12th March is Disabled Access Day. Did you know? I didn't until yesterday but I think this is a great thing to be more aware of and in turn to try and raise awareness for.
This day was set up last year by Paul Ralph, after being inspired by a 'try it out' day at his local bus company, for disabled transport users. He thought the initiative could be spread out over a wider scale allowing many different companies, venues and events to have a day where they can offer people with disabilities the chance to visit somewhere they perhaps have been too worried to, or didn't think was accessible or were unsure if their needs could be met on an average day. It could also encourage people with disabilities and their carers/families to perhaps try out something new, which believe me can be a scary prospect. If you'd like more information on what is happening locally to you, please take a look at the website www.disabledaccessday.com
In Bromley borough and our surrounding areas we have Bethlem Museum Of The Mind (Beckenham), Caffe Nero (Beckenham, Crystal Palace, Croydon), Barclays Bank (Beckenham, Sydenham) and Strada (Blackheath) as some of the places taking part tomorrow. Again please visit the official site for more information - I am happy to see local places becoming involved in something that is a relatively new and growing venture that I believe could be great for our borough's disabled residents.
I got my wheelchair just before Christmas, just passed. It had been a LONG time coming with my GP and Physio referral originally back in March '15. I have been relying on cabs/crutches and long rest periods for the inevitable excruciating pain which follows or my trusty self-bought beauty of a mobility scooter. She has an I <3 Penge sticker and is awesome, but I digress. Now scooters don't really have a great rep. They are large and get in people's way (no matter how much you try not to) and their users are often stigmatised for being lazy rather than disabled. Sometimes they are used for the wrong reasons, I can't deny that fact. However sometimes the person using one, like myself, has no other option of getting her (also disabled) child to school and back every day.
It was a huge challenge for me to brave the looks, comments and laughter from people when I first started using my scooter. As a wheelchair user too now I can now compare that when using my 'chair I am generally looked on more politely (people don't tend to laugh), I take up less space so therefore people don't tut or climb over me AS much (yes, it still happens though) and generally people are nicer - they will stop at a zebra crossing for example whereas in the mobility scooter usually at least once a day out of my minimum 4 daily journeys I will be gestured at or completely ignored at such crossings.
Due to these experiences, I was nervous to go anywhere in my wheelchair. It is not until you become someone with a disability that you truly realise the magnitude of *everything* outside. Not only do you have to cope with taunts, stares, being invisible or too visible for everyone's liking (and feeling like the world's biggest burden to society), you also come across pavements you can't ride on, curbs you cannot mount or dismount, shop doors to narrow or without ramps/flat access at all, internal shop layouts too narrow and cluttered to navigate with items on shelves you can't reach. Transport that isn't designed for you and people who aren't patient enough to allow you a little bit of time and help. I can't remember the last time I shopped in a charity shop, one of my favourite ever fun activities, or went out for a meal in one of my old favoured places. It's really heartbreaking. You know, there's this stereotype of the hard done by angry disabled person. I hope most of you reading this know me as someone who always strives to make the best of a situation, always aims to be positive and have a smile on my face but this past year has really dented that side of my personality and it's simply down to how loss of mobility and accessibility can make you feel. On top of that you're also coping with the thing that is making you have the loss of mobility in the first place, so team those emotions and feelings with near constant pain, autonomic dysfunction and guilt in my personal case and hey presto... you start to become someone very different to who you were. Nervous, afraid to venture to new places, lack of spontaneity, lack of confidence...
So that's why I feel Disabled Access Day is something to be shouted about. It is small and new and needs our help to get more businesses, events and venues involved next year and into the future. To try to help so many people feel that they aren't perhaps as trapped as they may feel. That there are workable places and options and friendly people who think inclusion for all is important.
Do you have any positive or negative experiences with mobility or access locally? Are you a local business owner and would like me to come and try out your accessible premises? Let me know below.
October is dysautonomia awareness month. Raising awareness of this chronic condition is close to my heart (hah, heart!) as I suffer with so many issues because of it, yet it is relatively unheard of unless your'e in specialist medical circles. I had no idea what this was three years ago, educating myself has been key in dealing with my symptoms, helping my GP understand and learn more and supporting others who may have some form of dysautonomia in their life. So...
What is Dysautonomia?
It's a little waffly but the basics are there. This past month, my personal symptoms have been rapid uncontrollable heartbeat, palpitations, high rise in BP, low fall in BP, passing out, muscle burn, unable to lift my arms above my head, swollen feet, pins and needles, twitching, visual distortion and excessive sweating. This has been a good month in the fact that these symptoms were clustered mainly around a few weekends rather than every day (which is what it was, before I was put on cardiac medication).
Before the birth of my youngest son, I had dysautonomia symptoms but on a much lighter scale. I was diagnosed in my early twenties with Generalised Anxiety Disorder which my GP said explained my strange symptoms. On the surface of things, it kind of did! I was going through a rough emotional time, it seemed to make sense even though I didn't particularly 'feel' like I had a problem with anxiety - but that can be part of anxiety and depression too.
It wasn't until my youngest son came into the world that my body decided to start playing real havoc with me. Symptoms shot up in relation to the 'anxiety disorder', I found myself feeling like passing out numerous times a day, sweating was excessive, shakiness and twitching, my heart rate was really high a lot of the time and kept shooting up or dropping just like before but much more severe. I developed other stuff too (post partum thyroid disease) and I was in a LOT of pain. My joints had always been bad, extra bendy, clicky, getting 'stuck out', breaking easily but it felt like I was falling apart.
After a lot of tests, a LOT of waiting and seeing some brilliant specialists, I was diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (a connective tissue disorder) and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome with sinus tachycardia. These tend to go hand in hand with each other, which is why I'm mentioning both.
Due to the EDS, my internal organs and veins are stretchy - my specialist says to imagine chewing gum and elastic bands. Most people are made up of elastic bands which stretch but pretty much go back to their original shape and tone. People with EDS are built of chewing gum, it starts off ok, a little stretchy, but the more it's used, the more pulled and stretched it becomes, a real struggle to get it to go back to it's original form. My veins balloon and let too much blood in the wrong places. My autonomic system freaks and tries to push blood back to where it's supposed to be (or to the area being used) but forgets other bits of my body need to function too - these are the things that lead me to have dreadful muscle burn, twitching, weakness, blood pooling and passing out. Even something as simple as eating a large or spicy meal makes your autonomic system send more blood to your stomach to help digestion, yet in my case it sends too much in the 'freak out' and makes my whole body go haywire, sweating, palpitating and fainting.
There are an awful lot of sides to this complex disorder which I can't go into, I can only write from my perspective. With cardiac medication which lowers my pulse but stabilises my blood pressure, I am able to lead a relatively safe life - paying attention to my bad days and triggers. Some are not as fortunate and cannot even stand without passing out. People not as fortunate as myself to have it caught by a specialist and treated can go years and years without treatment, while slowly damaging their heart and vital bodily functions which can lead to severe long-lasting damage and death. As I mentioned before, dysautonomia often goes hand in hand with other chronic and serious conditions such as Vascular EDS which is the most severe form of Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, rupture of arteries and organs of people with V-EDS is unpredictable and life threatening.
If you feel you suffer from any symptoms which could relate to dysautonomia at all, I urge you to read up, educate yourself and visit the GP with your findings if you are worried. A good GP will look at your symptoms, what you have researched yourself and never deny you a referral to somewhere if you feel you want to see someone. My GP had no knowledge of EDS and little understanding of dysautonmia before my diagnosis at hospital (just like me!) so we researched together and worked as a team with referrals and treatments. She has been a star.
Here are a couple of links if you'd like to research yourself or read more about what dysautonomia is and it's associated syndromes etc Thank you for reading and helping me raise awareness! <3
What is dysautonomia?
What is POTS?
What is EDS
What is ME/CFS?
It's taken me a few days to write about this as I've been in (and still AM in) some kind of shock I think.
I received a text on Friday 19th June by DWP to 'remind' me of my PIP assessment appointment for Monday 22nd June. Well, that was the first i'd heard of it! I instantly went into panic mode, I was expecting to have a good week or two to prepare for it, gather together any more info and specialist letters i had forgotten about, get my wheelchair referral letters together and mentally prep myself for (what some said) would be an awful experience. I was also in the middle of yet another dreadful flare up. I had been laid up since Wednesday, needing others to dress me, drag me to the loo, basically look after me. The thought of getting myself prepared when i could barely get through an hour without tears due to pain was overwhelming to say the least. Then something just switched in my head - this was happening and there was nothing i could do about it - so let's do it!
I know a lovely lady who works in the industry, she helped keep my fears at bay. You only really hear horror stories online about people forced to do physical acts to prove they are fit and healthy, people told by assessors that they are lying or seeking attention etc people turned away or made to feel dreadful... but my lovely friend assured me where i was going, this wouldn't happen and that i would get through it and be fine. I clung on to those words and positivity over the weekend. My dear dad took the day off work to get me up to the appointment and push me around in my borrowed manual wheelchair. My mum came with me to the interview room to hold my hand. My husband took the day off work to look after the boys. it was a bit of a military operation but we did it.
My assessor was actually lovely. She knew all about Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and PoTS. She was empathetic and kind. She was great at her job, writing down constant notes whilst i was talking, sensitively asking questions, gently probing for more information when i got sidetracked by wandering thoughts and the overwhelming relief of talking to someone who 'got it'. After about 50 minutes of talking and note taking, she informed me they usually do a physical once over and muscular-skeletal check but that she didn't need to do this for me as she could clearly see my issues. She said i'd presented a great case, given then exactly what they needed in terms of hard, cold evidence (diagnosis and test result letters from specialists, genetics team etc) and that she was very pleased to have met me (and mum). She explained that awards were given by The Decision Maker and that they would probably be done with my case in about 2 weeks, due to them getting through them quite quickly at the moment. I came out feeling positive that I was taken seriously and legitimately and that I had a hope of getting some support. Of course this is again how so many of those horror stories start (i thought i'd be accepted, it was great to finally be listened to... but then i was awarded 0 points! 0!) and so my doubts started creeping in again. I set myself up for the two week wait, trying not to think of that what if's, how i was going to appeal, did i have grounds to? Why didn't she did a physical if i'm going to get turned down, is that legal? WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN?
Fast forward to this Wednesday just passed. 9 days after my assessment a brown envelope flies through my letterbox without a care in the world and splats on to my carpet, not knowing why it's very presence is making me sweat and palpitate. I hobble back to the sofa, ease myself down and start to open it. PIP APPLICATION AWARD it states. Oh jeeze, this is it. I pull it out entirely of the envelope and my eyes dart around the page of writing, flitting from word to word, not taking anything in properly, searching for the words DENIED/UNSUCCESSFUL/SORRY/FAIL....
...only it didn't say that. It said something i didn't even allow myself to believe would ever be a possibility. I was awarded Enhanced Rate for both the personal and mobility section, the best possible result i could have wished for. A literal life-changing decision. Tears flowed, i was hyperventilating at one stage - then i had to pull myself together to drag myself on to the mobility scooter and go and collect my little beany from pre-school.
This means i can purchase aids, supports, splints without fear of getting into debt, it means i'm entitled to a blue badge enabling me to be able to get close to places i need to and have better accessibility with the wheelchair. It means we don't have to extend an already stretched loan to cover a car we can't afford for a year (who knows what would have happened after the first year as we wouldn't have been able to afford to do it again for a second year), as i am now entitled to join the motability scheme, swapping out my weekly mobility PIP for a car!
I would encourage everyone to take the steps i have into applying for PIP if you feel you have a qualifying disability that affects your day to day life and/or mobility. Please don't feel you are a burden on society, if you are like me, this is one of the reasons we pay our taxes. I am a proud taxpayer having been in employment from aged 17 and now running my own business (all be it a very small one!) from home and i am not ashamed to say i need help right now. Will i forever? Who knows but for the time being, yes i do. Also, i am a proud NHS supporter, as without the help and support from my completely overworked and overwhelmed specialists/nurses/doctors, i really doubt i'd be here right now or definitely not in a healthy enough state to look after my children and be a functioning human. That very same fact is the same for my husband, after his brush with very serious illness a few months back.
If you are currently in the process of claiming for PIP, keep strong, keep focused, keep positive. Sometimes things can have a very unexpected but awesome outcome.
It's been just over two months since my last health update. In that time, a LOT has happened! Regarding myself, I am still waiting on a PIP assessment which I was advised can take up to 16 weeks. No rush there from me, I am expecting to be turned down and have to appeal anyway, as seems standard procedure, however at least I am on the waiting list now.
Wheelchair referral was a bit of a mess. My GP's secretary couldn't fax my application forms through (after already being delayed by a fortnight due to them not knowing how to fill in the forms) as the fax machine was broken. Once it was fixed, they forgot to send them. Apparently the copy sent off in the mail on the same day got lost. Hmm. So, it took a month of waiting to find out they were missing and had to be done and sent off again, which wasn't ideal but there you go. Again, a waiting time of around 16 weeks for a wheelchair assessment but still happy to actually be on the waiting list for that, too.
When you have a chronic illness, one of the most frustrating things is feeling like you're not in control of your own life anymore. You end up feeling like you spend an eternity just *waiting* for things to happen. Waiting for appointments, waiting because of delays at appointments, waiting for reschedules because of cancelled appointments, waiting for referrals, forms, interviews, prescriptions, opinions, help... even for the most positive of us it gets HARD.
On the subject of waiting; one of the reasons I've been delayed in writing this post is my dear husband Ray (who has chronic Lymphoedema of the lower right leg) was rushed into hospital mid April. We were warned on the day of his diagnosis that he was more susceptible to infection, specifically Cellulitis in the affected leg but we never really thought it would be that much of an issue... we were so wrong.
The attack came on fast, Sunday morning Ray was hit by a crippling toothache and by midday he was shivering, grey and barely able to function. We thought it was a stomach bug or 'flu so I tucked him up into bed and he tried to sleep it off. Monday morning came and after dragging himself to the toilet, I saw his leg for the first time since Sunday. It was huge and purple red. Burning hot and just horrific really. My dad suffers with cellulitis so I thought I'd know what to expect, this was like nothing we had ever experienced before. After being told to get to a&e Ray was given a huge dose of IV antibiotics and then sent home around 11pm to return the next day for another big dose of IV and the same again on the Wednesday. Over Tuesday the leg continued to swell and darken in colour, it was still boiling and you could see the throbbing of the blood pumping through his skin. His heel and toes were turning green and black, he was 'forgetting' to breathe in and was sick. It was the scariest time I've experienced as his wife. Wednesday he was admitted into a ward as the doctor administering his last dose could clearly see no improvement was being made. Ray stayed in hospital for a week with a special IV antibiotic made up for him as the usual treatments were refusing to work. He had regular stomach injections alongside the 4 IVs and was in a pretty depressed state. Everyone around him was frail and elderly, he couldn't leave the ward or for the most part, his bed. I found it difficult visiting with no car, the children to look after and getting around on crutches (thank goodness for my parents and Ray's parents).
To cut a long story semi-short, it was terrifying and sobering. We have to deal with the consequences of this infection and if he has a repeat attack within a year, due to the severity and complications he will have to take a low level antibiotic every day for the rest of his life. The day Ray arrived back from hospital, Sullivan, 3, contracted Chicken Pox, low and behold a fortnight after that Thom, 12, also contracted Chicken Pox. His was a severe case and that was another 4 weeks of really difficult times with those two. Honestly it felt like we were never going to get off of the rollercoaster of horrid things happening.
So, these past two months have been full of craziness really. What with the both of us trying to hold down jobs and school for the children at the same time, it's been manic to say the least... but I feel better now I've updated the health side of things here. I will do my next health based post when I have news r.e my PIP application or Wheelchair referral.
Thank you to everyone who was so kind and informative regarding my last blog post. It was very cathartic to let everything out here and talk openly about the disability I have.
Some progress has been made since I spilled everything a few weeks back! I took the plunge and applied for PIP, after numerous people telling me I had every right to. I find it very hard letting go off the mentality that I don't need help and that I don't deserve it. Not in a woe is me way, more so I know there are tons of people worse off than me and processing my claim would take time away from them. However, I've decided to try and if I'm deemed worthy, then that is that. I am going to be open, honest and just see what happens with it - I will more than likely be blogging about this journey into state benefit/support as it's something I've not really had any experience with before and again, it's very therapeutic writing it all out.
Secondly, I was seen by the specialist up at Crystal Palace and he has put forward a letter to my GP confirming the problems I am having, that they are related to the physical act of walking and he wants me to have support getting Sullivan to and from preschool. The letter was worded pretty badly and took some deciphering from my GP but on the back of that and her experience with me she's referred me to Bromley Wheelchair Services. I have been warned that the wait could be a lengthy one and that because I can walk on double crutches *some* of the time, I probably won't qualify for any help. So as a back up, my wonderful parents found me a second-hand mobility scooter for £125 - bargainous. It's little and plain, just what I need to get Sully and I safely to and from preschool every day. I am nervous about riding on my own with sully but I'm sure after lots of practice it'll start to feel like second nature.
In the meantime, thank you again for reading and for caring.
I thought I'd do an update post on my health, as it's been a while that I have properly talked about the situation. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever really put out there how much and how quickly things have changed. Last weekend... I couldn't walk. I couldn't lift my legs, lay down or move properly at all. I was crying in front of my husband, teeth gritted through fit-like spasms and the kind of pain I couldn't even try to describe searing through my back and legs. I needed to be dressed, I needed family to take my children to and from school, I couldn't bathe, I felt a burden and a failure. This is the first time I've been so honest about it.
Most of you know that after the birth of my second son three years ago I became quite unwell. I'd had a lot of odd things most of my life but it was post partum that my body really decided to rebel against itself. I spent the next 2 years going from hospital to hospital, consultants, specialists and clinics to finally be diagnosed with post partum Hashimotos Disease, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome H-T and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. The big one of the three being the Ehlers Danlos syndrome H-T (Hypermobility type).
It's a genetic disorder which means my collagen is faulty. Collagen is present in pretty much every aspect of the body, so therefore, pretty much every aspect of my body is affected. It makes me hypermobile and stretchy inside and out. I've always had this and I have always had problems through my childhood, puberty and first pregnancy - however most symptoms, such as pain, bruising, swelling, subluxations etc were attributed to another odd condition I developed aged 6 (Henoch Schonlein Purpura). We never knew there was an underlying genetic fault running through my maternal line. Now, you can be hypermobile and have no problems with it at all. In fact for athletes and dancers it can be a wonderful aid. If however you experience uncontrollable joint subluxation and dislocations, pain, fatigue and dysautonomia alongside it (amongst other things - intolerance to local anaesthetic, heart problems, gastric issues) then it becomes something more than just a party trick. It becomes something you have to fight not to take over your life. I am struggling with that part right now.
I'm writing this today because I'm coming out of a really bad time, last weekend/week was horrendous. The thing is, it happened 10 weeks prior to me writing this now and it's pretty much on the cards that it's going to happen again... and again. Years of low level damage to my back, hips and other major joints mean they are weak. I do physio exercises most days and have taken up Pilates when I can manage it yet my decline is more rapid than I can try to claw back. My physio is concerned there may be spinal issues on top of hypermobility (my nan had to have a fusion) so I am seeing a specialist this Tuesday to see if anything else can be done to stop or help with this new debilitating aspect of my disability.
Personally, I believe the time may have come for me to look into some kind of wheelchair when I am coming towards/out of or smack bang in the middle of a flare up. This is a HUGE admission for me but you know what? It's one that brings relief to me, more than dread. It would mean I could take my children to school for the two weeks I'm usually out of action, it would mean I don't have to rely on (amazing) family members who already do their fair share in helping me out. It feels like a beginning rather than an end. I cannot live a life in fear of walking because of what it might do to me, I am petrified enough of experiencing that pain again when it comes around. The big question is will the professionals agree with me? Or will they see it as me giving up? After being diagnosed, I realised disability is so far from black and white, it's effectively rainbow. When looking for a cause or reason for our undiagnosed problems we focus so much on labels, comparable symptoms and statistics that emotion and personal feeling is shoved aside. When it comes down to the crunch, who ultimately decides what is right for my family and I? I shall see what Tuesday brings...
In the meantime, feel free to check out this link for more information on EDS. Cherylee Houston from Coronation Street (Izzy Armstrong) is a patron of EDS UK and has the same disability I have (so does her character on corrie). http://www.ehlers-danlos.org/about-eds-uk/our-patron
Do you live with chronic pain or a disability that affects your mobility? Do you use a wheelchair or mobility aid? I'd love to hear your comments and experiences.
I want to tell you a love story...
Crafting has always been something I have enjoyed from an early age. My memory of craft fairs however, is something I don't look back as fondly on. I felt a similar way about charity shops - cold, uncomfortable places which smelt of things I wasn't used to like lavender and weak tea. Cliquey environments, manned by stern-faced older ladies who would scowl at you for daring to touch a pair of pale green knitted booties*.
I'm sure more than a few of you feel a similar way, nose crinkling or feeling uneasy at the thought of stepping into a charity shop or spending an afternoon in a church hall filled with stalls. This is why I want to try and change your mind, as mine has been.
Local events like craft fairs are still trying to shake off that unfair image I painted back at the beginning of my post. Times have changed within the crafting community but it always takes opinion a while to follow suit, which is such a shame. I support and work within one of the most diverse and modern forward thinking industries - the craft industry.
I can't deny that the high street shopping experience is slick and streamlined, with a wealth of shops offering you products for pretty much every use... but most of it is unoriginal. It is saturated with trends and similarity. Buy something in a department store or a high street shop and you have to expect to see someone else wearing/using or talking about it at some point. Yes, it's easy to go out to your nearest big town and find a 'special' present for that momentous birthday, that unexpected wedding, to help that friend who's had a rough ride feel appreciated but again that gift will have more than likely been bought by many before you and many others after. Modern craft fair shopping is amazing. I won't play it down because it deserves to be shouted from the rooftops. You will find passionate business people who have created beautifully unique and quality items that aren't readily available in shops. People will talk about these pieces due to their wonderful individuality, not because they have the same thing at home in three different colours.
Not only will you find some fantastic gems at craft fairs, you'll be supporting local self-employed people. Fuelling and nurturing this aspect of our economy is vital, especially in the current climate. Personally, I feel a complete buzz knowing I'm buying something from somebody locally, who is making this work on their own. Connecting with the people who have put their time and effort into producing goods, rather than a faceless chain of shops, is just priceless.
I moved to Penge, from neighbouring Beckenham a good few years back. Beckenham has carved a great, local and supportive community and has made itself a pivotal part of Bromley Borough, which is fantastic. Penge has been struggling a little. Back to the beginning of my post I mentioned unfair images being hard to shake off - Penge suffers from this, too. On the furthest outskirts of the borough with a London postcode, we're often forgotten about as part of the bigger picture. My hometown has a reputation for the rough side of life; pawn shops, fast food chains and everything a pound. There's a lack of funding and focus is mainly pushed towards our bigger, more desireable siblings Beckenham and Crystal Palace. I felt Penge needed local people to come together and try to start carving out our own identity just as Beckenham had done before us. Talking to people around me, I noted we had a lot of families wanting to socialise, a great music scene and a fantastic lot of talented crafters. I started a Facebook page called SE20 Mums as I felt other groups were tailored to neighbouring towns with Penge as more of an afterthought. I also began helping out at a local playgroup. Around the same time, SE20 Craft Fair was launched. So my love story begins!
The SE20 Craft Fair was everything I'd wanted from a fair as a kid in love with crafting. It was energetic, bright, fun, modern and full of a wealth of delightful wares to spend an afternoon lusting over. From an adult perspective it was fantastic to be immersed in. Looking around there was such a great vibe, so much independent talent and positivity, smiling faces and delicious treats to indulge in. I was so happy to have an event like it in Penge, let alone be able to be a part of it after I started my own business making jewellery.
Christina Owen is the driving force behind the SE20 Craft Fair; I'd love for you to hear a little bit more about her and what she feels the fair stands for, so here is a mini interview for you.
Tell us a little bit about yourself
I'm a Paramedic who crafts in her spare time! I'm not very good at it but it's so different from my 'day job' and it helps me relax. I also take photographs, write, blog and am running Brighton Marathon this year. I am distinctly average at all of these things but I like the variety they bring!
What were your main reasons for starting the SE20 Craft Fair?
I had an exhibition of some of my photos in Penge at the end of 2011 and all the money I raised at that event was split between St Christopher's Hospice (in nearby Sydenham) and an unspecified art fund that I wanted to set up in order to do something creative in the Penge community. At the time Penge didn't have anything remotely like a regular craft fair (it now has two - mine and Anerley Craft Fair, as well as various other pop up events from time to time) and I knew so many local people who dabbled in arts and crafts but didn't have an outlet for their work or who were too shy to display/sell their products and I wanted to give them the opportunity and a friendly, relaxed environment in which to do that. The art fund ended up being called SE20 Art Fund and so it seemed natural to call the craft fair SE20 Craft Fair. It happened in November 2012 and was only ever going to be a one-off but after it went so well, people kept asking me to let them know when the next one was. So now we're about to have the 6th SE20 Craft Fair and there's already two more planned in for this year! It's very exciting. Crafters sometimes tell me that SE20 Craft Fair is their first ever craft fair and they use it to build confidence so they can grow and expand and that's exactly what I wanted. It makes me happy that they feel safe coming to our fair and trying things out for the first time.
Have you faced any difficulties starting up as a solo organiser?
It's quite tough because I work 12 hour shifts full time and so I can't devote the amount of time and energy to the fair that I'd like - if I wasn't working I'd probably try to make it a more frequent event than twice a year and I could certainly devote more time to things like advertising and publicizing, but word of mouth has been an excellent tool in getting news of the fairs out, and there are local organisations, like SE20 Magazine, who have been really supportive and always give the fair a mention in their news section. I'm also really lucky in that my family, local friends and the stallholders always really get behind the fair and give up their time to help organize and set it up. I do spend quite a lot of time begging favours off people and it's really nice that they always show up to help make the fair so amazing every time. Sometimes I get annoyed that I don't have unlimited time or funds to have a really big publicity drive but I guess if I did then it would lose some of it's 'community fair' style charm. I have accepted that I'm never going to have a massive glossy banner on the side of a building but then, that's not why people love coming to SE20 Craft Fair.
The SE20 Craft Fair is driven by local support and community, rather than profit chasing. Has this proven to be a bonus or a challenge?
It's both! It's a total bonus but of course this does throw up certain challenges because my craft fair budget for advertising and for decorations is virtually zero - although this encourages me to be creative and I am very lucky that I have people around me who don't mind printing posters for me etc. I've also in the past asked friends and relatives to make decorations for the fair and to send me any bunting they might have lying around. The fair has developed a huge 'make do and mend' attitude which I love - each fair gets decorated with whatever I have lying around and whatever people donate.
After the first fair I decided that if I charged a bit more for stall hire then I could have a bigger budget for things like posters and adverts in local newspapers etc - but doing so proved counterproductive as it put all the local, start-up crafters I knew off and attracted more 'hardcore' crafters from further afield, and then the fair ended up losing a lot of it's friendly atmosphere and became a much more competitive, pressured space to be in. After that fair happened and wasn't really a success, I felt discouraged and so I made a decision that going forwards, the price of a stall for the entire day would be £10 and I would never raise it. I make absolutely no profit from the fair - all funds raised in stall hire go towards the cost of hiring the hall and then back into the fair. And I wouldn't change that because I'm not doing this for profit. I'm doing it for the community and for the people who love crafting and need a platform to display their work, and also because I really love bunting and hand made things and I want to be surrounded by those things as much as possible. I did all this for me really! It's a bunting lovers dream!
What unique things do you feel the SE20 Craft Fair offers to visitors?
A really happy and positive atmosphere and a place to go to be surrounded by people who love their community and love what they're doing and who want to share that with people. To celebrate that, the theme of the next craft fair on April 4th is 'Love Local' and there will be a lot of Penge and Crystal Palace themed artwork and crafts on offer, all together in one room. So it really will be a celebration of SE20! Every craft fair has a theme so that each one is a little bit different, so when people come to it they can be part of something special and unique that won't be quite the same next time round. The first fair had the theme 'bunting' and there was so much of it that in the end I started getting people to take bunting home with them. Another theme was 'cake' and there was so much cake that day that I'm surprised people weren't waddling home! Another was 'yellow' and the hall looked like the sun had thrown up in it. It was brilliant.
I don't run the fairs to make a profit and I look for the same spirit in the crafters too. Community has to be more important than making money, although I realise that everyone needs to earn a little as craft supplies aren't cheap. Penge isn't the richest area in the world and also the state of the economy isn't great so noone has money coming out of their ears - to have a craft fair that's totally out of the price range of the community would be missing the point a bit. I'm always totally in awe of the wonderful, professional and extremely high quality products that the crafters sell at the fairs - you can visit the fair and buy things for yourself and your home that you would expect to buy in a shop - but you won't find it there because it's all handcrafted and unique and some of it is made especially for SE20 Craft Fair so you won't find it anywhere else.
Lastly, (as it's obviously the most important part of any craft fair) what is your favourite type of cake?
Chocolate fudge cake! There's been some amazing cakes made for SE20 Craft Fair over the years but chocolate will always be my absolute favourite! bring me a slice of chocolate cake at the fair and I'll be in my element!
To keep updated on future fairs and stall holder information, pop over to the official Facebook page here: facebook.com/Se20CraftFair
Or the official Twitter account here: twitter.com/SE20CraftFair
Thanks Christina for chatting with me and rekindling my love affair with all things local and crafty. The next SE20 Craft Fair is in less than three weeks! Please come down on Saurday 4th April, Kenilworth Hall, Penge (the church near Sainsbury's on the High Street) 10:30am - 4:30pm. Myself, Christina and a bunch of other hugely talented locals with their creations will be there. We'd absolutely love to see you.
I am always so excited to be a part of the SE20 Craft Fair not only as a stall holder but as a browser/buyer too. The community feel is one that is difficult to replicate but is always present here. The vendors are always of a high quality, unique, affordable and absolutely love what they do. The crafters of South East London are becoming a tight knit (hah! Hahaha! Knitting! Get it?! ...) community who love supporting eachother. It is so important to build and nurture these kinds of events within local towns such as Penge, so please come and join us on the 4th April to see for yourself.
*Disclaimer: There may be pale green knitted booties present but they will be AWESOME and totally touchable.
As most of you know, I'm really passionate about supporting local business and independent traders. I have been this way since my first 'real' job in a small funky hairdressing salon in Hastings Old Town. I was surrounded by unique and interesting business and socialised with lots of self employed people... on top of being hard hard work, it was brilliant fun. I felt fulfilled.
Fast forward 15 years - I had two wonderful sons and numerous jobs in that time but nothing seemed to scratch the itch for me. I worked in a few supermarkets, flirted with clerical work, I worked in a small card making factory and lastly focussed on visual merchandising. I enjoyed all of my roles as an employee but nothing felt as good as when I was amongst the people building their own businesses how they wanted.
In June 2014 I decided to take the plunge and launch my own business. This was a massive step for me and has been a lot of hard work, however it's all worth it. I can finally say i'm scratching that itch and it feels sooooo good!
Having had my blog about local business for a few years now and always being ready and willing to support other local people, I wondered as a WAHM (Work At Home Mum, is becoming the 'in' term for self employed mothers) what support specifically for me there would be in my local area. Is there anything that would nurture, support and advise a newly self employed full time mum? Well, the answer was a resounding YES.
This is where Louise of Supermum Surrey comes in!
I asked Louise a few questions about her business, which supports local mums who are working on their own businesses. Here's what she said...
Tell us a little about yourself! What did you do before life at Supermum Surrey?
Before Supermum Surrey I worked as a weekend contract supervisor for meals on wheels, responsible for feeding over 500 elderly and vunerable people in the Croydon borough. I still hold this position, although I now work less hours. I have 2 children aged 12 and 15 months, along with Supermum Surrey they keep me very busy!
What inspired you to set up Supermum Surrey?
I noticed that more and more women were setting up small and work from home businesses but finding it increasingly hard to advertise affordably. It all started out as a hobby, I found I really enjoyed sharing local news and events and could see my Facebook page becoming a popular and useful tool to not only small businesses but potential customers too.
Do you find juggling business and family a challenge?
Yes as any parent knows bringing up children and working from home is challenging! I do try to keep to a routine but this isn’t always possible.
Have you had a positive reception from local business?
I've had lovely feedback, the Facebook page is full of kind reviews, also the endorsements we received to win the New Business Award was overwhelming and I felt so proud.
Tell us three goals you'd like to achieve in 2015.
2015 starts with the launch of the Supermum Discount Card. Businesses in and around Surrey can register an offer for free and be listed in our directory. The discount card is 12.99 for the year with £2 per card sold going to the Stripey Stork; they collect pre-loved baby items (equipment, clothes, furniture, and toys) and distribute them to families in need in the Reigate & Banstead Borough. Ran by a group of local mums, Stripey Stork are committed to seeing valuable resources being re-used in the community. We are nearly set to start accepting other counties! Supermum Kent, Sussex and London all coming in 2015!
And lastly, Trifle or Christmas Pudding?
Neither! Since having my daughter I have put on a whopping 2 stone!
After looking through Louise's site, which is extremely easy to navigate and clear to use, as a customer, I am SUPER impressed... see what I did there? *tumbleweed* The directory of local businesses looks brilliant - with a clear star review and comments rating system. I find information like this vital when looking for local services. The whole feel of the site encourages the 'word of mouth' vibe that local business is so dependent on. Real life recomendations from people using local services are like gold dust, Supermum Surrey has it nailed. On top of this, there is a comprehensive list of venues in the area and a brilliant blog to check out.
As a subscriber, (£4.99 per month/£49.99 annually) you get many great advantages:
*Your own address and webpage displayed at surrey.supermum.org/yourbusiness. Display your business logo, cover image, description, product photos, links to your social media and website, contact info.
*Supermum Starter Pack with sellers guide, customer review template, small business tips and tricks guide.
*A 5 star rating system that allows your customers to rate you and leave reviews. The Supermum with the most amount of 5 star ratings by the last day of the month will be crowned "Supermum of the month." You will be rewarded with front page advertising for 1 whole month.
These are great benefits for anyone building their own business. Louise is approachable and has a great support team, she knows where working mums are coming from as she is one herself, she feels the ups, downs, stresses and strains of working for yourself as she is doing it too. To have such a great network coming together for mums to support mums and businesses to hold hands is just fantastic. It's everything that my blog supports, which is why I had to write this post.
In summary, Supermum Surrey is a brilliant idea which is working fantastically. As you have read, there is a lot in store for 2015 from Louise, all i can say is watch out world - the Supermum is coming!
You can have a look for yourself or find out more via the Supermum Surrey web page, Facebook page, Twitter page and Pinterest page.
Disclaimer: These thoughts are solely mine, I recieved no payment for writing this blog.
My health is a big part of this blog, as most of you will know who have been with me through my journey so far. After almost 3 years of craziness, the NHS have reached their full and final diagnosis - a post which will be saved for a later date. It is important now though, more than ever, that I look after myself as best as possible. I take my medication, I do my physio exercises, I stay active, I've worked out when I'm about to faint so can make myself as safe as possible and I listen to my body.
I have always been open-minded about complimentary treatments but what really upsets me is if someone says I'll be cured or miraculously start feeling 90% better... if i just change my diet... if i just meditate... if i just smell these oils... if i just, if i just... No. It's patronising and being someone living with a chronic illness, the last thing any of us need is to feel more crap about ourselves than we already do (in many cases, our own bodies are the ones fighting us, how rubbish does that make us feel?!).
So when Nicola, a local reflexologist, contacted me about reviewing one of her treatments and learning about reflexology myself you may think I would have been sceptical... I wasn't! You see, Nicola comes from a straight cut NHS background. She's a trained nurse with a history grounded in emergency admissions and intensive care at King's College Hospital. It was during her working years here that she became interested in a phenomena called ICU Psychosis (a form of Delirium) which is thought to affect up to 80% of patients in ICU. These people who have undergone many invasive or traumatic experiences will react unpredictably/violently when awake. This is obviously distressing for the patients themselves, their families and for staff involved in caring for them. Some of the coping and calming mechanisms used by ICU nurses are touch therapies and massage. Hearing this was eye opening for me, I had never heard about such things, I can only imagine how distressing going through life changes like coming out of ICU could be.
Nicola decided to qualify as a reflexologist at the Central London School of Reflexology after doing her own research into what she had seen and worked amongst at King's. She travelled through Thailand and Singapore, learning how these far away countries were implementing and successfully using reflexology and touch treatments as a part of their healthcare system, as much as we rely on things like physiotherapies. Evidence based practice has always been very important to Nicola coming from a nursing background. It wasn't enough to say these things will make you feel good, she wanted to know why and how. Nicola has devoted time and effort into the working core of reflexology. Medical trials, evaluations and case studies became a part of her daily reading so she could satisfy her thirst for proving reflexology can help the body and mind in numerous ways.
I cannot stress how important it is for someone like me dealing with a big medical condition to not feel like someone has done a weekend course as part of their training in a salon and is just trying to get me to come back for treatments that they barely believe in themselves. Nicola is the complete opposite of that. She is passionate about her work, she has knowledge and a real desire to help people.
A little fact list for you:
UK employers are entailing losses of approximately £28.3 billion per year due to health issues.
Depression affects 1 in 5 older people.
10% of children have mental health problems.
1 in 4 people experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year.
Anxiety affects 1 in 10 people in the UK.
(ref: Mental Health Foundation)
These issues can all be helped with reflexology for feelings of anxiety. A pilot study in healthy individuals A J Mc Vicar et al complementary therapies in clinical practice 2007 vol 13 number 3 p 137-145 found reflexology profoundly reduced the anxiety state with a statistical significance but has no effect one the underlying 'trait' anxiety. The reduction was consistent with an increased feeling of ease & a reduction of actual anxiety, i.e. it treats the symptoms.
I am not a technical medical blogger by any stretch, so here are some more credible links to studies on reflexology so you can have a read of the facts for yourself.
Research link on Reflexology in the workplace, studies on migraines, Gynaecological issues, Digestive disorders etc
The Association of Reflexologists
Findings on how Reflexology can help through conception, during pregnancy and post-natal
Nicola used her newly qualified skills as a reflexologist working within St Christophers Hospice and drug and alcohol addiction treatment centres, alongside treating private clients whilst starting her own family. She also became a full member of the Association of Reflexologists. After having her three children, Nicola decided to take the plunge and dive in to working solo offering mobile and therapy room based treatments around the South East London area. My treatment with her was in her therapy room, in which she rents from the fabulous Dolls Salon in Beckenham.
After a warm welcome, refreshing glass of water and nattering like we had known eachother for a long while, Nicola took some details of my medical past and present conditions. I told her about my connective tissue disorder and heart condition, my defective thyroid and autoimmune disease. We chatted about stress, anxiety, sleep issues and digestive problems... all stuff I'm used to telling to nurses, consultants & geneticists. Nicola noted relevent points down and made me feel 100% comfortable discussing these things with her.
Her therapy room was the perfect temperature and smelled divine, thanks to the hand-picked Arcadian Candles she chooses to use alongside her treatment. The flickering candle light and matching purples made me think of rich rolling Lavender fields on a summer's eve.
Nicola explained I wouldn't be laying flat as it's not the most comfortable position, especially for someone with a postural heart condition, so we worked out where felt best on the treatment couch. She also explained I'd have a support cushion under my knees again to aid the comfort levels of my thighs and legs whilst she treated me. I popped my shoes and socks off and rolled my trousers up to my knees (as some of the treatment is taken up the shin and to the point of just under the knee itself) and got comfy.
Nicola asked me, whilst offering out to smell, which scent I preferred; A citrus tang or a smooth lavender. Having already imagined myself rolling around a field of the purple stuff five minutes earlier, I opted for the lavender. Gently, soft instrumental music began to fill the room, again levels completely balanced and not a hint of cheesy Enya to be heard (sorry Enya fans, forgive me!). Nicola began her treatment with purposeful strokes and massage on my lower legs and feet, whislt taking me on a vocal relaxation trip. Once I had imagined my stresses and anxieties away on a crumpled leaf drifting out to sea, I took some cleansing deep breaths, let myself go and relaxed into the full experience of the treatment.
Nicola worked on my feet mainly, stopping at particular points and working on certain areas with precision and gentleness. I remember certain points that felt very poignant, almost like a shifting of energy, a physical tingling up my spine, through my jaw and into my brain similar to that of an endorphin rush. It is here where I struggle to fully put into words what I experienced for the majority of my treatment. It was divine. Not only did it feel good, it felt like it was DOING good. I drifted in and out of a weird consciousness, feeling touch on my feet correlating to different parts of my broken, achy body was surreal yet so natural. Forms of reflexology have been going on for hundreds of years, again as research shows people have always used pressure points on and around the feet to help with various ailments, even back as far as the Ancient Egyptians! But I digress...
More time passed than I had imagined, lying there in my safe warm, sweet smelling coccoon. Nicola generally advises an hour and a half appointment for first consultations then an hour thereafter. Once my treatment had come to an end, Nicola genty left to fetch me some water (as it's advised to drink more than you normally would after a treatment of reflexology) and let me gently and naturally come out of my trance-like relaxation. I felt sleepy, warm and safe, not groggy as some massages can leave you feeling. It was wonderful.
I was excited about doing this review with Nicola and learning about reflexology before my treatment... but afterwards I felt a completely new level of respect for reflexology treatments as a whole and definitely for Nicola as a therapist. This isn't a sideline, throw away, learn in a weekend session. This is engaging, powerful and caring therapy as a complimentary addition to NHS/medical services such as medication and physio. I can honestly say I felt so relaxed and positive after my first treatment (and I will be going back for more), just having that focus and time to just ...stop... things for an hour, to put aside my health worries, my anxieties, my pain - was amazing.
Reflexology isn't a cure. Most importantly Nicola doesn't claim it to be. It is powerful aid that can help you if you are dealing with things like anxiety, depression, chronic pain, fertility issues, pregnancy, hormonal imbalances, sleep disturbances... the list goes on. Reflexology is suitable for people of all ages (Nicola is trained to work with infants and the elderly, too) and after my treatment I can really see how it would be a positive thing for so many people to have in their lives.
As the Association of Reflexologists claim themselves...
The only real way to know if reflexology will help you is to try it.
...and I urge all of you reading to do so, especially with Nicola here in Beckenham.
Nicola has just been nominated #BizOfTheWeek over on Twitter within the hugely popular local networking sector #BeckBromFL for businesses who have had positive reviews within the Bromley boroughs! She also has a special offer for this week only as part of her #BeckBromFL promotion...
**£10 OFF any treatment booked this week!**
Grab it while you can!
To chat about reflexology or book an appointment with her, feel free to use any of the below links:
Nicola on Twitter
Nicola on Facebook
Have you had reflexology? Are you going to book with Nicola? I'd love to hear about your experiences!
It's been a while since I last posted, mainly due to my new business starting up. I will leave talking about that for another day as I've been wanting to tell you all for a good few months now about some local gems I have found!
The first person I want share with you today is May-Yen. I met May-Yen on Facebook through her business page Paintivity. She is a local mummy and midwife, on maternity leave looking after her gorgeous bub and making fresh non-toxic, easy washable paints for us all to enjoy! I was lucky enough to win a party set earlier last month and it was brilliant!
The paints are deliciously gooey, bright and make a lovely splodge on the
paper whether you're painting with brushes or body parts (as my toddler preferred to do!). We had so much fun mixing, squelching and creating with our paints.
As well as making paint packages up for local collection or delivery, May-Yen also runs popular and wonderful Paintivity sessions (and daddy-only Paintivity sessions) from her home and beautiful garden, which is a short walk from Forest Hill swimming pools. I have spoken about how vital parent and child bonding is in the early years - achieving this through safe creativity and sensory play is brilliant for both adults and children. There is so much fun to be had, all whilst developing trust and a strong relationship with your child.
May-Yen also runs the Diamond Support Group for women and families
affected by pre and postnatal depression and mental illness - a free group (donations however are welcomed) set up to help support local women and families coming to terms with changes in themselves, talking to others who may be in or have experienced similar situations and just being able to talk freely without fear of judgement or criticism. As a new parent this is desperately needed sometimes whether you are coping with a mental health issues or not. I am a massive advocate of mental wellbeing and having a support group like this is great for our community. Please pop over to May-Yen's twitter page: https://twitter.com/PaintivityPaint and Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Paintivity to support the work she's doing for our community and to find out about how you can get your own Paintivity kit (or pop to one of the fab sessions!) to get creative with your own kids.
The next people i want to talk about are some wonderful people I met at the Anerley Community Craft Fair. Firstly, Claire from Taylor & Abel, provider or bespoke gifts, crafts & haberdashery products - and who set up the whole craft fair herself. A daunting task as it was a new fair, in a new venue with some new stallholders too... but a great success! Claire found there to be a wealth of talent in our local community but a distinct lack of platforms to show the talent off - hence the Anerley Community Fair idea being born. Much like her business, Taylor & Abel - born from a lack of great quality, good value for money sewing and fabric shop. For the time being, they are online however their vision is to eventually open an awesome shop in one of our borough's high streets. Please pop over to their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/taylorabel
and give their website a whirl: http://www.taylorabel.co.uk if you fancy getting creative and crafty, or indeed buying some beautiful
creations for your home.
Remember to listen out for info on the next Anerley Community Craft fair here on the Twitter page, too: https://twitter.com/Anerleycraft
I was a stallholder myself at the Anerley Community Craft Fair (and had so much fun!). Whilst there I met so many other talented and lovely local folk, one such lovely being Laura of Like Sewiously. Her stunning creations caught my eye from across the room as soon as I'd settled myself down. On top of making the most gorgeous handmade dribble bibs, booties, hats and accessories for little trendsetters and future fashionistas (some on, who doesn't want a Marvel heroes hat?!), she also makes accessories for the home, too.
I was lucky enough to win an anti-slam door wrap last month from the Like Sewiously Facebook page. I'd never seen these before but as soon as I popped it over my door handle at home, I realised how great this cute little invention is! It cushions the stopper of the door to make sure that your door will never slam - being in a flat with doors prone to slamming shut on a windy day, this was something I never knew I needed until it arrived - now I couldn't be without it! No chance of little fingers being
hurt and the design is a fantastically retro addition to our living room
décor. Please check out Laura's Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/likesewiously and Etsy shop here: https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/LikeSewiously
So, some great locals to check out - please please go ahead and support their ventures, as you know I love local and adore blogging about the wealth of talented people we have lurking within the Bromley (and surrounding) boroughs. Have fun browsing!
Who is Julie?
30 something, mother of two gorgeous boys, lover of one gorgeous husband, perpetually living in a dream world full of wine, chocolate and artsy crafty things.