Volunteering with the Schoolreaders charity

Round & About


Peter Henry tells us about his rewarding role as a volunteer with Schoolreaders… Perhaps you could sign up to change lives, too?

Schoolreaders is a national children’s literacy charity which helps children to catch up on their reading by recruiting, training and placing volunteers into primary schools in their local area.

I am happily retired after a successful career however; I can truthfully say that nothing I did in my professional life seems as worthwhile and satisfying as watching the children I read with improve their literacy.

Why is this so important? One in four children leave primary school unable to read to the expected standard.

This means they cannot fully access secondary education and only one in 10 of these children will get a GCSE in English and Maths. This can severely diminish their life chances. One in seven adults in England (7.1 million) are functionally illiterate so cannot read instructions on a medicine label, sit a driving theory test or fill in a job application form. That is why helping children to improve their literacy at primary level, has never been so important.

Nothing I did in my professional life seems as worthwhile and satisfying as watching the children I read with improve their literacy.”

I volunteer in a local infants’ school and my role is to focus on those children, especially those from more disadvantaged backgrounds, who need a little extra help learning to read. Fortunately, one thing of which you can be sure is that all children aged between five and seven are eager to learn and great fun to be with!

I, like many other Schoolreaders volunteers, could share a great many heart-warming stories. These include the boy who, for over a year, had really struggled, then one day was comprehending sentences and asking questions about the book, to the girl who not only reads the stories, but gives each character a different voice. I always return home from school with a spring in my step!

We are always in need of readers especially as more and more schools are asking for our help, which is provided absolutely free. So, if what you have read here has inspired you to think about joining us, and you can commit to an hour a week during term-time for a year, the next step is easy – please just visit School Readers to learn more.

Guy Deacon: Running On Empty

Round & About


Guy Deacon CBE will be appearing at Oxford Literary Festival this Friday (22nd March) to talk about his forthcoming book and Channel 4 Documentary – Running on Empty.

Guy’s story is truly inspiring; the former British Army officer he drove from his home in the UK to Cape Town in South Africa ten years after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

The journey fulfilled a childhood dream to drive across Africa, whilst also raising awareness of Parkinson’s Disease which is heavily stigmatised in Africa where it is often linked to witchcraft and black magic, leaving sufferers ostracised by their communities. 

Parkinson’s Disease is the fastest-growing neurodegenerative illness worldwide and has no known cause and no cure. By 2040, more than 13 million people will be living with PD – a quarter of them in Africa where the disease is little understood. On his journey Guy met with Parkinson’s sufferers in almost all the countries he travelled through and learnt what daily life was like for those sufferers that he met, but first he had to get there.

There are never more than a handful of vehicles a year attempting to drive from the North African coast to Cape Town in South Africa. Some never complete the journey. Conflict in Libya, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Ethiopia and Cameroon, make any journey exceptionally dangerous. In central Africa, road conditions, particularly in the rainy season make the going difficult and often treacherous. Add illegal checkpoints, extortion, contaminated fuel and lack of services and this was to be a huge undertaking.

Guy first set off in November 2019 making it as far as Sierra Leone in March 2020 when the COVID 19 epidemic struck. The borders were closed and after being stuck in Sierra Leone with no way out, Guy was evacuated by the British Government on an emergency relief flight leaving his trusty van behind. Many adventurers have setbacks on their journeys but for Guy, with each passing month that he waited in the UK for travel restrictions to lift, his Parkinson’s would advance and his mobility would deteriorate. By the time he restarted the journey two years later in March 2022 his condition had deteriorated significantly.

Parkinson’s disease affects mobility so the simplest tasks from emptying pockets, to tying up shoelaces became herculean for Guy. The day to day challenges of living in Africa, the condition of the roads and living in a relatively small space would be challenging to anyone let alone a Parkinson’s sufferer who struggles to move limbs and has to take every task incredibly slowly.

Several times throughout the 12 month journey Guy came close to giving up.  The challenge left him both physically and mentally exhausted and as the days wore on, he found it more and more difficult to communicate and began feeling increasingly isolated and alone. He had a phone to keep in touch with friends and family, but with his limited dexterity it was often easier not to.  In the end it was the kindness of strangers that restored his faith and spurred him on in his darkest hours.

There are countless examples of things going wrong and strangers stepping in to help and offering him a bed for the night. But each time Guy thought that the latest setback would be the end of the road and he would have to give up, there was always someone who would step in to help, a stranger reaching out to help him in his hour of need.

Throughout the 18,000 mile journey Guy kept a video diary and was joined on four occasions by a documentary maker. This has resulted in 85 hours of footage and several thousand photographs of this incredible adventure through the heart of Africa which will be made into a 1 hour documentary for Channel 4 to be released in Spring 2024.

Guy was supported throughout his journey by The Cure Parkinson’s Trust a charity set up to find a cure for Parkinson’s as well as Parkinson’s Africa, whose mission is to raise awareness and empower those with Parkinson’s to make informed decisions about their own health.

At the festival, guy will be speaking with Matthew Stadlen to recount his incredible journey, crossing Europe and the full length of Africa, which took the former army officer and 60 year old father of two over 3 years to complete, see him drive 18,000 miles, across 25 countries, with 5 breakdowns, as well as one emergency evacuation from Sierra Leone during Covid, whilst taking 3650 prescription pills to help manage his Parkinson’s.

Further information on Guy’s event at Oxford Literature Festival can be found here.

Raffle to support Berkshire Music Trust

Round & About


Help to raise the necessary funds to continue their work and maybe win some great prizes

“Making music for everyone” is at the heart of what Berkshire Music Trust do as a registered music charity with the aim of providing musical opportunities for all. They run various activities across Berkshire including lessons, ensembles, early years classes and adult opportunities including singing cafes for people with Dementia and Parkinson’s across Berkshire community. They also have music centres in Reading, Newbury, Windsor, Bracknell, Wokingham and Caversham, and they also teach in Berkshire schools.

The Music Trust are running an online fundraising raffle and the money raised from this raffle will help to raise the necessary funds to continue their work.

There are over 45 prizes currently all from organisations across Berkshire, and tickets are only £2! (Winners drawn on 19th March) Follow this link to join the raffle, you’ll also find displays of the prizes.

Can you support Nai’s House?

Round & About


Oxford charity provides mental health support for young adults

Last year 65 people in Oxon took their own life – most of them young adults with suicide now the biggest cause of death for people under 35. Each death is heart-breaking – a tragedy, a terrible loss and a dreadful waste of potential. A death that changes the family they leave behind forever. 

There is a fantastic charity Nai’s House.  Set up in 2019 by Nai’s Mum – Gem after Nai sadly took her own life in 2017 aged just 22 , Nai’s House is a place of sanctuary, safety and support. It is a place that gives young people in crisis the safe space of a ‘home from home, a place where they can get the specialist help, they need, an environment that can help them hopefully turn a corner and move through crisis to more stability. 

Since 2019 they have helped over 600 young people, but they are at a crossroads. The truth is they can’t meet the demand they are now facing. More and more young people are getting in touch asking for help with over 200 young people on their waiting list, many of them who can’t get the support they need through the NHS given the pressures there. 

It’s an emergency for sure but it is an emergency we can help address and help tackle together. If Nai’s House can grow and expand its services it can offer help to the 200 plus people on the waiting lists. 

Your support could make a massive difference and offer a genuine lifeline. Just £20 could help give a young person in need a fighting chance. It costs £800 a year to help one young person with professional therapy to. £520 over 13 weeks to train a volunteer. But the reality is that every penny counts. 

Nai’s House didn’t exist when Nai needed it.  Please help us make sure it can be there for other young people who do now so, together, we can help prevent this tragic loss of young life. 

Please watch this video to see how you can help….


Big Balloon Build raises over £10,000

Round & About


Local charities’ funds inflated by colourful display of more than 125,000 balloons with the help of Surrey’s Peanut Balloons

Surrey balloon artist Amy Brown has raised more than £10,000 for charity with her Big Balloon Build, an incredible festive display of creativity in December.

More than 1,000 people visited the Big Balloon Build created out of 125,000+ balloons and built in just under four days.

“I’ve seen such wonderful achievements from all the artists involved and incredible possibilities of what can be created out of the humble latex balloon on my journey with the Big Balloon Build,” said Amy, who owns and runs Peanut Balloons in Thursley. “Since my first build in 2017, I have wanted to bring this impressive world to the people in my area, so by bringing it home, I have not only been able to do this, but also help local charities within the community too.”

As a certified balloon artist, Amy has more than 15 years of balloon industry experience and loves the new challenges that balloon decorating brings. This was her sixth Big Balloon Build.

Seventy five of the best balloon artists were selected from around the world to come to the UK and transform the Charterhouse Club at Charterhouse School into a unique, walk-through balloon world, filling the 12,500 square foot Sports Hall.

The impressive display was created in just three and a half days although Amy worked for months behind the scenes with designers and organizers from the Big Balloon Build to bring this incredible event to Surrey.

Visitors were taken on a journey from London to the North Pole made entirely out of biodegradable, natural latex balloons and saw Big Ben, shops, enchanting elf villages, a ski slope with a skiing bunny, life-size reindeer ushering Santa’s sleigh across the winter sky and so much more. Paddington was certainly very popular.

One of those which benefitted was Meath Epilepsy Charity., Lucy Miguda, head of fundraising said: “This was incredible, it totally blew my mind!”

A VIP launch party was held with more than 80 guests including The Mayor of Waverley Cllr Penny Rivers, The Mayor of Godalming Cllr Adam Druce and The Mayor of Guildford Cllr Masuk Miah. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, and his family joined in on the fun stopping by for a look when the build opened to the public Friday 15th to Sunday, 17th December.

“We had a lovely time at the balloon event, we have never seen anything like it and had to go around twice,” said Kimberley Burmingham, an associate at Phyllis Tuckwell.

“We are so very happy to receive this wonderful donation, which we will use to provide vital play and leisure opportunities to local disabled young people across the South East, so they can have fun and enjoy new activities with their friends,” said Becky Cox from Disability Challengers.

All profits from ticket sales have been donated in an equal split between the five charity partners: Disability Challengers, Action for Children, The Meath Epilepsy Charity, Phyllis Tuckwell and Farnham Youth Choir. The five charities will split the $10,000 raised to help children in the greater Surrey area.

“The funds raised from the Big Balloon Build could support up to 380 children by paying for soft furnishings for a young person moving into care, helping them to make their room feel like their own,” said Sam Jones, regional manager at Action for Children.

Generous sponsorships were also given from Brewers Decorator Centres and Dominos Pizza Guildford-Stoughton branch who provided a group trip for the delegates to Wisley Glow and evening pizzas for them too. “We are extremely grateful as without the delegates, these fundraising events don’t happen!” said Brown.

Gemar Balloons, a leading manufacturer of 100% bio-based rubber balloons, donated all 125,000+ balloons to the cause and PremiumConwin, the world’s leading manufacturer of high-quality balloon  inflators and ecofriendly balloon accessories, provided all equipment to inflate the Christmas Wonderland.

WalkWithMe 2024

Round & About


If the start of a new year has prompted you to get out and do something about your fitness, then how about doing it while raising funds for a fabulous cause in 2024.

Come and join WalkWithMe, a charity fundraising 26-mile walk being held on Sunday, 5th May.
We start and finish in the beautiful grounds of Moulsford School, Moulsford-on-Thames. The route winds through some stunning South Oxfordshire and West Berkshire countryside, including a section of the historic Ridgeway and the River Thames. Registration is £65 per person plus sponsorship fundraising (enter before 15th January for a reduced registration of £55).

WalkWithMe was established in 2011 by a group of friends with the simple concept of ‘walking together to make a difference’. Over the last 12 years we have raised more than £520,000 for a variety of local and national charities. This year we are fundraising for Maggie’s Cancer Care Centre in Oxford which provides invaluable support for cancer patients and their families.

We hold organised training walks between February and May in the local area to get you ready for your challenge slowly building up the distance walked each session.

For all the information you need about the event and Maggie’s and to register visit the website here.

If you need to get in touch, email [email protected]. Come along and help raise loads of money for our fantastic charity and let’s get together, get fit, make a difference!

Taking an all-round approach

Round & About


Local charity Inside Out has been celebrating 10 years of improving the wellbeing of children

When a group of children declared a day spent at an equestrian centre to be the ‘best ever’, Inside Out knew they were on to something.

Over the last decade the charity has been responding to the growing children’s mental health crisis by helping schools tackle challenges posed by mental health problems, exam stress and anxiety.

Launched in November 2013 with a Magical Day Out of mindfulness, nature and horses based around the 5 Keys to Happiness for just 10 children from Thameside Primary School, Caversham, it has since supported more than 5,000 children across 20 schools in Reading and Oxfordshire.

Children gain a ‘toolkit’ of fun and practical life skills and strategies they can use in everyday life to reduce stress, find focus, increase confidence and resilience to feel better, learn better and flourish. The impact of their work has been significant, with schools seeing an improvement in children’s mental wellbeing, a development in essential social and emotional skills, and increased engagement.

The initial spark for Inside Out came when Founder and CEO, Stephanie Weissman, became convinced, from personal experience, of a well-proven concept – happiness fuels success, not the other way around. The charity’s underlying belief that ‘happy children learn better’ has never changed. Their 5 Keys to Happiness evidence-based framework has made it easy for busy teachers to promote positive mental wellbeing and has been the foundation for all their work.

When the pandemic hit, free weekly Wellbeing Guides full of simple, fun wellbeing boosts were created and used at home and in school to support children, some of whom were experiencing trauma.

The overwhelmingly positive response to these Guides galvanised the charity to accelerate the completion of a free, digitised ‘Activity Library’ and ‘Wellbeing Programme’. Schools now use these to work towards the charity’s coveted Inside Out Award, which helps them build a whole-school culture to wellbeing. 

Inside Out marked their 10-year anniversary with a new ‘Wellbeing Ambassadors’ pilot, putting children at the centre of leading peer-to-peer support and promoting conversations about mental health and positive wellbeing.

Stephanie added: “We are extremely proud to reach this milestone. The best predictor of an adult’s life satisfaction is their emotional health as a child. We look to the future with an unwavering commitment to inspire children to develop ways to look after their mental wellbeing, so they have the best chance to reach their full potential.”

Find out more at theinsideout.org.yk

Reading made easy

Round & About


Could you help change lives by volunteering with the local charity which helped Jay Blades MBE

Read Easy offers free and confidential, one-to-one coaching, from trained volunteers. The charity encourages adults to come forward and make the phone call that could transform their lives.

Coaches and learners meet twice a week at approved local venues, or online, to work for just half an hour at a time through a structured, phonics-based reading programme.

There are many adults who struggle to read. For them, everyday tasks such as booking a doctor’s appointment, reading road signs or doing the food shopping can be incredibly challenging.

Parents and grandparents, who cannot read, are not able to provide this support for their children and their learning, with many missing out on the important bonding time that comes with sharing a bedtime story.

The BBC1 documentary Jay Blades: Learning to Read at 51 followed Jay, The Repair Shop presenter and Chancellor at Bucks New University, as he learnt to read with Read Easy. Like many other parents who struggle to read, Jay had never been able to read his children bedtime stories. The highlight of the documentary was when Jay reached his goal of being able to read his teenage daughter one of her favourite childhood books.

Those who struggle to read should not feel embarrassed about coming forward and asking for help. The charity team say: “There are lots of different reasons why people don’t learn to read in childhood. For some it may have been a lack of support from their own family or school, for others it may have been undiagnosed dyslexia. But people should not feel ashamed or embarrassed about it. We’re friendly, welcoming and here to help, whatever your age.”

Here is a comment from one of Read Easy’s recent success stories: “I started the Read Easy programme in 2020 when the country went into lockdown. I found it frustrating not being able to help my children with home schooling. Now, I can read with my family, enjoy reading novels and have a new-found confidence in myself and in the future. More than anything I want to show my kids that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. I want to see the smiles on their faces when I read to them. It’s such a massive achievement and nothing makes me happier.”

The Read Easy Chilterns team cover Wycombe, Aylesbury, Amersham, Chesham, Beaconsfield, Gerrards Cross, The Chalfonts, Wendover and surrounding areas. To find out more about the team please visit readeasy.org.uk/groups/chilterns. For more information about seeking help learning to read you’re welcome to call Andy Gaze on 07810 184 371.

For help with reading and to volunteer in the West Berkshire area please contact the West Berkshire group at readeasy.org.uk/groups/read-easy-swindon-west-berkshire

To get involved in the Reading area, please get in touch with the Read Easy Regional Advisor Michelle Baker at [email protected] and in the Oxford area at readeasy.org.uk/groups/oxford-east/

David Melling Paints Ox In Oxford

Round & About


Not as strange as it sounds (honest), the brains behind Hugless Douglas kicks off OxTrail 2024 in the Westgate next week.

Oxford is bracing itself for a stampede of brightly coloured bovine masterpieces next year.

OxTrail is an exciting new project from Sobell House and Wild in Art and will be Oxford’s first ever sculpture trail. Starting in July 2024, you can expect to see delightfully decorated bulls adorning the streets of Oxford. The idea will not only brighten up the city but will help to fund Sobell House which is an important part of life in Oxford and has provided compassionate care to adults with a life-limiting illness and supported their loved ones since 1976.

As a precursor to the start of OxTrail, leading Oxford artist and author behind the famous Hugless Douglas children’s book series, David Melling, will be painting one of the first oxen in a special space that will be available for the public to view. 

You will be able to see the highly accredited artist at work on a special ox that will form part of the trail at the Westgate Shopping Centre from 18th – 21st December. 

David’s ox that will be taking centre stage at Sobell House Hospice until the event next summer. 

Amelia Foster, CEO at Sobell House Hospice Charity, said: “OxTrail aims to inspire creativity across Oxfordshire and what better way to kickstart that than being able to see such a recognised, local creative at work.

“In yet another huge show of support from local businesses for OxTrail, Westgate Shopping Centre has kindly provided us with a space during the key Christmas shopping period where people can visit and take a sneak peek of the amazing life-size ox sculptures that will form OxTrail.”

David Melling said: “I’m honoured to be part of the OxTrail project here in Oxon. As a book illustrator, used to working on flat surfaces, the idea of painting a life-size sculpted ox sounds challenging and fun. Of course, this wonderful project is about sharing the incredibly important work by the hospice, Sobell House, and to help raise funds to support its work in the local community.”

The OxTrail event pop-up space will be at Westgate Shopping Centre on the upper level, near John Lewis and Next, between 8am and 6pm from Monday 18th to Thursday 21st December. 

Shoppers at Westgate will also be able to support Sobell House Hospice by visiting the Charity Super.Mkt pop-up store which is open now until 23rd December. Sobell House Hospice is one of the three chosen charities that will receive support from the temporary department store that only sells second-hand clothes. 

For more information on OxTrail visit www.oxtrail2024.co.uk 

Could you be a puppy parent?

Liz Nicholls


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.