The annual Henley Choir Festival celebrated a decade of success last week when they donated £1700 to Diabetes UK. The superb sum, presented to the Reading and District Diabetes Group by festival organisers, Liz Hodgkin and David Butler, was raised by the charity concert held on 26 January. Sponsored by Davis Tate, the tenth Choir Festival saw seven local choirs join voices at St Mary’s Church for an evening of Handel’s Messiah, all in aid of the Reading Diabetes UK organisation.
The Reading and District Diabetes Group, a branch of the national charity Diabetes UK, is a volunteer led community group seeking to bring together people living with diabetes, whether they have it themselves or know someone who does. The organisation helps locals to learn more about the condition and meet like-minded people, whilst also raising awareness and funds for diabetes research. Despite the prevalence of diabetes, with an estimated one in 17 people in the UK having the condition, it still remains a taboo subject, states Jennifer Ackroyd (Chair of the Reading and District Diabetes Group). “They call it the silent killer,” she says. “They don’t take diabetes, particularly Type 2, seriously. It’s a very secretive disease, people don’t tell people they’ve got it, and you find a lot of diabetics don’t want to be with other diabetics.” Meeting at St Andrews Church in Reading five times a year, the group provides a safe space for people to talk about the condition with people who understand. Jennifer explained, “People don’t want always to go to their doctor in case their doctor thinks they’re silly, whereas we can’t give medical advice but we can say, yes that’s perfectly normal.”
This philanthropic local initiative was chosen by Liz Hodgkin, who developed Type 2 diabetes four years ago. “I’ve had serious illness this last year,” Liz explained, “and diabetes has just complicated everything, so now I’m insulin dependent, and I thought let’s do it for that. We like to do things that are going to benefit people locally.” She continued, “I don’t think people realise what diabetes does to your body. It’s not just about eating — it affects your leg, your feet, your eyes, your breathing, your singing!”
Since the first concert in 2010, Henley Choir Festival has had tremendous success each year in raising money for a local cause. Speaking about the 2019 total of £1700, Liz said, “It is a good amount. I think it’s the third highest; it’s all very close actually, what we tend to raise, and it was a good amount when you consider that we were only charging £5 a ticket. We’ve made a decision to keep it at £5. Singers have to pay as well as listeners, and because it’s only £5, at the end people tend to give quite a lot in the bucket.”
Reflecting on the donation, Jennifer Ackroyd expressed, “I am astounded, really astounded. I didn’t expect it to be that much. It will be spent locally; there’s lots of things that we do locally that we need support for.” She added, “We are very grateful that they chose us as their charity. It’s very kind.”