Emily Gill, local democracy reporter
This time last year, Caerphilly county borough’s Cllr Carol Andrews – who was then the borough’s deputy mayor – was working part-time as a nurse on a stroke and care for the elderly ward at Ysbyty Ystrad Fawr Hospital alongside her duties representing the Bargoed ward.
A month later the country was plunged into a pandemic, and the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board made the decision to transfer many patients out of Cllr Andrews’ ward and replace them with the increasing number of Covid patients.
“The beginning was quite frightening,” she recalls.
“They warned us that the ward could become a Covid ward and we were told that some of us could get seriously ill and might not make it.”
The Bargoed ward – where Cllr Andrews works as a nurse – was used for coronavirus patients for the majority of the first wave – until the beginning of July last year.
While Cllr Andrews hasn’t had Covid-19, many people she works with have – thankfully all of them have pulled through.
Cllr Andrews says there was a “real sense of camaraderie” during the first wave but now a lot of full-time staff are “tired and struggling”.
As a front-line NHS worker Cllr Andrews has already received her first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, and is due to have her second in a couple of weeks.
And she has no hesitation in encouraging everyone to take up the vaccine.
On those who are sceptical about the vaccine, she said: “If I could take people back in time and show them the Covid ward at the start of the pandemic I am sure people will change their minds.”
Throughout the conversation there’s no hiding her admiration for the people she works with. Cllr Andrews speaks highly of her colleagues on the ward, her friends and those at the council.
She describes the current situation as “difficult”, with patients unable to see friends and family and admits that sometimes communication between nurses, doctors and patients can also be “difficult”.
“We are trying our best,” she says.
“We now have Kindles on the ward and tablets so patients can keep in contact with their families.”
But alongside her nursing duties, as a councillor, she’s been required to attend regular meetings. Sometimes they clash, but Cllr Andrews says the hospital has been great at swapping shifts.
Working as a councillor and a nurse in a global pandemic is hard, but in September Cllr Andrews also took on the role of mayor of the county borough.
“All this happened before Covid,” she says.
“It was all on the horizon a few years back when I was approached for deputy mayor.
“I knew it was coming, I just didn’t expect the current situation we’re in.”
In the role Cllr Andrews would normally be attending regular events, visiting schools and hosting regular council meetings, but the pandemic has taken much of this away.
Five months into her year-long term and Cllr Andrews is still waiting for her official ceremony and has only attended one event – the unveiling of Caerphilly as an honorary Quidditch town.
As mayor, Cllr Andrews had the chance to pick charities to raise money for – The Alzheimer’s Society, Valley Daffodils and The Friends of Bargoed Ward at Ysbyty Ystrad Fawr.
But because of Covid-19 restrictions, she hasn’t been able to hold any events to raise money for them.
One thing that Cllr Andrews has been able to do is chair full council meetings – even if it has been remotely.
With seven months left as mayor, and Wales still in lockdown, Cllr Andrews has no idea how it will pan out.
But for now she continues her mayoral duties alongside representing the Bargoed ward and working as a nurse for the NHS.