The Talbot supports local charities

Ellie Cox

Partnerships with charities Oakleaf and Eikon aim to raise mental health awareness and support those in need

The Talbot, a premier hotel in Ripley owned by Bespoke Hotels, is partnering with local charities Oakleaf and Eikon in 2024 to support the mental health of young people and adults in Surrey.

Oakleaf is a mental health charity based in Guildford that supports clients aged 16+ who are managing their mental health. The charity’s mission is to foster confidence and reduce social isolation through a wide range of wellbeing activities and support groups, work-related training and employment guidance, and counselling. Oakleaf also acts as a social enterprise, selling gardening services to the public – the funds of which are fed straight back to the charity.

Eikon supports children and young people in Surrey who are struggling with poor emotional wellbeing and mental health for whatever reason, giving them the skills to respond positively to life’s challenges and thrive. Their focus is on prevention or helping early on, before a concern becomes a crisis.

Arvind Azad, Hotel Manager at The Talbot, is excited about the collaboration: “I have spent some time getting to learn and know more about both Eikon and Oakleaf and the work they do to support young people and adults in Surrey. I, along with my team here at The Talbot, am delighted and keen to get involved to be able to support both charities this year.” 

Jen Clay, Head of Fundraising and Engagement at Oakleaf, said: “We are thrilled to be supported by The Talbot in 2024. Together, we aim for the partnership to create a positive impact, ensuring more people in Surrey who need mental health and wellbeing support, receive it.”

Becky Hughes, Grants and Corporate Partnerships Manager at Eikon, said “It is so encouraging to see the community coming alongside local charities in this way. This partnership will help raise awareness of the mental health crisis, as well as raising vital funds to enable Eikon and Oakleaf to provide support to children and adults in Surrey.”

The Talbot has set up online fundraising pages for Oakleaf and Eikon, viewable here.

Quasimodo comes to Wantage

Ellie Cox

AmEgos Theatre presents The Hunchback Of Notre Dame

AmEgos Theatre is the first company in Oxfordshire to stage the magnificent musical – The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The Victor Hugo classic tells the story of Quasimodo, who has been kept within the bell tower of Notre Dame for his whole life, but longs to be out there as part of the outside world.

When he summons the courage to attend the Feast of Fools, he meets Esmeralda, a compassionate gypsy who protects him from an angry mob.

At the same time, Quasimodo’s guardian, Archdeacon Dom Claude Frollo, and the new Captain of the Guard, Phoebus de Martin, fall in love with Esmeralda.

Will Quasimodo be able to save Esmeralda from Frollo’s lust and anger? And who is the true monster of Notre Dame?

Using the magnificent surroundings of the medieval Wantage Parish Church as a backdrop to the story, and with a sweeping score and powerful story, audiences will be swept away by the magic of this truly unforgettable musical.

With some adult themes, this is not a show for very young children

All Performances will be held at Wantage Parish Church at 7.30pm from Thursday 4th April to Saturday 6th April with a Saturday matinee at 2.30pm.

There is a bar that opens at 6.45pm (and 1.45pm)

Seating is unreserved, and on church pews, so please bring cushions or blankets if required for your comfort.

Parking is in the nearby Market Square (limited spaces) and at The Portway car park – a five minute walk.

Tickets are available here

Women in Music events in Oxford

Ellie Cox

The events include inclusive talks, master classes and performances led by women and gender minorities in the music industry

The University of Oxford Cultural Programme has announced a series of Women in Music events in partnership with Girls I Rate on March 7th. The events will celebrate the many women leading the way in the music industry and ask why women remain underrepresented in many parts of the sector.

The day is made up of three events highlighting women’s accomplishments and perspectives from the music industry and will include exclusive access to accomplished industry professionals, music makers and academics and practical workshops exploring the challenges and opportunities in the industry today.

“Women Leading the Way” will feature an expert panel discussion with Apple’s Elena Segal, Glastonbury’s Emily Eavis, and Music Week’s 2023 International Woman of the Year Golnar Khosrowshahi, who will discuss challenges and opportunities facing women. “Future Hitmakers Masterclass”, organised by Girls I Rate, will have successful women songwriters and producers like Carla Marie Williams MBE, Katie Melua, Miranda Cooper and JinJin, offering advice to aspiring creators and reflecting on rising through a male-dominated space. Finally, “For You” will bring together diverse musicians to perform, including members of the YWMP’s Team Drum and London’s F-Choir, celebrating gender minorities and cultural heritage within music.

This day is part of a rich programme of research and events leading up to the launch of The Schwarzman Centre — a dynamic hub dedicated to the humanities where world-leading research will take place alongside arts and cultural activities. The centre will transform the way Oxford teaches, researches, and shares the humanities with the world, and is due to open in 2025.

This is a significant moment for culture in Oxford and the cultural programme is committed to ensuring everyone, from all backgrounds, can participate in the joy and power of the arts. Currently, women remain underrepresented in many areas of the music creation process, as highlighted in the recent House of Commons Committee report on Misogyny in Music. Women, trans and non-binary producers make up less than 3% of the industry, and for those whose identities intersect several protected characteristics, the figures are even lower. The Oxford Cultural Programme hopes the event will inspire positive change and encourage everyone to “Come as you are.”

For more information about the event and to book tickets, visit the Oxford Cultural Programme website here.

Miranda Cooper Image Credit: Emily Marcovecchio

Doppelginger joy with comedian Ray Bradshaw

Ellie Cox

We chat to comedian Ray Bradshaw who brings his new show Doppelginger to Maidenhead, Swindon, Aylesbury, Guildford, Dorking, Reading, London & more from 1st March.

Ray Bradbury is forever being told “you look just like my mate…” wherever he goes. It’s been happening for years, and he’s worried about it. Either someone is cloning generic bald men or, there’s a ginger bearded bald man out there who’s doing a bad job of stalking Ray.

In his new show, Ray is going to use the latest in genetic research (the internet) to try and put an end to this once and for all. He’s on a quest to find the person who looks most like him.

“My new show Doppelginger is about a bald ginger man (me) trying to find other bald ginger men who look really like him. Purely for comedy purposes, not some weird Tinder fetish game gone horribly wrong. Although there are probably some people that would be into that and if that’s you then please buy a ticket for the show because any ticket sale counts as far as I’m concerned.

“The whole show is going to be about finding people that look like me and the weird things that arise from it. Hopefully there will be some bald ginger people in the audience who don’t even know what the show is about and have just been brought there by an evil partner. The whole show will just turn into an episode of Surprise Surprise for them where I play Cilla Black (with a wig, obviously). Please submit your photo to

Ray’s whole show will be sign language interpreted. “My mum and dad are deaf and I grew up learning sign language,” says Ray. “So that’s a big part of every show I do as I want as big a deaf audience as possible.

“I love having deaf audiences in my show and have them heckle me in sign language only for me to tell the audience what they signed to me and then have the deaf person deny it so I look like I’m picking on them. You’d be surprised how often that happens.

“When I’m not gigging, I’m usually getting made fun of by my son. He thinks the fact I’m bald is so funny and constantly asks me where I’ve left my hair. The other day we were in soft play and he made me feel the oldest I’ve ever felt. We were playing hide and seek and after shouting ‘ready or not!’ he found me in about eight seconds. I asked him how he had found me so quickly and he just replied, ‘when you crouched down I heard your knees crack’. I felt about 100 years old.”

If Ray had to choose a line-up of comedians to go on tour with him or for a special one-night-only all-star comedy show, alive or dead who would he pick? “I’d go for me, Billy Connolly, Bernie Mac and Victoria Wood. It would be an amazing show and I’m the least rich of them all so I wouldn’t have to put my hand in my pocket at the post show drinks. Win win.”

To book your tickets please visit Norden Farm or call 01628 788997.

kOrky Paul R-ox Oxford

Ellie Cox

Renowned artist kOrky Paul, based in Oxford, is set to bring his much-anticipated artistic flair to the city’s upcoming summer OxTrail at the Westgate Shopping Centre next month.

Widely known as the illustrator of the beloved Winnie and Wilbur children’s books, Paul will showcase his talent by painting an ox during a special ‘first-look’ event scheduled for Saturday, March 2nd, and Sunday, March 3rd.

Local shoppers and families will have the unique opportunity to witness the acclaimed illustrator at work on the upper level of the Westgate Shopping Centre, near John Lewis and Next, from 10 am to 4 pm.

OxTrail, Oxford’s inaugural art sculpture trail in support of Sobell House Hospice, is slated to transform the city from July 6th, 2024, for an eight-week duration. Earlier this month, a herd of 135 oxen, varying in size, was delivered to Oxford Brookes University Harcourt Hill Campus with assistance from RAF Brize Norton. The RAF team facilitated the unloading and preparation of the oxen for further transportation, while logistics partner Darcica ensured their safe delivery to participating artists for decoration.

As part of this year’s OxTrail learning program, Oxford Brookes University will host a special event this week for participants to collect their oxen.

In December, artist David Melling unveiled the first painted ox, named ‘Orox,’ at the Westgate Shopping Centre. Orox is currently on display at Sobell House Hospice until the official trail launch in July.

Amelia Foster, CEO of Sobell House Hospice Charity, expressed excitement about OxTrail’s aim to foster creativity across Oxfordshire. The viewing gallery at Westgate offers the public a glimpse behind the scenes of the remarkable artistry leading up to the main event in July.

In a significant display of support from local businesses, Westgate Shopping Centre generously provided space to showcase a sneak peek of the life-size ox sculptures that will feature in OxTrail. The exhibition space celebrates the exceptional talent involved in the project.

OxTrail is a collaboration with Wild in Art, known for bringing streets to life with installations in cities worldwide, including Manchester, Sydney, Cape Town, and São Paulo.

Following the trail’s conclusion, kOrky Paul’s life-sized ox, along with others, will be auctioned off to find their forever homes, with proceeds contributing to the vital care services offered by Sobell House Hospice.

For further details on OxTrail, please head here.

Two operas come to Oxford

Ellie Cox

Award-winning producer Ellen Kent returns to Oxford’s New Theatre.

The Ukrainian Opera & Ballet Theatre Kyiv will be presenting stunning classical productions of Bizet’s Carmen on Wednesday 17th January and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly on Thursday 18th January.

Bizet’s masterpiece, Carmen, is packed with passion, sexual jealousy, death and unforgettable arias. The story of the bewitching gypsy girl whose tantalising beauty lures a soldier to desertion and leads to her own murder, Carmen includes some of the most evocative and best-loved melodies in opera.

The stunning set, built by Setup Scenery, who also build sets for the Royal Opera Covent Garden, reflects the magnificent architecture of Seville with its Roman and Moorish influences.

Carmen will star Ukrainian mezzo-soprano’s Natalia Matveeva and Irina Sproglis.  Sung in French with English surtitles.

Madama Butterfly, the winner of the Best Opera Award by the Liverpool Daily Post Theatre Awards, returns in a new production with exquisite sets including a spectacular Japanese garden and fabulous costumes including antique wedding kimonos from Japan. One of the world’s most popular operas, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly tells the heart-breaking story of the beautiful young Japanese girl who falls in love with an American naval lieutenant – with dramatic results. Highlights include the melodic ‘Humming Chorus’, the moving aria ‘One Fine Day’ and the unforgettable ‘Love Duet’.

In Madama Butterfly the fabulous Korean soprano Elena Dee returns alongside Ukrainian soprano Alyona Kistenyova and Ukrainian mezzo-soprano’s Natalia Matveeva and Irina Sproglis. Madama Butterfly will be sung in Italian with English surtitles.

Ellen personally hand-picks and directs all soloists to create visually beautiful and moving productions. She said of these productions, ‘I am delighted to be working with the Ukrainian Opera & Ballet Theatre Kyiv again after the huge success of the spring 2023 tour. I started working with Ukraine in 2000 and have continued these strong relationships ever since, working with the Odessa National Opera for which I was awarded The Golden Fortune Honorary Medal from the President of the Ukraine, as well as the Kharkiv National Opera and for the last couple of years with the brilliant Opera & Ballet Theatre Kyiv.’

Tickets for Carmen (17 January 2024) and Madama Butterfly (18 January 2024) at Oxford’s New Theatre are available here.

Go stargazing with Red Dwarfs

Ellie Cox

Tony Hersch of Newbury Astronomy Society shares with us what to expect in the skies in January

This month spectacular Ursa Major (the “saucepan” or “plough” shape) stands vertically above the horizon in the North.   

Follow an imaginary line joining the two stars at the end of the saucepan shape downwards and the next brightest star is Polaris, the pole star. This variable star (it changes its brightness over a period of four days) is about 433 light years away, is visible all year round and its position in the sky is such that it always points towards magnetic north and is a useful marker if you’re lost at night!  

Near the highest point above your head is another bright star called Capella, the fourth brightest star in our northern hemisphere after Sirius, Arcturus and Vega and part of a constellation called Auriga. It’s only about 43 light years away and is one of the strongest sources of x rays in the night sky. Although it appears to be a single star to the naked eye, Capella is actually a quadruple star system organized in two binary pairs.  

Keep a look out for meteors during the first 12 days of January when the Moon is only a crescent, because the Quadrantid meteor shower that started late in December continues. Look in the direction of Ursa Major about half way up the sky after midnight and you might see a meteor every few minutes. The peak happens around January 3rd. Regarding planets, Venus is bright this month in the mornings and can be seen just above and to the left of the crescent Moon at about 7am on January 8th. Saturn is shining in the evening sky. An easy time to spot it will be around 5pm on January 14th when it will be just to the right of a beautiful thin crescent Moon and well worth a look if it’s clear.

Topic of the month: Red Dwarfs

We tend to think we can see millions of stars in a dark clear night sky but in fact, unaided, even people with exceptional vision can only see at most 10,000 stars in a perfectly dark sky. There are many, many more stars we can’t see without a telescope. In fact of the 60 nearest stars to Earth, 50 are too dim for the unaided eye. These are red dwarf stars, the most common type of star in the universe, which glow a dull red and far less brightly than bigger stars. Red dwarf stars form just like other stars out of a molecular cloud of dust and gas. Gravity pulls the swirling gas and dust together, and it begins to rotate. The material clumps in the centre, and when it reaches a critical temperature, fusion begins. However red dwarfs have very low mass compared to brighter stars. As a result, they have relatively low gravity crushing material down, a low nuclear fusion rate, and hence, a low temperature and so they emit relatively little light. Even the largest red dwarfs have only about 10% of the Sun’s luminosity. Their low rate of nuclear fusion means they use up their fuel much slower than brighter stars and some are thought to have existed since the beginning of time, 13.8 billion years ago, far longer than other brighter stars. Because of their longevity and constant heat output astronomers are interested in the many planets which can orbit red dwarfs because these planets will have had constant conditions for far longer than Earth. If these planets have the right conditions for life to have evolved, like liquid water, they might be more likely to support life simply because of the duration of the constant conditions.

NewburyAstro welcomes everyone to their monthly astronomy meeting and beginners meeting (£2 for adults, free for under 18s) and also to star gazing and other events. See for details.    Questions to [email protected]

Wildlife volunteers honoured at awards

Ellie Cox

Thirteen unpaid but dedicated workers have been recognised by Berkshire, Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) for decades of work they have put in at the charity’s nature reserves across the three counties

Previously BBOWT has presented one lifetime achievement award at its ceremony, but this year has chosen to award the title to six volunteers.

Richard and Julie Birch have been active and influential members of BBOWT’s Chilterns volunteer group for 20 years. Mr Birch used his marketing and business experience to grow the group while his wife took over management of the newsletter and moved it online. Richard said: “As active conservation work becomes less of a pleasure, there are so many other activities to keep one occupied, making a useful contribution and seeing one’s BBOWT friends – like organising events, meeting and greeting and doing publicity.”

Ched George has been a volunteer at BBOWT since 2014, when he helped the Trust to acquire its Yoesden Bank nature reserve, a 13-hectare site of precious chalk grassland in the Chiltern Hills. He took the role of volunteer warden and helped organise regular conservation work parties and ecological surveys.

Richard Herbert as been volunteering with BBOWT since 1984. For most of that time he has been a core member of the Sunday work party at Bowdown Woods reserve near Newbury, led guided walks around the site and given countless talks to local groups and societies.

David Litchfield has dedicated 15 years to volunteering at BBOWT’s Warburg Nature Reserve near Henley. As well as helping with practical conservation work such as scything and teaching other volunteers a host of skills including tool maintenance. Mr Litchfield has also run ecological surveys on the site and passed on his wealth of knowledge to others.

Outstanding Contribution (Individuals)

Gustav Clark has been an enthusiastic and hard-working volunteer with the West Berkshire Living Landscape team. He has also championed the new online Volunteer Hub where BBOWT and volunteers share news, photos and campaigns.

John Lerpiniere is awarded for his exceptional long-term commitment and contribution to the Trust’s conservation work in Berkshire. He works for the Reserves and Ecology teams, and participates in external volunteer groups on several receivers and is also a volunteer stock watcher.

John Parker has volunteered at Greenham and Crookham commons since 2000. He also volunteers with several other BBOWT groups, occasionally up to five days a week, offering his practical conservation skills as well as his organisational acumen and extra help planning tasks.

David Richardson has been a member of Finemere Wood volunteer work party since 2016. He has taught many volunteers how to scythe and has raised funds to buy more scythes by using his skills as a wood turner to turn felled trees from the reserve into bowls and chopping boards for sale.

Dave Stevens welcomes and engages visitors to College Lake with a ready smile. Dave has also been integral in welcoming new volunteers and will often take them for a tour of the site and stay with them until they feel comfortable.

Phil Townsend has been volunteering for the Trust since 2005 and has been involved with the Reserves Surveying Programme since 2007. During this time, he has helped with butterfly transects, bird surveys, and the dragonfly count at College Lake.

Roger Walton helps provide a rewarding experience for visitors to College Lake through the seasons and helps to make resources for visitor trails.

Outstanding Contribution (Groups)

College Lake Wildlife Garden Group have been going for 30 years. The group is self-led with minimal staff input and come up with ideas and plans to ensure the garden is an inspiration to visitors, demonstrating that anyone can create more nature everywhere, from a few pots in the garden is an inspiration to visitors, demonstrating that anyone can create more nature everywhere, from a few pots in the garden to beautiful nectar-rich borders and bug hotels.

The Greenham and Crookham Common Volunteers (GCCV) were recognised for 25 years of conservation and maintenance work. Working closely with staff, the group is reliable, autonomous and very knowledge about the reserve, its history and ways to assist in its management.

The Oxfordshire Field Team is made up of six volunteers, all retired, racking up 83 years of volunteering for BBOWT between them. The group go out twice a week in all weathers and help with all kinds of tasks to look after BBOWT reveres and the animals that graze them.

Warburg Nature Reserve Volunteer Team includes stockwatchers who help look after livestock that graze the reserve, two work parties which carry out practical habitat management and infrastructure maintenance, and volunteers who make charcoal from by-products of coppicing. The team also volunteer at Hartslock and Cholsey Marsh reserves when needed.

The West Berks Badger bTB Vaccination Team was established in 2021 when they responded to a plea for help with baiting badger traps as part of BBOWT’s successful badger vaccination programme. This involves unsociable hours, long commutes, and assisting with vaccinations at sunrise. Their work has been essential in carrying out this year’s vaccinations.

Women’s walking football fun Fleet fundraiser

Ellie Cox

We’re all focused on football with the World Cup.. but closer to home, the Fleet of Foot team recently enjoyed a charity match in aid of Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice

Eleven women’s walking football teams from a 60-mile radius were invited to take part, including Bracknell, Great Wakering, Cheshunt, Arsenal, Portsmouth, and X Saints.

The home side, Fleet of Foot, entered two teams into the competition, and for some players it was their first experience of taking part in a tournament.

Some 26 games were played in total with match officials being supplied by the Fleet of Foot men’s walking football team.

“High quality football was enjoyed by players and spectators alike”

Ann Goddard tells us: “High quality football was enjoyed by players and spectators alike, with tough competition and a great team spirit being displayed by everyone. Congratulations to the overall winners, Bracknell Blues and the runners up, X Saints who just lost out to penalties in the final.”

Following the tournament, there was a buffet and prize giving where the teams socialised together and celebrated their efforts.

As well as enjoying the tournament, the players collectively raised £671.50 for Phyllis Tuckwell, making the event even more worthwhile.

Fleet of Foot women’s walking football was well supported by Everyone Active for this event at Hart.

Aimed primarily at the over-40s (but all ages are welcome), Fleet of Foot women’s walking football takes place on Thursdays, 7-8pm at Hart Everyone Active in Emerald Avenue, Fleet GU51 5HS. For more information or to arrange a free taster session, please email Sue on [email protected].