Lisa Hulyer and Sarah Lewis were so moved by the plight of our NHS heroes and angry about anti-vax scaremongering, that they decided to do something about it…
Over winter they launched their Vaccine Star (V-Star) badge for sale at £3 with all profits going to NHS charities, St John Ambulance and local causes, while sending a positive message to the world.
“We are two British mums who, like everyone else, have been significantly and profoundly affected by this dreadful virus,” explained Lisa and Sarah. “Like most of you, we’ve been homeschooling our children, whilst struggling to maintain any vestige of normality as best we can.
As we are unable to work as normal, we have created this badge to promote the Covid19 vaccination programme to encourage every person in this country to take up this vital vaccine and to wear your V-Star badge to show your support.
It’s a handy way of being ‘seen’ to support the programme – and the feedback from healthcare workers has been so positive. It’s important everyone, from all communities, comes together to have the vaccine, to enable us to return to normal.”
The high quality 3cm blue enamelled star set in gold metal with a butterfly clasp is a British-made product. The project is helping to promote pop-up staff shops in hospitals for free food and essentials. As well as relaxing staff break areas for NHS workers and welfare packs of snacks, drinks, lip balm and hand creams.
To buy yours, please visit v-star.co.uk and follow @vstar.uk on Instagram
Abby Lacey set up Mental Health Mates – Reading after needing help herself, the support group helps anyone suffering as well as their family and friends
Founded in 2016 by author and journalist, Bryony Gordon, Mental Health Mates is a network of peer support groups, run by people who experience their own mental health issues, meeting regularly to walk, connect and share without fear or judgement.
In early 2019, being a fan of her writing and podcast, as well as suffering from anxiety for most of my life, I decided to check out Mental Health Mates. The nearest to me were about 20 miles in either direction, so after about five minutes of procrastination, I contacted them and offered to start my own group.
I know from experience that mental illness magnifies through isolation. I also know that being outside in nature is great for your mental health, so to incorporate walking and talking to someone, sharing with them or simply walking beside them – just connecting – is the first step to recovery.
In May 2019 I set up Mental Health Mates – Reading, organising bi-monthly weekend walks for people suffering from mental illnesses, along with their family and friends, in and around Reading.
We were lucky enough to have almost a year of walking together before the pandemic hit, but we’ve carried on walking when we can, and when we can’t, we meet bi-weekly through Zoom. The Zoom calls are a great way to check in, in a really informal environment. There is no structure to our calls – we chat about everything from TV to politics, from fashion to medication – we cover it all! There is never an expectation to talk and if you don’t want the camera on, that’s fine too.
We have built a great community of like-minded people, and we have visitors on the calls from all over the country as I, along with other walk leaders, actively advertise that all are welcome.
When we are able to get together, our accessible walks are as gentle or as brisk as the group would like, so we cater for everyone, covering about two miles over an hour.
We are truly spoilt for choice for locations in the area from beautiful lakes such as Dinton Pastures and Whiteknights Lake at the University of Reading, to the River Thames at Caversham. We’re hoping to expand our offering to west Reading too in the early summer too, so we can reach even more people.
Ronnie Kendall is passionate about creating a community hub in the Woking area to help those with mental health issues and to combat loneliness.
The idea behind Holme Farm, Woodham, is to create a community hub with workshops and a café which also provide a safe haven for those with mental health issues and to combat loneliness.
There will be space for gardening, an orchard, bee-keeping, re-wilding and family areas for relaxing. Inside the ‘sheds’ there will be a café where people of all backgrounds and ages can meet and socialise, and courses will be organised for everything from crafting and creative activities to computer skills and woodworking.
In the longer term, it is hoped to involve local councils and assist with high child poverty and levels of loneliness in our boroughs. It is this that inspired the group of community-minded individuals including myself and my wife Christine to come together to try and secure derelict buildings and adjoining land, currently owned by DEFRA, in Woodham Park Road.
Loneliness causes mental illness. Recently there has been a heightened level of awareness around the issue of poor mental health and an urgent need to take positive action in tackling this issue, reducing the burden on the NHS and emergency services. Workshops are a simple way of helping with this growing problem.
It is hoped the Holme Farm project can start this year. It will be a place to pursue interests, to share and practice skills, enjoy making and mending and discuss anything. A community project to share knowledge, make social connections, build friendships – and of course a lot of laughter and tea!
Dunsfold Village Shop has two reasons to celebrate – not only has it marked 10 years serving the community but it has also won an SW Surrey Community Hero Award.
South West Surrey Community Hero Awards
The award launched by MP for South West Surrey, Jeremy Hunt, acknowledges the shop’s contribution to the local community during the Covid-19 pandemic, going above and beyond to help others during these challenging times.
Lockdown posed a huge challenge but the shop has remained operational throughout the past year, in recognition of the importance of local shopping for the community. During the first lockdown, a successful online shop was launched for collection and delivery to vulnerable customers and in February a huge milestone was reached with the 3,000th order. Alongside this, the shop doors have been open for the vast majority of the time, operating within Covid-safe guidelines.
Mr Hunt said: “We have all been humbled by the numerous examples of individuals going the extra mile to help people in need during the pandemic. Thank you so very much for all you are doing to support those in need during this crisis – you are a true local hero!”
Owned and run by the community, the shop opened in 2011 and now provides a comprehensive range to customers, including everyday groceries, a richly-stocked delicatessen, fresh fruit & vegetables, freshly brewed coffee and hot drinks and other support services, including dry cleaning. It is a staunch advocate of Love Local and during Covid has continued to stock goods from many local producers including Rawlings of Cranleigh, Dylan’s Icecream, Taurus Wines, Flowers by Juliette, Sugar Party, Charlie’s Trout, Mandira’s Kitchen, eggs by Hallgate Farm and Lee House, Crafty Brewing Co, Firebird Brewery, Hogs Back Brewery, Hungry Guest and many more.
Run by manager Gary Halls and his five staff, the shop operates with a team of local volunteers who help stock shelves, serve and compile and deliver orders. Gary said: “We are delighted to receive this award. 2020 was extremely challenging but with teamwork and a lot of creative thinking, we transformed the way we operate and are stronger for it. The most important thing is keeping our customers and staff safe, whilst at the same time, continuing to provide our community service, arguably more vital than ever during Covid.”
Dunsfold Village Shop Committee Chair, Karen Thurston, said they were extremely grateful for the hard work of the staff and volunteers, adding: “The benefits of the village shop have shone through during the last year – it is central to village life and has been a lifesaver for many locals – and it has been a huge pleasure to be part of it.”
Here we are, a full year after lockdown was announced. Let’s face it, tempers feel a little bit frayed this week, which is natural, really, as we approach the final furlong towards (hopeful) freedom!
So we were wondering… what have you missed most over the last 12 months? Maybe it’s something you took for granted BC (before Covid). That coffee & cake break with workmates… Your routine hair appointment… Saturday sport.
As you know we’re raising a glass to our hospitality heroes with our R&A Good Cheer awards because eating & drinking while supporting our local pubs, restaurants, delicatessens is right up there at the top of our list. Watch this space for news of the winners soon!
Entertainment is another industry we salute, as we remain hopeful of the roadmap to freedom allowing us to enjoy theatre again. As Louise Chantal, co-director of The Oxford Playhouse puts it: “We miss our friends. I think of the scores of youngsters in our 17-25 Young Company, who were in their last week of a year’s preparation for their showcase production when we closed [in March 2020], and our long-standing amateur partners – Oxford Theatre Guild, Oxford Operatics and Opera Oxford – whose yearly extravaganzas at the Playhouse bring together hundreds of local people, from every possible background, to put on a show.
The Oxford Playhouse team, intermittently furloughed and each covering several people’s jobs, transferred all the participation and artist development programmes online (leading the march to digital nationally) and have worked with over 4,500 young people and community group members to ‘stay creative’ during lockdown. “We kept telling stories and supporting artists all through this crazy year,” says Louise.
Check out the Oxford Playhouse co-production of The Picture of Dorian Gray, starring Stephen Fry and Joanna Lumley, and upcoming highlights.
With a summer of festivals shelved last spring, the idea of enjoying the pick of the area’s crop of get-togethers this summer feels like a dream… Boomtown near Winchester is tentatively set to go ahead in August, with tickets selling out this month.
“In the last couple of weeks, we’ve moved on from what felt like the world’s longest winter to all of the joys of spring and the collective excitement to reclaim the summer for hugging friends and family and dancing until our shoes fall off…” said the team.
“It’s still a long and rather complicated road to get there, but if we’re allowed to go ahead, words will never be able to fully describe the sheer love and energy that will radiate through this year’s fair.
The team behind Reading (and its northern sister festival Leeds) are also delighted to have sold out all tickets to eager festival-lovers, with Stormzy, Postmalone, Disclosure and Liam Gallagher ready to rock after a quiet year!
So…. what have you missed? Tell us on Twitter and we will be here to celebrate all of these returning joys with you!!!
Jess Gillam tells us about music’s power to connect us and looks ahead to the Investec International Music Festival which will take place in Surrey Hills as soon as safely possible.
Music is intrinsic to our humanity. It has been a form of expression since the beginning of time and it has the power to unite, to console us and to bring light in what often seems like a broken world. Music can provide us with a space in which to exist, a place in which to be renewed and perhaps a moment of solace – which is what many people have needed throughout these bleak and uncertain times. Music can offer us the thing we are all longing for most: connection.
When my diary was wiped clean of concerts, workshops and performances pretty much overnight in the first lockdown, I wanted to try to find a way to unite people and provide a bit of that sense of belonging, identity and hope that music often gives us. So, I set up the Jess Gillam Virtual Scratch Orchestra – an online project publishing parts for different pieces (Let It Be by The Beatles, Where Are We Now by David Bowie and Sleigh Ride by Leroy Anderson) on my website.
Anyone, of any ability, could send in a video of themselves playing along (with a click, of course, to keep us all in time!). We then created an orchestra out of all the videos and then I played along too. It was a big online party for musicians and we had just under 3,000 people aged between two and 95 participating over the three projects.
The response was absolutely fantastic from both participants and the audience, with many people commenting on how the project had given them a sense of community. Although technology can sometimes be endlessly frustrating, it really can (especially in these times) offer us a way to come together on a mass mission!
Thanks also to technology, I also released my second album, TIME, last year. We finished the recording four weeks before the first lockdown. The concept behind the album – to reflect the arc of energy in a passing day and to give listeners a moment away from a manic world seemed to become strangely more pertinent in the weeks to follow. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, the album could not be toured but I will perform some of the music from this album at the Investec International Music Festival which I’m excited about!
As we start to move towards a world in which live performances become possible again, I hope we’ll all cherish the direct sense of communication music can provide and that we have missed in recent times. I’ve been lucky enough to give a few concerts to live, socially distanced audiences and in an odd way, these have been some of the most memorable performance experiences of my life so far; the heightened sense of anticipation, communication and sharing in the halls has been so special. Nothing can replace the electrifying energy of live music, which is why I cannot wait to perform in Surrey!
For more details & updates on the 2021 Investec International Music Festival, please visit iimf.co.uk
Help ensure the survival of beautiful African wild animals by supporting two amazing charities
The last 12 months have been challenging in so many different ways. But to mark World Wildlife Day we’d like to highlight ways you can help the urgent plight of animals in need of your support.
The AfriCat Foundation & Namibian Lion Trust team are working hard to protect the natural habitat has been built up over the last three decades.
But with travel restrictions hampering vital fundraising from safari bookings at Okonjima Lodge, both charities really have gone back into survival mode.The nature reserve is a self-sustaining eco system, unique in Namibia, which has provided so much valuable behavioural and scientific insight. This knowledge, about big cats, grazers, pangolins, hyaenas, rhinos and more, has contributed to considerable understanding of these threatened species.
It might be March but, as the world is only just opening up, why not take up the special offer to buy a beautiful 2021 calendar? These feature 13 amazing images from great photographers including Chris Packham, Rohan Van Wyk, Joe Hubmann, Robin Maeter, Naun Amable, Paul Martens & Wayne Hanssen, of lions, hyenas, pangolins, leopards, cheetahs and zebra.
Check out the AfriCat shop here. Every pound you spend on these gorgeous goodies will help ambitious wildlife projects, in particular building a school in one of the conservancies which borders the western boundary of Etosha National Park. Or take advantage of the Donate Now, Stay Later offer from Okonjima; email [email protected]
Please visit africat.co.uk for further info & sign up to the newsletter. Thank you!
For a very different charity – read about England World Cup legend Sir Geoff Hurst’s gin and whisky to support dementia charities here.
Social enterprise Maymessy is helping families learn valuable life skills.
Food shopping and cooking for a family can be a challenge, especially when you’re on a tight budget, but help is at hand from a Wantage-based social enterprise.
Maymessy at Garlands Farm, West Challow, believes in giving marginalised groups and disadvantage young people better wellbeing through cookery classes and wellness activities.
It was launched in 2017 by Anna Richards who turned a disused cow shed into the cookery barn supporting young carers, young people in the care system, families struggling financially, those with special needs and refugee families.
Maymessy works with eight local charities and youth groups helping young people to understand the importance of teamwork, build their confidence and self esteem and enjoy time outside in the shared garden as well as giving them greater knowledge of healthy eating and wellbeing.
Maymessy at Garlands Farm
This year, it has branched out to support adults from charities such as Refugee Resource and Style Acre with those who visit working in the vegetable plot and getting to grips with the pots and pans before sitting down to tuck into a plate of their own yummy and nutritious food.
Maymessy can also offer ad hoc work experience, volunteering and mentorship to the young people who go there.
Anna said: “As a qualified teacher with nutritional accreditation and a mother of twin girls, I know how food shopping and cooking for a family can be a challenge, especially when you’re on a tight budget or using a food bank.
“As a local community interest company, I wanted Maymessy to help these families by providing a safe and comfortable space to learn these essential life skills.”
And this year Maymessy has been supporting the NHS in Oxfordshire with weekly deliveries to around 100 Covid-19 special care staff.
Anna added: “At the end of lockdown, we also collaborated with Ray Collins Charitable Trust to provide care packages to the staff of the John Radcliffe Children’s hospital. It was there that we had the idea that we could partner to provide support to local families in Wantage – providing our cooking expertise to the families using the [Wantage Coronavirus] Support Group.”
The WCSG has been working closely with local families over the last seven months supplying much-needed shopping and over this time realised the difference these classes could make.
Anna Richards: Founder of Maymessy
Ray said: “Shopping and cooking on a tight budget is never easy and in some cases can lead to friction and tension in the home. So the Sustainable Wantage, Ray Collins Charitable Trust and the Coronavirus Support Group want to help out by organising cooking classes for parents and hopefully older children to learn new cookery skills together and how to plan and budget for meals.”
Pop icon & beacon of positivity Billy Ocean, who lives in Berkshire, has teamed up with the Young Voices Choir to release a new and uplifting recording of the Bill Withers’ classic, Lovely Day.
Also featured on the track are award-winning broadcaster and musician YolanDa Brown (saxophone) and The Voice UK 2018 winner (and former Young Voices singer) Ruti Olajugbagbe. Released on January 26th by Magic Star (the home of children’s and family entertainment at Sony Music UK), all UK profits will go to children’s mental health charity Place2Be.
“We have all been affected in different ways over this difficult last year,” says Billy MBE, “and many children have really struggled. I’m so happy to be able to join with Young Voices to help make a difference and to raise funds for children’s mental health with this wonderful and hopeful song.”
Profits from the single Lovely Day will go to the Place2Be charity which launched the first ever Children’s Mental Health Week in 2015. Place2Be’s school-based teams estimate that 85% of the young people they support have been negatively affected by the pandemic, and have seen an increase in referrals around self-harm and suicidal thoughts in secondary schools. 1 in 6 children and young people have a probable mental health condition (Source: NHS Digital)
Ben Lewis, CEO of Young Voices, says: “With school life currently disrupted, this highlights the need, more than ever, to support children’s mental health.”
Young Voices is an all-inclusive educational programme designed to use music to develop 21st-century skills such as communication, collaboration, creativity, mindfulness, and innovation. Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year Young Voices have staged the largest children’s choir concerts in the world. In 2020 alone, Young Voices headlined 24 arenas across the UK, including a record breaking concert at Manchester Arena, overtaking Take That’s previous record of 46 shows.
This summer Young Voices will attempt to break their own Guinness World Record for ‘Largest Simultaneous Sing-Along’, currently standing at 293,978 – a record set when the ‘Big Sing 2005’ was broadcast live from the Royal Albert Hall. Streamed live from The O2 arena, Bily Ocean, Yolanda Brown and Ruti and Young Voices will join children, their teachers and families throughout the UK to sing ‘Lovely Day’. Involvement can be registered at: youngvoices.co.uk/biggest-sing/
The members wanted to support the health and well-being of the hardworking and dedicated staff at this critical time. The packs are intended as a morale boost and a small token of appreciation and each contain a handwritten message of hope and appreciation.
Once the members’ collection reached £2,000 the club added its own donation to double the amount and from there the members just kept on giving to get to the £10,440 raised so far.
The first 250 packs have been delivered to the Royal Surrey with a further 750 on their way over the next four weeks.
Established in 1913 and located just outside of Guildford, Bramley Golf Club has members from around Guildford, Godalming, Cranleigh, and the villages of the Surrey Hills, an area of outstanding beauty.
The club is home to 900 members, 641 golfing members. The club boasts an excellent junior section with 44 junior members and an adult academy with 24 players learning the game. BGC Ladies section makes up 23% of the golfing members which is above the national average of 15%.
Read our Golf feature from this time last year to find out about local clubs and courses.