Frances Hill, BEM

BEM for Charity Chief

It seemed just another day for 58 year old Frances Hill when the post arrived at her home in Caversham in November last year. That is, until she opened the envelope containing a letter from the Cabinet Office to read that she had been nominated for a British Empire Medal awarded to people for ‘hands on’ service in their local community. She had no idea that this might happen and she had to keep it a secret from everyone around her! Frances had to provide documents to prove her identity and carry on at work as usual until 29th December when it was officially announced. So who is Frances and what has she to do with Peppard?

Frances Hill
Frances Hill, BEM

Frances has worked for the Ways & Means Trust for 19 years and been their CEO for almost 10 years. The charity started life in Reading in 1968 but moved to Manor Farm, Peppard four years ago. It is well known in Peppard as ‘Greenshoots’, a horticultural therapy for adults with learning difficulties, since 1998; now the whole charity operates from the Peppard site. Apart from the horticultural side of the charity, its other activities are a workshop where trainees (its beneficiaries) carry out packing work, and a canteen to learn cooking skills. Trainees can choose to spend time in either: the two are connected as trainees in the canteen are involved in the choice of herbs grown for use in the kitchen.

There are 11 staff with about six volunteers who give their time at Peppard and another 10 who volunteer at the Tea Kiosk at Caversham Court Gardens with some of the trainees between March and November each year. On any one day there are seven trainees in the canteen, 28 in the workshop and another 28 in the garden. Frances told me that the more volunteers they have, the more they can do with the trainees who need a staff ratio of 1/6. More volunteers are also needed for indirect work for the charity such as fundraising and maintenance work.

The charity gets no government funding. Each trainee pays around £42 a day which might come from their Personal Independence Payment (PIP) or be paid by their family. There is no limit to the length of time the trainees remain with the charity; one has been coming for 20 years and is now 77 years old. On Sunday 10th June this year the charity will celebrate its 50 year anniversary with an open day at Greenshoots, including a dog show.

Whenever I have been to buy plants at Greenshoots, there is always a happy, light-hearted atmosphere. Although I would describe the work of Frances and others at the charity as unglamorous, Frances herself recognises the successes of the trainees however small and sees her job as really rewarding.

As if her work life were not enough Frances is also chairman of the Caversham Court Management Committee and a member of the Reading Abbey Rotary Club. This honour is really well deserved!

Sue Nickson