Debbie Johnson, Caf' Active Manager, Spencers WoodI came to Spencers Wood from West Reading where I’d lived for 16 years. I have lived in the village since 2003 and I am married to Andrew Wait (a local man who is a builder). I have 10 children and four grandchildren. Seven of the children still live at home and their ages range from 4 to 30! I have always been a community minded person and I believe it is because I live so far away from my family in Liverpool. Joining committees is a great way of meeting people and making lifelong friends. It is also a way of setting yourself up a good support network of people who you can go to when you need to, for whatever reason. I have become involved in the community in a number of ways:-

At present I am manager of the community cafe (Caf’Activ) that is situated in St Michaels and all Angels Church on the Basingstoke Road going through the centre of Spencers Wood. A job that I love with a passion! The cafe was the brain child of Beatrice Pearson, our vicar. The cafe has been open for 2 years on the 5th May and we are staffed by volunteers and are open for the sale of teas, coffees, cakes and a variety of hot and cold lunches every day, between 9.30am and 2pm except Tuesday’s when we open at 11. Never miss an advertising opportunity. We also open occasionally throughout the year, for themed evenings, specifically raising money for the Church.

Maysie was one when I moved to the village, my two eldest children went to the Willink secondary and the next four went to Lambs Lane. Being the type of person I am, it didn’t take long for me to get involved. Lambs Lane School was having a summer fair in the rain!!!!! I felt so sorry for the teacher trying to sell and fold raffle tickets whilst it was pouring down so offered to help….that was it. I had been bitten by the fundraising bug again!!!! I joined the school association where I have remained for the past 7-8 years. I have recently become a Community Governor for Lambs Lane School (having been approached by the Chair on the street outside the Bakers!)

Whilst walking home from dropping the children off at school we all got to talking about doing something in the community on a slightly larger scale than a summer fete. Liz Ratcliffe, who lives facing the Pavilion in the middle of the village, said not a lot happened on the  field in front of the building, and so the idea of Spencers Wood Carnival was born. We have done one every year since 2007. It has become a tradition in the village that the whole community can take part in and look forward to, geared towards young and old. All the local charity groups take part to fund raise and raise their profile. Local businesses pay a percentage to the Carnival to take part. Any money raised then gets divided between the local community groups who attend. There is Masons fun fair, various entertainers and bands. This is such a special day for Liz and I and all of the community. The feedback is always complimentary and it is an amazing thing to be a part of.

Then Maysie started Chapel Lane Pre-school, and the word had spread that I had this wealth of experience that I had brought with me to the community and would I like to be chair of the pre-school. Without you we wouldn’t be able to open. So I took it on (though I thought I was taking on fundraising not managing staff, negotiating pay, appraisals etc etc). I must say being a part of the pre -school has had its ups and downs but as I write this it is with fondness I think of all the people I have met and made friends with. I have also gained a great wealth of knowledge about Criminal Record Bureau checks local government and guidelines. I also can’t help but think of all the joy the children have brought – the way they learn to communicate, draw and write.

I also love it when they come to see me in the cafe and they remember my name and want to talk to me. I resigned from there in October 2011 after 6-7 years. My youngest son William started school in September 2011, so it was time to move on and give somebody else the chance to have a positive role in the life of the pre-school. During the time I was in both these committees I was also on the Beech Hill Memorial Committee. My husband’s family comes from Beech Hill and we married in the church. At our wedding we had a swag bag and half the money raised from that went to the village hall for their refurbishment fund. With the letter of thanks I also received an invitation to join the committee. How could I say no?

I enjoyed every moment of being on this committee. My relationship with my in laws grew as they are both keen fundraisers, and do fantastic amounts for animal charities and the village hall, fish and chip suppers being their specialty, with puddings to die for. Setting up the flower arranging group, this is still going, the first Tuesday in the month 7.30pm at the memorial hall. All are welcome no experience necessary, was one of the most positive things I did. It mainly started because I was somehow put in the flower arranging rota for the church. I had no idea at all what to do, so I spoke to a few people arranged a few evenings and full day workshops and raised several hundred pounds at the same time. When I left the committee it was with great sadness, but it was time to move on. Then I was asked to join the Parochial Church Council of St Mary the Virgin Church Beech Hill. They needed money and I had a reputation. Things are very exciting at the moment with the new Community shop due to open in February 2013.

I also love the church as we got married there, it’s where my children were christened and my in laws have been members of the congregation for over 30 years. One of the other main reasons was that the people of Beech Hill made me feel so welcome. The mother of seven meets the bachelor of the village – they could have judged me as someone to be wary of, but they welcomed me and I feel a huge sense of warmth in Beech Hill. I was on the village hall committee but had to come off several years ago, because of other commitments, but have recently rejoined, and am involved in organising fundraising events for the hall. Where does the time go?

I have just recently set up a business with another member of the community called “Scallywags”- working with another volunteer from the cafe doing catering and mobile bar for any occasion. We also support the local charities by waiving any staffing fee we might have if we are doing the catering for their event, and have given all the profits from the Carnival back to the Community. I feel very proud to be involved in this community …I love the fact that I can walk along Basingstoke road and know that I’ve extracted a prize of some sort from every shop I pass by.

One thing I really love about fundraising is bringing people together to have a nice time and then they don’t notice how much money they are parting! Of course I couldn’t do any of this community work without the continued support of my husband.

Thank you to the Local History Group for asking me to be a part of this project what an honour.

Debbie x x x

P.S. I’ve just remembered I was part of the committee organising the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations for Shinfield Parish Council which took place on Spencers Wood Recreation Group on June 4th 2012 (my wedding anniversary – my husband was delighted!)

 

 

 

 

 

Photograph by Spencers Wood portrait photographer Simon Kemp