Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Newlife Foundation

You all know, I hope, that charity shopping is one of my favourite pastimes. I can't resist a bargain, and if I can do some good at the same time all the better.  This means that when I was asked (ages ago now *shame*) if I would like to write about the Newlife Foundation, I was only too pleased to say yes.

I've known about Newlife for ages, because their main base is just around the corner from my in-laws' house in Cannock, Staffordshire, so I make a point of popping in to their retail superstore when we're visiting.  However, the store was about all I really knew, so I loved the chance to find out a bit more, and spread the word a little.

The Newlife Foundation are a specialist charity, providing essential aids for children with disabilities and life limiting illnesses.  Things that can't be provided by social services or their local health board, for whatever reason.  That could be a wheelchair, a special bed, communication equipment, depends on the needs of the individual child.  They also have loan packs of sensory toys to enable parents to find out what works best for their child before purchasing.  The charity are totally funded by donations, and receive no statutory help, which is why they need to raise funds through their store.  While their base is in the West Midlands, they help children and families throughout the UK.

Take your pick!
Now, I mentioned the retail superstore. Superstore is the right word. Put all thoughts of the average charity shop from your mind, with its stretched jumpers, eau de mothballs scent, mismatched crockery and grouchy pensioners getting in the way of the bargains. Oh no.  For a start, all the stock is new.  Stock is donated by major high street retailers (I'm not sure if I can say who, but if you've got a good eye and know your High Street fashion, you can tell who some are), de-labelled to remove the original retailer's details, and put up for sake at bargain prices.  Some items are end of range, or previous season, others are slight seconds. All are a bargain.  Seriously, I've had some beautiful clothes from there, for a fraction of the high street prices.  As an example, I bought a hoody with a silly pattern on the front last time I visited for £4.99. I hadn't seen it in stores, but googled it out of interest, and found that the "new" price if I'd bought it in my local store was £35.00.  Definitely a good deal.  You do have to pay for membership on your first purchase, but even so, this quickly offsets against the level of savings.

East European Hooker Shoes.

Its fun too.  Something like a good quality jumble sale, with added East European Hooker Shoes. No, really, there's always shoes that could only seriously be worn by someone who never actually stands up in them, in lurid shades of lime, fuchsia and gold glitter.   I shouldn't call them that, but you know the kind of shoes I mean.  The polite term might be "limo shoes", but I think mine's better.  The jumble sale aspect is mostly due by the sheer quantity of clothes on display. They're mostly sorted by size groups (e.g 10 & under, 12 & 14, 16 & 18, 20+), with a few racks where they've got a job lot of the same item in various sizes.  If you're the kind of person who likes to pop in, grab the one thing they know they want, and run, then it's probably not for you. But if you like to hunt and find a real bargain, it's bliss.

Gorgeous skirts, every size but mine!
This is the point where you realise that I'm not joking when I say I should have written this post ages ago, because I had a clutch of photos on my old phone that I took in the store last time I visited, but I've completely lost them to the mists of time, and the vagaries of modern technology.  And they were all jumpers & winter stuff.  So that seemed like a good excuse to go back (hey, what can I say?)  So the photos you can see here are from my most recent visit.  Admittedly, all I bought for myself was some sensible sandals & a pair of pyjama pants, but I managed to stock up on a few items for Miss Squeaky as well, at a price I'm happy to pay.

The charity are always looking for volunteers to help out with the store's activities. If you're in the West Midlands, love clothing and doing something great for others, you could get involved with sorting & delabelling clothes to go on the shelves, or wherever you are, you can host a party selling items from the store, they are happy for people to get involved or host a coffee morning, or whatever takes your fancy really.  Or you could just go and spend your cash!  I hope I've inspired you in some way, and I'm sorry it's taken me so long!

Disclaimer: I have not been compensated in any way for this post. I am a genuine shopper and member of the retail superstore. I was invited to write about the charity and their store, and I have given my time free of charge in order to support their cause.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

As One Door Closes...

After a whole year of part time nursery class, Squeaky's broken up for the summer holidays, and is moving upstairs to reception full time in September.  While she knows the children and the teachers, and it's exactly where she goes to Breakfast Club every day, it's still a pretty big change, and she's been showing some anxiety about it all.  Clingier than I've seen her in a very long time, wanting to stay with me rather than go to activities and join in with other children.  Sometimes I think we forget how much our children know, and what seems insignificant to us can be huge to them.  Nursery is all the school she's experienced, so it must be pretty big.

In addition to moving upstairs, and going full time, there's more changes going on at school.  Rather than being the last remaining separate Infants school in the borough, the school is merging with the linked Junior school that pretty much all the Year 3's move on to.  The head of the Infants is retiring after over 20 years at the school, and both schools are getting a new name, motto and uniform.  It's quite the end of an era, as the Infants school has been there for 112 years.  Forget parents having gone to the school, we're talking Great Grandparents, and beyond!  That's something I fell in love with when we first visited, the real sense of history and place.

The new headmaster is doing a good job of involving parents in being an active part of the new school though.  We've been invited to make suggestions for the school name, logo and motto.  And I'm secretly more than a little bit proud that my motto suggestion has been adopted by the school, so we're already making our mark on the future.  You can dress it up any way you like, but it's still a tie-breaker competition, and my inner comper can't resist a good tie-break.

The challenge of full time school, for us, is going to be all about the food.  I'm confident Squeaky will cope with the hours and the work, but the big question is will she eat?  And if so, what?

We're trying our hardest to get her to expand her diet, with some small successes, but she's what can be politely described as a stubborn creature - it's the Capricorn in her.  I've looked over the school dinner menus, and over the three week cycle, she'd probably eat about 5 meals, and that's being optimistic.  The alternative, obviously, is packed lunches.  Again, a battle.  When she eats only a limited range of foods, I'm terrified of falling foul of the lunchbox police & having my marmite sandwiches and babybels confiscated.  I have enough trouble getting us up and dressed in time for school in the mornings, never mind making a packed lunch as well (as you can tell by the rubbish I eat in the office). And really, bento?  No offence to those who can, but this is my reality. I have neither the time nor inclination to make pretty garden scenes out of cress, carved tomatoes and pasta shapes.  Which will only get swapped for someone else's squashed jam sandwich anyway.  If I had time for that in the morning, maybe I'd have time to blog more often!

Monday, 21 July 2014

Let's Talk Christmas

I KNOW.  OK, I know.  It's July.  The last thing you want is a chorus of Jingle Bells and to start thinking turkey and tinsel.  But don't hate me yet, bear with me. It'll be worth it in the end, I promise.  And in case you were wondering, I haven't been to any of those Christmas in July things that PR companies so kindly wave in front of your nose, in three days time, in central London, with no offers of travel costs, or even consideration for the fact that parents tend to have children.  And I'm not about to tell you what theme your Christmas table should have (Scandi-style is SO last year), or which toys your children will be clamouring for come December.  But it is worth starting to think.

Christmas seems to be getting increasingly competitive - who can give the biggest, best, shiniest, most expensive gifts.  And if that's what floats your boat, go to it, I guess.  But it takes planning, and that's why I'm writing this now.  It's no good having an entire room stuffed with colour co-ordinated presents if you're struggling to pay the electric bill.

The obvious way to prepare for Christmas is to start saving, as early and as much as possible.  But let's be honest.  That's not always possible, or easy for a lot of people, so here's some alternatives.

Savings clubs and hamper clubs - both national ones like Park, and local ones at the corner shop, allow you to save a little each week, without the temptation of having the cash at home or at the end of the debit card, so that come Christmas the presents and food are already paid for.  They have had some bad press, but that was an isolated incident, and as a rule your money is safe, and you can choose how to spend it - either on vouchers or on well priced items as the clubs are able to use their membership numbers to negotiate discounts from suppliers.

Taking on a part time job, or offering to do things like babysitting or ironing for cash to your friends and neighbours can bring in some additional cash - though please bear in mind that this could affect any benefit entitlements - and if you can put this money aside, there will be a nice little nest egg ready and waiting in December.

High street Hire Purchase companies and Coin-Op TV companies may seem affordable, with their low weekly payments and bright shiny adverts, but do you really want to be still paying for this year's Christmas presents in 3 years time?  That's the average length of their loans, so think about it very carefully.  And don't even get me started on payday lenders and doorstep lenders.  I've said before that they are toxic, and I'm fully in agreement with MP Stella Creasy that they are simply legal loan sharks.  So please, for me, steer clear.  If they look like your only option, seek advice first, there is always an alternative.  (I am not going to link to any of these companies. I have some rules around here)

Sometimes, with all the will in the world, credit IS the only solution.  I don't live in cloud cuckoo land (though I think it's not that far away)  Even then though, it takes planning.  Speak to your bank if you're likely to go overdrawn. It's much better to have an overdraft facility set up & not have to use it. An authorised overdraft will have much lower charges (if any), and won't damage your credit rating later on.  Credit Unions are another good way to access a relatively cheap loan, and they work in local communities, putting that investment back into the community for a warm & fuzzy feeling at the same time.

And if you are having money problems, seek advice sooner rather than later.  Citizens AdviceStep ChangePayplan and Christians Against Poverty offer free advice and help dealing with debts.  There are other debt management companies out there which charge for their services, but these organisations are free, and working in the interests of their users.  You aren't the first person to get into a financial mess, and you won't be the last. You won't be judged, and they can do an amazing job if you let them.

So start thinking now, and you can look forward to a great and stress-free Christmas.

I was not asked to write this post. All links are provided free of charge and come from my own knowledge of the agencies and situations involved.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Feeling hot, hot, Hotter!

What a lucky blogger am I. I spent last Tuesday evening in somewhere akin to heaven. Daddy's idea of purgatory. A shoe shop.  Not just any shoe shop though. I was in the Cardiff branch of Hotter Shoes, along with some other very lucky bloggers, making the most of our chance to get to know the brand.

Now, I had heard of Hotter Shoes before, but I'd only ever seen them in a very old fashioned independent shoe shop. The kind of shoe shop that has a wide range of granny slippers, orthopaedic shoes and the kind of footwear that bears more than a passing resemblance to a Cornish Pasty.  I wondered therefore, what they wanted with me. I know I'm cracking on a bit, but really?

Well, it turns out that Hotter are so much more than granny shoes. While the company started out making slippers, they've applied the Comfort Concept to shoes, making fashionable yet practical and Very Very comfortable shoes for everyone, not just the bingo brigade.

Soles that are bonded to the uppers, to make the shoes more durable. Millions of little bubbles in the sole to give flexibility and bounce.  Gore-tex®   linings in their outdoor shoes to keep water out but allow feet to breathe.  A range of different uppers using the same soles, so when you find one that is right for you, there's a whole selection of different looks that will feel just as good.  Design details inside and out. And the majority of shoes made in the UK.  The UK 's biggest shoe manufacturer, at that.  And still a family business, which makes me really happy, to see that sort of commitment to the business and getting it right.

Hotter pride themselves on giving you a great fit, and their in-store staff are trained to help you find your "Hotter Moment", that time when you try on a pair of shoes and they are so perfect and do comfortable you never want to take them off.  As opposed to a "Hotter Flush", which is something people of a certain age suffer from, or what happened when Squeaky asked to use the staff toilet!  That's right, I took Squeaky along with me (occupational hazard when Daddy works shifts), and even she got in on the act trying on shoes.

I was really surprised by the colour ranges, summer is all about ice cream pastels, and some of the shoes looked simply good enough to eat.  All I needed was a cone,  and a drizzle of strawberry sauce!

I selected a beautiful pair of baby pink vintage style shoes, the Valetta, with an RRP of £72.  While not the cheapest pair of shoes I've ever owned, the quality and the fit are superb.  I've got a wedding to go to in a couple of weeks, and a vintage village fete. I think these will be perfect, and they'll look just as good with skinny jeans as a full skirt. And I definitely had my Hotter Moment.

Yes, these really are my feet.

Disclosure: I was invited to attend this event free of charge, and gifted with a pair of shoes of my choice. I was not told what to write and all opinions are my own. Links are provided for convenience only, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme and will not receive payment for their use.