Category Archives: 3. GIVE – charity, volunteering, fund-raising

Selfless acts

Small charitable act #6 – let someone know that you care

So yesterday was a shitty day. It was more than that – it was a crying-in-the-toilets-at-work kind of day (don’t ask). I cycled home, singing, and that made me feel a little better. But I was still, as my father used to say, “bouleversé“.

But then I walked up to my front door and this was lying on my doorstep…

Total surprise, totally lovely. And I forgot my crappy day and smiled and got very excited (and hoped it wasn’t a giant turd). It wasn’t! It was a little apple crumble from the lovely people at This Is Your Kingdom which I really enjoyed eating and which made my day just so much better. Now I know they don’t actually care about me, but it was hand-made and hand-delivered and just such a lovely idea that I love these guys now. Their website lists lovely local things to do, which you can contribute to, and they love their baking so do check it out.

The fact is, there is nothing nicer than receiving something that is (i) a surprise; and (ii) hand-made or at least not bought from Oliver Bonas (we all do it ladies).  Here’s some ideas of how you could make someone else really, really happy (which, as we all know, makes us happy too):

  1. When they leave the flat, leave a lovely note scribbled in lipstick on their mirror so they read it when they get home. Boys – don’t use Chanel lipsticks; Girls – don’t leave a to-do list of DIY tasks.
  2. Create a playlist of brilliant songs around a certain theme and burn a CD to give a friend.
  3. Send a thank-you card for something they did for you, a lovely dinner or night you had together, or just for being brilliant.
  4. Make a birthday card with photos of them and you together (Moonpig / FunkyPigeon et al is cheating). In fact, just sending a friend nice photos of you together that they can frame is a lovely idea.
  5. Cook something – a cake, a brownie, lasagne, some jam or curd or chutney – and give it to them next time you see them for no reason whatsoever. In fact if they’re going through a rough time, turning up with a home-made apple crumble or shepherd’s pie could be the difference between hope and despair.
  6. If you happen to pass a florist, pick up a bunch of flowers for yourself or the person you’re about to meet. Male or female, everyone loves flowers and it makes every flat look and smell lovely.
  7. Call someone you haven’t spoken to in ages just to catch up or tell them something funny….

Small charitable act #5 – buy a Christmas present from St Mungos

You may remember last year I had a bad jumpers Christmas party to raise money and do a collection for St Mungos and afterwards we drove to their city hostel and they are just bloody brilliant – they totally care about their residents (who apparently would have been especially delighted with the razors we brought) and provide food and warmth and shelter and human contact and kindness and love. And lets face it, Christmas is a fairly melancholic time for most of us, so just imagine what it’s like when you’re cold and lonely and don’t even get to argue about watching the Eastenders Christmas Special.

Someone very close to me once ended up in a homeless hostel and believe me it can happen to anyone – people with sadness they can’t handle and addictions, who break up from relationships, who lose their job and get into debt and can’t get out of the downward spiral. I know I always say this but they don’t just need food and water, they need conversations and kindness. And St Mungos understands this which is why I love them.

You can donate money to their Christmas appeal to help the homeless over Christmas or you can buy a gift from their Christmas shop – I like the bird box above. Or you can buy someone a donation gift to show that you’ve paid money on their behalf to help residents make phone calls (that photo of the guy on the phone KILLS ME), provide lunch for two weeks etc – although lets face it, I don’t know many people that would be thrilled with a present saying you’ve donated money on their behalf, so maybe buy them something else too. Or you can always go to their carol concert. But just please do something 🙂

A post on kindness and karma

It is hard to write about kindness and being considerate without sounding like a self-righteous arse, but I’m going to try my best. David Lewis and Mindlabs recently conducted an experiment which proved that people who spent time doing considerate deeds for their communities (giving someone money for a parking ticket, watering people’s plants when they were away) were happier, healthier, had more self esteem and were less stressed than before.

This is hardly surprising stuff, but I reckon kindness is a bit of an overlooked and underrated commodity in London. I’m finding that doing things for others is the hardest of my rules to fulfil (apart from going to the gym, which is taking a brief leave of absence while I hibernate for the winter). The fact is us Londoners are busy – we fill up our diaries, fit in drinks or dinner with friends but are sometimes unavailable for more attentive “maintenance” and  we rarely say hello to our neighbours. We walk fast, live fast and are highly intolerant of strangers, especially those on public transport (that bastard just stood on my foot/is walking too slow/coughing near me/holding his paper in my personal space!!).

In researching this post I found this blog about helping others which talks about a “volcanic eruption of kindness” in London – how one kind act led to another and then another. I totally believe in karma, which is why I didn’t mind when that bloke elbowed me out the way on the tube this morning because I know he’ll be stepping on a giant dog turd later. As Paolo Coehlo suggests, if you do something nice, fate will send the love right back at you, and it’s easy to work out why – if you help a friend out they’re much more likely to help you back and if you do something nice for someone the warm glow it gives you somehow radiates onto other people (and yes I did develop much of this theory while backpacking round India…). The blog gives various small kindness ideas so I’m going to try a few out. In the meantime, here’s a few little ideas that I’m going to try to fit in:

  1. Help a friend move house. There are few things more utterly shit than moving house on your own. And yet by helping a friend, you only need to give up an hour or two and are likely to be rewarded with love, beer and improved biceps at the end. I am therefore lugging my South-of-the-Thames self to Crouch End for exactly this reason this weekend.
  2. Give money to all buskers on the tube – especially if they make you smile/get nostalgic/hum. Just a bit of shrapnel from your wallet is fine and you’ll get a smile back that will make you feel happy. There is a small exception to the rule for that grumpy accordion player at Oxford Circus.
  3. Make something for someone – a birthday card, cake or cup of tea.
  4. Say hello to neighbours, help people with their luggage, send someone a book they’d like, help a colleague with their work.

I should finally mention websites like Help from Home and ivolunteer which give ideas about what things you can do to help and volunteering in general. They said nice things about me so I’m saying nice things back – you see? Karma.

Small charitable act #4 – Buy someone flowers (for no particular reason)

This one’s dead easy. Although it doesn’t count if its someone’s birthday, or their cat died, or you’re saying sorry, or it’s mother’s day. It should be random and unexpected and for no other reason than you think they’re brilliant.

I recently got bought flowers twice in one month, lucky me, by two lovely friends*, for no other reason than they are lovely friends and they wanted to be nice. And it felt amazing – first, because it shows that someone is thinking about you and loves you enough to buy something nice for you; and second, because having fresh flowers in your flat makes your flat smell nice and looks gorgeous.

They don’t have to be expensive, they can be hand-picked, and you shouldn’t want anything in return (do you hear that, boys?!).** 

It will definitely make them smile and I BET it also makes you smile all the way home…

* thank you mucho Lola and Giovanna!

** although ladies a LARGE glass of vino is coming your way soon 🙂

Small charitable act #3 – Have a fancy picnic for charity

Vive le picque-nique (apparently the French invented them in the 17th century, but bof…) – one of our most fabulous British traditions!

It was, after all, the scene of many of our greatest literary moments – Jane Austen had Emma excitedly gossiping on Box Hill in the days when your servants would walk behind you lugging baskets, umbrellas and half a marquee (I found this brilliant Jane Austen blog which describes the elegance and guargantuan effort of picnics in those days).  It was after a picnic that Lucy Honeychurch snogged the gorgeous George Emerson in A Room with a View.  And Enid Blyton’s books are full of  picnics with lashings and lashings of ginger ale.  

More than that, we all have childhood memories of picnics.  Our parents did them really well – proper wicker baskets, scratchy tartan rugs, cups and cutlery, sandwiches and strawberries and often involving multi-coloured wind-cheaters. But I’m not sure if our generation of Londoners (Henley aside) have continued this tradition as much –  especially after our expat friends showed us the benefits of le BBQ. And if we do it, it tends to be a sit-on-your-coat-and-bring-whatever-is-3-for-2-at-tesco kind of thing.

But this week I have mostly been inspired by:

  • the perfect weather and looking at photos of the elegance of the 1930s;
  • the photos of Fernandez & Leluu’s picnic at Henley; and
  • St Mungo’s “Picnics for Pounds” project which encourages people to have picnics and ask their friends to bring a bit of money for the homeless – the perfect HPL idea of doing something small and fun that will make a big difference.

Soooooo lets all organise a fabulously elegant and old-fashioned picnic before the weather gets crap again!  Here’s some ideas:

1. Pick a sunny day and a local park and invite all your friends and people you haven’t seen in far too long.

2. Make it posh – buy a cute hamper (I like this one from Next and this super posh but expensivo one from Oliver Bonas or there’s loads here), get a comfy rug, make sure you have cutlery and glasses, bring a frizbee or croquet set (I don’t actually know anyone who owns a croquet set but you know what I mean).

3. Bring interesting food – not just the obligatory sarnies and scotch eggs.  I couldn’t believe how wonderful Fernandez & Leluu’s picnic at Henley looked (gutted I missed it) and they’ve kindly allowed me to show some of their photos here, which I’m sure will inspire you:

Not a bottle of Rola Cola in sight

Nice bread and obligatory strawberries nom nom nom

Yummy tiger prawns

Well this is just showing off, really – tuna sashimi

Oysters and ryvita – why not?

A plate of samphire – very sexy veggie and my new-found gastro obsession

I love the fact that F&L did an original take on the traditional picnic, but you could do it any way you like – it doesn’t have to be all cucumber sandwiches and pork pies.  Although extra points for moustaches, boaters, pastel stripes, loafers and punting…!

Random acts of London kindness

One of the hardest HPL rules is to GIVE. As well as having little free time or money to devote to charitable purposes, daily stresses mean I sometimes don’t feel particularly warmly towards my fellow man (especially when squashed under his sweaty armpit on the Northern Line).

However, the effects on us of being kind are HUGE – scientists say you feel satisfied, exhilorated, a sense of euphoria. You feel a connection with others (another of the HPL rules) and a sense of wellbeing, calm and relaxation. 

Selfish though it may be, being kind to others makes you feel better, simples. So today I’ve mostly been inspired (again) by We Are What We Do and tried to remind myself to do the below, even when I’m grumpy or stressed:  

  • Smile at people on the tube.  But not manically. And don’t get annoyed with others’ irritating tube behaviour (coughing, sneezing, standing on toes, not moving down, holding paper in awkward way, picking nose, jamming rucksack in face, snogging, listening to terrible R&B very loudly, etc etc)
  • Have more empathy with others. They are probably having a rough day too.  Try to listen.  
  • Compliment 2 people every day. Best not combine with smiling at strangers on the tube, this is likely to make them feel uncomfortable.
  • Bake or make something for a friend (easy ones = make a birthday card from photos, give them a cutting of your house plant, bake a cake).
  • Call rather than email (even better, meet for a coffee).
  • Always smile and say hello or similar to people behind counters selling me things. 
  • And finally: give someone the empty tube seat/help that person with the heavy case/let that car push in/tell the barman they were there first/buy the first round.

UPDATE: Thank you to the lovely Irish girl on the tube who tapped me on the shoulder to point out that the tag was still hanging off my lovely new dress.  With 50% off written on it!  Some SERIOUSLY good karma coming your way!

Small charitable act #2: Save the Planet

This week I am mostly being inspired by We Are What We Do which encourages you to do small actions regularly to make big changes to the world; and a campaign called The End Of The Line about our over-consumption of fishies and how there won’t be many left if we carry on eating them. 

The HPL believes that its not all about the grand gestures; that by trying to fit small, worthwhile actions into our busy lives, we’ll not only help the communities we live in, but make ourselves happier in the process.  So, this week I tried three small actions to save the planet:

1. Don’t use plastic bags.  No problemo.  I carry this cute little Paperchase shopping bag everywhere I go and use it each time I pop to my local supermarket instead of getting a plastic bag.  I inexplicably photographed it by a lemon – this is to show how small it is to fit into your handbag. 

2.  Turn off the TV.  We tried this last week.  Normally we’d come in, flop on the sofa and watch telly.  Which is fine if you’re watching something half decent (current favourites Glee and Masterchef) but often we sit and watch dross for no other reason than its what we always do and we’re knackered.  So, we turned the TV off.  El G refused to play Trivial Pursuits, I managed to accomplish quite a lot – hand washing, admin, read the paper.  Yes, not the most exciting night of my life but I’m sure if you did it often enough you’d get creativemake a photo album, paint something, play music.

Bluefin tuna – an endangered species that you really shouldn’t eat – bad Nobu!!

3. Don’t eat fish from non-sustainable sources and have Meat-Free Mondays.  This is a new one for me.  I was brought up on a meat/fish and 2 veg diet, so to give it up feels odd.  But if we keep eating over-fished fish then there won’t be any left – our seas will be full of algae and jellyfish, swimming will be rubbish, poor fisherman across the world will lose their livelihood, and we’ll all have to eat jellyfish and as my experience in the Empress of Sichuan showed me – jellyfish tastes like regurgitated grisle.  So, I’m going to check the fish I eat is from a sustainable source and give up all meat and fish every Monday.  Yesterday I started – stir fried tofu and veg for dinner, and it wasn’t bad at all.  I felt somehow “clean“.  Might also lose some weight 🙂

Small charitable act #1: Give old magazines to your local doctor’s surgery

Well this seemed like a good idea anyway.  The HPL set off happily for work on Monday armed with a bunch of magazines to drop off at my local NHS doctor’s surgery.  I imagined the smiles on flu-ridden faces as they realised the latest copy of “Elle” was waiting for them.  However, I walked in, asked if they wanted some magazines for their waiting room and got a resounding “no”.  So that was that.

I wasn’t going to post this story because obviously its pretty rubbish.  However, the important moral is to always call first before you try to donate things – I’ve had the same problem with hostels who were full up with clothes and didn’t want any more.   But I’m pretty sure there must be some local doctor’s surgeries, hospitals or hospices out there who want your spare mags – isn’t a guilty fix of celebrity gossip the only joy of the waiting room experience? 

I’d love some ideas for more small charitable acts (preferably those that aren’t rejected outright by potential beneficiaries) as the charitable side of HPL is sadly lacking.  In December, I donated toiletries to St Mungos and this weekend we’re giving a collection of clothes and toys to the Christian Alliance homeless hostel in Southwark.  I’ve also applied to be a befriender at Lambeth Age Concern, and my application is being considered right now.

But these are quite time-consuming things, and I’m not managing to do something every month.  So,  I’m going to come up with a new idea for a small charitable act every month from now on (with suggestions from you I hope) that may inspire you too!

Give a little – busy Londoners guide

As you know, The Happiness Project London believes that as well as making the most out of your time doing fun stuff; to be truly happy, you should fit in some time to help others.  This is especially important given that more and more of us are unhappy nowadays as highlighted by this recent Sunday Times article

But let’s be realistic – we work long hours; book our evenings and weekends up weeks in advance to see friends and partners; and with our remaining free time we try to squeeze in yoga classes, gym sessions, shopping, calling mum. 

However, New Year is about making changes to your life and these can be as small as you like to fit in with your busy lifestyles.  The Evening Standard recently published an artice called “Let’s eat, drink, shop – and give to others“, where it encouraged people to think of others over Christmas and quoted the Archbishop of Westminster’s recent sermon where he said that “real happiness comes from family, friends and community, not status and things.”  

I’m in no position to be preachy (and, having recently hit the sales pretty hard, I know that there is some happiness that comes from “things”), but The Happiness Project London is trying to help the wider community as part of my Rules, and I have therefore come up with some simple, easy ways to help:

1. Unwanted Christmas presents

 

An embroidered tissue box holder?  Thanks!

You can of course give away on Freecyle or Gumtree, or sell on ebay (for charity if you like), but I’ve found these to can take time and effort, and you often have no idea who you are giving stuff to.

  • So, take random gifts to your local charity shop – they’ll be very pleased to get them. 
  • Toiletries (especially dentist stuff, shower gels, shampoos and razors) would be really helpful to homeless shelters (see St Mungos or the Waterloo Christian Mission) or other charities where people pop in to get shelter (for example The Refugee Council). 
  • Many charities including homeless hostels and shelters for victims of domestic violence and refugees, including The Refugee Council, would love clothes, shoes, toys, colouring pens, etc too – just call first to check that they have room as some have more than they need already. 
2. Donate old furniture
 
Emmaus and other organisations including Mencap, Trinity Homeless, Salvation Army, Homestore Tower Hamlets and Furniture Aid South Thames will come and pick up your old furniture and electricals for free and donate to charities or people who need it. 

An Evening Standard article on this received a lot of negative comments that this was harder than it sounded, but the alternatives aren’t great.  You can sell on ebay, but I’ve had problems lately with moaning buyers.  The council always takes a while to pick your stuff up, and you might get in trouble for leaving it out in the street.  You also might not want to go through the hassle of giving stuff away on gumtree or freecycle (Londonders can be strangely picky when enquiring about free items).

3. It’s not fundraising, its handraising – www.ihave.org.uk
I LOVE the premise of this new Edinburgh-based website.  ihave.org.uk asked charities what they need and the answers are refreshingly specific and simple – a spare amp, children’s books, volunteer drivers, advertising space, digital cameras, pet food, white boards, blood.
You can give as little as you like, as often as you like, which means it can be fitted into your busy lifestyle.  I can’t be the only one that has hordes of stuff gathering dust that I’d be happy to donate – old cameras, frizbees, plant pots, photo frames, paint….  It is currently Scotland-centric but they are hoping to expand – hopefully it will get to London soon.

“Bad Jumper” Christmas party to help St Mungo’s “Winter Warmer” campaign

As I suspected, The Happiness Project London has become rather one-sided.  Its been far easier to go out to nice restaurants than do anything for charity.  Life is so busy in London that its been hard to find time, but I’ve also been putting it off in favour of nights out suggested by friends.  However, the second and critically important premise of The Happiness Project London is that life becomes empty when we only live for ourselves, so I’ve wanted to kick start the charitable side sooner rather than later.

So I was inspired by St Mungo’s “Winter Warmer” campaign which aims to raise funds for the homeless especially at this time of year, by encouraging people to hold fundraising events around the theme of “keeping warm”.   This is something close to my heart as I’ve always found Christmas to be a rather melancholic time and I also have personal experience of how homeless hostels have helped people close to me, so I decided to do what I could to help.

Adapting that theme somewhat, The Grump (our new name for “my boyfriend” until we come up with something better) and I have decided to hold a “bad jumpers” Christmas party for all our friends.   I found some inspiration below – “the Giles” and “his and hers” being particular favourites.  

As well as having the final catch up before we all part ways for family Christmases – and drinking our body weight in mulled wine – I’m asking my friends to donate money to the St Mungo’s campaign and also to bring along any spare blankets, toiletries and clothing, which The Grump and I will take to our nearest emergency shelter in Southwark the day after, notwithstanding fuzzy heads. 

I can’t think of anything better in London than spending an evening with your closest friends all dressed in terrible jumpers, knowing that you’re doing what you can for someone else, and you might just make another person’s day.  If you can, I’d encourage you to do the same – contact St Mungo’s through the links page to set up your own event. 

UPDATE: We called the St Mungos emergency shelter in Southwark and the local shelter in Battersea and both were full up with clothes and couldn’t store any more. BUT they were very keen for toiletries. So, we dropped off the toiletries at the Southwark shelter and are due to deliver the clothes to the Christian Mission shelter in Southwark (as suggested by the St Mungos emergency shelter). We also donated money to St Mungos. So, its a good idea to ring up shelters first to check if they can store/circulate your items before you rock up.