Volunteer couple scoop top award for help in bring the sound of music to dementia patients


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A choral couple who help bring the sound of music into the lives of dementia patients on Anglesey have scooped a top health award.

Gloria and Alun Williams were named as winners of the Outstanding Voluntary Contribution category at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) staff achievement awards evening.

The couple, who perform in five choirs between them, were presented with their award by BCUHB Head of Volunteering Susan Marriott and fellow volunteer Phyllis Tomlinson at a glittering gala evening attended by 350 health board staff and VIP guests at Venue Cymru, Llandudno.

The event saw Alarm front man Mike Peters take to the stage in medical super group The Betsi Blues, with BCUHB Chief Executive Gary Doherty on drums and hospital consultants Chris Subbe, Chris Thorpe and Damian McKeon.

The Welsh rocker, who co-founded the global rock ‘n’ roll cancer charity Love Hope Strength Foundation,  thanked health board staff for the treatment he received during his three battles with cancer, and for the care now being given to his wife Jules, who has breast cancer.

Mike said: “It’s a privilege and an honour to be surrounded by so many people who have achieved so much. You are important people to so many of us and it’s right you all have the opportunity to celebrate the great work you do.

“Jules and I remain positive and focused because we have you, truly inspirational and dedicated NHS staff, by our side.”

Also nominated for the Outstanding Voluntary Contribution award was former Ruthin Hospital league of Friends secretary Ceris Edwards, who has devoted 30 years of her life to visiting hospital patients and raising funds to improve their medical care, plus the team who run Radio Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor.

Alun, who taught History and French at Holyhead High School before his retirement and sings with Cor y Penrhyn, said: “I am really overwhelmed and shocked. It’s really not a chore for Gloria and I to do something we enjoy.

“To see how people react to songs, especially songs sung in Welsh that Welsh speakers can enjoy, is really important.”

Gloria worked at the Alaw Ward in Ysbyty Gwynedd as a medical secretary for 35 years, and sings with her husband in Cor y Dyffryn, Bethesda led by Menai Williams.

She added: “We have seen patients, who are in a very dark mood, come into the music sessions and you see their spirit lift. They then admit how much they like singing and how much they enjoy music.

“It makes a big difference and it’s something we will always enjoy. We really don’t see ourselves as anything special but we are very grateful for this wonderful award.”

Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board Chief Executive Gary Doherty said: “I want to congratulate Alun and Gloria Williams and all the other category winners, as well as everyone who was nominated for an award.

“Every member of our hard-working and dedicated staff, plus all our volunteers, are winners in my eyes.

“It was a pleasure and an absolute privilege to read through all the nominations, which came from colleagues, patients and their families.”

Alun and Gloria, who both speak fluent Welsh, were nominated by BCUHB music therapist Christine Eastwood for their help with sessions at Cefni Hospital’s Cemlyn dementia assessment ward.

The couple picked up Welsh songs from the patients, which allowed Christine, to become a Welsh singer, though not a Welsh speaker.

Christine said: “Cemlyn Ward has an average of 15 patients, which is very large for a music therapy group. With the group size and behavioural unpredictability of patients with advanced dementia, I needed some good support.

“However, ward staff – as much as they would have liked to help –  could not commit to providing support on a reliable basis due to their other duties.

“I was also faced with the issue that I’m not a Welsh speaker and it’s important for dementia patients, with limited verbal expression, to be able to express themselves.

“Gloria and Alun are without doubt amazing volunteers and make it possible for Cemlyn patients to get the best possible experience out of our sessions.

“They offer essential one-to-one support, they listen, support and encourage and engage. They offer a helping hand, often communicating through gestures, holding eye contact and singing with strong voices while inviting and encouraging patients to join in.

“They have set a wonderful example of how volunteering can be a form of vocation which, in this case, helps patients with dementia to be able to express themselves, experience meaningful and satisfying interaction with others and move from isolation to lively engagement” added Christine, who has learnt Welsh through her work with the musical couple.

The health board received more than 100 nominations across 15 categories for the annual achievement awards.

Entries were judged by a selection board comprising Chairman Dr Peter Higson, Chief Executive Gary Doherty, Director of Workforce and Organisational Development Martin Jones, Independent Board Member and former midwife Jenie Dean and Director of Finance Russ Favager.

Mr Doherty added: “We had an incredibly difficult job in selecting a winner in each category and we could easily have made a case for every nominee picking up an award.

“We live in difficult times and the demands on the health service have never been greater. However, all our nominees and their colleagues continue delivering an excellent service to all North Wales patients.”

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