Ravenswood magazine’s long standing Editors sign off

2 August 2018

Lindy Johnson and Amanda Pharez are well-known in Ravenswood, Norwood’s collection of homes in Berkshire. That’s because the two volunteers have been responsible for editing a magazine called The Villager, which chronicles the lives of more than 100 people with learning disabilities who live there, for a combined 27 years. Sadly, they are both calling time on their tenure to pursue other opportunities.

We caught up with them to find out how they got involved, the highlights of their time at The Villager and what comes next for Ravenswood’s much-loved monthly publication.

Humble beginnings

In 1997 Ravenswood’s What’s On newsletter, a weekly round-up of the upcoming activities, expanded to The Villager and started to chronicle the lives, times and achievements of the residents.

In the past 21 years it’s grown to a must-read for the whole Norwood family, producing heart-warming stories every month. Much of this is down to the hard work of Amanda and Lindy, who have put so much of themselves into The Villager on an entirely voluntary basis.

Their hard work was celebrated at the Norwood Volunteer Recognition Award in 2015 – when they were named Norwood’s Unsung Heroes. It’s a memory that Lindy still treasures.

“We really were humbled and honoured to receive that award,” she says. “It meant a lot as we’ve worked hard on this publication, so to get that recognition was great.”

The Villager has covered many different subjects over the years: everything from birthdays to royal visits. Lindy says her personal favourites have been Norwood events like the Chanukah parties (“It’s wonderful! Even the people in the wheelchairs are dancing!”) and Norwood Challenges. These challenges see people Norwood supports travel across the globe to cycle or trek in a number of spectacular locations; including Nepal, Kilimanjaro and Kerala in Southern India.

“The Challenges are fantastic because when people from Ravenswood go, there’s a real buzz around the place,” she says. “And then when people come back from Israel and all these exotic locations, you write about it and you feel like you’ve been yourself.”

Amanda’s route to Norwood was actually through one of these Challenges. Having completed the Iceland Cycle and Trek in 2001, she met people who encouraged her to volunteer at Ravenswood and eventually with The Villager.

“I remember cycling in Iceland and just being in awe of the people on the tandems, with people who live at Ravenswood teaming up with volunteers,” she says. “It was just so inspiring and I knew I wanted to get more involved with Norwood.”

The early days were very much about making do with what was available, according to Amanda. But thankfully things have moved on since then.

“When I started it was all in black and white. We used to stick the photos on to the stories and it was a challenge trying to remember who was who!” she says. “But it’s great that we can send it out electronically now, and to the families of the people we support too. Each month we get at least three or four people email us back and tell us how much they enjoyed reading it and how much they appreciate it, so that’s fantastic.”

Handing over the reins

As their time is coming to an end, both Amanda and Lindy are keen for volunteers with as much passion as them to take over the reins. And they are both full of encouragement for whoever follows them.

Lindy says: “If you have a good grasp of language and are handy with a camera it’s a wonderful opportunity. After I started, all my school friends said I wanted to be a journalist when I was young, but I didn’t remember! I suppose it must always have been there though. I’ve had the best time doing this with Amanda, but sadly all good things must come to an end.”

Amanda encourages the next editors of The Village to “really get to know people at Ravenswood”.

“It’s such a special place. You really need to spend time here and get under the skin of the people to write the best stories,” she says. “As much as we loved the Volunteer Awards, the face-to-face recognition you get from families who come to visit is even better. Some of the residents will come and make a fuss of you if they haven’t seen you for a while too, which is a very special feeling.”

If you are interested in writing for The Villager, please email the villager@norwood.org.uk and let them know.