2020 Vision – looking at the past, present and future

As we get closer to the year 2020 and the closing of the last decade, I have been looking back but also thinking of the years ahead. It has been a decade of great change on the political, social, technological and human landscape reflecting on what is going on in the world. There have been numerous highs and lows as expected in such a long period. The present is grounding us to what is happening now but there is bound to be a wonder with what is ahead when we look at New Year’s number ‘Twenty Twenty’ – 2020. We even have to get used to saying, writing, hearing and seeing it. This blog post gives me the opportunity to reflect, adapt and anticipate what trends may be coming our way.

Past, present and future: it makes it easier for me to look at this in these three categories to clarify what this means, mostly for my own self-awareness. However when I started researching this topic, I quickly learnt that it is an analytical and forecasting technique that is also being using to show how quickly the world is moving on major issues for example sustainability, climate change and technology due to changes, innovation and higher levels of disruptions. In my busy personal and professional life – there are great experiences and photos for me to share these three timeframes with you here.

 

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The Past

“My yesterdays walk with me. They keep step,

they are gray faces that peer over my shoulder.”
― William Golding

The last decade has seen a lot of changes for me professionally.   I was working at City Hall in 2010 with changes already happening with the arrival of the dire austerity plans hitting libraries and other public services across the United Kingdom. I hung on with our team to our jobs until early 2012 right on the cusp of the start of the Olympics. There was so much anticipation and preparation on the one hand with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but then we were dropped like hot potatoes to be made redundant and disbanding of services. The heartache of seeing colleagues lose their job in the heart of London with the Olympics which was in our breath and bloodstream was very hard to get over but we survived.

We were able to experience sadly one of the defining moments of the austerity decade that thousands of people have to endure. Some of us are not better off financially and thankfully for the support of family – we are able to manage. This first-hand experience is only the tip of the iceberg of what austerity really meant for basic infrastructure to people’s health, well-being, opportunities, education, public provision (no police station with the increased crime) and degeneration of libraries in the UK. I know some of the stronger survived but it certainly wasn’t fair for many people and this is with the benefit of hindsight. I also had people cut me off on social media when I left City Hall but most importantly the ones who mattered…stayed with me. I knew this would happen from my experience in the 2000s. I was just waiting for it to happen as an ever-present information professional.

 

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Eventually I was employed again at the British Library and this has been one of the highlights of the early 2010s. I have grown and developed in many new areas but I was also able to use the experience I have built up over many years. I don’t feel so odd when I have to use old and new information and library skills. It also helps when I see the past brought to the present in exhibitions, collections and digitally in the libraries and museums world. This month I visited the London Metropolitan Archives and the British Library’s exhibition on Buddhism – and you will get this point.

 

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We have also seen a lot of changes on the regeneration of my local area in the last ten years and it was one of the defining eras of new volunteering and community activism for the neighbourhood and me. Due to having free time due to redundancy, I was able to take part in the Street Party to celebrate the London Olympics in 2012…but then I never stopped!!! Due to my amazing neighbours and community spirit, we have been able to put on 8 fabulous street parties, poetry events, book clubs, Christmas parties, use social media, promote civic activism for local issues, and look after our community with great camaraderie. We literally look out for our neighbours and neighbourhood, such as creating What’s App groups and social media accounts for all of this!

 

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My neighbourhood has changed from a sleepy suburban town to a buzz hive of activity. There are negatives for this – such as Anti-Social Behaviour (ASBOs), drug dealing, professional beggars and high levels of litter. However, I was able to push myself to new activities such as writing basic poetry, organising Spring-cleaning, starting guerrilla gardening and this winter I am participating in my first pantomime in ‘A Christmas Carole’ by Charles Dickens. This was also my inspiration for writing this blog post looking at the past, present and future!

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A Christmas Carol

I was also able to do a lot more volunteering for my profession with SLA Europe and stopped being Fundraising Chair for The Lloyd Park Children’s Charity in 2016 after 12 years. I will look back at the last decade with fondness for the new and exciting things I learnt, the new experiences I gained and also the fabulous time I spent with great people and loved ones. The holidays and travels are always a great highlight in this enormous world and are entrenched in my memories of the past.

 

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The Present

“It’s being here now that’s important. There’s no past and there’s no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one.”
― George Harrison

As in LIVE in the moment of now, it is both exhilarating as well as concerning. All the big topics I can honestly think about presently are Brexit, Climate Change and much progress already made is being damaged! Most things in my life are stable but there are still everyday worries and stresses that make me wonder what the hell is going on. Just look at some of our media and politicians! Politics is affecting all of us at present but they are very disruptive and move swifter than the previous decade. This could be a result of social media, but also the volume increase, manipulation and incensed use of mainstream media that is used to polarise us. It seems to be an on-going battle with new life and professional challenges such as data protection, fake news, privacy, racism, bullying, and various negative broadcasting. Information certainly is more intense with some people probably rightfully switching off from all forms of media. I do think that presently social media is still a very good facility for communication, and the world is generally a better place for it. Politics will affect us all and is currently in an awful state but we are more engaged regardless with an opportunity to share our views, voice our concerns and opinions with the people we want too online and offline.

 

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Climate change and sustaining our planet are hot topics that are right up the agenda in the last years and especially the last few months. We have seen young Greta Thunberg mobilise children and adults across this great big old world for environmental concerns and activism. We also all know about Extinction Rebellion. Food, travel, air quality, poverty, homelessness, diversity and inclusion etc are all various topics where work is still in progress. There are good days and bad days for all of these issues, and like so, we have to live in the moment but also find ways to make good choices that will sustain us as well as our fragile planet and environment. It’s only a few years ago we implemented the plastic bags ban, saw more of the reusable cup and ‘single use plastic’ become a no-go. Positive policy and behaviour change are possible and we should not give up!

 

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It is not all depressing in the present, I still find ways to keep my positivity flowing by exploring the new, interesting events and shows in the city. I love that you also see all the ‘live’ moments people are having around you on their Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Yes, the present is not perfect but somewhere in this world, the sun is shining and a new day is dawning. I am also very grateful for every new day that I am alive to be with my family and friends in the present.

 

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The Future

“The past is always tense, the future perfect.”
― Zadie Smith

As we creep into 2020, it is great to know that some things will always remain the same but it is obvious that there will be new developments and ways of living that we will adopt and adapt in our lives. After all, 2020 is just a number created to represent time.

I am certainly not a clairvoyant with a crystal ball and will not predict the next day, much less the next decade. However, this is what scientific, evidence-based and good research is able to do for us. Trends and forecasting are used all the time to help us plan and prepare what may or may not become a reality. I have the privilege and access to authoritative published research in my role as an information professional, and therefore I am able to research very serious topics that will have an impact on all of us.

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I recently popped into the busy technology department of Selfridges when I went to collect an online order that I couldn’t find in local shops. Seeing all the smart technology is a great eye-opener (pardon the pun!). There are innovations and inventions that are here already and there are more to come on the horizon. Wearable technology is here and according to Mintel market research on “Wearable Technology 2019” – “There has been an increase in ownership of all wearable devices, with the most significant jump being in the adoption of smart ear-buds. As a result of the increasing popularity of these products, more and more manufacturers are offering their versions. Meanwhile, fitness bands/sports watches continue to be the wearable that consumers are most likely to own”. Consumers are also using it for controlling smart home devices, making contactless payments, monitoring security, social media, fitness etc. The smart glasses were certainly a new way to see and interact with things.

 

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One of the burning issues is consumption of natural resources and the environment. There are questions on how can we make this world more sustainable and ethical in our policies, businesses and our own personal responsibility. GlobalDataOnline has their great Trendsight predictions and analysis to tell us about the MegaTrends that will affect us all regardless if we are generations from: Baby boomers to iGeneration. In the report ‘Trendsight overview: Sustainability and Ethics – Meeting social and environmental challenges amid growing populations and energy brands’, these megatrends highlighted are: Social Responsibility, Ethical Wellbeing, Fairly Traded, Created Fairly, Ethical Luxury, Localism, Trust and Transparency, Resource Scarcity and Environmental Responsibility. These are all great topics that make my heart sing! The same report looks in great detail at the past, present and future trends. One of the great sector examples with the changes we have seen in the last few years is plastic pollution and recycling which concludes that: “in the past five years, recycling schemes were being used by several types of retail outlets, and will remain a crucial consideration for retailers in future. Retailers at present are more prominently shifting away from the use of plastic, while innovative recycling schemes will propel into the mainstream five years or so in the future”. Do make some time to look at these reports and you will be inspired or in-the-know on what is in store for the future.

 

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My own personal view, simply and most importantly, of the future is that I want my loved ones to be happy and healthy. I also want this clarity and vision for humanity and the Earth. I know there will be developments in technology and gains in progress with living standards but there is so much work still to collaborate and work on together as so many people are outside of these acceptable levels, struggling with being happy and healthy. I am not able to control this but in my own way, step by step, little by little, I can only hope that we keep this beautiful planet and its’ people safe and well for years to come…and certainly to 2030. Ask yourself too what you want for the future.

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Sicily – a Spectacular place in the Summer Sun

Finally the summer holidays are here!  Italy is one of my favourite places on Earth, and there are so many beautiful parts to see. I can’t get bored of ever going there on holiday and I was super excited to finally go again to Sicily in Italy. I have been to Palermo for the day as part of a cruise a few years ago, but it was a real delight to plan this year’s summer holidays in the spectacular east coast of Sicily.  A few years ago some friends visited the beautiful resort of Taormina for their honeymoon, and their photos were so amazing that I thought I would love to visit there one day. I have been looking at the hashtag #Taormina on Instagram prior to going on holiday this year as it seems just the ideal place to relax and enjoy ‘La Dolce Vita’ …the Sicilian way. After an early morning flight, it was phenomenal to see Mount Etna just before landing in Catania. Mount Etna is an active volcano and dominates the skyline from miles away along the east coast of Sicily. Like Vesuvius in Napoli, it is amazing to see people living in the path of the volcano and accepting the natural beauty as well as the potential risks as part of their lives. I didn’t have time for a Mount Etna trip, but may do so another time as I was so charmed by Sicily, I hope to visit the region one day in the future.

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Sicily as an island is also shaped with three-points and therefore is known by the symbol Trinacria, which is also on the Sicilian flag. First stop and our based was the beautiful hill top resort of Taormina, which was an hour’s bus drive from Catania. Taormina has been attracting and welcoming a lot of people from the ancient Greeks, Arabs, Phoenicians, Normans, British on the ‘Grand Tour’, Hollywood figures, to current tourist ranging from Italian-Americans, Russians and other international tourists. The buildings and the architecture have stories to tell from the ancient to the modern and still is a magnet for worldly glamour, natural beauty, culture, holidaymakers and sun seekers.

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One of the main highlights of Taormina was seeing the Greek Ancient Theatre, which was built in the 3rd century. It is constructed on the hill in a natural setting with views of the Ionian Sea, the beaches, towns and Mount Etna. It is still a functional theatre and concert venue to the present day. I was in the adjacent garden when I heard the crowd singing along, and also saw fabulous laser light emanating from the theatre at night. The sun was striking at that height when I visited during the day aand great for lighting and the views.  I understand why it is on top of everyone’s list to visit, and a must to share photos on Instagram.

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Isola Bella, when translated means ‘Beautiful Island’, is a little island in Taormina. It was bought in 1890 by English noblewoman Florence Trevelyn and remained in her family until 1990. It had since been turned into a natural reserve, has a few buildings and museum. Florence Treveylan eventually married a Sicilian Mayor of Taormina and lived there until the end of her life. Florence was from Hallington, near Newcastle and a keen gardener before living in Sicily.   She was instrumental in creating the beautiful public pleasure garden ‘Hallington Siculo’ or Sicilian Hallington. The municipal garden is still beautiful today which is situated just under the Greek theatre and with breath-taking views of the sea and Mount Etna. Her contribution to the life and economy of Taormina has been recognised in books, film and there are tributes to her in Isola Bella and the public garden today. Isola Bella is a fabulous beach, and the walk down to beach and the cable car up is a must-do experience.

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The rail service from along the coast of Sicily is reasonably priced and the trains ran regularly. The local bus service was also well serviced to nearby towns and villages. It was nice to use these modes of public transport, as I didn’t want to drive in Italy this time. We decided to go north to Messina for the day and left early for the hour-long train journey along the beautiful coastline. I knew that we will be able to see the coast in most parts of this holiday but I didn’t realise that you can also see Reggio Calabria on the Italian mainland with your naked eye. Messina is less of a tourist destination than Taormina and seemed more relaxed with normal activity of life. I had my first Granita (which is a little bit like Trinidad snow cone) from a mobile vendor on the street, and also a fabulous lunch inside, especially as the weather was very hot outside. The views are great again over the city and across the strait of Messina to the mainland. After seeing my photos, our relatives on holiday in Calabria three hours away said that they felt that we close to them in Messina! Messina is an important gateway and port and the Piazza de Duomo, War Memorial and Church were all very impressive buildings to see.

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A few days later we also went south to the historic city of Siracusa, which is Syracuse in English. The have seen many television documentaries on Syracuse as it was an important place and played a key role in ancient times, when it was one of the major powers of the Mediterranean. The Greeks inhibited this part of Sicily and it is famous for the culture, architectural ruins, ancient history, and for the important mathematician and engineer Archimedes who invented the theory of Pi. The city is proud of this heritage and there are monuments to celebrate Archimedes. I loved the architecture, marble piazza, quaint streets leading to the sea, art shops, market and excellent restaurants. There was a nice buzz and bohemian feel about Syracuse with a modern vibe to it, although it is now a Unesco World Heritage site. I hope to visit Siracusa one day again.

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When I decided to go to Taormina for a holiday, I didn’t realise that it was also the setting for the Italian scenes of the well acclaimed The Godfather by Francis Ford Coppola. The book is based in Corleone, on the other side of the island but I had always wondered where in Italy the film was based – it was great that I actually visited the setting for real!  I eventually found out via the Internet that you could visit the villages of Savoca and Forza D’Argo on a coach tour known as ‘The Godfather Tour’. The coach drive to these towns where very very steep… hand in heart and acute corners for passengers but the drivers all seem very able and used to the landscape. Our Dutch tour guide was also excellent at telling us various anecdotes and stories about the local people, the film and region. The two villages were both very charming and medieval in their layout. It was also nice to see people who lived in these villages getting on with their daily normal chores. Savoca still has the famous Bar Vitelli where the young Michael asked for Apollonia’s hand in marriage, and the church where the got married. The main piazza where they danced at the wedding reception is still the hub of the village.

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I was also in Taormina to relax and enjoy the summer holidays, and to mix the cultural as well as the fun things you can do in Italy. The Italians do know how to enjoy life and also the weather makes a big difference. We spent a few days at the beaches in Taormina, the next village and a day at the pool. I could easily spend more days lazing around on the beach but would need more vacation time to do this.

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Sicily is also amazing for its food, restaurants, markets, ice cream, sweets such as Cassata and Cannolis. The food was just divine to taste fresh in Sicily – it is are a million times better there!

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It was also a pleasure to spend some evenings going for a meal in the many restaurants, even though meals seems a lot more expensive in Taormina…and with the Pound Sterling performing so badly. However, everything was sooo delicious and the Sicilian arancinis and local delicacies you must try! I could believe that a simple almond granita could be sooo delicious and I can’t wait to try an authentic one again. The Italian evening habit of going for a pre or after dinner walk know as the verb ‘Fare una Passeggiatta’ is a highlight of the evening where you can look at the stylish people of all ages, browse the shops and enjoy some fabulous sweets or their world famous ice cream.

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The last few times I went to Italian were to visit relatives and so there is no need to check where you are going or to research places as we rely on local and family knowledge. This was the first time I was able to fully use my smartphone to find restaurants, read reviews and also for using Google Maps for navigating the streets as pedestrians in the cities. It was great to use a smartphone to check for bus and train times too. I know we are able to do this with smartphones but it is still brilliant that we can access these features on the go. It might be another story in another remote place with no network signal.

To end the trip, we spent a day in Catania. The city was very cosmopolitan and exciting to walk along the long promenades, though it was extremely hot during the day for a walk although we saw the bustling market and piazzas. However after a rest, we went out in the evening when the locals and tourists in Catania were walking around and going out for the evening. There are many parts of the city still to see, and Sicily as a whole has been really captivating to me. It is great to see spectacular seas, hills, Mount Etna, the towns along the hills, coast and most people enjoying life in the Sicilian sunshine. There is a lot to do and quite a bit to keep it exciting. I truly hope that I will be able to visit Sicily again, and I will hold that dream of a place and life in the sun until then.

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Volunteer your time – it is all worthwhile

Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves – Horace Mann

In the last few weeks I have been busy supporting volunteers in my local community, neighbourhood and profession. I am what is termed ‘a frequent volunteer’ and actively volunteer in various roles and diverse causes. I also do this unpaid and in my own time. According to the UK Civil Society Almanac 2019: …“there are 20.1 million people who volunteered through a group, club or organisation during 2017/2018” with £17.1 Billion the total contribution to the voluntary sector to the UK economy. I have been fortunate to also be able to have an impact locally, as on my doorstep, but also internationally across the world as a Board Member to SLA Europe. The research by NCVO in their report ‘Time Well Spent’ quotes …“81% do their volunteering in and for their local communities” and volunteers get involved in different ways, reflecting their lifestyles, values and priorities. Volunteering is quite common now with a large number of us giving our time freely, and the benefits are not just for the causes we support but also for our own happiness, wellbeing, achievement, fulfilment and self-satisfaction.

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Two years ago, when NHS hospitals – among other organisations around the world – were attacked by ransomware hackers, one of the first to have their computers back up and running was the Lister Hospital in Stevenage. It did not pay the hackers a penny. Instead, Hertfordshire police provided a team of young techies from their squad of volunteers, whose employers encouraged their staff to support local charities and public services. Welcome to 21st century volunteering.

CEO Peter Keller in ‘Time well Spent’ NCVO

Volunteering is really important for the success of various causes, organisations and society as a whole. We sometimes volunteer in informal ways and do not necessarily recognise this. Most of us also volunteer to causes that we care about that are nearby but a very small percentage (3%) volunteer outside the UK. Overall we are providing unpaid help to groups, organisations and individuals that matter to us. Volunteering is one of the best ways we can help others in society.

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It has been an extra special time this month to be able to spend time briefly with past and fellow volunteers in my various roles. They were moments of celebration, an opportunity to meet old and make new contacts in the nice summer months. I will mention some of the events I have attended below. And in true connecting the dots style I will be thinking of the greater impact volunteering has in the short-term…and as well as the long term for me and hopefully for these communities.

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Plant from seeds for my guerilla gardening volunteering

I volunteer throughout the year regardless of the weather, indoors and outdoors, virtually, in groups, individually and tirelessly. I have been a frequent and addictive formal volunteer for the last 15 years, and prior to this in my childhood.

The first set of volunteering this summer was for my local neighbourhood which usually entails gardening, picking up rubbish (constantly!), sending out local notices and information, sharing news and relevant stories on social media feeds and giving a helping hand or moral support for local arts and community events. The best photos here are from local guerrilla gardens, our street party and poetry competitions. I am certainly not the only person to volunteer but there are a few hard-core dedicated people who have been doing fab things year on year since 2012. I am not sure how long all of this will last but I live here, and our neighbourhood is fully engaged in the whole process of looking out for each other and our patch. We have also missed having a local police station after cuts to public budgets, and sometimes have to literally clean up mess, anti-social behaviour and watch out for drug pushing in our neighbourhood. There are lots of families in this area yet there is a lot of worrying anti-social activity. Recently it is the worst it has been, but hopefully our community action will help us all to keep our neighbourhood happy…but also safe.

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It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference – Tom Brokaw

In early July, I was invited to attend the celebration and retirement party for the CEO of the local charity, The Lloyd Park Children’s Charity, where I volunteered for 12 years. Pauline Thomas MBE has dedicated the last 35+ years for developing, championing and actively campaigning local authorities and local government for the provision of services for children, their families and the wider community. She is an amazing person and has a real, authentic and kind portfolio of all the work that she has fought for, won and established. She is the first one to make it clear that she has not achieved it all by herself and constantly depends on her brilliant staff, dedicated volunteers and supporters. Her leadership and committment will always be an inspiration. In this organisation, I was happy to learn so much, develop new skills, challenge myself and offer whatever time I had to assist over those years. There was also a great community affairs programme at the time at the company I worked for whereby they supported staff that were volunteering in their local community with a financial award. I was able to get some recognition and the financial reward, which went to the charity. There are several companies who do support charitable causes and communities – this is reported that there are 8000 funders giving to £8 Million in The Guide to UK Company Giving by the Directory of Social Change.

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A tip to share with you is to give incentive, encourage and display value to volunteers and paid staff. One such way is to hold fun award ceremonies for staff and volunteers. You can reward with a certificate, and those events that were held at this charity were great fun and motivating. I still have my certificates for volunteering and fundraising as they are great merits for community and charitable work. Volunteering is worthwhile not because of awards – but for the intangible skills, experience, talent, understanding and networking you gain working outside your day job. This is beneficial for my own personal development, and I gain experience in tasks and roles that I may not do in my day job. I still refer and draw on volunteering time spent with the charity. There are some good award examples for recognising volunteers on The Third Sector website.

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With Pauline at ex-employers Volunteering Award 2007

I currently volunteer mainly for SLA Europe, an international and professional organisation which the motto – ‘Connecting Information Professionals’. It is an organisation this is based on volunteer support. Events and my activities with them helps me to keep my skills and experience fresh, broad, at the cutting edge of technology…and thought leadership. I host meetings monthly, help in various tasks and activity that may arise – gaining valuable ‘hands on’ experience in the process. It is also great for my strategic thinking and professional leadership experience exposing me to experience that I may not have in my day job. Over the years, I have also grown in confidence in the roles that I have conducted in the Digital Communications Group and as Membership Chair. It has also been excellent for me to also gain regular training and Continued Professional Development (CPD) from physical and virtually events (e.g. webinars). SLA Europe and my self-development are so inter-link in my mind that I sometimes don’t see my volunteering as separate to my day job. It has a direct impact on my abilities, experience, exposure, competency and personal development. To be honest in this profession, we have to be constantly moving with the times, and in this professional volunteering capacity…I am the one who is benefiting from the time that I give freely. It was especially nice to celebrate with other members at the recent Summer Drinks and to feel rejuvenated.

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Unselfish and noble actions are the most radiant pages in the biography of souls – David Thomas

I am really lucky to see the holistic way that volunteering can regenerate and also create new business and artistic benefits for the local community and the wider society. The borough I live in is celebrating this year with the Borough of Culture, and there are a great bunch of volunteers over the years that initially helped the borough to achieve this accolade, funding and attention. There are many activities for this year and the volunteers were in full mode ‘Getting Involved’ at the Walthamstow Garden Party as shown in my photos.

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I still too have a lot of respect and admiration for voluntary organisations that are tackling poverty, homelessness, abuse, or the general well being of other citizens and community members. I sometimes wish I could do more but there just isn’t enough time for me to fit in more. I do like that I work full-time in a profession which helps and empower people to get on with their own objectives. You are never too young or too old to volunteer, and so I will always look to volunteer in the causes and communities throughout my life hopefully.

Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.  – H Jackson Browne Jr.

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Summer sunshine – the best time to go out and about

The sun has been gloriously out the last few days and it is my favourite time of the year. I do like the when the seasons change throughout the year in this hemisphere, but for me it is better when the temperatures are a more amenable for going out more. We spend months and months experiencing rain and damp weather.  Some seasons make me cold and cooped up, although I still try to do interesting things in the colder months. I am thoroughly happier to spend time doing as much (or as little) as I can when the sun and warmer months finally arrive. The British are know for being obsessed with the weather, with even British Vogue charts the reasons for this obsession. It may still be a nice way for the usually reserved British to open a conversation about the weather. What is guaranteed in Britian is that we will be talking about it whether come rain, snow, wind or sunshine. It is also not uncommon to experience all of these atmospheric elements in one day. Regardless of the weather, we must make time to go out for our own wellness and happiness, and that is exactly what I try to do. Here are some of my recent summer ventures and delights to recall with you.

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I am not obsessed about the weather but I do tend to keep an eye on the weather forecast if I am going somewhere, or if I have an event coming up. Being originally from Trinidad, we usually do talk about the weather occasionally as it may be extremely hot, or it may be slightly cold. We rarely talk about the weather when the temperature is ideal. In recent years, there have also been frequent floods, hurricanes and earthquakes – which makes you appreciate good weather regardless if you are on a Caribbean island. For those of you who do not know, the rainy season in the Caribbean can be a big damper on your ‘summer’ vacation in the tropical islands. I had some visitors coming to see me in London this year and I was secretly praying for good weather when they visited a few weeks ago. There are several reasons for this:

  • Tourist destinations look much better in the sunshine
  • You are not cold and wet, otherwise you would have to seek comfort and warmth frequently
  • You can enjoy a lot of outdoor sports and venues
  • You get more done in daylight hours
  • Homes may have an extra room outdoors
  • Gardens look amazing
  • It is a great time to get together
  • Or have a party!

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This year as I had visitors, it was nice to see and plan some events I have been meaning to do for ages. For more of these activities, we were reliant on us enjoying the sights and venues on a clear bright day. My friends are from the Caribbean and ‘feel the cold’ a lot more than myself. Acclimatisation is necessary to feel comfortable with your surroundings but even I have to be prepared for unexpected changes in the weather. The British Council has prepared some tips for visitors. If you are not sure, layering is definitely one of my own recommendations. It was slightly different between June–to-September 2018, as we experienced one of the warmest summers in the last few decades. The Met Office recorded that: “the summer of 2018 was the equal-warmest summer for the UK along with 2006, 2003 and 1976”. It was a relief to have good weather…although there are bigger questions and concerns about climate change.

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One of the first activities in my list of things to do was to show the sights around the West End and historic London. It is handy that I live in Central London and can get the London Underground trains and buses to see most of the sights. We spent about four days in total going around seeing the sights that all first-time visitors like to see around the UK. These include Buckingham Place, Whitehall, The Southbank, The Thames, Covent Garden, The City, Olympic Park and a lot of shopping. I also had a fabulous first cricket game at Lord’s Cricket Ground, and we certainly appreciated that it was a dry day to watch the match.

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I do have a car, which I do not use everyday. However, it is especially useful for going outside of London to see the countryside and other nice outdoor venues. I took my visitors to Cambridge, as it is only about one hour away from me. It was a stress-free drive but we had to make sure parking was organised, as it can be a headache trying to find parking anywhere! It certainly was cheaper to drive than the train tickets for the group of us going there for the day. Travelling in the United Kingdom is very expensive by train compared to other countries.

Cambridge is nice to visit all the universities and colleges – and has an international reputation for it’s academic facilities. In Trinidad, we had (or have) secondary qualifications and examinations that were accredited by Cambridge University, so it is one of the most well known academic institutions for any Caribbean visitor. It is also nice to wander around the town city and to go punting on the River Cam. I am also looking forward to attending and speaking at the SLA Europe Conference in Newnham College in September.

 

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Arundel was an idyllic place to visit that was not too far away from London. I also wanted my friend to experience a traditional castle for its’ history, architecture, rooms, garden and the view. I have visited before to see friends who live there and knew the town well enough to see Arundel Castle and the amazing garden. I could have spent hours in the garden but I also wanted to go to Brighton whilst I was down on the South of England for the day. As the saying goes – make hay whilst the sun shines!

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One of the highlights of the last few weeks was a visit to Paris. I haven’t been to central Paris for 18 years and it was nice to see the city again with all it’s charm and Parisian beauty. I again kept checking on my app to see if we were going to have nice weather and luckily we had some fab weather for three days of walking around and sightseeing. I have since heard that the temperatures have just soared due to the recent heat waves passing across Europe. I also liked that along the Seine, it seemed less busy and the architecture remained tradition as compared to London. I also managed to get my friends on boats three times in one week – Cambridge, The River Thames and The Seine. One disadvantage of travelling in the summer months is the length of the queues to go into Tourist attractions. I went to Eurodisney about 9 years ago and the queues were so long in July, but we still enjoyed the venue over a couple of days. On this trip, I was able to experience all the outdoor must-do’s and Paris will always be a city of love for those who want to be enchanted by it’s glory and culture.

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We didn’t spend the entire time outdoors but it was nice to visit some of the main shopping areas and high streets in London. Whilst out, you see so many shops, and shops in turn, are also reliant on the business of tourists buying their goods. Every city has the usual souvenir shops and we do tend to buy the most iconic souvenirs and treats to take back to friends and family. We mainly shopped in malls, the high street and markets as I mentioned. For my guests, we only bought one item online, as we could not find it in the shops. The outdoor markets are just as fun and become a hive in the nice weather from Borough market for food to my local Walthamstow Market for everything.

 

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If you are helping or planning community events outdoors in the summer, you may have felt panic or anxiety when have to plan for good and bad weather! There are always contingency plans for extreme weather but it is extra nice when the weather is good enough to continue as planned in the ‘great British outdoors’. This was the case with our 8th Street Party – the weather was forecasted to be raining up until the 11th hour before the party started. However like magic, we were able to have a warm and fun day outdoors without having to move equipment and all our gear indoors.

I also went to a recent Indo-Caribbean event in a Sport Centre in Ilford on one of the hottest weekends for the year so far. The heat wave from African and Europe had apparently pushed its’ way to the United Kingdom and temperature was notably humid. However, again it was uncomfortably warm in an enclosed venue but the evening was full of fun and good cheer even though we were sweaty and hot. I also spent a lovely summer’s evening in St Mary’s Church, enjoying the coolness of the ancient church to the rhythmic Flamenco all-female band from Barcelona, Las Migas, making their London Debut.

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Ascot is another event where you hope there is going to be sunshine. I went this year with friends and as soon as my friend booked the tickets, she said, “Pray that it will not rain!” It was a bit rainy this year but luckily for Ladies’ Day, there was more sunshine than rain. I have been to Ascot before in the 1990s when we were in a Marquee with corporate hospitality where your food, drinks and betting are all within the tent. It is nice too to see everyone in the open racecourse and get the general exciting vibes of the races and the entertainment provided. For ladies…and gentlemen, it is even better when the weather doesn’t ruin your well-thought out outfits and hats.

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The summer sunshine definitely improves our mood and wellbeing as we go out more, exploring our surrounding in better conditions and experiencing what’s about. It is my favourite season for going out for a number of reasons. I also love gardening (as you may know) and enjoy flowers and plants in this peak season. Ironically the summer months are also a time to look forward to a proper time to rest and relax here or abroad. Good and bad climate does and will affect us all and we should pay attention to it for our own good. For now, I think I am safe in saying that there is something special about summer, and everybody loves getting a little bit of sunshine.

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Holi – a Springtime festival of Colour

The clocks may have gone forward to signify the beginning of Summertime, but there are other colourful signs of Spring and Summertime that are bursting from nature in this part of the northern hemisphere. It is also festival time for Holi – the ancient Hindu festival celebrated to mark the coming of spring as a time of renewal, regeneration and reconciliation.  It is celebrated with colour to represent vibrancy, fertility and togetherness associated with family and friends who have gathered to have fun. There are other significant stories of the festival such as the story of Lord Krishna and his consort Radha, as well as the story of Holika and Prahlad. It is a time of vibrant celebration when people run around covering each other with the rainbow of Gulal powders or coloured liquid, the latter known as abeer. Drums known as dhol and other musical instruments are played whilst people laugh, sing and dance in the streets or fields. The festival is celebrated in India and various parts of Asia – including the Indian diaspora in the West Indies, North America and even the UK. All in all, the festival represents love and the victory of good over evil.

 

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I was happy to see and learn more about the spring celebrations from past centuries in the Mughal Empire Exhibition at the British Library. The manuscripts and paintings were brilliant and capture the period in time by recording images of people, music, fashion, Holi-playing equipment, the entertainment and fun they obviously had during the celebrations. It was heart-warming to see the extravagance, elegance and details of the Mughal celebrations in the past in their regal settings. I am sure they got dirty too! I was compelled to buy a Holi celebration post card as a souvenir as the festival will always be special to me.

 

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These are some well-documented past celebrations in books with beautiful illustrations and online that show how it was celebrated by all classes in a society – from the Mughals to the people in the streets.

 

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Playing Holi / Phagwa in my village in Trinidad late 1980s.

 

Celebrating the festival of Holi is one of my best childhood memories, and it still makes me happy to see it celebrated from afar. It is a time for peaceful fun with the family, neighbours, friends and other villagers. It certainly is still very much a festival of togetherness which showcases the physical activity like a special rainbow – full of vibrant colour, music, dance and love.

 

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Phagwa, as we call it in the West Indies, is an integral part of the cultural calendar and is still very much alive considering it was brought from India to the West Indies by the indentured labourers in the 1840’s. Holi goes according to the lunar calendar which means it is usually celebrated in March. It is a national holiday in India but in Trinidad it is celebrated on the closest Sunday to the Indian date. Our local temple (mandir) is still the hub for organising and congregating for the celebration in the village, with persons wearing mainly white clothes prior to the start of the coloured festivities. With dholak drums carried around the neck and other musical instruments – the procession starts at the temple and goes along street after street, where people are invited in homes for some drinks, sweets or refreshments. This can last a few hours.

 

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It is exciting, thrilling and fun to play Holi. According to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago’s website – ‘A Carnival-like atmosphere pervades as willing participants are sprayed with a variety of coloured dyes.  You can hear the strains of special folk songs called Chowtal being sung, accompanied by two instruments – the Dholak, a small hand drum and Majeera, percussive instruments.  The music is fast-paced and extremely infectious, making you want to take part in the joy-filled revelry’.

It has gained popularity over the years by other non-Hindus and ethnicities. In the chapter ‘A rich blend of cultural influences’ in the book ‘Trinidad and Tobago: Terrific and Tranquil’, the island is described: “…but then in Trinidad and Tobago, always expect the unexpected, for this is a nation of two separate territories, many different ethnic groups and religions, and discrete and common cultures. You’d be hard pressed to find a population as ethically or culturally mixed as Trinidad’s, in such a small place, anywhere in the world”. The chapter also goes on to say: “Holi is an integral part of the cultural calendar”. Phagwa, March’s Hindu spring festival is celebrated on savannahs throughout the island to the singing of chowtal or pichakaaree songs and the drenching of all with colourful abeer”.

 

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Abeer is the purple liquid that my father would make in a bucket early on the Sunday morning of Holi. It used to be still warm from the water used to infuse the dye when we used to fill our saved and recycle bottles for the purple liquid. The buzz of getting that first spray with colour is truly joyous, fun and bonding! You certainly would not wear your ‘Sunday best clothes’ because by the end of the day your clothes will be soaked, and even ruined. In the 1980’s the coloured Gulal powder was introduced but prior to that we would use mainly the abeer liquid for spraying or drenching each other. My father would try to find some of the elders, such as Mama and Argee, in the neighbourhood to spray with abeer as a sign of respect, and to join in the fun. Throughout the day, we would look to spray our neighbours, family and the temple group as we go street to street through our special village. Phagwa is still celebrated with much fervour through Trinidad – now in schools and has been adopted by some as a national celebration and part of our identity.

 

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My Roman Catholic School – Holi Greetings on Facebook

 

My mother, family and villagers still welcome the local temple groups to our home for Holi, as do many homes along the parade in the village. I am grateful for the persons who are committed and still carry on these traditions after many years. It will always be our heritage and a true celebration of our past journeys across the seas. The message of good over evil, and the joy of life are always relevant. I am thankful to feel part of the great festivities, and the contagious happiness when I witnessed them on social media.

 

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Holi has influenced our multi-cultural society, such as when carnival band designer Peter Minshall used the spraying off colour on his masqueraders for his band Callaloo in 1984. Chutney music, which is the fusion of Caribbean and Asian beats and melodies, has been successful in creating mixed and modern music for the festivities. There is still a religious festival so there is no alcohol consumed on the day. So it is pure fun and happiness with the colours, music, dance and interaction with people.

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Callaloo – Carnival Band by designer Peter Minshall.   Source: Tumblr – http://carnival2014-blog.tumblr.com/post/46371316750/peter-minshall-callaloo-1984-photo-roy-boyke

I also can’t help thinking of Holi when I see the music video for the calypso by Machel Montano, better known as the Soca king, called ‘Fog up de Place’ with the lyrics: ‘you can’t play mas if you fraid powder’. J’ouvert and the Carnival sailor masqueraders share powder for different reasons (US sailors stationed in Trinidad used talc powder to cool themselves from the tropical heat), but the visual effects of the powder in the air is still amazing and similar. We have these festive traits in common.

 

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A few years ago, I saw that there was a globetrotting event based on Holi called Holi One Festival at Battersea Power Station in London. I also recall seeing some people on the London Underground with the powder on their once white clothes. There is a brilliant article ‘Holi One Colour Festival – Battersea Unites in an Explosion of Colour’ which explained the festival’s aimed to bring together people from all walks of life to share music, arts, fun and vitality. It was reported that: “14000 expectant revellers dressed from head to toe in white – three quarters of them women – streamed along the pavements like angelic ants, moving collectively towards one of London’s most recognised landmarks. They would leave an entirely different colour!” At the end of the event – the organisers found it promoted the ideas of togetherness and vitality that did not disappoint – “they were multi-coloured and it’s fair to say – unrecognisable mess”. A jet-wash was used for the clean up the next day. I can relate to this, as it is absolutely true too that you can still see some of the colour stains and evidence of Holi for a few days after the event. Your hair and fingernails will also bear the colours of Holi as a gentle…and sweet reminder afterwards. I don’t mind that.

 

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The Indian Bollywood film industry has helped us to appreciate the festival for its connection with the East Indies and West Indies. In the 1980s, we had neither Internet nor social media, so film such as Silsila was brilliant for us to see the visual expression and art of Holi as it is celebrated in India. We also know some of the songs, and they remain classics to this day.

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Film – Silsila 1981. Source: Wikipedia.

Holi is celebrated and popular throughout other West Indian countries such as Guyana and Suriname, where there are large Indo-Caribbean communities. I have also seen celebrations on social media in New York, Houston, Paris, Canada etc. The event in Queens, New York seems to be a merger of West Indians and East Indians, and there are Tassa drums used in the parade. The New York Police Department also participated in one of the Holi celebrations and used the opportunity to showcase their LGBT+ community. The rainbow symbol is very apt. It is a festival of time for everyone regardless of religion, colour, class, gender and age from my personal experience.

 

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A few years ago I went to the Caribbean Hindu Temple in North London to celebrate the festival and it was nice to be welcomed by the community and to play Holi again after so many years. I was going to play it this year but was busy on the day. I saw on social media that Indian students were also celebrating Holi at Middlesex University recently, and a couple of primary schools in the UK.   It was nice to see the celebrations in secular environments for the happiness and fun that playing Holi brings.

 

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Holi has been given a lot of exposure (rightly so!) by Google. Google’s logo is colourful and has evolved over the years.  In the last few years they have commissioned colourful and animated ‘Goggle Doodles’ for Holi with clearly explanatory details of the festival. In 2018, it depicted the traditional dhol drummers amongst a cloud of colour, who move from house to house, adding a musical touch to the day’s festivities. In 2019, it states that the visual excitement marks the start of spring but also offers: “a time for renewal, and a reversal of the social hierarchies among ages, classes, and castes. Holi’s also known as the festival of colors or the festival of love because it marks a time for coming together and releasing old grudges”. 

At Holi, the story of Holika is depicted with bonfires.  The bonfire signifies the demoness Holika, who tried to destroy her nephew Prahlad in a fire, but burnt herself to death in the end. Its’ meaning at springtime reminds us about the true victory of good over evil.

 

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The colourful festival of Holi is a diverse and inclusive celebration of dance, music and other rituals, which is a common thread amongst most cultures. The vibrancy, warmth and togetherness by people taking to the streets or in their community spaces, is something we all should try to experience at least once. The rainbow colours of the festival are played to the beating of songs of joy and happiness. It heralds a warm welcome to the new spring season with its’ stories, merriment, song and dance. In some form or another in human life, we can learn and admire this rich ancient celebration as we dance along to the beat of drums.

 

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Disruption and Innovation in Retailing – Online vs the High Street

You may not have missed the news headlines lately about our high streets facing some challenging times. Noone is unaffected and even large ‘safe’ department stores are experiencing disruption in their sales with some of them closing at a very fast rate or on the brink of liquidation. There are lots of factors that may have contributed to poor performance and sales, especially with the current lack of consumer confidence, the weak pound with inflated prices, jobs at risks, high business rates, steep rents and overheads. No wonder accountancy firm BDO published their latest 2018 figures for their high street tracker confirming that footfall was down by 6% than 2017, and that there are further shop closures expected in the future.

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Source: eMarketer

 

In my research, I saw worrying headlines with the titles ‘Hell on the High Street’ or ‘The Death of the High Street’! However, it is not all doom and gloom. There are some real disruptions…and innovations already changing the way we purchase goods online and in-stores. Without a doubt, online shopping is changing the physical high street but in some cases – it is offering innovative new in-store experiences and also giving consumers more choices and a different shopping experience with the use of new technology and social media.

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I want to share my observations to highlight the great ways entrepreneurial and creative businesses are proactively changing the high street with the help of regeneration programmes. And I want to stress here that I will always seek to support the high street as it is our living environment and the heart of our communities and local businesses.

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One of the main factors of the changing high street is the proliferation of online buying. Global Data Online in ‘E-retail in the UK 2018-2023’ reports following “robust growth over the past 10 years, the UK online market is set to top £55.9billion in 2018 and remain on a positive growth trajectory, albeit glowing as the channel matures… the online channel will remain a key driver of total growth in the UK retail market as physical channels underperform due to falling footfall and shoppers seeking convenience and choice online”. More and more we are shopping online, and people are increasingly trusting online channels. The demographic analysis shows that younger people are using mobiles to order more so than compared to older spenders – and the figures are growing with social media penetrating retail markets to drive purchases, especially via the smartphone. Surely you have seen promoted adverts on Facebook and Instagram on your smartphone! We have recently just survived the US influenced Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

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The Global Data Online report lists the eleven drivers to online shopping and my personal comments are mentioned here too as I can relate to them:

  • Convenience – do shop from home or anywhere with a smartphone
  • Lower Prices – keep track on items for when they are discounted
  • Can shop at any time that suits me – order groceries from home
  • Save time – not spending time and travel costs to supermarket or high street
  • Better selection – competition to have higher quality and quantity
  • Product not available elsewhere – hard to find items so easy on digital
  • Allows me to compare prices – showing virtually without even visiting the shops
  • More product information – descriptions and photos help indeed
  • Prompted by Online promotions – how can you avoid promotions really?
  • Receive an online voucher – spend it when you can…why not!
  • Less likely to forget to buy it – it is in my basket and always there to remind me!

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This is being silly…but seriously online buying is here to stay. I started using Amazon in the late 1990s to procure books for libraries and our customers. I personally also used to buy music CDs in the early 2000s. I now frequently buy from most online shops or my favourite hunts. Compare this to the 1990s when I used to love browsing the physical shops in my lunch break when I worked near Covent Garden. Now I have a real problem with the shops being at my fingertips 24/7! I sometimes can’t avoid being distracted by push emails, adverts, change of season sales or campaigns. There is now an actual term called ‘impulse buying’ which I certainly do. Are you like me and try to justify your purchases? Yes, I look for bargains and so I try to control my expenditure. Certainly there is a shift in my online buying behaviour on the last 10 years and I am not alone.

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I do like researching items online such as when I recently needed (another!) pair of shoes for work. I was thinking of going to a shop for some comfortable shoes, but I was browsing online recently and saw the right colour, shape, heel height, size and at a discounted price! Therefore, I was unable to resist buying some new Vagabond shoes for work. One feature I look for in online shopping is ‘Click and Collect’ as I am not able to predict the delivery times to collect packages. This option usually means that you do not pay delivery charges and it is my preferred form of delivery. It really is as easy as that to get what you are looking for!

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Another major shift is grocery shopping. I remember my friends trying to convince me to buy groceries online circa 2012. I eventually started ordering groceries online and there are some clear benefits for me. Some of these include budgeting better, saving time by ordering at home rather than three hours of shopping in store, and avoiding to buy items in store that I may not need. Sometimes there are issues with items being replaced by either an inferior or even superior product. You might get squashed bread, wilted vegetables or occasionally order the wrong item yourself, but generally I like ordering food online as it frees up my precious time. I still go to the local supermarkets if I want fresh items from the bakery, butcher and to top-up my mid-week groceries. One friend pointed out that this is more environmentally friendly to grocery shop like this as there are less people using cars, or we are walking to local mini-supermarkets and shops for the mid-week shopping.

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The last main point about online shopping is the ubiquitous Amazon. It is no doubt that Amazon dominates the online cyberspace across devices due to its wide range of products and brand offering. It really is brilliant…but so annoying too! As mentioned above I do remember the earlier days of just buying books, but it is worrying the negative impact it may be having in dominating the retail space and pushing local and smaller shops out of business. Although Amazon says that it is helping small business sellers, there are also big picture issues that they pay little tax whilst their profits are tripling. I have love/hate sentiments about this and so now limit how often I order from them. For example, if I am looking for a book for personal use, I try to use local bookshops but would only use Amazon if I am unable to find the title easily.

Now away from online shopping, the ‘bricks and mortar’ high street is going through some disruption too from this ripple effect. The major retailers are having to innovate and cope with the aftershock of online but high street shops are also changing. For example, pubs are the fastest growing failing businesses but at the same time the pubs that are surviving are gastro-pubs serving food and therefore they tend to employ more people. My local pubs are now used for Quizzes, entertainment and other community initiatives. Coffee shops, artisan, creative makers, boutiques and other start-ups are forging new ground on the high street via pop-up shops, co-working spaces and regeneration of the high street. It is never easy. There are still immense pressures and costs to manage but generally, we are consciously trying to support local businesses by shopping local. In the past there have been the Love Your High Street campaign, and this weekend is the Small Business Saturday initiatives to promote and support local small businesses.

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I recently presented a webinar with Open to Export whereby food and drink retailers are doing fairly okay on the high street (with exceptions of course). Tobacconists, barbers, coffee shops are some of the growing independent businesses but there are some worst off businesses such as Post Offices (which are having to innovate services), Banks, Photographic services, Travel Agents, Newsagents and even Indian restaurants due to healthier eating habits. One thing is for sure is that shops have to be one step ahead of all the challenges faced by being smart and adaptable to the dynamics of the high street, technology and consumer behaviour. It is brilliant to see creative businesses and artisan shops thriving in some areas brought about by groups of creatives and makers who are proactively engaging with their local community and neighbourhoods. In my neighbourhood, they are also collaborating for the seasonal ‘shop local’ street promotions.

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I attended a recent presentation where the founder of Workary and Wimbletech spoke of all the benefits of localism and how these groups use their libraries, local councils and commercial co-working hubs to start and grow their business community. This sort of activities are very prominent in my local area and I couldn’t be more pleased and proud. I just don’t have the money to buy things frequently from these businesses but I am certainly rooting for their success and it pains me when a shop do shut down. The shopping mall is also actively changing to host a new coffee shop, local family friendly events and other social activities. It is interesting to observe all of these shopping options as we also have the famous Walthamstow Market adjacent to the shopping mall and the rising number of independent shops. Walthamstow Market is the vibrant and unique longest outdoor street market in Europe and should be a must on your visitor’s list.

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As we head into the busiest shopping season of the year. It is hard to think we will be exclusively shopping online…or on the high street. I certainly will be looking to mix-up my shopping experiences and try to support these two very different options to make sure that I go with the tech flow, but also to remain human and use these very different two options available to me. Some shops are adopting new technology and surviving brilliantly. Long may they innovate and survive the changes! The robots are not doing it all for us as yet.

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The Bigger Picture – challenges, benefits and celebrating positivity with Diversity, Inclusion and Equity

Diversity is a fact, inclusion is a practice and equity is a goal –

Dereca Blackmon, Stanford

What do diversity, inclusion and equity really mean? …This is the question we might want to ask ourselves, especially in a diverse digitally connected world in the 21st century. It can be unclear why we even need to discuss this topic but it has been on my radar particularly since I was asked to take part in a SLA Task Force for Diversity and Inclusion in 2016. I was an honour to be asked, and I was unsure if I had anything insightful to contribute but to be honest, I realised that I was already championing the features of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity. We don’t usually need to disclose attributes of people, but for the purpose of this blog post, I have mentioned information on myself and gave a couple of real examples.

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SLA Diversity & Inclusion Task Force Participation in 2017

I am a little ahead of the game for some obvious reasons – I am female, an ethnic minority, working mother with a powerful diverse background of being a Trinidadian (other Trinidadians will understand what I mean with regards to diversity), married to a European, living in multicultural London…and I worked in world class libraries. I am heterosexual with no obvious disabilities. However we must remember that there are other areas of diversity and inclusion that is deeper than the physical and obvious. The point of this blog post is to discuss some of the challenging issues we face, but also to find examples of good practices and stress how important it is for information professionals to advocate, champion and stand up for diversity and inclusion for the communities and customers we serve. In this context, I am mainly discussing the business workplace and libraries with some principles for the wider society.

I need to do some more research on an official definition for Diversity, Inclusion and Equity as it tends to cover Equality rights and anti-discrimination policies. However there are some good pointers on this Wikipedia page, and the SLA Caucus page has a good example of the motive behind the topics. The term Equity is used more in the US, where I saw a good example on this voluntary sector site Independent Sector.

Freedom is Indivisible –Nelson Mandela

 

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Found in a Venue in Tottenham

My research also came across a motivating quote on Diversity and Inclusion at the closing keynote at the National Diversity in Libraries Conference, Los Angeles – Bourg, as a white, butch, lesbian, Army veteran, library director, and Hathcock, as a black, straight, cisgender, Christian, Southern, non-director, sat on stage and talked from the heart about the ways in which they are attempting to learn from and with each other along their varying intersections. Their work, said Bourg and Hathcock, begins first and foremost with an acknowledgement that “libraries have never been, are not now, and will never be neutral,” that whiteness sits at the heart of our society and therefore our institutions”.

This puts the topic in context and shows the library and information professional position on Diversity and Inclusion.   There is a quest of best practice by information professionals in being pragmatic with neutrality versus social justice for the communities who we serve in providing facts, unbiased and trusted information. For example, I remember being ‘as nice as apple pie’ serving members of the British National Party in a working library where impartiality and neutrality were the guiding principles. However at the same time, on balance I would advocate for libraries that were cut by mainstream Politicians and government policies. As I am aware, I still try in my own way to reach marginalised library users by stretching out.   There is a need to try to reach as many as possible, regardless of biases and background. This world should be a level playing field where everyone has a voice. We certainly should also stand up if something or if someone was harmful or threatening to others.

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Looking at ‘The Bigger Picture’ shows that Diversity, Inclusion and Equity are progressive hot topics. It is important for us to think about these terms in the workplace as well as in society. There are a few events that I kept a close eye on social media recently, where there were online events advocating and discussing the topics. The UK Lib Chat Twitter talk on ‘Celebrating Diversity: supporting clients and broadening the profession in libraries’ held some great nuggets of thoughts on how we should implement this in this sector. It was also fabulous to see the tweets (Twitter @StemGameChange) shared for the Gender Diversity in STEM event at the Alan Turing Institute a couple of weeks ago. It was nice for the speakers to invite me in too but I was busy in my normal work, so could not attend. I also refer to CILIP and SLA Connect online community caucus on Diversity and Inclusion for best practices and information.

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Gender Equality in STEM at the Alan Turing Institute

So what is the problem? Why do we need to be reminded about Diversity & Inclusion? Harvard Business Review’s ‘Research: People share more information with colleagues of similar backgrounds’ states: “in the workplace, people tend to trust and attribute a higher status to colleagues whose cultural background are similar to their own. As a result, members of the majority national group – and minorities who share cultural similarities with the majority – also share the most information with one another. Whereas minorities with the most cultural differences are often attributed a lower status and information is withheld from them. This withholding can cause those from ‘low status’ minority groups to underperform and never reach their full potential”.

This is just one of the problems. There are other issues around privilege, recruitment, team dynamics, talent development, gender pay-gap, cronyism, cliques, tribes and exclusivity, which act as barriers to diversity and inclusion. There have been some progress and positive steps to have better talent and support systems, but this also requires diversity and inclusion to be fluid enough to filter to the top of teams and even executive boards. There is a lot of research that a more diverse board or top management around the table will have broader viewpoints and experiences, which will heed better business decisions that are best for an organisation.

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Words in this blog…Diversity and Inclusion

Most of the research I read says that it is not always easy to achieve the right balance. “True equality is not taking away for one to give to another. It means having an equal voice, opportunities and rights”. There is a lot written on the ‘privileged’ White Alpha Male – a group that has long been overdone and it can be monotonous for the rest of us in the shadows. It is possible to seek more balance where anyone can get an opportunity to contribute and to harness talent. There is richness in diversity, inclusion and equity in all of this…if we are in it together. The demography, scope and locations of the global consumers are also more diverse in a digital world – and top management have to reflect and understand their audience, staff, customers, clients and stakeholders. We are not forgetting the White Alpha Male – we are simply including him in the mixture with a balanced and broader talent pool. We just have to make room for more diversity and inclusion.

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In the article ‘While automation eats jobs, it doesn’t eat work’ on Equity: “companies are committed to a diverse work force for varying motivations. Some believe that diverse teams are just smarter and more creative… Other firms, especially technology companies believe that they are disproportionally responsible for designing the future and therefore it’s simply wrong to leave entire communities out of their teams”. There is also a positive outcome when people feel they belong – they perform better.

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The other aspect of Diversity and Inclusion practices is that there are strategies for a supportive culture, with advocacy to maintain and sustain positive levels. It is recommended that organisations examine themselves and their policies for: “without them, diversity cannot be achieved because people will leave before they are given the opportunity to make a difference”.

Another piece of research by Culture Amp states: “Creating a workplaces that make people feel they belong. Without this, no matter how much diversity you might achieve by the numbers. You may find people feel disconnected, disengaged and prone to leaving your organisation”.

There is another issue of unconscious and conscious bias. There may be physical attributes to humans that make us compassionate and conscious to inclusiveness. At a Public Library Conference in the USA this year, keynote speaker Steve Pemberton (Chief Diversity Officer at GloboForce) explains: “the first picture you see of someone is not the full picture”. We come into this world with visible characteristics and diversity traits… but the real story is below the line: “This things you can’t see would be stunned to see how much commonality there really is, but it requires conversation and willingness to be open and to learn”. So with this in mind – an inclusive environment means providing everyone, no matter who they are with equal access. The richness of inclusion and diversity is below this invisible line: “Top of the waterline are people’s visible traits but below the water line many other invisible traits emerge, such as sexual orientation, beliefs and background”. Pemberton went on to say: “that we need to depend on each other and celebrate our myriad experiences because we all have something new to learn about the world”.

I may be thinking of a Utopian idea…but we can dream, and hopefully we can forget the hostile and divisive hot air that is currently blowing in parts of this world.

In reality, there is still some work to do. Libraries still play a large part in diversity and inclusion, and operate in one of the most open physical and digital areas you would expect to encounter. But we are still a profession in the English-speaking world that has mainly white professionals. It is heart-warming and motivating when I see social media shares from libraries in Trinidad and Tobago for their good work on diversity and inclusion programmes.

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This way – Library sign in  Trinidad & Tobago

There are still vast issues, levels of poverty and access for customers in a ‘first world’ country like the United Kingdom. A multi-cultural and diverse content coverage should be programmed, but there are pressures on public funds. Socio-economic barriers prevent diversity in developing professionals and the communities they serve. Most of these issues are in disadvantaged urban environments where there are discourse for crime, low income families struggles, poverty, underprivileged persons and other societal disparities – therefore librarians act as a haven for promoting diversity and inclusion in their communities. There are other barriers like the digital divide, dyslexia, the elderly, literacy, languages, and physical disabilities. Some will be visible and some below the line. This may be a good point to acknowledge too that there are some people who may never come into the library, but there are still a large proportion of people who do see its’ worth and will continue to use them.

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Therefore we must continue to be diverse, inclusive and equitable. Outreach and marketing work helps to reach marginalised communities which will foster positive inclusion for developing diverse professionals and customer bases. CILIP has a great page on the work they are doing in their diversity and inclusion programmes. It is motivating as an information professional that we are doing our little bit on the front line to help disadvantaged communities and individuals. It leads to better social cohesion, improve economic prosperity and the possibilities in a more level playing field in a diverse and inclusive society.

There are a lot of best practices out there for professionals and organisations to champion the business and corporate social responsibility (CSR) benefits for Diversity, Inclusion and Equity programming. These types of programmes are leading the way and act as a benchmark to adopt and ‘anchor’ in our businesses and mission. Some of these admirable organisations are Channel Four, Touchstone and Halebury. There are some tips on the CIPD factsheet, and the Gov.UK website as an employer.

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So what does this all mean to us now? …There are a lot of positive policy, narrative changes, game-changers and professionals working to create more diverse and inclusive work environments. There are also inclusiveness programmes that are trying to balance representation, content, coverage and highlight diverse stories for personnel and patrons for all types of businesses. Some cynics may even be ‘fatigued’ by the words ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ and much more so by an inclusive agenda! However, if we don’t continue to encourage positive policy and action – we will end up with an echo chamber and miss out on the richness of celebrating our differences and similarities.

In the bigger picture – diversity, inclusion and equity have a lot of benefits and are the best ingredients for shared collaboration and empowerment of individuals and organisations. Embedded inclusion with a whirlpool of diverse talent makes life more interesting, and exposes us to fresh perspectives, bringing better understanding and with it respect, compassion and hopefully, greater all-round success.

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Welcome.

 

The Summer holidays are here!

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful,

we must carry it with us or we find it not. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Summer is in full swing and it is the time of year when most of us are thinking of enjoying time off from work, school, commitments or simply a break from the normal routine. It is also the season to enjoy the usually better weather, get outdoors more, go sightseeing, travel and rest. The sunny summer of 2018 has been gloriously blessed, until now, with good weather and has helped in my decision to have a Staycation.

My last staycation was in 2012 and I am certainly happy to try mini-breaks in the UK this year having been away consistently for the last few years. As an adult, I have had time off the whole summer when I was on maternity leave twice, in between jobs and redundant. It was a blessing in disguise to spend the whole summer off, even if I had to be on a budget. I will write about one of my mini-breaks in 2018 here.

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There is also the cost of travelling that has been one of the factors for me having a staycation this summer. In ‘Caravan and Camping Sites in the UK’ report by IBIS World predicts 2.3% annual grow to reach £3.8 billion by 2023-34. The report is also insightful on why other British travellers may be doing this: “weather patterns and fluctuations in exchange rates will continue to encourage domestic tourism over the next few years, as the UK remains a cheap holiday destination”. The report goes on to explain: “fragile consumer confidence is likely to cause families to delay discretionary expenditure on holidays over the next few years. However, this could also have a positive effect on the industry as UK holidaymakers who would previously have taken trips abroad may instead choose to take relatively inexpensive domestic camping mini-breaks. Similar to the conditions at the start of the period, low consumer confidence may help to sustain the staycation trend”. So this insight is quite relevant to me. I didn’t go caravanning this year, but I spent a weekend in a campsite at a Jazz Festival and can imagine other more official campsites across the country benefitting from this type of holiday.

The last few years I have planned my holidays at least six months in advance to get the best deals possible as the flights tend to cost higher closer to the time of travel. Most of the time, like all families with children at school, we have little choice and flexibility and so must travel in the peak inflated priced holiday periods like everybody else! However, for children with working parents it is the time of year that you can actually have some quality time to relax and spend with the family.

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I haven’t travelled extensively due the cost and family commitments. However, I seem to have travel in my DNA as a fourth generation Indian immigrant to the West Indies. There are some places I have scratched off my list, but there is still a long imaginary bucket list of places I would like to visit one day. For example, my bucket lists contains India. Being of Indian heritage, I would like to visit India in the future but the cost for a family will be horrendous and I certainly don’t want to go on my own. I would also like to go to the Far East to Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, and other parts of the world such as Africa, Brasil, Peru, Mexico, San Francisco, and other Caribbean islands. The list can really go on, and on. I know that air travel is not good for the environment and wish that there were other environmentally friendly modes of transport that were quicker and cheaper. There is no real chance of me going to all the countries I would like to visit in the near future anyway, so hopefully I can ‘be chilled’ about my carbon footprint for now.

Two roads diverged into a wood, and I – I took the one less travelled

– Robert Frost

Generally, I don’t follow my bucket list of places to visit. I honestly don’t think my list will ever be finite, as I love learning and seeing new parts of this beautiful, interesting and natural world. My friend Barry blogged here and just came back from Antarctica. It sounded so very different from what I am used to – and so I wish I could visit there one day. My friends, Anna and Pete, also have had an amazing holiday this year in Japan and there too is on my bucket list. I have an aunt, Sandra, in Canada who has travelled extensively and I love how she uses Facebook to share her stories and enthusiasm for travel, culture and the people she meets. My neighbour, Bob, sent me a photo of his happy holiday in Rhodes just a few days ago. Social media has all the temptation for aspiring to visit places…or even for you to remain at home and see the world. It’s a win win for exploring the Earth! One of my post popular blog posts since I started this blog was my trip to New York City in 2016. One relative said that my photos inspired them to take a trip to New York that same year.

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My neighbour sent me his holiday view from his balcony in Rhodes …Wishful thinking.

Mintel’s Consumer Confidence Finance Tracker from April 2017 found that long holidays, short breaks and days out all features in the top 10 things people spend their disposable income on. Mintel reports that “despite the Brexit vote and the drop in the value of the pound, consumers have shown their strong appetite for oversees holidays. Mintel estimates that overseas trips grew by 5% to 44.3 million in 2016”. The barriers and bottom line to seeing all those places is the cost of travel, which is expensive. You also have to consider the time required away from a full time job, family commitments, and possibly travel restrictments such as travel visas and your safety. One can still dream about travelling to new places though. Travel is always good for new experiences, ideas, creativity and culture. We also come away understanding the places and people that we have visited.

Should I stay or go? …Well, this year I stayed in England. I went last week for a few days to Derbyshire for a break. This meant that I avoided the busy drive to an airport, checking-in procedures, the lounging, duty free temptations and general busyness of an airport. My drive was just under three hours to my destination. I was quite excited as I had been told by friends and family that the countryside in the Peak District was beautiful. There are also nice restaurants in Derbyshire and the surrounding areas – all in the mix with international and local cuisine.

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The two main attractions I visited were stately homes – Chatsworth House and Haddon Hall. The drives to both locations were very scenic through parts of the National Forest, villages, rivers and winding roads with the undulating hills of the Derbyshire countryside.

Chatsworth House is spectacular and I had heard so much about it. I love the drive to the house with the sheep resting in the shade of the trees and grazing on the grass on a sunny summer’s morning during our recent heatwave. The house’s exterior itself has a magical simplicity in its shape and design. I particularly liked the garden and all its difference features such as The Cascade, the 100 steps to the maze, the rock garden, the lilies, grotto etc. There were so many vistas to take it all in, and I loved the beautiful plants and trees. It must be nice in winter but it certainly was splendid in the heart of summer with the sheep baa-ing closeby, the butterflies fluttering on plants, and the lovely birdsong. I intend to visit the garden again one day. Touch wood!

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The interior of the house was also interesting and it was nice too that the current owner, the Duke of Devonshire and family, are still involved in the house’s upkeep. I liked the mix of modern and older art pieces in the collection. It is always interesting to see how other people live regardless of wealth or social class – and this house obviously had historic significance. The actors impersonating the past head gardener, Joseph Paxton, told us about the evening that Queen Victoria visited the maze garden adorned in a candlelit atmosphere. This must have been something to see! They still host amazing events at Chatsworth House throughout the year.

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As a special treat, I also had afternoon tea served on Wedgewood China. I was even inspired to try one of the sweet puddings on my return to London a few days after. Chatsworth House is beautiful for indulgence in a beautiful setting and was really interesting for creative ideas too – be it gardening, writing novels, poems, painting, photography, music and most of all… period dramas films! It has been the setting for programmes such as Pride and Prejudice’. The shop was also full of lovely tokens and souvenirs.

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The next day was just as exciting at Haddon Hall, Bakewell. I loved the medieval features and the lived-in feel and evidence of the house’s history – from the wooden kitchen surfaces, to the medieval steps, courtyard and banquet hall. I also liked the vista over the rolling hills and countryside from the windows in the house.

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Again, the garden was amazing too and I am hoping that I can visit Haddon Hall again! I loved the planting of some of my favourite plants, the view from the garden terraces, which gave the garden a varied dimension from the river to the hill. The house was something out of a storybook with the stream and medieval setting. Places like this brings the past alive and sends our imagination into overdrive! I managed to squeeze in a nice pub lunch in nearby Bakewell (famous for it’s Bakewell tart) too.

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Travelling is my drug of choice

– quote shared by my well-travelled Aunt.

This was a short break in an extraordinarily warm summer in England. I hope to visit a couple more places such as Southwold and Norwich this year. I may even visit Paris and Italy for very short breaks too. Trinidad will always be home for me to visit. In 2019, I am hoping to visit Greece. In the meantime, I will try to save some money, use the Internet to see the place I haven’t been and keep dreaming of nice and interesting places I would like to visit…one day.

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Women’s Health – raising awareness, challenges and opportunities

“I’m interested in Women’s health because I’m a woman.

I’d be a darn fool not to be on my own side.”

– Maya Angelou

I am astonished that women are still struggling to have high levels of healthcare in the 21st century. Yes, we have come a long way in understanding our own bodies and the healthy lifestyles we need to lead, but despite the advances in Women’s Health – there is still progress to be made and we sometimes get a bit complacent with our own lifestyles choices. I don’t think we can ever stop improving our levels in health facilities and education. And so we will always aim to advance health programmes, especially in less developed countries of the world. There is an essential need to be open, transparent and to have this conversation. Our vaginas, breasts…and whole body need attention throughout life.

The last few months has provided a lot of inspiration for me to write this post. I have the following great examples of women helping other women, and also raising awareness in on health issues using traditional and social media to keep us engaged and to get their messages out. These are new channels to reach out to women, and girls. It is also encouragement to take the initative to have ownership of our health and bodies. With women constantly facing challenges in our life cycle – here are some of the amazing examples of positive action where women are helping other women to take control of their own lives and destiny. Some of the health issues on here are easy to write about as I feel compel to share the amazing work going on.

A gynaecologist relative, Dr Sabrina Ramkisson, proactively campaigns to raise awareness on women’s health issues, especially Cervical Cancer Screening. Sabrina regularly use tradition and social media to inform and empower women and girls to stay ahead on their health. She organised a 5K ‘Smearathon’ for women and men last August in the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port of Spain, Trinidad. At the event, there were other gynaecologists to offer advice, on-site smear booths and some fun activities. Sabrina also successfully hosted the digital #SmearforSmear lipstick campaign to remind and encourage women to take a regular smear test to prevent cervical cancer. I was able to take part here in London, and she also shared photos of other women in Trinidad & Tobago and other countries, who smeared their lipstick.   It was a visible bond and showed support for women who took part.

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There is a decrease in the number of women and girls who are not taking their cervical cancer screening. Therefore, it is with greater impetus and purpose that campaigns like these are being transparent with much fervour. Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is a UK charity set up by a co-founder who has survived cancer, and they also aim to raises awareness of cervical cancer with active campaigns. The charity founded the #SmearforSmear campaign which is run in January for Cervical Cancer Awareness. It was an utter pleasure to see #SmearforSmear trending on Twitter last month as the figure for women taking a smear test was in decline.

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Only yesterday I read an article about comedian Karen Hobbs, who was diagnosed at 24 years with cervical cancer. Luckily she is another cervical cancer survivor, whose blog and performance urge you to not be embarrassed about your smear test. Karen has also been praised by The Eve Appeal for making light the serious topic of cancer.

I also know the lovely Claire Mcdonald, who is working on changing behaviours, cancer prevention and raising awareness in health. Claire and her colleague Sinead recently visited me at the British Library to find lifestyles information for women and girls for their awareness campaigns on Jo’s Trust and Coppafeel, the Breast Cancer Prevention Cancer charity. They were particularly interested in demographics that will help them target their audiences, and their health messages. They were looking at factors such as reproductive behaviours, poverty, income levels, age, geographical locations and other factors that may affect a woman’s health. These bring the questions: Do women share a bath? Would they have time to ‘do the check’ on their breasts? How many persons are having children at a younger age that may prevent cancer? Are they smokers at a higher risk level? Questions needs answers.

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Do the Check! – Coppafeel

The library is useful for helping in researching these issues. For example some golden information nuggets in Mintel’s ‘Marketing to Women February 2017’ are:

  • the age of motherhood continues to rise “although 2015 saw a slight increase in the number of live births, the average age of motherhood continues to rise, reaching 30.3 years”.  
  • social media stars are feeding a culture of health and wellness amongst young women
  • on ‘Period leave’ – the issue of period impacting on women’s sports performance with Heather Watson and Fu Yuanhui both blaming their period for their underperformance, whilst marathon runner, Kiran Gandhi chose to freeblee for the duration of the London event
  • 16-34 years old are most likely to use or be interested in using apps that help anxiety or stress management
  • ‘This Girl Can’ campaign helps to get female more active with 16 million people aged over 16 play sport on a weekly basis

Looking at these lifestyles choices and demographics inform their messages in campaigns. Claire said something touching to me on young women…”You don’t know who is coming up in the world under you and you must take them along”. The best way to prevent poor health is to inform people of good healthy moderate habits. Cancer Research also organise 5K or 10K ‘Race for Life’ runs to raise funds for research, which are very popular with women. As the old adage goes – Prevention is better than cure.

 

There are still so many women in the world who also cannot afford menstruation products – therefore being open and discussing this in the mainstream is great for breaking barriers.

I also know the founder, Mandu Reid, of the menstrual cup charity ‘The Cup Effect’. Mandu foundered this charity that aims to change menstrual behaviour by empowering women and girls to use a menstrual cup, and protect the environment – that is synchronicity! The charity also uses the income raised to help women in ‘period poverty’ in the UK and in other less well-off parts of the world. Mandu also takes part in active campaigning, and again it was recently publicised in this brilliant article in The Guardian newspaper. To put some zest in this good work – Mandu also invites you to come to her Cupaware Party with friends.

Menstrual Cup
An Ergonomic menstrual cup  
The invention relates to a menstrual cup (10) having a bell-shaped lower part (20), comprising a plurality of non-convex grip surfaces (22, 24) which are distributed in a substantially axisymmetric manner at least over said bell-shaped lower part (20), and designed so as to be able to be pinched by the user’s fingers in order to facilitate the removal of the cup. Source: Espacenet.

Growing up in Trinidad, the girls in my school and neighbourhood circulated a famous book on puberty called ‘Growing up and liking it’ – see the link for past versions. It was in an easy-to-read format, and was instrumental in educating us on menstruation, pregnancy, menopause and what to expect of our bodies. We were fortunate to have mothers, sisters, aunties, friends and teachers at school to inform us too. Sadly, some countries still don’t have basic adolescent and puberty education, and so these challenges still exist.

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Growing up and liking it – Museum of Menstruation and Women’s Health.       http://www.mum.org/GULIcov.htm

In all these Women Health issues, there are still opportunities to create charitable and profitable businesses. I have recently conducted some business research on these very issues. Again, only recently I have encountered ‘Fab little Bag’ whose mission is to stop pollution caused by flushed sanitary items: to make an awkward disposal into a fab experience…and to break down the barriers to promote female hygiene. You too might start to see their product in toilets across the country. These are the opportunities that entrepreneurial women are taking to help other women.

Women’s Health is too vast to cover as a one-off topic. As we enter the theme ‘Press for Progress’ for International Women’s Month in March 2018 – there is so much we can be thankful for in developments in research, health screening, hygiene etc. It is even better that we can rely on each other to talk, communicate, lobby, and raise awareness on Women’s Health to those near…and far to us. Pressing ahead, looking after ourselves is the best gift we can give ourselves – making time for our health and happiness should be top and number one on our To-Do-List!

Ring out the Old, Ring in with the New

“Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.”

Alfred Tennyson

I am writing this at a restful festive time after Christmas when most people tend to wind down with family and friends during the season’s celebrations. It is also a time when I mentally close off the year in my mind. I sort of remember things and memories by the year it occurred (be it by association by music, smells or other unconscious triggers). It is also a great time for shopping, spending money on presents, which is great news for the retail industry. I was considering a more serious topic such as what consumer and economic trends to look out for in 2018 as forecasted in some of our business information sources in the library. However, I decided to reflect on a light-hearted look back at an average, but at times, exceptional year for me. I will leave the traditional media and magazines to tell you about the official world review of the year. I am going to cover some of the little things that mattered a lot to me – my iPhone photos are like a visual journal of the year. So, I am ready to say goodbye to 2017.

January – I started with a blog post about ‘Beating the January Blues’, on reflection it seemed that I actually managed to do just that! I saw some amazing Ceilidh dancing at the Southbank on 1st Jan, made my first Gallette Du Rois, celebrated Burns Night with friends, and also had fun at the SLA Europe Quiz. I will be celebrating the Gallette due Rois again, and I am looking forward to the next SLA Europe quiz at a new venue in a few weeks time. You too can join us if you really want to.

February – I seemed to have baked a lot this year going by the photos I’ve taken. I made pancakes for Shrove Tuesday, and a lemon drizzle sponge during a break in February. I attended a Guardian Newspaper supper club at the Geffrye Museum, hosted by the amazing and beautiful Eleanora Galasso, who was also launching her cookbook. Her menu for the evening was interesting and the supper club dining company was friendly. I also went to see Mario Biondi at the Union Chapel. He was great live and used the LIVE feature on Facebook, which also prompted me to use it for the first time to the pleasure of a few of my friends who interacted with me.

March – Spring was in the air and it seems I was getting ready with my neighbours for some neighbourhood spring cleaning, E17 Art Trail plans, and more baking (must do a blog post just on baking!). I also went to Cardiff for the first time for a two-day training course at the Intellectual Property Office. I have now visited three capital cities in the UK, except Belfast. I still want to visit the countryside in Wales again after visiting Monmouthshire over a decade ago.

April – The days got lighter and the spring blooms were out. There were lots of places to see beautiful daffodils and blossoms. I was already beginning to channel the ‘Tree of Life’ submission for the E17 Art Trail by our neighbourhood. We organised a group of volunteers to clean, prepare and source plants for the garden with the advice from the local councillor. I attended Jonathan and Theresa’s fabulous wedding party with the John Ongom Big Band. I went to see the E17 Puppet Show ‘Vikings and Valkyries’ at the William Morris Gallery as they would be performing a street theatre in June for us. I also had a girly R&R (Rest and Relaxation) day with friends in Essex with cream tea as a treat.

May – I prepared a lot for the E17 Art Trail garden and it seemed to go according to plan. It is amazing when you depend on people to work with you voluntary…and you do actually pull off something out of nothing! My neighbours were brilliant and created fabulous designs on terracotta pots and donated plants for our garden. That was heart-warming. It’s December now, and the last time I looked at the garden, there were only about three plant pots that were missing or damaged. The space is used more than before and we have since received further funding to redevelopment and redesign the space. Luckily we have an expert resident architect to help and advise us with the redesign.

I also went to Dublin in May and it was an amazing experience! I was warmly welcomed by my friend Lina, and also the Irish library and information professional community as an SLA Europe representative. I blogged about my trip here.  I still think of the Irish green fields I saw on my trip to and from Dublin to Galway.

June – The launch of the much anticipated E17 Art Trail and we were pleased with our participation in Poets’ Corner E17. Walthamstow went wild for the 1000 Swifts and other collaborative and community creative activities and events. We had lovely weather for the ‘Vikings and Valkyries’ street puppet show on our newly pedestrianised street in the neighbourhood. We also held a fabulous street party.

July – One of the major highlights of my year! I went home to Trinidad and Tobago for my 30th School Reunion. My schoolmates chatted, praised, danced and re-acquainted ourselves, as well as made new memories. After 18 months of planning by a small group, it was amazing and much appreciated. It was also a special time to spend with family and friends. Regardless of all the problems in the country and this world – I see the beauty in this small Caribbean island and know that it is a place I can always proudly call home.

August – It is normally depressing coming back after a summer holiday but I had the Notting Hill Carnival to look forward to. After the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy – it was a devastating and shameful reminder of the disparity in one of the richest part of London in the 21st century. Notting Hill Carnival itself was good fun on a very sunny day and I loved our costumes to the ‘First People’ theme. Two annoying factors were the real threat of an acid attack, and the false reporting of an acid attack. You can never win here.

September – It was back to school, back to work and back to routine. I baked my first Coffee and Walnut cake for the library’s fundraising Macmillan Coffee and Cakes afternoon. As I wasn’t in the office – I still don’t know how it tasted! I also went to Derby for the first time to settle my son into university. It seems like a nice city, if a little quieter than other major cities. I hope to explore more of Derbyshire next year.

October – The darker months were here again and there were Halloween celebrations in town. I went to see the Basquait ‘Boom for Real’ exhibition and Banksy’s Basquait tribute graffiti, which were brilliant. Also at the Barbican, I saw Annoshka Shankar’s live accompaniment to the digitally restored 1920s silent film ‘Shiraz’. It was an unforgettable experience. I also had luck on my side at the SLA Europe gin tasting event, as I won a raffle for three flavours of gin, which I am hoping to try soon.

November – I was lucky and happy to return to Trinidad again for a family wedding and reception. I don’t usually go often and it was worth going to see a modern Indian-Trinidadian wedding and reception. The merging of the east and west cultural influences is special. It was nice to spend time with loved ones again and I had a mini reunion with some school friends. I witnessed some fabulous wedding business ideas and event planners for our unique Trini wedding. It was nice again to dress-up, have my hair and make-up done by professionals. I received nice comments on my outfits. The bride and groom looked utterly beautiful in all the wedding celebrations.

December – Back to work and lots of activities in the library. It was also a reality check to come back from the tropics to very snowy weather. I went to the newly opened Walthamstow Wetlands for a Christmas Carols concert. I had fun at the YSBD Christmas Party theme disco, and so I danced to the end of the year. I have not taken part or planned much in my community this month as I was away, and we are taking a break. Personally and honestly, I feel that something is amiss.

So this sums up an average year for me and I am grateful for the good health and happiness we have. As the days slowly wind up in December, I looked to see what would be the serious United Nations theme for 2018, but apparently there is no theme. We can make it up as we go along! But I am looking forward to their theme for 2019, which will be the year of indigenous languages (hopefully I am still alive!). We do still have high levels of poverty, inequality, prejudices, environmental causes, Brexit, ever-present troubles in the Middle East and parts of the world to keep us preoccupied.

However, we can bring in some new perspectives, peace and control with our personal New Year’s resolutions and hopes. I always try a few new things. For example, I had always hoped to read more each year…and out of the blue recently – one of my neighbours created a book club, which I am a part of. I now make time to read leisurely and have read three books. This blog was also my resolution for 2016, and thankfully I have been able to carry it on for almost two years. The feedback received is motivating and makes it all worthwhile.

‘Old year’s night’ as we say in the Caribbean, is one way to say a fond farewell to another year. I understand in Italy they literally practice ‘out with the old, in with the new’ by throwing out rubbish on New Year’s Eve to be collected. I hope to do some of that! I still hope to exercise more, learn new skills, and visit parts of the United Kingdom in 2018 that I haven’t been before. I usually spend New Year’s Eve in a house party with close family and friends. In a Princely way…we will be partying like it is 2017 as we say hello to 2018! Soon, all across the world, we’ll watch images of the skies lit up with fireworks to ring in 2018 with a bang. There is nothing left for me to do but to wish you a happy and healthy new year.

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