Timely Gannett grants bring Christmas cheer

Herald Series: Geoffrey and Anne Ambler, from Oxtalk, chat to Jean Cambray about the ‘orb’ that memory sticks plug into. Picture: OX64078 Andrew Walmsley Buy this photo Geoffrey and Anne Ambler, from Oxtalk, chat to Jean Cambray about the ‘orb’ that memory sticks plug into. Picture: OX64078 Andrew Walmsley

THREE charities are celebrating after picking up a major Christmas cash injection from the Oxford Mail’s parent company, the Gannett Foundation.

And the news will mean that more blind and partially-sighted people like Jean Cambray will be given a precious view of the world in 2014 as a result.

Mrs Cambray, 84, from Wheatley, is one of 90 visually impaired people who receives a weekly so-called talking newspaper from the charity Oxtalk – one of three great causes to share a £22,000 windfall in the 2013 Gannett Foundation Awards.

The widowed great-grandmother, who is able to listen to readings from the paper as a result, said she was delighted the organisation will receive £3,000.

Oxford’s Helen and Douglas House and autism charity Children in Touch have both been awarded more than £9,000 each.

“I have macular degeneration and while I can still see a little, sadly I can no longer read,” she said.

“While my family and carers keep me in touch with the news in Wheatley, having the Oxtalk memory sticks sent to me each week means I can just plug them into the little machine they sent me and listen as stories from around the county are read aloud to me.

“It is a wonderful service which makes me feel part of things, and it is lovely to hear they have received this money so that more people like me will have their sense of isolation lifted in 2014.”

Oxtalk was set up in 1979 and operates from the base of Radio Cherwell at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford.

The charity’s vice-chairwoman, Anne Ambler, 70, from Wheatley, said: “Losing your sight can leave you feeling cut off from the world, but the people we help tell us that receiving our memory sticks keeps them in touch. The news we are to receive £3,000 from the Gannett Foundation is extremely welcome and we are very grateful.

“It will enable us to buy new orbs, the listening devices which our listeners use to play their memory sticks, and also to reach out to even more people who we know would benefit from what we offer.”

Each year, the Gannett Foundation, the charitable arm of Gannett, which owns Newsquest and the Oxford Mail, invites good causes to apply for a share of around £20,000 in funding.

This year, 62 good causes applied to the foundation for a grant from across the county. All are worthy and do outstanding work.

But Oxtalk, Oxford’s Helen and Douglas House and autism charity Children in Touch were chosen to receive money by the foundation trustees.

Group editor Simon O’Neill said: “The competition for Gannett grants nationally is tougher than ever, so we are delighted to have secured a total of £22,000 for these three fantastic local causes.

“I only wish we could have obtained grants for everyone who applied. I would urge those who were unsuccessful to try again in the next round of grants.”

OXTALK - AWARDED £3,000

In 1979, Ralph Brain, retired news editor of the Oxford Mail, became the first editor of Oxtalk.

The following year the first tape of the Oxford and District Talking News was produced on C90 cassette, with 35 copies sent out to blind and visually impaired people across the county.

Almost 35 years later, Oxtalk now produces the news in digital mp3 format, and sends out between 150 and 200 USB flash drives per week to its listeners in Oxford and surrounding areas.

And this is all possible thanks to the work of around 60 volunteers who support the organisation in a variety of ways: from editing the Oxford Mail and Times for suitable articles, to fundraising and recording news items, to copying the flash drives, sending them out to listeners and also getting involved in the planning of Oxtalk’s activities.

Vice-chairwoman of Oxtalk, Anne Ambler, said: “A survey of our work a few years ago revealed just how much our recordings are appreciated. Many of the people we send USB sticks to cannot leave the house and without us would have little way of knowing what is happening locally.

“Like many people of my age, I love to read and sitting down to read the Oxford Mail or Times is something very simple but something I enjoy. To be unable to do that would be a great loss.

“The news we are to receive £3,000 from the Gannett Foundation is extremely welcome and we are very grateful.’’ For more information on getting involved with Oxtalk or fundraising, visit http://oxtalk.org.uk

CHILDREN IN TOUCH - AWARDED £9,000

Children in Touch was founded in 1978 and based at Worminghall in Buckinghamshire.

It supports the study, development and well-being of children and adults with autistic spectrum conditions (ASC) and their families.

The charity is using its Gannett Foundation grant to complete the building of a garden at St Nicholas School in Marston, Oxford.

Trustee Dr John Richer said: “Children with autism are particularly vulnerable to being stressed by noise, excessive intrusiveness and crowds, and visual clutter.

“But children with autism are also calmed by natural flora and other natural shapes and textures and benefit more than most from having a safe enclosure in which to interact with others.

“The garden at St Nicholas School will support these benefits and so we were absolutely overjoyed when we learned we had been given such a sizeable amount of money towards it from the Gannett Foundation.” The garden will allow the children to get away, offering them refuge, somewhere to sit and think, relax and read.

And it will also be open to the younger children in the mainstream school too.

Children in Touch supports the work of centres for children with ASC in mainstream school (including the site at St Nicholas School).

Children in Touch fundraiser Dr Sue Fairchild’s daughter, Alexandra Rosenwasser, nine, is autistic and attends the St Nicholas School base.

Dr Fairchild said: “I believe the sensory side of autism is key to opening up learning channels in the children and the garden will take them out of the distorted sounds and noise of the classroom, and into a calming environment.”

Her daughter Alexandra said: “I think it is going to be a nice garden with nice smells and pretty flowers. It will have a little bridge and all my friends will like it, too. It will be a nice quiet place for me.”

For more information, see http://childrenintouch.org

HELEN AND DOUGLAS HOUSE HOSPICE - AWARDED £9,662

Few people in the county have not yet heard of the inspiring work being done to help children and young people with serious illnesses at Helen and Douglas House.

But despite a dedicated team of staff, fundraisers and donors, the hospice’s future relies heavily on its continued ability to buy the day-to-day equipment it needs to operate properly.

Liz Leigh, deputy director of clinical services at Helen and Douglas House, said: “Grants like this from the Gannett Foundation are vital to our work. It costs £5 million per year to run both hospice houses. But we receive less than 15 per cent of this from sources other than voluntary donations.”

The charity will be using its Gannett Foundation grant to update equipment, most of which is used by patients every day.

Mrs Leigh said: “Being able to buy new equipment not only keeps our service up-to-date – it also boosts morale.

“And this is bread and butter equipment - things like syringe drivers, which are small portable devices that enable our clients to continue to do normal things like going to work, playgroup and school.”

Other equipment will also be bought.

She said: “Infection control and its monitoring are also vital to us as many of our patients are extremely vulnerable to infection.

“So our new infection control resource, purchased with the Gannett grant, will prove our cleaning is excellent.

“And while they may seem like a simple piece of equipment, hoists cost £2,000 each and are very important for our clients, many of whom use wheelchairs.

“I believe this is the first time we have applied for a Gannett Foundation grant and we are absolutely delighted to have been chosen. It’s a wonderful boost.”

  • The Gannett Foundation has given grants totalling more than £185,000 in the last 10 years to organisations in Oxfordshire. It has awarded £4m in grants in total in the UK alone.

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