Free trip to the panto and Christmas holiday clubs offered through the HAF scheme

Brighter Futures for Children & Reading Borough Council press release

Children will be able to enjoy a free trip to the pantomime and take part in fun holiday clubs through the Holiday Activity and Food (HAF) programme in Reading this Christmas.

Brighter Futures for Children (BFfC) and Reading Borough Council (RBC) are working together to provide the bumper package of activities for Reading children who are eligible for Pupil Premium free school meals.

The Hexagon is offering 400 free tickets for eligible children to see their pantomime, Beauty and the Beast, as part of this winter’s HAF programme. Each child will also receive a healthy meal and an activity pack from the theatre.

There are also seven exciting holiday clubs on offer across the borough to keep Reading’s children and young people active and well fed through the festive break.

The choice of activities on offer includes arts, crafts, games, music and dance and sport ranging from football to swimming and from gymnastics to tennis.

All the clubs are being run by trusted providers including Get Active, NS Sport, Sport in Mind, St Joseph’s, U-Sport, Premier Education and Reading Football Club.

BFfC co-ordinates the HAF, which is funded by the Department for Education, on behalf of the Council.

Di Smith, Board Chair of Brighter Futures for Children, said: “I am thrilled with the wonderful choice of activities available to Reading children through the HAF programme this Christmas. It is so important that all children have the chance to experience the special excitement of this time of year.

“There really will be something to suit every child and young person in the HAF scheme and parents can be assured their loved ones will be well looked after and receive a healthy, nutritious lunch.”

Cllr Liz Terry, Lead Councillor for Children’s Services, said: “I am pleased the Council, working closely with our partners, looks for all opportunities to extend access to activities during schools breaks, but also, importantly, we make sure that no child goes hungry during the school holidays. We hope this scheme will make a difference to those children and their families over the difficult months ahead.”

Cllr Karen Rowland, Reading’s Lead Councillor for Culture, Heritage and Recreation, said: “I’m delighted we’ve been able to partner with Brighter Futures for Children and support the Holiday Activity and Food (HAF) programme with 400 free tickets for Hexagon’s panto this Christmas. It is important all children get the opportunity to experience the excitement of live theatre.

“The challenges we’ve faced over the past year have shone a light on how much we need the arts and culture as an antidote to the stresses, pressure and isolation we have faced during the pandemic. I hope all the children who get this opportunity to enjoy Beauty and the Beast, have a fabulous time and make happy memories to cherish.”

The Hexagon continues to have measures in place to ensure it is as COVID safe as possible. Theatregoers are strongly encouraged to use face coverings for all shows and to follow the theatre safety guidelines in place.

Details of the all the activities which are part of the Christmas HAF programme and how to register can be found at:


· The HAF programme is available to those children and young people who are eligible for Pupil Premium free school meals. The free pantomime tickets are only on offer to those children in Reading borough who are eligible and registered on the HAF scheme.

· The Hexagon pantomime Beauty and the Beast, starring Justin Fletcher and Paul Morse, runs from 4 December – 3 January 2022. Visit for details.

· The Hexagon team works closely with specialist Council health teams, expert contractors, promoters and industry bodies and have been guided by all current government guidelines to ensure the safety of both the performers and audiences. Safety measures are in place for the wellbeing of customers, staff and performers alike. The Council’s venues are also cleaned before every single performance and regularly disinfected.

Keeping teenagers, like Jade, rooted in Reading

Jade first came into care when she was nine years old. She was picked up from school by her social worker and taken to the home of a foster couple, David and Elaine. Jade says:

‘I was scared and I didn’t know what was happening. But they explained it to me and we sat down, ate brownies and watched the football which was nice.’

Jade wasn’t able to go back to her mum and dad so she stayed with David and Elaine for a year and a half. After this, she was matched with a long-term foster carer, Angela, who she was set to stay with until she reaches the age of 18.

‘Angela was really friendly and held a ‘Welcome to the family’ party for me with her sons and lots of cake which was really fun. It wasn’t as scary going to Angela’s as I had met her a few times before while I was still with David and Elaine.’

‘I’m really lucky because I live with Angela, my foster carer, in Reading, which means I’m close to my friends and family. Angela is a good foster carer and I still see my family lots.’

Jade is now 17 and is classed as a ‘care leaver’. That means she is currently working towards building her independent living skills, ready to support herself as an adult. She will be ‘staying put’ with Angela, which means she can stay with her until she’s 21.

Jade says:

‘I’m really proud of how far I’ve come. When I was younger and first came into care, I was really shy. My foster carer helped me learn how to voice my opinions and understand what I wanted. I also used to be scared of speaking in public but now I’m not. I feel a lot more confident today. I finished school, which I found really hard, and I’m now studying at college.’

At Brighter Futures for Children, we’re proud of Jade too. We’re proud of all our young people who work hard, alongside us, to turn their lives around in care. But at the moment, we don’t have enough foster carers in Reading to look after teenagers.

Could you give a teenager like Jade a loving home and a brighter future?

Learn more about fostering in Reading:


Call: 0118 469 3020

"I'm a foster sibling and I love making a difference"

Isabelle is 18 and has been a foster sibling to many babies and children in care over the past ten years at their Reading home.

Georgia and Sam, Isabelle’s parents, decided they wanted to take up fostering when she was eight and her brothers were 11 and 13. They spoke about how fostering would work for them as a family and started off looking after children under five years old.

Georgia and Sam then agreed they would always try to have children within five years of Isabelle’s age. ‘She was always a very hands on sibling, even back then!,’ they laughed.

So, what was it actually like growing up as a foster sister? Isabelle was happy to explain. ‘We have always loved looking after the children and we make sure we take them on nice days out and set up different activities. I have liked everything about fostering and we work well as a family to help care for the children.’

Brighter Futures for Children runs a fun group for foster siblings called the ‘Foster Squad’ and Isabelle and her two brothers have joined in with their activities. Her parents are active members of Reading Carers’ Link, a support group for Reading’s foster carers, and so they are family friends with the children of lots of other carers too.

Isabelle’s family does short-term, respite and emergency fostering. What was that like as a sibling? ‘We hope they will always feel like part of our family for the duration of their stay and I think this is important,’ Isabelle explained, ‘and we are still in touch with lots of them!’.

Has being a foster sibling influenced Isabelle in her life? It certainly seems so! She says: ‘Fostering gave me lots of skills and experience with children and made me want to work with them. I am now training to be an early years practitioner at a local nursery. I enjoy fostering and I’m looking forward to meeting lots of new children over the years and making a difference to their lives.’

"I'm a care leaver, here's my story"

Ben went into care when he was 3, due to mental health in his family meaning he had been neglected as a baby and toddler. He says, ‘When I arrived in care, I was sleeping as it was late. I woke up in the morning, confused, frightened and scared and I woke up screaming because I was in an unfamiliar environment. I was unable to speak and, aged 3, was very much like a baby still.’

Ben quickly settled as his foster carer provided a safe and secure environment for him. He was nurtured as if he was a baby, which helped him to build a bond with his carer and helped him learn how to excel.

Ben has been fortunate to have one foster carer, who has looked after him as a long-term fostering placement since that first night. In his own words, he explains, ‘My relationship with my foster carer is close and strong. I refer to her as aunty. The bond is like a mother and son. I was treated the same as her own daughter, which made me feel loved. I was encouraged to believe in myself and that anything I wanted to achieve was possible.’

Ben still keeps in touch with his birth family. He says, ‘I still visit them. My relationship with my family is okay but I struggle to relate to them. My carer has always made sure my family was seen in a positive manner and that I should always be appreciative of the little things that they were able to do.’

Ben is dual heritage, and his nan is from the Caribbean. He was matched with his foster carer who also has Caribbean heritage and was able to educate him on the Caribbean culture and make him feel proud to be a part of it. Ben says, ‘It helped me to relate to both my nan, and my foster carer’s family. It is more important for a foster carer to understand the type of child they may be looking after, their cultural needs and wants, as this will have an impact on the child’s life.’

How has growing up in foster care changed Ben’s life? ‘I have been able to go on nice holidays. However, I had to earn and work hard to obtain rewards. It’s been instilled into me that it’s important to understand that you have to work hard in life in order to achieve success, and that rewards are earned not just given.’

Ben has definitely worked hard. He did well at school, through some difficulties and achieved high grades in BTECs (2 As, 1B). Clare Houlton, the Headteacher for the Virtual School for Children Looked After*, played an important role in regards to education, ensuring Ben made the most of his academic opportunities and maximised his potential. He says, ‘Clare always went the extra mile, and was genuine and caring.’

Here’s Clare’s perspective: ‘As Virtual School Headteacher for children looked after, it has been an absolute privilege to work with Ben and his wonderful foster carer to support him on his educational journey from year 6 through to year 13 and beyond. Ben demonstrated exceptional resilience and focus in order to maximise his potential, achieve his goals and attain an excellent set of GCSE and post-16 qualifications. I am extremely proud of Ben’s achievements and he is an outstanding role model for children looked after. He is also responsible for introducing me to Cadbury’s chocolate Roundies and nothing brightens my week up more than popping over to see Ben and his foster carer for a cup of tea, a Roundie or two and a good catch up!

‘Being a determined advocate for Ben was at the heart of helping him to feel supported in the areas of his life and education which mattered to him most. Determined advocacy is one of the key elements at the centre of the way in which the Virtual School works to build relationships and support our children and young people to be confident in their ability and realise their potential.’

Something else that Ben noted was important was his appearance and clothing. He explains, ‘Socially, kids are very aware of other kid’s appearances, and this can often be one of the key areas they will use to pick on another child. A child in care, and any child, will want to fit in and not stick out so it’s important that a child can feel comfortable in public. Thanks to my carer, I was dressed fashionably and comfortably and this was important to me.’

What would Ben say to anyone thinking of fostering?
‘I want new foster carers to know that fostering isn’t going to be an easy journey, they shouldn’t give up when they encounter difficult times. Just like you wouldn’t give up on your own child, you shouldn’t give up on a foster child. The reason why my placement has been successful is because my carer taught me good morals and values and persevered through tough times.’

What’s next?
Ben is 18 and is now classed as a care leaver. He has a ‘Staying Put’ arrangement with his foster carer, which means he is able to leave his foster home when he feels comfortable. Excitedly, Ben is now in the process of starting his own business which will aim to support care leavers like himself. Watch this space.

*The Virtual School for Children Looked After maintains a school roll of all Reading’s children looked after, including those children placed out of authority, monitors Personal Education Plans, admissions, attendance, exclusions and has a duty to promote the educational achievement of all children looked after and previously looked after.

Celebrating success - our care leaver braving changes

Being taken into care when you’re young can make the world a confusing place - from trying to understand what’s happened to you, what you’ve just experienced and witnessed, to working out who you really are and where you belong.

For one of our Reading care leavers, this journey took place during their teenage years.

Already facing the various challenges that come from transitioning from childhood to adolescence; making new friends, being exposed to different people from various backgrounds, on top of dealing with the experience they’d just encountered, they then had the courage to take on an even harder journey.

Instead of going through life living with something that didn’t feel right, they recognised who they were and who they wanted to be and made the brave decision to transition to the opposite gender.

This is a difficult decision and journey for anyone to go through, never mind when there is limited support around you.

Alongside managing this transition, our care leaver continued to do well at school, achieving brilliant GSCE grades and A-levels and is now studying hard at university.

We’re immensely proud of how this care leaver conducted themselves through the journey of change, being true to themselves and following what they felt was right, even with the knowledge that not everyone may agree or understand their decision.

They made important life choices, had the courage and determination to stick with them and through all this, headed off to university to start a new life.

They should be incredibly proud of themselves and we wish them all the best in their fantastic future ahead!

Equality - A poem by a young person in care

Equality we all want it but do we really want to live in a world that is forced upon us. Do we really want to live on a planet that has more segregation than a pizza but each slice bigger than the other, more powerful, bigger ego, higher pay?

I have a feeling many people don’t understand the meaning of fair, white girls complaining ‘’how is it you have better hair than us?’’

Athletes all constantly complaining ‘’ its unfair black people are faster’’

Fair is however not everyone getting the same, it is everybody getting what they need in order to succeed.

To be honest our modern society is like a car dealership, whatever car we like we are judged for it but with 0% APR no money down, we are forced to drive these cars for the rest of our lives. But why is it when I drive my car no one would ever mistake me for my car but when I drive my body people always confuse me for my body not me.

You see when a baby hears the cry of another it cries no matter the race, gender or religion but when we grow older we force feed the labels, black, white, African, Irish but the thing is we never doubt them. You know I am so proud to be a mixed race child, it means two races have come together. This maybe an unpopular opinion but I do believe its too late. We’ve reached an era where people are too stubborn to do what others ask of them.

The thing that worries me most is teachers, the comments I hear everyday and I know they hear the racist slurs but they do nothing about it, but when I speak up to say something all they gotta say is sorry or it was a joke and then its all sorted but it isn’t really because the next day it will continue and so forth.

We never asked for this we never did anything to deserve this, in fact my people lived and died working and serving for you but I will never let that be me, I will never allow someone with no greater features than me control me. Never.

So the next time you judge someone on their nationality or race, think would you even stare at a black piece of paper like that?

The only thing we should separate by colour is washing not people.