Mary Ballantyne;Bouquet of the week

19th February 1999 at 00:00
Last Christmas, Mary Ballantyne and the Houston Primary School Hand Bell Ringers raised more than pound;700 for children's charities. They rang their bells and shook their collecting tins at Glasgow Airport and in Princes Square. And they enjoyed themselves hugely.

"It's still quite a novelty and we seem to be in demand," says Mary who founded the group last year for the oldest children in the school. Already they're making plans for ringing in the millennium and have applied for a Lottery grant to buy more bells.

For the past 30 years, Mary has been Houston's school secretary, starting work in the office when her two boys were nursery age and her mother was a dinner lady. But unofficially she is the school's musician-in-residence, an accomplished pianist who helped establish the school choir and now the inspiration behind the hand bells.

"She has a wonderful manner and a big commitment to the school," says headteacher Myra Hamilton.

Houston is a village in rural Renfrewshire, 10 miles from Glasgow. Mary was a pupil at the school herself but in the time she's worked there new housing has boosted the roll from 100 to 468.

"It's much more of a pleasure to make music with other people and I was pleased to try it with the children," says Mary, who also rings with an adult group in nearby Paisley.

She's keen to involve as many children as possible but with only seven pairs of bells, she's had to set up four groups, involving 28 children. Two groups meet at lunchtimes while the other two play after school.

This bouquet of the week is to say thank you Mary, well done and good luck with that Lottery application. And to other readers, please let me know who deserves flowers in your staffroom.

Our lead story this week has major implications for the outside world as well as the inside world of Pentonville prison.

Almost one-third of men in prison are dyslexic compared with 4 per cent in the general population. Now prisoners are learning to read and write with a computer-aided programme but there is a surprising spin-off - dyslexic prison officers are coming forward and admitting they need help with a life-long difficulty.

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