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.
Share your local news with us here
Thank you to everyone who nominated their favourite pubs, bars, restaurants, cafes, community stores, independent grocers and virtual and live events – there’s clearly a lot of love out there for those in the hospitality industry who’ve worked so hard to get through the past year even when they haven’t been able to open.
We asked you to share with us those who deserve recognition and thanks and have truly brought ‘good cheer’ to us as we’ve come together.
And the winners are…
Pub / bar
Plough & Harrow, Warfield
Ten Tun Tap House, Alton
Restaurant / café
Robyn’s Nest, Warfield
Independent / community store
Village Hamper, Sonning
Milland Community Shop
Virtual / live event
Sarah Fountain, Watlington
Guildford Fringe Festival
The Swan, Clewer
Thatched Tavern, Ascot
Petworth Community Craft Group has taken its fundraising efforts for local charities online to continue its good work when they haven’t been able to meet in person.
The group which has just marked its third anniversary brings crafters of all abilities together to make saleable delights to help boost local charities including more than £1,000 for Petworth Community Garden and in excess of £2,500 for the Sylvia Beaufoy Youth Club.
When sources of selling ceased last year because of the pandemic, Tricia Stephens from PCCG said they “entered the 21st century, creating a Facebook page and sold from there as well as Petworth virtual Christmas market”.
Where possible the group uses unwanted, surplus or natural products to make a wide variety of gifts and useful items. Materials used have included donated designer fabric samples, donated blank cards and envelopes, unwanted magazines and newspapers, scraps of wool, corks, fir cones and much more.
PCCG encourages teamwork and a sense of camaraderie and belonging and enables experienced crafters to share their know how.
Members are welcome to bring their own project, make crafts to raise money or just go along for coffee and a chat and see what others are doing.
The group usually meets every second Friday in the month at Coultershaw Warehouse and is looking forward to getting together as soon as they can.
To see what the group has for sale visit www.facebook.com/CreatePetworth
Let us know about your local groups here
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!
Tell us your local news here
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.”
Share you community stories with us here
Ready, steady, sew!
Volunteers are using their love of sewing to help make scrubs for health care workers
There’s no end of people putting their skills to use during the coronavirus crisis and that includes those handy with a sewing machine who have been making scrubs for health care workers.
Madeleine Steele, pictured, is just one who has been helping. She set up the South Oxfordshire and Berkshire Scrub Hub from her home in Crowmarsh making garments and masks for the NHS and people working in social care.
She said: “It was a Facebook post on Easter Monday that I saw about people making scrubs and I thought that’s a great idea, I’ll see if I can join in. There weren’t any other ScrubHubs in our area so I called my old school friend and asked her if she wanted to set it up with me.”
The South Oxfordshire and Berkshire Scrub Hub is a network of volunteers operating in Abingdon, Didcot, Wallingford, Henley, Reading, Caversham, Woodley, Earley, Winnersh, Wokingham and Tilehurst.
Their aim is to plug the gap as an emergency helping hand by supporting our health care professionals without scrubs during the current crisis.
The volunteer network ‘who love to sew’ is operating all over the country answering calls from workers through their networks and communities. The scrubs are made to order by experienced volunteers, working safely within the guidelines of the lock down, often with donated materials.
To find out more visit scrubhub.org.uk/south-oxfordshire-berkshire
If you are member of the public and you’d like to sponsor their efforts visit the GoFundMe page.
Donations will help support the NHS Practitioners health service who care for and support the mental well being of NHS workers, who are doing such a selfless job during this time.
Facing the challenge
Local schools are supporting NHS frontline workers in the battle against coronavirus with the production of face shields and protective screens
PPE – before the coronavirus most of us would not have heard of this or indeed be aware of its importance – now we hear of the need for it on a daily basis.
Schools across Berkshire have been working to produce face shields and screens for use in GP practices and hospitals.
One project was the brainchild of Leighton Park School’s Head of Design and Technology, Mark Smith who began making the protective wear in the Reading school’s workshop with an original target of 200.
Mark said: “We are fortunate at Leighton Park to have access to tools and resources that can make a difference and keep our keyworkers safe: I just had to do something.”
Using the laser cutter to create re-usable plastic headbands he then attached disposable A4 PVC sheets donated by Reading-based stationery suppliers Frasers Office Supplies.
A plea for additional laser cutters was met by other schools in the area and there is now a network of manufacturers involved including the University of Reading, Neal’s Export Packaging Ltd, in Silchester, and rLAB, a community workshop space.
School partners include Denefield School, Edgbarrow School, Prospect School, Reading Blue Coats, Shiplake College, Holme Grange School, The Forest School, Brackenhale School, Waingels College, The Bulmershe School, Luckley House, Warriner School, Little Heath, Ranelagh and St Joseph’s College.
Since starting production on April 2nd they have supplied more than 80 organisations with shields.
The Oratory school near Woodcote has also risen to the challenge to help the local community after it was approached by Dr Amanda Gemmill, a GP and the school’s Head of PSHE. She asked the Design LabOratory to construct protective screens for the Goring and Woodcote surgeries to offer protection to reception staff.
The Design LabOratory began with three polycarbonate screens which were installed on a Saturday to ensure the surgery was not disrupted.
Word of the screens spread and Strawberry Hill Medical Centre in Newbury put in a request which required more material and a more robust construction. They have since made screens for surgeries in Woodcote, Goring, Newbury, Henley, Wokingham and Abingdon with orders from two practices in Oxford.
The Design LabOratory is now producing face shields with the use of 3D printers and has delivered to medical practices in Woodcote and Goring, to Marcham Road Surgery in Abingdon, Sue Ryder in Nettlebed and Townlands Hospital in Henley.
Buckinghamshire schools come together to make PPE for healthcare workers
Schools and colleges across the county have been playing their part to support the NHS and other local health services to help keep frontline staff safe. Using their 3D printers they have created safety visors for the NHS and donated PPE equipment to support healthcare staff.
Thanks to the fantastic work of schools from all parts of the county, hundreds of visors have been produced and distributed to frontline healthcare professionals. Many local businesses played their part too, donating items such as lab coats, goggles and gloves, after hearing about the work schools were doing from parents or teachers.
Many schools across the county, including Buckingham School, Stowe School, Westbury School, Sir Thomas Fremantle School, Holmer Green School, Sir William Borlase’s School, Wycombe Grammar School, Wycombe High School, Highworth Combined School and Sir William Ramsay School have also produced (using their 3D printers) or donated essential PPE equipment such as goggles and lab coats.
Buckinghamshire UTC has also donated 30 protective goggles and their Principal Sarah Valentine personally bought six lab coats from Amazon for delivery to Stoke Mandeville Hospital.
Cllr Anita Cranmer, Buckinghamshire Council’s Cabinet Member for Education, said: “I’m hugely impressed by the time, effort and heart that our education community has put into creating and donating PPE for our healthcare workers.
“This is a fantastic example of how Buckinghamshire is coming together and a tribute to our hardworking and dedicated healthcare workers who are helping to keep us all safe during these challenging times. Another amazing initiative that shows just how #ProudofBucks we are.”
In addition, Aylesbury High School, The Grange School in Aylesbury, Beachborough School at Westbury, and the University of Buckingham have also got involved in the production and donation of PPE to local NHS trusts.
Vince Murray, Headteacher of The Grange School, said: “As a school we were more than willing to respond to the call for PPE equipment through the collection of goggles and laboratory coats. It was also lovely to see some of our students making ‘scrub bags’ for the NHS, alongside their teacher (Miss Friend) while they were in school.
“We see ourselves as a community school. We were only too happy to contribute, in a small way, to maintaining the safety of other key workers looking after those in our hospitals, and providing essential care for others at a time when they need it most.”
Mel Downing is one of a consortium of local curtain makers who came together to make scrubs for healthcare workers
At the end of March we were aware there was a real shortage of scrubs – all healthcare workers were going to need them and due to the contagious nature of Covid-19 would need several sets each and wash bags for them to be put in once taken off and laundered.
A consortium of local curtain makers set up a Justgiving page to raise money to buy rolls of washable polycotton, within days we had raised a few thousand. The total now is more than £15,000.
I have run Melanie Downing Interiors, a busy curtain design company for 25 years and one of my blind makers Julie Knaggs had trained as a pattern cutter. We decided the best way forward was to bulk cut the fabric and then hand out kits for people to sew depending on their skills.
This saved us so much time and also very little wasted fabric. It was really important we sent out beautifully made scrubs that were made to last. We created a Facebook page and very quickly had an army of more than 80 volunteers from curtain makers, dress makers, costume makers, and even a tutu maker.
Local hubs were established in Farnham, Guildford, Haslemere, Petersfield, Petworth and Godalming to try and reduce journeys and volunteer drivers co-ordinated delivery and collection.
Realising the phenomenal demand we also enlisted the help of Mint Velvet who delivered 800 sets to Royal Surrey County Hospital, Guildford, for us.
We have supplied more than 2,500 sets to The Royal Surrey, Frimley Park, Basingstoke Hospital and Hospice, Haslemere, Petworth, Milford and Alton Community Hospitals, Phyllis Tuckwell, Marie Curie, Macmillan, Meath Home, Ticehurst Care Home, Aldershot Community team and numerous GP surgeries as well as several private requests.
It has been an incredible logistical challenge to achieve so much in such a short space of time but worth it to know it is being used.
There are so many talented people in the area and the team spirit has just been such a positive experience. I feel lucky to have been able to use my business experience and skills to co-ordinate such an important project with the help of so many really amazing people.
We are now starting to make masks which will be distributed primarily via local food banks and hope these will be sent out with a wash bag and soap stressing the importance of continued hand washing.
Most of the professional seamstresses in the team are currently unable to work due to restrictions re visiting people’s homes but hoping we can soon get back to work!
Contact Mel Downing – www.melaniedowning.co.uk 01428 713868; Coleen Smart – www.honeybeehandmade.co.uk 01483 577168; Caroline Lockie – Sewn – 01483 425577; Jo Martin – www.josephineellen.co.uk; Julie Knaggs – www.montaguesadles.co.uk
Stitches in time
A teacher has set up a volunteer sewing group to make scrubs for health care workers
Sewing enthusiasts have been taking to their machines to answer the call for scrubs, masks, scrub bags and gowns to help support front line workers.
Head of Design & Technology at Glebelands School in Cranleigh, Tamsin Mitchell (pictured), heard local frontline workers were faced with a drastic shortage of scrubs, masks, and similar equipment, and decided to pitch in.
Having seen a Facebook post from a nurse who works for Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford, she contacted her to see if there was anything she could sew to help.
“She wanted scrubs bags, so people can change at hospital and take their uniform home in the bag and pop it straight in the wash. I went online to see if I could get more people on board, and I found a national group called For the Love of Scrubs. They had subpages for local areas, and there wasn’t one for Cranleigh. So I volunteered.”
Tamsin formed NHS Sewing Cranleigh and Dorking to mobilise local sewing enthusiasts including Glebelands pupils. The group already has more than 65 members, who have together produced items for St Joseph’s Specialist School and College and more than half a dozen other local organisations, including care homes and medical practices.
Tamsin said: “It’s a real community effort. Everyone is stepping up to the plate and helping each other. In a time of need, it’s the practical and creative skills that make a difference.”
Anyone in need of items or wanting to join the group should contact Tamsin through the NHS Sewing Cranleigh and Dorking group on Facebook.
Supporting Surrey SAR
The science department at King Edward’s Witley donates PPE to Surrey Search & Rescue
In 2010, relies solely on donations to purchase vital lifesaving equipment and provide training for its team.King Edward’s Witley has delivered much-needed supplies of personal protective equipment in response to an urgent appeal from Surrey Search & Rescue.
Woking-based charity, Surrey SAR – a voluntary specialist search team – posted a request on Facebook for vital supplies of PPE to protect their responders as they help Surrey Police and the county council at this time, checking on the welfare of vulnerable members of the community.
King Edward’s science department technician, Alison Hill sourced, sterilised and packed boxes of protective goggles and disposable gloves which were given to the charity.
Head of Science, Jim Culbert said they were delighted to be able to support Surrey SAR: “This is an amazing organisation. During the current coronavirus pandemic, Surrey Search & Rescue is playing a pivotal role in checking on the welfare of those who are deemed particularly susceptible to the virus, ensuring they remain well and lending a caring and sympathetic ear when people need it most.”
Surrey SAR assists the emergency services in the search for missing vulnerable adults and children. Volunteers, assisted by search dogs and drones, deliver an on-call response service 24 hours a day across Surrey and surrounding areas, when the emergency services need their specialist skills.
On average 2,100 people go missing in Surrey each year and as such Surrey SAR is one of the busiest search & rescue teams in the UK. The charity, which was formed in 2010, relies solely on donations to purchase vital lifesaving equipment and provide training for its team.
You can donate or read more about Surrey Search and Rescue here.
Nothing brings smiles to people’s faces like balloons and the professional balloon decorating and entertainment industry is helping people find their smiles and joy during this challenging time.
On May 9th & 10th, balloon artists from around the world joined in ‘One Million Bubbles of Love’ to share their talents and skills to help bring happiness and remind the world there is hope and kindness out there.
Among those taking part was Amy Brown, a professional balloon decorator based in Thursley, her business AJ’s Balloon Décor has been involved with the project for the last two months.
She created and displayed designs in April – NHS Rainbow Heart and in May – Keyworkers Gardens of Hope.
Amy said: “I had some wonderful feedback from passers by. It has been a great way to bring smiles to those who are out and about, but also online through social media and to say thank you to all the NHS and keyworkers.”
The first One Million Bubbles was held on March 26th with more than 350 designers participating from 15 countries. The second One Million Bubbles was held on April 11th & 12th with nearly 1,900 designers participating from 81 countries.
“With all the fear and uncertainty going on in the world right now, I felt like we had to do something,” said Steven Jones, project leader of Balloon Designers in Seattle, Washington. “Balloons make people happy in ways nothing else does, so if working balloon professionals cannot make people smile right now, who really can?”
Balloon professionals are encouraged to create something artsy and fun either in their yards at home or in a public place, to convey the message of ‘Be Safe Be Kind’.
The Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is looking forward to welcoming people back to visit but stress this is not the time to come and enjoy the countryside.
They want to reinforce the Government’s message in the releasing of lockdown measures in the countryside and encourage you to use the greenspaces closer to home and observe social distancing rather than travel distances.
Heather Kerswell, Chair of the Surrey Hills AONB Board comments:
“As we move out of the lockdown period over the coming months we look forward to welcoming visitors back to the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
“We know you will be keen to return to the Surrey Hills but just for now please stay local! This will ensure we all respect Government safety measures, local communities and wildlife.
“As freedom returns and we embrace a new normal, we will be keen for everyone to come and enjoy the benefits of natural beauty while supporting the local business community who very much need our custom at this time thank you.”
This very slight lifting of lockdown measures will still see many businesses remain closed, particularly those catering for the visitor such as attractions, hotels, restaurants, cafes, pubs, public toilets etc. The worry for many rural communities is people descending on beauty spots and picturesque Surrey villages making social distancing difficult and therefore increasing the risk of spreading the disease.
Chris Howard, Chairman of the Tourist Board – Visit Surrey added: “Whilst we are all anxious to get back out into the countryside, it is worth bearing in mind that facilities are still very limited due to the coronavirus restrictions. This means a lack of open toilets, and places to get food.
“Plan your outings carefully and get to know some of the amazing places right on your doorstep. Remember, the lockdown rules have only been tweaked slightly.”
Stephanie Fudge, National Trust General Manager for the Surrey Hills reinforced this saying that while the National Trust has been working on reopening plans, the safety of staff, volunteers, visitors and local residents is the priority.
She said: “Any reopening will need to be gradual and phased and visitors’ experience is likely to be different from usual, including the need to manage volume at our pay for entry places. Countryside car park opening will also be phased.”