Thursday, 7 August 2014

Why MPs’ Tech Attitude Needs to Change by Lawrence Jones of UKFast



We’ve all heard about the growing skills gap in the technology sector and while small steps are being taken to protect the UK’s technological future by businesses affected by the gap themselves, we are still seeing outdated attitudes toward technology in the bowels of Westminster and I believe that’s hindering any progress we might make.

Our governments’ lack of real tech knowledge was highlighted by a recent software upgrade that left MPs confused and, unfortunately for the country’s reputation as a tech-leader, shamed in the press for the whole debacle. But there are actually politicians flagging up this issue, pointing out that some of their peers are still stuck in the digital dark ages. You’ve got Boris Johnson at the launch of a new tech space saying he’s forgotten how to download apps to his phone, along with regular instances of ministers using tech jargon incorrectly. Earlier in the year it was reported that, during a parliamentary debate, one minister described an IP address as “an intellectual property address”, which led fellow MP Julian Huppert to say that when it comes to technology, “The vast majority of MPs simply do not get it.”

Whilst I commend the handful of politicians who’ve got to grips with technology, the general lack of digital knowhow and the apathy across the board is of great concern. How can these people choose how to drive our country’s technology education forward when they don’t have a grasp of the basics? Whether it’s more training that’s needed or a shift to a ‘can do’ attitude, I don’t know, but it’s an issue that needs to be addressed. How damaging it is to our reputation as a digital nation, not only have our MPs lacking in knowledge, but also openly announcing it? I think they run the risk of making Westminster look completely out of touch whilst giving the impression that they’re completely clueless! I’m not sure how this affects the way other countries see us, but it can’t be the best advert for Britain, can it?

This absolutely isn’t to say that UK isn’t innovating new and exciting technology, as I think we do have an incredible amount of home-grown talent, and there have also been steps in the right direction when it comes to educating young people and creating the next generation of tech pioneers. The change in the IT curriculum at schools, for example, was a welcome move and I think the emergence of careers colleges is another one. UKFast is working alongside Oldham College to develop the UK’s first Digital Career College, which will help to equip young people with the skills that tech businesses actually need.

Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a discussion at the House of Commons with Lord Baker, who came up with the concept of career colleges, and it’s great to see initiatives like this. I also think the very fact that the government is asking for businesses’ contributions is a good sign and the career colleges are just one of many education projects that we are involved in. However, there’s a lot to be said for leading by example, and if the majority of MPs are struggling with technology, it’s a bit of a threat to their credibility. They’re undermining themselves.

Ultimately, I think it stands to reason that if we want to operate at the forefront of technology and compete at a global level, our government leaders need to make more of an effort to understand how the digital world works… or at least be able to download an app!

Lawrence Jones is the founder and CEO of Manchester-based internet hosting company UKFast. Providing colocation, cloud and managed hosting services to thousands of clients from its data centres, UKFast has earned recognition for its commitment to customer service. Lawrence, named Ernst & Young's Technology Entrepreneur of the Year in 2013, has taken the firm from a two person venture in 1999, to the 220 employee strong, £30m turnover business it is today. To find out more, visit UKFast.co.uk and follow Lawrence on Twitter.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Ending Your Marriage At Costa by Davey Stone




Author and blogger, Davey Stone writes about the 'Twin Peaks' side of life where occasional, everyday events can be unintentionally strange... and funny. It's not surprising that this recent post went viral.

I’ve only been at Costa for ten minutes, and I’m just about to write a really scathing attack on a well-known supermarket when I suddenly overhear:

“So, you wait until we’ve got four kids before you decide it’s her you want and not me.”

I don’t turn around. I sit back in my chair, very slowly, and put down the mocha I’d raised halfway to my lips.

Immediately, my mind scans back through the people I’ve seen arriving at Costa since I’ve been in my seat. This couple is obviously sitting just behind me, out of my sight, and there’s no way I’m turning around when they’re obviously about to have such a serious and painful discussion. I want to go and sit somewhere else, but the place is packed and the only other free chair will trigger my back problem.

So I stay seated….and I think. Immediately, I know which couple it is. I’m a people-watcher, and I distinctly remember them being two places behind me in the queue. I know this because the woman has a distinctive lilt to her voice which rather curiously makes her sound cheerful even when she’s saying things that must evidently be very difficult to say. She was also quite attractive (yes, I know, but I’m a guy and little Dave does a lot of my thinking for me) whereas her partner had a pinched sort of face, as if he was made of Playdough and someone had rolled out his head just to make the nose. If I had to guess, I’d say they were in their mid thirties…which is a bit impressive if they have four children.

All this runs through my head before she makes her next statement, in a much lower voice:

“I feel like I don’t matter to you at all.”

I suddenly get a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. I hate seeing people in pain, or hearing it. My mind tries to focus on the blog I’m writing, but I’m now officially grading this guy optimistically. I decide his name is Jim, and that he’s a good guy who has made a terrible mistake.

Then she says:

“Were you f*****g her while I was on the operating table?”

I’m really trying to root for Jim, but this new horror – coupled with the fact that he hasn’t said anything in reply – is quickly reclassifying him in my judgmental cortex as possibly a bit of a dick.

There’s a brief pause where neither of them say anything, and then she ploughs on.

“You were with her on my birthday, weren’t you? That’s the reason you got those theatre tickets for my mum and insisted I went with her. You filthy piece of s***.”

Part of my mind cannot believe they’re doing this at a Costa Coffee, but mostly I’m racing to alter my view of Jim, who has now slipped slightly below ‘not a nice guy‘ and is heading straight for ‘tosser’.

It’s then that I notice the old lady sitting opposite and slightly to the right of me. She has a coffee cup halfway to her mouth, and looks absolutely delighted. I mean, seriously delighted, by the whole situation. My jaw drops, and I just gawp at her. I can’t believe she is openly enjoying the misfortune of some poor couple she’s never even met, and I immediately decide she’s a wicked, cacky-fingered old crone who spends her nights stroking some tiny green iguana and writing poisonous letters to her grandchildren. I glare at her. I mean, really glare: teeth out and everything. She notices, offers me a strange half-smile and quickly returns her attention to the magazine she’d been reading (Spiteful Knitting Monthly).

The couple behind me haven’t said anything, and I’m guessing this means the situation is actually getting worse….something that turns out to be correct when she says:

“If I’m going to lose everything, I might as well just kill myself.”

The old woman looks up, and grins again. This is beyond belief. She can actually *see* them – she’s looking right at them – and she’s enjoying their pain. It’s just horrible. What’s WRONG with people in the world today? I stare her down, praying that Jim is about to make everything better for his poor, suffering partner, hoping against hope that she’s wrong and that he will say something, anything to save the situation for his children. Then she practically explodes:

“Aren’t you going to say ANYTHING? Seriously? Come ON: you’re obviously a terrific bloody actor, so SPEAK.”

“I’m sorry,” he says, finally. “I can’t really remember any of it…I just…”

Even from where I am, I feel her lean forward: I hear the coffee cups rattle as she hits the table. She says:

“Well you better start learning some of this stuff, because you were supposed to say ‘I still love you’ after I said the thing about the kids.”

I immediately spin round and look behind me. She has a book open. They’re rehearsing for a play. A play.

A f*****g play.

My heart is pounding, and I feel angry: actually, genuinely furious.

That’s when I look back at the old woman, who winks at me. It turns out she wasn’t enjoying a messy break up at all, she was enjoying the look on my face because she knew I thought it was all real.

I feel myself flush bright red, and I pick up my laptop.

I can’t write under this sort of pressure: that hideous old crone has made a complete fool out of me.

David Lee Stone is a best selling author with over 25 books in publication. He writes for children, teenagers and adults. To read his blog, visit blokecalleddave.wordpress.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidGrimstone and Facebook.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Sports Day Poem by Natalie Trice



Natalie Trice blogs about bags, coffee, shoes and her boys. This poem is her ode to Sports Day.

The grass is cut

The air is sweet

The mums and dads are there to meet

They talk about the day ahead

Some wish they had stayed in bed

The children walk out one by one

Fingers crossed no rain, just sun

The track is straight

The lines are bright

We hope our little ones will do alright

A sea of faces looking keen

A whistle sounds, sharp and mean

Legs and arms moving fast

Little red faces shooting past

A bean bag here

A hoop there

Please come first, if you dare

A sticker, a kiss

A photo for the ones who missed

A picnic lunch

Food to munch

Cakes shared, juice passed

A moments glory in which to bask

Sports day is so much fun

Don’t you agree, everyone?

This poem was originally published on Just Because I Love. Find out more about Natalie, the wanna be novelist and blogger, by visiting justbecauseilove.co.uk and www.passionateaboutwords.co.uk. You can also follow Natalie on Twitter @natalietrice.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Caroline Garnham, founder of Family Bhive, the one-stop shop for Trusted Advisors and UHNWIs



 ‘Good ideas’ are not good business. Coming up with a good idea especially one that is unique, does not mean that you have sown the seeds of a good business. A good business is finding what is being done already and doing it better. The UHNW community is a little understood minority with a lot of spending power.

From numerous conversations I have had over the years with wealthy individuals as a private client lawyer, they have said that what they want is one platform which provides them with all they need in one place at one time, filtered to their preference, which is why I created for them www.familybhive.com. But how to monetise it? So we looked around for what these people were doing already and then decided to do it better. Both communities want to meet, but the rich don’t want to go into a room full of advisors; they will, however, tolerate one or two sponsors. But they also want to meet each other – they are human just like everyone else and want to meet people like them.

There are now numerous organisers of events which host family office conferences, where the UHNW sit in rows and listen to speakers. But the rich do not like sitting in rows, listening to one talk after another, which is often a thinly veiled product push, they want to meet and discuss deals. This is why I host soirees at my home where the rich can meet and discuss deals for which a sponsor pays a handsome price. The advisors also want to meet each other in the hope that advisors will recommend them to their clients. They attend lots of ‘networking events’. In fact 20% of their time is spent meeting each other, but 40% say it is not very productive and that they always meet the same people time and again.

So this year we formed for them a Trusted Advisor Academy for them to meet a broad cross section of advisors, where they can hear inspirational speakers on how to make their marketing more productive. Both events are sponsored which is good business, we also provide them with the tools they need to improve their marketing; our handbook ‘Eight Simple Steps to Success’, and a ‘Guide on how to Present a Good Case Study’ – good business while at the same time teaching them what the UHNW community want from them! Furthermore it is simply not true that the UHNW don’t look at the websites, they are three times more likely to look at comparison websites than any other community.

Only 1-3% respond to a product push. Everyone who starts a business complains about how slow it is to start, but we sometimes forget that we are human. There is an innate fear in all of us of the influence of strangers, which is why regardless of what you are selling and how much it is needed, only 1-3% will respond to the first approach, whether a cold call or at a meeting. This means that 97% will either not remember or have been put off. This is why businesses to start with are always slow.

It takes 5-12 'touches' to overcome this innate fear of the influence of strangers. How is it possible to build up the requisite number of ‘touches’ when only 1-3% are showing any interest?  There are four ways to overcome this fear:

• Education - Education needs to be distinguished from training. Education is what does my target market want to know more about – and training is what do I want to teach them. If you are selling shoes, what interests the avid shoe buyer;  fashions in shoes over the years, the story of Hush Puppies, what goes into making a good shoe, what makes a shoe comfortable? Education must be pitched at the right level to gather interest.

• Aggregation - If there is a crowd of competing brands, such as at a trade fair, fear is reduced. Retailers understand this which is why similar shops cluster together; Bond Street for luxury, Tottenham Court Road for techy stuff and the Burlington Arcade for cashmere.

• Reciprocation - What can you give someone for free? What the wealth advisory industry forget is that a recommendation from their network to a client is something for free and it builds trust, as is a one hour free consultation. It also indicates that the seller is not just focussed on getting but on giving as well, which helps build trust.

• Case studies  - show me don’t tell me. The increase in interest in case studies is 1,227%, and everyone is doing it. Journalists put a human example into every article whether it is on insurance or the plight of Syria, charities do it all the time, as well as politicians. To increase interest further it should arouse emotion; fear, lust or empathy, have a plot; hero or connection, and social proofing, who else is doing it or has found it works.

Put all this together and you have the makings not just of a good idea , but also of a business.

For further information please visit www.familybhive.com. Caroline Garnham is a former lawyer and service broker to the ultra-high net worth community. When a multi-millionaire neighbour complained about the lack of multiple services for the ultra high net worth community, this inspired Caroline to create Family Bhive, an exclusive networking club that caters for the UK’s wealthiest, connecting the UK’s wealthiest with the calibre of advisors who are best placed to manage such substantial affluence - a one stop shop for the rich, if you will, unifying lawyers, accountants, hedge fund managers and reputation specialists, right through to exclusive travel agents, real estate experts, art dealers, auction houses and private plane companies.

Caroline’s first book, Eight Steps to Success: a Culture of Care, is published in September, but a more condensed manual is out now.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Join In and ITV team up to support local sport



The team at Join In blogs about this summer's initiative to get more people involved in sport.

From the World Cup in Brazil to the Tour de France, we have an amazing month of sport ahead. But  no one lifts a World Cup or wears a Yellow Jersey without starting out at a local sports club – and being supported by lots of incredible volunteers.

That’s why ITV are teaming up with Join In. They want to inspire and empower their viewers to get active, be a part of the action, and make a difference in their local communities.

The new ITV Local Heroes campaign aims to encourage more volunteering in local sport – with a target of generating interest in volunteering in community sport from a further 100,000 new volunteers.

Our research suggests that every volunteer allows 12 participants to enjoy community sport (read our story here), so a boost of that kind could mean up to 1.2 million new participants involved in sport in their local clubs.


The ITV Local Heroes campaign kicked off on 4 June with a promotional TV advert (above) during England’s pre-World Cup friendly against Ecuador starring England football legend Ian Wright. The promo for the ITV Local Heroes campaign will highlight the importance of volunteers within community sport.

Local Heroes will also be brought to life in ITV Fever Pitch, ITV’s World Cup beach football fan park in Manchester. During the World Cup, games will be screened every match day in a beach soccer stadium – and in the mornings, a community programme will run where schools from the North West will come down to receive beach soccer lessons from professionals.

“Join In is thrilled to be working in partnership with ITV,” says our Chief Executive, Rebecca Birkbeck.

“ITV Local Heroes will put sport at the heart of communities by encouraging thousands of people to volunteer at local sports clubs and groups across the UK.

“We believe that this collaboration will inspire 100,000 new volunteers to lend a hand and encouraging more people into sport – and ultimately leading happier and healthier lives.”

For more information and to sign up to become a Local Hero, see ITV’s Local Heroes site and information on Join In, visit www.joininuk.org, on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Beyond The School Run


As the kids take a break from their studies, can the summer be a time to rediscover our talents and skills? Louise Webster, Founder of Beyondtheschoolrun.com thinks so.



I was stopped this morning by a mother at my son’s school, who I have past regularly for the past year.  She stopped me and asked if I was the person who set up Beyondtheschoolrun.com and told me she had been following it since launch. She said her youngest child will be starting at school in September and now seemed like the time for her to start thinking about engaging with her skills again and yet how would she do that within the hours available to her.

It made me think about how important this summer break from school can be for us all in starting to think, question, investigate ways in which this can work. This is not a well-trodden route (as I know) so we need to create new paths, explore, test and keep going.  Each of us will make a difference in our choices and inspire others. I was inspired this week when I met a mother from my daughter’s nursery who has been running her social media business in the evenings and is ready to grow it once her daughter starts school this September.  We really can learn from one another, share our experiences and grow together if we can only just open up the conversation.  

Let’s make this summer a time of fun, sun and exploration!  I for one will be looking to share as many opportunities, ideas and connections to you via the website and newsletters this Summer – so just register at www.beyondtheschoolrun.com and together we can make the greatest difference to our lives and the lives of others.

Follow Louise and Beyond The School Run on Twitter and Facebook.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

2014 - The Year of the Women Entrepreneurs by Lisa Gagliani, CEO of Bright Ideas Trust



Women still haven’t reached true equality with men in the business world. This was confirmed when the UK government recently set a target of 25% female representation on the board of FTSE 100 companies by 2015. Although the figure has now reached 20.7%, predictions say that the target may fall short by just 1%.

It is a similar case for small/medium businesses and startups, with fewer women founding or managing businesses than men.

There always has been, and continues to be, a shortage of female-led companies. However, it is becoming clear that change is slowly but surely happening. The number of women being promoted to higher roles, taking on the role of managing director or starting their own business is growing. In fact, Forbes magazine went as far to say that 2014 will be the breakout year for female entrepreneurs.

But the question remains, why is the number of women in business still not equal to men? In order to find solutions and answers, it’s important to look at the obstacles that women face, from balancing work and family, to securing financing and gaining support.

As CEO of Bright Ideas Trust, a charity that helps people start their own businesses and learn essential business skills, I have spoken to many women in senior roles, who express the difficulties in balancing a home life with work and how they feel guilty about missing important family events because of their job. Starting their own business and feeling in control of their own time is a tremendous boost for women to retain their talent and contribute towards the economy.


But lack of confidence in themselves and their business startup can greatly affect their chances of achieving success. Women-led startups generally ‘compensate’ by researching ideas more thoroughly and seek out the support of others as defacto mentors. This tendency can and should be seen as an advantage and make women-led startups more investible.

Through continued support and guidance, a woman’s business can flourish. This can be through mentors and trusted advisers who can offer insight from many different industries. I have always seen huge value from this and it’s why we ensure all our beneficiaries at Bright Ideas Trust are assigned a mentor and are offered business lessons to help them learn and succeed.


Moreover, funding is crucial to many in order to sustain the growth of a business and even small loans can make a big difference. But when it comes to finance, women can face particular hurdles. This can be because of a lack of collateral, to feeling uncomfortable in asking for a large amount of funding, to ingrained gender bias – the nurturer clinging too tightly to the purse strings (unless we are buying shoes!). Add this to the fact it is now extremely difficult to borrow money from the bank, and you can understand why getting the right amount of money a startup may be difficult.

However, acquiring funding is less of a challenge now due the Government backed scheme run by The Start Up Loans Company, delivered by many, including us. We can fund many startups, no matter the product or service they sell. This scheme has made applying and receiving funding less difficult for entrepreneurs, and in turn we are seeing an influx in successful startups, run equally by men and women. We can already see this at Bright Ideas Trust, with 45% of the startups being women.

The correlation between the rise in charities and organisations that support people who want to start their own businesses, and the rise in women-led businesses, is no coincidence. Yes, more progress still needs to be made to encourage more women to conquer their inhibitions and follow their dreams in the business world but the future looks bright for women entrepreneurs.

Women’s empowerment will be front and centre in 2014 as more companies, communities and countries invest in female entrepreneurship. And I’m convinced that startups that are run by women, will in turn lead to a rise in number of investments in other companies led by women. Moreover, female business leaders will inspire others, make flexible working the norm, not lose senior talent at board level and encourage more to pursue their dreams and start their own companies.

Lisa Gagliani is CEO of Bright Ideas Trust, a charity that helps young people in London who aren’t in employment, education or training or who haven’t had the same chances as the rest of society to start their own companies and learn business skills that will stay with them for life. It helps by providing funding as well as advice and support from its team of dedicated business mentors and expert advisors. Since January 2013, Bright Ideas Trust has been delivery partners for The Start Up Loans Company. To date, Bright Ideas Trust has helped over 120 new startups achieve funding worth £500,000 and expert mentoring from the commercial world. Follow Bright Ideas  Trust on Twitter and Facebook.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Blogging Can Drive Your Business… If You Know How


The internet is used by millions of people every single day. They’re browsing the web, taking in all sorts of information, hanging out on social media and shopping for the best deals.


They are your target market. You know they’re there, but you just can’t get them to notice you and your website; how do you attract their attention?

You can advertise, sure, but that cuts into your budget quite a lot. You can use social media (and probably already are), but again, it’s hard to attract their attention because you’re limited to what you can share and talk about.

This is especially true for small startups and those branching out online for the first time. The internet can be a harsh and scary place (I know, I’ve been there!).

If you don’t have a blog, you’re traffic will suffer

The first thing you should be asking yourself in today’s online age is, “Does my business have a blog?”

If you’ve answered no, then where have you been?! According to QuickSprout, companies with active blogs receive 97% more leads, and 61% of consumers feel better about a company that has a blog.

For full infographic, visit QuickSprout

Even well-established and recognised brands use company blogs. They don’t necessarily need to. But they still do. And here’s why:

1. Blogging increases traffic to your site, and all that traffic has the potential to be turned into customers.

If you’re providing valuable content, and are promoting that content properly (don’t worry, we’ll discuss in detail this further down), then you’re going to receive a large amount of traffic that you definitely wouldn’t have reached through advertising alone.

All of this traffic has the potential to be converted into customers.

2. Blogging is a form of free advertising

Your blog is your very own platform to say whatever you want to. You can promote your latest products, share your industry expertise and give your business a personality.

3. Blogging helps with your SEO efforts

Each new blog post is another indexed page on your site. This tells Google, and other search engines, that your site is active, which is one of Google’s factors when it comes to ranking your site.

What’s more, blog posts allow you to target and rank for certain keywords. This doesn’t mean writing a blog post with the sole purpose of keyword stuffing – that will get Google’s attention for all the wrong reasons.

4. Blogging makes your Social Media efforts a lot easier

Blogs and social media work in partnership with each other, to make your job a lot easier.

It can be difficult to know how to tackle social media; finding interesting and valuable content is a pain, and when you do find something of value, you ultimately end up driving traffic away from your site and your business.

However, if you’re the one posting interesting and valuable content on a blog that you own, not only are you keeping the traffic in your ball court, you’re also giving people another valid reason to follow your social media pages in the first place.

“But I have a blog, and I haven’t had any of these benefits”

Having a blog is a great start, but that’s just the beginning. The next questions you have to ask yourself, are “Is my business blog active?”, and “Am I promoting my blog posts effectively?”

It’s all very well and good to have a blog these days, but if you just publish a couple of posts every now and then sit back and wait for the traffic to pour in, you’re doing it wrong.

Top 5 Common Business Blogging Mistakes

Mistake #1: Not promoting your content

How easy is it for people to find your blog? Do they even know you posted some really cool industry tips yesterday?


Promoting your blog and your blog posts is essential for getting traffic and reaching out to new audiences. People aren’t going to come to you. You need to go to where they hang out online and place your awesome content right in front of them:

Promote your blog posts on social media (Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, StumbleUpon etc.)
Join Google+ communities and Facebook groups
Use hashtags (#)
Reach out to influencers in your industry, asking them to comment/share your post
Guest blog on relevant and authoritative sites in your industry

Mistake #2: Inconsistency

You need to be regular with your blog posting. Decide how many blog posts you can write a week and stick to it.

A consistent blog is an active blog (remember how much Google likes active sites?), and relays to your audience that you are dynamic and up to date.

As people learn your publishing schedule, they will become more likely to subscribe and/or follow you.

Mistake #3: Being too self-involved

Yes, do include your latest company news in your blog. But don’t make your business the only thing you talk about.

This is a huge mistake I see all the time, and the terrible truth is that no one cares.

The trick is to think about what your audience wants. Inspire them, share tips and information they can’t get anywhere else. Answer their burning questions and provide them with useful material.

Mistake #4: Boring design and layout

You need to make your blog posts look pretty. It may sound silly put like that, but if your blog posts contain no images, and have large chunks of text that haven’t been broken up, you’re going to see a high bounce rate.

If possible, use a featured image that is as engaging as possible. Avoid using logos and stock images if you can, and use sub-heading and bullet points to break up large paragraphs of text.

For full infographic, visit MDG ADVERTISING

Mistake #5: Missing the point

Remember why you started your blog in the first place? To increase traffic and by doing so, to increase your sales.

You need to convert your new audience, by using strong call-to-actions (CTAs).

A CTA is an image or line of text that prompts your traffic to literally take action and converts your audience to an engager or potential customer.

For some ideas and examples of effective CTAs, HubSpot has a great blog post that I’d recommend.

Start blogging today

Create a blog or look over your existing one
Decide how many posts you’ll make a week and when you will publish them
Brainstorm original post ideas that provide value to your audiences
Decide how and where you’ll promote your blog posts
Include a CTA

Remember, blogging won’t get you heaps of new traffic overnight, but after time you should notice an increase overall.

Blogging is only one branch of your marketing strategy, and won’t replace other traditional methods of advertising.

Got something to add? Disagree with one of my points? Comment below to share your experiences.

Louise Dickens is an experienced blogger with a degree in journalism, who currently works as a Content Marketer for Aptitude.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Travel Photography: Your Passport to the World by Maxine Bulloch



Not that you may need an excuse to, but carrying a camera can feel like a license to talk to anyone.  They say that strangers are friends you haven’t yet met, and that is so true.

There’s a common perception that travel photography means going away to far-flung places, or certainly going on umpteen holidays, taking pictures of astounding scenery, or capturing a culture far removed from what is usual for you. As nice as this would be, it is on the whole inaccessible and unrealistic to most, as there are things such as budget and responsibilities to consider, as well as that little thing called a job which we do to support our hobbies and interests.


Here’s the thing: the only difference between travel photography and ‘staying put’ photography is that generally you’re more inclined to take pictures when you’re in a foreign circumstance to capture that ‘foreignness’. Which means really that if you want to, you can find foreignness and points of difference in your everyday life and consider travel a daily occurrence. Even a trip to the shops can be classed as travelling, and when you bear this in mind, the possibilities for travel photography are endless!

A great idea I heard about a while ago is to make sure you always have a trip lined up. Not only is it something to look forward to, but the moment you’ve booked tickets the trip feels like it’s started already. So far this year I have been on one big trip to Kazakhstan, and lots of smaller trips around the UK.


Kazakhstan was incredible, surprising and different. Obviously I wanted to capture much of it on camera, but one of the things I’ve learnt is that you have to be mindful of the circumstances you’re in when you have a camera in your hand. Traveling solo makes you hyper aware of yourself and the situation, and to a certain extent you want to remain inconspicuous. I like to observe and be the fly on the wall, but a lot of the time you get noticed by others, and your presence can dilute the impact of that which you’re trying to capture.  It is a tricky dilemma, but I managed to devise an alternative way of capturing what I saw which was the ‘shot from the hip’ method, where I didn’t look through the camera to see how the picture was composed but rather held it at hip height and hit the shutter button whenever something ahead looked interesting.

Of course this didn’t always result in a good shot: a picture of three pairs of black boots, or a street worker throwing salt towards the camera to clear snowy roads: but I did also get lucky with a straight shot of a Kazakh lady perfectly posing at a bus stop in her fur coat and hat, and a pigeon feeder hiding amongst the trees. Of course, the boot and salt photos were not what I envisioned but actually the imperfections of these images make me like them even more.


 Projects such as these give a focus to photographing adventures in a foreign country, and I would really recommend setting yourself on-going projects that can be continually added to. You’ll find that the theme and way you look at it evolves, and makes the whole project richer.

Smaller trips this year have included weekends in Brighton, Norfolk and Broadstairs, as well as day excursions around London including the beautiful Columbia Road Flower Market in Hackney. I’ve looked at themes like the old shop fronts along the beachfront in Brighton, and got portraits of the flower sellers in the market.


My current project is called #wetravel.  I take portraits of people I stop on the street and ask them a few questions related to travel. I’ve met some amazing people so far including one guy who speaks Shona (the native language of Zimbabwe) and British Sign; a lady who leads tour groups around the world, and a man who spent time when he was young rearing bulls in the outback of Australia.

This is it really, the best thing about travel photography - the chance to meet new people and learn about their lives.

Maxine Bulloch is a freelance photographer in London, England, working in PR during the day. For more information, visit www.maxinebulloch.com. Follow Maxine on Twitter and Pinterest.


Friday, 4 April 2014

12 Marathons, 12 Months by Becky Beard



The 28th August 2014, will mark four years since I had an accident that left me wheelchair bound, unable to walk and talk or even bathe alone. For three months, I suffered from seizures every 3-8 minutes caused by fluid on my brain after being crushed at a festival. Doctors were unsure of the cause and as a result, could not tell my family if I’d walk or regain my independence.

To say I’ve since made a full recovery would be an understatement. On April 13th, I will run my forth marathon of 2014!

I started running in January 2013, after being offered a last minute place in the Virgin Money London Marathon by the charity, Breast Cancer Care. With just 88 days until the race, I was repeatedly told how ‘mental’ I was for accepting the challenge, mainly because I couldn’t even run to the end of the road when I said ‘yes’. After the initial shock had faded, everyone around me was very supportive and helped me to raise over £11,000 in those 11 weeks. Having lost my Nan to breast cancer, and living with a family member with secondary breast cancer (which can be treated but not cured), my family is no stranger to the support that Breast Cancer Care provides.

I completed the marathon in just over five hours and within seconds of crossing the finish line, I wanted to do something else to raise more money and awareness. I spent many late nights secretly planning the concept of Team Run 12.


Several months after the marathon, I announced to my family and friends that I was going to run twelve 26.2 mile marathons in 12 months. I committed myself to raising at least £25,000 for Breast Cancer Care and Cancer Research UK. I then began the search for six people who would each join me for one of the twelve marathons.

Months of training commenced, various injuries left me bed bound but I made it to the first start line in January this year and ran 17 laps of a 1.63 mile course. I then ran a tiny cross-country marathon, got very lost en route to the finish line and ended up running over 30 miles in gale force wind and rain so icy that it left red marks on my skin. The third marathon wasn’t any easier. I ploughed round the course, at times knee deep in mud, after a week bed-bound with the flu. After several weeks rest I’m feeling prepared to go back to where this all started: The Virgin Money London Marathon.

I often get asked if I ever want to just give up. There are days when I wake up and think ‘I just can’t do this anymore’, runs when I just want to stop after half a mile and walk back home, times when eating my body weight in carbs before a race is more of a chore than a guilty pleasure and days when blisters stop me from being able to even wear shoes. In those moments, I have to force myself to remember why I am pushing my body and mind to their absolute limits.


The reason?  Someone is diagnosed with cancer every two minutes. Cancer Research UK is working to find a cure, to save more lives. They are working on treatments and promoting awareness to help improve survival rates
.
Breast cancer is the UK’s most common cancer and over 55,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with the disease every year.  Breast Cancer Care is the only specialist support charity helping the thousands of women waking up to the harsh reality of breast cancer across the country every day. Its specialist nurses, local services and emotional support network mean there’s always someone to turn to for information and support.

Both charities are making a huge impact on the lives of those living with cancer and Team Run 12 and I want to be part of that. To make a difference.


Alongside the fundraising, I’m actively trying to encourage those around me to be more active and do more for charities they support; and whilst my blistered, toe-nail-less feet might not be the best advert, it seems to be working. I may be living a very different lifestyle to that of your average 22-year old but in years to come I will be able to look back on this year with pride and a great sense of achievement. Pain is temporary, pride is forever.

If you’d like to follow Becky's journey, please visit www.teamrun12.co.uk, like on Facebook or follow on Twitter @team_run12. You can also make a donation here: uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/teamrun12.


Friday, 28 March 2014

The Hot Tub



As a spa recommendation service, when it first came to starting up a blog for Spabreaks, there were two routes that we could have gone down. We could have written about spas all day, every day, or we could talk about wellbeing in the way it actually affects us every day.

As a brand, Spabreaks is very down to earth. We work with a luxury product, yes, but the variety is sweeping and offers something for everyone. Our wider belief is in the idea that wellbeing should be enjoyable, accessible, and definitely shouldn’t be intimidating, which, when faced with an ultra bendy yoga instructor who can touch her little toe with her nose, can very much be the case.  At the core of our belief is the idea that your wellbeing isn’t something that you can put to one side, only dedicating an hour or so to it at the end of the day, like the washing up or something; it’s what you’re living all the time!

So with all of this in mind, The Hot Tub was born of a desire to start a positive conversation and has since become a lifestyle platform with everything from spa reviews and treatment explanations (because most people don’t know what Shirodhara is until they’ve had it, and why should they?), to recipes, exercise tips, book reviews, tried and tested products, and celebrity interviews.  It has become a place to explore and discuss and share all the little things that individuals and brands and we ourselves are doing, that contribute to or help with our everyday lives.


Happily, it seems to be a conversation that other people want to join as well, and so it is that guest writers and interviewees have included Sally Gunnell, Natasha Devon, Rosi Prescott, Martel Maxwell, Emily Hartridge, Jessica Ennis-Hill, and Gaby Roslin, to name a few.  Everyone who is a part of it has given a unique and interesting contribution to the wider wellbeing chat, and many also joined in with our #bekindtoyou Women’s Wellness Week in September 2013, which encouraged women in particular to do one thing to be kind to themselves every now and again.

A number of our contributors also come from our social networking platforms.  We love hearing from Spabreakers on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest in particular, about the recipes they have made up, triumphs and tribulations, their favourite books, favourite products, and lots of other areas of their lives besides.  We have even had a few pieces called ‘A Day in a Life’, which is always about an ongoing condition that people are living with such as MS, Diabetes and Depression.  These are all people who have come to us through the wider community and are happy to share their experiences, which is a wonderfully supportive thing to do.

Body confidence and general feel-good factor are, of course, an essential ingredient in The Hot Tub’s message, but we try to keep it down to earth, or at least acknowledge when something is faintly ridiculous. Perhaps the most important thing about The Hot Tub is that, while we endeavour to be objective at all times, we operate on a general principal of ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’.  It’s all too easy to tear down people and their ideas; we’re not interested in being like that and try to make everything either positive, informative, or helpful in some way, even if it’s just because it’s something that’s quite interesting to know – for example, I love knowing that Jessica Ennis-Hill wears a full face of make-up to train, just because she loves make-up!

For more information about Hot Tub, visit hottub.spabreaks.comSpabreaks.com. Follow on Twitter @spabreaks and Facebook.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

You Know You’re A Blogger When… by Ellen Arnison



The other morning I found myself standing at the kitchen sink. Three inches of cold scummy water glinted in the sunlight. Congealed grease had set like the skin of a lizard stretched between waterlogged crust islands.

So, what was my instinctive response?

Tip the nasty mess out and reclaim shiny stainless steel with hot blasts and soap? Or leave it to answer the siren call of inbox?

No. Neither.

Instead I was compelled to find my camera to capture the interesting colours on the slime. Yes, blogging about how pretty my slutty housekeeping was turning out was more tempting than restoring some hygiene or doing some paid work.

I realise that it's probably only one of things you notice happening to you after you start a blog.

Here are some others

You know you're a blogger when you tell the entire internet things your husband doesn't even know.

You know you're a blogger when your husband communicates in search terms he knows you'll find on analytics.

You know you're a blogger when you start telling friends what you've been doing and they say: "Yes, I already know, we read it on your blog."

You know you're a blogger when you regularly get invited to events hundreds of miles away that you probably wouldn't fancy going to if they were next door.

You know you're a blogger when the postie thinks you have a serious retail therapy habit during review season.

You know you're a blogger when the up-side of something going wrong is juicy blog fodder.

You know you’re a blogger when you’re hungry but you have to take a photo of your lunch before you can eat it.

You know you’re a blogger when your wardrobe – and your children’s – contain an increasing number of items you’ve reviewed.

You know you’re a blogger when something hasn't officially happened until you blog about it.

You know you’re a blogger when a sense of calm descends when you press ‘publish’.

You know you’re a blogger when you ask your husband to take a photo of your tattoo and he doesn’t even ask why.

Ellen Arnison is a freelance journalist, blogger and writer. To find out more, visit ellenarnison.com and bloggingworks.co.uk. Follow Ellen on Twitter @Ellen27.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Why You Should Employ A Mum by Donna White, Mummy Central



I've just returned to full-time work after eight years at home, caring for my two boys. That’s a long spell in the wilderness, wiping snot and being forced to watch The Wiggles!

Before motherhood beckoned, I was a career high-flier, earning the same as my husband, managing a team, and getting opportunities to travel the world. I say “was” because that might as well have happened in another life. You see, in the eyes of your typical employer, as soon as you make the decision to spend some time as a stay-at-home mum, you might as well wipe out your skills and experience like wiping chalk off a blackboard.


There are so many highly-talented women out there, taking low-skilled jobs or not returning to work at all, because employers fail to recognise their worth, and won’t be flexible to allow them to fit work around their family commitments.

Me? I suppose I got lucky. Lucky enough to get a job on half my former pay. But with training in new skills that interest me, and which I believe I can build on. I have to prove myself all over again. Starting afresh at 40 is an interesting experience. But listen, I’m not bitter. Nor am I saying mums deserve special treatment. But if she’s qualified for a job – and you’re able to give her a little wiggle room – this is why taking on a mum might just be the best investment you ever made:

She’s never ill - There’s nothing better for building up an immunity to germs than being knee-deep in mucky toddlers. And besides, after so long in a job where there’s no option to take time off sick, a mum doesn’t take to bed with the sniffles. If this woman coughed up a lung, she’d shove it back in and continue with the job at hand.

She has no ego - She’s all about getting results – not accolades. Her life is now about putting the needs of others first. There’s no posturing or looking to be top dog from this lady.

She makes lemonade - Not literally. But you know the old saying: “When life gives you lemons…”
Provide limited resources and impossible schedules and she laughs in your face. Welcome to her world. She still gets things done – and wonders what the hell everyone else is complaining about!

She chooses her battles - Petty squabbles are not her thing. She’s spent enough time dealing with them, and knows not to get involved in office dramas. She’s aware of when to go in all guns blazing – and when not to sweat the small stuff.

She’s eternally grateful - As her workmates are dreaming of a life of domestic bliss, she’s been there and knows it ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. You’ve saved her from a Groundhog Day of soft plays and soiled nappies. And she won’t forget it. She’s so enthusiastic to be back in the world of grown-up conversation and cappuccinos, if you asked her for a kidney she’d give it to you.

She wears many hats - Ever heard an employee whine "but that’s not in my job description." You won’t hear it from her. At home she’s a personal assistant, nutritionist, peace envoy, budget manager, stylist, chauffeur, party planner and so much more. This woman rolls with the punches. If she can do it for you, she will.

To find out more about Donna White, visit her blog Mummy Central. Follow her on Twitter @mummy_central, Facebook and Google+.

Friday, 28 February 2014

What’s London Reading? by Aoife Mannix



It’s been nearly a hundred years since Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were gunned down in the streets of Sarajevo.  Few at the time could have predicted that this assassination would lead to the First World War and the death of over sixteen million people.  Not to mention the complete transformation of the Western world and the power structures that govern it. 2014 is the centenary of one of history’s most deadly conflicts and an extraordinary number of events are taking place across London to mark this dark and troubled time.


Cityread London is an annual month long celebration of literature in the capital.  While the start of World War I may not be anything to celebrate, the huge number of fascinating and compelling books that have been written about it certainly is. Cityread London’s ambition is to get the whole of London reading the same book.  Faced with the enormous task of choosing one of the many brilliant novels about WWI, we picked two. Louisa Young’s My Dear I Wanted To Tell You and Michael Morpurgo’s Private Peaceful.

As well as being a deeply moving love story, My Dear I Wanted To Tell You is a book that connects the suffering of the Londoners who went to the front with the suffering of those who had to stay behind.  It offers profound insights not only into life in the trenches but on how the war impacted on the society of the time.  It looks at class, politics, power and the position of women.  It shows how no aspect of ordinary life was left untouched by a conflict that continues to impact on us today.

Private Peaceful is a novel for younger readers that focuses on the lives of two teenage brothers sent to the front.  It shows how the First World War destroys their youth and how they are the victims of a society that exploits those who are poor and vulnerable.  It asks important questions about loyalty, bravery and betrayal as well as what kind of world do we want our young people to grow up in?

It’s perhaps tempting to think of World War One as something horrific that happened a long time ago.  Yet a hundred years is just on the edges of living memory.  Terrorist attacks, like the one that killed Archduke Ferdinand, are still very much with us.  Europe is still a deeply divided continent with huge economic and social problems.  It’s difficult for us to imagine the ramifications of current events.  This morning I listened on the radio to the speculation about where the former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych has fled to and what the Russians will do now the Americans have warned them that any kind of military intervention could have serious consequences. How do we know if this is just one more crisis that will pass or if we stand on the brink of the abyss?

What literature offers us is a way to imaginatively explore the past that is not dusty or dull or irrelevant.  It helps to bring back to life the suffering and courage of ordinary people caught up in events that made little sense to them at the time.  It gives a perspective that allows us to experience what it was like for them and thus to imagine what it might be like for us in the future. Join Cityread London in celebrating the literature of the First World War by reading the books and taking part in the huge array of workshops, reading groups, performances and events that we are running this April.  To find out more visit our websiteFacebook page and Twitter.

Aoife Mannix is the official blogger for Cityread London. She is the author of four collections of poetry and a novel. She has been poet in residence for the Royal Shakespeare Company and BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Unsung Heroes by Anya Harris



The chances are that you know a single mum somewhere, or even a single dad. The chances are also that they are not particularly young, especially unintelligent or went out of their way to find themselves in the position that they are.

Yet, when one hears the term 'single parent' coined, it would not be unreasonable to immediately conjure the all together common image of a young girl, being raised on a council estate, having her babies incentivised by financial gain via benefits from the state.

And it would not be unreasonable because such a portrayal of fecklessness is carefully constructed by the media, despite it actually being a reflection of a mere 2% of those to whom the label really belongs.

This means the majority of us are wholly misrepresented to quite a major degree!

Some of us might take that less quietly than others. We might not be shouting about that awful statistic from the rooftops - our stamina is good, but let's not stretch it - but we might make a little noise in our own corner of the World Wide Web. Which is what I do.

We are still parents with high aspirations for our children. Our intelligence doesn't plummet in some sort of warped inverse relationship to rising divorce rates, yet you'd be forgiven for thinking so because of the way in which we're represented. Many of us are more or less middle aged and muddling along as best we can, in the same ways other mums and dads do. Yes, it's harder, but it's not as hard (or as damaging for the kids) as being in an unhealthy marriage, so we go it alone.

I run Stories of Single Mums as part of my blog - written by warm and inspiring, wonderful women, who have - generally unwittingly - found themselves parenting alone - even for just a while.  Most importantly, it showcases people who are nothing short of unsung heroes, quietly sassy, getting on with raising their youngsters to the best of their ability despite their circumstances.

Some of them have lost their husbands to illness, others, like me, have endured an irretrievable relationship breakdown with our children's father, but each individual voice is very far removed from those knowing no better than blindly milking the system.

We don't need stigma - we've been through enough. We're more easily pleased than most, more grateful for a cuppa and some company, or a glass of something stronger with someone than you can possibly imagine. So that single mum you know at the school gates, or even that single dad somewhere, give 'em a smile, or an invitation over and the chances are you'll make yourself a feisty new friend!

To find out more about Anya Harris and her blog, visit Older Single Mum Blog. Anya can also be found blogging at The Healer Blog and of course, you can follow Anya on Twitter @anyaharris01 and Google+.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

What's A Mermaid Doing Outside A Derbyshire Pub by Elisabeth Stoppard

The story behind this photograph


After weeks of the pub car park flooding caused by a blocked culvert and heavy rain, the pub creative team got together over some serious Real Ale. What we needed was a bit of a peaceful but inspired protest to the authorities. We envisaged Moses and the parting of the waves, Noah and his Ark and even a sighting of Moby Dick! However, I remembered my newly acquired Los Angeles vintage lounge singer's dress that I has just purchased from Etsy. People had remarked that I looked like a mermaid whilst I was wearing it (though I had bought it for a friend's 'black tie with a hint of mad hatter' birthday dinner party in November - I went as 'the caterpillar' with peacock feather antennae and holding a hookah... and at midnight I turned into a butterfly with some attachable wings!)

I live in a very creative village in the Derbyshire Dales, which is surviving and thriving due to a great sense of community spirit and dogged determination. We have recently fought against and defeated some awful schemes that were thrown at us that would be damaging to the environment and to village life. We are currently restoring the beautiful historic field barn landscape that has been devastated over recent years through quarry blasting and the demise of hill farming. When we won Village of the Year (England), one of the judges proclaimed that we were in fact a very active village, edging on hyperactive.

So, it seemed natural that we thought a mermaid outside the flooded  pub, holding a pint would be quite fun and may be put a point across.

The Derby Telegraph picked the story up and within a couple of days the council had set to work unblocking the culvert.

I have to add, that part of our success as a village with projects and protests, is due to the fact that we have very good fixed wireless broadband (20 mb per second), great web designers, a good online community and a couple of brilliant pubs that provide us with live music, cinema, meals and a general creative and fun meeting space. And whereas at one time most villagers had to commute to nearby towns and cities to work, leaving the village a bit lifeless, remote working is indeed now alive and kicking in all the converted old pig styes and stone sheds. Some of us even work by laptop in the newly opened cafe. So broadband and the web has changed village life enormously over the past decade, and it's getting better all the time.

By Elisabeth Stoppard. To find out more about the Bonsall Field Barn-Project, visit www.facebook.com/bonsall.barnproject

Friday, 7 February 2014

Ideas versus Truth by Jo Furnival



I come from a place where it’s all about the idea. If you’ve got a great idea, the rest (doesn’t always, but more often than not) will follow. Unsurprisingly, the company for which I’ve spent the past nearly 4 years devising and executing creative communications campaigns is called All about the Idea. But for the past 2 weeks, I’ve been consulting for another business; a strategic insights company called Truth. No prizes for guessing what they’re all about.

In communications, an idea is often the difference between something that sparks media interest and the other 99.9% of so-called stories that die a death, unloved in a journalist’s inbox. A great idea can turn nothing into something; a nugget into a story. And you know what they say about truth: It should never get in the way of a good story.

Thus, it’s this relationship between truth and storytelling that is of particular interest to me at the moment, as I look at things from a slightly different angle; the proverbial turd unpolished. And as I check what’s trending on Twitter, watch the videos that are doing the rounds on Facebook and finally read what the ‘snail media’ have to say about it all in the papers that evening, it occurs to me that perhaps this truth vs. tale interplay is topical outside of the Jo microcosm…

Buzzfeed cries out to the digital masses, “This Short Film Shows Just How Terrifying Life Is For LGBT People In Russia”, ESPN cites “draconian laws of suppression” and “significant peril”, while Marketing magazine reports, “Sochi 2014: How sponsors have responded to calls for them to defend gay rights”. But a brief exchange with Martyn Andrews put the truth magnifying glass over the story.

Andrews’ headline, “Media hype around propaganda law has ‘negative effect’ on Russian LGBT community”, is not exactly what one might expect from an openly gay (he actually came out on Russian television) TV presenter and journalist permanently residing in Sochi. Far from appreciating the demonstration of solidarity, members of the LGBT community within the 2014 Winter Olympics host city express concerns that “heavy handed” media overshadowing the Games could cause Russian society to blame them “for spoiling the Olympics.”

Now, I’m not saying that a story necessarily precludes truth – it wouldn’t be a very smart move if I wanted to continue my career in media relations! But a story doesn’t tell itself; it is told by someone. A story does not exist in a vacuum. Stories are stories because they have context; they are created in relation to culture. Truth on the other hand, now truth exists per se. It is pure, without prejudice. It simply is. That is the nature of truth. But this is the rhetoric of philosophers and back in the real world, truth is unobtainable, an inaccessible ideal about which we can dream, that we pursue but can never reach. Truth will forever be the mistress of Subjectivity and Time. It is true for me, for now.

So, if we can’t have truth, what can we have? Well, we can have another story; a different storyteller, another approach, alternative angle, a view from somewhere a little bit closer, with a different filter or a clearer focus. Andrews’ report from Sochi, for instance. It tells us a different story. And perhaps by absorbing enough stories and ideas, we can try to find our own path to the truth.

Jo Furnival is an account manager in communications at All About The Idea. For more information, visit www.allabouttheidea.co.uk and follow on Twitter @allabouttheidea.

Friday, 31 January 2014

MummyNeverSleeps Blogs on Mental Health



Mental health is a term I've only been familiar with for a couple of years. Normally it's emblazoned in a tasteful font over a poster or a neat stack of leaflets that I'll stare at blankly while sat in a cold, grey waiting room somewhere.

Before I was catapulted into the world of therapists, GPs, happy pills and the kaleidoscope of self-help that's been pushed rather forcibly in my general direction, plus the vast array of acronyms that get added to my medical notes - seemingly on a monthly basis - mental health equated that there was something wrong with you. You're broken. Something's missing. There's a little link somewhere in your brain without a connection. It compelled you to do bad things. It made my mum drink. It made her cry. And it ripped my family apart.

Poor mental health has been at the core of each and every decision that has formed where I am now. If I were to analyse and dissect big life events, the bugger would be buried under there somewhere like a flesh eating parasite, shaping everything I do. From how I talk, how I dress, how I raise my son, to being crippled by bleak thoughts and being wracked with guilt and hurt.

I'm pretty naffed off with mental health tbh. I'm tired of it, I'm really bloody bored of it, of how it sneaks around me, suffocates me and rips me away from the real world, leaving me stranded, alone, in my head.

Professionally how it's all dealt with has come a long way, but it really needs to go to reach a whole lot further. The fear and shame that can immerse you, leaving you frightened to speak up, to cry, to say you've had a bloody awful day need to be left behind with the other taboos and stigmas we're breaking free of today.

Then there’s the metaphorical bear trap of the correct terminology. Do we say mental health problems? Mental health issues? Or the nice and pretty inoffensive and unobtrusive, but still rather scary sounding - mentally ill?

Good and bad, even the sort where you're clinging onto the edge by your fingertips, mental illness will shape who you are, and show the journey of where you've been and how you've got to where you are right this very second. It's not something to be ashamed of, it's not something to squirrel away behind fake smiles and big personalities to fester away and mutate into an unmanageable mess. Once you stop believing that this thing in your head that makes you think the way you do, see things and feel things the way you do as a Voldemort type creature, name it for what is it, face it, and know you're really not alone.

Or you can drink too much coffee and blog about it, like I do.

Cas lives in Essex and can be found blogging about motherhood and mental health at mummyneversleeps.com. Follow Cas on Twitter and Facebook.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

TGIF by Nicky Clarke



I tried the whole web thing five years ago and launched a website called Gunpowder. But it was all wrong. Not only did it cover too many things — food, travel, fashion, motoring, you name it! — but I launched it at the wrong time. Luxury content in the middle of a recession – what was I thinking?! What's more, I had just arrived in London and hadn't yet got under the skin of the city. How did I expect to put together a magazine that Londoners connected with, when I felt alien myself?

So I closed the website down and spent the next five years living and breathing London. What defined London? Who was a Londoner? And what did they do here? More importantly, where did I fit into it all and what did I like about it? As it turns out, it was its food scene that I fell in love with. The restaurants here were unlike anywhere else in the world; despite the recession, they were opening up every day, menus were pushing the envelope like you wouldn't believe, and trends were as fantastic as they were fickle.

So I worked as an editor at a travel guide publisher for a couple of years, soaking up all the city had to offer. It was my job, after all. Then I moved across to a restaurant bar PR agency, representing some of the hottest chefs in the capital and being at the forefront of the coolest new openings. Finally, London – and more specifically, its restaurant and bar scene – is something I get.

Ready to impart my insider knowledge, I had the idea of opening up another website; only this time I'd go for a less-is-more approach, with a simple weekly newsletter sent out to readers every Friday. It would tell them where to go for that hot date on the Friday evening, where they should be brunching on Saturday, and ideas for that perfect Sunday roast. A weekly, weekend guide that was a food-and-drink edit in the truest sense of the word. London is a noisy city – there are countless websites and newsletters telling Londoners where they should be eating and drinking – but few that strip everything back and select only the very best.


So Friday's Child was born, and I set about working on the concept. Who would my reader be? Those who, like me, spend their money and time wisely, but aren't necessarily slaves to fads. We like to check out the latest openings, but aren't the kind to queue for hours, and like a classic restaurant as much as a here-today-gone-tomorrow pop-up. A balanced reader, I decided. One who had outgrown clubbing but still liked a good night out propping up a wine bar or cocktail joint. Then I found the right design company to work on the brand; it needed to be cool, but not too cool for school. A classic design that was very London, and most importantly, timeless. I think I've achieved that, and there's no better feeling than seeing sign-ups on a daily basis. It shows that people are already connecting with the look and feel, without even seeing the content. Which I'm taking as a good sign!


The first edition will be sent to subscribers' inboxes for 9am on Friday, 7th February, when Dry January is but a distant memory and bank balances are looking that little bit healthier after Christmas. Hopefully, I'll have hit the nail on the head with this launch, and sometimes it takes an early attempt to get your head around what people want. Fingers crossed Friday's Child is just that.

For more information on Nicky Clarke and Friday's Child, visit www.yourweekendstartshere.com. Follow Friday's Child on Twitter and on Facebook.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

5 Ways to Revamp Your Home for the New Year



When the Christmas decorations have to come down, all of a sudden your house can look a little tired and definitely deprived of sparkle. Because all the glitter is gone, it's the perfect time to change it up and transform your home to a place you never want to leave this year. Here are five ways you can do just that:

TIDY UP

Revitalise spaces that have been taken over with clutter by powering through it in small chunks and bagging it up ready to take out of the house. Remember what Oscar Wilde said: "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful". I live by this mantra and will only have useful or beautiful things in my home. Charity shops are crying out for your unloved clutter.

A CHANGE OF COLOUR

One of the best ways to keep changing the appearance of your home throughout the year is by starting with a neutral palette. If you've fallen into the trap of brightly coloured themed rooms and are sick of the colour, instead of changing from purple to green or blue to yellow, switch to a neutral palette of white, grey, eggshell blue and light browns. This way, you can bring in colour throughout the year with cheap accessories such as books, vases and photo frames and change your colour theme whenever you need a change.

If you're already all over the neutral palette and feel that a colour pick-me-up is needed why not be bold and introduce some neon accessories.



BE GREEN

Save the planet a little bit and save yourself some hard earned cash (ok, in the long run!) by making your home a more eco-friendly place to live. One of the easiest ways to do this is through insulation. Keep the heat in, keep your bills down, save the planet. Loft insulation can save you the most money on average and you might even qualify for a freebie, check the Energy Saving Trust.

There's no excuse not to use energy saving light bulbs - the light produced looks the same as standard light bulbs, costs you a little more, lasts you so much longer.

CAPITALISE ON THE SALES without bargainitis

We’ve all been there; the lure of the 70% off sale ticket does funny things to our heads and we end up with a coat/lamp/pair of stilettos/dog food when we don't even have a dog.

If you can avoid the curse of bargainitis by considering that nothing is a bargain unless you need it, then the sales can be your best friend.

Some of the best homeware buys can be found in the sales and because lots of essential homewear items such as throws, rugs and cushions are considered to be seasonal and have a particular sales push in Winter, these are the items that you're able to pick up for a bargain.

UPCYCLE, THE CHEAT'S WAY

Everyone has something a bit knackered in their homes that can be brought back to life. Whether it's an old desk, chair with a wobbly leg or a photograph frame that's been knocked over one too many times, those items can be upcycled and restored or decorated to become objects of beauty. My toolkit consists of just two brilliant DIY finds: heavy duty glue used by joiners - sticks anything together and fixes even the wobbliest of table legs, chalk paint - paint anything: glass, ceramic, wood, metal without bothering with sanding down or preparing it. A miraculous discovery made for the laziest of us.

Whether you decide to go big (like me with my 17th Century cottage renovation) or small by painting a photo frame, every home deserves a New Year spruce.

Heather runs www.ayorkshirehome.com, a blog documenting the painstaking renovation of a 17th century cottage up north. Find her on Twitter @ayorkshirehome.