Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Slimming World Sadness

I just wanted to write something quick this evening, because today's been a bit of an ordeal, but I wanted to mark it in some way.

On a Wednesday evening, I attend a Slimming World group in Frome. I first attended this time last year, and tonight I lost 2lbs and achieved my 2stone award. It's all a bit incredible for me, because whilst the weight loss is clearly important, over the little while, the weight loss has also become one of the least important things about attending my group.

For me, the incredible thing has been that when I started attending this group, as I'd walked over, I'd thought to myself 'they're all going to know I'm nuts, and they're all going to think I'm fat'. That's because I was in a much different position than I am now. When I first went to Helen's group, my Wednesday evening appointment was the only time I really left the house other than to see my therapist. It was, for a time, the one thing that I looked forward to, because just for an hour or so, I could sit there and worry about other people's problems rather than the problems inside my own head. Oddly, I loved that I could worry about how many Syns were in Snackajacks and whether I could use Ryvita Crackers as a Healthy Extra, rather than whether I was getting better or whether I'd be depressed forever.

Bit by bit, over the weeks, Slimming World for me has been a process of putting myself back together and, happily, realising that there was a bit less of me to put back together each week. That's why this week was really hard, because it was the last session taken by my consultant Helen. Helen is fantastic. She's run three groups a week for five years, and I'm absolutely never worried about attending meetings because I know that whatever happens, she'll have my back. I've had gains and I've had losses but I've always known that Helen will be happy to see me whatever happens. At times, that's been crucial. Why? Because beneath all of the Syns and Superfree Foods, we all have worries and troubles and we all need escape. I think for so many people, Slimming Clubs provide that opportunity to just sit and chat. At group, I'm not a recently-resigned politician. I don't have Cllr before my name. I'm just 'Our Sam' and I can't tell you how much that means to me.

Helen's going to be moving on to incredibly exciting things, and I know that if she puts even a fraction of the heart into her future ventures as she has my group, then she'll be a roaring success. We'll have a new consultant next week and I'm sure that she'll be fantastic, but I can't pretend that I'm not sad that it won't be Helen welcoming me on Wednesday. In fact, earlier on I blubbed quite unashamedly in front of our group, because it is sad, and because we will all miss her, and because we are all so grateful for her help.

So to anybody who's ever smirked at the idea of Syns and B Options, or Points Values, you're missing the point entirely. For me, Slimming World has helped me find who I am again, and Helen's been a massive part of that, but more than anything it's about friendship. Helen's a friend of mine, as are so many people in my group, and for that, I'm more grateful than words can express.

Monday, 25 August 2014

The Ice Bucket Challenge - why I'd rather not.

I'd like to talk about one thing that I like, and one thing that I don't like so much, and what any of this has to do with the latest social media charity wildfire - the Ice Bucket Challenge.

I love the fact that over the past year or so charities really seem to have caught on to how to use Social Media. They seem to - at last - be abandoning the expensive and probably not super effective targeted social media ad buys. Less and less I'm seeing harrowing images of orphans in my sidebar, and I can't say that I'm sorry to see the back of them. That isn't to say that I don't think awareness needs to be raised, and it's not to say that I turn a blind eye, but I question how effective it is for charities to almost spook people streaming through FaceBook with images designed to shock or upset. Charities and NGOs seem to have realised that actually, whilst it's a bit less direct, sparking a movement like the 'No Make-up Selfie' or Ice Bucket Challenge is going to reap far better reward. In reality, it's an old trick. In all of these trends, the secret is making people believe that they've had the idea themselves and that it's somehow original or organic. That's actually really important, because I think it leads to charitable giving that is more home-grown and probably more heartfelt.

David Beckham taking the challenge. I won't apologise for including this gem, so don't ask me.

The thing that I dislike, is that it all really revolves on social pressure, and that's something that isn't so helpful. I haven't yet been nominated to dump a bucket of ice water over myself (I'm thankful for that, as should you be - it's an image that you really don't need burnt on your retinas) but I'd have to turn the offer down and that would then be on social media, and the whole thing would be horribly awkward. Some people don't want to take part in these things, and whilst I don't want to sound like one of these people who displays a 'no trick or treat' poster, that needs to be respected.

Another aspect of it, is something that I feel quite keenly. I don't tend to give to charities in the street and I very rarely give one-off donations. That's not because I'm miserly, but because every New Year, my partner and I sit down and decide upon five charities that we're going to donate to every month for a year. Currently those are Refuge, the National AIDS trust, Shelter, Save the Children and Bath Cats and Dogs Home - some of them have been on there for years, others are newer additions. What that means is that we can research them properly (some people I know, for instance, won't donate to charities who use animal research - this approach means you can be aware of those things) and it means we can donate slightly more and over a longer period of time. The charities that we choose are close to our hearts and mean something to us, and we feel much more comfortable that way. I don't enjoy being given the third degree by every 'chugger' I meet, but there it is.

The final thing, is that these same trends are often started by small charities and are then jumped on by larger ones. Often a trend will be launched by a reasonably niche medical charity in desperate need of funding, and it'll then become bandwagon fodder for far larger, far better funded organisations. In this sense, there's almost an internal politics that those nominating and donating on FaceBook might not be aware of, and something that I'd rather not play a part in.

So, I'm not being joyless. I have a great deal of time for all of those people on my feed who are freezing themselves half to death on their patios in the name of good causes. But I won't be doing it, and I'd ask that you consider signing up for a longer term donation to a charity that you've considered and researched. Charities rely on these long term donors to back up their integral running costs, as well as needing them to match-fund finance from other streams. It's also great, because our charities and NGOs do amazing things and by sticking with them for the journey, you can make a great deal of difference to people's lives.