Newbury’s Great Mencap bake-off competition!



Great British Bake Off fans feeling flat as the last series on BBC comes to an end can look forward to West Berkshire Mencap’s very own baking competition.

The charity is inviting people to bake a cake to be judged at the St Nicolas coffee morning from 10am to 12pm on Thursday, 3rd November.

The competition is free to enter, and bakers can make the cake of their choice which will be graded according to taste and presentation. It will then be sold in aid of the charity.

Entries must be submitted to the Enborne Gate office before 5pm on 2nd November and the winner will be presented with a bottle of bubbly at the coffee morning.

The coffee morning will offer Newbury shoppers a cake stall and a bottle tombola.

Leila Ferguson, Chief Executive of West Berkshire Mencap, said: “We held a smaller version of the baking competition amongst staff and volunteers last year and were astounded at the level of competitiveness and competence.  We’re now opening up the competition to all supporters and can’t wait to see what people deliver. Don’t forget though that it will raise much-needed funds to support people with a learning disability and their families and carers.

“We will also be launching a regular coffee morning at our Enborne Gate office so please watch this space for more details.”




Wheely good Stryker biker event puts West Berkshire Mencap children in the saddle

Staff at Stryker have used their annual sales meeting team building event to construct bicycles for children at West Berkshire Mencap.

More than 350 staff at the Newbury-based medical technology company took part in a team challenge in which they had to put 36 bikes together as quickly as possible. The ‘Stryker Biker’ event took place at the Madejski Stadium and was overseen by experts from Halfords who also donated vouchers for bike helmets.

Teams from Stryker had to complete fun forfeits such as riding unicycles, a three-legged race and even cheerleading to win the necessary parts and tools to construct the bikes. The finished articles were delivered to West Berkshire Mencap’s office the next day, but there was a surprise appearance on the night from some of the children who benefitted.

Elaine Broadhurst, one of the event organisers, and executive assistant at Stryker UK, said: “We’re a global company but we really wanted to do something that was meaningful and that would benefit a local charity. We chose West Berkshire Mencap as I know first-hand that they offer such vital support to people with learning disabilities and we wanted to give something to the children who use their services.”

Leila Ferguson, Chief Executive of West Berkshire Mencap, added: “We are so grateful to Stryker for holding such a fun event and to say the children are thrilled with their bikes is an understatement. Their donation has enabled a lot of siblings to go out cycling together which means they can spend quality time getting active which is always a good thing.”





Jill Thorpe from Develop your Dog

It’s often said that a dog is man’s best friend, and if there’s anything better than having a furry companion by your side, it’s having one that’s well-trained.


That’s why Jill Thorpe from Develop Your Dog is one of the go-to trainers in West Berkshire and beyond for all kinds of dog training from puppy training to obedience classes right through to gundog training.


Dog ownership all starts with assessing whether you’re ready for a dog and what breed might suit your lifestyle. Jill can give impartial advice on this and can help you find a dog from a reputable breeder.


Once you’ve brought your four-legged friend home, Jill can then help with understanding how your dog ticks, plus socialising it and introducing the dog to its new environment.


Jill said: “I want to be able to share my experience and give practical advice and support from how to go about choosing the right breed to suit your lifestyle to how to teach the basic commands.


“I give an insight into how the dog’s mind works so that people can understand why our dogs do the things they do which helps with the socialisation and habituation of the dog so it’s prepared for living in our world.  I also advise owners of older dogs on how to avoid common problems and set themselves up to succeed.”


Typical problems for many dog owners are behavioural issues such as struggling with recall, jumping up, pulling on the lead, and general obedience – all of which, Jill says, are fixable with patience and training.


After classes your dogs will no longer be straining on leashes or racing off into fields chasing birds and ignoring your calls. Gundogs will be well-trained and owners will be able to take and work them on shoots.


Jill adds: “I love what I do. The joy of seeing the relationship and bond grow between owners and their dogs; there is nothing better than when a client is relieved that there is a solution to a frustrating long-term problem that they have been living with.”


Jill has had dogs all of her life but got into the business when she successfully trained a difficult one of her own. Realising she had a flair, she ditched the corporate life and turned her passion for dog training into her career. She has since trained literally hundreds of dogs and has an Advanced Canine Behaviour and Psychology Diploma awarded by the Pet Education, Training and Behaviour Council.


Jill said: “I came into dog training through a friend who introduced me into the shooting world where I discovered the joy of training a working Labrador to the job in which she was bred for.  I discovered a whole new community that I never knew existed and began to understand why for example spaniels have such busy personalities -when you see what they are expected to do on a shoot it makes complete sense why they dash from side to side in the undergrowth.


“I currently have three dogs and have always had dogs in my life, whilst growing up we had Golden Retrievers, and I’ve had five Labradors, and more recently a Cocker Spaniel.”


Jill believes in a balanced approach to training where the key to success lies with consistency. She uses reward-based methods but crucially, makes her sessions practical and fun. She focuses on enhancing communication to help build a stronger bond between dog and owner.


She adds: “For clients whose dogs are exhibiting problem behaviours that they need help with, I provide a structured framework for them to work to and show them how to go about putting it into practice.  The sorts of problems I help fix are territorial aggression, for example when the dog rushes up to the garden gate barking at passers-by; destructive behaviour such as digging up the garden and chewing the furniture; scavenging food, jumping up, pulling on the lead and dogs that don’t have any self-control.”


She said: “It can be really tricky and isolating for owners with difficult dogs as it sometimes means they are nervous about taking their pets out in public for fear of what might happen.

“Behaviour clients may wish to re-train their dogs because they are being anti-social;    they become too strong both mentally and physically.”


Jill runs fortnightly mid-week classes at Marlborough Cricket Club, plus classes in Clanville Village Hall near Andover every Tuesday for six weeks. Future classes are planned for Newbury and Hungerford.


Additionally, she runs home visits by appointment throughout West Berkshire and North Hampshire for puppies, and consultations of dogs with behavioural issues.


Tips on toilet training:


Toilet training your new puppy can be one of the very first challenges you face when you bring your new bundle of fun home.


  1. First and foremost – there’s no need to buy expensive toilet training pads, neither do you need to use newspaper. Using pads or paper will only lull you into a false sense of security thinking you have the puppy toilet trained, but you then have to go on to repeat the whole training process for your puppy to learn to perform outside. The pads sound like a great idea but the feel of them is very similar to your carpets, rugs, towels and so on as far as the puppy is concerned.
  2. Start off as you mean to go on and make it your mission to get your puppy outside every couple of hours. Take your puppy, on lead, to the spot where you want it to relieve itself and allow it to wander around and sniff. Once your puppy squats I find it useful to attach a word to the action so later on I can get the dog to perform on command. Repeat the word whilst the puppy is having a wee for example “good dog, hurry up, good dog”, and then when they have finished give them a reward.


  1. Try not to worry if you have the occasional accident indoors – it happens – just clear it up straight away without fuss and ideally with a product that totally eradicates the smell. Inconsistency and inattention usually leads to mishaps so please remember your puppy is learning and needs to be taken out after he eats, drinks, sleeps and exercises.


*Appeared first in Out and About magazine free with the Newbury Weekly News….







Meditation with Carolyn “Luckygirl”

It’s a  beautiful summer’s evening and a group of people are sitting in silence next to St Michael’s and All Angel’s Church in Enborne.

In a busy world, it’s a rare sight to see people sitting so still and peacefully – there’s no sound at all apart from the occasional bird call.

This is one of Carolyn Sykes’ meditation sessions for busy people looking for a bit of time to calm the mind and give it space to recalibrate.

Carolyn has been teaching meditation for seven years – long before mindfulness became fashionable, and she is well-known locally as a reiki healer, acupuncturist and Kennet Radio host.

After a career in the horse-racing industry, Carolyn sought a different lifestyle and trained with renowned meditation expert Sandy Newbiggin and the Barefoot Doctor. She now runs bespoke meditation sessions, plus monthly “MindCalm” group courses for people who wish to experience guided meditation plus a more spiritual and ethereal session weekly in Enborne on Thursdays.

3. Carolyn Sykes leading a meditation session.JPG

Her mission is to help people declutter their minds to enable them to focus on what’s important.

She said: “I initially started teaching reiki in my hometown of Swansea but then saw a need for busy professionals to try meditation. Back then, meditation was seen as something a bit ‘woo-woo’ and out there but since I’ve moved to Newbury, I’ve noticed a real need for busy professionals who need a bit of peace and a break from the stresses of work.  Meditation can really help with issues such as anxiety, sleep problems and depression and really help you get your life back on course and improve your outlook. Things don’t bother you so much.  While you can’t turn your mind off, you can make peace with it and become empowered to use elements from the class in daily life.”

Carolyn’s sessions typically include an introduction incorporating elements of tai chi and yoga followed up by a talk and up to 30 minutes of meditation.

For a beginner, a half hour can be a long time to sit still and one of Carolyn’s clients Sandra Izoulet jokes that her first experience was “extremely difficult with thoughts flying through my mind and an overwhelming sense of itchiness all over my body!”

However, within just a couple of sessions, she started to find it hugely beneficial and has now been attending session for 18 months. She said: “Lots of people have remarked on how I seem different now. I’m much calmer and less likely to react to daily life.”

Carolyn describes  these feelings as normal as meditations removes the distractions of work and life, making your mind more inclined to listen to your body, bringing aches, pains and itchiness to the fore.

She said: “It happens to everyone but it really doesn’t matter. After a session or two, you’ll settle in and after all, it really only takes a moment of tuning in to benefit from meditation. It does get easier with practice.”

As well as giving peace and calm, meditation is said to help with everything from reducing blood pressure to boosting your immune system and even can assist with sleeping problems and attention span.

Classes cost £10. For more information, click onto

Tips for newcomers to meditation

1. Wear comfortable clothes

  1. Start by relaxing your body before your mind with a five minute warm-up and stretching
  2. Choose the time of day that best suits you and your body -some people like to start their day with meditation while others prefer the evening or after work.
  3. Carolyn recommends avoiding apps as they become too much of a prop and people can believe they’re meditating when they’re not.
  4. Don’t worry if odd thoughts fly into your mind. Just acknowledge it and let it pass.
  5. Don’t panic if you can’t sit still. Just one minute of meditation is better than none and a good place to start.
  6. Get outside where possible. Sitting in nature is a good way to reconnect.

*First appeared in Out and About magazine (with the Newbury Weekly News) in Sept 2016.

Murder on the dancefloor for West Berkshire Mencap (Friday 14th October)

Super sleuths are required to help find the perpetrator of a terrible crime!

The invitation comes as part of a 1920s-themed murder mystery ball that is being hosted by Mayor of Newbury Julian Swift-Hook and West Berkshire Mencap on Friday, 14th October from 6.30pm to midnight at the Donnington Valley Hotel.

“Death at Donnington” is open to everyone from families, individuals, groups and office parties and includes a three-course meal, a chance to watch the acting talents of a troupe led by film actor Kevin Hallett, plus live jazz music by Kitty Mazinsky.

The interactive event gives guests the opportunity to win a bottle of bubbly if they correctly guess “whodunnit” and why.

Leila Ferguson, chief executive at West Berkshire Mencap, said: “This is our first murder mystery and will be great fun. We are grateful to Mayor of Newbury Julian Swift-Hook for hosting this as the Mayor’s Ball and would like to encourage people who attend to get into the spirit with 1920s costumes, so please dig out your best Downton Abbey-inspired outfits.”

“Fundraising events such as this have become the lifeblood for us as without donations, we cannot provide the vital services to support local people with learning disabilities.”

Tickets cost £75 per head and card payments can be made over the phone by calling 01635 41464.