Archive | Guest Post RSS feed for this section

Kasia McClure – Director, Our Community Matters – Blog #3

4 Jun

One of the great things about running a business in 2014 is Twitter. It really is a fantastic forum for raising your profile, communicating with like minded individuals on meaningful topics and keeping in touch. Through Twitter, I found both @opp_plusSW and @BoostTorbay who are great organisations which host this blog. Since November 2013, I have been working hard to build the Social Media presence of Our Community Matters and now have over 600 followers. Through Twitter, I also engaged with local councillors in Torbay, such as Matthew James.

One of the many fantastic pieces of work Councillor James is involved in is the proposed Anti-Bullying Strategy for Torbay. Having experienced bullying, mostly due to racism and ignorance, both as a young girl, teenager, adult and business owner, it is a subject close to my heart. We exchanged messages on Twitter, I responded to the consultation and was recently invited to present at a recent Task Force meeting. As a result, I now sit on the steering group and the consortium of Healthwatch Torbay.

The strategy is a step in the right direction. My response to the consultation was that actions in the strategy were UK-centric, focused on UK nationals and did not consider foreign nationals. They didn’t factor in those families and children who struggle to understand English. Furthermore, a common misunderstanding is that those foreign nationals who do speak English even to the extent that they are bilingual are also bicultural. This is not the case. The group listened and amended the strategy, which you can read here.

Bullying is often perceived to be child to child. However attitudes and opinions start with the family. If the family is ‘hard-to-reach’, interventions with the child are largely pointless. Unacceptable behaviour can only be challenged if people are aware of the reasons why it is unacceptable in the first place – and even more critically, have tools to ensure that it never happens again.

Here are six of the most commonly cited reasons that young people give for not intervening in bullying:

  • ‘Someone else will surely step in’

Not true. Most bullying happens when an adult isn’t looking. Even if an adult does see the bullying, they may not understand it. In Torbay a teacher will not understand Polish on Polish bullying for example – or Polish groups bullying English children using the Polish language. Even more worrying is when there are instances of abuse within families which are not spotted.

  • ‘I don’t like what she is doing, but she is still my friend’

Sustaining a relationship in the face of conflict is difficult. This is even more so when you factor in linguistic and cultural differences.

  • ‘I would say something, but he and I aren’t really friends’

Until a child integrates, this will always be the case. This goes for foreign nationals and native speakers who are ostracised, whatever the reason.

  • You’re asking me to stand out on purpose?’

Most children, especially in their teens, want to blend in not stand out. Cultural differences can make this difficult if not impossible.

  • I just don’t know what to do to make it stop’

Everyone is helpless when confronted with linguistic and cultural differences. Strategies, posters, e-learning, government initiatives, appeals boards, multi-agency work, goodwill and research do help. But not enough. We need action.

Regardless of nationality, when children who are different are excluded from class, monitored by volunteers in a corridor for months at a time before being moved to yet another school, how can bullying not exist in Torbay or anywhere else in the UK? Something needs to be done, and the strategy is a great start. I hope to be able to help turn it from a strategy into something meaningful.

To find out more, look at my website, follow me on Twitter @kasiamcclure1 or like and share my Facebook page.

 

Advertisements

Our Community Matters

18 Feb

Kasia McClure, Director, Our Community Matters – Blog #2

Why did I start my business?

I do not underestimate how brave you have to be to start your own business. I am in my thirties (don’t ask me to be more specific). I have always had the safety net of being employed. Sometimes I was paid well for doing work I didn’t enjoy. Other times I was paid a pittance for doing work I loved. However when I realised that even if I was paid a reasonable wage for doing something I really enjoyed, I would still be frustrated with the lack of autonomy, I decided to do something about it. Hence Our Community Matters.

Having moved to the UK at a time when social enterprises were formally recognised and defined by the Government, I knew that I had found something which resonated. Whilst wanting and needing to earn a living, I also felt strongly about giving something back to my local community. This feeling grew stronger and stronger as my children progressed through nursery and my eldest started primary school. You open your eyes to everything. I have never been one to blame – I always look at the root of the problem – and then, somewhat annoyingly some might say, the root of the root of the problem.

This is the problem. There are many children and families in Torbay who need support, training, education, guidance and confidence. But most of all they need to be understood not patronised. They need to understand the language. They don’t want to be ‘referred’, ‘statemented’ or work with ‘multi-agencies’. They just want to be heard. Then they want to see action. Most of all they want someone who empathises, doesn’t wag a finger and most of all isn’t driven by targets.

The irony is that whilst my niche is ethnic minorities, particularly the Polish community for obvious reasons, the families who have been the most grateful and who continue to be in contact with me are UK nationals. I hope that whatever your nationality, you will be able to gain something from Our Community Matters. I work with children with special needs, families who are vulnerable, ethnic minorities who need guidance and we also translate and interpret for any organisation which works with the Polish community. All I want to do is to give people in Torbay a better chance. I feel that they deserve this as a minimum.

To find out more, look at my website, follow me on Twitter @kasiamcclure1 or like and share my Facebook page.

Kasia McClure – Director, Our Community Matters – Blog #1

10 Feb

My journey has been an interesting one. Born in Poland in the 70s, my father was granted political asylum by Germany when I was little, but it took years for my mum and I to follow. When we eventually joined him, I was placed in a school with no German language skills. I had never left Poland – at that time, firmly behind the iron curtain. I was bullied, my parents struggled and the shock was immense. Nevertheless within a year I had immersed and made it into a grammar school. This was when my parents decided to move to Canada, where I had to do it all over again, graduating from high school and eventually becoming a teacher.

I am still a teacher by profession, though along the way I have also been a journalist (in Canada), trade and investment advisor (for the British Embassy in Warsaw) a media assistant (in London) and I worked with foreign national prisoners in Northern Ireland. I have also lived in America and Mongolia. So how did I end up in Torbay? My husband is from the Bay. We worked all over the world as he had a variety of postings, and I was able to teach in most places. When we had children, he was offered a home based job and we decided to move to Torquay, as it is a lovely place to raise a young family. When my second (and final) child turned two, I decided to go back to work and got a job in the Pastoral Team at Ellacombe Academy.

I loved the work but wanted to expand and use my life experience, my qualified teacher status and my love of working with vulnerable children and families for the greater good. I handed in my notice and set about working on establishing my own social enterprise, now known as ‘Our Community Matters’. Four weeks after having left Ellacombe in November last year, I had developed my product concept – and built a prototype website. Many of my contacts and ideas come from the school run, and Helen from Pink Fish Design (www.pinkfish-design.co.uk) was one of these people. Helen came up with wonderful branding and a logo based on my colour pallet and I was starting to build a credible business already.

But what is my product? I wanted to work with the local community in Torbay, particularly with primary and secondary schools, working with children with learning difficulties, those who don’t speak English as their first language, those who struggle to integrate and those who have behavioural problems. I want to help their parents and carers. I want to give teachers and assistants ideas on how to reach these people. I want to make a living, but I want to reinvest most of my profit into the community – hence I am a social enterprise. And I am thrilled to say that with four contracts, 400 twitter followers, a facebook page with over 200 likes and a thriving dialogue with other similar organisations in Torbay and further afield, I couldn’t be happier with how things have started.

To find out more, look at my website, follow me on Twitter @kasiamcclure1 or like and share my Facebook page. Stay tuned for my next blog entry and @boosttorbay!

 

Five Top Tips for Writing a Press Release

7 Oct

Media coverage is a great way of raising the profile of your business. As well as being cheaper than paid advertising, consumers trust editorial content a lot more1. But writing a press release that results in those all important column inches can sometimes seem like a dark art.

It helps to start off with a clear idea of what you want to say and who your target audience is. What would you like them to do as a result of reading about your business? This is called a call to action and is a great starting point when writing your press release and deciding what information to include. It also focuses the mind when deciding on your target publications. Don’t forget, today’s media landscape is hugely varied and your news may be more relevant to trade press than local or national publications. You may also consider outlets such as radio stations ,TV channels or online newswires. Decide what you want to gain as a result of any media coverage with measurable objectives. For example, you might want to generate 30 enquiries about a new product.

Press releases follow a set format. At the top, you need to write: ‘Press Release’. Include your company name, the date and a headline. Then write the story, when it is finished, let the journalist know by writing ‘Ends’. Don’t forget to add your contact details, in case the journalist wants to get in touch for more detail. You can provide further background information underneath in a section called ‘Notes to editors’. This might include general information about your organisation and its services.

Here are five tips to help you ensure your press release results in media coverage:

  1. Make sure the most important information is in the first sentence. Your first paragraph should answer the questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? A good rule of thumb is to imagine you are telling your mum or your best friend the latest news. Ask yourself if your text would excite them? If it doesn’t, reword it until it works. Your subsequent paragraphs should answer the question How?
  2. Keep it simple and brief. Try and keep your press release to one side of A4. Keep sentences short and lively and avoid using any jargon. If you need to use acronyms, always spell them out in the first instance. Journalists don’t have time to wade through several paragraphs to get to the key points, so make sure the most important information is the first thing they see.
  3. Your press release needs to be timely. News is all about what is happening now, so send the release in good time for the publication to print the story while it is still relevant. It can be helpful to ring your target publications and ask when their copy deadline is. And while you’re on the phone, check that you will be sending the release to the right person. For information that may not be time sensitive, incorporate a ‘news hook’, for example you could tie it in with an awareness week or another story that is current.
  4. Include a quote from a key person to add some human interest, depth and gravitas. You can use the quote to explain in further detail why your news is so important and how it is relevant to your audience.
  5. Include an image to add colour to your story. Many media outlets no longer have in-house photographers, but they still need to include pictures in their publications. Ensure the image is high quality and invest in a professional photographer if you can afford it. Not only does including an image mean that you get extra space on the page, but it can sometimes be the deciding factor on whether your story gets published at all. Above all, pictures add life to your story and they draw the audience’s eye.

After your story has appeared, make the most of the exposure. Add cuttings to your website and include links in your social networks and newsletters. If it’s a particularly positive piece endorsing a product or service you offer, add quotes to your testimonials pages.

About the Author:

Joanna Bowery is a former journalist and is the founder and director of Cosmic-Frog, which provides organisations with accessible marketing and communications services.

www.cosmic-frog.com

joanna@cosmic-frog.com

1 Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising Report says 58% of consumers trust editorial content such as newspaper articles, while 46% trust ads in newspapers

 

Blogging: Tools of the trade for building confidence and furthering your career

22 Apr

In an increasingly competitive world where more people are applying for similar positions it is becoming imperative the CVs or portfolios employers see stand out from the crowd. While there is no magic right or wrong answer to the problem there are solutions out there to help with future prospects.

Blogging is a great way to reiterate in small to larger potions how you want to be perceived. It can be used as a portfolio for your credentials and shows employers what you can do, whether it is catering, DIY, the arts or writing (to name but a few).

Below I have compiled a selection of tips and hints, which have personally helped me through my blogging process. Some of them are more building blocks than concrete foundations so take from it what you need. Hopefully something will prove useful or serve as a reference at a later stage.

In any case please enjoy and feel free to comment if anything has helped you in your work.

Exercises to start off the process

To avoid the inevitable blank screen syndrome or lack of concentration, try to write as much as possible on a given topic without worrying about spelling, grammar or punctuation. Keep writing as if you had nothing better to do so your mind and writing ability gets stronger. The idea is not so much what you type or how well but simply a way to break the ‘wall’ barrier and get the brain juices flowing.

Other exercises to consider when looking for ideas include bullet pointing key areas- such as career aspects or topical issues. From this you can create a mind map, with relevant thoughts and links to other fields you can refer to.

The little things

The way we write can greatly affect the amount and detail we put into each piece: consider the environment you work best in, whether it is to do with the atmosphere, the computer set up or even how comfortable the furniture is. Some people may work better under different situations. If you are writing to a schedule you may consider setting out word limits for various times of the day. Likewise if you have a deadline to meet then work out a plan of action beforehand to decide the limits and perhaps how you use this time, for example researching one day and writing the next.

It happens to the best of us – a hint of inspiration comes to us when we are out and about or away from the keyboard. Instead of writing it there and then we decide to note it down later. The inevitable occurs and the idea either floats away or changes. Dictation machines never go out of fashion and are a great way to quickly collect information and ideas on the go. Sometimes it takes getting away from the problem and coming back later the only way to find the solution.

The modern approach

Nowadays there is a large assortment of social media and networking sites any fellow blogger or reader can use to connect to people in similar situations in order to communicate and share ideas with. Whether you choose to converse on Facebook, Google+, or boost your career credentials on LinkedIn, the choices are limitless. Social media is also a great way to promote your work even if it’s simply offering a link via Twitter or understanding in more detail what the desired readership look for in terms of a website.

The world of journalism and the way we find news is forever changing. As employers continually search for uniqueness in an abundance of CVs, the idea of volunteer work, freelancing and individual projects become more enticing. Keeping up with the times is increasingly important, so if you feel you don’t have the writers’ instinct within, but want to voice an opinion across, then Video blogging could be the next step. Using either a combination of YouTube or video websites anyone with a webcam or camera can convey their thoughts to the world in a way that perhaps isn’t possible through paper or computers. Conversely, many choose to offer both blogs and videos to reach a newer readership or make websites appear more attractive to the readers’ eyes.

The pen is mightier than the keyboard

While looking to the future is important in an increasingly media related environment older traditions still prove useful. Learning shorthand is a great way to ingest a large amount of information at a speaking speed (this can vary from 40 words to over 100 per minute). There are various styles to follow, such as Gregg or Pitman. A modern variation version taking inspiration from the alphabet with optional flexibility is Teeline (a personal preference). Shortcut phrases helps speed up the process while getting ideas down on the paper quickly. Examples include a curved and backwards L- close together to mean ‘ladies and gentlemen’, while two small lines ‘//’ means ‘I think’.

On the subject of pen & paper, staring at a blank electric screen can sometimes prove strenuous on the eyes after long periods of time. When concentration is key or when you simply need to get away from it all using old trusted methods (even a Typewriter if you’re lucky) could help. This advice can be combined with using a Dictaphone to quickly transcribe important notes.

How long is a piece of string?

The age old riddle which becomes more apparent with websites when deciding on the length of any article or blog. Varying the length depends on the subject or readership and how people read the page. Structuring a finished piece by the length of paragraphs or where items are placed on a page can have an immediate effect to those looking for specific topics. Some may scroll down a page slowly while taking in the majority of information. Other ‘casual’ readers could choose to proofread parts at a faster rate, looking for specific elements or lines of interest.

By Stuart Andrews

About me

I’m a freelance blogger with my own website www.videogamebliss.blogspot.co.uk, devoted to my passion and improving my abilities.

I’m hoping to do a lot more work in the field of videogame journalism (and getting paid to do it for a living will be a bonus). 

Simply Lovely!

25 Mar

Vicci was doing well in her career as an Internal Auditor, but craved something more from her career.  After finding out that she would be made redundant two years ago, she decided to follow her dreams and start her own business – Simply Lovely.  Vicci is 31 and lives in Cumbria in the Lake District.

mothers day card

“After graduating with a degree in Graphic Design I took a job, as most do, just to tide me over – after all a job is a job, right? Well 7 years later I found myself still in the same job, having worked my way up the ladder, I had a good wage and was fairly content working for an adult training provider as an internal auditor. I always wondered ‘what if?’ or ‘I wish I could just do something else’ – then I was hit with the bombshell that the company I was working for would no longer be trading and all staff were to be made redundant.

After 7 years this was such a blow but I knew that this would be my chance to follow my dreams. To pursue a career in the creative industry and even be my own boss!

It all happened really quickly, from the initial news of redundancy to leaving the company with my redundancy cheque being placed in my hands…my opportunity to do something for me!

I’ve always been passionate about design for print and decided to start designing for the greetings card market. I set up shops on Etsy and Folksy and opened up a Facebook page building my brand and customer base. Thankfully Simply Lovely has gone from strength to strength and not even 2 years into this exciting venture and I now have my own website, andwonderful customers who keep coming back for more!

Simply Lovely started as a dream, a concept, and now I’m designing bespoke wedding packages, event stationery, party invitations, guest books, photo albums, business packaging for other small businesses and I even offer branding packages to name a few things! It’s incredible how Simply Lovely has developed!

It’s been a roller-coaster and I can honestly say I’ve never worked so hard BUT it’s all for me, for the future and for my dreams. It’s certainly not easy but every sale and every happy customer makes it all worth while.

My redundancy was a blessing in disguise, it gave me the opportunity (and funds) to start something amazing and I couldn’t be happier with my decision to just go for it! If you don’t try, you’ll never know and may always be asking yourself ‘what if?’…”

And what makes it all possible for Vicci to run her business?

“I have an incredibly supportive family and friends that keep me sane and help out at extremely busy times, from post office runs to making reindeer bags!”

Love Vintage?

4 Mar

Jo Abram has worked with disabled people for over ten years, but last year decided to follow her dreams and open her own vintage clothes shop in Bideford, North Devon.  She continues to work part time with people with learning difficulties to subsidise her self employed income.

285785_133312753482545_1778071732_n

I opened Jo Joe’s as I had always admired shops like The Real McCoy/Uncle Sams in Bristol, and American Classics in London.  I used to shop in them in my teens and even though I am nearly 40 (!!) I still love this kind of shop.  So last year, I decided to leave my corporate job, move back to Bideford and set up Jo Joe’s at Butchers Row in Bideford – they have small retail units which are ideal for a start up buisness, they are priced at £100 per month and are small enough for you not to feel too overwhlemed!  I also work part time helping people with learning difficulties find employment – I think it’s important to say that unless you have lots of savings or a rich husband (who does!!) that it is unlikely that you will earn enough on one of these units to live on, so most of us there work part time elsewhere too.
I researched the area and found that there were no other shops like this outside of Exeter.  I therefore felt confident that there would be a market for my kind of clothing in the area and I was right – the reception I have had since opening in October last year has been great, with a lot of people saying they will no longer have to travel to Exeter (to the Real McCoy) and so this saves them time and money as they can shop locally instead.
I market my business by leaflet drops, regular Facebook presence and also promoting it whenever and wherever I can – I always carry a stack of cards with me, and as I dress in a vintage/retro style myself, I often get asked where I get my clothes from, so I say ‘jo joe’s’, my shop, have a card!!!
The best thing about running my business is when a customer comes in and is unsure about what would suit them, I talk to them about what they like/style colour etc and then pick things out for them to try, almost always they are thrilled with the result and it may be something they would never have thought of  but they look great – they are often breaking out of their comfort zone but I give them the confidence to go for it and its great to see them really excited about their new look!
I don’t miss being employed full time but I must admit I do like the balance between running hte shop and office work 50/50.  I have worked with people with disabilities for 10 years and I am glad to still be involved in this type of work, there may come a time when I go full time in the shop but I actually enjoy the variety of having two jobs at the moment.
The advice I would give someone opening a shop is to LOVE YOUR PRODUCT.  I am passionate about all things vintage and retro, and I think this comes across to my customers.  I have been into many shops where the sales assistant looks bored and disinterested in what they are doing and I think this has a really negative effect on the customer.  I love what I do – sourcing the stock, the space I have created and the social aspect of the shop – I also believe you have to be hardworking and not expect to ‘clock off’ at 5pm.  I am often washing/ironing/steaming late at night, or updating facebook with new pictures, I work Saturdays and every time there is a special event on in town I will open the shop evenings and sundays etc so expect to be flexible and maximise sales opportunities when they come up!  Oh yeah, you’ve also got to be good at paperwork/keeping records and be organised!!!!

You can find Jo Joe’s on Facebook or at 6 Butchers Row, Pannier Market, Bideford.

Jo Joe's