Local artist raises over £1k selling political fashion via Instagram for causes including Launchpad

Reading-born 20 year-old Jessy Blakemore has raised £1070 to date for charities including Launchpad, by hand painting t-shirts and corsets and selling them via Instagram – with 103 sold and just as many on order.

After boredom set in during lockdown at her family home in Reading, Jessy – who is studying Philosophy at the University of York, and enjoys painting and singing in her spare time – started hand painting Basquiat-inspired art onto a top. She posted her creation on Instagram to her 5,000 followers and received countless messages and comments, requesting that Jessy make more to sell.

Since the end of April, Jessy has been selling her hand-painted t-shirts for £15, long sleeve tops for £20 and corsets for £35 – and her political fashion makes statements about vulnerable individuals in society, racism and an underfunded health system in the UK. All profits from her sales are then donated to Launchpad; You Okay Doc?, a mental health charity for doctors; NHS Charities Together; and Black Lives Matter charities and crowd funding pages for people including Belly Mujinga and George Floyd.

Jessy explained how she feels about the popularity of her tops and why she chose those causes to donate to: “What started as a distraction from uni work and lockdown, has become a really amazing opportunity to do something creative for some good causes. I’m really pleased with how popular the tops have been and how much they’ve raised for charity so far – I’ve had orders from across the UK and abroad (Finland, Portugal, Singapore, Paris and Amsterdam), some of which I’ve had to put on hold so I can keep up with the demand! I think the art reflects the feelings and frustrations of many people at the moment, and I’ve picked charities which directly relate to the statements the tops are making – all of which mean a lot to me personally.

“I live in Reading and see the amazing work Launchpad do to support people who are homeless and in need in my town, and they’ve continued that work with the pandemic going on. There has been social, economic and political inequality and a systemic maltreatment of black people that has lasted hundreds of years, which continues on today with no sign of relenting. Our NHS workers don’t get treated fairly or given decent wages for the life-saving work they do, especially in how they’ve put themselves at risk during COVID-19. So the money raised is a small way of supporting minority communities through the racism they face in the UK, for people in need in Reading, and for key workers risking everything to care and support the rest of us.”

Kate Martin, Fundraising Manager at Launchpad said: “Jessy is a true inspiration using her time and talent in lockdown to raise vital funds for such important causes. We were bowled over when we saw her amazing creations – fundraising has never looked so cool! And it’s efforts from people like Jessy which make our work during the pandemic possible.

“Despite the challenges of COVID-19, we are providing our clients with emotional support and ensuring they have access to the food, treatment and benefits they need – and we are housing rough sleepers so they have a clean, stable and safe place to live. We are so grateful to Jessy and our wider local community for making that possible.”

Jessy has been taking orders for the tops and corsets via her Instagram page – with payment being made by Paypal, which she then donates to Launchpad and her other chosen charities, minus costs for the garments and paint. There is currently a one week wait for orders. Don’t miss your chance to get some beautifully hand-painted and unique clothing – all to raise money for good causes, including Launchpad!

Reading musicians release lockdown album in aid of Launchpad’s COVID-19 emergency appeal

Earlier this month, a group of Reading based musicians released Musos4…Reading’s Homeless – a compilation album of new songs from local artists, all to raise money for Launchpad’s COVID-19 emergency appeal.

The album was the brainchild of seven musicians from Reading – who recognised an opportunity during lockown. “Most musicians want to play and get their music to an audience,” said Jan Rylewicz, of punk band Pioneers of Green, “but with the lockdown, that wasn’t happening.  In discussion with friends in other bands, we came up with the idea of putting something together.”

A call for local contributing artists was sent out on social media and it had an overwhelming response across a wide range of musical genres. The team had a difficult job of selecting the songs for the album as they were keen to showcase the breadth of musical talent from across Reading and Berkshire, and across all styles – from punk to ska, and electro to ballads. A total of seventeen songs were selected and the album is now available on on Bandcamp and costs only £10.

All money from the sales of the album will help to support our work during the pandemic, as Derek Walsh of the band Forbury, explains. “It was very important to us all that we could help vulnerable people with this project, by raising some money to help them. I was aware of the important work that Launchpad do, and when I suggested that we could support Launchpad, the team were very keen to raise money for them, especially during the current lockdown which has made things even more difficult for homeless people.”

Kate Martin, Fundraising Manager at Launchpad, said: “We are so grateful to Musos4 and all the contributing artists for their incredible support. Putting together an album of local musicians is such a fantastic idea, and it’s even better that the group have chosen to support Launchpad with the venture. The album proves that Berkshire is a county full of talent!

“Launchpad is pulling out all the stops to help extremely vulnerable individuals, couples and families in Reading during the pandemic, while ensuring we keep our staff, clients and members of the public safe. But we simply cannot deliver our crucial services without the support of the local community and initiatives like this.”

The group hope that they will be able to continue bringing together Berkshire’s musicians while supporting local charities through album releases, live gigs and festivals.

Download Musos4…Reading’s Homeless album and help support extremely vulnerable people in Reading.

Our services during the pandemic

Launchpad staff are key workers during this national emergency and we are pulling out all the stops to ensure our clients and members of the public receive vital support during the pandemic – while keeping our teams, clients and the community safe.

We are actively monitoring the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and senior management are regularly meeting to respond to the developing situation and make the necessary changes to our work and services.

Please see below for all service amendments. The page will be updated regularly, so please check back.

If you think you may have Coronavirus (COVID-19), please follow the current Government advice.

Supported housing and floating support clients

Please note that while we are not having face-to-face support meetings, our teams are still working at Launchpad’s office to make daily calls and offer emotional support, check everyone is safe and well, and ensure you have the resources you need at this difficult time.

If you would like to speak to your support worker or there is an issue with your property, please call 0118 929 1111 or email support@launchpadreading.org.uk from 10.00am to 4.00pm, Monday to Friday.

If you have an emergency, please call 999.

Covid-19 ‘here for you’ telephone service for the Reading community

Community is important to Launchpad and during these uncertain and unprecedented times, we want to do everything we can to support people in Reading. Our ‘here for you’ telephone service is for absolutely anyone in need – whether they have housing or homelessness issues or not. This might include those who are self-isolating or social distancing and feeling lonely; people who need support with practical issues; and those who feel concerned about the future and their loved ones.

While we are unable to provide resources such as food packages and our staff are not trained counsellors, we can signpost to services in the Reading area and offer a listening ear at a difficult time.

Please call our team on 0118 929 1111 or email support@launchpadreading.org.uk from 10.00am to 4.00pm, Monday to Friday.

Do you have a housing or homelessness issue?

We are no longer accepting visitors to our drop-in service at Launchpad’s offices – but if you have a housing or homelessness issue, and need information and support, please call 0118 929 1111 or email support@launchpadreading.org.uk from 10.00am to 4.00pm, Monday to Friday.

Please note, we will not be providing drop-in outreach as per our usual schedule at locations such as CIRDIC or Probation.

Activities for clients

We are suspending our activities – such as sewing, art, and our education, training and employment hub – to protect our clients, staff, volunteers and the community. All clients will be contacted directly to notify them of the cancellations and will be made aware when activities are reinstated.

Contacting our non-support teams

Launchpad staff who do not directly support clients have been asked to work from home. The following departments are contactable via email during this time – Marketing and Fundraising, HR, Finance, Volunteering and Activities.


We currently have no requirements for new volunteers, and are asking current volunteers and students on placement to not attend the office and carry out their role at this present time. All volunteers will be sent communications via email from Launchpad’s volunteer manager, and alerted when the situation changes.

Our aim is to keep our clients, staff, volunteers, partner agencies and the community safe at this time, while we continue providing vulnerable people in Reading with the vital support they need.

Thank you for your patience and understanding, and please check back for regular updates as we continue to review the situation and respond as necessary.

Launchpad open ‘here for you’ telephone service

Following the COVID-19 outbreak, we are aware that many members of our local community are in self-isolation and feeling lonely, need support with practical issues, and feel concerned about the future and loved ones. In response, we are launching a telephone service for anyone in need, whether they have housing or homelessness issues or not.

Launchpad staff will be manning phones from Monday to Friday, 10.00am to 4.00pm, offering a listening ear at a difficult time and signposting to services in Reading that can offer further support. While we are unable to provide resources such as food packages and our staff aren’t trained counsellors, we will be doing everything we can to help our community at this uncertain time.

Ian Caren, CEO of Launchpad, said: “The local community is of utmost importance to us and as well as our vital ongoing support for who are homeless or at risk of losing their home – we want to do what we can for other vulnerable people.

“Our ‘here for you’ telephone service can offer a friendly voice when someone is feeling isolated, some reassurance at a worrying time and contact details of other services that can offer practical support. We urge anyone struggling to pick up the phone or send us an email.”

Please call us on 0118 929 1111 or email support@launchpadreading.org.uk

Over £6,000 raised for work and life skills centre at Launchpad’s Pancake Race

A total of £6,299 and counting has been raised at our annual Pancake Race, which saw 37 teams batter it out on Broad Street on Shrove Tuesday and solicitors Blandy & Blandy take home the coveted frying pan trophy. Now in its 23rd year, this year’s event was supported by Reading Chronicle and Broad Street Mall, and raised money to help fund the refurbishment of Reading’s first work and life skills centre.

Teams of four from organisations across Reading donned fancy dress and met at Broad Street Mall – where they enjoyed a lively warm up session with fitness instructor, Maggie Watkins. They then paraded to Broad Street where they flipped pancakes in relay races through a series of 12 knock-out heats, semi-finals and a gripping final, all compered by BBC Radio Berkshire’s Michele Jordan and egged on by hundreds of spectators. The event was also supported by 25 volunteers.

The finalists competing for first place were RSM UK, Blandy & Blandy, Reading FC youth team and Nexus Planning, and the race ended dramatically when Reading FC raised concerns over Blandy & Blandy’s winning performance when the football team were pipped to the post. They claimed the solicitors had not completed the required three pancake flips in the last relay of the final – but after judges consulted video footage, it was verified that three tosses were made and Blandy & Blandy were in fact the rightful winners.

Blandy & Blandy – who have been Pancake Race finalists three of the last four years and winners twice before now – received a night’s stay at pentahotels with breakfast in addition to the frying pan trophy. Clas Ohlson vouchers were awarded to both Reading FC for second place and Nexus Planning for third place, and Reading Minster Church received breakfast at Novotel for the best team spirit award. R Collard were given Fun ‘n’ Frolic vouchers for the best fancy dress and University of Reading Law School received tapas and a drink at Revolucion de Cuba Reading for fundraising the most for Launchpad.

Ian Caren, Launchpad’s Chief Executive, said about the event: “This year’s Pancake Race was flipping brilliant! The people of Reading and local organisations all came together to have fun and raise a record amount for Launchpad, and it really was a fantastic atmosphere. Not to mention a tense final!

“We couldn’t be more grateful to everyone who was there to support us – from the participants and our event partners to Launchpad’s amazing volunteers and the crowds who came to watch – because of you, we are even closer to our goal of refurbishing and opening the work and life skills centre so our clients can leave homelessness behind for good.”

Launchpad’s work and life skills centre is due to open later this summer, so that local people who are homeless, or at risk of losing their home, can learn new skills, build confidence and get back into work. With no government funding, the charity is relying on the incredible support and generosity of Reading to help raise £80,000 to completely refurbish the facility with bespoke facilities which include:

  • a training kitchen for cooking and barista courses
  • a DIY workshop and laundry area to help people learn how to maintain a home and practice self-care
  • an IT suite for job searching and online learning
  • a counselling service for talking therapies
  • a space for creative writing, art, photography and wellbeing activities such as yoga and meditation.

Check out all the photos from the day on our Facebook page. Photo credits: Paul Clark

How does Launchpad support clients at Christmas?

Christmas can be a difficult time for our clients – whether they’re the individuals living in our supported housing or those we support in the community who are at risk of homelessness.

Some are estranged from their families after becoming victims of abuse or going through a relationship breakdown; others are battling to overcome addiction, debt or mental health problems. Most rely on benefits and are financially unable to buy presents, and food banks might be their only source of sustenance over the festive season.

Our services focus on helping people in need to remain in, or obtain, a safe and stable home and the support Launchpad provides all year round is a lifeline for many. But in December we do our best to make Christmas a time of joy for our clients.

We send a Christmas card and a supermarket food voucher to every individual, couple and family we support so they are able to buy some ingredients to cook a Christmas dinner in their home and celebrate, even if it’s in a small way.

For one week, we also transform a meeting room in our offices into a winter wonderland. Clients are welcomed by staff in festive costumes, Christmas music plays and gifts kindly donated by local businesses are given to the individuals, couples and families we support – so they have something to open over the festive period.

In 2018, 70 people came to our grotto and received some festive cheer. we hope ever more clients pop by to see a friendly face this year.

How can you help?

  • £5 can help fund a food voucher so a Launchpad client can buy ingredients to cook Christmas dinner in their home.
  • £10 can help buy a single bedding and towel set for a client moving into more stable accommodation over the festive season.
  • £20 can help pay for a mobile phone so a client can contact Launchpad for the support they need during a difficult time.
  • £50 can help pay for clothes and underwear for a client who only has one outfit because they have been rough sleeping.
  • £100 can help buy a television for a client in our supported housing who is spending Christmas alone.

If you would like to make a donation this Christmas to support our work with people who are homeless or at risk of losing their home, it would be gratefully received. You can make a one-off donation or set up more regular giving.

No matter how big or small, your generosity will ensure we can continue supporting vulnerable people – both over the festive season and all year round. Thank you.

Find out what prospective parliamentary candidates in Reading West plan to do about the housing crisis

Launchpad is hosting a housing and homelessness question and answer session with prospective parliamentary candidates in Reading in the run up to the election.

We have asked candidates from the four major political parties – Conservative, Labour, Green Party and Liberal Democrats – to discuss their views with us on homelessness, housing and Section 21 (no-fault evictions) and how they plan to address these issues in Reading West. Three of the parties have responded so far, and we will provide updates on other bookings as and when they happen.

The sessions will be held over the coming weeks in anticipation of the general election in December, and as they are closed to the public, the interviews will be filmed and later shared on our Facebook page.

If you have a question you would like to pose to the parliamentary candidates on housing and homelessness, please email marketing@launchpadreading.org.uk with the candidate’s name in the subject of your email, and we will endeavour to ask the question during the session.

When and who?

  • Wednesday 27 November 2019
    Rachel Eden, Labour
  • Wednesday 4 December 2019
    Meri O’Connell, Liberal Democrats
  • Wednesday 11 December 2019
    Jamie Whitham, Green Party

Launchpad is a Charity of the Year finalist for Thames Valley Business Magazine Awards 2019

We are excited to announce Launchpad is one of four finalists for a Thames Valley Business Magazine Award in the Charity of the Year category – which is sponsored by James Kowper Kreston, a firm of accountants and business advisers across the south of England.

The Thames Valley Business Magazine Awards  is open to every company in the Thames Valley area and recognises not only profitability, innovation and employment but also the contribution made to the local economic community and the provision of support to culture and charities in the region.

Earlier in the month, as part of the entry process, award judges visited Launchpad to meet with CEO, Ian Caren; Chair, Suzanne Stalland; Finance Manager, Kate Firth; and Corporate Partnerships Manager, Jason McMahon to go through the charity’s submission and further understand our work and the developments we have made over the past 12 months.

Local charities DEBRA, Berkshire Youth and The Oasis Partnership are finalists alongside Launchpad and judges will be giving the Charity of the Year award to the organisation that can best demonstrate:

  • Outstanding achievement and service to its beneficiaries
  • Innovative fundraising ideas
  • Achievement of its goals over the course of the past year.

Ian Caren, Launchpad’s CEO, said  “It really is an honour and a privilege for Launchpad to be shortlisted for Charity of the Year, especially alongside fantastic organisations which do great work in the region. Our aim with every year that goes by is to support more vulnerable people in Reading and prevent homelessness once and for all – and in 2018/19 we helped over 1,400 people get back on their feet. But we simply couldn’t do this without the support and generosity of our amazing community.”

The award ceremony takes place on November 28 2019 at Madejski Stadium – wish us luck!

Brave souls take the leap for Launchpad

A team of brave souls took the leap to freefall from 10,000ft in August and September and raised a huge £5,853 for Launchpad.

A total of 14 people joined us for the ultimate adrenaline rush on 24 August and 7 September at Old Sarum Park in Salisbury, Wiltshire – and the jumpers included a Launchpad trustee and member of staff (Floating Support Officer, Hayley, pictured above in the middle and seen in this video!), and the founder of corporate supporter, Ecrebo.

On the day, the apprehensive groups got specialist training from an experience tandem master, before being securely attached to their instructor and boarding the flight to their jump altitude. They then free-fell at 125mph for 30 seconds!

A huge thank you to everyone who courageously took part and raised vital funds for Launchpad.

CEO and volunteer team shortlisted for prestigious national awards

We are delighted to announce that Launchpad’s CEO, Ian Caren, and the charity’s volunteer team have been shortlisted for Third Sector Awards in the Charity Chief Executive and Volunteer Team of the Year categories respectively – and winners will be revealed next month!

The prestigious Third Sector Awards celebrate the outstanding work of charities, not-for-profits and voluntary organisations of all sizes and the difference they make to society, and aim to thank the those in the industry working their hardest to deliver results. Launchpad beat tough competition, with over 300 award entries for 24 categories, and will be joining other shortlisted charities at the awards presentation on Thursday 19 September at the London Marriott Hotel in Grosvenor Square.

Ian has been shortlisted for the Charity Chief Executive award alongside CEOs at Stonewall, Revolving Doors Agency, Clic Sargent and Refugee Action, and was nominated for his remarkable and relentless dedication to the cause of homelessness in Reading. He joined the charity in 2006 and under his leadership, Launchpad has transformed from a small organisation for single homeless men to a multi-disciplinary homelessness prevention charity which last year helped over 1,400 people in crisis in the town. Income has grown from £1.3m in 2006/7 to £3.9m in 2017/18, and staff numbers from 17 to 51.

Our volunteer team are up against Making Space, City Year UK, Trailblazers Mentoring, Imperial Health Charity and The Listening Place for the Volunteer Team of the Year accolade. The team was set up in 2010 and had a total of 20 volunteers and has grown, nine years later, to a team of 130 active volunteers who provide over 7,000 hours of support annually – 85% of which is client-facing. Volunteering roles at Launchpad include providing housing and homelessness-related information and support at Launchpad’s drop-in service; running classes in sewing, art and gardening; helping clients learn how to use computers and search for jobs; counselling; and working in HR, admin and marketing.

Ian Caren, Launchpad’s CEO, said about the shortlists: “We couldn’t be more pleased to receive the news that Launchpad has been shortlisted for two Third Sector Awards! It’s wonderful for Launchpad to get such high praise, and have the hard work and dedication of our staff and volunteers recognised and celebrated so publically.

“For many in a housing crisis in Reading, our volunteers are a welcoming friendly face, a helping hand, a listening ear and a positive influence. They tirelessly dedicate their time to supporting vulnerable people in the town and it’s nothing short of awe inspiring. We simply wouldn’t exist without them and although we’ll have everything crossed at the awards presentation, to us they already are the volunteer team of the year.

“On a personal level, it’s an honour to have even been considered for an award and I feel privileged to be in such great company in the Charity Chief Executive category. I feel incredibly passionate about tackling homelessness in Reading and I’m proud of how far the charity has come – but that is all thanks to a first class team of staff, volunteers and trustees, and the ongoing support and generosity of people who support Launchpad.”

Keep your eyes peeled for the winners on Thursday 19 September – using the hashtag #TSAwards on social media.