Blackberry Cottage Christmas puddings for everyone this festive season!


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Blackberry Cottage have launched their Christmas puddings for the 2018 festive season, including one suitable for most dietary requirements.

The ‘free from’ Christmas pudding is free from gluten, dairy, egg, nut and soya with no added refined sugar. Each is handmade in small batches, using juicy currants, sultanas, raisins which is steeped in brandy, then combined with the spices and the rest of the ingredients.

Her Christmas puddings are handmade and come in three more flavours:

The ale and carrot Christmas pudding uses a traditional old recipe with ale and carrots, handmade in small batches.

After steeping the juicy currants, sultanas, raisins in ale, they’re combined with carrots, spices and the rest of the ingredients.

The rum cask cider Christmas pudding is made of cider-soaked fruit, handmade in small batches. The cider is produced by a local cider maker, who use a variety of eating, cooking and crab apples mainly from within West Berkshire, which has been fermented and matured in oak rum barrels.

The Stout Christmas pudding is full of stout soaked fruit, handmade to an old family recipe.  After steeping the juicy currants, sultanas, raisins and figs in stout they’re mixed with the rest of the ingredients including a special pudding spice mix.

Each of the four is steamed for six hours and wrapped before being left to mature before being wrapped in muslin and finished with a pretty ribbon. All four come in two sizes 450g (£8) and 900g (£15).

Kate will be selling these at food festivals around Berkshire and can also be ordered online at

Kate has also launched her unique cookbook Blackberry Cottage: Cakes with Secret Ingredients from Aubergine to Zucchini. The book draws on her unique expertise and the thousands of cakes she has made through her award-winning business.

The recipes include incredible combinations such as savoy cabbage and mocha torte to Jerusalem artichoke, mango and lime cake – all delicious with the vegetables adding to the texture and moisture.  There are festive options for Christmas such as sweet potato mince pies and a delicious and unusual turnip Yule log.

Cakes with Secret Ingredients from Aubergine to Zucchini is priced at £24.99 including postage and packaging via and independent bookshops.

Additionally, if you’re looking for a bespoke present for a foodie, Kate offers vouchers for her courses throughout 2019, ranging from ‘Winter comfort’ courses to ‘Spring Sweetness’.

Click onto

How to avoid selling the family home to pay for care

We’ve all heard the traumatic stories of people being forced to sell their family homes to pay for astronomical care fees. The subject of elderly care, writing a will and what happens to our estate when we die is never an easy one, but with just a bit of planning, unnecessary fees and a lot of stress can be avoided.

Sam Francis of Assured Wills is an expert in this field and helps families to protect their estates to ensure they can pass as much as possible onto their families.

He says: “Fees for end-of-life care are affecting more ordinary families than ever before. In the past, few gave much thought to having to pay for care fees as they were unlikely to live long enough for this to be a problem. Nowadays, the burden for financing social care has now fallen to the individual who requires it, and the local authority where they live.

“The average cost of a week’s care in a residential home is now nearly £1,000, so it doesn’t take long before you lose significant wealth to pay for nursing care.”

  • If your estate is below £14,520, then the local authority will pay for your care.
  • If you have between £14,250 and £23,250, then you will pay a proportion of the cost of your care on a sliding scale.
  • However, any savings, investments and assets over £23,250 mean that you will pay 100% of your own care should you require it.
  • If you own your home and, by taking residential care, you will be leaving it empty, then the value of the house will be included as an asset that can be sold to pay for the care.

According to Mr Francis there are three important steps to protecting your estate and your home when you die. These are perfectly legal and accepted in estate planning.

The first is to ‘sever the tenancy’. Usually people buy together as a Joint Tenancy meaning they own the property as a couple. This meant that should either of them die, the remaining partner will own the whole property.

If you sever the tenancy means each has a 50% share and if one partner dies, they can pass their share in their will to someone other than the surviving spouse. The process of Severing the Tenancy is straightforward and involves each of them signing a written statement and submitting a form to the Land Registry.

The second step is to make sure that on the first death, the property passes into a protective will trust. This is a trust such as a Property Protection Trust (PPT) which guarantees a right of residence to the survivor so they can continue to live in the property. And on the second death, it will benefit the children and grandchildren. As a side-effect of this trust, it is highly likely that the entire value of the home would not be included in an assessment for care fees.

A great advantage of this type of trust is that should either remarry after their spouse’s death then the home would be protected from forming part of the new marital assets which means that any new husband or wife would not have any legal right to inherit any part of the family home that is in the Trust. Anything tied up in the Trust would also be protected from divorce or bankruptcy.

Mr Francis added: “We have recently worked with a family where the husband died very suddenly and unexpectedly and everything was left to his wife. Unfortunately, she suffered a stroke very soon afterwards and needed residential care.

“The local authority decided that she needed to pay all of her care fees and that the family home should be sold to pay for this. They have worked so hard all of their lives and wanted to pass on their inheritance to their children so they could get onto the housing ladder or pay for university.

“The tragedy is that others in the same care home have constructed their wills differently when both partners were fit and well so that half of the house passed into a protective trust and meant that only savings were used to pay for care. When they had nearly run out of saving, the state stepped in and covered the cost of care. It seems so unfair and a real catalyst to ensure everyone has proper advice on getting their affairs in order.”

For more information and to find out more about how to plan to avoid care fee costs, visit

In My Life; a Music Memoir by Alan Johnson

Some say that Alan Johnson is the best Prime Minister we never had. But if he himself has any regrets about his career, it’s that rock stardom hasn’t called. Yet.

His most recent book is about the musical influences that have shaped his life and most of these are related to the Fab Four. Much like his previous three award-winning memoirs, this latest book too, takes its name from a Beatles song.

Johnson writes engagingly about his life in poverty in North Kensington, hearing Lonnie Donegan for the first time, of playing his first guitar and envisaging a life as a rock star, despite the fact that the first record he bought was Fings ain’t what they used to be by Max Bygraves.

In 1963, he hears the Beatles for the first time and you can almost hear the colour that comes into Johnson’s black and white world.

Buying their first album coincides with the tragic death of his mother at the age of 42 – the same age at which her mother and grandmother had also died. Incredibly Johnson’s amazing older sister Linda took on social services at the age of 16 and ensured the siblings were not split up.

At the age of 18, his music career is put on hold as he starts work as a postman, a job that will eventually lead to him to politics. This in turn means he finally meets his favourite Beatle Paul McCartney when as education minister, he was invited to a graduation ceremony at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts.

Typically modest and witty, he summed up the experience: “I thought Paul would be in a room somewhere on a throne but instead of that, it was in the canteen. I met him when I was eating a cheese sandwich and was genuinely lost for words.”


No more dreary packed lunches; MrsB set to open a new cafe in Faraday Road, Newbury



Newbury’s latest food offering is about to open in the heart of one of the town’s burgeoning business districts catering for corporate lunches, weddings and events and for anyone who enjoys healthy wholesome food.

Emma Benson, who runs Mrs B’s Kitchen, an established local catering company, will be opening a new café in the former Crescent Signs site on Faraday Road site later in November. Mrs B’s Kitchen Café will be open for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea six days a week. The ethos is to provide an informal space where people can come and meet and enjoy simple good homecooked food.

The café will seat 30 indoors with further covers outside. The menu will change daily and will cater for a range of dietary requirements including vegetarians, vegans and free from.

Emma said: “The catering kitchen and café are in a warehouse, and everything will be visible and open – it will be like welcoming our customers into the heart of the kitchen itself.

“We will be offering everything from home-made sausage rolls and cakes to salad boxes and simple wholesome food that will sustain you without breaking the bank. Pretty much everything will be made from scratch on site and ingredients are sourced locally where possible. Just as important as the food, will be the fantastic coffee from Extract Coffee in Bristol.

“The menus will change daily, so you’ll be able to see what’s on offer on social media or on the chalk boards outside.”

As well as informal dining, there will be a meeting room that can be hired and a bespoke room for event tastings. The new venture will run alongside ‘Mrs B’s Kitchen’ catering business and will create an additional full-time job and between three to five part-time jobs. Mrs Benson is passionate about employing people that share her love of food and are willing to pitch in throughout the whole business.

She said: “Everyone will be trained in every aspect of the kitchen café and I want it to be a place where my staff can be proud to work.

“There are many capable people out there who don’t necessarily want a stressful career anymore but are looking for a job where they feel part of a dynamic team.  I am looking for high energy, multi-tasking people who enjoy serving delicious food to the public!”

Mrs B’s Kitchen has a minimal waste policy and uses plastic only where necessary.

She added: “As a catering company, we’ve been established for 15 years, growing by personal recommendation and repeat business. We are so excited about opening this new venture in Newbury and the café will open up our food to a whole new group of people, as well as providing a central venue for our existing customers!”

Mrs B’s Kitchen was started when she was asked to provide the canapes for a friend’s party and grew from there. The new business is set to open in November and an official launch will take place shortly after that.

Click onto for more information


The Red House and the Castle Pubs raise £1674 for West Berkshire Mencap

The Red House at Marsh Benham and its sister pub the Castle on Oxford Road have so far raised an incredible £1,673.50 for West Berkshire Mencap thanks to almost a year of fundraising initiatives.

A successful comedy night held at the Red House in April was attended by more than 60 people and raised £300 for the charity. Further funds were raised via donations by a special ‘West Berkshire Mencap Dish of the Day’ and other events and incentives.

Events manager Tim Hirst said: “We’ve been proud to support this great local charity and are delighted with the support from our customers in helping support this important work, caring for people with learning disabilities.

“Everyone on the team really gets behind the quizzes and events and we are particularly happy to support a charity based here in West Berkshire.”

Leila Ferguson, CEO of West Berkshire Mencap, said: “We are delighted at the inventiveness and enthusiasm shown by the teams at the Castle and Red House pubs and would like to say thank you to all of their customers who got involved and donated.

“The money raised will support 18 children with learning disabilities to attend West Berkshire Mencap’s “Summer Play Scheme.”


Athena visitors day – come and try women’s networking!

The Athena Network is holding a ‘visitor’s day’ for potential members to come and try out women’s networking at a discounted price.

The visitor’s day takes place at Thatcham meeting at the Regency Park Hotel on Tuesday, 20th November from 12 – 2pm and costs just £20.

As well as structured networking, there’s a light lunch and refreshments hosted by the Athena Network regional director Debbie Miles.

She said: “We are fortunate to have Nicola Lyle from Fired Up Careers as our speaker at this meeting. She’ll be sharing her wisdom on time efficiency and helping us to look at how well we use our time as well as offering tips on how to get more done in our working day.

“With many women juggling work, business and home life, Nicola’s advice will be invaluable!

“If you are looking to increase your customer base, or simply would like the support of other women in business across West Berkshire, you are very welcome to come and tell us about your business and share your passion.”

For more information and to book, contact Debbie via

The countdown to Christmas can now begin! Buttermilk launches a new advent calendar!



Buttermilk Christmas advent calendarWhether you’re looking for a unique advent calendar or a memorable stocking filler, Buttermilk has an array of brand new products to make your Christmas merry and bright!

New for 2018, the Cornish confectioner has launched a beautiful advent calendar that has a serving of delicious fudge behind every door. Each one of the 25 helpings comes in a home-compostable wrapper – not plastic – and will get you into the festive spirit with a Christmas song title printed on the door that you can act out as a charade. There’s even a bonus serving for Christmas morning itself!

The Buttermilk advent calendar is priced at £14.99 and is available from Waitrose, National Trust shops, Amazon, Moonpig, Debenhams plus selected independent retailers.


If you’re looking to make Christmas go with a bang, then Buttermilk has a Cracker presentation box in two sizes.  The larger of the two (300g) is priced at £9.99 and contains Mince Pie, Gingerbread and Rum Hot Chocolate all in compostable wrappers.  These are available from Waitrose, Amazon and selected independent retailers.

A smaller version (150g) is priced at £5.99. These are available at Co-op, Amazon, Debenhams and selected independent retailers.

Additionally, Buttermilk has put together a selection of five Yuletide flavours in one exclusive Christmas Collection (500g), RRP £15 which contains all of the confectioner’s boxes of festive fudge together for the first time. The collection includes 100g of Mince Pie, Bellini, Cranberry & Orange, Gingerbread and Rum Hot Chocolate.

Last year’s selection of Christmas goodies proved so popular that they are also available again for 2018. These include seasonal flavours: Mince Pie, Bellini, Irish Cream, Cranberry & Orange, Gingerbread plus the beautiful best-selling Christmas bauble which is a gorgeous Christmas tree decoration filled with 50g of Buttermilk’s ever-popular Caramel Sea Salt fudge.

The entire Christmas collection is available at



Eating healthily is now a piece of cake thanks to a new book by a West Berkshire author!

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You can now have your cake and eat it too thanks to the launch of an innovative recipe book by inspirational baker Kate Saunders.

She has launched – Cakes with Secret Ingredients from Aubergine to Zucchini. The book draws on her unique expertise and the thousands of cakes she has made through her award-winning business, Blackberry Cottage.

While many people wouldn’t hesitate to put carrot in a cake, Kate’s recipes include incredible combinations such as savoy cabbage and mocha torte to Jerusalem artichoke, mango and lime cake.  There are festive options for Christmas such as sweet potato mince pies and a turnip Yule log plus a Halloween themed turnip and pineapple cake.

There are recipes for everyone – including gluten-free, dairy-free, refined sugar free, egg-free and vegan options.

Cakes with Secret Ingredients from Aubergine to Zucchini is priced at £24.99 including postage and packaging.

Kate adds: “It would make a lovely Christmas present or stocking filler for the foodie in your life, or a parent who wants to get more veg into their children’s diet!”



Networking for Newbury businesswomen in November



The Athena Network has its final meetings of 2018 scheduled for November before coming back with a bang next year.

The Thatcham group meets on Tuesday, 20th November at the Regency Park Hotel where Nicola Lyle of Fired up Careers will be offering tips on how to work more efficiently and effectively while Athena regional director. Debbie Miles will be encouraging the group to practise their listening skills.

The Newbury Central group meets on Wednesday, 21st November at the Arigato restaurant in Newbury where Tamsin Regnes a MBTI® Certified Practitioner will be demonstrating how differences in people’s preferences for information and decision making can present challenges when working with others.

Attendees will have a better appreciation of the behavioural cues of others, enabling them to adapt and reduce any frustration. In the Networking Training Debbie Miles will discussing the qualities of ‘leading ladies’ .

Debbie Miles said: “With themes concerning effective communication with our colleagues and effective use of time, we aim to help our members develop essential skills for running a successful business.”

Visitors are always welcome to the meetings which meet at midday. Please contact Debbie for an invitation:






Studio 12 Designs brews up a storm with refurbishment of new HQ for LE International

One of Theale’s most prominent and well-loved buildings is enjoying a new lease of life after being bought by an international firm as its new headquarters.

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The Grade II listed Old Brewery building on the town’s high street has sat unoccupied for nearly three years but is now in new hands after being purchased by LE International, who specialise in the distribution of industrial lubricants across the globe.

Claire Tull from Studio 12 Designs was approached by LE International who saw the potential in the building and who wanted to transform it into its international headquarters.  The 2,000 sq ft building was once part-owned by Sir Tom Jones, and also, as its name suggests, spent many decades as Blatch’s brewery. A 14-week refurbishment overseen by Claire in partnership with Frasers Office Interiors has transformed the drab Georgian building into a luxurious head office for the company.

Jackie Clark, general manager at LE International, found Claire through recommendation and invited her to come and see the empty building. Together, they worked on creating a plan to restore the building’s character and accentuate its Georgian architectural features whilst making it a modern hub for a busy, international company.

Jackie said: “We wanted to give the building back its beauty while still remembering that it is an office and not a residential property.  Claire listened to what we wanted to achieve and then provided us with ideas on lighting, furnishings and colour schemes which incorporated our company colours.”

Claire added: “It was a little unloved after all this time, but we could see that it had the potential to be a fantastic head office thanks to its location and room for the team of six, with more space for new staff when required. The building wasn’t in bad condition all things considered and retained its stunning entrance hall and staircase, but it needed to be brought up to the standards required by an international company. The finish and decor were very basic, not in keeping with the Georgian heritage and not up to the standards required in terms of lighting and data cabling provision.”

Claire began by working on the colour scheme to reflect the company’s ethos and branding, plus listing all the work that needed to be carried out. The first job was to install the CAT6e cabling as arranged by Frasers and strip out the kitchen and toilets. The Painting Partnership team replaced the lighting, upgraded electrics and plumbing installed the new kitchen and toilets and thoroughly redecorated inside and out. Fine Design Flooring replaced all of the carpets to the offices and public areas and walnut Karndean to the toilet accommodation. After gaining Listed Building Consent the front and back doors could be painted a different colour, the ugly shutters removed and the secondary glazing replaced.

Claire added: “While we wanted to retain the Georgian heritage, it was also important that it was modern, not a museum piece so we combined contemporary with traditional. You’ll see that while the magnolia walls are out, the original coving, plasterwork and woodwork are very much in. Key also to the look was to replace the dreadful strip lighting with energy efficient LED down lights that can be dimmed. More traditional light fittings sourced from Elstead Lighting and Vaughan Lighting were used for the public areas and the chief executive’s office.

The sash windows also needed to be refurbished as many had been painted shut, now they can be opened to allow natural ventilation which is very important. The original secondary glazing was flimsy and totally impractical. Working with Selectaglaze, and the Windsor Box Window Company, the windows are now the stand-out feature of the bright façade.

Once the building was ready, Claire worked closely with Nick Clark, director at Frasers Office Innovation who provide a one-stop shop for business needs. His company’s role was to provide the Verco furniture and to assist staff with the move.

He said: “I like to visit to get a real understanding of each company’s bespoke requirements and it was immediately apparent that moving to this magnificent building was not your ordinary office move. There was no budget mentioned and the choice of the interiors needed to be of a quality to match the building.

“We arranged for the networking of the telecommunications first and organised a relocation of the existing business at a time to suit the client. We ordered the office furniture from Verco with a six-week lead time.”

Finally, the finishing touch was the splendid Thai Sapphire blue front door with polished brassware which has been attracting comments since it was painted.

Jackie was delighted with the results and the move into the new office has fitted smoothly around work commitments.  She added: “Claire has achieved a stunningly beautiful office, she has highlighted the original features of the building and the building now has a calm, relaxing feel about it making it a pleasure to work in.”

Claire added: “The building now has a sense of calm as well as splendour. It’s supremely well-designed and built; the interior is cool during summer and warm in winter. The last thing we did was to power wash the inner courtyard which was very much neglected but has now been restored to its former glory, making a lovely place for LE International staff to enjoy a well-earned quiet moment.

“The whole project has been a real team effort and we’d also like to thank Blind Fashion, Adby Interiors, Whitehead Designs and Infinity Blinds for their fabulous contribution to the new jewel in Theale’s crown.”

For more information, click onto www. and