I’m a world record breaker….probably

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If you have one child or more, how long does it take to leave the house for a trip out? There’s always that trip to the toilet ‘just to try’, struggles with shoes and coats, a last minute memory jolt of something you need to take along and now must hastily search your house for?

Escalate it to how long it would take to leave the house for good- finding a new home, packing up and arranging the transfer of everything you own, a new school, a new nursery, a new job and the forest of paperwork that comes once your children are in the system. Now imagine doing it just before Christmas. And arranging it all without another adult. Could it be done overnight?

I have kept a dignified silence while the acid of divorce wore me down and corroded my life as I once knew it.

I have…

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How was it for you?

How was it for you?

How was Christmas and New Year for you? I feel like I have just project managed a massive theatrical event or rock band’s European tour to be honest and I need a long lie down in a dark room until about March. A very good friend of mine described his Christmas as a ‘bit like running a cafe for the last two weeks. Bastards just keep wanting stuff.’ I know exactly what he means-thank god for gin.

It is, of course, all my own fault.

I love Christmas and have already started planning festive season 2015. I love hosting the family Christmas lunch and I start to get properly excited about the whole thing as soon as Bonfire Night is over and done with. I always try to desist with too much Christmas activity until my sister’s birthday on December 3, but even that goes by the by some years as I am so keen for the festive frenzy to begin in earnest.

Having expanded my family substantially since I re married in 2013, I know have four step children, as well my own two teenagers. Three of my ‘steps’ have partners, one has two children and one is ten. I also have a step nephew and niece and a new mother in law, sister in law and brother in law. My own family consists of two sibs both with partners and children and my parents as well as various aunties, uncles and cousins, some of whom also have children. For Christmas purposes, and indeed other celebrations we are generally talking immediate family, but this Christmas as I continued to load up the dinner table with endless dishes of festive fare I did take a step back and think how my family has well and truly gown in the last two years.
I also felt slightly smug that I had purchased 20 new wine glasses in the pre Christmas sale at Wilko.

This year, we are building an extension.

I have spent the last month making lists, buying things, wrapping them up, arranging foliage, pondering the benefits of including dried orange slices and cinnamon sticks in my artisan garlands and seriously considering opening my own Christmas emporium with the sole purpose of selling gorgeous festive stuff. “So what will you sell for the rest of the year?” Enquired Mr A as we queued to buy Californian walnuts and Italian chestnuts at the Oxford Covered Market. A perfectly reasonable question I am sure you will agree. “Oh, things for Valentines Day, Easter, Weddings…Hallowe’en?”

He smiled and handed me my bag of walnuts. “Mulled wine?” That was of course the appropriate response to my outburst. It happens every year. I get very excited about making things at Christmas and then decide I can make a living doing it, only to realise on twelfth night as I take down the knackered decorations and deal with the crispy Christmas tree and make next year’s gift tags from this year’s Christmas cards (yes I really do DO that) that actually things like this are probably best left to the professionals.

Ho hum so January…what to do now then? Nothing to make this month, but as luck would have it I stashed a family box of Quality Street on top of the microwave and so far, nobody has spotted it. Trust me, in this house that is nothing short of a New Year miracle. Plans to drop two dress sizes by April may have to wait.
Sarah Edwards is a journalist and lives in Oxfordshire, mostly with her Labrador, Jack, two teenage boys and husband Mr Adams. Occasionally she lives with her recently expanded step family too. She loves family  life and all that it brings to the ever expanding table.

The future of local news

IS THE FUTURE OF LOCAL NEWS HYPERLOCAL?

Local newspapers are really important, but in an age of increasing overheads, digital platforms and instant access to information are we in danger of losing them forever?

There is no denying that the print industry is struggling and every week another media company reports changes to its organisation. Some are making redundancies, restructuring or closing altogether, others are moving online and some are reducing their frequency. However you look at it, the landscape of local journalism and access to local news is changing-fast.

So how is it then that the Community Media Group in Oxford is not only surviving this downturn, but is actually growing, and printing more papers than ever before? The answer is in the word hyperlocal. Specific news services for specific communities.

Four years ago one community newspaper existed in Oxford, and it was and still is called Leys News. It was published once every two months. It remains the flagship title but is now produced every month.

From these humble but brilliant and inspired beginnings, 12 community newspapers have now emerged. Each one is professionally written, edited, designed and printed and each one has a very specific readership. The newspapers are part of a social enterprise that also provides free training for volunteers and some opportunities for paid employment. The newspapers survive financially through a mix of business activities, just like any other media enterprise and are produced to the same standards as any local newspaper.

Low cost advertising is sold both in individual newspapers and across the entire group which spans Oxford and Reading, and local organisations support the venture by sponsoring pages or sections of the papers. Cash is also raised by selling the business model to other communities who want to start their own newspaper, and funding from colleges, universities and local authorities helps to pay for training.

The newspapers exist in challenging and often historically troubled areas, and areas that are undergoing major regeneration projects. They promote community cohesion and help build relationships across communities by engaging with diverse populations. The newspapers provide hyperlocal news and information services and opportunities for local people to have a say in how they are run and the content that is included. The success of the papers has proved just how well this works.

The enterprise has developed from relying heavily on grants to apportioning just 30 per cent of its revenue to that now. Instead, other business activities have taken over to provide much needed financial stability and more importantly sustainability for the communities that receive the newspapers. This is also attractive to potential funders, whose support is still gladly received, as there is a clear business development pathway laid down by the management team. This demonstrates a strong commitment to the communities that the newspapers serve, and a genuine drive to grow the business further.

Over the last four years, the Community Media Group has trained 200 volunteers and is now working with the National Council for the Training of Journalists to offer the first training step towards a professional qualification in journalism.

Of course, the major financial difference between the group and a large media organisation is the size and scale of operations. With only three part time paid members of staff and a peppercorn rent , the overheads are minimal, and the newspapers are monthly, bi monthly or quarterly. Not daily or weekly.

The pressure that is encountered in mainstream local newspapers has no place in this environment as news is being handled for very different reasons and, indeed, it is fair to say that little hard news is featured in the newspapers. There is strong emphasis on celebrating success and featuring inspiring and aspirational stories to encourage readers to improve their lives.

Of course across the country there are countless local websites that offer everything from a detailed what’s on diary of events to hard hitting citizen journalism that tackles gritty, local issues by giving those most affected a voice and a platform. This is yet another example of how communities have taken the business of disseminating news into their own hands, primarily because of a lack of or change to, traditional local news outlets.

I have worked for many local newspapers during my career, and there is not a single colleague that I can think of who would have ever wanted their newspaper to close down. I trained as a journalist at a time when local news reporters had passion, energy and enthusiasm for the job and I have worked with some of the best. I am quite sure that editors today do not want their newspapers to close either, but unlike the Community Media Group, they have a lot of financial issues to contend with while still embracing the digital age. If the future of local journalism lies in third sector organisations producing community newspapers then so be it.

These are newspapers that have a very different place in our communities but with the demise of so many mainstream publications, you could well find that your community soon has a need for a hyperlocal news outlet too.

Cupid’s Christmas Countdown

Cupid’s Christmas Countdown!

So my festive single chums, here we go! The countdown to Christmas has officially begun and as we hurtle through Advent at an astonishing speed now is the time to take stock of our internet dating adventures.

Are you ready for Christmas? Are the fairy lights tangled and the tinsel looking a bit shabby? Have you made your own dating Advent calendar with a date for every day up until Christmas Eve?

It’s a funny old time for a lot of people and as someone who was very single for many, many Christmases I know, and remember well, how difficult this time of year can be when you are on your own. Try as I might to always put a brave face on things, I can honestly say that despite putting on my brightest lipstick, my sparkliest earrings, my highest heels and my biggest smile, Christmas on your own is not always that great.

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Being surrounded by couples, whether they are family or friends, can be tricky. I think the worst time for me was Christmas Eve when my ex husband would come and take our children off for the day and I was left alone in the house. I blame this entirely for the fact, that for at least ten years, I maxed my credit card at BIcester Village!

So, to make sure that all of you lovely single people out there have a blast this Christmas, here are my top tips to inspire you and ensure you have the best time you can during the party season.

Invitations have already started arriving, and well meaning friends will probably invite you to spend Christmas with them. However, kind as though these gestures are, you must do what you want to do. Don’t feel pressured into accepting an invite to tag along to someone else’s Christmas Day if you don’t want to. On the other hand, sitting at home with a giant tin of Celebrations and the Breaking Bad box set probably won’t help either, so find a happy medium.

Dating at Christmas can be fraught and filled with hopelessly high expectations so be careful and look after yourself properly. Getting silly romantic ideas in your head about ice skating at Somerset House and sipping mulled wine in Bavaria are all very well, but if the reality is getting crushed in the pre Christmas sales and putting up with a mediocre lunch in your local Brewer’s Fayre then you will be very disappointed. Be sensible and remember that a date is still just a date-even at Christmas and there are no obligations for it to become your happy ever after. After all, you are not buying a puppy (because they are NOT just for Christmas obviously)

Singleness comes in different packages, and at Christmas this becomes painfully obvious. I am blessed with two children so although I was very much a single parent, I was always naturally very busy with nativities, carol services, school events and so on. By Christmas Day I was usually exhausted and just wanted to drink my bodyweight in Baileys.
However, for people who do not have children, a single Christmas is a very different affair. Once the potentially hideous office party is out of the way and you leave work for the holidays, what happens next? Yes there are probably various invites flying around, and perhaps you have a series of dates lined up for the whole of Christmas-if you have then well done! If not, and you seriously dread this time of year then scrape together whatever cash you have and get away for the holidays. Who knows…you might meet the one in a hotel bar or up a Welsh mountain.

Check back next week for more Christmas dating tips, but in the meantime think about what you really want for Christmas this year, and be honest about the kind of date you would like to find in your stocking on Christmas morning.

Christmas sandals from Next £30, chandelier earrings £10 from Next and red lippy from The Body Shop

Beauty winter warmers

There is a definite chill in the air, and with party season looming large it is time to take control of any flaky, dry skin and make sure we all look fabulous for our impending social engagements.

This week I have tried and tested four products, a couple of which are old time firm faves but definitely worth a mention, and two quite new ones which have both turned out to be really rather marvellous.

So,let’s go retro first and talk about Sudocrem! Yes I know what you are thinking, nappies, babies and certainly not a glossy product at all. Well there is no getting away from the fact that it is well known for its soothing properties and is much loved by babies bottoms, but the fact is that this is a good all rounder for anyone with dry or chapped skin. As a dog walker I find my hands really suffer in the colder months of the year, even if I do wear gloves, and Sudocrem is great at soothing, calming and softening.

Next up is Natural Dead Sea Skin Care. This range is as old as the hills and is always easily recognisable by its dependable blue and gold branding. It may lack the edgy look of newer products but you should never judge a book by its cover-or a bottle of body lotion for that matter. These products truly deliver. I tried the bath salts with frankincense oil and rose petals and enjoyed a spa-like experience. My skin was left soft and smooth and I felt relaxed and ready for anything! Topped off with the natural mineral body lotion, they are the perfect winter body products that will definitely keep dry, itchy skin at bay.

As a sensitive tooth sufferer, I always welcome any products that take the ow factor out of dental pain! UltraDEX is a range of dental products developed by professionals and backed by scientific research. Quite apart from the fact that the products are vegetarian, the range promises fresh breath and relief from the pain of sensitive teeth. I tried the toothpaste and mouthwash and loved them. As someone who genuinely hates mouthwash, I am a convert.

My final product is an amazing BB cream called Ginerva. Distributed exclusively in the UK by Janiro, this green tea based product is probably among the best bb creams I have tried, and oh trust me…I get through quite a few! It goes on beautifully, leaves a matt but natural finish and you don’t even know you are wearing it. Highly recommended.

Sudocrem and the Natural Dead Sea ranges are available from Boots. For the BB cream visit http://www.janiro.co.uk and for the UltraDEX products go to http://www.ultradex.co.uk

Transforming families and changing lives

Transforming families and changing lives

Clinical hypnotherapist Shaun Thompson is on a mission to encourage people to talk about problems that may have affected their lives for years, so that they can move on and lead a life of optimal emotional health.

With Christmas fast approaching, there is a potential for stress and anxiety levels to increase while many people struggle to cope with financial, relationship and emotional problems. Shaun is keen to encourage people to face their problems and take positive steps to improve their lives.

The Manchester-based therapist uses clinical hypnotherapy, Neuro Linguistic Programming and  Emotional Freedom Technique to help his clients overcome a variety of challenges from anxiety and anger management to addictions, weight loss and relationship problems. He also works with teenagers who are struggling with anxiety and stress because of self esteem issues, exams and bullying.

In order to work with more clients, Shaun is now working as a mobile therapist and visits clients in their own homes. He also has the option of using a very relaxing environment of a therapy room to which he can hide by the half or full day and is just five minutes walk from the Metro station near Brooklands in Sale He says: “By seeing people in their own homes I am immediately reducing their stress levels and ensuring they feel comfortable and secure in their environment, so that the treatment I give them is even more effective.” Also having the use of professional therapy rooms means clients who wish to be seen in a private environment can be treated there.

Clients who have been treated by Shaun report remarkable changes to their lives. One client said: “Shaun has transformed my family, that you may think is quite a statement but he truly has. I contacted Shaun when my son, was suffering from anxiety, low self esteem and had so many hang ups and fears that his life was at a standstill, he was only 11 years old, Shaun used his hypnotherapy skills and my son was a different child. And he has gone on to be given an award.  He got the award for overcoming adversity despite the difficult start to his secondary education and achieving impressive grades in GCSEs.
“Shaun helped again when he was being bullied and his anxieties were paralysing him to the extent he couldn’t go to school, once again after a session with Shaun the change was miraculous and continued to improve over a period of time, Shaun came again later and helped with his fear of exams. Since then Shaun has helped my eldest daughter with hypnotherapy skills for her anxieties, fears and extreme anger, which like her brother we discovered stemmed from her childhood. Once again what a triumph! Since then both my sisters have had sessions with Shaun, my eldest regarding anxiety and self-esteem issues and my youngest sister over bereavement and anxiety problems, both are so happy and confident now.”

“Shaun has a ’gift’ it isn’t just his hypnotherapy skills that come into play during a consultation its also his wide ranging skills in alternative therapies and his life experiences. I would not hesitate and in fact do not hesitate to recommend him to people I speak to who say they are struggling with life issues whether it is smoking, anxiety, depression or low self esteem to name but a few of the many things Shaun can help with! Shaun is an amazing gentleman, and a truly outstanding practitioner and without his help I do not know what I would have done.”

Another client successfully stopped smoking after 35 years after treatment with Shaun. She said: “I found it very helpful and easier to quit than other methods having tried them all! Shaun’s hypnotherapy sessions completely eased the withdrawal symptoms for me making it possible for me to quit having been a smoker for 35 years, it has been worth every penny and the support afterwards has been really nice and helpful keeping me on the straight and narrow.”
Another client turned to hypnotherapy to help face and deal with childhood issues.
She said: “Shaun helped me deal with memories I wasn’t able to deal with on my own, some of my memories were buried very deep and had began to fester until this man pulled them out and helped me face them and put them to rest.”
Shaun added: “Christmas and New Year can be among the most stressful times of the year for many people. By talking about problems and unravelling them, people can move forward positively and face the challenges that are holding them back, and look forward to a fresh start in 2015.”
Shaun can be contacted via his website http://www.bodymindandspirit.co.uk

Black Friday…do shopping and dating really mix?

Black Friday is coming…but don’t let bargains get in the way of dating!

Black Friday, allegedly the busiest day of the Christmas shopping calendar is here, and we will all be rushing out to grab those unmissable bargains. So can dating and shopping EVER really work?

In many ways dating and shopping are actually quite similar. If you think about it both involve research, browsing, trying things on, weighing up available options and then finally making a decision based on what fits, what suits and what you can afford! Of course some times we end up back in the very first shop we went into and often we get it all home only to find that it isn’t really right for us at all so we go back and ask for a refund…or an exchange!

I am indeed blessed to be married to a man who actually doesn’t mind a bit of light retail therapy now and then. As long as we integrate a decent premium coffee experience or a real ale pub into the event, all is good and shopping will be done-especially at Christmas. We tend to brave the hideous traffic to trot round Bicester Village or head to Banbury and our favourite coffee shop, The Whistling Kettle (follow them on Twitter @whistlingk) for our shopping trips. And, after just over a year of marriage we so far have not had any kind of shopping stress.

However, if you have just met someone and are on, let’s say date two or three, should you risk even suggesting combining a date with a bit of a browse around your favourite retail emporia?

Well there are two ways of looking at this dating dilemma. Firstly you could find that the person you are seeing actually loves shopping as much as you do and could even introduce you to some new shopping outlets and retail experiences. Combine a morning of shopping with a light lunch in a quiet romantic eatery and to be honest, what’s NOT to like!

On the other hand, if your date screws up their face, starts to sweat, breathe heavily and have some kind of retail induced panic attack then it is perhaps NOT such a grand idea. You will have to accept that the closest you are likely to get to any kind of shopping action is probably going to be the gift shop at the museum they will drag you to, or a cheeky browse on Amazon while they nip off for a wee.

I think it is a myth that all men hate shopping, as much as it is a myth that all women love it. I don’t love shopping for food in Tescos anymore than I like having root canal treatment, but that kind of shopping is essential to keep the family running.

However, strolling hand in hand through the twinkly lights of Bicester Village and browsing the beautiful but wildly overpriced goodies in the windows while sipping a chocolat chaud and wearing faux fur is quite a glamorous way to spend a date. Although I was there on a shopping date with Mr A the other day and it rained so my faux fur did look a bit like soggy road kill by the end of the experience.

So if you are heading out on a wintry Black Friday shopping date here are some top tips:

Agree, in advance, if you both actually WANT to brave the shops. If this is not the case and you are really keen to take advantage of Black Friday deals, then agree to meet post shopping after the dirty deed has been done.

If you are both up for some Black Friday action then either have a list of things you plan to buy, or agree to just do low level browsing and see what happens.

Dress appropriately-teetering around in high heels and freezing to death because you haven’t bought a coat will lead to misery.

Do let me know how you get on!

So…what’s the story?

Mediabird
Chat…create…communicate

What’s the story?

All small businesses and third sector organisations have a story to tell. Some of them have loads, some not so many but there is always something going on that is newsworthy, it is just a case of identifying what is actually NEWS.

New ventures are frequently referred to as someone’s ‘baby’ and quite right too! By the time you have come up with a watertight idea and established that your new business is providing a product or service that people need and want to pay for, AND raised the finance, decided on a name and launched it, trust me, it fells like you have actually given birth!

The danger is, however, that as business owners we are so close to the ‘baby’ that we become clucky parents. Before you know it every tiny event becomes a major news story to us, and we fail to understand why the rest of the world, and more specifically the media, are not at all interested that we have launched a website or just sent an amazing Tweet!

As new parents capture every waking, breathing moment of their newborn and expect everyone else to be fascinated by it, new venture owners are equally guilty of not being able to see the true news value of everyday events. Yes, every new step in a new business is really important, but they won’t all make the local paper.

So, how do you make your enterprise newsworthy? Two very important words are time and creativity, both of which you will need in abundance if you are to attract the attention of journalists and editors. It is worth putting as much thought as you can into how you approach your PR plan, and it really does have to be a plan.

Having an interesting story to tell is the key to making that plan happen, so it is worth taking time to think about what is happening and why you think other people will be interested in it, and how it can help to raise the profile of your business.

Taking an idea and turning it into a newsworthy press release takes time. After all, you are a business owner not a journalist or a PR so you cannot expect to get it right first time. For more information on how to write a killer press release email me mediabird@btinternet.com and I can send you some free tips.

Remember that reading an article in a newspaper or magazine or on a website can indicate far more of an endorsement to potential customers than an advertising campaign. Advertising is expensive and for small enterprises is not always the best way to promote themselves. Remember that anyone can pay for advertising space, but to attract the attention of journalists and editors you must have a really good story!

Always be proud of every milestone that you reach, but always think carefully about whether that milestone is really significant enough and valuable enough to warrant PR activity. Every day thousands of new business related stories emerge so competition is fierce! Getting the attention of journalists is vital so be creative and unusual in your approach and you will reap rewards.

We run workshops and training sessions to help start ups, small businesses, third sector organisations and community groups to promote themselves and learn how to do their own PR. Our fees are low cost and our sessions are fun, informal and informative. For more information please email mediabird@btinternet.com follow us on Twitter@mediabird

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