Friday, 18 September 2015

What type of food to donate for the refugee crisis

We're all aware, surely by now, that there's a huge humanitarian crisis going on.  Whatever your political views on this, there are human beings cold and hungry and people are suffering.

There's been a huge surge in support and kind donations from all over Britain, particularly to the refugee camps in and around Calais, which is understandable given its close proximity to us.

Sadly the donation centres in the UK and the volunteers on the ground in France are suffering from a massive storage problem right now.  That's not to say that they have enough supplies - there are around 3,000 refugees in the Calais camp so keeping them fed is a gargantuan task.  No, they have a storage problem because some of the donations they've received are unsuitable.

This is a very delicate issue, and whilst nobody wants to put people off helping or sound ungrateful in any way, a better understanding and a thoughtful approach will help everyone - you the giver; the hungry refugee the receiver; and the volunteers coordinating and distributing.

This is what I've learnt from spending hours and hours reading information and communicating with volunteers at collection points and in Calais. I thought it might be useful to pass it on.

Life in The Jungle is very tough.  It's not a summer camping trip.  These people are living in makeshift shelters.  They are regularly flooded out. They have limited access to clean water.  They have no electricity apart from the occasional part-time generators that come into camp. Food is cooked on open fires - if they're lucky enough to be able to get hold of any dry wood.  They have travelled hundred and thousands of miles, only able to bring what they can carry on their backs.  They don't have the luxury of a full set of camping gear, tin openers and a calor gas stove.  Think how frustrating it must be to queue for hours, hungry because you haven't eaten for 24 hours, to receive a small bag of food, only to find you can't open the tins without having to beg and borrow a tin opener from someone else first.

Image with permission by Dibs Photography. Please see for further

To put it simply, a Pop Tart is no use in The Jungle.  Nor is a microwave packet.

This graphic (courtesy of Katherine Tuck) shows simply, the best type of food to donate and is an excellent guide to use if you're organising local collections or putting together food parcels.  It has been put together with input from experienced volunteers on the ground, and the camp residents themselves.  There are good reasons behind each of these items.

If you're going to the trouble of collecting food, I can't stress this enough - please, please, please send these types of items.  They'll be hugely appreciated.

What I hadn't realised, is that most of the food is distributed on a daily basis in individual food parcels.  The food you donate is not likely to go to a central kitchen to feed masses of people, so huge catering sized bags of rice are not ideal.  It's far better to give smaller packets, or portion up large bags into smaller bags/boxes.

Please remember there is a huge mixed community in the camp with many nationalities and religions.  To respect that, they ask for no pork meat, and actually there are many vegetarians in the camp so sending tinned vegetables, beans and pulses is better.  Tinned fish is very much welcomed though.

Try to get ring pull cans, so they can be opened easily.

Food that needs little or no cooking is best.  Rice is a staple, but it takes a long time to cook, requires a pan, water and a fire, so it's great to provide other foods which can be eaten straight away.  Dried pulses are not good because they need pre-soaking and a long cooking time.  Pasta is not ideal as it requires getting and keeping the water hot for too long.  It's very difficult to cook on a fire and besides, it's not a familiar food to many of these nationalities.  Isn't it nicer to give food that they know and like? While we're on the subject... baked beans.  Collection points have been inundated with baked beans.  They already have a lot of them.  But when you think about it, it's a peculiarly British love.  They deserve a bit of variety - but not the 57 kind.  Even our own food banks in the UK are starting to put out pleas for no more baked beans.

Spices, stock cubes, salt, onions and garlic are all very welcome to help make bland food a bit more palatable.  Bear in mind though that if you're donating in the UK food might be moved from various storage warehouses before being shipped over so fresh onions and garlic are not ideal unless they're going to be sent straight over.

Make sure the food is in date.  Sounds obvious I know, but please make sure it has a reasonably long shelf life left on it.  Whatever your own feelings about best before dates (I'm a huge believer in the sniff-it-and-see method at home), please be thoughtful.  If you were in an unsanitary camp, eating unfamiliar food, labelled in a language you couldn't read, with limited access to medical treatment and no clean toilets would you want to risk eating out of date food? No I don't think so.

Baby formula is a big no-no.  As in any humanitarian crisis, the health authorities warn against it.  There is no guarantee the milk could be made up safely and no access to sterilised bottles. And besides which, there are very few babies in the camps in France anyway.

The main aim of those distributing the food, is to ensure that everyone gets a regular supply of healthy and nutritious food.  So no to bags of crisps, and yes to dried fruit.  No to Pot Noodles, yes to tinned mackerel.

Image courtesy of Dibs McCallum Photography

If you'd like to make donations or arrange a collection locally, in your workplace or school, then please find your nearest collection point here.  If you're planning to take donations across yourself, then make contact with a local organisation in France BEFORE you go.   The best place for information is the Calais People to People Solidarity Action Group.  Check the pinned post at the top for all the contact information on the ground and advice about organising a convoy.

Remember, the situation is very fluid, the needs are changing daily.  The Facebook Group is constantly updated with feedback from the camp about what's needed urgently.  At the moment it's food, firewood and shelter building materials.

All this advice has come from people on the ground.  I hope you find it useful and it helps you plan your donations more effectively.  Thank you for your support.

All images used with permission. For more information, read 

Thursday, 17 September 2015

A Visit to Folkestone - a Perfect English Seaside Town

We had an action-packed summer this year, but I managed to squeeze in a couple of days at the seaside just for me and Ruby.  With her dad working during the week, it was the ideal opportunity to jump on the train and head of for an adventure, just the two of us.

It was a rather spur of the moment trip, I booked a great deal at a hotel I knew nothing about, hurriedly looked up train times on the way to the station and had no plans or idea of what we'd find or do when we got there.

But sometimes those are the best kinds of trips.

The journey was seamless.  It's only one hour from St Pancras so actually perfectly doable for a day trip or a quick weekend getaway.  Our hotel was just 15 minutes walk away from the station, and very easy to find.

We struck gold with The Burlington Hotel.  A grand, Victorian building full of interesting stained glass and nooks to explore.  Set in it's own beautifully maintained grounds it's just a stone's throw from the sea front.  Owned by a small, independent hotel chain, you really notice the personal touch, customer care and attention to detail.  Nothing was too much trouble for the staff, from recommending a good fish and chip shop, to gladly minding our bags while we went shopping after checking out.  They happily brought me trays of tea and let me sit in their gorgeous lounge bar when I had to complete some last-minute work, letting me use their free wifi even though I'd already officially checked out.

Although much of the building retains it's original Victorian grandeur, the rooms have all been recently refurbished and we were delighted with our fresh, modern double room and huge ensuite bathroom.  You'll find all the facilities you'd expect from a three star hotel in the room including tea and coffee making, large flat screen TV, desk, phone and hairdryer.

We got a great deal through Amazon Local, but typically you'd pay around £60 for a double room with breakfast if you book online.

Breakfast is served in the Bay Tree basement restaurant, and they are proud of their local Kent suppliers who between them deliver a fabulous full English.

I was really impressed with this hotel, and will certainly be going back for another stay.  I think they've got everything spot on.

Despite no forward planning, we easily found loads to do in Folkestone.  It's a lovely seaside town - not quite yet as achingly cool as other coastal towns like Hastings or Brighton, but definitely on the up and certainly not a tacky kiss-me-quick resort like so many in the UK.

The hip Creative Quarter is worth a wander around, mooching in the small galleries, the boutiques and craft shops and the independent cafes and bars.

The harbour is picturesque and a pleasant place to watch the small fishing boats bobbing in the tide, and maybe pick up some fresh catches from the seafood huts.  The Harbour Arm has recently been regenerated and is open at weekends (until the end of October) selling street food and offering live music and events.  It's also worth popping into the small fishing museum at the docks to see a collection of local photos and artefacts about the industry.

Folkestone is blessed with 3 beaches to please all tastes.  For those wanting a bit of bucket and space action, head down to Sunny Sands just beyond the harbour.  The arches provide a shelter or windbreak should the great British weather turn and great hide and seek locations, and the sand is wonderful for building castles.

Further west there is a shingle beach where you'll find pretty pastel coloured beach huts, and there's also Mermaid beach by the Lower Leas Coastal Path which has a play area (sadly we missed the annual Mermaid Festival this year).  Pop up the cliff to the Mermaid cafe and bar for delicious salads, milkshakes and freshly baked cakes - lovely but pricey.

The Coastal Path is a delight to explore, with formal, bold planting using huge statement plants such as artichokes and agapanthus.  You'll find an outdoor amphitheatre which is sometimes used for live events, brilliant play equipment (the pirate ship and climbing nets were a favourite) and the historic old toll house.  This entire area came about because of a landslide some 300 years ago, and some enterprising earl turned it into a toll road as it provided a much more direct route to the harbour.  The Victorains developed it with planting and paths and installed several sets of steps and lifts to connect it to the grand hotels above.  The Metropole Steps have since been replaced but for those of you who are fit, you can take the 150 stairs to the top.  The rest might want to take the Leas Lift funicular railway.

Folkestone is a town steeped in history, and it's visible everywhere.  In particular their wartime connections are remembered with many monuments and sculptures.  Remembrance Road is currently adorned with hundreds of knitted and crocheted poppies and serves as a poignant reminder of the hundreds of thousands of men who marched this route to the harbour before setting off to fight in the trenches across the Channel in World War 1.

There are many contemporary art installations to be found around the town but by far the most moving was the sound installation by Christian Boltanski called The Whispers.  Arranged around four benches in a crescent shape, looking out to sea and the headland of France beyond, visitors sitting on the benches activate a speaker below.  Sit and contemplate, while listening to transcripts of postcards and letters between soldiers and their sweethearts from the Great War.  It was hauntingly beautiful.

We had such a short visit to the town and I'm sure there's much more to explore.  It was a pleasure to visit and I hope to be able to get back before the end of October to visit the Harbour Arm.  I know where we'll be booking into though!

Monday, 7 September 2015

ReUse for Good - how to help good causes with things you might throw away with ZERO WASTE WEEK

Those of us of a certain age will remember the annual Blue Peter appeals for silver milk bottle tops, raising cash for charities.

Well, nowadays there's tonnes of ingenious ways to donate your unwanted items, help support a good cause and divert those items from going into landfill.  We all know that you can donate items to charity shops, but some items aren't suitable for re-sale through these types of outlets and would ultimately end up in their refuse, actually costing them money.

To celebrate Zero Waste Week, I've rounded up a few suggestions for you, but please feel free to share links or add more ideas in the comments below.


Many of us wouldn't consider donating underwear to a charity shop (even though many do sell gently worn bras - I don't know of any that re-sell worn knickers though).

There are several organisations that accept both new, (we've all got some lurking in the back of the drawer from when we bought the wrong size!) or lightly worn bras.

If you're in the UK, you can donate to Smalls for All who donate gently worn bras, and new donated pants to women and children in Africa who need it most. Lack of underwear is only is it a health and hygiene problem for many poor African communities, as women often only own one pair of tattered pants or have none at all, but underwear is also seen as a status symbol and offers a degree of security. Women who can afford underwear tend to be seen as having someone who cares for them – a husband, brother or father. They are not on their own so they are not seen as vulnerable.

If you're in the US you can donate them to Free The Girls who provide an opportunity for sex trafficking survivors to build their own business selling second-hand clothing while going to school, establishing a house, and caring for their families.

Image credit: Free the Girls


Finished the decorating and have paint leftover?  Perhaps you're clearing out the shed or garage and wondering what to do with your opened pots of paint.  It can be incredibly toxic so shouldn't be thrown out with your household waste. Many local councils will accept it at the tidy tips, but why not donate it to Community Repaint?

Community RePaint collects reusable, leftover paint from both households and those in the trade and re-distribute it to individuals, families, communities and charities in need, improving the wellbeing of people and the appearance of places across the UK.  There are over 80 schemes around the country, and if there's not one near you there's a free letter template for you to suggest one to your local council.


A few crafty folk might turn them into other arty items, but most of us will put these in the recycling bin once we've finished reading them.  Why not contact your local surgery, dentist or hospital to see if they'd like them for their waiting rooms.  You could make a lot of anxious people feel more comfortable with a nice magazine to flick through and you'd extend the use of the mags for a bit longer.


Image Credit: Vision Aid Overseas

Vision Aid Overseas is the main charity collecting old glasses.  Some are re-used - vintage and retro glasses are sold to specialist shops, while others are recycled to raise funds for their eye care programs in developing countries.  Most opticians have donation bins.


If you've splashed out on new boots and waterproofs this year, you can donate your old ones to Gift Your Gear, an independent UK initiative who provide outdoor clothing and equipment to UK community organisations, youth groups and charities working with young people in the outdoors.  They have 57 drop-off points throughout the UK or you can send by post.  They accept clean, reusable (without needing repair) boots, waterproofs, fleeces, kids outdoor clothing, hats and scarves.

They do not accept socks, tents, cooking equipments, pots and pans, rucksacks and sleeping bags.  Of course, those collecting for the refugee crisis are currently in need of these items and you can find your local Calaid collection point online to donate these types of items as well as warm men's clothing, sturdy shoes and waterproofs.  Storage is short, so keep an eye on the current list of what's needed. 

Image credit: Calaid


Some school PTAs host second-hand sales of uniform - check with your school.  I have found that our school welcomed donations of underwear, socks, tights and dresses/trousers for younger aged children.  They keep a small stock of clean clothes for any little accidents that happen in school.


Many towns have organisations who run toy libraries, loaning out toys to families and carers.  They welcome donations of clean, good quality toys, children's books and puzzles.  Check online to find your nearest one.


According to a recent survey by Which, the average household has 39 plastic plant pots languishing in their sheds and greenhouses, yet they can't be recycled with the normal waste.  You could donate to community garden schemes such as Octopus Communities in North London or local schools instead.

Image credit: Which


Animal shelter and rescue charities are always grateful for old blankets and towels.  They may not be good enough for the charity shop, but they can be used as animal bedding.


Many, many charities and fundraising groups now collect used toner and ink cartridges to raise money for their organisations.  From large, international household names, to local schools and playgroups.  Check online to see if your favourite charity recycles them, and often you can apply for freepost envelopes to send them off to.  The cartridges are refilled and reused.

I hope these ideas have inspired you to rethink your 'rubbish'.  See what you can donate to be re-sued and help out a good cause.  Do you have any other suggestions?

Check out what the other Zero Waste Ambassadors have been up to as well.

The Rubbish Diet finds a greener way to join in with GBBO
Westy Writes takes on disposable coffee cups
Can't Swing A Cat takes a long hard look at herself and asks if she's green enough
Make Do and Mend has a fab tutorial on how to make fabric shopping bags

Thursday, 3 September 2015

The perfect summer's day #Justrefresh

The late summer days need to be seized, we need to inject as much colour into our lives as possible before the leaves start falling and the skies turn grey. Ocean Spray are on hand to help brighten up our days, and inspire us to capture and celebrate those special moments we encounter with our family.

Sometimes the perfect summer memories are created with just the right blend of careful planning, with some spontaneous moments thrown in.

Take this glorious summer's walk we had a few weeks back.  Armed with little more than some warmer clothes in case the weather changed, some tasty Ocean Spray juice cartons and snacks in the bag and an OS map to save us getting hideously lost, we headed off to find an idyllic English Country field.

Following the footpaths, it was obvious that some of these routes had not been trodden in quite some time.  The tangle of brambles and overgrown foliage provided ample opportunity for swashbuckling our way through, cutting a swathe through the undergrowth.  Parts looked like fairytale lands, secret hidden worlds where nymphs and fairies must surely hide.

But sometimes, when taking the path less travelled, it's best to get a lift. Daddy's broad shoulders took the weight and lifted her high above the golden grasses, alive with the chirrup of crickets.

Discovering the perfect golden cornfield, it proved to be the ideal spot to stop for refreshment break.  Nibbling on a piece of corn, Ruby noticed how the stalk was hollow, just like a drinking straw.  Given that the harvested stalks are also called straw, we pondered whether this was the origin of straws as we know them.

The next field along had been cut, infact the combine harvester was just finishing up the last corner, gathering the wheat, so we picked up a stray stem, gave it a quick rinse through with water and tried it out.  It was perfect!  

It was such an unexpected discovery, and one that we'll always remember making together as a family.  These are the types of little moments that made our summer so colourful. It was the ideal countryside drinking straw to enjoy our refreshing Ocean Spray juice through. 

Packed with vitamin C but with less sugar, Ocean Spray Light Cranberry Juice has only 20 calories per 250ml, so it's the perfect way to rehydrate on a summer day.  Full of juicy flavour, it's a real hit with our family.

After all that adventuring it was time to return home for a snack of yoghurt-covered Craisins and another refreshing drink - it's thirsty work this exploring!

I'm working with BritMums and Ocean Spray highlighting the everyday moments of colour that give each of us a little lift, just like Ocean Spray adds colour to our day and delights us all year round. I have been compensated for my time. All editorial and opinions are my own. Visit OceanSpray for more information.