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Reading Sports

Home from home

Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game.{c}

Every August Bank Holiday, Saints from all over the UK (and beyond) gather in Reading for a weekend of fun

What happens?

Reading is in Berkshire and has convenient access from most of the UK; especially Swindon, where many Saints live (‘Swindolena’). So it’s an ideal location for a get-together of UK Saints.

Organised by the St Helena Association and now held at the Reading Abbey Rugby Club at Emmer Green{1} around 1,500 people turn up for a Sunday consisting of novelty adult sports (egg-and-spoon race; sack race; balloon race{2}; tug-of-war; etc.) and similar children’s events. Entertainment for children includes bouncy castles, an inflatable obstacle course, a rodeo ride and, for the first time in 2014 Zorbing.

After the day’s events are over and the sun goes down, the serious partying begins. people were camping as well, so the party atmosphere started on Saturday and carried all the way through until three o’clock on Monday morning.

Saints, and others who have had some connection with St Helena, including many former ex-pats, come from all over the UK to take part. Some come from even further afield - in 2014 Donald Joshua came all the way from Australia to attend.

Many St Helena organisations put up stalls at the event. For the 2014 event Nick Stevens, who had travelled to the UK with the island’s Commonwealth Games team, manned the Enterprise St Helena (ESH) stall, encouraging Saints to consider returning home to help build a new economy.


All photographs taken from St Helena Online{3} unless credited otherwise.

There were no Reading Sports in 2020 or 2021 due to Covid‑19.

Older Photographs

Here are some older photographs, originally published in the St Helena Herald 2nd September 2011. If you can identify when these were taken, and maybe some of the people, please contact us.

Read More

Below: Article: St Helena expats from ‘Swindolena’ to gather for sports day this weekendArticle: UK Saints raise a cap to man who started the SportsArticle: Postings from Social Media

Article: St Helena expats from ‘Swindolena’ to gather for sports day this weekend

By Daniel Angelini, Swindon Advertiser, 24th August 2018{3}

DID you know that Swindon is known as ‘Swindolena’ to St Helena expats?

The town is known to residents of the remote island by this nickname because of its large community of expats, known as Saints, from that island. St Helena, located in the South Atlantic, is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world and its current population is around 4,300 people. The UK’s largest gathering of St Helena expats takes place over this Bank Holiday weekend on Saturday and Sunday in Reading this weekend. Saints from across the country will gather at Reading Abbey Rugby Football Club for a weekend of fun activities at the annual St Helena Sport Day. The event has been taking place in Reading for nearly 40 years and is organised by the charitable St Helena Association. To find out more, visit www.sthelenasportsday.com{4}.

Article: UK Saints raise a cap to man who started the Sports

By Simon Pipe, 22nd May 2015{3}

Owen George has celebrated more than half a century of service to Saints with a new red cap - to replace the one he always wore at the St Helena Sports Day the UK.

Owen George, the man in the red hat

The cap was among gifts he received to mark his retirement as president of the St Helena Association, 55 years after he became one of its founder members.

He and wife Barbara were also presented with a clock, a bouquet and a card signed by 100-or-so people at a St Helena Day dance held at Tilehurst Royal British Legion club in Berkshire.

The cap was the idea of Vilma Toms, one of the organisers.

She said: When I told my son Michael I was joining the association and helping to run the sports, he said, ‘Oh, I’ve got such good memories from that - is the man with the red hat still about?’ Because Owen always wore a red cap at the sports and everybody knew the man with the red hat. I said the man is still there but I haven’t seen the red hat for a while. We have our own printing business, so I took a hat off the shelf and had printed on it the St Helena flag and St Helena Mini Sports 1979 - 2015 and still going strong, and presented him with that. He was really touched. He did phone me later and say, ‘You know that old red hat, I’ve still got it - I can’t throw it away.’ It’s all tattered and torn, but he’s got a new one now. His daughters Debbie and Karen, were there with their families to see him honoured.

Owen joined the committee of the St Helena Association at its inaugural meeting in 1960, becoming chairman and then president. In an article for St Helena Online, he tells how he had to plead for volunteers to stop the organisation from folding in the 1980s.

The association raised money for island causes by holding dances. Owen decided to launch the Saints’ Mini Sports Day to cater for children. The event grew into the St Helena Sports Day, now the annual August bank holiday gathering of Saints in the UK.

Owen George - He actually brought the Saints together
He actually brought the Saints together

Owen was awarded an MBE by the Queen in 1996, for services to St Helenians in the UK and on St Helena.

I think his contribution is enormous, said Vilma. He has done all this selflessly. Not many people really knew he had the MBE: I put it on the paperwork when I found out. He’s such a modest man, not taking any glory. He actually brought the Saints together. In the 50s and 60s they didn’t have the internet and that sort of thing and they only met once or twice a year at the dances. And there was nothing for the children: that’s why he set up the mini sports. The kids could have a bit of fun and it was a good day out for everybody. The money raised was buying things like wheelchairs. If he heard of somebody needing something back home he would raise the money and send it. He was getting it done but not shouting about it. He’s got a wicked sense of humour. He always makes me laugh and he’s always smiling himself. I’ve known when he’s been in a lot of pain and feeling unwell, but his sense of humour never left him. He would always help anybody.

Vilma’s husband, Trevor, said: He has dedicated most of his life to St Helena Association. He is just a great guy - an inspirational guy - with a lot of wit, a lot of wisdom. The St Helena Day dance raised ten pence short of £250 for island causes. Another £139 from the raffle goes to St Helena Art & Crafts Association, which provided the prizes.

Philip Thompson was DJ and Paul George played keyboards for the dancing.

The Brooks Brothers retired after the 2014 Sports Day after many years of entertaining at Saint events in the UK.

Vilma Toms said: They were the band for whatever function was going. They always played at the Reading Sports. One of them has retired and gone home and I think they just felt it was time to pack it in. Their contribution was enormous. They were islanders and they were family so they played well together and they knew what the St Helenians like. You only had to put them on as a band and people would come for the music.

55 years of the St Helena Association By Owen George MBE

Logo of the St Helena Association (UK)

The St Helena Association was the brainchild of two headmistresses from St Helena, Mrs Lillian Corker and Miss Cardwell - a Saint and an ex-pat respectively. They were supported by another retired teacher, Miss Nel Lebreton, and Mr Fred (Sonny) Ward, who were also Saints. They decided in the latter part of 1959 that something ought to be done by our UK Saints to entertain people coming from the island to seek employment and support their families back home.

Having been inspired by pictures shown by Fred Ward, they contacted as many Saints as possible in and around London to convene an informal meeting.

I was approached by Fred Ward in Reading in November 1959, a month after I arrived here in the UK, to ask if I would support the idea. I agreed, and became a member at the association’s inaugural meeting in London in January 1960. As enthusiastic, loyal, patriotic and fun-loving people, we soon became established as The St Helena Association.

A non-political constitution was drawn up, with the objective to support charitable organisations on the island for Saints in need, and individuals who merited it.

But our first priority was to entertain Saints who immigrated, and those here on holiday. The knock-on effect from that was to start organising dances, the first of which was held in Victoria Hall in Bloomsbury Square, London.

We also decided to introduce an annual membership fee in order to accumulate revenue, but this did not work in practice.

With membership growing fast and furious, collecting the fees became an arduous task for the secretary and treasurer, who already had full-time work, and so after three years it was abandoned.

The loss of this income put more emphasis on organising extra dances, one in spring, and one in autumn.

With increasing support, it became obvious a larger hall was necessary, and Hammersmith Town Hall became our new venue.

On reflection, 1964 was a year of radical changes. Cyril Brooks became our third chairman and presided for 24 years. The vice chairman’s post was created, and I was elected, and accompanied our chairman throughout that period.

Because the attendance for our London dances was increasing, I had a brain-wave to increase the sequence by organising an SHA branch dance in Reading. This caused some concern with our committee members, but our secretary and treasurer (the late Bert Joshua) saw it as progress.

Since this was a success, I encouraged other Saints to organise dances in their own districts, not only to support our London and Reading dances, but to sustain the continuity within our community. It would provide for people who could not attend the main dances, especially our students here on training and Saints coming on holiday, and it would enhance support to our island’s charitable organisations.

My theory was to work with the people, for the people, and I have the satisfaction of seeing that is still embraced today.

In the same year I decided to record Christmas messages for St Helena at our autumn dances on reel-to-reel tapes, and called the programme Keeping In Touch. The tapes were sent home to a friend, William (Billy) Stevens, who transmitted them on Christmas Day after the Queen’s Speech. (Billy Stevens, known as ‘The Ham of Half Tree Hollow’, broadcast from the Three Tanks area every Sunday morning, charging three pence for a request. His role as a radio pioneer is mentioned in an article on the Saint Helena Island Info website).

Some years later Radio St Helena was formed, and took over the Keeping In Touch programme. For a short spell, Eddie Leo and his wife Audrey assisted with the programme.

It provided an important opportunity for Saints to keep in touch with their relatives, but when the internet became available, it was made redundant.

After 16 years, Hammersmith Town Hall became unavailable, and for a while we were organising dances in Fulham and Early town halls, but shortly they also became unavailable.

By then, our five branch organisers were also putting on dances, and with our annual Sports Day, contributions for St Helena were not affected.

In 1978 I made plans to entertain the children within our community, because they were restricted to accompanying their parents at our dances. If successful, it would be another source of revenue to support our objectives.

So on Sunday on the August Bank Holiday weekend of 1979, I organised our first St Helena Sports Day at the Reading Rugby Football Club.

I had no committee except my family to organise the mini sports, and on the day I employed volunteers - mostly former boy scouts from St Helena and some of the branch organisers.

What started as the Saints Mini Sports Day became St Helena Sports Day, also sentimentally known as the Saints, Relatives and Friends Reunion Day.

I ran it for ten years, then invited our committee to continue.

All went well for a while, then for diverse reasons our supporters began to lose interest and the situation was becoming serious. But from 2010 the expertise of Trevor and Vilma Toms came to the fore, and they revitalised this nostalgic event, recapturing the interest of our supporters here and beyond these shores.

In April 1986, our secretary and treasurer took ill and was told by his doctor to retire from all activities with immediate effect.

This could not have happened at a worse time, because for divers reasons other people found they could not continue. That situation left just the chairman and me.

I was given charge of our accounts and everything else related to the secretary-cum-treasurer’s post.

We were on the threshold of becoming dormant, and this was the time that showed the importance of the branch organisers, because without them we could not maintain our objectives.

The only support for our island was coming from their dances, and of course Sports Day functions.

They were Trevor and Priscilla Brooks in Oxford, succeeded by Colin and Shirley Brooks; Alec Williams, Derek and Dulcie Bellord, and William (Billy) and Ethel Thomas, in Portsmouth; Gerry and June Evans in Cirencester, with Jenny Pattenden (who also served as association chairman); Kenny and Vera Scipio in London, assisted by Arnold and Polly Scipio; and subsequently Ray and Joan Crowie in Reading, assisted by the late Arnold Benjamin and Billy and Shirley Thomas.

I kept in touch without our chairman to see if any people came forward to stand as committee members. Unfortunately, two years elapsed and the situation did not change, so I put forward a plan to try for the last time to recruit.

I took the opportunity at a dance in Cirencester to contact people there, and explained that our association would become history if we could not get enough people to join our committee.

Eight people responded, and with the help of Derek Bellord I immediately arranged to convene a meeting a month later in Portsmouth. The result is that we are here today.

Prior to that meeting our chairman decided not to stand again, and I was elected to fill the void. I accepted the post on the understanding that I would be looking for a replacement after one term, because I wanted a free hand to practise any theory I might have that would enhance our community of Saints, relatives and friends even further.

I was successful in convincing Keith Joshua to become our new chairman, and I was subsequently elected as president.

As time moved on we progressed from strength to strength, and became a registered charity.

I consider myself to have been fortune to be in a position to develop our association, but there can be no development without a beginning, and we thank the people who dreamt of such a plan in November 1959.

I resigned because of ill health, but with the satisfaction of knowing our committee will keep that dream alive, maintain our objectives, and continue to put smiles on sad faces back home.

Two St Helena Associations? That was banking on trouble…

We started out with the title SHA, and subsequently added (UK). It became necessary through a dispute with another organisation that decided it was the SHA. Both treasurers were summoned by the bank to get it sorted, because there were problems when donations were made by cheque.

Naturally, emergency meetings were convened by both parties, and it was mutually agreed that a representative from each would attend the other’s meeting, and after some discussion, I was elected.

I attended their AGM in Faith House, in Tufton Road in London, and the matter was sorted, but not before discussions to convince their chairman, who was adamant about not changing - until I pointed out that our inauguration was in January 1960, and theirs in April 1964.

To settle the argument, my friend Bishop Edward (Ted) Cannan suggested, Since we solely support the Diocese of St Helena, why don’t we change our title to St Helena Diocesan Association, and perhaps Owen’s association will change to SHA (UK)? Both parties agreed, and so did the bank.

Ironically I became a member of the St Helena Development Agency (SHDA), and their chairman and I became the best of pals.

Owen A George St Helena Association (UK!){d}

Owen George died aged 91 on Wednesday 28th March 2018 in the UK.

Article: Postings from Social Media

By Simon Pipe, 29th August 2014{3}

Ronnie Benjamin Joshua: What an absolutely fantastic bank holiday weekend!!! Thank you all, a whole bunch of lovely family and friends in one place!

David Peters: What a great day on Sunday. Reading sports day was fantastic. Many thanks to the organisers St Helena Association for a great job and great venue. Clean toilets, plenty of parking, friendly staff, and most of all, so good to see so many familiar faces. It’s like a day of an analogue version of Facebook. Thanks for re-uniting us with long lost friends and relatives.

Patrick George: Thank you St Helena Association for making it all happen. I know a lot of blood, sweat, tears and possibly sleepless nights went into the preparation. It was my first time ever and I feel like I made history for myself. Met old school friends, family and people I didn’t know except they knew my late parents Eric and Ivy George.

Monica Yon: I would like to say a huge thank you to the St Helena Association for all their hard work and making such a wonderful entertaining day for all of us. I thoroughly enjoyed it and meeting everyone, well most people as I miss so many I would have love to chat and laugh with. Such a lovely turn-out too, and great location. Thank you.

Carryn Jones: Another fantastic weekend that was well worth the long drive from Aberdeen. Love the new venue!! Thoroughly enjoyed catching up with friends and family.

Ursula Harris: I would like to say a MASSIVE THANK YOU to the St Helena Association for all the hard work that went into organising another memorable Sports Day.

Rio Duncan-Prasetyo: Thank you for an awesome long weekend! The foods, music, sports, hospitality…and the weather (how lucky). The committee are friendly, helpful and hard working. The Reading Rugby club staff - thank you so much for welcoming us.

Trevor Toms: Big thanks to the few people who help us - Renee and Rio Prasetyo and Larry Hudson for running the sports events - what a brilliant job they did. Thanks also to Felicity Walters, Darlene Peters, Lorraine Duncan and Pat Harris for helping us on the day. Special thanks to James Miller for all his help and enthusiasm. Grateful thanks also to Leon Miller for all his help. Thanks to Phil and Paul for the entertainment on Saturday night, and to Phil for the amazing disco on Sunday night - loved the lights and the smoke - cool!!. Thanks to the Brooks Brothers and Sawdust for giving us great entertainment in the clubhouse.

Joanne Tori Bowers: Had a wonderful day at Reading Sport. St Helena Association always do their best to make our sports day special and great job for making everyone come together. Unfortunately that was my last sports day but it has been really good for all the years I have been going and good luck in future (Joanne is returning home).


{a} Social Media User{5}{b} Copyright © South Atlantic Media Services Ltd. (SAMS), used with permission.{c} Michael Jordan{d} The Independent, 22nd May 2015{3}


{1} For the previous 34 years it was at Reading Rugby Club.{2} Straightforward race except that you have to hold a balloon between your legs.{3} @@RepDis@@{4} Or our page Reading Sports.{5} Posted on Social Media and used with the poster’s permission but they wish to remain anonymous.


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