Baby steps to better world

Liz Nicholls

Oxfordshire

Lucy Todd tells us about her journey from journalism to founding sustainable children’s clothing site My Little Green Wardrobe which has just turned one

Within a year, I went from being a mother of two with a steady job (and income), to the owner of an online business start-up in sustainable baby and childrenswear.

I have no background in fashion, sustainability or e-commerce. So what prompted such madness? Well, it started with a pair of wellies.

I learned of the impact the textile and fashion industry was having on the environment in my job at BBC News. The fashion industry is the third-largest manufacturing sector in the world, and one of its most carbon-intensive and polluting. It is also responsible for some of the most appalling working conditions, with child labour and forced labour among the litany of abuses. The change towards fast fashion over recent years has only made these problems worse.

While reducing my clothing consumption was fairly easy (after all, I already had a wardrobe of clothes that fit me), it wasn’t quite so simple for my children. They grow. ALL. THE. TIME.

My Little Green Wardrobe sells only brands that act more ethically than the current norm.

Deciphering the more sustainable brands from those that were greenwashing was hard. It took me a whole afternoon to buy just two products – a pair of wellies and a puddlesuit – from brands I was happy with. I’d gone down so many internet rabbit holes checking a brand’s ethos, where they manufactured, materials etc… Each time, I found the product or brand weren’t as planet-friendly as they made out. Why wasn’t there a website that sold only ethical and more sustainable kids clothing from pre-vetted brands? And when I eventually bought those wellies (from a lovely Swedish brand, by the way), I decided that’s what I’d do.

My Little Green Wardrobe sells only brands that act more ethically than the current norm. I’ve come a long way since buying those wellies, when I felt like I needed a degree in materials science to understand the info some brands were giving. I’ve tried to make sustainability accessible to explain what brands are doing to improve their impact across the supply chain.

And don’t just take my word for it. Whether it’s organic cotton or recycled materials, all the brands I work with are certified, or use materials certified, by third-party organisations that guarantee environmental and social criteria. There is no perfectly “sustainable” item. – we’re looking for progression, not perfection.

What I lack in knowledge, I make up for in passion. And, if in doubt, to fall back on my old journalistic training: to ask questions. That’s what I’d urge you to do of the ethical brands you shop from too. After all, without transparency, there can be no sustainability.

Find out more

To shop My Little Green Wardrobe see their website mylittlegreenwardrobe.com

Peter Rabbit & pals at Blenheim

Round & About

Oxfordshire

Looking for something fun and immersive to do with your little bunnies in a gorgeous setting?

The Peter Rabbit Garden Adventure is the fabulous live immersive experience in the grounds of Blenheim Palace until 3rd September.

We have some happy bunnies here at Round & About who have loved the magical mix of storytelling, live performance, and puppetry.

Developed in association with Frederick Warne & Co, this is the first time Peter Rabbit has appeared in this way, and is also a first for World Heritage Site Blenheim Palace which has allowed unprecedented access for families trying to save Peter Rabbit from ending up in Mr McGregor’s pie.

The Peter Rabbit Garden Adventure is a fabulous live immersive experience in the grounds of Blenheim Palace

This 50-minute immersive adventure celebrates Beatrix Potter’s beloved rabbit who has starred in 250 million books sold since he first appeared at the start of the 20th century. The experience has been created by the team behind Autumn Treasure Hunt with Percy The Park Keeper At Chiswick House & Gardens.

There are also free activities on site and a Peter Rabbit Farm Shop.

Find out more

For more info or to book your trip please visit PeterRabbitGardenAdventure.com & blenheimpalace.com

Thame Food Festival bursary winner announced

Karen Neville

Oxfordshire

Popular food festival runs on September 24th & 25th and this year more than 180 artisan producers are set to take part

Hartley’s Cookery School, based in Haddenham, has been awarded the Thame Food Festival bursary for 2022.

The bursary, reinstalled after sponsorship by Pinkster Gin, was established a few years ago to celebrate and promote newly-formed artisan food business within a 30-mile radius of Thame.

Hartley’s Cookery School aims to offer cookery class and chef table experiences which explore food, why certain ingredients or techniques are used and how to prepare and cook it. While also creating an environment that is fun and appealing for everyone – whatever their ability.

Creating an environment that is fun and appealing for everyone

Simon Hartley, Chef and owner of Hartley’s Cookery School said of the win: “I am delighted to be receiving this bursary and the support of the team at Thame Food Festival. Since opening our doors at Bradmoor Farm in January it’s been amazing to welcome and cook with our first guests at the school. We want to be a community-led business and have so enjoyed building relationships with other food producers and suppliers. Our vision for the school is to share my knowledge and passion for food in a relaxed environment, offering fun-filled courses for all abilities. Whether you’ve never picked up a knife or are a seasoned foodie, there’s something for everyone!”

The bursary includes an award of £1,000, a free pitch at this year’s Thame Food Festival, content in the festival programme, the opportunity to have an interview in the Food Glorious Food marquee and help with PR and social media.

Previous winners have included Ozi Lala, who has gone on to win Great Taste awards for his unique food products and the original winner was Lisa Hartwright of Tess’ Brilliant Bakes. Both of whom are going from strength to strength and still play an active part in the food festival too.

Supporting young businesses that have the same ethics as the festival is an important part of what we try to do

Patron and event co-ordinator Lotte Duncan said: “We are delighted to be in a position to offer a bursary again – thanks to Pinkster Gin. As a Community Interest Company, supporting young businesses that have the same ethics as the festival is an important part of what we try to do. It was such a pleasure to meet Simon and his partner and hear what they are trying to achieve by giving people friendly, fun cookery courses while learning about the provenance of their food.”

What will he spend the bursary on? Simon said: “As we have only been trading for just over five months, we are looking to use the bursary to invest in upgrading our website, signage and professional photography. Plus, use the support of the judges to broaden awareness of us and explore how we can potentially look at supporting initiatives in the community too.”

Find out more about them at Hartley’s Cookery School and to book tickets for the festival go to Thame Food Festival

It’s come home – at last!

Round & About

Oxfordshire

Now it’s over to you… be inspired by our Lionesses and get involved in football where you are, whatever your age and ability

Football has come home, it’s taken 56 years to win a major honour but it was well worth waiting for as England women’s captain Leah Williamson lifted the Womens Euros 2022 trophy at Wembley on Sunday.

The amazing achievement of beating eight-times winners Germany 2-1 was immense and while many backed the Lionesses as the favourites for the tournament on home soil, the result is truly outstanding and the women deserve all the plaudits and honours that will come their way.

One of the key aims for The FA and the England Women has been ensuring that this fabulous celebration of football creates a legacy for future generations and encourages as many women and girls as possible to get involved in the beautiful game.

Whatever your age and ability, football is for all and offers a huge opportunity for women and girls to engage in a healthy lifestyle through football, promoting both physical activity and mental health benefits too.

Follow in the Lionesses’ footsteps there are many options open to you.

Whether you just want to have a kick about with your mates, have a go at walking football or want to join a local club and perhaps follow in the Lionesses’ footsteps there are many options open to you.

Oxfordshire FA has a number of initiatives for girls and women to play their part in the “beautiful game” and is currently looking at relaunching the Women’s Small Sided Leagues such as 5-a-side – the ideal introduction to get into the game or get back into it.

Walking football offers a slower version of the game and enables women to play football under the same rules, enjoying the same great game just at a slower pace. Try Oxford United Walking Football Club at The Oxford Academy on Sunday afternoons.

Oxfordshire FA are also taking part in #LetGirlsPlay to celebrate the UEFA Women’s Euros 2022 and give women and girls’ the opportunity to get involved with football in their local community – any age, any ability.

Get involved!

As several players and commentators said after the epic win, this has to be the start of something even more special.

Get on Newbury town trail

Round & About

Oxfordshire

Newbury BID launch new Town Trail Maps to support Local Businesses

Newbury Business Improvement District (BID) is supporting the local independent retail sector with the launch of its brand-new Newbury Independent Retail Map.

The handy pocket is helping to raise awareness of Newbury’s growing independent scene and to support the local independent retail sector.

The handy pocket is helping to raise awareness of Newbury’s growing independent scene and to support the local independent retail sector.

Physical copies of the map have been distributed in matching display boxes to the 44 independent businesses featured. The map includes a brief description of each retailer and also signposts to specialist markets that take place in the town centre. You can view the map online here: visitnewbury.org.uk/independent-retail-map.

The aim for our Town Trail Maps is to help support and raise the profile of our local independent businesses and our wonderful town centre

Copies of the map produced by the BID are being introduced as part of a series of town centre maps for Newbury under the umbrella term ‘Newbury Town Trail Maps’.

Newbury BID, the not-for-profit organisation behind the Visit Newbury brand, is happy to announce the theme for the next map in the series will be a Dog-Friendly Trail Map. This map will promote 26 dog-friendly hospitality venues across the town centre and highlight five prominent dog-walking routes within walking distance of the town.

The map will also highlight the location of dog waste bins in the town centre and its surroundings to discourage dog litter and to encourage dog-walkers to use the map on a regular basis. With National Dog Day 2022 coming up in late August, the map is expected to launch in time for this nationally recognised day for dog-lovers in West Berkshire and across the country.

The map will also highlight the location of dog waste bins in the town centre

The BID has also confirmed that the third map in the Newbury Town Trail Map series due to launch this year will be an up-to-date and reformatted version of the Vegan-friendly Map. First launched in October last year, the updated map is due to be released around the year anniversary of the initial launch and will come in the new fold-out pocket size format.

Kirsty Lemberger, Marketing Manager at Newbury BID, says: “We’re delighted with our new Independent Retail Map for Newbury and hope these handy and beautifully illustrated maps will be kept in the pockets and handbags of local residents and visitors alike for their next visit to the town centre.

“The aim for our Town Trail Maps is to help support and raise the profile of our local independent businesses and our wonderful town centre, and we hope the new look and feel of these pocket maps will make it even easier to do so.”

Maps are available to collect across the town centre at most businesses featured on the map, and from Newbury Library, West Berkshire Museum, and in the Old Town Hall.

If you run a business in Newbury town centre and would like to be included on an upcoming map, please email:

Find out more

To find out more about what’s happening in Newbury this summer, please visit: visitnewbury.org.uk/newburys-calling.

Gilt trip!

Liz Nicholls

Oxfordshire

Liz Nicholls chats to Nat & Ko, whose emporium Gilt & Grain in Southmoor is adding style & pizzazz to homes big and small.

Forget the pub… for more than 2,000 interiors fans, the Friday evening new stock email from Gilt & Grain is the real start of the weekend.

The weekly mail drop of fresh treasures has a sales rate most businesses can only dream of, with more than 60% of items snapped up this way. If you see something you like, you’d better buy it quickly as the beautiful, eclectic items go like hot cakes, as I learned to my cost recently.

I am now primed for buying, which is how I became proud owner of an enormous Tudor-meets Bridgerton upholstered headboard last weekend.

“Customers often refer to the Friday evening email as one of the highlights of their week due to the eclectic list of items,” Ko tells me. “When it arrives they know it is the beginning of their weekend!”

If you see something you like, you’d better buy it quickly as the beautiful, ecletic items go like hot cakes

Gilt & Grain has a gorgeously curated bricks-and-mortar shop in a lovingly restored 19th century chapel featuring a steel mezzanine. But one of the reasons Gilt & Grain has such a loyal fanbase is the couple’s decision to have a strong online presence by operating a website that is updated daily with multiple photographs and dimensions of each item of furniture.

After turning 40, after 24 years as a self-employed carpenter mainly working on period houses, Nat decided to start selling antiques and paintings on Ebay. After 18 months, a run-down shop became available in Oxford which he thought would be good for storage.

And after 20 years in retail Ko, who was at the time manager for TOAST on the High Street, was looking for a new challenge. The East Oxford treasure trove won a loyal customer base (me included) for a few years before the Old Chapel called…

The couple still live in Oxfordshire, and their two-year-old cocker spaniel Millie can often be found lending a paw in the shop.

“Our own interior aesthetic is eclectic,” adds Nat. “Our home is full of what I love whether mid-century or Georgian period furniture. I’ve always believed good design from any period, if carefully selected, can always look good together. We take very little notice of trends so this means interior designers often pick up rather good buys from us! Bamboo and rattan furniture is still selling very swiftly as is furniture with bobbin-turned legs. Due to Instagram, trends are now so swift that they come and go without us even noticing!”

Buying antique and used furniture is sustainable: a lot of the furniture Gilt & Grain sells is at least 200 years old and still perfectly usable, practical and very attractive.

“In recession people look around to save money and antiques are still very affordable,” adds Ko. “For example we recently sold a beautiful Regency sideboard for £185 with the original receipt from a LAPADA member dealer which the previous deceased owner originally purchased in the late 1980s for £1,895. We also often sell used modern good quality or designer pieces as greatly reduced sums.”

Find out more

Thanks to their good eye and high turnover, the shop attracts people from all walks of life, including some high-profile celebrities… And you might hear Ko practising the cello with Millie. Or else join the club of subscribers. Fight you for the best bits!

Visit giltandgrain.com

What’s your favourite local park?

Round & About

Oxfordshire

Love Parks Week runs from today until Friday 5th August, organised by Keep Britain Tidy.

The charity wants us all to enjoy our green spaces, whether it’s walking the dog, picnicking with friends, or pushing our little ones on a playground swing.

There are lots of events going on and the week is also set up to celebrate and support the efforts of the volunteers who maintain and protect our green spaces.

Oxfordshire has so many wonderful parks to enjoy, including Oxford’s Shotover Country Park, Radley Lakes, Abbey Gardens, The Ridgeway and Stonor Park…Which is your favourite? Make sure to share it on social media #LoveParks

We’ve also teamed up with Keep Britain Tidy to call for dog-owners to bag and bin their pooch’s poop!

An American Perspective in West Wycombe

Liz Nicholls

Oxfordshire

This August, at long last, after three years of holding no exhibitions, the West Wycombe Art Group (WWAG) are pleased to welcome you to their popular Annual Summer Exhibitions in August, Trevor Baker tells us.

This year our featured artist, DeeDee Nash Ruffo Nash, offers an American perspective on the local scene.

Where DeeDee started

DeeDee Ruffo Nash began her artistic life in Grade 1 at St Joseph’s School in Norwich, Connecticut USA when she won a prize for one of her paintings. This very early success must have inspired her to pursue a life which has always held art as an important and integral part because she went on to complete a diploma in Commercial Art at the Paier School of Art in Newhaven Connecticut.

Not only is she an active participant in drawing and painting but she embraces music as well being a competent harpsichordist and violinist.

This all developed further when she became immersed in a lively local arts community which encouraged (and actively practised) painting, music and theatre.

DeeDee Nash Ruffo Nash_Paris Night
DeeDee Nash Ruffo Nash_Puffins, colour

DeeDee moved on to carve out a freelance career based on graphic arts in the creative commercial world. She moved from the USA to England in 1996 where her artistic career continued and thrived and she joined the West Wycombe Art Group in 1997.

DeeDee has two favourite media, oil paint and pen and ink – but she also uses charcoal very skillfully to produce lovely, and very convincing portraits.

Her art

When using oils, the main inspirations for her paintings are the mood and atmosphere surrounding dusk and early evening. She loves the dark, sometimes brooding hues of gold and green and the gentle touches of slightly misty blues. Her delicate lightness of touch achieves some remarkable results and her lovely peaceful landscapes offer great serenity and charm. She doesn’t stop there. She is also captivated by the night life of city centres, the bright lights and deep shadows which contribute to the drama of a scene and is then enhanced by shapes and figures which suggest an intriguing background story. Her paintings are a delight.

Her work in her other medium, pen and ink is equally captivating and results in some intriguing pictures. Stark black and white imagery, with subtle nods to Aubrey Beardsley shape and design, are created by the artists in what she describes as “constructive doodling”.

DeeDee Nash Ruffo Nash_Lake Sunset 1
DeeDee Nash Ruffo Nash_Moby Dick

Constructive Doodling

She allows her mind to wander the blank page and almost lets the pen decide the route to take. That route dictates her decisions to move on in an imaginative way to make sense of what could be chaos. This brings the process under control and eventually a delightful design emerges. These designs can exist in their own right or colour can be added to enhance and further the images. “Constructive Doodling” works!

Whatever medium takes the attention we hope that visitors to the exhibition will enjoy the experience of viewing DeeDee’s creations alongside work from 23 other artists.

The exhibition

The West Wycombe Art Group Annual Exhibition takes place in the West Wycombe village hall and runs from Friday, 26th to Monday 29th August. It is open daily from 10am to 5pm on Friday and Monday and from 10am to 6pm on Saturday and Sunday

Wine & dine at The Alice

Liz Nicholls

Oxfordshire

It’s bottoms-up time down the rabbit hole! To celebrate English Wine Week (18th – 26th June) and to champion English producers, The Alice – Oxford’s all-day dining restaurant and bar set within The Randolph Hotel by Graduate Hotels® – is hosting a series of intimate Wine and Dine events and a special Wine Flight tasting menu in collaboration with Balfour Winery and Coates & Seely.

Taking place on Tuesday 21st June at 7pm, The Alice will be collaborating with Coates & Seely, a quintessential English Sparkling Winery to co-host a fun, blind tasting of French vs English Sparkling Wines. Hosted in The Alice’s beautiful private dining room, each wine will be paired with a curated four-course dinner by executive chef Chris Emery, including canapés to start.

Tristram Coates from Coates & Seely (representing England) and Gemma from Palmer & Co (representing France), will guide guests through the four-course dinner as they blind taste a range of sparkling wines. There will also be plenty of time to learn more about English Wines as they share stories and history of Sparkling Winemaking, before the sparkling wines are revealed at the end of the meal for the moment of truth.

Guests will be treated to a selection of seasonal canapés, followed by four-courses including tempting dishes of Roast Quail with melted onions & morels and a Strawberry, Champagne Syllabub & Verbena Tart.

For more information and to book, please visit the link here. Tickets are £95pp. A vegetarian menu is also available.

Wine & Dine Series at The Alice: Best of Balfour Wine Pairing Dinner

Taking place on Thursday 23rd June at 7pm, The Alice will be collaborating with award-winning Balfour Winery to host an exclusive Wine & Dine four-course dinner curated by Executive Chef Chris Emery, showcasing the best of seasonal British produce and English wine.

Hosted in The Alice’s whimsical private dining room, Janina Doyle, Brand Ambassador of Balfour Winery, will guide guests through the menu as they enjoy each course paired with a sparkling, white or red wine. There will also be plenty of time to learn more about English Wines as she shares the story of the wine harvest and history of Balfour Wine.

Guests will be welcomed with a selection of canapés, followed by a special four-course menu, each course paired with a Balfour wine. Guests can expect dishes including Sole Agnolotti, Sorrel Butter Sauce & Exmoor Caviar paired with Springfield Chardonnay 2018 and Romney Marsh Lamb, Melted Onions, Girolles & Peas paired with Luke’s Pinot Noir 2020.

For more information, including detail on the celebrated Balfour Winery and to book, please visit the link here. Tickets are priced at £75pp. A vegetarian menu is also available.

Introducing The Alice’s Wine Flight Trio

To celebrate English Wine Week, The Alice is also showcasing a limited selection of English wines from Balfour Winery, set on the beautiful Hush Heath Estate. Surrounded by ancient woodlands and wildflower meadows, Balfour was one of the first to be awarded the WineGB Sustainability Certification.

Available throughout the month of June in the main restaurant, guests who dine at The Alice will be able to enjoy an exclusive wine flight trio from Balfour Winery, priced at £12, including Balfour Skye’s Chardonnay, Nannette’s Rose and Luke’s Pinot Noir.

For more information and to book, please visit The Alice’s website here.

Volunteers help maintain Betjeman Millennium Park

Round & About

Oxfordshire

James Kent, a year 12 pupil at King Alfred’s, spends a day with the army of volunteers who help maintain the Betjeman Millennium Park in Wantage, which has just marked its 20th anniversary

Just a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of Wantage Marketplace is a haven of wildlife, poetry, and relaxation – the Betjeman Millennium Park.

This month, the park enters its 20th year of providing for the local community but why is the park here in the first place? How was the land transformed from an empty derelict wasteland to the vibrant hub it is today? And why is it still so important?

You could be mistaken for wandering down from the parish church or along by the mill and assuming the wild plot of land on the outskirts of Wantage is just a normal park or nature reserve, but this is far from the truth…

You can feel a sense of magic and myth as you wander around the trails

Named after local poet and former poet laureate Sir John Betjeman (who lived in Wantage 1951-72) and dedicated to the start of the new millennium, the park is certainly not your ordinary piece of flat and neatly squared out urban greenery.

Being host to semi-wild woodland, engraved sculptures, a circle of ancient sarsen stones (the same as in Stonehenge) and even a performance area this is less of a park and more of a centre of life. You can feel a sense of magic and myth as you wander around the trails and get lost within the sprawling trees and running rhythms of word.

The freedom and wonder are infectious and not exclusive to humans – wildflowers pop up and enthusiastically cover the ground all around and birds call out from their leafy abodes.

In most places it is us or nature. Houses, pavements, fences keeping us tucked away from wildlife like it’s our enemy, the unkempt sprawling mass that we can’t control. However, here it is (to an extent) beautifully uncontrolled and thriving and a poignant reminder that we can all be here and coexist happily.

To many (myself included) it seems like Betjeman Park has always been there – a permanent feature of Wantage – but, as I’ve learnt, the fight for this park has been hard, the upkeep crucial but most importantly the transformation incredible. The two-acre site of land on which the park lies was once a piece of derelict wasteland that was close to being developed on with property.

Seeing the opportunity for protecting wildlife and how devastating it would be to see this land become swallowed up by more infrastructure, a local group came together to make a charitable trust. Through hard work, they saved the land and bought the plot with help from a council grant in the mid-1990s.

Chelsea Flower Show gold medalist Gabriella Pape was commissioned to design the space and came up with the idea of planting native tree species to increase biodiversity.

Local sculptor and artist Alec Peever was then chosen to engrave and install six sculptures to immortalise Sir John Betjeman’s words and poetry in stone which now make up the poetry trail. Finally, in May 2002 (after seven years of dedication) the ribbon was cut and the park opened to the jazzy sounds of The Wantage Silver Band.

It’s just so lovely to have this place in the centre of town

Today, the park is as relevant as ever in the local community and holds annual events like Art in the Park and the Betjeman Bike Ride and is used by many schools, cub groups and brownies for both education and adventure. It is also loved by locals (young and old) as a calm and relaxing sanctuary which transports you far away from the humdrum of the town.

One local resident told me it’s “just so lovely to have this place in the centre of town” and “it’s a wonderful asset” which has bloomed out of the “rough, unloved ground” she once remembers.

The Park has also been especially helpful to locals during the lockdowns as it provided many with the opportunity to get out of the house and spend some time in nature during those precious windows of exercise.

The essential role it plays in the community has also been acknowledged as it is now recognised as a Local Green Space in the draft Wantage Neighbourhood Plan, which protects it from all future development.

As a park for both people and nature to coexist happily, the upkeep is essential and many dedicated local volunteers help out at monthly work parties. I went down to see what was going on at the April work party and met some of the volunteers and trustees.

From the moment I joined them during their well earnt tea break I could really feel the deep sense of unity between them and the nature they care for. One enthusiastic volunteer, who has been involved for eight years and is one of the current trustees, told me how as a child she had quite self-sufficient parents and grew up “in the middle of nowhere” so it’s quite “a revelation to be in such a community”.

However, it’s not always a walk in the park (!) as she tells me it can be challenging to juggle her job and other responsibilities with the time needed as a trustee but there is such a great “feeling of achievement” and so much social connection.

Not only do those working inside the park’s perimeters feel the connection but I was told how often passersby stop to say how much they appreciate the work being done on the park and how much the park means to them which is “reason enough to do it” for lots of them.

One elderly lady, although unable to do any physical work, regularly pops by to bring home-made biscuits for all the hard workers- not only is the park there for the community to enjoy but also for the community to care for in all the different ways they can.

Not only is the park there for the community to enjoy but also for the community to care for

One student volunteer who got involved just about nine months ago originally to be part of his Duke Of Edinburgh award is now the park’s youngest ever trustee and has spent six months on an ambitious project identifying and mapping out all the trees in the park alongside one of the more experienced and knowledgeable volunteers.

He tells me the yew tree is his favourite in the park with its reddish and purple bark and evergreen spines and how they are very slow to grow but can live for thousands of years. What I really came away feeling like at the end of the work party was that this is no begrudging task or tedious responsibility for those involved but really a great pleasure.

As the chairman John Vandore said it is a real “privilege” to be able to ensure the survival of the magical space the original founding trustees fought so hard to gain.

To find out more about Betjeman Millenium Park or get in touch check out the Facebook page

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