in March with the second half of the team of student volunteers to complete the work. This included Hannah Gray, Sam Gregory, Petar Krcunovic, Alex Rudd and Darshan Sudarsan. With support from the site volunteer Lee Jenkins, who devotes much of his time to maintain and care for the site.

The pandemic highlighted the importance of helping others and the value of spending time in nature. This project achieved both of these objectives and supports our wider aim of creating a home for nature and a place for individuals to mentally recharge.

Professor Les Baillie Professor of Microbiology

Emily, who is in the third year of her studies and who originally hails from East Devon said of the project, “This was an extracurricular project I took on as I have experience and always enjoy organising such schemes. I especially wanted to see this project through, to not only provide the opportunity to the students involved but also to help out Janis, Lee and Mike. And seeing the completed timber bridge was a great sense of achievement after spending months of hard work on it.”

Emily and team
(L-R – Emily Mulley, Oscar Llinares-Perales, Petar Krcunovic, Will Dunlop)

This co-production between the schools of Pharmacy and Engineering, CVOA and the residents of Abercynon serves as a powerful demonstration of what can be achieved with collaboration. Janice Werrett, Director of Cynon Valley Oragnic Adventures said, “It was lovely to host the Cardiff Uni School of Engineering over the last few weeks. The bridge is a lovely new addition to our woodland area and has really enhanced access.”

The completed bridge

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