Meet the team

Sally Panrucker – Co-ordinator for ACE Activities

“I have worked for Voluntary Action Epping Forest since 2007. Originally from a nursing background I have worked with people with Learning Disabilities since 1986 and hold a level 5 Diploma in Leadership for Health and Social care and children and young people’s Services.

Recognising the lack of opportunities for Adults with Learning Disabilities I am passionate about providing worthwhile and interesting activities for our members.  Nothing gives me more satisfaction than seeing them progress and thrive within the project and beyond. Working within a dedicated team of staff and volunteers we constantly strive to improve services whilst making all activities stimulating and fun.”

Andrea Slade – Tutor Lead for Ace Cooking with Confidence and Communication Lead for Ace Hands up to Music

“I began working for ACE Activities during May 2019.  My background was initially in finance, but more than 20 years ago, I retrained as a Communication Support Worker (CSW) with d/Deaf People and then a couple of years later, as a fully qualified Teacher with a specialism in learning difficulties and/or disabilities.  Since then, I have worked in a range of educational settings including primary, secondary, special schools and several colleges.

What I find hugely rewarding about the role, is motivating our members to access our amazing and inclusive activities. I adhere to a ‘person-centred’ approach. I hope that this, together with my enthusiasm and energy, inspires them to engage fully within the setting, and makes a tangible difference to their lives. Being surrounded by a great team helps too of course!”

David Gavens – Vocal Coach

“As a vocal coach, I have been teaching one to one and group lessons of all ages and levels since 2005.

I have been working with Voluntary Action Epping Forest’s Ace Activities Group for 13 years, supporting people with learning disabilities helping them to grow in confidence not only with their singing but around others too.

Ace Hands up to Music is a group catering for all abilities. Students learn and discover how to use their voice properly. Using the correct methods and techniques allows them to maximise skills they possibly didn’t even know they had, creating a new appreciation of their voice and its capabilities.

It’s a great singing group where we all have lots of fun performing a wide range of songs all chosen by our singing stars. Together we enjoy working towards performances at Grange Farm and around the local area.

The singing sessions I lead are also supported by a qualified signing tutor providing an additional educational aspect to the sessions.”

Marc Balkham – Upcycling Lead

“I set up Ace Upcycling with Sally in late 2016 at our Epping base. I love every element of working with our clients to develop a range of carpentry, upcycling and finishing skills and techniques. It has been amazing to watch them blossom in so many areas and to make important friendships. Working together to sell our products at fetes and fayres is wonderful and seeing our upcyclers interact with the public is inspiring.

I have been with VAEF for over 10 years, volunteering and working with people with additional challenges, creating positive and exciting opportunities in upcycling and participative music-making projects. I have Level 3 & 4 teaching qualifications which I enjoyed studying for and have found extremely useful. With O levels in D&T and Technical Drawing from many, many, many years ago, I have loved polishing my own skills in order to assist and mentor others.

It has been wonderful to help our project grow and to develop our second workshop at Riverside Timber Recycling. We are always seeking new ideas and new ways to collaborate.”

Stuart Oakes – Upcycling Lead

Ray Harris – Support Leader for Ace Arts and Ace Gardening and Sport

“I have been working with young people with special needs for many years. I started at Chigwell House, helping with the gardening group and working with other volunteers.

I’d heard about VAEF and had an interview with them for a gardening job they advertised working with their special needs group. I had an interest in and a basic knowledge of gardening which came in very handy.

As time went on, I also took on the art and conservation sessions. I like organising and working with these groups. It’s great to see them gain experience and knowledge by taking part in these activities, they grow in confidence and really enjoy what they do.”

Gill Mann – Volunteer

“I spent my working life in the NHS as an occupational therapist mainly in Epping and Harlow. In my later years in the NHS, I was Commissioning Manager for Health and Children’s Services.

For over forty years, I have volunteered to work with local charities, firstly the Abbeyfield Society and then Home-Start Epping Forest and finally Voluntary Action Epping forest. I have been a trustee of VAEF for many years but retired from this role about 40 years ago.

Throughout my working life, I developed the greatest respect for VAEF and wanted to stay involved. Hence, I have recently become a volunteer for Ace Activities on their weekly Art Group. I look forward to working with the staff and volunteers who aim to create a relaxed and friendly environment for the clients and to develop their skills and self-confidence.”

Kate Rollason – Volunteer

“ACE activities has given me a new lease of life, and I have become a happier and nicer person since volunteering. I have grown in confidence, feel valued and appreciated, but most importantly, I can be myself because I feel accepted by staff and clients. I have also been given the chance to try new activities which I have thoroughly enjoyed.”

Harriet Joannou – Volunteer

“I am new to volunteering with Ace Activities. I always wanted to give back to the community via volunteering and when I heard of Ace Activities and all it does, I just knew it was perfect for me. I have fitted in great with the team and we really do have great fun at the centre.”

Annie Wood – Volunteer

“Volunteering for the ACE cookery sessions is great fun! There is a lovely group of learners and an amazing tutor. We create simple, healthy and very tasty meals. I love to help out at these sessions as I enjoy seeing the satisfaction and growth of self esteem of the learners when they learn new tasks. I enjoy cooking and have learnt a lot myself!”

Connor Crout – Volunteer

“As an MA in Social Research from the University of York, I wanted to volunteer to help ace activities due to the amazing work they do. I’ve met amazing people so far which I like!”