Tomson standing in front of Celebration of Volunteering boards, listing the nominees.

Celebrating Community

Winner of the Alumni and Supporter Volunteer of the Year Award, Tomson Chauke, tells CONNECTED about his story – including moving from Zimbabwe to Reading and why helping his community means so much to him.

In a world where it can feel like we are more divided than ever, Tomson is on a mission to breakdown borders through the power of music, conversation and community. Having arrived in England as a refugee himself, Tomson knows the difference volunteers can make to a person’s life.

It was his own experience that inspired Tomson to start the charity, Sanctuary Strikers, to support refugees in learning skills and making friends. He also uses his band, Limpopo Groove, to start conversations about the importance of learning from different cultures.

Read on to hear about Tomson’s journey.

A musical odyssey

Tomson came to England in 2003 from Zimbabwe, having toured England previously with his former band. He said: “England was a place I had been before and I always found the people to be accepting and accommodating.”

First living in Bristol, then Luton, it was news of the Reading Refugee Support Group that drew Tomson to Reading. Tomson explained: “When I came to England it wasn’t easy to make friends. The Reading Refugee Support Group helped me a lot; they helped me settle in to England and gave me opportunities to volunteer with them – they became part of me. And twenty years later I’m still here volunteering with them.”

Tomson soon realised that his passion for music created another opportunity to meet people. He said: “I started playing and doing drumming workshops around Reading which helped me form friendships. I then formed Limpopo Groove in 2009 with the purpose of connecting with people.

“The name comes from the Limpopo River, which runs through many different countries’ borders and pours into the Indian Ocean. It reminds me of what I want for our community. We all run through different borders and meet people from different cultures and backgrounds. In learning from each other we can all become more understanding, and work better together. The final destination is where all of our experiences pour out and create a place of understanding – like the Indian Ocean.”

Limpopo Groove – a group of five musicians – also helps create opportunities for children in Zimbabwe. Tomson explained: “We collect unwanted musical instruments and send them to children in Zimbabwe. I am very lucky to be from Zimbabwe and to be able to play a musical instrument.

“When I grew up there wasn’t a single instrument available. There’s talent in the country but there’s no equipment, so giving children the opportunity to play music is a very special thing.”

Tomson brought the campus to life for a second year in a row by bringing his workshop to the 2024 Community Festival. He said: “It was wonderful to be part of the Community Festival for a second year now – to see people connecting through music is a wonderful thing.” 

One Goal

Tomson’s passion to use conversation to bring people together inspired him to start Sanctuary Strikers. This is a football club, run in conjunction with Reading Refugee Support Group, with the aim of bringing refugees together and supporting them to become part of the Reading community. Tomson explained: “Myself and others in my community arrived in England with our children who didn’t have any friends here. So we invited other families to the park so our children could play together.

“One day the kids were playing football and someone walking past asked if they were playing for a team and if they could sign them to an under 12’s team – suddenly us adults were the ones left in the park doing nothing.”

Tomson took inspiration from the children and saw that football was an opportunity for people to make new friends. He said:

“I know firsthand how hard it can be to make a home in a foreign country when you don’t know anyone or know where to get basic things – it can be very difficult and daunting.”

While volunteering at the Reading Refugee Support Group, Tomson stumbled across a project, Grow the Game, run by the FA (Football Association). He explained: “They were offering funding for teams to get started and I realised this was an opportunity I could use to not only help build a team, but to build a team that could help refugees.

“I applied for the funding and to my surprise it was granted! I went to Wembley to collect our uniforms and tracksuits and signed us up for the Sunday League.”

For Tomson, the team is more than just a platform for refugees to make friends – it also provides an opportunity to learn new skills and helps create the foundations needed to call somewhere home. Tomson explained: “It’s difficult and frustrating to learn English in a classroom. The football club gives people the opportunity to practise speaking English outside of the classroom – learning through conversations and friendship in the team.”

“We also give people the opportunity to learn or improve their skills. They can come in and update our social media platforms, or volunteer to watch the kids, or help with the admin.

“We try to create opportunities for people to build a skillset that will help them settle into their new country.

“We play all over Reading and that helps players to learn the bus routes and their surroundings which gives them confidence. It’s little things like this that makes you think ‘this is home’. It has changed people’s lives in lots of ways – some are now driving, they speak English and they’ve made friends. It’s the building blocks to make people feel part of a community.”

It was this continuous commitment to helping others in the community that won Tomson the Alumni and Supporter of the Year Award at the University of Reading’s 2024 Celebration of Volunteering. On winning the award he said:

“I was ecstatic to hear I’d won – if the University keeps celebrating people who are helping others, then that can inspire a whole community to help others too.”

Find out more about the Celebration of Volunteering Awards  and our other winners. Or e-mail us at if you’re interested in volunteering with the University.