Volunteering at Christmas (and other ways you can help others at this time of year)

volunteering with crisis at christmas

This has been the year where I've started throwing myself into some volunteering again. I've volunteered in a few different ways over the years, but nothing really felt particularly commited to.

1. I volunteered abroad a lot in my 20s, read about my America, India and Kenya trips here.

2. Over the years I've dipped in and out of Goodgym - a running club where you volunteer with local community projects.

3. Two years ago I volunteered with a local charity on Christmas day.

4. Not volunteering in the traditional sense, but I recently volunteered as a marshall for Park Run, which is a free running club for anyone and everyone of all abilities.

5. I'm currently fostering a cat for the RSPCA...which technically is volunteering, although the joy is pretty much all mine.

Recently I've been volunteering with a literacy charity, which I haven't blogged about yet, and I'm also trying to work with a charity for older people too....but more about that later. Back to Crisis at Christmas.

volunteering at christmas

A little while ago I signed for some sessions as 'salon manager' with Crisis at Christmas and today I had my training workshop. Today was the snow day, when all of London came to a grinding halt, due to the magic of December snow. It felt oddly fitting, to travel in the wet and cold snow, while thinking about people who are homeless. Just a harsh focus on how cold it is out there.

Last year Crisis at Christmas provided 748 haircuts to its guests, and this year we'll hopefully at least match that number. While at the training, we heard from some volunteers who have done it with Crisis before, and the overwhelming feedback was how important connecting to people's human-ness was. There were examples of people who literally hadn't been touched by another person (apart from being beaten up) in a whole year. Having their hair washed, cut and styled is pretty intimate, and for many guests, the experience isn't even about the hair, its about some personal time with another human. 

Which got me thinking. Christmas is a pretty triggering time for many people. Whether you're alone (by the way the Crisis at Christmas centres are open for everyone, so if you're alone, you're welcome to come and enjoy the activities!), whether you have suffered a tragedy, struggle with addiction or addictive behaviours, mental health struggles or are homeless, Christmas can really hightened a lot of negative feelings. You can feel extra alone, or sad, or if you're outside, of course just extra f*cking freezing. Christmas is just a hard time if you're not in a good place.

If you're in a good place, here are some ideas for things you can do to help those who may struggle this Christmas:

1. Volunteer. Today the Crisis team were saying it wasn't too late to fill some spots. And Crisis aren't the only place, check out who may need you over the Christmas period, even if you don't want to commit to Dec 25th itself.

2. Donate. Consider giving money to support services such as the Samaritans, Crisis,  Age UK, Refuge, Childline, Foodbank or the hundreds of other local and national charities who help offer support during a time that can be very stressful for many people. 

3. Start small. Maybe you already know people who may find Christmas hard. Small gestures like a letter, an invite, a phonecall, or a visit can make a large difference. It may be someone in your family you don't see often, or a neighbour. Or maybe someone you just know from social media. 

4. Donate (again). Many charities rely heavily on their charity shop's profits, so have a good clear out before all the new presents make their way in. Donating things of value are a great way of contributing to the amazing work of charities. You can of course purchase some things when you're there too!

Do let me know if you have any more ideas, or if you're already doing something this Christmas to help lighten the load (big and small).

A refreshing advert from Puregym

This ad for Puregym just came into my facebook stream, and it was a breath of fresh air. We've all seen gym adverts, they're generally either trying to 'inspire' us with six-packs or create fear and loathing with fat phobia.

This advert is so glorious because it focuses on the other reasons people love visiting a gym. People who don't treat the gym as a punishment for eating (or even existing), and who aren't just chasing thinness or buffness via a hatred of their current body.

It reminds us of the power of a challenge, and of pushing ourselves. Of celebrating progress. Of taking time out to focus on just ourselves; of putting our phones away and purely focusing on yourself in that moment. I especially loved the positioning line of "It's a safe place, where you can be yourself unashamedly," which considering the gym makes most people anxious and worried, is a wonderful twist on their sales pitch. 

I really think this is a perfect campaign, and its left a refreshed taste on my tongue. Bravo Puregym.

The rollercoaster ride of my first spin class since Sept.

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I'm rather embarrassed to admit it, but my blog this year has featured more than one post with the theme of returning to the gym. My gym days are now long behind me, and yet I still allow myself to believe that one day they may return. That's ok, and it isn't strictly untrue. They may. They also may not, but some fitness is better than none.

So after about 3 months, I returned to a spin class today. I almost left my house too late, so I was a little flustered, but got there in time to set up my bike and get ready. I was excited. Pleased to be back. Glimmers of hope on my horizon.

The warm-up started and I was flying. Moving our bodies can feel so good sometimes, and I was back. My legs were pumping and I felt great. 

Having booked the session the night before, I purposefully made sure I'd eaten a large breakfast, and I'd presumed eggs and beans were sufficient. However, during the warm-down track something weird happened. It wasn't that I felt faint exactly, but I felt odd, and then I realised by vision was going. Like black and white spots. I became very alert to my senses, to check whether I thought I'd fall off the bike. I was ok, and it was almost subsiding, and when it was time to get off the bike, instead of following the class' stretches, I sat on the floor. My vision was still a little blurry, and I still felt odd. 

I'm not really sure what happened, as I'd eaten. However I didn't have my usual coffee, so could a lack of caffiene have caused the odd reaction to exertion? 

Anyhoo, I recovered from my funny turn, and the instructor came over to thank me for my compliment. 

pure gym finsbury park

I tweeted the gym 2.5 months ago, and hadn't returned since, yet he remembered it, and thanked me. Which just reminded me how nice it is to compliment people who do a great job. I know that my staff really appreciate them, and I try to take the time to notice and comment. 

Anyhoo...maybe I'm back on my fitness wagon. Maybe not. Lets see.

Fostering for the RSPCA - My new pal Bronwyn

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When I told people I was going to explore behind-the-scenes at my local RSPCA unit  I got a giggled response of "How many did you take home?", and the answer is Bronwyn. I took Bronwyn home.

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I don't know much about her, but I believe she's about 5, and I think her family gave her up when they moved house. She has been suffering from blood in her urine, which wasn't clearing up with medication. They believed it may be due to stress at being in the cat pod. I'm now her official foster carer (using the word parent seems silly....but so does carer....maybe I'll stick with fosterer). Oh, and she is officially called Tabby, but that just seemed too basic, so I renamed her Bronwyn.

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The RSPCA have 3 types of fostering needs; animals ready to be rehomed, animals involved in legal proceedings, and animals being cared for under the PetRetreat scheme, which helps families fleeing from domestic abuse. I'm fostering for the RSPCA Central, West & North East London branch, and they offer more details on their page if you're intrigued.

Fostering is divided into short-term and long-term fostering dependent on the needs of the cat. Short-term arrangements may involve cats who need some medication, socialisation or TLC. Or they may just need housing due to the heavy demand on cat rescue centres. A glowing reference from a fosterer may be all a timid cat needs to find their forever (furever) home!

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Long-term placements are usually older cats, and may have medical needs that would make them unlikey to find a permanent adoptive home. If you foster a cat like this, all vet bills are taken care of by the branch, and the branch retain all decision making responsibilities for the cat. You can offer a wonderful little retirement home for an eldery moggy, without the need to worry about the mounting vet bills. Ideal if you want a slower, less energetic cat.

Today is the 3rd day Bronwyn has been with me, so I thought I'd share some of my personal experience of becoming a cat fosterer.

I brought her home, and has prepared myself for an anxious start. Cats in new surrondings often hide for a while, under a sofa or bed. Bronwyn spent about 30 minutes walking around the flat, but didn't seem too stressed out at all. The first night she came onto my bed for a bit, and even under the blanket for a short while. When I woke up her little purring face I knew we'd get along just fine!

Every time I get up to check on her, she's just fast asleep, curled up on my bed. She enjoys watching the window, a little head rub, and dinner time. She's settled in so quickly, and I'm already falling in love. She now sleeps by my feet all night.

She's already a joy, and although I want her to have her forever home...I'm sort of hoping she'll be with me for a while. She was clearly loved by a family at some point, and I'm feel honoured to have her, for however long I do.

She's got a urine test in a few days, after we finish her medication cycle, so I hope we pass it with flying colours. Wish her luck!

Adopt, Don't Shop - Visiting the RSPCA to find out more about cat rescue

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Today I had the complete pleasure of being able to explore behind the scenes at the RSPCA Central, West & North East London at their emergency fostering unit. Dream afternoon? Hell yeah....and I bet how it ends isn't a complete surprise.....

I've been seeing more and more people buying 'designer' pets recently, and although they've always been popular, our Instagram-led lives must surely have an impact. So it got me wondering why people 'buy' a new pet, rather than adopting one. With all of these questions and ponderances in my mind, I visited the 32 cat pods at the RSPCA unit to see what I could figure out.

kittens at rspca

The first thing I learned that surprised me was that each RSPCA branch is a separate charity, so the RSPCA Central, West & North East London branch (not snappy as names go but accurate!) are responsible for fundraising and running their own activities. So if you want to donate to the welfare of cats in your area, please do consider donating directly to your local RSPCA. Anyhoo....back to the cuties.

adopt dont shop

This wasn't my outfit of choice, they take the health and hygiene of their cat-mates very seriously. Each cat pod is fully enclosed, and has some magic air system that pumps in fresh air, not recycled air-conditioning, to ensure no cross contamination between cats. Each pod has clear codes on the door, instructing you about the cat, their personality, their meds and their needs. Many of the little guys need you to be fully covered, no shoes, and a full suit. Everytime someone enters, to clean or cuddle, they use a brand new suit. This makes the daily cleaning quite a slow task as you can imagine!

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This is not an open cat rescue centre, you're not allowed to just wander in, or around. I was so impressed by how seriously they take their rescuing - if you want to adopt a cat or kitten, you're matched, like at a match-making service, with a cat that will best suit your requirements and expectations. You're then invited to meet maybe one or two options to see who steals your heart the most. This means you get the right cat for you and your home, and reduces a return rate. I was not in to adopt, I was being given a tour, to spread the word about adopting, not shopping. Let's just get that clear from the beginning.

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As I sat and stroked a mum and her kittens, I reflected on the reasons people may shop for a new pet, rather than adopting one of the thousands that need homes. Here are my thoughts:

1. Wanting a particular breed/attractiveness - We all like cute things. We all get led by trends. But I wish more people would stop and think, before buying that brand new kitten on Gumtree. I think that perhaps they wrongly believe that the main issue with shopping for a new kitten is that some people raise animals in horrible conditions just to make money. Therefore they feel fine buying, if they've seen the owner, and the kittens had a nice home. But its more than this. It's about funding an industry that keeps unwanted cats in catteries. Unwanted cats with nowhere to go. Creating and funding an industry that encourages inbreeding, animals that are often riddled with health problems, and life long challenges.

2. Believing that you get to create the kind of kitten you want - I met those kittens today, and already their personalities were so varied. One was so confident, full of so much more engery than the others, and others were more reserved, or less keen on interaction. Why take the gamble with a brand new unknown expensive kitten, when you can get matched with a kitten or cat that has the personality that will suit your household? The staff get to see the animals, and they really want to make a pairing that works, they're not out for a sale.

3. Believing you want a kitten, and that adopting kittens is rare - Kittens are really cute. They're so teeny tiny and small and silly. However, they're a lot of work. I've always said that when I got a cat I'd never get a kitten. I don't have the energy anymore! But I get why someone may want a kitten. But the RSPCA, and other centres have kittens. Teeny tiny kittens, just waiting to be old enough to find their forever home. The RSPCA charge £65 to adopt a cat, and they come neutured, de-wormed, de-fleaed and vaccinated. This is much cheaper than when you take your brand new bought kitten to the vet for the same treatments. They come microchipped too! You're not only doing good, you're saving money! And yes, they have kittens. You may need to go on a waiting list, but this isn't always about a lack of kittens, just that the kittens need to be old enough to be re-homed. So they'll be ready in batches. 

4. Worry about the home visit - I imagine some people are nervous about a home visit, imagining someone judging your home feels very invasive. I asked about visits, and they assured me it wasn't so much about judging a home, just getting to know the people, working out what cat would suit them, and helping advise the new cat owners how best to care for their new family member.  They're on your side! They want the cats to have new homes. They want to approve you!

5. Wanting to be impulsive - Sometimes we just want what we want. We don't want to wait, and going through the procedures of adopting a cat may seem a bit too complicated, when you could just wave a Visa card at a breeder. But I asked this branch how soon someone can get a cat, and was told sometimes it may be just be 2-3 days, including a home visit! So no excuse! Other centres may take a little longer, as its pretty staff-heavy, but definitely worth the wait.

6. Wanting a kitten (part two) - As I said before, kittens are somewhat over-rated. There are so many cats, ranging from 6 months to senior citizens who are waiting for a forever home. Maybe they were unwanted, perhaps their owner moved, or couldn't afford vet bills. A few may have been treated badly, but many just stumbled across bad luck. Take this dude for example:

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This handsome guy was abandoned at a tube station, which chronic diarrhoea. Turns out he has some rare contagious bug, and he needs some medications for a while. He's only about 8 months old, and my quick snaps through the glass don't do his stunning features justice. He looks mean, but he was just keen to say hello. He'll need some short-term fostering while he's on his medication, and then he'll be good to go, ready for his forever home. He'd make a fab pet, and although not a kitten, he's still a baby really!

fostering a cat rspca

Then I was introduced to this lady, and I went in for some cuddle time. She'd been sleeping in her little safety cage, but she instantly ran down for some strokes. I was told she was about 5 years old, and was suffering from some blood in her urine. The vets hadn't been able to find anything wrong with her, and they were worried it was just stress. That she just wasn't coping well with the environment, and she really needed a foster home, to see if she'd be happier there. Cats can't get rehomed when they've got blood in their urine, and cats also can't show off their best side when they're feeling anxious. So.....she needs a foster carer.....and she ran right up to me.........I think you can see where this goes.....read more tomorrow.....when I start life as a foster-carer.....

If you want to reach out to RSPCA Central, West and North East London, feel free to explore their website (contact details at the bottom for a direct email) or their facebook page is here.

Reclaiming my time at Reclaim the Night London

Back in January 2017 I went on the frankly fabulous Women's March in London, which I left feeling fired-up and excited. It felt like change was happening. Now we're reaching the end of the year, and the momentum feels like it's still strong with the #metoo awareness 'campaign'. Last night was the Reclaim the Night march in London, and I was keen to attend. However, I'd learned some lessons from the first march.

Lesson 1. Take a sign. I'd felt pretty naked without a placard in January, so I ran to the art shop to equip myself. While marching at the start of year, we'd taken notes of the successful signs, and talked about how we'd make one. I'd seen signs that didn't hold up well enough, or looked hard to hold, so I was keen to give it a go myself. Turns out, I made a pretty darn successful sign. It was easy to hold, survived the wind and easy to read. My main tip is to buy really strong tape. Gorilla tape. That sort of thing. 

reclaiming my time

Lesson 2. Wrap up warm. My feet froze back in January, so I layered up this time!

I had a few questions about what my sign meant, so if you're unsure of the reference, here is a short video! 

My walking buddy has a crutch, and so couldn't manage a sign, so a balloon provided an ideal way of still having a voice, without the weight or a placard.

#metoo

The march ended up with a few speeches and a disco (we sadly didn't stay for the disco!), but we heard from Stella Creasy MP, Nimco Ali, Becca Mordan, Justice for Women and the Not Buying It campaign. The Reclaim the Night call speaks to a variety of causes, and we heard about FGM, strip club licensing laws, women jailed for murdering violent partners and the Istanbul Convention. Fights that get labelled 'Women's Issues' are varied and wide, and we won't all agree with each other, and we can't all get on board with every cause. And all of that is ok. 

reclaim the night london 2017

As I was walking around London, marching with a sign, I reflected on why we should bother. I noticed how people stopped and looked at us. How they filmed us. How some cheered and clapped us. And do you know what? That's why we march. We're sharing a message, spreading an idea, and giving people a moment to stop and reflect why people would bother marching. Maybe a few will go home and google it. Maybe some people will decide to join a march next time. We turned up and said 'This matters to us. It should matter to you too."

I'm going to end with a discussion I had with one of the policemen who was chaperoning the march. I overheard a passer-by say to the policeman something along the line of "Hang in there chap", which I understood to mean the passerby saw us as annoying silly women, who the policeman had to waste time supervising. I had a bit of a loud moan about it, and the policeman told me about another passerby, who had commented sarcastically, "What a great use of tax payers money," and the policeman smiled when he told me his respond. "Yes. Yes it is."

Vuelio Blog Awards 2017

Last year I attended the Vuelio Blog Awards and had a blast, so I was more than happy to return for the Vuelio Blog Awards 2017. It came at an ideal time, as I'd recently made an impulsive purchase on a rare high-street shopping trip.

velvet jumpsuit monki reeree rockette

My mate had dared me to try on a velvet glittery jumpsuit, and oddly we both actually liked it. We hadn't expected to! So I'd returned home, and left the jumpsuit in its carrier bag for a couple of weeks. The Vuelio Awards seemed perfect for it; offering me a perfect way to blend pyjama comfort with black tie glamour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

vuelio blog awards 2017

As I was attending solo this year, I made sure to connect to other guests on twitter before hand, and arranged to meet some at a pub before hand. It's pretty scary walking into a huge event alone, so I always prefer to meet some friendly faces first! 

vuelio blog award 2017

Confession time, I'm not a blog reader, despite being a blog writer. I'm often embarrassed by this and feel guilty that I don't read more. But it is what it is. However, I read one blog, and have for years. I've complimented the writer on twitter (we follow each other on twitter but have never met). I've told him that he's the writer I wish I could be, and I remember once he complimented my style of writing (wish I could find that tweet!). Well, dear reader, I met him at dinner! He came and found me on my table and I finally got to meet the face behind the words of a blog I used to love. Well worth heading out on a cold dark November evening I'd say!