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.

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!

Cherry blossom tree marks start of ‘Rooted in Reading’ campaign

Brighter Futures for Children and Ethical Reading joint press release, February 18 2020

When a 14-year-old boy moved to his permanent foster home last year, he came up with an idea to help himself – and others like him – keep their roots in Reading.

As an active member of Brighter Futures for Children’s Children in Care Council, he suggested a tree would help him, and others just like him, feel ‘rooted’ in the town.

He wanted a tree that would ‘grow fast and tall, live a long time and have pinky white blossom that would flutter down in the wind.’

Catie Blundell, Brighter Futures for Children’s participation officer, wanted to make this happen for him and others like him, so she worked in partnership with Ethical Reading and its innovative Trees for Reading initiative.

In association with Reading Borough Council (RBC) and Reading Tree Wardens, the initiative offers local organisations and individuals the opportunity to make a positive difference by sponsoring the planting and care of trees within the town.

Lead Councillor for Culture, Heritage and Recreation, Cllr Karen Rowland, passionately supported the project.

The people of Reading have paid for the tree through crowdfunding on Ethical Reading’s JustGiving page.

The double-bloom ornamental cherry tree – a Prunus avium ‘Plena’ – was planted outside the town hall in a special ceremony on Monday 17 February.

The private event was attended by members of the various organisations involved and, most importantly, by children and young people in care.

‘His idea was brilliant and it will help him, and many others like him, feel they truly belong. We have a lot of children and young people who either can’t live in Reading anymore because it isn’t safe for them to do so, or who have to live outside Reading because we don’t have enough local foster carers,’ said Brighter Futures for Children’s managing director Tony Kildare. ‘We can’t thank Ethical Reading and Reading Borough Council enough for working with us to make it happen.’

Brighter Futures for Children will shortly be launching a campaign, based on the tree and what it symbolises, called ‘Rooted in Reading’, to find more local foster carers.

Kathryn McCann, from Ethical Reading’s Sustainability team, commented: ‘It has been such a pleasure to work with him, Catie and the team at Brighter Futures for Children to make this happen. We look forward to seeing the tree in bloom, and hope that it will be a potent symbol of hope and belonging for Reading children in care for many years to come.’

Liz Terry, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Councillor for Children, said: ‘Our focus as a council is to achieve the best possible outcomes for children and young people in Reading. While it is not always possible due to individual circumstances, where we can we want children to be fostered in their home town, where they already have put down roots and where they feel secure and settled. The new tree in Town Hall Square is a symbol of that ambition and the council is pleased to have worked with partners to have made it a reality.’

Karen Rowland, Lead Councillor for Culture, Heritage and Recreation, said: ‘The planting of this tree is particularly meaningful to me, as an adopted child who experienced first-hand a personal sense of loss from being separated from the place where I was born. I’m thrilled to be able to play a role in helping this young person’s vision become a reality here in Reading.’

Notes to Editors

To find out more about becoming a foster carer with Brighter Futures for Children, visit the website:

Find out more about Ethical Reading’s Trees for Reading project here: