It’s “only” anxiety

Time to Talk Day is a chance for all of us to be more open about mental health.

Team Leader Emma South, who works within United Welsh’s Thrive team, reflects on shaking the stigma of mental health and her personal challenge to do the same….

Don’t yawn! Don’t yawn!….. DON’T YAWN!!!

“I’m sorry Emma. Am I boring you?!”  Another offended person attempts to joke… Again.

What they see is my dis-interest. My rudeness. What they don’t see is the 16 stone man that’s parked himself in between us (not that I have anything against 16 stone men, but I can only assume that should one sit on a nine stone woman’s chest…. ok 10 stone, it would be a far from comfortable or pretty experience!)

And that’s what it feels like right now. My breath has gone and I know by the building panic in my lungs that it’s going to be a struggle to find it.

I now have two options. Walk around the office with my hands behind my head taking deep slow breaths, looking like a fish out of water gasping for air, gills flapping. Or, yawn continuously until I feel like my breathing has ‘reset’.

From past experience, if I go for the trout look, I draw attention and concerned comments which only lead to me panicking and the breathlessness becoming worse, bending me double and creating all the drama for ‘nothing’….. Nothing?

Queue 78th yawn of the day. Exhausting.

Why am I writing about this? Because David Williams challenged me to write a blog for his most recent workplace idea.  I had no clue what to write about. Nothing.  I said it’s not a strength of mine. Then days later I find myself facilitating a discussion at an event. The topic: mental health.

I challenge the group to consider why mental health stigma is difficult to shake off. They discuss good practice like recent media events and promotions that get people talking about it. Right ok, I thought. But we are missing something.

We cognitively know that we need to have a more open attitude towards mental health and that it needs to be promoted, but can we really challenge or change stigma if we don’t reflect on and identify our own unhelpful attitudes towards mental health?

Donna’s interest peaks (Donna Howells, Head of HR) and she emphatically joins the conversations enjoying debating points like ‘will we ever know where our core beliefs came from or why we have that attitude towards mental health?’

On reflection I thought, does it matter?  Do we need to know? Surely we just need to be brave enough and willing to look it in the eye and say ‘I don’t know why I buy into you, but you’re not helpful and I’m going to change you.’

I try to demonstrate that I’m a reflective person by acknowledging to the group that while as a professional working within mental health, I wholeheartedly believe stigma should be challenged, I know as a person, I would feel more comfortable ringing in sick with a headache or even a hangover than I would saying I was suffering with my mental health. Would you?

What an interesting contradiction. It is at this level of your belief system that stigma really lies and really needs to be challenged, not just in promotions that people can choose to take part in but absorb in limited amounts or not personally reflect on.

I’m a hypocrite really. What I should have had the courage to say was that I suffer with my mental health. But I didn’t for fear of how I would be viewed (there’s the stigma again). Even writing this I wonder who will read it and what will change about their view of me. Stigma. Unhelpful. Again.

It’s ‘only’ anxiety. But I’ve learned that it’s not the illness but the management or mismanagment of the symptoms that are the debilitating part of any illness, not its title. I work with people every day that have much more ‘scary sounding’ illnesses but their management of it means it has no power over them.

My anxiety doesn’t seem to have a pattern or logic. My breath goes at times when I convince myself I’m calm and confident. I have a contradiction between my body and my thoughts and feelings which can be confusing. But it doesn’t impact me like it used to because of one thing – I accept it for what it is now.

It’s 2004 and I’m sat in the medical centre on camp, arguing with a doctor that I clearly have asthma.

It’s 2010 and I’m sat in the community arguing with a doctor that I have asthma.

Denial, created and encouraged by stigma, prevented me from accepting that I had anxiety and therefore managing it, making it really hard to manage for years up until recently.

I would tell myself: ‘I’m confident, I don’t feel anxious.’ Now I’ve learned that the only way I know I’m anxious is by my physiological signs, so I’ve accepted it.

Now, it panics me less and while its still remains and probably always will, I just psychologically give the 16 stone bloke a nod and know that he’ll be gone soon, and carry on with my life and what I enjoy.

So, I suffer with anxiety. If he was personified, it would be this guy pictured.

Maybe if I gave him a nicer face the breathlessness would be a more pleasurable experience? *Searches for Tom Hardy pic*

What beliefs do you have that are unhelpful? Do you have a story that would help challenge stigma?

Don’t want to share it? I dare you….


The season of goodwill

During the Christmas holidays, tenants across our communities worked with our staff to celebrate and help their neighbours during the cold weather.

One of our Thrive schemes, Brynteg Road in Blaina, hosted a Christmas open house event which included everything from Christmas music to mince pies, along with a Christmas wreath- making session. Also in attendance was Santa himself, with one of the tenants dressing up in a bid to bring some festive cheer.

The event was opened to the community, with local neighbours and their families welcome to attend.Brynteg tenant and staff in Christmas open house event

Thomas Wright, Night Housing Management Worker at Brynteg Road said: “The event was an enormous success and it was fantastic to see everybody bonding, from community members to tenants.”

The wreath-making session was a particular success, with neighbours spending hours joining in and creating their very own Christmas decorations.

Thomas continued: “The neighbours enjoyed it so much that they sent staff and tenants at Brynteg Road Christmas cards and boxes of chocolates to say thank you.”

After the Christmas party, tenants decided to hand deliver the remaining Christmas wreaths to neighbours who were unable to attend the event.Tenant Dean spreading some Christmas goodwill

During the Christmas period, there was heavy snow fall near the Brynteg Road scheme, which found many of the elderly neighbours snowed in or at risk of injuring themselves in the weather conditions.

Not wanting anyone to hurt themselves, Brynteg tenant Dean decided to step in and lend a helping hand. Dean spent a considerate amount of time clearing snow and ice from the doorsteps of neighbours’ houses, as well as gritting walkways to ensure they were safe.

Thomas said: “It was great to see Dean going out and helping the community, along with the appreciation that was shown by the neighbours who came out to thank him for his help.”

Over in Cardiff, tenants at Pen Y Bryn Place in Gabalfa wanted to see the year out with an ‘End of Year 2017’ party. Organised by tenants with Antoine Azangisa taking the lead, Antoine was supported by United Welsh Community Investment Coordinator Simon Ireland.

No Christmas party is ever finished without a visit from Santa who dropped in to give presents to the children.

Antoine says: “Thank you to United Welsh and their generous grant of £500, without it the party would not have been the success it turned out to be.”

Darren Lane, Neighbourhood Officer for United Welsh said: “This party was the perfect opportunity to get everyone together and work with United Welsh to create a really positive event for the community.”

“I love learning on the job”

27-year-old Nicola Leahy from Pembrokeshire is United Welsh’s new Finance Apprentice.

Being an apprentice means that Nicola works four days with one other day in Coleg Y Cymoedd studying an Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) Level 3 qualification.

Nicola said: “I love learning on the job. I get the best of both worlds where I can gain a qualification but also use the theory in a real-life situation.”

Nicola joined United Welsh as an apprentice after being successful in her application to join the United Welsh Academy.

The academy is currently in its second year, offering apprenticeships and internships in a variety of departments. It was launched to help students and graduates to take their ‘first step’ into the world of work, but has also helped people who would like to change career paths and want a taster of the sector they’re interested in.

Nicola said: “At the moment I’m helping with invoicing and issuing checks but I will be working alongside every team in the Finance department during my time here.

“I love moving around as it allows me to see the wide variety of jobs you can get within the finance sector.

Nicola has a degree in Food Science and Technology from Cardiff Metropolitan University and has previously worked as a HMRC Customer Service Advisor for the tax credit helpline.

Nicola added: “Experience in your chosen field is so vital these days so I feel very fortunate to be gaining a qualification and experience at the same time. After my apprenticeship I’d like to pursue a Level 4 AAT.”

The United Welsh Academy intake is full for this year, but if you’d like to hear about other job opportunities with United Welsh, sign up to our recruitment website to receive alerts about the latest roles available.


“I can go out and help our tenants – it’s so fulfilling”

Our new Digital Solutions Intern Adam Herrin has started his IT career with United Welsh after discovering our internship programme online.

30-year-old Adam has a history degree from the University of South Wales but after graduating, he found it difficult to find a job relating to his studies.

Adam said: “I didn’t want to be a teacher and I struggled to find other opportunities, so I decided to try something different.

“When I saw the United Welsh Academy advert, I jumped at the opportunity.”

After his degree, Adam went to Coleg Y Cymoedd and achieved a qualification in Information Technology. He has volunteered for different organisations but his internship with the United Welsh Academy is his first paid IT role.

The academy is currently in its second year, offering apprenticeships and internships in a variety of departments. It was launched to help students and graduates to take their ‘first step’ into the world of work, but has also helped people who would like to change career paths and want a taster of the sector they’re interested in.

Adam will learn about all aspects of IT during his six month placement, but at the moment he is enjoying helping tenants with IT issues, networking in some of our schemes and setting up laptops for the office.

An opportunity that has already arisen for Adam in his first month of being at United Welsh; a networking course funded by the Digital Solutions team.

Adam said: “The networking qualification will help me to stand out to other employers and will boost my confidence for future job prospects, so I’m really grateful for the support.

“After my internship I’ll know I’ll be in a much better position to secure an IT job – it’s given me the opportunity I needed to change careers.

“One thing I love about working for a housing association is that I can go out and actually help our tenants and communities – it’s so fulfilling.”

During his internship Adam has helped Digital Inclusion Officer Louise Shute to teach tenants digital skills such as getting online.

If you want to improve or learn some digital skills, call Louise on 0800 294 0195 or email

“United Welsh aren’t just a landlord”

21-year-old Jodie Fear (picture top right) is not only our new Specialist Housing Support and Wellbeing Intern, but is also a tenant of United Welsh.

Being a tenant, Jodie has had first-hand experience with United Welsh and our subsidiary Celtic Horizons.

Jodie said: “After meeting some United Welsh staff when being welcomed into our home, I knew United Welsh must be a great place to work. With the enthusiasm and welcoming nature of the staff, how could it not be?”

Jodie completed her degree in Business and Law from University of South Wales in the summer and found out about the internship opportunity with the United Welsh Academy on her university’s intranet.

The academy is currently in its second year, offering apprenticeships and internships in a variety of departments. It was launched to help students and graduates to take their ‘first step’ into the world of work, but has also helped people who would like to change career paths and want a taster of the sector they’re interested in.

Jodie said: “As a tenant I’m used to the tenants’ magazine Linkup coming through my door. Now, it is incredible to be involved in the projects that I would normally read about.”

Jodie’s role involves supporting colleagues in the Thrive team, who are responsible for managing our supported housing and housing schemes for older people. Thrive also deliver a number of support services, including a community wellbeing service on behalf of Cardiff and Vale University Health Board and a floating support service in Cardiff in partnership with The Salvation Army.

A typical day for Jodie involves visiting various schemes and speaking to staff about improvements or resources they may need.

Jodie said: “I wanted a job that involved me being out and about. I enjoy having an office as a base but I wanted to be able to go out in the community and meet people.

“I couldn’t have had a better first month. I feel like I’ve time travelled as it’s gone so quickly! I’ve found it really easy to settle in because you are made to feel comfortable.”

United Welsh also offers various jobs and training opportunities as part of our Together project. Becoming a Together member is free and takes less than 10 minutes… It could make a real difference to your life and the community you live in.

To find out how the Together programme can support you with jobs and training, call 0800 294 0195 or email

My Journey So Far…

Edit 2

Welcome to my second ever blog. I wrote my first blog two weeks ago after becoming a Communications Intern for United Welsh and as part of my internship, I have been given the task to promote the United Welsh Academy.

The academy is currently in its second year, offering apprenticeships and internships in a variety of departments.

To share news about the academy and what my fellow interns are up to, I’m going to write about their experiences of their first month in their new roles, but first I thought I’d begin with my story.

I’m Emma Thomas (second on the left), aged 22 from Neath. I’ve come from an educational background, completing a foundation degree in Art and Design before studying a BA Education Studies degree, with the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David.

With a background in art and academic writing developed through my BA, I thought my skill set would fit well with the communications sector.

Ian Duggan, HR Officer for United Welsh, took the lead in developing and implementing the United Welsh Academy.

He said: “Our main aim through the scheme is to help and support the next generation. As an organisation we think it’s important to do our share.

“The United Welsh Academy is beneficial to all who participate, with employees of United Welsh benefiting from gaining experience as a mentor in addition to the interns gaining invaluable knowledge about the world of work.”

Personally I really recommend doing an internship.

I’ve already done a variety of things I’ve never done before such as writing articles, event organisation, interviewing staff and tenants and social media campaigning for housing sector issues – all in the first month of my internship!

I’m also developing my own personal portfolio so I can keep a track record of my learning, helping me to be ‘interview-ready’ once my internship is over.

Already after a month I am feeling more confident and this is by far one of the best and most valuable opportunities I’ve had.

United Welsh has a really welcoming working environment – it’s comfortable, friendly and free. People actually seem happy to be at work which is something you don’t always imagine when you’re still in university!

This year’s United Welsh internships are running for six months between September and February and the apprenticeship is a year-long programme from September.

The academy was a remarkable success last year, with all the interns moving into a full-time job straight after their internship finished or just before.

For more information about the United Welsh Academy, call the HR team on 0800 294 0195 or email

Health Week A Great Success

“We want to ensure we provide a happy and healthy environment for staff”

Last week at United Welsh, we hosted our own Health Week with a variety of specialists in various fields coming in to provide group and one to one sessions.

Organised by the HR team we all could experience:

  • Mindfulness and resilience with Jacqui Rafferty from the Journey’s project at Gofal
  • Bowen therapy, Reflexology and Indian head massage therapy with Margaret Gallacher from A Gentle Touch Holistic Therapies of Raglan
  • Chiropractor treatment with Rachael Hughes from Precision Chiropractic Clinic, Caerphilly
  • Health checks with nurse Karan Hone to check blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol and give advice
  • One to one sessions with sports therapist Sian Patterson from Peak Performance Sports Therapy, Caerphilly

Staff were able to check general health, receive information on how to look after their body or just simply relax and unwind.

Emily from the HR team said “We provide health week because it allows staff time for themselves, which is important and it also provides an opportunity to address any health concerns people may have.”

“The turnout for health week has been great, with a good mixture of people getting involved and with every session being booked out.”

“The feedback from staff in recent years has been really good. We want to ensure we provide a happy and healthy environment for staff, promoting a positive work-life balance.”


“I found the therapy really surprising and not what I expected”

One of our staff members let us in on her Indian head massage therapy, in this week’s health week. Olga Fowler in our finance team took part in the session to try something new and also had heard it was a good type of relaxation.

Indian head massage therapy is a technique of manipulating soft tissues in the shoulders and scalp, by using a range of different massage pressures and rhythms.

Olga has never experienced this type of therapy before, “This year I thought I’d give it a go, and try something new.” After her experience Olga would highly recommend the therapy for anyone who needs to relax and de-stress.


Olga experiencing Indian Head Massage Therapy
Olga experiencing Indian Head Massage Therapy


“It’s so convenient, it’s only a quick five minutes in work”

One of the sessions we held for health week was with a nurse who checked blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol and give lifestyle advice.

Emily, from our HR team visited the nurse, “I like to see the nurse every year during our health week because it’s not something I would usually do in my personal time. It’s worthwhile as seeing the nurse has prompted some to follow up on advice received and visit the doctor.”


Emily checking in with the nurse on health week
Emily checking in with the nurse on health week


 “It’s not about putting a stop to stress; it’s about dealing with it in a different way”

Sessions on mindfulness and resilience was one of the activities on offer within health week this year. Hosted by Jacqui Rafferty, training officer for the Journey’s Project by Gofal, Jacqui said that mindfulness is all about “quietening your mind and to stop and breathe.” Mindfulness has been around for a long time and is being used by the NHS to combat depression, anxiety and stress.

We followed our HR implementation officer, Sam Church and her experience of the session. Sam had previously done some stuff related to mindfulness in the past called Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), so had some experience and was quite open to the session.

When asked whether she would take anything away from the session, Sam said “I would definitely take away the negative thoughts exercise and also try to apply and use the eight ways to wellbeing in my day to day life.” Mindfulness is a huge subject with a range of benefits to many people, such as school children and in pain management.


A group activity in the mindfulness session
A group activity in the mindfulness session


“I loved it, better than I thought”

The sports therapist provided one to one session and proved to be another hit. Dionne, from the communications team was one of the people who signed up.  She said, “I’ve always wanted to try sports therapy, and when better to experience it than in health week?”

The sports therapist provides an assessment and a remedial massage to restore movement and normal body function. For Dionne who has pain in the shoulders and the top of the back, “it seemed like the perfect opportunity to see if something would help.”

After her session, Dionne highly recommends seeing a sports therapist. “It is so beneficial for anyone with an injury or is feeling sore like myself; I will definitely be booking an appointment to see her again.”

Dionne enjoying a one to one session with the sports therapist
Dionne enjoying a one to one session with the sports therapist

“Offering a lifeline”

Last year, the Supporting People programme supported almost 60,000 people to live as independently as possible in Wales.

As well as providing a lifeline for vulnerable people experiencing a range of issues, from those at risk of homelessness to substance misuse, domestic violence or mental health needs, SP services also help to reduce demand on other statutory services such as health and social care.

One of our schemes Ty Annog, which recently opened in Blaenau Gwent, was made possible due to funding from the scheme.

Ty Annog provides vital accommodation to young people aged between 16 and 24 years old who are at risk of homelessness.

Owned by United Welsh, managed by the Pobl group and delivered in partnership with Blaenau Gwent Council, support is provided 24 hours a day, seven days a week to residents.

Claire Phillips, Partnership Management & Compliance Officer for United Welsh said: “Ty Annog is providing more than a home to vulnerable young people in Blaenau Gwent. It is also offering a lifeline for them to learn and develop new life skills to improve their employment prospects; rebuilding their confidence so they’re ready to live independently in the near future”.

Ty Annog is made up of five self-contained apartments which Celtic Horizons, United Welsh’s wholly owned subsidiary refurbished and reconfigured before the new tenants moved in.

Sophie Thornburrow, a resident from Ty Annog said: “It’s a lovely place to live.”

Throughout September, organisations across Wales are shining a light on the life-changing impact of Supporting People services to show just why we need to protect this funding. Let’s Keep on Supporting People.



Future Workplace – already here?

As an organisation we currently have three large interlinking pieces of work – Customer Journey Mapping, Digital Transformation and Future Workplace.

Like many in the sector we are trying to make sure our businesses are not only up to date but looking at and preparing for what is coming next. We need a user-friendly service in whatever method is preferred; not only for tenants but for staff, stakeholders and the wider community too.


Future Workplace

For the Future Workplace project we wanted volunteers who really wanted to find new ideas or innovations we could use to shape the United Welsh of the future.

Rather than having a project group who were nominated by force, we were lucky to have 25 volunteers that covered every department and gave a broad spectrum of roles, experience and opinions.

The first meeting started with tea, coffee, biscuits and sitting around in a circle in a very un-futuristic village hall on the outskirts of Caerphilly. Our Director of Corporate Services Gareth, who is leading the work, split us into groups consisting of four – five people.

The groups were each given a different list of 10 companies to research and the choice to pick one to visit, with each list based on the Great Place to Work survey ‘Top Tens’ for different categories. We didn’t want to only look at housing and we didn’t want to just look at companies in Wales…. Luckily the group I was in had the top ten companies worldwide –with the remit to visit anywhere in Europe!


Culture, Environment and Technology

We wanted to dig deeper than putting a slide in the office and having a beer fridge in the kitchen. The focus was not only on the environment but also the technology to support it and (most importantly) the culture. I must admit that as soon as I saw the list, Google was top of the places to visit. As we researched the other companies on the list, Google still stood out as the ‘must see’ and we looked at potentially visiting the office in Dublin. Unfortunately, arranging a visit to Google isn’t as easy as googling something so we decided to go back to the drawing board. After a bit of research we came across a Finnish company called Futurice, who previously won the Great Place to Work in the Best Workplace in Europe category.



Futurice are a digital software company founded in 2000. Their head office is in Helsinki and they have 400 staff across eight main offices throughout Europe. There were several things that immediately drew us to visiting Futurice:


  • Transparency and Trust: They have contact details for every member of their staff openly available on their website
  • Culture: They have a section purely on culture on their website
  • Blogs: We got lost for hours reading through all the blogs and getting inspired

Our visit

We visited the Futurice office in Helsinki on Tuesday 14th March and met with Hanno, their Director of Culture (what a great job title!)

Our three hours there included learning some background on the company; a chance to ask our massive list of questions and a tour of the offices. Even though there is a lot of information on the website, we learnt so much more from visiting and chatting to Hanno. As part of the visit we had to feedback our top two ideas for each of the categories – Culture, Environment and Technology.  As hard as it was to narrow this down, here are our favourite ideas that we thought could be implemented at United Welsh.


Transparency and trust






Every employee is given a credit card when they start working for Futurice. There have occasionally been bad decisions but never a breach of trust. Trust is given, not earned. Everyone has the trust to make decisions. The above picture illustrates the 3 x 2 decision making process.

“When moving towards a decision, a new project or an outsourcing task, there are three (3) times two (2) aspects to consider about its immediate and future impact: how does the decision affect your colleagues, the customer and the numbers, now and in the future.”

We really liked this way of thinking and it really allows anyone across the organisation to make decisions, not just the top. In fact, they have an upside down leadership model. People out in the field really help shape the business.


They focus on the right people for the organisation, not just technical skills, and their first interview is purely culture-based.


A variety of spaces

 Quiet, loud, creative and functional as well as funky. (yes, they do really have a sauna!)












For us, this really felt like the heart of the office. Staff can send a message round on an internal app to let people know they have cooked something and want to share it. I don’t think we will be implementing a beer fridge but for a city centre design company that hosts events, it made sense for them.



Provide people with the technology they need

There’s no one solution for this – Futurice simply give people the tools they need to do their job. Visibility and accessibility are the over-riding factors and complement, rather than drive, cultural needs. This includes:

o easy reference meeting room diaries using android tablets outside the rooms
o a phone booth for quiet or private telephone conversations
o a travel point with easy access to taxis and travel information
o the concept that low-tech is as important as high – good old paper and pens all around

Charging points

The tables had all the cables you could possibly need in the middle. Simple, yet how many times have we run around the office trying to find the right charger this month?










From visiting Futurice and hearing the feedback from visits to other organisations it is clear that the future workplace isn’t in the future and changes need to be made now. Technology and Environment are a small part of the bigger picture and culture change is vital to grow and build a sustainable business. One of the best learnings from the trip is that new experiences bring people together.










If you are interested in finding out more and having a chat about our visit and the Future Workplace project then please contact me on 02920 855675 or email

To read more about Futurice go to

Some more pics of our visit below:

reward station – give your colleagues a reward for awesome work
tablets outside all meeting rooms that link to calendars
A ‘mood board’ to measure weekly happiness. It’s not compulsory; people only do it if they see the value in it. It’s a nice visual way to promote everyone talking about wellbeing.
good old fashioned paper
pool table – captures 1 minute so you can show everyone your good shots
silent areas also available
culture is key
Virtual reception including easy way to call a taxi and get local transport info
Silent booth for private conversations

Opening doors

Since becoming a Connect Volunteer in May last year, 57-year-old Debbie Smith from Caerphilly has benefited from digital skills training.

Her new online skills even helped her husband, an experienced fabricator, to get a new job after Debbie helped him to update his CV and search for jobs online.

Debbie said: “I got involved with Connect because we nursed my mum with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and I wanted to carry on helping elderly people.

“I found out about the project through the tenants magazine Linkup. After getting in touch with Dominy at United Welsh I was introduced to Thelma and we hit it off straight away.”

The Connect project helps people to reconnect with what they enjoy, supporting them to build friendships and access activities in their community to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Now Debbie visits Thelma every week for a cuppa and a chat at Plas Hyfryd, United Welsh’s extra care scheme in Caerphilly, while Thelma’s husband goes to the men’s social group at the scheme.

Debbie continued: “When I started volunteering Dominy asked me if there were any courses that would help me. My seven-year-old daughter uses a tablet and I realised I could do with some digital training to improve my online skills. In future I would like to take up counselling so being able to do more online will definitely help.”

United Welsh’s Digital Inclusion Officer Louise taught Debbie email skills as well as giving details of local courses where she could learn more and get qualifications.

Debbie’s new digital skills paid dividends straight away. After working with Louise, Debbie helped her husband Peter to update his CV and apply for jobs online. Peter was offered an interview the next day and was successful!

United Welsh offers a range of free digital training to support volunteers. For more information contact Louise Taggart on 0800 294 0195 or email


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