Interview with Sarah Gardner from ATE Ghana #inspiringwomen

West Berkshire and beyond plays host to some truly inspirational women. Today we speak to one of them; Sarah Gardner who set up a charity called ATE Ghana.

“I can’t believe that this is what I do now,” says a former Winchcombe Primary school teacher about the charity she set up to support a community in rural Ghana.

Sarah Gardner, aged 31, was placed in Lawra three years ago as part of an 12-month pacement with VSO. Initially her brief was to work in the local education authority there supporting 96 primary schools but it quickly became apparent that her help was needed in other ways.

Left more or less alone in the middle of nowhere with a wonky bicycle, Sarah had to adapt quickly. Setbacks included 40 degree temperatures, isolation, no one wanting to work with her, and a severe bout of malaria that put her into a hospital. Unconscious for 48 hours, then unable to move her hands, she found herself in a hospital with no running water or a toilet.

However, the intrepid Sarah was undeterred and after a three-year-old child died on her doorstep from malaria, decided that she had to do something to help tackle the poverty.  Unsure of what to do, a meeting with an HIV support group revealed that local people were very clear that they did not want handouts, but needed help to set up their own businesses. Action Through Enterprise Ghana was born.

ATE Ghana

Since then, the charity has grown with three separate aims; providing school meals to a total of 650 children in the area, helping local people set up entreprises and providing support to families with children with learning or physical disabilities.

ATE Ghana works with schools and PTAs to provide locally-sourced ingredients for school meals. Children are better able to learn when they have had a nutritious meal and so the children are supplied with a filling maize-based dish called Banku.

Sarah’s answer to coping with the difficulties of life in Ghana was to adopt a puppy called Shilea for whom she had to exchange a chicken. Shilea offered real protection from the snakes and scorpions that can be found in the country and provided companionship during the most difficult times.  Shilea still lives in her Ghana HQ and having been born the week that Sarah arrived in Ghana, is a constant reminder of how successful the charity has become.

This year, the charity has achieved its aim of raising £150,000. Next year’s target is £250,000, which will enable ATE Ghana to feed more than 650 children and to launch the feeding programme into two more schools. Nearly 50 businesses have started with the charity’s help and Sarah is proud that the vast majority survive and make a profit after a year.

The charity is funded purely with donations, and Sarah is keen to talk at events, business groups and even in people’s homes, armed with her projector.

She said: “I just want to tell people the information. People are so nice – if you provide them with honesty, clarity and the facts, they really talk to us and are inspired to give. The generosity of local people is phenomenal and we’re always so grateful for any support; for people in Ghana, these donations are truly life-changing.

“It’s amazing what you can do when you are on the right path.”

ATE Ghana’s next fundraising event is a Santa’s grotto in Ramsbury.

For more information or to make a donation, visit or

‘What the Ladybird heard’ at the Corn Exchange


Of all of the adaptations of Julia Donaldson books that we’ve seen at the Corn Exchange, LO and I concur that this is the best of the bunch.

We were utterly charmed by the adaptation of the story which is a tale of two inept robbers who plan to steal a prize cow before their plans are thwarted by a quiet ladybird.  At just 55 minutes, the cast retold the story in a straightforward way which didn’t feel too contrived or padded out.

The stage setting is true to the book and LO was captivated by the farmer who was played by a woman with the distinctive Michael Eavis style beard.  While the two cats and the prize cow were puppets, there were some really creative animal representations – LO was very much taken with the way the horse, the pig, the dainty dog and the cow were assembled out of farmyard items such as buckets and barrels. Cleverly, there is some audience participation required in order to fill the role of Lanky Len, and it took a little while for us to realise that ‘Raymond’ was no normal Corn Exchange usher!

The effects to create the ladybird were well done too and the children in the crowd thoroughly enjoyed finding the heronie of the piece, particularly when it landed on Lanky Len’s hat.

The songs were fabulous and LO particularly enjoyed the Lanky Len and Hefty Hugh duo as well as the song at the end which showcased all of the cast’s musical talents; all in all the performance struck a wonderful balance between entertainment and not being too over the top energetic.

We were so impressed with what we saw today, that our next Corn Exchange performance will be the Princess and the Pea at New Greenham Arts  from 16th to 19th December.



West Berkshire is a truly beautiful place to be in the autumn with swathes of majestic trees gradually turning golden yellow.

LO and I have been playing a simple, but surprisingly fun game in various places around the area.  It allows us to appreciate the true beauty of autumn while unwittingly getting some exercise. The game is called “catch a falling leaf” which does exactly what it says on the tin – you stand under an avenue of trees and simply catch any falling leaves.  It’s much, much harder than it sounds, providing you stand under trees that are taller than you are!

We nearly fell over with laughing earlier on in our attempts to catch the yellow leaves; it took us a good 15 minutes to achieve our first catch!

In the last few days, we’ve done this in Goldwell Park, Hungerford Common, Basildon Park and Hungerford Park but we’re open to hearing of other autumnal locations!


Where’s the best place in West Berkshire for a nice autumnal welly walk?

Bridge over troubled waters

Not quite sure why, but the swing bridge over the Kennet and Avon Canal in Newbury has been broken for two weeks according to this story in the Newbury Weekly News

As well as the annoyance of being trapped in Newbury of all places until the boat was opened for one day allowing some to escape, it also means the Halloween trip on the Jubilee looks spookily unlikely unless it has a new starting point. What a shame. We thoroughly enjoyed our recent excursion on the boat, dressed as pirates and scaring the “gongoozlers” on the towpath.  It looks like the bridge won’t be fixed for a while, but it’s a little wake-up call as to how important the canal is to the local economy.

What the ladybird heard at Newbury Corn Exchange


When I was little, most of the books that we read to me were by Enid Blyton.

These days, most of the books we read to LO at bedtime seem to have come from the pen of Julia Donaldson with artwork by Axel Schleffer or Lydia Monks.

LO has enjoyed What the Ladybird Heard but I feel we’re coming to the end of its shelf life (a bookshelf joke, there). However, I’m delighted to see that a live version is coming to the Corn Exchange, Newbury from Friday, 23rd October to Sunday 25th October.

As you know, the book is about two robbers who decide to steal a prize cow from Michael Eavis. Fortunately, their plan is thwarted by the smallest and quietest creature at Worthy Farm and Michael is so pleased that he decides to put on the mother of all festivals – Glastonbury.


I can’t wait to see how this pans out on the stage, but LO and I will be in the moshpit….

What I should have asked at school…


I went to have a look at a local primary school this week to see if it’s the one we want to sign our LO one up to, and also so that I could fulfill a lifelong ambition to  completely embarrass myself by wearing the exact same dress as the school admin assistant.

Though some women worry about this, wearing the same outfit as someone else (and looking significantly worse in it) is not a faux pas that I’ve ever made before. Well, unless you count, ironically, primary school.

Anyway, I digress and haven’t even mentioned the dog that ran into the school.

After the dog had been shooed out, we were given a tour of the school, which is a spacious Edwardian building with high ceilings, a surprisingly open plan feel and swathes of greenery and outdoor space. I hadn’t realised just how big the school was and wonder how well LO will cope surrounded by about 60 contemporaries who will be divided into three forms.

The classrooms for the foundation children were divided into zones with an impressive teacher who ran through the curriculum in such an inspiring way that the dread I feel about my baby going to school has been replaced with positivity! It’s not such a big step up from nursery after all, and they’ll still be able to learn in a way that is centred on their needs and interests.

This is not the reason that I didn’t ask any questions at all on the tour. This was due to the fact that I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for in a school and also as everyone else asked very sensible questions.  If only I had mentioned this to the lovely lady called Irene who tends to be on the next mat at yoga, I would have been ok.

She came up with the following list of questions that can help you with the all-important decision and her first bit of advice was to drive by the school first thing in the morning to see if there are children smoking and what the parents are like. She then advised asking to look in the pupils’ books to see what the work is like. “And make sure YOU choose the book so they don’t just show you the top child’s work”, she advises.

  1. Is there a PTA?
  2. What does the PTA do?
  3. How do you get onto the PTA?
  4. How involved are the children?
  5. Is there homework?
  6. how do you keep parents posted of their child’s progress?
  7. Does the PTA’s feedback get implemented?
  8. Are the children’s views taken on board?
  9. Can you give me an example of how this has worked?
  10. How do you deal with unruly children?

And her last bit of advice?  Check out the toilets. They tell you a lot about a school.

If you’re as disorganised as me, you’ll find this booklet useful as it shows you the process.