Starting Out – Welsh Beginner Award Winner
Nominated by: Learn Welsh the Vale, Vale of Glamorgan Council
Having the opportunity to learn Welsh again was a key factor in Rhiannon Norfolk’s decision to move back to Wales. She inherited her love of ‘Welshness’ from her mum and dad, who are originally from South Wales, and used to take her on holidays every summer to Gwynedd.
These family holidays inspired her to study at Bangor University where she planned to become proficient in the language, but her busy university schedule meant she had to drop her Welsh lessons. “I got on with life, as you do, but Wales has always felt like home and I had this yearning for the language.”
It wasn’t until she was living in Wiltshire years later that a chance encounter would see Rhiannon return to Welsh. “I saw a poster for a folk band called Calan, who were playing at the town hall in Chippenham,” she said. “I went along on my own and loved it. I felt a huge connection to the beautiful sounds of the Welsh language with the moving music, and it brought back some of what I had learned.”
When she saw a job advertised in her field of health service evaluation, she applied, got the job and moved to Wales. A year later, she has almost completed a fast-track foundation-level Welsh course at Penarth Learning Community.
“I felt really nervous going along but I was assured that I could build on the language skills I already had, despite them being rusty,” she said. “I worried I’d be so far behind everyone else with my very basic Welsh and that I hadn’t learned for 13 years, but it was brilliant. Everyone was so welcoming and it’s amazing how much you remember.”
Rhiannon attends the class for two hours every week alongside Saturday schools. She joins a reading group at Palmerston Adult Community Learning Centre in Barry and has attended a Welsh residential weekend with her mum, Gill, who is also learning at classes near her home in Monmouth.
After receiving outstanding results for her entry exam, Rhiannon is now getting ready to sit her foundation assessment.
Rhiannon suffers with depression, anxiety and Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, which requires the use of walking sticks or a wheelchair and causes her constant pain and fatigue.
She said: “Coming to Welsh classes has made a great difference to my mental health and I take it at my own pace, taking a break in class if I need to. Learning gives me structure and a place to make friends. It’s helped me to keep my brain active and given me a sense of purpose and achievement. Giving up on Welsh was always a regret and I wanted to sort that out, and I feel so fulfilled now that I have.”
Suzanne Condon nominated Rhiannon, she says “It is clear that other learners in class love to practice with her, she’s brilliant at encouraging them to say as much as they can. She’s a learner on a mission and she inspires others.”