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Red Balloon Reading, hibu and the Pride of Reading Awards

November 26, 2012

Do you remember the Yell Group? – you know the ones who made the Yellow Pages so that you could find local plumbers and electricians? – well the Yell Group, now known as hibu, were awarded a Pride of Reading Award last week presented by Chris Tarrant at the Pride of Reading Awards Ceremony in the Business in Action category for the work they undertook to open Red Balloon- Reading.

About three years ago the Yell Group were restructuring and were enormously generous in asking a variety of their Consultants to give a considerable grant each to a charitable organisation and after some consideration they gave it to Red Balloon Learner Centre Group. The donation they gave enabled us to buy a house in Reading and to pay for the alterations required.

For about six months we looked for suitable properties – a property within easy access to public transport and the centre of town- within walking distance of parks, the library and cinemas and with access to the train station so that staff could take children to visit museums and art galleries in London.

We found such a house on Kings Road – and bought it.  It had been made into an open space office but with some judicious reconstruction we put back some walls and created small rooms again.

Red Balloon tries to be as unlike a school as it could be – because of the phobia many of the children have when they come to us – they are fearful of school and all that that brings – the corridors, the playgrounds, the hordes of children, the bells the dining room and the assembly hall.  Red Balloon only takes fifteen children at any one time – between the ages of 11-17 and we aim to do three things; To raise self esteem, get the children back on an academic track and return them to school.  We are very successful in this in that 95% of the children who come to us and stay longer than six weeks return to school.

So – let me go back to Reading.  Inside our ‘school’ (which is an unlike a schools as it can be) there are small rooms for learning, carpets on the floor, a kitchen where home made food is cooked daily, a community room like a sitting room where the staff and children can gather for meals, meetings or to play board games or chat.   The children do not wear school uniform, they wear slippers or indoor shoes (to protect the carpets) and we have a housekeeper, who with some of the children cooks a home made healthy lunch each day.

In every Red Balloon Centre we have a science lab – and Reading is no exception – very kindly donated by Annie Schiff. I am very keen that children who have self excluded from school – for no fault of their own – often because of bullying or some other trauma, have the same facilities to learn science as their peers in a mainstream school.  So while the science lab is nowhere near the same size as a school lab it has all the equipment you would expect to find and the children can do experiments and write up their findings without the fear of being bullied or harassed.

We also need a range of computers and other technical, mathematical, and electrical equipment for each new Centre and we were very fortunate to have had donations from the Percy Bilton Foundation and Peter Hearn to help us equip Red Balloon-Reading.

And on Wednesday evening this week Red Balloon Reading is being formally opened by Danyl Johnson –– thank you hibu, Reading and everyone who has made this possible.


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One Comment
  1. elisabethgoodman permalink

    Lovely to have this history to read – and what wonderful support for getting this Centre going.

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