30 June 2013

Warrington Foodbank

I've recently started volunteering at our local foodbank. Foodbanks have been opening up across the country to help bridge the gaps, supporting people in crisis situations. The Warrington Foodbank opened it's doors in December, and helped over 700 people in the just the first couple of months - and the demand is increasing.

The Warrington foodbank is part of the Trussell Trust, which offers support and guidance for groups looking to start their own foodbanks. Technically it is a Christian organisation, but that's not a requirement for volunteers or recipients. I'm very uncomfortable with charity that is offered with conditions, whether that be in the form of religious lectures or required beliefs - I can happily say that I've never seen anything to concern me at the Foodbank. The volunteers I've met simply try to offer help and kindness without judgement.
I've been volunteering at the Foodbank distribution centre, which is held at Friars Green Church. The Foodbank holds two hour sessions five days a week where people can come and collect their food parcels.

There seems to be a lot of misconceptions about how the Foodbank works. People can't just walk in off the street for a food parcel. Instead red vouchers are given out by places like Job Centres, Sure Start and CAB, to people they know to be in a crisis situation. These vouchers are intended to be a stop gap for people trapped in limbo while waiting for long term help. Though I obviously can't give you any specific examples, many people have been effected by the government abolishing crisis loans, the new benefit sanctions and the recent benefit changes.

When people arrive at the Foodbank they hand over their red voucher card to one of the volunteers and are invited to sit down at one of the tables. We offer them a drink and some biscuits and someone sits down to chat with them, while other volunteers assemble their food parcel.
Below is the room where volunteers pick the items for each food parcel. The red vouchers tell us how many people are in the family, which helps us select the right picking slip. Each parcel should provide three days of nutritionally balanced food for each person. Most of the food is donated by the public, which can make it a bit of a challenge.  We had a jar of Christmas mince pie filling hanging around for months before we found someone who could use it!
There's often two or three volunteers picking tickets at the same time, which makes this room a bit of a squeeze. The shelves are organised by type and follow the order of the picking ticket. We start behind the glass door and then work our way around the room.

Off the top of my head, a single person may get:
  • A small box of cereal
  • 2 cans soup
  • 2 cans baked beans
  • 2 cans of tomatoes or pasta sauce
  • 2 cans of meat (including things like cans of curry)
  • 1 can of fish
  • 2 small cans of vegetables
  • 2 small cans of fruit
  • 1 package of Jelly or Angel Delight
  • 1 pack of rice or pasta
  • 500g of Sugar
  • Tea or Coffee
  • 1 small pack of biscuits
  • 1 ltr milk
  • 1 ltr of juice
If we have some available, we may add instant cup-of-soups, extra baked beans, toiletries if needed and loo roll.
We aren't allowed to give out expired or damaged foods in the parcels, so items that expire before we can distribute them are placed on a table where the recipients are welcome to take them if they wish.
Personally I'm very angry that foodbanks are necessary in modern Britain - I'm even angrier that David Cameron will consider the foodbank an example of his "Big Society"! It's frustrating that the Tories will use the foodbanks as a reason to ignore the problems they are creating, hoping that they will simply disappear.

But I try to take comfort in that we ourselves and the Trussel Trust are acting as witnesses to these hardships. We hear people's stories and the Trussel Trust publishes statistics that will hopefully hold the government to account in the future.

24 June 2013

Step Down Nursery - Ebay

Step Down SundayI've found a new obsession - I've become a bit of an ebay fiend.

As part of our Step Down Nursery I've been trying to buy as many second hand items as I can. There is a theory that says that any second-hand items you buy have a carbon-free footprint, as the original owner was responsible for the items carbon costs.

Compared to charity shops, ebay offers a huge range of products and there's always the chance you'll snap up a bargain!
So far I've managed to pick up an over-the-bath Mothercare Supabath for £5
and a Fisher-Price Woodsy Friends Bouncer for £13.01
Unfortunately ebay's not without it's surprises. I managed to pick up a Stokke Tripp Trapp with the baby set and cushions for £36, but we were disappointed to find that there was a large crack in one of the legs. I don't think it's a structural problem, but it's still a concern, especially when using the baby bar.

In the end Mr Goldfish decided that we'd buy a second Tripp Trapp on ebay, and repair the first one to use as a spare for guests. We can use the baby bar and cushions from the first chair with our new one and I suspect that once our little one has out grown the baby set, I'll be able to sell that and the cushions for at least £36 - so it will all work out in the end.
We also managed to buy an Uppababy Vista for just £205! It came with a PiggyBack board for older children, a car seat and a couple of cup holders. What we weren't told was that it was a 2008 American import, which made it an older model than the description suggested. This has made it difficult to find the bassinet safety recommendations for sleeping.
We know that second-hand car seats aren't recommended, but it turns out that it wasn't even a possibility. Because the car seat we were sold was an American import, it is illegal to use in the EU. It also had been part of a recall at one point and had a sticker stating is shouldn't be used after five years! While it wasn't a key reason why we purchased the push chair, it was frustrating to be given something that had to go straight to the tip.
I have to admit that ebay doesn't always make sense. I was looking for some baskets for the Cosatto Hogarth changing table we got free on Preloved. The best baskets I could find were £25 from Babies-R-Us, which seemed awfully expensive.
I happened to spot similar baskets being sold locally on ebay with a changing table. In the end I managed to buy both the baskets & the changing table for £11.50 - cheaper than it was to buy the baskets new. I didn't really need another changing table, so I listed it on ebay again. Imagine my surprise when it sold for £16, so after the ebay fees I was £3 in profit!
I also managed to sell the vintage handles we had left over after refurbishing the nursery dresser. Only for £4.67 mind, but I was pleased to see them head off to a new home rather than dumped in a drawer or sent to the tip.
Ebay can be a bit hit and miss, but if you do your research you can find yourself a bargain - and of course you can always sell things on again when you're done with them!

19 June 2013

Shiny Somethings - June

For the last four months, thought of babies and nurseries have circled round my head, leaving little room for anything else. However a I've found a few Shiny Somethings along the way.

1.   Daisy Star Earrings

Last week I had to face the stress and indignity of an ATOS medical assessment as they are moving me from incapacity benefit to ESA. We have a good idea how the assessment will go - and it isn't good - so it was really just a hoop to jump through. Mr Goldfish was a bit concerned that the extra stress and anxiety weren't good for me or the baby, though there wasn't much we could do to avoid it. Afterwards he treated me to these pretty star earrings by Daisy. He figured my normal hoop earrings might be too easy for little fingers to grab.  It certainly brought a smile to an otherwise miserable day.

2.   Cath Kidston Strawberry Suitcase

One thing I am worried about with our nursery is not having enough storage space. So now that we've finished the dresser, I wanted to make use of the space beneath it. I spotted this Cath Kidston Child's Suitcase in the sales. It's a bit expensive for what it is, but I've struggled to find suitable baskets or boxes any cheaper - and I'd really like to add a splash of colour to the room.
I can't believe they are suggesting it's good for children though, as the body is just made from a type of cardboard. I can't imagine it would last long in little hands!

3.   Everything Has Changed - Taylor Swift & Ed Sheeran

This week I've also been quite taken by this music video for Everything Has Changed. I quite like how personal details like Taylor Swift's love of baking and Ed Sheeran's passion for tattoos are incorporated. Very cute!

4.  Mikki Matt Breaker

We have two cats. Mac the geriatric one who's been struggling since his stroke 18 months ago and Phouka (poo-ka) who's a few years younger. While it's no surprise that Mac isn't very good at grooming himself any more, it seems like Phouka has given up as well. Unfortunately Phouka isn't especially friendly, so we've really struggled to keep her matts under control. We have a Furminator and slicker brushes, but they weren't enough to tackle the problem. We spotted the Mikki Matt Breaker in Pets at Home and the £16.99 price tag nearly put us off - but it's fantastic! The tree like teeth are quite good at grabbing the loose hair and pulling it out before it matts and you can slowly tease at the edges of existing matts. We're nowhere close to getting all her matts out, but at least we're now making progress without upsetting her too much.

If you'd like to share your own Shiny Somethings, feel free to leave a link in the comments below!

17 June 2013

Step Down Nursery - Refurbished Dresser

Step Down Sunday Obviously the arrival of a new baby requires a lot of new purchases, but I wanted to use our low-carbon commitment to create a new challenge - a Step Down Nursery. So I'm trying to buy second-hand and make things myself when I can.

You may remember we bought this 1940s dresser for the nursery a few months ago. The cold spring meant we were slow to start, but in the end the early bank holiday in May was the first opportunity where we had warm weather and spare time.
The dresser is mostly solid wood, but the top and sides are made from a type of plywood. The first problem we noticed was that the top of the dresser wasn't well supported in the middle, turning it into a drum. Luckily this was easily solved by adding a wooden support across the middle.

We wanted to keep some of the dresser's natural wood finish, but the varnish showed signs of water damage at the bottom of each side. We eventually decided to go with a combination of paint and varnish for our project. First Mr Goldfish used varnish remover to strip down the surface.
We're lucky that our house has an odd conservatory added to the side. It's a bit of an awkward shape, so it's mostly used for storage, but it's perfect for refurbishing projects like this.

We decided to paint the dresser frame white and re-varnish the top and drawer fronts. As the other item in our nursery are a lighter wood, Mr Goldfish decided to try a beech varnish. Then we replaced the original handles with some white ceramic knobs. The fluted knobs add a lovely contrast to the straight lines of the dresser. So six weeks later our dresser looks like this!
The final touch was the drawer interiors. Unfortunately the bottom drawer had some black stains which didn't sand out easily, so we decided to paint the insides. Generally it's not recommended, as you can get a build up of paint fumes inside the dresser - so we made sure to choose a low-voc paint. We opted for a nice brown that matches the new fabric for our glider chair.
And check out the carpet! I couldn't bare to keep the horrible granny carpet that had been in the room, so we found a nice beige off-cut to replace it. Artex free and with a sensible carpet, this is now my favourite room in the house!

One project down - several yet to go!

12 June 2013

Groovebulb Upcycle Challenge

I have a huge weakness for cool packaging. My house is full of pretty boxes I'm convinced will be useful one day. I even studied design at university because I wanted to be a packaging designer. So when Groovebulb asked if I wanted to combine my love of packaging, crafting skills and our eco-friendly pledge in an upcycling project, how could I refuse?
Groovebulbs are a relatively new form of eco-friendly light-bulb. Unlike compact fluorescent light bulb which contain mercury, Groovebulbs use LED technology - which also makes them safer to dispose of. And compared to a traditional 40 watt incandescent bulb, the LED Groovebulb runs on just 6 watts and lasts an impressive 25 years!

I'll admit we tend to be quite picky about our light-bulbs. Years ago when we switched to low-energy light-bulbs, we found we had to use 100 watt equivalents to get a similar light to the traditional 60 watt bulbs. So when Groovebulb asked if we wanted a warm or a bright bulb, we opted for the bright just to be safe.

When it arrived we were really impressed with the quality of the light. The bulb really brightened the room, though as expected the light is quite cool. Plus there was no need to wait while the bulb warmed up! I think if we decide to buy more, we'd be quite happy with the warm Groovebulbs in most rooms.

As a bit of an eco-challenge, Groovebulb asked if I could come up with an upcycling project that used the nice, sturdy cardboard tube their bulbs come in.

Pretty Groovebulb Storage Pots

Upcycle Instructions

Supplies Used:

Clear parcel tape
15cm square piece of fabric
polyester fibre-fill
bit of ribbon
hot glue gun
spray glue
piece of spare cardboard
eco-friendly felt
embroidery floss

The first thing I wanted to do was protect the raw edge of the tube, so the edges wouldn't catch and tear. I ran a layer of clear parcel tape around the top top of the tube, so half of it hung over the edge. I then made cuts in the tape about every 3mm. I then folded each strip over the edge and stuck it to the inside.
Once I finished wrapping the tube, I then repeated the process on the lid. Wrapping both edges with tape also has the added advantage of making the lid slide on smoothly too.

Next to make the pin cushion top, I carefully pushed the cardboard centre out of the lid. I'm afraid the next step doesn't have photos as it's a bit all thumbs. I used a piece of fabric about 15cm square and pushed that through the lid from the inside. I then placed a small wad of polyester filling on top of the fabric and pushed the cardboard circle in to hold everything in place.
I then teased and twisted the fabric around the edges till the pin cushion top was smooth and even. Then I trimmed the fabric inside along the edge of the cardboard tube and glued the loose fabric down to the cardboard circle with a hot glue gun.
Then a cut another circle out of an old cardboard box and used the hot glue gun to stick it and neatly conceal the fabric. I also used the hot glue to add a bit of pretty ribbon around the edge to hide the text and Groovebulb logo.
When finished the cap should look something like this:
For the main body, I wanted to add a bit of decoration and some embroidery. So first I sketched a pattern out on paper. Then I traced the pattern onto come eco-fi felt (made from recycled plastic bottles) and cut it out.
I happen to have spray glue leftover from my last project, so I used that to stick the layers of felt together.
I decided to use bright yellow embroidery floss to add a bit of decorative detail. You may want to be careful with your stitches, I didn't tie any knots in my thread so you wouldn't feel any lumps beneath the felt.
Once I finished the decoration, I then used the spray glue to wrap the felt around the bottom of cardboard tube, leaving the section under the cap bare.
To get the strongest bond they suggest that you spray both the fabric and the surface you are sticking it to. I used a bit of masking tape to protect the top of the tube from the glue. And when it's all finished it looks like this.
And there you go! If I was to do it again I think I might cut the tube down so it was a bit shorter. You could create a whole range of little containers perfect for buttons, pins and other tidbits.
If you'd like to see the other projects in the Groovebulb Upcycle Challenge visit the Groovebulb Pinterest page or follow the Groovebulb Facebook page.