Make it stop! How you can help domestic abuse survivors with one small gesture this Christmas

While domestic abuse is a tragedy that goes on behind closed doors, one powerful campaign is determined to shine a light on it and bring it out into the open.

The brilliant team over at Solace Women’s Aid have launched #MakeItStop – a Christmas initiative to raise funds for specialist trauma therapy as increasing numbers of women seek help from frontline services during coronavirus lockdowns.

To help people understand the severity of the crisis, Solace have released a haunting video which kickstarts as though it is a traditional Christmas scene around the fireplace.

However, despite the stockings and pressies under the tree, it soon becomes clear all is not right.

As Deck The Halls plays against the backdrop of the family living room, the refrain of ‘‘Tis the season to be jolly’ starts to play over and over again as the fire crackles eerily.

With the lyric on loop, the repetition grows more and more maddening as it leaves the viewer with a heightened sense of discomfort and awareness of potential danger.

It soon becomes apparent that this home is not a happy or safe one, as the camera pans onto a photo of a woman and her child who are both experiencing domestic abuse.

The video aims to reflect the reality that many people face this Christmas, trapped at home with their abuser in a cycle of terror repeatedly on loop.

While the viewer is able to turn off the incessant Christmas tune, abuse survivors have no off switch and are left reliving their traumas if they do not receive proper help.

Alongside raising awareness in the emotive video, the Solace team want to show members of the public how they can actively help survivors who are in fear of their future.

By simply gifting £10, your donation can help run refuge services for women and children to flee domestic abuse and violence, as well as provide specialist therapy and counselling.

Just £10 – that’s less than two drinks in a London pub – is all it takes, and a ripple effect of kindness from the masses, to help ease feelings of isolation for survivors and help them access support.

Speaking about the initiative, CEO Fiona Dwyer said: “This year, during ongoing lockdowns, Solace has seen an increase in the volume of women seeking our help.

“We are also seeing an increase in women facing complex trauma and mental health issues because of the abuse and violence they’ve suffered.”

She added: “The #MakeItStop campaign comes at a time when Solace’s services are in demand more than ever. Since the pandemic, there has been a 100% increase in the number of survivors accessing the charity’s counselling, with a significant increase in high risk cases.”

You know what to do, to donate click here: Solace.

Incredible café welcomes anyone struggling – with ALL staff trained as mental health first aiders

When we’re feeling down, it can be hard to get out of bed, let alone trying to articulate to a counsellor or doctor about how we’re feeling.  

But one wellbeing café has swept in to offer a non-judgemental ear for any of us who might be struggling.

The Feel Good Club, based in Manchester, opened their doors this summer to provide takeaway coffee, food, and support in what is an immensely hard time for everyone.

Co-founded by wives Kiera and Aimie Lawlor-Skillen, the couple hope to normalise the conversation around mental health and to spread a little joy in their community.

[Credit: Instagram / WeAreFeelGoodClub]

Not only will they sell teas and coffees, as well as provide a safe space to chat, the venue will also host events including yoga, wellbeing talks, cinema nights, plus offer workshops.

In addition to this, the dog-friendly café that promises a homely touch will have an army of mental health first aid trained staff to help customers who feel they need more support.

There will also be a daily ‘Small Talk’ hour, with special offers on food and drink to encourage guests to take the time out of their day to chat to a friend or even a stranger.

Meanwhile, each week they will host Freelance Fridays, where self-employed people are invited to join the team to use the space for free and to network with other freelancers.

[Credit: Instagram / WeAreFeelGoodClub]

For those who simply want to swing by for a bite to eat, the menu promises vegetarian options from local suppliers guaranteed to tickle your taste-buds.

Chatting about their venture, Kiera said their dream had always been to bring the online community they have amassed on social media into a real-life space.

Aimie explained: “It was clear to us when we started Feel Good Club online, that there was a huge demand for people to connect, and that our community was shouting out for a place they could call their own.”

Speaking to local publication, About Manchester, she added: “We can’t wait to bring it to life for them… We want to create a space where our guests feel like they are at home. It will be our house, your house and a coffee house.”

[Credit: Instagram / WeAreFeelGoodClub]

However, despite their incredible work, the couple have been told they are ineligible for government funding as their doors remain closed despite how much they help people.

Kiera and Aimie are now campaigning to Rishi Sunak to be included in the furlough scheme – especially given their area is soon to dive into Tier 3 after national lockdown – and encouraging locals to use strength in numbers by contacting their local MP, Lucy Powell.

Chatting about how much the café has helped, one customer said: “I live alone, work from home and use my apartment for all aspects of life, it can get really isolating and tough, so to be able to have some human interaction, grab a coffee in friendly space – it really helps my mental health.

“It’s been a tough year, and without the club and their support I don’t think I would have mentally made it this far without having some sort of breakdown.”

We wish there was one of these near where we live!

20 days of kindness: Hollywood star kickstarts ripple effect to show a lil’ love goes a long way

Donating her loose change to charity isn’t quite enough for Melissa McCarthy this season.

Instead, the Bridesmaids actress has kickstarted an epic 20 days of kindness campaign, which will see her give $20,000 to 20 different charities over the next consecutive 20 days.

Teaming up with streaming platform HBO Max, who are hosting her new film Superintelligence, the project aims to help small organisations that have had a particularly tricky 2020 as their funding has plummeted during the pandemic.

The flick, which also stars Brit national treasure James Corden, tells the tale of a woman (played by McCarthy) who quits the corporate world to work in charity. Now, the #20DaysOfKindness initiative is paying tribute to the storyline, with life imitating art.

So far, the team have donated to a brilliant array of organisations, from kids charities to humanitarian funds to veterans foundations.

The first lucky recipients were Girls Who Code, an amazing project committed to educating young women to close the gender gap and ensure they have a place in technology.

Not only did they receive the $20k (£15k), but American telecommunications company AT&T decided to chuck in an additional $1,000,000 as they believe in the cause so much.

If you’re a sucker for a friendly pooch or kitten, then you’ll be pleased to hear the Best Friends Animals Society were also on the nice list this year.

They do an incredible job reducing the number of animal deaths in shelters across the USA, working collaboratively with rescue centres to save animals from avoidable deaths.  

Step Up also made the list, whose mission is to help girls in under-resourced communities achieve their personal and academic potential by empowering them to become college-bound, career-focused young women that are ready to lead the next generation.

[Credit: Shutterstock]

Other charities included Conversational International, who work tirelessly to save the planet; World Central Kitchen, who have served over 45million meals to people globally; Make-A-Wish Foundation, who grant wishes for terminally ill kids; and the Trevor Project, a confidential hotline that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ youth.

Clearly touched by all of the charities she highlighted in the campaign, Melissa, along with husband Ben Falcone, donated a further $5k to each and every organisation.

She also encouraged people to continue donating after the initiative ends, telling fans that even just 50¢ or $1 can go a long way.

Next time you find yourself surfing Amazon or ASOS, we challenge you to dig a little deeper into those pockets and donate to a good cause too.

Save Xmas for care homes! Send a card to residents to raise spirits – here’s how to get involved

With fears for tiers looming in December, it seems ‘tis the season to be careful.

However, one care home team are turning themselves into Santa’s little helpers, determined to raise the spirits of their residents despite the ongoing pandemic.

Over in Maidenhead, St Mark’s Bupa Care Home are inviting members of the public to send in Christmas cards to their community this festive season.

People are simply being asked to write uplifting messages and ping them to the little market town in Berkshire to help residents feel more connected over Crimbo.

[Credit: Shutterstock]

Chatting about the initiative, home manager Doina Hirta said she hopes people never underestimate the power of opening a card, as it gives her residents a “very special feeling”.

Doina said: “The tradition of sending and receiving Christmas cards at this time of year is one many of our residents have always enjoyed.

“It is the best way of spreading Christmas cheer and keeping connected to those near and far. It’s a very special feeling to open a card and to know that someone cares about you and wants to wish you well at this time of the year.”

[Credit: Unsplash / Annie Spratt]

Doina also stressed that for those people unable to see their families, or who don’t have any relatives, this time of year can be difficult rather than feel merry.

“It’s a very special feeling to open a card and to know that someone cares about you and wants to wish you well at this time of the year.”

Doina Hirta, Care Home Manager

Yet the simplicity of a message can be enough to help those people feel connected again.

She continued: “If we can get enough cards so that each resident has the joy of opening something, that would be really special. 

“In these unprecedented times, a show of community support like this would really boost everyone’s spirits in the home and make it an even merrier Christmas.”

[Credit: Unsplash / Annie Spratt]

 So, how do you get involved?

Simply buy a card or use a spare from the box you have, jot down a note, then ping your envelope to St Mark’s Bupa Care Home, 110 St Mark’s Road, Maidenhead, Berkshire, SL6 6DN.

The cards will be opened by residents and placed around the home for everyone to enjoy.

Looks like it could be a merry Christmas after all.

Body art to bedroom art: how one tattooist reinvented herself during lockdown

As many businesses were forced to close their doors to their customers during lockdown, many came up with ingenious ways of keeping their trade going.

The obvious solution for many food outlets was to offer takeaway services and some pubs even pimped out vans so they could drive to their thirsty customers and pour them a much-needed pint.

Fitness instructors charged their clients for online workouts and some restaurants even offered paid cooking lessons via Zoom.

But what if your business required you to get up close and personal with your clients, such as a hairdresser, manicurist or a tattooist?

Well, one tattooist wasn’t going to let her talent go to waste and instead decided that if she couldn’t decorate a client’s body, she’d go for their walls instead!

London-based Nikole Lowe had to close her studio because of the pandemic and was facing very hard times until she was given the chance to reinvent herself as an interior designer.

Nikole, who has been in the business for almost 30 years, was approached by a wallpaper business who had seen her work and admired her Chinese-style artwork.

The owner of Wallpapered.com asked her if she’d like to join forces and this week the partnership launched bespoke wallpaper based on Nikole’s paintings.

Zealand-born Nikole, who was one of the stars of the reality TV show London Ink, said: “I love the looseness and spontaneity of Chinese art.

“I studied it for six years with an amazing teacher, and she told me to just be in the moment, not to think too much and to just go with it. She inspired me to paint what I love and be influenced by the seasonal changes going on around me; both of which are captured in this collection for Wallpapered.com.”

Kat Truong, owner of Wallpapered.com said: “I am thrilled to unveil the Nikole Lowe collection for Wallpapered.com.

“Pushing the artistic boundaries with Wallpapered.com has been a priority and introducing a collection of authentic, hand-painted artwork with minimal digital input is a dream come true.

“Nikole’s paintings are stunning and to be able to reproduce them as wall murals where every detail of the brushstroke is visible is amazing.”

Fancy sprucing up your walls for Christmas? You can check out the collection here.

To sleep, perchance to dream… and help a child in need

We all feel miserable and cranky after a bad night’s sleep.

It can affect our physical and mental health from our moods to our fitness levels to even how we eat.

But many of us, despite our bouts of insomnia, are fortunate enough to have a comfortable bed to sleep in and a warm meal inside us before we try and settle into the Land of Nod.

Sadly, millions of children across the United States don’t have those two simple necessities, especially those in families on the breadline.

Poverty is the highest risk factor to getting a good night’s sleep with one in five children experiencing sleeplessness every night.

Research has shown that 87 per cent of children that don’t have quality sleep are more likely to drop out of school, 69 per cent will struggle with depression and will be four times as likely to take their own lives.

An issue that has been highlighted in a campaign launched by mattress company Leesa, which wants to donate a mattress for every child in need.

Leesa is the one of the leading mattress companies in America and this week it started the Bedless Night challenge which is asking people to give up their bed for one night.

For everyone that does and shares their experience on Instagram, Leesa will donate a bed to a child in an attempt to make their lives a little bit better.

So far, Leesa has donated just over 38,000 mattresses but there are still many, many more children in need.

So how can you get involved?

Easy. Give up your bed for one night, dig out a sleeping bag and camp down in the garden, on a sofa or even on the floor of whatever room you choose. You could also possibly get a bit more creative and sleep in the back seat of your car or pull up a blanket next to the dog and have a snuggle.

Then all you have to do is take a photo of you in your temporary night time surroundings, upload it to Instagram and Leesa will do the rest! And the more people that get involved, the more mattresses will be donated so why not tag some friends and get them to join in?

This year has been a challenge for many of us but it has particularly been tough on those in need. So while it might not seem like much, a new mattress could be just the thing to help a child have a restful Christmas.

‘Tis the season to shop local!

With many of us still under lockdown for the time being, it’s easy to turn to the major supermarkets for all our culinary Christmas needs this year.

But instead of a trip to a superstore, spare a thought for all those local businesses who have suffered during this year’s pandemic and could really do with our help right now.

The capital is teeming with lots of lovely little food and drink shops which can provide lots of homemade and unique food for your table or even bespoke treats as gifts for the family.

And thanks to the folk over at Time Out London – as well as a few recommendations from us – here is a selection of some of the best.

As we all know, food has a big part to play over the festive period and the main centrepiece is usually a fat, golden, juicy turkey.

But instead of ordering from your local Tesco, get down to your nearest butcher instead. Morley’s in Crouch End, north London offers a range of birds that can be ordered in store or online. There’s also Parson’s Nose that has three stores in south west London who can provide a whole turkey or just a crown, as well as all the essential trimmings. Mmmm, pigs in blankets….

All local greengrocers will be grateful for your custom and many have stayed open during lockdown running as an essential business and will continue to do so. Let’s face it – there’s nothing better than a bulging brown paper bag of Brussels sprouts carefully handpicked instead of a pre-packed plastic one, right?

As it has throughout most of lockdown, wine will also be flowing throughout the festive period and again, so think of your local merchants or independent off-licences when stocking up.

Stonewines in Whetstone, north London is constantly changing its stock, so visit them in person or give them a call, or check out Bottle Apostle in east London, who can even put together a Christmas case for you.

As for gifts for the foodies in your family, the award-winning Brik Chocolate, based in Hackney, east London, will certainly win over the chocolate lover in your life.

Brik’s handmade all-natural chocolate is inspired by architectural surfaces, such as terrazzo, concrete and marble, making them a feast for the eyes as well as the tastebuds.

Or for those who don’t have a sweet tooth but are also looking to make a lifestyle change, there’s a build-your-own vegan burger kit from Rudy’s Vegan Diner. But you’d better hurry as it’s selling fast! The diner is based in Camden but it’s also recently opened a ‘butchers’ in Islington, so once lockdown is lifted on December 2nd, make sure you join the queue for all your vegan Christmas food.

And no Christmas is complete without a hamper but you don’t have to splurge on a traditional one from Fortnum and Mason or Harrods, not when there are plenty of cheaper but just as delicious alternatives.

There’s the Market Special, boxes created by a collaboration of businesses in Borough Market and they range in price from £27.95 to £74.95.

So whatever your culinary needs are this Yuletide, take a wander up to your local high street and give your cash and support to those small businesses to help them get through to 2021.

Cheers, everyone!

Mental health for little ones! Kids are learning it’s okay not to be okay with revolutionary book

With so much talk of ‘mental health, ‘me time’ and ‘self-care’ online, us big kids are finally learning how to navigate our minds a little better.

But what about our little kids? Without mandatory lessons in school, children will likely struggle to understand their emotions if they are not taught.

Yet one book series has come to rescue, flying in like a superhero to save the day. And it’s even had the Royal stamp of approval from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

A new title, named Sophie Says It’s Okay Not To Be Okay, aims to teach our young people about the importance of caring for their mental health, and the mental health of others.

Written by Esther Marshall, herself a mum-of-one, the book not only addresses thoughts and feelings, but also diversity and inclusion to help parents teach their children positive messages, tackle tricky conversations, and, most importantly, make life’s lessons fun to learn.

We caught up with Esther to find out more about the book – aimed at ages 2-8 – which follows Sophie and her friends Jordyn, Jamie and Bunny, on their journey through Jamie’s feelings.

Speaking exclusively to Uspire, Esther also opened up about her own experiences with mental health and the difficult circumstances that led to her putting pen to paper.

Esther explained: “At the beginning of this year, I tragically lost my younger sister when she ended her battle with mental illness. There was only a 17-month difference between us, so naturally we were very close.

“While not sleeping in the weeks which followed, I used the time to write through my grief, to use it as a healing process and feel connected to my sister. Sophie Says It’s Okay Not To Be Okay was written as my way of healing, with the book poignantly dedicated to my sister.

“I so desperately want the next generation to understand the importance of looking after their mental health and speaking about their feelings. The book teaches children the importance of caring for their mental health, and of others, in a creative and authentic way; as well as encouraging open discussions about wellbeing between parents and children.”

Esther continued: “The Sophie Says series aims to help children bypass harmful stereotypes before they set in, by changing the face of children’s literature.

“Our mission is to enable all kids grow up feeling equipped and empowered to face their futures. To learn more about themselves, others, and the world around them and to inspire them to achieve whatever they want regardless of gender, race, religion, or background. Our stories are for everyone and we do this by trying to represent everyone.”

Esther also credits her two-year-old son as inspiration behind her ideas, as the second he was born she was determined to teach him that girls are just as strong and powerful as boys, and that people from different backgrounds to him could teach him things.

“The books aim to help children bypass harmful stereotypes before they set in, by changing the face of children’s literature.”

Esther Marshall

Yet all the books she could find had either mostly male characters (even the animals), little to no diversity or representation, and no female role models he could look up to. So, Esther decided, if she couldn’t find the book she wanted to read him, she’d better write her own.

She continued: “My son teaches me every day. He teaches me the importance of constantly talking about our feelings and understanding how we feel. He has taught me that as a mum I should show him my feelings as well rather than pretend that everything is okay in front of him and that it helps him understand his feelings if I say mummy is sad, or mummy is happy.

“We have a yellow armchair that every once in a while, he says to me, ‘Mummy, let’s go to the yellow chair and talk.’ He has found his safe place to feel comfortable to talk and that has taught me to find my safe place to talk as well. It’s amazing how much they teach you.”

Speaking about how she would like to see mental health education evolve for our future generations, Esther believes that the younger we start the better chance kids will have.

She said: “If you read any behavioural science studies all the literature shows that children can understand where they fit into society by the time, they are 18 months to three-years-old.

“Therefore, I want to see a change in that children are taught, in a positive and proactive way, about these topics from as young as 18 months.

“If we don’t do this, we will continue to have to do what we do now, which is reacting to what kids have already learned through stereotypes and having to undo what they have learned. It is so much harder than teaching them positively from a young age.”

Sophie Says It’s Okay Not To Be Okay is the follow-up to Esther’s debut, Sophie Says I Can, I Will, which was championed by The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, and supported by The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, due to its uplifting message of diversity and inclusion.

Not only is Esther an author changing the game in the early years children’s book market, she is also the founder of sTandTall, an organisation that provides support to people suffering from abuse and bullying via an online platform and education programmes.

Asked what advice she might give to anyone struggling now, Esther said she would urge individuals to not compare themselves to anyone, especially on social media.

She concluded: “It’s all so filtered and not an accurate portrayal of life and as the Sophie Says It’s Okay Not To Be Okay book says – you are enough!”

There needs to be a copy of this book in every house and classroom in the country.

To grab yours, click here: Sophie Says It’s Okay Not To Be Okay

Free hotel stay in Hawaii in exchange for helping out local communities

With many of us working from home now, it’s said we are actually doing more hours than less, logging on when we would ordinarily be commuting and logging off just before dinner when we would also be travelling back from the office.

So, if you’re like us, you might be gagging for a holiday after all those excess hours and staring at the same four walls.

Fortunately, the kind folk over in Hawaii have made an offer so tempting, we think it might be next on our vacation list.

The American state, located in the Pacific Ocean, is leading the way with ‘voluntourism’ – a hybrid of volunteering and tourism whereby people travel to do good in other communities.

[Credit: Ethan Roberston]

Now, the Malama Hawaii scheme is encouraging visitors to leave their beautiful beaches and picturesque scenery in better shape than when they arrived. In exchange, guests will then receive a thank you for their hard work in the guise of a free night from participating hotels.

Seeing the impact coronavirus has had on the travel industry, organisations from across the state are joining forces to inspire mindful travel for the future in order to save our planet.

The collaborators then coined the term ‘Malama Hawaii’, with ‘malama’ meaning to ‘care for’.

There really is a little something for everyone, with volunteer projects ranging from helping out with tree-planting to mucking in with beach clean-ups and even creating quilts for Hawaiian elders.

[Credit: Jeremy Bishop]

Globally-renowned hoteliers, the Marriott, are inviting people to restore and rebuild the island by donating equipment for guests to partake in beach clean-ups at their own leisure with friends and family working together, offering a free night for those involved.

Meanwhile, the Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative are gifting free stays in exchange for people giving three hours of community service to help plant their newest forest.

Major American airline, Alaska Airlines, are hosting one of the projects too and asking people to plant one tree for every flight they make to the Hawaiian Islands.

[Credit: TatanoMusic]

Chatting about the initiative, the company’s director of sales, community and public relations for Hawaii, Daniel Chun, said: “As we welcome visitors back, we want to support awareness of mindful travel to the islands – both in the air and on the ground.

“We’re excited to support Malama Hawaii, as it provides a way for our guests to partner with local residents and organisations to help strengthen the communities they visit.”

Looks like that’s our 2021 holiday sorted then!

To see the many ways you can help out, click here to have a gander: Malama Hawaii.

[Credit: Hawaiian Legacy Forest]

End of the self-esteem crisis? How girls are learning to love themselves with body image bible

It’s all very well telling young people to love themselves, but without explaining how, their only point of reference remains their peers and Instagram as the wallpaper of their world.

Yet one psychologist has taken it upon herself to break down the images of perfection that girls are plagued with and build up their self-esteem instead.

Dr Charlotte Markey, who specialises in body image issues and related mental health concerns, has now put pen to paper for a book to reveal all of her knowledge on the subject.

[Credit: Huha Inc]

The Body Image Book for Girls: Love Yourself and Grow Up Fearless is a straight-talking guide aimed at girls, aged nine to 15, to help them focus on self-care and self-compassion.

“If we can teach the next generation to be more accepting of themselves, and of diversity, the negative influences around them could be neutralised.”

Dr Charlotte Markey

With more than two decades in the field, New Jersey-based Dr Markey has taken her expertise and translated it into a young person’s bible for developing body confidence.

Not only does the book hold a magnifying glass up to issues that can affect body image – such as puberty, social media, peer pressure, and our relationship to food – but it also explores the power of the human body and how girls can look after their mental health.

[Credit: Dr Charlotte Markey]
[Credit: Dr Charlotte Markey]

Speaking about her new title, Dr Markey said she hopes to illustrate there are different shades of normal and educate young girls on how to embrace it.

Dr Markey said: “When I found out I was having a daughter, I thought, ‘Oh wow, I’ve been talking the talk on these issues; now I have to walk the walk’.”

Chatting to HuffPost UK, she continued: “For me, I consciously don’t make a big deal if I’m making a media appearance, and I don’t want my daughter to see me trying on dresses. I don’t talk about my food choices, other than to say that diets don’t work.

“I think a shift with this generation [in how they view their bodies] is very possible. We just need to open a dialogue with them about it.”

[Credit: Dr Charlotte Markey]
[Credit: Dr Charlotte Markey]

Charlotte is realistic when it comes to social media, and wants parents and teachers to know that trying to ban it is a losing battle.

Instead, she hopes to encourage young girls to follow positive influencers online, helping them filter out the people who have a negative affect on them and their sense of self.

She concluded: “If we can teach the next generation to be more accepting of themselves, and of diversity, the negative influences around them could be neutralised.”

Sounds like the book could help us big kids too!

To grab a copy, click here: The Body Image Book for Girls: Love Yourself and Grow Up Fearless.

[Credit: Dr Charlotte Markey]
[Credit: Dr Charlotte Markey]