THE founder of Henley’s award-winning Living Advent Calendar is going to work in Spain.
Julie Perigo, who launched the fund-raising entertainments initiative in 2011, plans to spend up to five years in Barcelona and hopes to return to teaching there.
She and her husband Dan Dumitrescu will leave around Easter time.
Before going to Spain, they will spend six months in the Indian state of Rajasthan where Mrs Perigo will teach at Mayo College, a boys’ boarding school known as the “Eton of India”.
The couple, who came to Henley in 2008, will keep their flat in Station Road as they plan to return.
They have both lived and worked around the world and met in Australia when they both worked at Korn/Ferry International, an executive recruitment firm.
Ms Perigo runs Career Gateway Academy, which helps graduates to find jobs, and chairs the Henley Partnership.
Mr Dumitrescu has a portfolio of business interests and is a qualified kinesiology practitioner.
Ms Perigo said: “We’ve both lived in a number of different countries and about the middle of last year we both thought we had one more ‘foreign posting’ in us.
“We both speak Spanish and love Spain so we decided to give Barcelona a go. We are lucky that our work can be done from pretty much anywhere.”
She announced her departure following the end of the third annual Living Advent Calendar but says it will continue under a new main organiser.
Ms Perigo came up with the idea after seeing a similar event in Stockholm. Each evening in the run-up to Christmas, local performers stage 15-minute shows at different venues. Performances range from music and dance to drama, poetry and storytelling and the artists’ identities are kept secret until the night. All events are free to watch and there are collections and raffles in aid of local charities. The costs are covered by sponsorship from local businesses.
In three years, the event has raised more than £10,000 for 10 charities including Sue Ryder, the Chiltern Centre for disabled children, the Henley Day Centre, Kenton for Keeps and the Face of Henley.
Last year, the calendar won Prime Minister David Cameron’s Big Society Award and a Towns Alive award from Action for Market Towns.
Ms Perigo said: “It has been huge fun bringing the Living Advent Calendar to the UK and I’m delighted that our version has won so many awards.
“After three years it is probably a good time to move on and hand over the reins to other people with new ideas.
“I’m thrilled to have been able to set this all going. Some people see it as just 24 evenings of raising money for charity but my motivation has always been to achieve more than that.
“It is about joining up the dots for all-round mutual benefit — a virtuous circle linking businesses with charities, the performing arts and other organisations like schools and the emergency services.
“It is one of the few events I don’t think anyone has a bad word to say about. For local performers it is good profiling.
“Last year we were getting audiences of more than 100 every evening. Performers always comment on how warm and enthusiastic the audiences are. Over 24 evenings there develops a real sense of community and camaraderie in a way that a one-off event can’t attain. The town seems to have taken it to its heart. To me, that illustrates that Henley is not stuck in the past but is open to innovative ideas.
“In due course we hope people won’t just associate Henley with the royal regatta but with the Living Advent Calendar too.”
In 2012, Ms Perigo was named corporate social responsibility champion of the year at the Sue Ryder Women of Achievement awards.
She also helped revive the Henley Partnership after joining in 2009. She was chairwoman of its business and retail group before being appointed chairwoman in February last year.
She launched its youth group the Henley Young Partnership in 2012.
The partnership’s treasurer Robin Pincott said there would be a meeting next week to discuss the appointment of her successor.
This year’s Living Advent Calendar raised £4,054, which will be shared between Henley Youth Centre, the Henley Regatta for the Disabled, the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal and Oceans Project.
Carolyn Molyneux, of Delegate Office and Conference Services, who organised the collections, told her volunteers: “I would like to thank everyone who came out most evenings and helped with the raffle and other duties.
“Some nights the weather was terrible and you were there regardless. I hope you all are happy with the final results. The town really appreciates what you have done.”