Greg Dundee

Greg is a passionate animal rights activist, environmentalist and music enthusiast; with a love of books and travelling. Since spending three years living in Borneo, Greg has become actively involved with wildlife protection and raising awareness of the plight of endangered species all over the world. Greg also works on political and social campaigns supporting local charities and advocating for human rights.

Once and for all the Conservatives prove they are not the party for animal lovers

If you’re anything like me then you would have been shocked to learn that a motion to recognise animals as sentient beings – capable of feeling pain and emotion – was rejected from the EU Withdrawal Bill during a commons vote last week. The amendment, submitted by Green Party leader Caroline Lucas was narrowly defeated in parliament by just 18 votes, after every single member of the Conservative Party and their bedfellows the DUP voted against it. Despite every remaining member of parliament voting to transfer the animal sentience clause into UK law post-Brexit, the government was able to use its fragile majority to defeat them.

What is perhaps most disheartening, yet somehow unsurprising, is the complete and blatant u-turn by Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove. Earlier this year Michael Gove was questioned in the House of Commons about his intentions regarding the environmental implications and animal welfare standards of Brexit. During this debate Gove was asked by Henry Smith, Conservative MP for Crawley: “Can my right hon. Friend confirm that article 13 of the Lisbon treaty, which categorises animals as sentient beings, will be part of the repeal Bill?” to which Gove confidently responded: “Absolutely. Before we entered the European Union, we recognised in our own legislation that animals were sentient beings. I am an animal; we are all animals, and therefore I care—[Interruption.] I am predominantly herbivorous, I should add. It is an absolutely vital commitment that we have to ensure that all creation is maintained, enhanced and protected.” However, it seems that this promise – supposedly based upon beliefs close to Gove’s heart – was conveniently forgotten about when the time came for him to cast his shameful vote (along with the rest of his party – even Henry Smith himself).

The question we all have to ask – and definitely should be asking – is why the entire Conservative party voted the way they did, and what sinister policy is lurking around the corner? This is not only a party that seems to have nothing more than a superficial grasp of animal welfare issues, but also a party with the responsibility of navigating the turbulent waters of Brexit. There have already been fear-laden reports that Brexit might spell bad news for animals, but never has this been more plausible a concern than following this vote. With the legal standing and even the very basic nature of animals being re-written in law during our withdrawal from the EU, we are now on the edge of a very dangerous precipice. What will this mean for farm animals in a post-Brexit Britain?

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 currently protects companion animals such as cats and dogs, but makes no mention of sentience and does nothing to protect the animals most often subjected to abuse such as farm animals, wildlife and laboratory animals. It seems we could be about to take several steps backwards and see the most vulnerable animals in this country stripped of what few rights they did have, and subjected to much lower standards of welfare. Perhaps farm animals – no longer considered sentient beings – will be able to be reared, housed and slaughtered with even less regard for welfare than they are now; or perhaps we will even see the end of historically crucial wildlife protections as we watch our remaining areas of green-belt land swallowed up in a sea of concrete.

Of course, this is not the first time the Conservatives have demonstrated a complete lack of compassion and understanding when it comes to animal welfare issues. The reason the parliamentary vote on fox hunting was scrapped from the final Tory manifesto was not because Theresa and her chums had a change of heart, but simply because of their humiliating performance in this year’s election. Had Mrs May got the majority she so confidently predicted, the countryside would no doubt have already reverted back to being a playground for the bloodthirsty.

Then of course there’s the badger culling, a scientifically flawed and economically disastrous time-wasting exercise that has done nothing but prove that badgers don’t spread bovine TB and that this government has an irrational hatred of badgers. In fact, it seems that every time there is a discussion on animal welfare issues, the Conservative party show a complete lack of connection with the wider public and push ahead with policies that the majority of the country find abhorrent. Surely this in itself demonstrates that not only are the Tories not the party for animal lovers, they’re not the party of the people at all.

In a world that is now spiralling towards the increasingly uncertain future created by global warming, deforestation, mass-farming and other devastating symptoms of an over-consumptive society, the time is now upon us to start choosing our leaders more wisely. Protecting our environment and the animals (human or otherwise) that inhabit it should be at the top of the agenda for any government. Recognising our fellow non-human Earthlings as sentient beings is an important part of any society that wishes to strive for a more ethical and environmentally secure future. The Conservative party have shown us before that they do not care about animals, but now we have it in writing. It’s time for us to take action.

What Can I Do?

If you live in a constituency with a Conservative MP then please contact them to let them know you do not agree with their vote. You can find out the name and party of your MP, as well as how to contact them by clicking here.

Alternatively you can ask your MP to tell Michael Gove: “Animals are sentient beings” by clicking here.

You can also sign this petition which will be delivered to Michael Gove.

Finally, please keep the pressure upon the government to reverse this decision. Please share this article, and others like it, and remember this decision next time you are asked to vote for a new government.

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What the National Trust trail hunting vote really means

The motion to ban trail hunting on National Trust land was narrowly defeated at the organisation’s annual conference on Saturday, leading to members up and down the country threatening to cancel their memberships.

The outcome of Saturday’s vote at the National Trust’s Annual General Meeting came as a devastating shock to those who had campaigned tirelessly to ban so called trail hunting on the organisation’s land. The motion, which was tabled by Helen Beynon, a National Trust member, sought to halt the issuing of licences for trail hunting on trust land following countless reports across the country of breaches in animal welfare laws. Sadly, the National Trust advised its members to vote against this motion, choosing to buckle under the pressure of the hunting lobby and pro-bloodsport groups like the Countryside Alliance. In an incredibly close vote the motion actually received the most votes (28,629) verses those against the motion (27,525) but unfortunately was defeated after the inclusion of 3,460 proxy votes which were authorised to be used at the discretion of other members and trust’s board of trustees. The final result meant that the motion failed by just 299 votes, after the National Trust board itself used proxy votes to vote against the ban.

Speaking to the Guardian, Helen Beynon said: “I believe the only reason our motion has failed is because most National Trust members haven’t seen it with their own eyes. If they’d have seen what I’ve seen, then I have no doubt they would have voted with us.

“I was surprised that, despite all the evidence available to the trustees, and the fact that we were given no opportunity to respond to the terms of any new licence, they advised members to vote against our proposal. They have led people to believe that there is no problem. But there is a problem – hunts will now be able to continue their barbaric hobby on land which is meant to be protected for people and animals. It’s disgraceful, and the trust should be ashamed.

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Although many pro-hunting lobbyists claim that trail hunting is a harmless countryside activity, huge amounts of evidence shows that the contrary is actually true. Started in response to the hunting ban which came into effect in 2005, trail hunting has been shown time and time again to be nothing more than an arbitrary term for continued fox hunting to hide behind. In theory trail hunting is an evolution of drag hunting which involves placing real fox scents on a series of trails across a certain area for hounds to track. In reality this method results in the packs of dogs used on the hunt often intercepting the path of actual foxes – and this is no accident. Naturally this leads to foxes being killed by dogs, despite the ban, but is practically impossible to police under current laws as hunts claim that the deaths are accidental. Evidence produced as a result of undercover reports show that trail hunts up and down the country are breaking the law on a regular basis. In fact, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) state on their website: “IFAW hasn’t monitored every hunt but we suspect that most of those that we have monitored have indeed broken the law on several occasions. We did not always manage to persuade the police to investigate, even if we believed that there was enough evidence. We have not seen any evidence that supports the hypothesis that most hunts obey the law at all times.”

The fact is, trail hunting is nothing more than a guise for fox hunting to continue despite the ban which is supported by the vast majority of the country. Anyone that speaks out against hunting, however, is labelled a “townie” by pro-hunting groups and told to stay out of countryside affairs. Of course this dismissal of our opinions overlooks two crucial factors; firstly that many of us who oppose hunting either grew up in or live in the countryside; and secondly, regardless of where we may live, residents of the countryside are not the sole decision makers when it comes to hunting down and slaughtering local wildlife. Residents of towns and cities have every right to be outraged when groups are found to be circumventing the law and using illegal means to hunt and kill foxes, deer or any other animal. Just as we all share in the outrage when lions and rhinos are hunted for sport on the African plains – we don’t simply shrug our shoulders and accept that it’s none of our business; we fight it, we campaign against it and we don’t stop until something changes.

The National Trust have demonstrated leading up to this vote that they are a pro-hunting organisation. Despite overwhelming evidence clearly showing the cruelty inflicted upon British wildlife and the dogs used in the hunts, the National Trust advised their members – many of whom were unaware of the true nature of trail hunting – to vote against the motion to ban hunting on their land. As the largest landowner in the UK, the National Trust had it within their power to put a stop to the majority of trail hunts taking place across the country, instead they chose to back the pro-hunting fraternity and will no doubt continue to do so. In the end, rather than allowing the decision of the members to dictate whether or not trail hunting should be banned on their land, the National Trust board used the desperate measure of voting against the ban themselves using proxy votes they were authorised to use at their discretion. This is what decided the final result of the vote, and confirmed once and for all to many thousands of National Trust members that the organisation, rather than remaining impartial, is actually in favour of continued hunting.

So what’s next? As The League Against Cruel Sports said in response to the result, this is “a massive step backward for justice and a shot in the arm for cruelty”, yet this is the result that the National Trust board itself wanted. As members we should be under no illusion as to what sort of organisation we are paying money to be affiliated with. No longer can the National Trust pretend to be concerned with protecting the countryside and wildlife conservation, so long as the blood money they receive from organised hunts and pro-hunting donors continues to affect how they run their organisation.

For many this vote spells the end of their membership to the National Trust. What sort of effect this will have remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: the National Trust have shown their hand, and thousands of members will never see them in the same light again.

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How ethical are your free range eggs?

It seems free range eggs are more popular than ever. The amount sold in the UK last year accounted for just over 50% of total egg sales, making them officially the most popular eggs available. So what does this tell us? Well, perhaps it would suggest that as consumers we are really starting to pay attention to where our food is coming from, and also taking an interest in the welfare of the animals producing it.

Compared to the second most popular egg, the “enriched cage” egg, free range eggs are only marginally more expensive, and come with the great feeling of knowing that no cruelty was involved in their production. Or so you would think. It may come as an unwelcome shock to learn that the rosy picture presented to us on our free range egg boxes is often far from the truth. Despite the clever marketing suggesting that free range laying hens spend their days clucking around areas of open British countryside, the truth is often far more sinister.

In order to qualify as free range, laying hens must have constant daytime access to the outside world, with available outdoor space of 4 square metres per bird. However, with nothing to stipulate how many exits from the barn must be made available, many “free range” facilities end up being nothing more than crowded barns with one or two small flaps available for outside access. With current EU regulations stating that the indoor housing for free range birds need only provide a square metre of space for every 9 hens, many modern barns can house well over ten thousand hens in cramped, multi-tiered facilities that are a world away from the happy free range chickens advertised on egg boxes and in television commercials. In fact, due to the sheer volume of birds living in these cramped conditions with such limited access to practical exits, many of Britain’s apparently free range hens will never spend any time outdoors at all.

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This new take on free range egg production may come as a shock, but disturbingly it is now an industry-wide common practice to house free range birds in such a manner. The British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) actually promote both flat-deck and multi-tier methods as a humane way to keep “free range” birds in numbers of up to 16,000 per individual barn, according to the 9 birds per metre EU rule. In fact, Myles Thomas – BFREPA chairman – believes the multi-tier system to be so efficient that he keeps a total of 48,000 “free range” hens in his three multi-tier barns in order to supply eggs to Sainsbury’s, ASDA and Aldi.

Investigations into so-called free range farms by groups such as Viva! have regularly shown just how cramped some of the barns really are, but also the shocking conditions that result from the birds living in such environments. Dead birds left to rot with their eyes pecked out, diseased and injured birds unable to walk, and birds showing signs of severe behavioural problems are just some of the discoveries made on free range farms in the UK. And despite public outcry when these reports are released, more often than not the producers are found to be breaking no official welfare laws when investigated by authorities.

And what of the male birds? It goes without saying that male chicks born into the egg industry have no practical use due to their obvious inability to produce eggs. The sad result of their economic uselessness is that male chicks are killed on the day that they’re born. This is usually carried out by gassing or mechanical maceration – essentially being dropped into a shredder, fully conscious. To find out that this is the case in caged or barn egg production probably wouldn’t come as a huge shock to most, but unfortunately this is the reality across the board – free range and organic eggs included. The same is true of beak trimming, a painful procedure carried out without anaesthetic which, although prohibited in organic egg production, is a common procedure on modern free range farms. And what happens to egg laying hens when they are no longer hitting their laying quotas? They’re slaughtered, of course.

The reality of modern free range egg production is that profit still takes precedence over animal welfare. With farmers being put under continuing pressure to produce animal products at cheaper prices, and regulations allowing producers to slap free range labels on produce that is anything but, it’s becoming harder and harder for consumers to make ethical choices. And what about the producers who do put animal welfare before profit? Even if you can look past the cruelty of killing day-old male chicks, these more humane producers are practically indistinguishable from their more intensive and unethical rivals on the supermarket shelves.

If the growth in the free range egg market tells us only one thing, it’s that people do care about where their food comes from, and how the animals that produce it are treated. The question we should really ask ourselves therefore is this: if we care about chickens enough to buy free range eggs, shouldn’t we care about them enough to ditch eggs altogether?

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Jigsaw Trust: Inspired By Autism

Jigsaw Trust is a local charity based on Dunsfold Park in Surrey supporting children and adults with autism. Operating Jigsaw School for children aged 4-19 years and Jigsaw Plus for adults aged 18 and over. The aims of Jigsaw Trust are to improve the lives of those with autism and to promote a greater knowledge and understanding of the disorder. Founded on the principle of excellence through continual learning, the Trust aspires to provide the highest quality of education and lifelong learning possible.

Jigsaw, like most schools, teaches the National Curriculum. In addition, there is a focus on developing communication and life skills, providing a positive and fun learning experience for the pupils. The Jigsaw Plus Centre for Lifelong Learning provides opportunities for clients to explore various vocational, learning and wellbeing activities in a safe and supportive environment.

Jigsaw Trust’s professional approach to supporting individuals with autism comes through in every aspect of what they do. With 1-1 and small group teaching, Jigsaw School is able to ensure that each child is getting the necessary attention that they need to flourish. The adults in the Jigsaw Plus programme receive the same level of support, with a comprehensive curriculum focusing on a range of vital subjects divided into six main categories; key skills, independent living skills, personal development, improving well-being, vocational skills and creative & performing arts.

The charity aims to accelerate learning and promote the ability to learn in new ways, whilst simultaneously acquiring the necessary skills to learn independently through behavioural methods. Based upon the Applied Behaviour Analysis technique (ABA), Jigsaw provides comprehensive and highly individualised programmes which teach verbal, cognitive and social skills, thereby increasing independence. All of this is carried out by a highly-trained team of staff of the highest standards within this sphere of teaching and learning. In addition, Jigsaw Trust has one of the UK’s leading behavioural experts as its Director of Education and ABA Consultant; an active Governing Body and Board of Trustees, as well as eminent, visiting consultants in the field of ABA from Columbia University, New York and Nicholls State University, Louisiana.

Jigsaw Trust not only has as incredibly dedicated and highly-trained faculty, it also boasts an impressive set of facilities. The Tardis-like school building is modern, spacious and well-equipped; the colourful, art-filled walls create a fun and welcoming space that any child would be glad to spend their days in. Most impressive of all are the specialist rooms that provide fun, safe and calming environments for the pupils. The quality of the facilities on offer at Jigsaw are thanks in no small part to the kindness and generosity of trusts, foundations, local businesses and individuals without whom the charity would never have been able to afford such wonderful equipment. The fundraising never stops, however, as in order for Jigsaw Trust to continue providing their crucial services, the facilities must be continually added to and upgraded in a manner that tuition fees alone cannot manage.

Being able to provide pupils and clients with the right equipment to learn and develop skills is a vital component of what Jigsaw Trust does. It is for this reason that the importance of fundraising donations cannot be underestimated. Without them Jigsaw would not develop and expand to provide the range of resources and equipment that are so important for their pupils. Thanks to donations made in the past, the school has been able to add a sensory room, food tech room, early years sensory play area and a library among others.

Want to help?

There are so many ways you can get involved with Jigsaw Trust and help them make a difference in the lives of their service users.

Donate

One-off or regular donations are so important to Jigsaw Trust. Whether you are able to make a personal donation, organise a fundraiser or sponsor Jigsaw through your business, your donation will go so far towards providing quality resources for the pupils and clients. To find out more about making a donation, click here.

Volunteer

If you are unable to make a donation, what about giving some of your time to help Jigsaw Trust? There are ongoing opportunities to volunteer for Jigsaw, who are looking for enthusiastic and reliable volunteers to help across the charity. Out of pocket expenses will be paid. There is flexibility with working hours and days, however consistent commitment is required. To find out more about volunteering for Jigsaw Trust, click here.

Spread The Word

Another great way to help Jigsaw Trust is simply to spread the word! Follow their social media accounts and help by sharing their posts to your friends, family and/or followers.

Jigsaw Trust on Facebook: click here

Jigsaw Trust on Twitter: click here

Other Ideas?

If you’ve got other great ideas about how to help, then click here to contact Jigsaw Trust.

Jigsaw Trust Jigsaw School autism Surrey charity


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The Include Choir: hitting all the right notes with their inclusive approach

Every Wednesday at 7:30pm something magical happens at Redhill Baptist Church. This is the time and place where The Include Choir convene to perform songs together in a celebration of inclusiveness and acceptance.

The Include Choir, as the name suggests, is all about inclusion. The main aim of the choir, set up by specialist speech and language therapist and musician, Alix Lewer, is to highlight the importance of inclusive communication, and how that promotes social inclusion.

A lot of people (with learning disabilities, dementia, post-stroke or brain injury) can find understanding and using words alone a challenge. The Include Choir’s emphasis on inclusive communication mean that all forms of communication  are respected and used, not just speech. The choir uses evidence-based communication techniques (Makaton signing, pictures, easy words, body language, objects etc) to show people what can help, whilst simultaneously making the choir itself more accessible and inclusive to its members.

Include Choir inclusive communications communication disabilities Surrey charity

By using these inclusive communication techniques in rehearsals and when they perform, The Include Choir hope to raise awareness of communication disability, something they fear is often overlooked or misunderstood in wider society. Over 1 million people in the UK have a learning disability, and around 700,000 people in the UK are on the autistic spectrum; yet social isolation is still a real challenge, as it is for people with dementia or other acquired communication difficulties. This is something the choir aim to educate the public on, whilst also helping those who are dealing with such challenges. In addition, the choir helps to form skilled and inclusive communication partners of its members, which they hope will lead to the creation of more inclusive communities for people who find understanding or using words alone challenging.

Include Choir inclusive communications communication disabilities Surrey charity

Music is a universal language that we all share and enjoy. It is therefore the perfect way for Alix and co to work alongside, provide support for and learn from people who experience communication needs. It doesn’t stop at the choir though, as the parent organisation Include.org (currently registering as a CIO) is taking this even further with plans to raise awareness across the county and beyond, and help create support for people with communication needs in all organisations and communities, through training, campaigning and inclusive services.

Include Choir inclusive communications communication disabilities Surrey charity

The Include Choir has done so much since its formation, with support and membership growing fast. However, with big plans to get the choir heard across Surrey, and to help as many people as possible, it’s vital that the public get behind this wonderful initiative.

If you wish to help support The Include Choir, here are six easy ways you can do so:

  1. Subscribe to the Include Choir YouTube Channel
    The Include Choir puts out loads of great video content and their YouTube channel serves as a hub for the choir to promote the fantastic work they do. An easy way to show your support and get behind The Include Choir is to simply subscribe to their channel and share their videos with the world. Click here to visit their YouTube channel. If they can reach 100 subscribers, they would be able to have their own url (You Tube Address) which would help make the channel more accessible to people with learning or literacy needs.
  2. Shop online with Easy Fundraising
    That’s right, you can raise money for The Include Choir just by shopping. Simply follow this link to the Easy Funding website and select The Include Choir as your charity. You can then collect free donations for The Include Choir while you shop. They don’t take any financial details from you, and it doesn’t cost anything.
  3. Become an Executive Committee Member
    As the choir has grown from strength to strength, it understandably needs more hands on deck. Perhaps you have what it takes to make The Include Choir even better in years to come, and would be interested in giving your time for just 4 meetings a year with a great bunch of people. You are welcome to visit as a guest to see what it’s all about. Just click here to email or phone Alix on 07446 897835.
  4. Come and sing!
    An inclusive choir is only inclusive if singers without learning or communication disabilities lend their voices too. Fancy joining the choir? Rehearsals are Wednesdays, 7:30-9:00pm at Redhill Baptist Church. For more details, please click here to email the Include Choir  or phone Alix on 07446 897835.
  5. Volunteer
    As the organisation grows, both the Include Choir and Include.org are looking for people with a range of skills, so whether you are local to Redhill or not, you may well be able to help. To find out more, click here to go to the Do-It Trust Website to see the range of roles, or click here to get in touch.
  6. Donate
    The Include Choir is run entirely by volunteers who work really hard to secure the funds to keep the choir running. If you would like to help, you can give a single or regular donation via Golden Giving. Click here to visit their Golden Giving page. Every little really helps!


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Have you heard about Surrey-based charity LinkAble?

Meet LinkAble: the Surrey charity empowering those with learning disabilities

Since 1989 LinkAble has been helping children, young people and adults with learning disabilities by providing a range of sporting and social activities in and around the community. The charity, based in Woking, supports individuals with a broad range of learning disabilities, and offers a range of activities for all ages. This support is offered from early childhood with no upper age limit, enabling friendships to be developed and maintained, potentially for life – something the service users and their families say is very important for them.

LinkAble operate the majority of their activities out of a purpose designed building called The Link, which was refurbished with the specific needs of their users in mind in 2014. The premises features a special playroom with sensory equipment to help stimulate and engage users, an indoor soft play area and an outdoor play area with an accessible climbing frame. The main hall supports a range of group activities from discos and quizzes to table tennis and yoga. There is even an outside area used to grow flowers, fruit and vegetables that can also be utilised as an area for a range of social and play activities.

LinkAble have a simple mission statement: “to enable those with learning disabilities to develop their potential and enjoy socially inclusive fulfilled lives” – and this is clearly reflected in all the work that they do. However, despite doing such a wonderful job in Surrey for so many years, the team at LinkAble worry that many families and individuals who could benefit hugely from the services they provide are still not yet aware of what they offer.

LinkAble divides its services into three different age groups; Children (ages 4-11), Youth (ages 12-17), and Adult (age 18+).  The activities for children focus on enabling play and enjoyment, connecting with others and developing friendship through social interaction, and development in a safe and secure environment. The main activity for this age group during term time is Saturday Play which runs from 10am-2pm for 39 weeks of the year and is extremely popular with the children and their families. During the school holidays the charity provide four weeks of summer activities, one week at each of the three half terms and at Easter and two days at Christmas.

The youth age group have their own set of activities which focus on enabling choice and fun, developing social interaction and making friends and connecting with others. This is achieved during term time via a weeknight youth club in Surrey Heath, as well as a Saturday activities session from 2:30-5:30pm for 39 weeks of the year. In school holidays LinkAble provide four weeks of summer activities, one week at each of the three half terms and at Easter and two days at Christmas.

In addition to the above, LinkAble provides Transition Groups for young people aged 16+ to help them adjust to adulthood. These groups run for people aged 16-25 and include drama, music and social groups, as well as the High Notes Choir which is open to anyone aged 16 and over.

Much of the support for adult users of LinkAble’s services focuses on building key skills for living and nurturing independence. In addition to this, the charity also helps adult users by enabling social interaction and friendships whilst encouraging them to try new things and have fun. This is mainly achieved via the We Can Do Anything programme which has been developed from the activities funded by the Big Lottery Fund. This key programme now offers a range of daytime courses covering anything from health and fitness to craft and enterprise skills, and is something the charity are keen to develop further. In addition, LinkAble also offer their adult users a range of other activities including social groups, drama, sport, music and the High Notes Choir, as well as a regular nightclub evening which is very popular and often has over 200 attendees. There is even an annual ski trip for a group of adult service users.

Want To Help?

One way in which we can all help the charity continue to raise its profile is by simply following their social media accounts and sharing their posts so that more and more people can see what great work they do.

LinkAble on Facebook: Click here

LinkAble on Twitter: Click here

LinkAble is heavily dependent on voluntary donations and fundraising. Every time they receive a gift from generous supporters making a donation, taking on a fundraising challenge, putting on an event or encouraging others to do likewise, it plays a vital role in continuing to enable their vital work. LinkAble currently runs over 20 groups and activities each week and it is support like yours which will continue to make this possible – it costs the charity over £100,000 every year to keep their services running.

If you would like to find out more about fundraising or making a donation to LinkAble then please click here.

In addition to financial support, there are also a number of volunteering roles available. To find out more, please click here.

LinkAble Woking Surrey charity learning disabilities


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Meet the cat rescue charity with big plans in Surrey

Founded in 2014 by a small number of devoted cat lovers, Here For Cats is a Surrey-based cat rescue and re-homing initiative. Earlier this year the group of volunteers achieved the landmark goal of becoming a registered charity, and are now setting their sights on bigger things.

The charity seeks to help cats in need in the Surrey area by providing shelter, warmth, food, veterinary care and love, and then finding suitable new homes. This is currently achieved using custom-built pens in volunteer back gardens, as well as relying upon foster-homes to help care for the cats. The big plan, however, is to open a purpose-built cat rescue centre in the near future.

Naturally the main focus of the new centre will be the rescue, rehabilitation and re-homing of cats; but it will also act as an educational hub from which the charity can promote responsible pet ownership. Building on this premise, the charity also intend for the facility to provide a resource to be used by, and to benefit, the entire community; with educational facilities and space for a range of activities. In a bid to promote mutual well-being, understanding and respect between people and animals, Here For Cats plan to run activities with guests to the centre including a Book Buddies scheme, courses in animal first aid and communication, as well as talks and clinics by animal behaviourists.

As far as the rescue-centre itself goes, Here For Cats plan to create a space that meets the needs of every animal they take in. This will include rescue pens, feral chalets and safe havens, a nursery for mums and kittens, a hospital and isolation facility, a retirement village, enclosures, boarding facilities and much more. In addition, there are plans to include public facilities such as a charity shop, cafe and gardens.

These are certainly ambitious plans, and the team at Here For Cats know this only too well. However, these are plans that the people of Surrey are bound to get behind. The charity is run entirely by volunteers who self-fund much of what they do. With no support from government or council funding, the charity does rely upon the kindness and generosity of the public. Every penny currently donated goes directly to the animals but more help is needed if the Here For Cats big plan is to go ahead.

Here For Cats are now actively fundraising to secure an area of land on which to build their rescue centre. All donations are welcome, whether big or small. If you want to help Here For Cats realise this goal then please click here to donate. Alternatively you may wish to become a sponsor.

If you are unable to donate, then there are still a number of other ways you can help, whether it’s volunteering your time to help with fundraising, transporting cats or even providing a foster home. For more details, please click here to visit the Here For Cats website.


Here For Cats Surrey cat rescue charity


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Are you ready for Zero Waste Week?

Every year the UK produces over 200 million tonnes of waste. With less than half of this figure being successfully recycled, we are still seeing an alarming amount of waste going into landfill, incinerators and even our oceans.

Single-use plastics are fast becoming one of the planet’s deadliest pollutants, remaining in our environment for between 400-1000 years. Instead of biodegrading, these plastics break down into smaller and smaller particles – especially in the ocean where they are subject to friction, salt and UV rays. Plastics then cause havoc at every level of the food-chain with even the tiniest micro-plastics being consumed by plankton. Plastic doesn’t just find it’s way into the food-chain from the bottom however, as countless larger animals also accidentally consume larger pieces. It’s worryingly easy to find stories online of whales discovered with stomachs full of plastic – from the beached whale in Spain who died from ingesting plastic waste, to the 13 sperm whales found dead in Germany with a variety of plastic items in each of their stomachs. Of course, it’s not just whales who suffer, as marine debris has been documented to affect more than 267 species worldwide, including turtles, dolphins, birds, fish, sea lions and many more.

Now take into account the tens of millions of barrels of oil used to produce these damaging plastic items in the first place, and we’ve got a serious environmental problem on our hands.

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We all know that recycling is a great way to minimise our impact on the environment, but there is a growing argument that emphasis needs to be put on reducing the amount of waste created in the first place. By making a few simple changes in our daily lives – such as not using plastic bags, plastic water bottles or other single use items – we can have a huge impact on the health of our planet and it’s inhabitants.

This is where Zero Waste Week comes in. Started in 2008 by Rachelle Strauss, Zero Waste Week is a grassroots campaign aimed at raising awareness of the environmental impact of waste and empowering participants to reduce waste in their daily lives. As well as helping householders and businesses audit their waste and recycle appropriate items, the campaign also seeks to encourage people to ditch single-use items, or to re-use them in creative ways.

Now in it’s tenth year the Zero Waste Week campaign is hugely popular all over the world, and for good reason. As more and more consumers are waking up to the damage caused by plastics and other non-recyclable materials, there is a growing desire to do more, and use less. Whilst many retailers are slow to warm-up to this trend, there are at least some forward thinking businesses who are shunning the unnecessary plastic wrapping and going greener for the environment.

Zero Waste Week runs from the 4th to the 8th of September, but it’s not about making changes for just one week. It’s about looking at what we waste – be it plastics, food, clothing or household items – and making positive lifestyle changes for the sake of the planet.

As the oft-mentioned 2050 approaches, bringing with it a raft of terrifying environmental predictions, it’s time for significant improvements to be made. Inactivity will only make things worse, and waiting for businesses or governments to lead the way will not bring positive change soon enough. It’s therefore up to each and every one of us to do what we can to reduce the amount of waste entering our environment, and to control what materials we are using in our homes.

Get Involved

Joining Zero Waste Week is a great way to kick-start your journey into a less wasteful lifestyle. Simply click here to sign up to the Zero Waste Week community, and get daily newsletters throughout the week itself, as well as a free e-book and regular updates and tips throughout the year.

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Animal Tourism: Capitalising on Cruelty

In 2013 I travelled to the Thai island of Phuket for a short holiday with my brother and some friends. Like many tourists visiting Phuket, most of our time was spent either relaxing on the beach or drinking in bars. However, not wanting the whole week to be a drunken blur, we looked into some local excursions that we could do during the day. Almost the first thing we came across was the chance to visit a sanctuary where we would get the opportunity to ride an elephant. As a life-long animal lover with a particular fondness for elephants, I couldn’t say no.

The day of visiting the sanctuary soon came around. We hopped in the car and headed out of town towards the mountains. I had never heard much or read anything about elephants used in tourism so had no idea of what to expect. The fact that I didn’t do any research before agreeing to the trip is something that I’ll always regret; I guess excitement just got the better of me.

This was no sanctuary. Instead, what we arrived at was a dusty clearing just off the side of the road with a tall wooden structure assembled there for visitors to get on and off of the elephants. A nearby path led away from the road up the mountain, and that was it. There was no sign of anything that even remotely resembled a sanctuary. I should have been more alarmed then, but I was assured that this was perfectly normal, and that the elephants do live in a sanctuary but are brought out to this area during the day.

Just a short wait later we climbed aboard our elephant and were led up the mountain track by the mahout, who soon climbed up onto the back of the elephant’s head. It was at this point that I noticed the stick the mahout was holding, with a sharp metal hook protruding from the end. I also noticed that the elephant’s skin was covered in scars.

After our elephant ride I sought out the information I should have researched beforehand. Now that I had seen firsthand that these animals were being exploited, I had to know the extent of the cruelty I had just contributed to. What I learnt was heartbreaking. Naturally these creatures do not wish to be ridden by humans, so they need to be “tamed”. The method used to tame the elephants is called “Phajaan”, or crushing, and is designed to divorce the elephant from it’s spirit, leaving it under the control of it’s handlers.

The reality of this procedure is that elephant calves are removed from their mothers at a young age and forced into small cages where their front and back legs are stretched and bound with ropes. Often deprived of food and water, the baby elephants are beaten with sharp objects, stabbed and burnt whilst being continuously screamed at. The objective here is to make the creature so terrified of it’s human captors that it will do anything to avoid being hurt again. This cruel treatment is carried out relentlessly for days or weeks, until the young elephants are completely broken and their handlers have gained absolute control. A tool that is commonly used during and after this procedure is the bull-hook, the very weapon I saw our mahout wielding on the day of our elephant ride.

Whenever you see an elephant performing tricks, painting pictures or allowing humans to ride on it’s back, the process of Phajaan has been used on them. Genuine elephant sanctuaries rescue elephants from places that promote these kinds of activies, and would never allow them to carry on under their care. Whilst you are able to visit the elephants in these sanctuaries, walk along side them and even feed and bathe them, you will never be allowed to ride them. If rides are offered, then you are not dealing with a true rescue sanctuary.

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The cruelty of animal tourism doesn’t stop at elephant rides, however. Arguably one of the most popular tourist activities in the world is swimming with captive dolphins (or watching them perform), yet this is also one of the most cruel. Often illegally captured from the wild, dolphins are separated from their families and sold off to tourist attractions and parks all over the world. As highly social animals, this has a hugely traumatic effect on the dolphins, particularly the youngest ones who would naturally stay with their mothers for up to six years in the wild. The dolphins will then be placed into small enclosures either alone or in incompatible groups meaning that their complex social structure is disrupted, causing long-term psychological damage. In addition, the small enclosures themselves cause extreme stress to the animals, who would usually swim up to 40 miles per day.

The fact is, whenever you see animals being used as tourist attractions there is sure to be cruelty involved. Wild animals such as tigers do not willingly sit for selfies with tourists and will therefore have been submitted to a lifetime of cruelty in order to subdue them. This may include beating, burning, drugging and more. In addition, animal “attractions” such as these are often only available in countries where it’s much easier to circumvent animal protection laws so it may be impossible to lodge any successful complaint against the abusers. The only way we can hope to ensure these practices do not continue is to stop funding them, and to encourage others to do the same.

Thankfully more and more tourists are becoming aware of the cruelty within the animal tourism industry. With increasing pressure from consumers to see the unethical treatment of animals brought to an end, holiday providers are also starting to distance themselves from the activities. Just last year TripAdvisor announced that they would no longer be selling tickets to elephant rides, swim-with-dolphin experiences, and attractions that allow visitors to pet tigers and other exotic animals. A more recent addition to this movement is Expedia, who have announced that they will no longer promote any activities involving elephant entertainment. Even in China, with it’s famously poor animal rights record, three prominent tourism companies have already taken a stand and ceased promoting activities that involve elephant rides and elephant entertainment. They join the 160 travel agencies worldwide who have now committed to not promoting elephant-based tourism.

This is all welcome news, but there is still much to be done. Despite the number of operators who are turning their backs on these cruel practices, the huge increase in tourist numbers to countries such as Thailand means that more and more animals are still being treated inhumanely. According to a report by World Animal Protection: “Tourism to Thailand doubled from 15.9 million to 32.6 million visitors between 2010 and 2016, contributing to a 30% rise (1,688 to 2,198) in elephants held in captivity for tourist activities“. What this tells us is that relying on tour operators to end the cruelty isn’t enough in itself – we the consumers need to ensure we are actively spreading the message that animal tourism is never acceptable.

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Negative news and the compassionate revolution

On 29th April 2015 convicted Australian drug smugglers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumuran were among a group of eight people executed by firing squad in Indonesia. The case had drawn a huge amount of media attention, not only because the pair were Australian, but also due to the exemplary rehabilitation they underwent during their incarceration. Despite living under constant fear of execution for nine years, the pair had both managed to better themselves as individuals during this time, and give help and support to fellow inmates.

I remember following the case myself, and signing all the relevant petitions to have the pair released, or at least not executed. Sadly it was already clear that these petitions would be ineffective, but it felt important to try and do something to help them. I assumed that everybody would feel the same way I did, and would be campaigning for both men to be shown mercy. However, I soon learnt that this wasn’t the case. In fact, it was quite the opposite. A large percentage of people I spoke to, both online and in person, believed that because Andrew and Myuran knew the risks, they deserved their punishment. The more I heard this opinion expressed, the more concerned I became. If a person goes driving without a seat belt on, and subsequently dies in a crash, would anybody say they deserved it?

It was the case of Andrew and Myuran that made me realise just how easy it can be for many people to dismiss the suffering of others. Especially when that suffering is not happening right in front of them. The rise in social media and the bombardment of negative news stories we each face on a daily basis may have a role to play in this. Negative news sells, and in a world where hundreds of channels have to fight for your attention, networks rely on getting the highest ratings however they can. Studies show that humans instinctively seek out negative information, and that this negative bias actually makes us remember and repeat bad news more often that good news.

Due to our societal preference for negative news, mainstream media today shows up to seventeen times more negative news stories than positive ones. Is this a sign that we live in a predominantly negative world? Perhaps, or perhaps not. It is, however, a sign that good news simply doesn’t attract enough viewers or readers compared to bad news.

This rolling coverage of negativity, delivered to us by 24-hour news channels and social media may feed our appetite for “survival-relevant” information, but it also desensitises us to the awful things we see when we watch or read such news stories. A study in 1982 by the National Institute of Mental Health concluded that regular viewing of violent images on the television can cause children to not only become more fearful of the world around them, but also become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others. This certainly seems feasible, especially when you consider the findings of a study by the University of Michigan which found that college students today are significantly less empathetic than those in the 80’s and 90’s were. Not only does the decrease in empathy seem to correlate with the increase in exposure to violent images on the television, but the biggest drop seems to come after the year 2000, which coincides with the rise in popularity of social media. The study of over 14,000 students over 30 years found that modern students are roughly 40% less empathetic than their counterparts of 20 to 30 years ago.

This data is easy to believe. A short scroll through the comments section of any news story will attest to the fact that compassion and empathy are fast becoming rare commodities. The coverage of the European migrant crisis demonstrated this perfectly, as huge volumes of people criticised those who fled the ravages of war, not giving any thought to whether or not they would do the same in that situation. Commentators such as Katie Hopkins compared migrants to cockroaches and called for their boats to be shot at; and people cheered her on, blissfully and intentionally ignorant to just what it was those people were fleeing.

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It may be that a lack of compassion is an intentional trait, used by many as a shield to protect themselves from the horrors they see in the world. By justifying something that feels wrong, we create rationalisations that help us assuage feelings of guilt. These techniques make it easy for animal lovers to eat meat; for parents to buy clothes made by foreign children in sweatshops; and for defenders of democracy to call for bans on certain ideologies. We are able to do these things either by justifying the suffering our actions cause, or indulging in apathy. Perhaps the scariest thing would be to admit to ourselves that we care.

A world of rapidly decreasing empathy is a welcome playground for governments and large corporations, many of whom rely on exploiting resource-rich foreign nations. A society that is caring less each year about family, friends and neighbours is increasingly unlikely to make a fuss about unethical foreign policy. The British government can sell weapons to Saudi to be dropped on Yemen, and the outcry from the people of Britain will remain minimal. Even when the wars we fund spill out into the wider world, we can turn a blind eye and convince ourselves that whoever is suffering, even when it’s at our hands, probably deserves it.

Of course, it’s never too late to make changes. Compassion and empathy are powerful tools that not only help those who wield them, but also improve the lives of others. If we all endeavour to make more compassionate decisions, and inspire others to do the same, then we stand a better chance of creating a better world for future generations to enjoy.

Human history has been shaped to this point by three major revolutions; the Cognitive Revolution, the Agricultural Revolution and the Scientific Revolution. Perhaps the next step is one that liberates us all in a way that nothing before it ever has. It starts with looking at how we treat one another, and how we care for the animals with whom we share this planet. It might involve making small changes such as where we shop, what we eat or what we buy, but ultimately it will empower every single individual to make choices which have a far reaching positive effect. It’s when we all make these small changes that big changes will follow. Future generations may look back at us now and question how we came so close to abandoning our principles, stuck in this era of apathy. But perhaps they’ll also be looking back at us from the other side of the most important stage in mankind’s history; the Compassionate Revolution.

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