Gift of giving: Oxfordshire charity champion

Round & About

We chat to Didcot heroine Courtney Hughes who has set up a new befriending service for her local community and needs your help!

Love is the vital ingredient that helps community projects take off and gain momentum and Courtney Hughes BCAv has felt a lot of love this year.

The Didcot teenager, who works at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital acute admissions unit, has had a phenomenally busy year by anyone’s standards, including accepting an invitation to a certain wedding in Windsor. “The Royal Wedding was this year’s the highlight for me,” says Courtney. “It was a day I was so glad to share with Mum as she supports me so much all year. We were humbled to be surrounded by so many inspirational people who do good in their community. It does drive you to carry on when you meet like-minded people.”

Courtney, who also suffers from acute ME and was regional runner-up in the Pride of Britain Awards., founded the Secret Santa charity in 2014 inspired by her great grandmother. She wanted to brighten up the lives of those who find themselves on a hospital ward, especially at Christmas, and set about collecting gifts for poorly, elderly and vulnerable people. She has been bowled over by the response to her project and now the charity operates all year round.

Courtney subsequently launched The Secret Santa Hands of Friendship last month. “This is a new befriending service which will be carried out by my team of volunteers,” she says. “They can offer a friendly chat, a cup of tea and a social meet-and-greet. Anyone who is vulnerable, whether elderly or in need, or knows someone who is, can email us.”

This year, Courtney has furnished another two properties for women moving out of local emergency refuge accommodation and is hoping to extend this to neighbouring counties.

Volunteers are urged to get in touch and donations of new toys, toiletries, books, knitted items, non-perishable food, crafts, vouchers, DVDs, games and more are urgently needed. Drop these at Didcot Street Fair on 29th November, SOHA Housing Didcot, Element Six Harwell, K&K Printing and Embroidery Didcot, Innovation Centre Milton Park, Cornerstone, Boundary Park GWP Didcot, Sainsbury Didcot (1st December), Morrisons Carterton (from December) and the Christmas Gift Fayre in the Civic Hall on 17th November or get in touch to arrange collection.

Courtney is also planning her homeless outreach, charity shopping afternoon on 25th November at the Marlborough Club, 12-5pm raising money for AAU and Didcot Hospital and the wrapping party on Sunday, 2nd December.

If you’re a local business, Courtney would love to hear from you about sponsorship to help her continue. Please follow @charitysecretsanta on Instagram and Facebook and @SantaCharity on Twitter.