Share the love this Christmas in Elmbridge and beyond

Around this time of year we tend to buy a little extra with the weekly shop and put it away for Christmas. During the festival we like to spoil our family with the kind of treats we don’t have all year round; rich, warming foods that set us up for winter. You may be surprised to know that in 2015 an nef study commission by Walton Charity found that 2,300 children live in poverty in Elmbridge.

Relative poverty is measured as 60% below the median household income and the definition is determined as families who cannot afford an ‘ordinary living pattern’. These families struggle in affluent Elmbridge to make ends meet. Housing, to buy or rent is among the most expensive in the UK. Unexpected bills, health issues, and changes to benefits or work patterns can quickly deliver these families into crisis.

There is a foodbank in East Elmbridge with two distribution centres. One is located at Esher Green Baptist Church, 6 Park Road, Esher, KT10 8NP and is open on a Tuesday from 10.00 to 11.00 am.  While the other is held at St Peter’s Church in Walton Road, West Molesey KT8 2QF and is open on a Thursday from 10.00 to 11.00 am.  There are two other foodbanks in Elmbridge, one serving Hersham and Walton and the other serving Cobham.

Generally, the foodbank will provide enough food for three days to tide over a crisis but increasingly, the food bank staff are seeing the same families returning as they struggle to get off the breadline, even though many are in working households. When you have no savings any additional payment will push you into debt. The East Elmbridge foodbanks have collection boxes in Hurst Park Tesco and Waitrose in Esher. They are generally well-stocked with essentials like beans and pasta but find that self-esteem suffers when people are unable to keep themselves and their homes clean. They need more donations of toiletries for men and women, razors, toilet rolls, sanitary products, shower gel, household cleaning items such as washing up liquid and soap powder for washing clothes. The foodbank team described the desperation of a woman unable to send her daughter to school in clean clothes because she didn’t have any soap powder. Also comfort items lift the spirits such as a biscuit with a hot, sweet drink. The food bank is rarely given sugar yet people use this in their tea and coffee and regularly ask for it.  Equally, desserts such as tinned custard, individual steamed puddings, tinned fruit or rice are rarely donated but would be very welcome. The food bank is currently out of pet food which it provides to those who need to feed a beloved pet. In some cases the pet is the only comfort for some who live in isolation.

At Christmas these families cannot afford the rich treats we all enjoy. Aware of the need to reach out at this time the Elmbridge foodbank will be at Tesco at Hurst Park for three days from Thursday 30th November to Saturday 2nd December asking people to donate one Christmas item to the box.  The list below gives an idea of suitable products so perhaps next time you are shopping you can pop one in the box. Just knowing that there are people who care when you are in crisis can be the difference between struggling through and giving up. So let’s spread the love this Christmas and beyond by popping one or two items into the box all year round.

Christmas list: 

Tinned ham • Tinned salmon • Pickle / Mayonnaise • Mince pies • Christmas pudding • Custard • Christmas Cake • Fruit juice (long life) • Soft drinks • Crisps / nuts Thank you!

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Habits of compassion at university and beyond

Heading off to university can be exciting and nerve-wracking in equal measure. There are lots of changes to get used to: having more independence, living away from home (maybe for the first time) and coping with your studies. With all of these things comes more responsibility and it certainly took me a little while to learn what this responsibility meant in terms of how I treat the planet and those with whom I share it.

For many people university is the first time that they begin to see what part they have to play in a global society. Once you have left the familiar surroundings of where you were brought up the world starts to seem like a much bigger place. All of our actions have consequences and as we start to take control of our own decisions we are able to choose to have a positive impact with these actions rather than detrimental ones.

This idea of everything we decide to do every single day having an impact on someone’s life somewhere else in the world can be overwhelming.

Or it can be so exciting! What if, as we head off to university and figure out what adulthood means for us, we commit to making a positive statement with our every action. We commit to standing up against modern day slavery, we commit to standing up for our planet and all of those people and animals across the world with whom we share it.

I will admit when I first arrived at university I had no idea about what this responsibility really meant for me. Just coping with all the changes seemed to be enough to deal with. I had never heard of living ‘zero waste’ and I was blind to the devastating effects our consumerist habits were having across the world. I had no idea of the issue of plastic and I certainly didn’t think anything of my rubbish once I had thrown it in the bin.

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Three years on and I am now so aware of how important it is to become aware of our responsibility as global citizens during these crucial years at university so that you can take those principals with you throughout the rest of your life. University is a time for having fun, for sure, for making friends and memories. But it is also a real time of moulding, and how incredible would it be if every university student graduated with a changed heart for the world around them and a sustainable view of consumerism? Our world would have a much better chance if this was the case!

I have been involved in an organisation called Just Love whilst studying and it has been such an integral part of helping me to understand how my actions effect our planet. I learnt about living ‘zero waste’, ended up running a Zero Waste Week and became so much more aware about how I can stand up against modern day slavery in the consumer choices I make. Do check them out – they might have a group running at your university!

So, as you settle in to your new university life or if you are facing final year what can you do to make a positive statement with each of your choices?

Don’t buy any more bottled water. Grab yourself a reusable, preferably metal, bottle and although it might seem pricey to start with it will save you money in the long run and the world will thank you. Check out these great brands: Klean Kanteen, Chillys and One Green Bottle. Watch this space for Glogg bottles too – coming in 2018!

That coffee that keeps you awake during lectures? Don’t let it harm the earth. Make a commitment to choosing Fairtrade and stand up against slavery and poor working conditions. The same goes for tea, chocolate (and many other things besides). If it costs a little more then maybe buy a little less. Standing up for the rights of your global neighbour is much more important. Invest in a reusable coffee cup too, the stats for the disposable type are pretty scary, we throw away 2.5 billion in the UK every year…

Realised you’ve left your warm jumper at home and the weather has turned? Before you make that purchase, think about who made it. Are you causing harm by supporting modern day slavery? Check what the retailer has to say about the supply chain, is it transparent? There are lots of great companies online who are committed to ethical fashion so do have a look – Annie Greenabelle, Thought, Birdsong, Sundried. Again, if they are a little more than you would usually spend on a student budget, just be happy with less. Don’t forget charity shops offer some great bargains too! On the topic of charity shops, I have found nearly all of my kitchen utensils in them. Much better for the environment than buying new and it can be fun to see what you can find – I’ve found cake tins, a colander, and ramekins!

Consumerism is having a detrimental effect on our planet, it’s time to start bucking the trend of materialism. Often it can be tempting when you’re living off a tight budget to just buy the cheapest option but what statement are you making about your attitude towards the planet by doing that?

When it comes to food, an absolute necessity for those hard-working brains, have a look to see what markets your university town boasts. Does it have a bulk shop? Don’t pollute the oceans with pointless plastic packaging, just don’t do it. Vegetables were meant to be free! I have found a great way of cooking cheaply, avoiding food waste and using up leftovers is to make soup. A great winter warmer too! There are thousands of recipes online or just throw whatever you have in your fridge together and enjoy the experimentation!

One final note. Think of all those laptops, tablets, and phones that students must own between them…that’s a lot right! Technology has become disposable too and it’s shocking when you think of where some of the metals come from to make these things. Slavery and conflict are so bound up with the mining for these metals, a lot of which happens in the developing world. Think hard about whether you really need that upgrade: could you grab a second hand deal or even invest in a Fairphone? When your phone really does give up do your research and find out where you can recycle it so the parts can be reused. The planet says thank you.

If you’re interested in reading more about supply chains and the impact on the environment of slavery to show just how much consumer choices do make a difference I would recommend Kevin Bales’ book, ‘Blood and Earth’.

Your university years might well be some of the best in your life (or that could just be a cliché) but one thing is for sure, the habits you make whilst there will stay with you. Let’s make those habits thoroughly earth-loving and compassionate to everyone we share this incredible world with.


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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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