Tag Archives: community

The Urban Art of Friendliness and Fun

18 Jul


…bit late sharing this (four days after the event, but anyways).

So I really enjoyed reading Brixton Blog’s account of last weekend’s Urban Art Fair on Josephine Avenue.  And I totally agree that the standard and diversity of the art and the artists exhibiting was incredible.  I was particularly into the colourful, optimistic, super textured paintings of Alce Harfield, the enchantingly imaginative work of children’s storybook illustrator, err, let’s call him Wilf (I can’t find his card anywhere, sorry Wilf).  And it was so refreshing, among a sea of screen printed maps of London areas (I love a locally themed screenprint, but there are a lot of ’em around these days is all I’m saying) to see Angelique Hartigan’s vibrant paintings which use her trademark explosions of colour to create optimistic, dream-like representations of some of my favourite local areas; Crystal Palace, West Norwood and of course, Brixton itself.

BUT.  As well as all of this I wanted to give an account of the other side of the Urban Art Fair.  The side that saw little Nancy and I skip away happy, inspired and feeling reassured of why we continue to live in London (obvs. I can’t be sure that this is what Nancy was thinking, but it certainly seemed that way) on what was one of the hottest, most oppressive days of the year when we could’ve easily been feeling like this instead (I’m not tropical, I am not a toucan, after all).

We probably spent a couple of hours there on Saturday afternoon, and from the minute we left our steaming oven of a car, we felt the vibrant buzz of Brixton as families and groups of young people came and went from Brockwell Park, headed for a cooling drink at the Effra Social or making there way, like ourselves, to the Urban Art Fair.

As we turned the corner onto Josephine Avenue we were struck by Alce’s powerful paintings of bright florals and calming seascapes and the artist herself sitting in the door of her camper van.  We had a lovely chat with her about her life in Somerset and how that compares to London, about her work and about how Nancy immediately started seeing ‘Nonnies’ (translation: lollies) in her paintings.  Clearly her way of telling me she was hot!

As we walked down the road, we had more chats with the artists and the residents of Josephine Avenue.  One asked Nancy to spot the tiger in one of her paintings, another who had a six month old baby herself and was happy to be located under a tree, asked Nancy’s name and helped me located the nearest ‘nonnie’ shop.  We stopped for a while at ‘Chat among the pigeons’, a kids’ area set up by Josephine Avenue residents on the green space outside their houses.  There Nancy and myself attempted hula-hooping, were shown an interesting expanding ball (Nancy was fascinated) and were invited to do some jewel sticking.  When the need for a nonnie was too much we set off to find Sainsburys and on the way met other local residents serving food, playing music and happily picking up litter.  On our return we had no less than four enquiries as to the type of lolly we were eating (it was a Fab) and a huge barrage of compliments from one artist to explain to us how beautiful my daughter is (I agree).

So my point being that it wasn’t just an amazing display of awesome art, but also of how these incredibly warm, generous, creative and diverse communities exist within London and how they can come together to create a wonderful weekend full of colour, fun, creativity, kindness, laughter and (a lot) of sunshine.

I just cannot believe that you can get this in the country or the suburbs – I’m staying.


An almost guilt-free solution for my unmade meals: Brixton People’s Kitchen

8 Jul

I cannot believe I’m admitting to this, but last week I reluctantly threw all this food away.  It felt really weird and wrong and was definitely a record for the amount of food I have ever thrown away, but it has to be said that I do throw food away every single week.  (Feeling very ashamed right now).

So last October I went back to work after having my baby.  It was such a crazy change of lifestyle and routine that finding time for everything was pretty difficult.  But you’d think that nine months later I’d have cracked it, super mum style?  Well I definitely don’t aspire to being a ‘super mum’ at all, but things do happen a lot more smoothly these days and most of the time I manage to balance most things including the grocery shopping.  I always manage to plan our dinners and book a delivery.  Progress.

BUT.  Do I have time to cook them?  Well this is the problem.  I’m determined that we will all eat healthy, well balanced meals with lots of fruit and veg.  But the problem is I often have to work in the evenings or only have the energy required to throw some fishcakes in the oven or put on some tortellini.  So that’s what I do more of the week than I’d like.  Leaving a load of unmade meals sitting there all sad, lonely and starting to wilt in the fridge.  So when the following week’s delivery arrives I have to clear it all out to make space for the new stuff.

Now I know that I really need to either:
a) Stop living in denial and just buy a load of fishcakes and tortellini.  Or…
b) Forget work or sitting down for a few minutes and get chopping.

Forgetting work isn’t an option, I kinda like sitting down, but I also want to get some goodness inside us, so I’m aiming for a balance of both.  However, this whole thing did remind me of a local project I came across recently that turns food that is unwanted but perfectly good enough to eat into delicious meals for everyone!  The Brixton People’s Kitchen mainly gathers food from the zillions of restaurant, cafes and things that exist within Brixton, but you can also take your own leftover ingredients along to their regular events.  Everyone is welcome to come down and help prepare wonderful recipes from the food they collect and of course eat it too.

The Brixton People’s Kitchen believes that sharing food with strangers is one of the nicest ways to spread happiness.  Their events get people together to meet and enjoy the company of the those living around them, allow people to learn new cooking skills from each other and of course reduce food waste in their area.  A very worthwhile cause as it turns out that 36% of Brixton’s household waste is food!  So it’s not just me then…

They have lots of exciting things coming up including a bike kitchen, a pop-up restaurant, a collaboration with local community project, The Remakery as well as their usual monthly event in Myatt’s Fields.  I shall certainly be making my way down to check out this wonderful project with my leftovers in tow, which will hopefully have reduced somewhat!

A little film about them here…

Heartwarming discoveries on maternity leave – part two

17 Oct

So yes.  My heartwarming discoveries.  Here they are:

1> The amazingness of nature

This is of course, the big one.  Despite feeling the kicks and seeing the scans, I never *really* believed that a perfectly perfect human baby was really in there.  But it totally, totally was.  After a gruelling 27 hour labour, Nancy flew out (kinda) and was handed to me – an absolutely perfect example of a human being.  I was in shock.  My body is a-maz-ing.  How did it know what to do to create such a thing?  And then how to eject it from my body (well, it got some of that bit wrong to be fair).  She had everything – fingers, toes (complete with nails), hair, a perfect pair of lungs.  Incredible.  I was suddenly a mother and I always would be.  In that moment I realised how incredible nature is, life is, the world is.  All those silly things that bothered me before, gone.  Insignificant.  Just like that.

2>  The kindness + generosity of people

Wow.  Where do I start with this one?  From the day I went into labour, I was exposed to a whole new level of human kindness.  Maybe it’s just that ordinarily I’m immersed in a world of deadlines and pressure where people really aren’t operating at their most calm, kind and caring.  But wow, the midwives, the health visitors, the GP who treated me with even more care than usual post-labour – what incredible people!  I know it’s their job – but they gave me so much time to make me feel at ease in an alien situation, to listen to how I felt about my labour and experience as a new mother.  To give me all the information and support I needed and reassure any concerns I had.

And then there’s the PRESENTS!  I actually got to know my Postman as packages arrived every single day for weeks!  We received so many flowers that we even had to buy more vases.  One of my school friends arrived at my door with two black bags full of amazing baby clothes that her little girl had grown out of.  I felt quite embarrassed when I realised the number of presents we’d failed to buy for friends and relatives when they had babies.  And also noticed how a large majority of the gifts were from people who’d had children – some of these people we hardly knew at all!  But I guess they knew quite what a big deal this whole thing is. And quite how hard it is in those first few weeks – when the kind wishes of the people around you go such a long way.

3> The wonderful community on my doorstep

This was something I hoped I’d discover on maternity leave.  Being around just in the evenings and the weekends doesn’t give you the chance to *really* get to know your area. I was excited to spend some proper time here – getting to know the people, the groups, the stuff that happens in the daytime when I’d normally be on the other side of town.  After I’d had Nancy I was amazed to discover so much more than this.  Those first 10-12 weeks were incredibly hard. But what helped is that all these lovely people would come and visit me.  The midwife came a few time, then the health visitor.  Then there was the weekly baby clinic where I could go for advice and to weigh Nancy.  I quickly learned that there was so much out there to help Mums deal with the many challenges of early motherhood.  Here are some of the things I came across:

Breastfeeding Cafes There are two ‘cafes’ (not actual cafes) each week that you can go to to get guidance and support from midwives on breast feeding.  How incredible!  I tried to go once and well, it didn’t quite happen.  Turned out I’d left it too close to feeding time and so I quite quickly had a screaming Nancy in the back of the car.  I then didn’t know where to park near the library it was taking place in, and I also realised that I wouldn’t actually have enough time to feed Nancy before it then closed.  So I ended up feeding her in an actual cafe instead.  But the point is that it was a huge comfort to know that it was there and lots of friends who had real trouble with breastfeeding would’ve given up if it hadn’t been for the cafes.

Sure Start Centres These are ace.  They are located all over the place (although due to cuts they are slowly disappearing 😦 ) They offer FREE classes, courses, groups that you can come to with your baby and meet other mums, learn all sorts of things or just get a change of scenery.  We did a baby massage course for nuffink!  Amazing.  And just so lovely that it makes this kind of stuff accessible to all.

The Nappy Lady  There is an actual nappy lady!  Again, I didn’t actually use her.  But awesome to know that she exists to help you with the whole disposable vs. washable nappy dilemma.

There’s also a Sling Library where you can go to to try different baby slings to find the right one for you.  You can even borrow it for a week to make doubly sure.  The actual library is of course awesome too.  They do baby groups, singing sessions and obviously you can also join and borrow books for free.

On top of all this baby stuff there’s everything else.  And when you have a baby everyone talks to you!!  People at the bus stop, people in the doctors, people on trains.  Also when you have a baby you feel braver to just talk to anyone too!  You just get to know everyone and everything.  Where to get the best coffee.  The best brownie.  That there is even a pub near here that runs a group called Crumpets – a playgroup for babies and a breakfast club for Mums!  Complete with pastries, coffee and of course, crumpets!  Omm nom amazing.  Anyway you get my point – you get to know where you live better and it’s ace.

4> The kindness + support of other Mums

This is the sort of comment that I know now really pisses off non-Mums.  But it’s true – Mums are amazing.  Of course, it doesn’t apply to every single Mum.  And many non-Mums are also amazingly understanding and supportive to new Mums.  But there’s something about other Mums with babies at the same stage and also those with older babies / kids.  They know.  They know how exhausted you are.  How unsettling the dramatic change in your life is over just a few short weeks is.  How hard it is to remain patient while your darling child screams in your face for hours.  How you sometimes question yourself.  And they listen.  They empathise.  They know how desperate you can become, and they offer their help.  Even though they have their own things to deal with.

There was a time when Nancy would be awake at night and asleep in the day.  Just to get her off to sleep would take forever and a great deal of effort.  I was a mess.  My kind NCT friends offered to come over and watch Nancy while I slept.  These are women I’d known for just a few months!  I also had other friends in the area who’d had babies too and we’d all email at all hours – ‘Has anyone’s baby done this’.  ’Did you know that’.  ’He’s doing this, should I be worried’ and so on.  We’d all have read something or been through it already and be able to offer an answer or reassurance. Now that I’m back at work and am having worries about Nancy’s childcare, my Mum friends are all offering to get together to look after Nancy if I ever need this.  WOW!  It’s just incredible.  But I think, going back to point no.1, once you’ve given birth and been through this you suddenly realise what is important and what isn’t.  Being kind, listening and offering help and support to each other – these are all important things.  Normally many of us don’t find enough time to focus on this stuff.  Or don’t prioritise it.  But this is something that I really want to retain – in my personal life and at work.

5> A new, more confident, kind and patient me

I’m going to be quick here as I’ve written enough already.  And it kinda relates to no.4.  But yes.  To make this point, here are some things I have dealt with in the last 11 months:

  • Nancy screaming in my face for seven hours (yes SEVEN) while we try to work out why
  • Singing and rocking a screaming, overtired baby to sleep for up to an hour for her to then fall asleep but then wake up 45 minutes later.  An hour or so later I would then have to repeat this
  • Waking up every 3 hours through the night to feed her – after a day doing the above
  • Breastfeeding and cooking soup at the same time because clearly we were both so damned hungry!
  • Spending precious sleeping time chopping, steaming, blending various fruits and vegetables for Nancy to then just turn her head away in disgust

I mean these are just just a few things.  But the point is, I’ve had to find a way to deal with all these things whilst remaining patient, loving and comforting for Nancy.  I’ve therefore learnt a whole new level of patience, tolerance and consideration.  Being so out of control, vulnerable and in need of help and support has made me consider other people in my life who might be in need like this for all sorts of reasons.  We’re not all strong all the time.  And we have to be there for each other.

So that will do, I think.  It’s quite a lot.  And I know it’s all very soppy.  But that’s what happens to you when you become a Mum. And I’m glad of it.  I feel better, stronger, kinder and who can argue with that?

Heartwarming discoveries on maternity leave – part one

12 Oct

Image source: Pinky VuDuu

I had a proper breakdown two Sunday nights ago.  The Sunday night before returning to work after 11 months off on maternity leave.  It involved full-on, inconsolable sobbing.  I wasn’t upset so much about having to leave Nancy for four days every week, as I felt really ready for this.  I really wanted a bit of balance to return to my life – a few days of doing ‘my stuff’ (work), with a special Friday for Nancy and me and then a lovely family weekend.  Perfect!  No, the issue I had was that it marked the end of our ‘special time’ together that had made me see the world in an entirely new way.

Literally as soon as they handed me my beautiful, newborn daughter the world was a different place.  My eyes were opened to the incredibleness of nature, the warmth and generosity of people, the community that I didn’t know existed around me.  All of it made the difficult first few months as a mother so much easier to deal with and made me feel incredibly positive about the world I’d just brought this little person into.  Every day something would happen that would warm my heart and give me a renewed appreciation of, well, everything.  So I think what I was worried about was that I would lose sight of all this as soon as I took on the stresses of work again, started rushing here, there and everywhere again, started dealing with difficult characters, a never-ending ‘to-do’ list and packed trains.

What I’ve realised since is that this experience can’t get taken away from me.  Experiencing new motherhood is a life-changing thing, and I am after all, still a Mum. To keep sight of all these things could mean being a better human being, employee, partner, friend, daughter for ever.

Some of it I’m sure becomes engrained – especially those elements that you practise everyday just by being a Mum.  But I’m sure that it could be easy to lose sight of others.  Which is why I am writing this post – so that I can remind myself of everything I discovered on maternity leave and use it to remember to be patient, to look out for others, to make time for the important things and to not worry about the less important things.  

Next post – my actual heart-warming discoveries on maternity leave..

Want new skills, contacts, experience, FUN? Volunteer!

14 Aug

I am so, so pleased that the Olympic ‘Games Makers’ have inspired more people to consider volunteering.  The images of these chirpy volunteers, working hard to ensure that the games run smoothly and that people have fun, while clearly having the time of their lives, inspired thousands to enquire if it’s not too late to volunteer for the games once they’d begun.  Volunteer Cornwall has since reported that it’s seen a whopping 40% increase in volunteers on their books since April.  

Currently 12.7 million people volunteer at least once a month in the UK – the largest group among them are aged 14-25.  Could this be because it’s becoming increasingly hard to ignore the need for action in a great number of areas from the environmental issue, to the economic crisis, to the need to re-build our communities?  With the government failing to really make any significant impact in most, it feels that more-and-more people just are finding it hard to sit back any longer and are taking action themselves. In the case of the younger group, it’s more that it’s the only way to build skills and experience in an almost non-existent job market.

The thing is, what those of us who volunteer know is that it’s certainly not an entirely selfless thing to do.  While we don’t get paid in cash, we get paid in riches which are far worth so much more  Take note Mums – these are riches that we seek perhaps more than most:

1)  New skills
The possibilities are endless!  Ever wondered if you’d be any good at marketing?  Performing?  Project management?  Or maybe you’d like to improve your interpersonal skills.  Don’t quit your job and enrol on an expensive course. Try it out first – volunteer!  Gain wonderful experience while doing something good! 

2)  A marvellous addition to your CV
Let’s face it, times are tough.  A gazillion people go for every job and there’s no shortage of qualified people out there.  Us Mums can be made to feel like maternity leave and a few years out with our kids creates an unattractive gap in our CV.  Fill it with volunteering.  Explore new options, learn new skills, do it with your kids.  Any employer will see what wonderful people we are with such rich and diverse skills – why would they employ anyone else?

3)  Great new friends and contacts
Believe me through volunteering you’ll meet all sorts.  And you’ll be surprised by how much you have in common with, well pretty much anyone, when you are united through a common cause.  It’ll open your eyes to different views, different ways of life and different paths.  You’ll meet new friends and contacts who may help you achieve whatever comes next.  You’ll be an inspiration to others.  

4)  A greater connection to your community
This is one of the reasons I started volunteering.  I live in London.  I’d travel 45 minutes into the centre to work.  I’d stay there for maybe 9, 10 hours.  I’d come home, eat and go to bed.  On the weekend I’d wander around the shops, look around the market, go to the park.  I’d wish I could spend more time here, *really* get to know it.  I wanted to ‘bump into’ people more and have a chat.  Know all the shopkeepers by name.  I’d feel sad that I spent all of my time in another part of town doing work I didn’t massively love.  I was 30 and it was becoming increasingly important to feel part of my surroundings.  Volunteering does this.  You don’t just feel connected to your local community – you are actively making it betterer!  And while we’re on this…

5)  Good feelings
This is the best bit.  You’re taking control.  You’re doing something worthwhile for you and those around you.  You’re part of a team that’s doing something exciting.  You’re achieving great things.  You’re doing it for nuffink.  Aren’t you wonderful?

Just to go back to the Mum thing – I really believe that becoming a Mum, maternity leave and being at home with your kids present opportunities to make big changes.  Don’t get me wrong I know how hard being a Mum is.  But I actually found that when I returned to volunteering when Nancy was three months old it gave me a healthy distraction.  A reason to get out the house.  To speak to people – and about something other than nap times, feeding and overtiredness!  Now that Nancy is 8 months old I’m volunteering on all sorts of things.  Nancy is doing it with me.  I’m doing things that I’ve always been interested in doing.  I’ve never had this opportunity before.  Aren’t I lucky?

I’m going to write a separate post on how to become a volunteer.   But for now, here are a few places to start:

Do-it UK
Time Bank
vInspired (for 14-25 year olds) 

Image source:  Mum’s Monkey (thank you!)