CHARITIES helped by the Oxford Mail have spoken of the importance of local media as we launch a campaign to shape the paper’s future.

Later this month we will hold a series of focus groups for you to tell us what you like, what you dislike and what you want to see more of from the paper.

The Oxford Mail, along with its sister paper The Witney Gazette, helped save Witney youth centre Base 33 in 2011 after public donations dried up.

The centre was facing the prospect of cutting 75 per cent of its work, including support for teenage mothers, schemes to get youngsters into work and drop-in services for teenagers.

But readers jumped to the youth centre’s aid, donating more than £10,000 in just four weeks.

Base 33 director Claire Dowan said: “The importance of local newspapers is to be able to tell the local stories.

“No one can do that better than the local press because they have that connection and investment in the local community.

“The Oxford Mail’s support two years ago helped not only for us to be able to share with the local community some of the issues we were experiencing, but helped lobby on our behalf to help raise much-needed and important cash, which has helped us keep going over the last couple of years.”

Meanwhile, the Oxford Mail and its sister paper The Oxford Times ran a campaign to get people to give an hour of their time to help Oxfordshire’s elderly.

Thanks to the campaign, which ran in 2011, Age UK Oxfordshire received more than 10,000 donated hours from readers and now has about 460 volunteers.

Chief executive Paul Cann said: “Local newspapers have a vital role in connecting the readership with the local communities and the issues on their doorsteps.

“If it was not for local newspapers then the issues that are happening every day would be neglected, if not ignored. The Give An Hour campaign generated a fantastic amount of support.”

The focus groups will comprise of up to 18 readers each and will last for two hours, from 6.30pm to 8.30pm. Each person will be paid £20 for their time and there will be tea, coffee and biscuits.

The first meetings will take place at the Oxford Spires Four Pillars Hotel in Abingdon Road on Tuesday, May 21, and Wednesday, May 22. The Oxford Hotel in Godstow Road will then host the next meeting on Thursday, May 23.

Regional newspaper sales manager Tom Mitchell said: “The Oxford Mail has highlighted the plight of many organisations and individuals over the years and our readers are always quick to rally round and provide help. Our readers care what happens in their community and the Oxford Mail can help to get things done. We need to know what the Oxford Mail can do to help make Oxfordshire a great place to live and work in. Come to one of our focus groups and tell us how the Oxford Mail can continue to support local initiatives that are important to our readers and our community.”

To take part, contact Jo Coady at the Oxford Mail on 01865 425521 or email her at Let us have your name and address and a daytime contact number.