MEZEMAS bringing the Greek meze magic!

Round & About

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We chat to Panny Skrivanos whose authentic & high quality MEZEMAS fresh feast boxes are spreading the love from his homeland, and his beloved relatives

Filoxeno is the famous Greek spirit of hospitality and Panny Skrivanos has managed to box this concept and deliver it to food-lovers’ homes.

No wonder, then, that Panny has been winning rave reviews for his meze boxes, delivered across Bucks and Oxfordshire, complete with lovingly written menus and heating instructions. He’s even made a playlist of Greek music on his website if you want to ramp up the Greek vibes (plate smashing optional).

Panny set up the business with his family in 2015 to bring truly authentic, fresh and high quality Greek food to Oxfordshire and Bucks. Originally The Souvlaki Brothers, they spent years catering festivals, events, weddings and parties, opening a busy takeaway in Oxford’s Covered Market but the shop closed following the drastic reduction in footfall after 2020.

“We looked at a way to bring our food directly to our customers and broaden our menu to include the dishes we grew up eating, which inspired us in the first place,” he says. “And MEZEMAS was born! Since lockdown, shopping habits have changed, and it can be very expensive to eat out these days. Our business model allows us to provide really high quality food at a reasonable price. The past few years have also confirmed the importance of sharing time with friends and family, and we hope our sharing feasts will contribute in some way to helping people spend quality time together.”

Panny grew up in Torquay, where his family ran tavernas. Now he loves living in Chinnor with his wife, young son, cat Patti and Dot the tortoise. “Our local restaurants and takeaways are good, but, like a lot of villages, Chinnor lacks a little variety for food, and this also inspired us. Way back, my family originated from Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey) but relocated in the early 20th century to Chios, in the North Aegean. It’s a beautiful island with great food culture and recipes. I’ve always been proud of my heritage. I’m conscious of a connection to my past when I’m cooking. I often think about my YiaYia and Thea Stavroula who were just the most amazing cooks. They’d probably have improvements to make with my food, but if I can get close to their cooking I’m doing OK!”

“I’ve always been proud of my heritage. I’m conscious of a connection to my past when I’m cooking.”

One myth about Greek food is that it’s meat-heavy… “In fact, for a long time, for much of the population, meat was a precious and expensive commodity. Many traditional recipes make good use of small amounts of meat, and lots are vegetarian and vegan-friendly. Our box contains a mixture of all of these, for all tastes.

“That’s the beauty of meze! I recall one holiday to Lesbos searching for food in a quiet, small village but the only taverna was just closing after lunch. The owner said he had some leftovers; lemon potatoes, dolmades, saganaki etc – and could put some on a plate for us – delicious! That’s a fine example of Filoxeno.”

Visit Mezemas

Sophie Davenport’s best bits of Bucks!

Liz Nicholls

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For our May vox pop, Sophie Davenport, managing director of Widmer End-based SFE Services, shares her favourite things about local life

Q. Hello Sophie! Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
“I am a mum of two daughters aged 13 and eight. We’ve lived in Holmer Green with my husband Grant for five years now. I’m originally from Maidenhead, and Grant is from High Wycombe.”

Q. What does your company do & what do you have on the horizon?
“SFE Services Air Conditioning & Refrigeration Ltd serves commercial and residential clients in Bucks. This year we’ll be sponsoring and attending the Holmer Green Sports Association Beer Festival, continuing our sponsorship with Wycombe Wanderers Football Club and supporting events for Rennie Grove Peace Hospice Care charity.”

Q. What do you most love about where you live?
“Holmer Green has a lovely village feel. The common has a fantastic playground and is great for the kids to play and for a picnic in the summer. Having shops in the village and close by in Hazlemere is so convenient and saves trips into town.”

Q. What pets do you have?
“A British Bulldog, Lola, a Boerboel called Kion and my daughter has a pony, Jim. Our favourite places to walk or ride are the fields in Little Missenden, Penn Woods and West Wycombe. We take our dogs to Posh Paws in Widmer End and I recommend The Barking Barbers in Stokenchurch.”

Q. What are your favourite restaurants or pubs?
“Old Oak in Holmer Green for the best Sunday roasts! The Hit or Miss in Penn Street, Old Queen’s Head in Penn. Browns & Prelibato in Beaconsfield and Zaza in Amersham.”

Q. What about star businesses?
“Nathan’s fruit & veg in Holmer Green; the staff are super-friendly, and it has a great selection of quality produce. Hildreth Garden Centre in Prestwood is my go-to for a mooch and has a lovely café. The Square café in Holmer Green has the best hot chocolate. I go to Mulberry’s in Beaconsfield when I need pure relaxation! B2 Chalfont Clinic also deserves a shout-out: acupuncturist Kate is second to none.”

Q. Any hidden local gems?
“The bluebells in Penn Woods and Common Wood are a must-see. And the trip wouldn’t be complete without a stop at The Squirrel or Hit or Miss.”

“The bluebells in Penn Woods and Common Wood are a must-see.”

Q. What highlights are you looking forward to later this year?
“Holmer Green Sports Association’s beer festivals in May & August and garage night in September. Hell Fire Caves at Halloween is great fun. Then, at Christmas, visiting Waddesdon Manor with the family.”

Q. Are you a member of any groups?
“BoB [Business Over Breakfast] Club in Wycombe, run by Tina Duggan from Oven Loving. I’ve met so many talented local business owners.”

Q. If you could make one wish for the world, what would it be?
“Id wish for a world free from judgment and full of empathy, where individuals are celebrated for their uniqueness rather than condemned for their differences.”

The Money-Saving Gardener Anya Lautenbach

Liz Nicholls

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Self-taught Bucks “garden fairy” Anya Lautenbach’s new book can help you create your dream garden on a smaller budget, thanks to her hard-won experience

Standing amid a drift of beatifully  blooming narcissi, Anya Lautenbach has a smile as radiant as the blooming half-acre garden she has nurtured.

And this positive, sunny sight is even more miraculous because Anya is the first to admit that her self-taught gardening skills have helped her dig her way out from a dark place.

Anya grew up in Poland and was inspired by her grandparents who knew how to grow and forage for their food, having survived WWII. She arrived in the UK in her late twenties to learn English, leaving behind a career in business development. But while working on Mohamed Fayed’s Balnagown Castle estate in the Scottish Highlands, she felt extremely homesick and, on her mother’s advice, she bought a plant, which helped her feel “rooted”.

From this tiny plant baby, a strong passion grew, with Anya growing and propagating new plants, channelling the knowledge she’d absorbed as a child. Once her English had improved, she moved to Buckinghamshire to return to her corporate life, getting married and having her first son before moving to her current home in Marlow in 2012. She loved the natural beauty all around her but nonetheless felt herself sliding into a mental health crisis.

Propagation can connect us to previous generations.”

“I never asked for any help in terms of mental health,” she says. “I felt trapped and lost and I couldn’t even go for a run because I had a newborn.” Anya also struggled to process her shock and pain when close relatives back home in Poland were struggling with long-term illness. “It was like storm after storm after storm, and I was so overwhelmed, constantly in tears, struggling with what was happening back home,” she says. “Since then I’ve been diagnosed with ADHD, which I now see as my superpower, but before then it was hard.”

Thanks to her mother-in-law’s encouragement, Anya began taking cuttings and her passion for the life-changing magic of plants grew, “almost like a positive dose of medicine. Propagation saved me from a serious mental breakdown.”

Anya, who lives with her husband and two sons, started posting short, easy-to-follow gardening hacks on her Instagram @anya_thegarden_fairy which went viral, especially as the cost of living crisis began to pinch. Today, she has more than a million followers across social media channels, including 690,000 on Facebook, almost half a million on Instagram and 60,000 on TikTok, where her tutorials include splitting clumps of “Rozanne” geraniums and other tips.

Dorling Kindersley published her first book, The Money-Saving Gardener: Create Your Dream Garden at a Fraction of the Cost in February, and it has become a Sunday Times bestseller. The book is a mine of helpful, creative tips to help save your pennies, the planet and maybe your sanity. “Propagation can connect us to previous generations – and to future generations too,” says Anya. “I’m delighted by the response!”

Some hidden gems in West Wycombe

Liz Nicholls

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West Wycombe jewellery designer-maker, Justine Holliday, founder of Artisan Jewellery, shares her love for local life

Q. Hi Justine. Where are you based? “We’ve lived in Sands, just outside West Wycombe, for 40 years. My husband & I have two teenagers and two adorable spaniels who are my constant companions. I walk them before work every morning on West Wycombe hill and I’ve never been bored by my surroundings. I’ve had my jewellery workshop in West Wycombe village for over 14 years.”

Q. Did you enjoy school? “I went to school at Lady Verney where I discovered my love for all things art. I had a wonderfully supportive art teacher. I then went on to study art foundation and silver smithing, both at Bucks University which led me to start Artisan Jewellery.”

Q. What do you love about where you live? “The Chilterns has endless walks, stunning scenery, and beautiful tucked-away villages to explore. At the moment, my favourite walk is heading over to The Yew Tree in Frieth which does great beer and amazing food. Also, The Apple Orchard in West Wycombe is so worth a visit for a delicious lunch and the lovely garden.”

Q. What’s one thing you’d change? “I don’t often venture into High Wycombe town centre; I find it a little sad that we’re losing so many shops and have lost a lot of the beautiful architecture that made it a lovely market town.”

“It’s always so lovely to see all the faces – new and old”

Justine Holliday

Q. What are your favourite local businesses? “I’ve honestly got to say one of my favourite places is West Wycombe! I’ve been coming to the village since I was tiny: my family have been based here for generations. So many people just drive through but if you stop and wander around, there are so many things to discover: cafés, lovely country pubs, the village store and architecture that has been trapped in time by the National Trust’s careful conservation.”   

Q. What highlights are you looking forward to? “I’m really looking forward to the festive fayre in the village because it’s always so lovely to see all the faces – new and old! It runs every year in West Wycombe on the first Wednesday in December with food and craft stalls too.”

Q. Where did your love of jewellery begin? “It all started with my lov e for metal while I was studying for my art foundation. This led me to a silversmithing degree. I realised how versatile and beautiful silver is to work with as a material. Eventually, this led to me working with gold and platinum which is where I am today. I’m lucky to work with lovely customers. I enjoy meeting people and finding out about their lives. Everyone has their own story and I like to think each piece I make for them becomes a part of that story. Specialising in redesigning and upcycling heirloom jewellery, sustainability is at the heart of what we do.”

Q. Have you had any remarkable projects? “Too many to mention! I work on so many commissions and have worked with many a famous face but because of the work I do, a lot of these are a personal journey for myself and my customer. Often jewellery is sentimental with deep emotional ties and I feel privileged
to be able to share that with people..”

Visit artisan- jewellery.com 

Could you be a puppy parent?

Liz Nicholls

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Local charity Hearing Dogs for Deaf People urgently needs volunteers to step up as puppy parents to make a difference to people’s lives… Could you step up for this rewarding role?

Deafness is on the rise in the UK. By 2035, it is estimated that one in five British people (more than 15 million) will experience hearing loss.

Bucks-based UK charity Hearing Dogs for Deaf People trains clever dogs to alert deaf people to important and life-saving sounds including alarms, oven timers and even baby monitors. Its dogs also provide constant emotional support and companionship – helping deaf people to leave loneliness behind.

An increase in demand means Hearing Dogs for Deaf People urgently needs more local volunteer puppy trainers. The charity receives no government funding but is very fortunate to have a network of committed volunteers.

There are two types of volunteer roles the charity urgently needs to fill: permanent puppy trainers, who will look after a puppy for the duration of its training (usually between 18 months and two years), and short-term trainers to cover times when others are on holiday.

Linda Foster, who lives near High Wycombe, became a volunteer puppy trainer last year after retiring. “I started off by doing short-term cover when the other trainers were on holiday. I also went to puppy training sessions at The Grange,” says Linda. “Then in April, I started looking after Lola, a gorgeous 13-month-old black Labrador puppy, on a long-term basis. The experience has been very rewarding, and I’ve met some lovely people (and dogs).”

Without volunteers like Linda, the charity would not be able to help anywhere near as many people with hearing loss reconnect with life. Sixteen-year-old Zach Allen, from Chalfront St Peter, was diagnosed as deaf when he was three.

His mum Kirsty said: “Although we got support for Zach to attend a mainstream school, he still had challenges. I saw him lose confidence as he got older. Then, when Zach was eight, everything changed because Echo the hearing dog came into our lives.

“We took Echo into school so Zach’s year could meet him. As a teacher was about to tell the school about him, Zach stood up and introduced Echo to everyone. He explained how Echo alerts him by nudging with his nose. We all stood there open-mouthed at this confident child who had appeared from nowhere.”

Please visit hearingdogs.org.uk/volunteer or call 01844 348129.

Wildlife volunteers honoured at awards

Ellie Cox

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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.

Shooting stars in wildlife photo competition

Round & About

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Well done to all the wildlife lovers who took part in the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) competition who snapped some beautiful sights at local nature reserves and green spaces and showed how nature can help our mental health

Winning entries include this stunning shot of a buzzard in flight, this pin-sharp picture of a tiny shield bug emerging from a garden flower and a portrait of a pensive kingfisher.

The winner of this year’s children’s category was eight-year-old Roly Lewis from Oxford. The North Hinksey Primary School pupil took his fantastic photo of a shield bug, poking its head out of a flower in his own front garden.

Roly said: “I wanted to enter the competition, so I took lots of wildlife pictures all spring and summer. I thought this photo was my best one because the blossom was a nice background, and the shield bug had an amazing colour and pattern. This made me look closely at shield bugs which are really amazing. My mum told me I had won when I came out of school, and I was so excited I jumped up and down. I really wanted to win but I thought there would be so many good photos that I wouldn’t.”

Children Winner – Roly Lewis (8) (Sheildbug)
Children Runner Up – Hayden Denham (7) (Hummingbird Hawkmoth)

The Wildlife Trust restarted its popular photo competition this summer after a three-year break because of the pandemic. The charity, which manages more than 80 nature reserves across Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, challenged everyone aged six and over to take fantastic photos of plants, animals and fungi at its sites, or to capture action for wildlife in their local area.

Roy McDonald took first place with his crystal-clear shot of a buzzard in mid-air at the Trust’s College Lake reserve near Tring. The 45-year-old former courier driver from Berkhamstead revealed after winning the contest that he has struggled with his mental health for some years, and that wildlife photography had helped. He said: “Nature helps me so much, it’s honest and calming and it doesn’t judge you, and just sometimes, if you are calm and patient, it will allow you to get up close into their world. I always take great pleasure when a creature trusts you enough to not scurry or fly away. But you don’t have to take photos: just being in nature and observing it can give you something to focus on.

“I had my encounter with a majestic buzzard on a cold and beautiful winter day. I had seconds to react once I spotted it, and just as my focus locked on, it spotted me and flew directly across my path. So close to me. I chose the first image of the sequence because it had the most amount of action and sense of place. It is by far and away the best shot of a buzzard I have ever managed. They have eluded me for years. I’m quite stunned and delighted to have won.”

Flora and fauna Winner (and overall winner) – Ray McDonald (buzzard in flight) taken at College Lake
Flora and fauna Runner Up – Adrianna Bielobradek (Poppy seedhead) taken at Buckleberry Common)

As overall winner, Mr McDonald won a top-of-the-range Panasonic Lumix digital camera and a wildlife photography masterclass. As well as receiving a printed canvas of his picture and having it appear in BBOWT’s 2023 calendar.

This year’s contest had six new categories: flora and fauna; nature reserve landscapes; people in nature; children’s category (ages 6-12), teenagers (ages 13-19) and Team Wilder, for shots of action for nature in the community. Helen Touchard-Paxton, a mum who lives Buckinghamshire, won the Team Wilder category with a snap of a frog in a garden pond that she and her family dug during the coronavirus lockdown.

She said: “I believe this photo shows that you don’t need acres of land to create a successful wildlife area: if you are interested – no matter how small your space – just have a go and see what works. I don’t have high-end expensive equipment, and I have no idea how to use photo editing software – the photo is very much ‘as taken’. I was absolutely amazed to have won the Team Wilder category.”

Team Wilder Winner – Helen Touchard-Paxton (frog)
Team Wilder Runner Up – Peter Massam (bug hotel)

The Trust received hundreds of entries, creating an extremely difficult job for this year’s judges. BBOWT communications officer Kate Titford, Trust magazine editor Ben Vanheems and professional photographer Steve Gozdz, who runs local nature safaris in Berkshire through his business GG Wildlife Experiences.

Teenagers Winner – Zachary Osbourne (14) Kingfisher
Teenagers Runner Up – Lucy Colston (17) (marbled white on scabious)

Mr Vanheems said: “It’s been a really laborious process with lots of debate going on because we want to get it right, but the competition entrants haven’t exactly made it easy for us.”

People in Nature Winner – Petra Mohr (girl on decking) taken at Weston Turville Reservior
People in Nature Runner Up – Lorraine Clarke (man in hide) taken at College Lake

Mr Gozdz added: “What I was looking for was composition, good use of light – an action shot would have been fantastic. What we’ve found is something quite stunning. A real in-the-moment shot with perfect angles and perfect light, and actually something I would have been very happy to have taken myself. In fact, when I first saw it I was quite jealous.”

Landscape Winner – Charlotte Day (sunrise landscape) taken at Cholsey Marsh
Landscape Runner Up – John Kearns (Warburg trees) taken at Warburg
The trust is grateful to GG Wildlife Experiences, Panasonic and Chroma for sponsoring this year’s competition.