Is JoJo ban justified?

Latest tween fashion statement divides opinion in the playground. 

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Following faddy trends and sporting the latest fashion have become part of every day life for many school age children both here and in America.

Gone are the days of swapping marbles or trading conkers, today’s children are far more interested in gadgets or discussing the latest YouTube stars.

One popular YouTube star is JoJo Siwa, a 13-year-old girl famous for starring in US reality show Dance Mom and creating the now infamous JoJo Bow.

Large, brightly coloured hair clips with an oversized bow attached, JoJo Bows are used by girls to decorate a ponytail and, although something similar but slightly smaller was popular in the 1980s, they are taking the country by storm.

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JoJo Bow of the 80’s – aka The Fergie Bow

This may have something to do with the fact that JoJo, who also sings, has her own YouTube channel and a huge online presence – her videos have had over 2 million views and she has 4.5 million followers on Instagram so, even if you’ve never heard of her, chances are your child has.

Recently releasing a video explaining why she likes to wear giant bows, JoJo has inspired thousands of young girls to follow in her footsteps, even releasing her own range available for them to choose from at a high street retailer.

So, why is this news? Apparently the giant hair accessory is giving teachers a huge headache and some schools have made the decision to ban them completely, leading to one angry parent accusing teachers of treating the bows “like guns.”

The headteacher of one of the schools to ban the bow has justified the decision, saying that they don’t fit in with the school uniform ethos which is enforced to signal to the children that they are part of the school family and there to work, not be distracted by huge accessories worn by their classmates.

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JoJo Siwa

School uniform has been subject to debate several times over the years – Michael Gove has previously urged all schools to introduce not just a standard uniform, but blazers and ties too. Then there was the time Ed Balls suggested that local authorities encourage schools to adopt ‘smart’ uniforms and strengthen ties with ‘uniformed’ organisations such as scouts and guides.

Not everyone agrees and one man who has spent eight years studying school related statistics is American academic, David Brunsma, a sociology professor at Missouri-Colombia University. After embarking on the lengthy research he concluded that uniforms do not make schools better and the enforced wearing of one is actually an issue of children’s rights, social control and one related to increasing racial, class and gender inequalities in schools.

See this article about a school in Derbyshire that produces fantastic results, is deemed good by OFSTED and doesn’t enforce a uniform at all.

What do you think – are schools right to ban the accessory or are they making a mountain out of a hair bow?

We need to talk about Prevent, the policy that affects us all…

The Counter Terrorism Act 2015  has had a far reaching and very public impact on the Muslim community since it came into force, however it is not exclusively a ‘Muslim issue’ as the media would have you believe. There’s been a living-wage campaigner monitored by police for his ‘activism, a schoolboy questioned by police for circulating political literature and 3 women suspended from college for questioning why an event about Prevent was cancelled to name but a few. 

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Prevent has actually been around for a long time but many staff at schools and universities as well as healthcare and local authority workers were reluctant to take part due to concerns over discrimination. However, since the passing of the CTS Act 2015, the Home Secretary now has the power to ‘intervene’ when they are not considered to be enforcing the strategy.

Considering that these are people we expect to educate, medicate and generally keep our children safe, and the fact they were given sketchy guidelines such as ‘monitoring students who appear ‘withdrawn’ or seeking ‘political change’, with the main focus on preventing what the government terms ‘Islamic extremism’ – a fuzzy term to say the least and one far too commonly misinterpreted, is it any wonder they weren’t keen on the implementation of the policy?

Sara Ogilvie, policy Officer at civil liberties group, Liberty said the governments “heavy handed approach risks fanning the flames of division and extremism, not extinguishing them. She went on to say:

“The Prevent Programme has already trampled on young people’s right to freedom of speech, curtailed debate and further marginalised those it most needs to reach.”

No longer are students free to debate foreign policy, instances where ‘rule of law’ isn’t seen to be followed or the even ongoing situation taking place in Gaza. Not very democratic after all…

Despite Ministers struggling to define extremism and with no current usable legal definition of it, Prevent have come up with their own definition and here it is…

” Vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also include in our definition of extremism calls for death of our armed forces, whether here or abroad.”

I’m not sure what qualifies the people making these referrals but those considered at risk are referred to the Channel Programme. Interestingly 35% of those referred between 2007 and 2013 were under 18.

So, if your child talks openly about the genocide taking place against Palestinians in Gaza, questions foreign policy that leads to the killing thousands of civilians based on flawed intelligence or talks about the fact that the UK political system sure is undemocratic for an alleged democratic country, then you too could find yourself under the Prevent spotlight, even if you’re not Muslim, as this could amount to your child being identified as “vulnerable to” or at “risk of” being drawn towards extremism or violence.

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Gaza

Sara Ogilvie, policy officer at civil liberties group Liberty, said that “the governments heavy handed approach risks fanning the flames of division and extremism, not extinguishing them. The Prevent programme has already trampled young people’s right to freedom of speech, curtailed debate and further marginalised those it most needs to reach out to.”

 

Young people can’t even debate foreign policy or instances where the ‘rule of law’ doesn’t appear to have been adhered to, this policy has effectively taken away the voice of anyone who wishes to criticise the government.

Committee Chairwoman, Harriet Harman, told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “The difficulty is the definition, for example, I don’t respect religions that regard women as subservient but I’m clearly not an extremist on the path to violence.”

Someone should let Harriet know that, looking at the Prevent definition, she would be displaying extremist views in her not respecting whatever un-named faith she mentioned – the Prevent definition clearly states that a lack of respect for different faiths IS an extremist trait. Amazingly it is quite often this lack of understanding or respect of different faiths that leads to Muslims being labelled as extreme and referred to Prevent…

If we don’t stand together in the fight against Prevent you might just find that when it6abb0d4a2c64581536f0d33328877891 does eventually affect you they’ll be no one left to speak out on your behalf…

 

This quote has been changed several times over the years, to fit the rhetoric of the day – originally it was written about the cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazis’ rise to power and subsequent purging of their chosen targets, group after group. Perhaps a modern day edit would replace Jews with Muslims?

So yeah, you might still think that this is ‘just another Muslim issue’ but I assure you it’s really not – we may be the focus now but then what? The media and powers that be always need an enemy, a whipping board, a group to blame. We’ve seen demonisation of benefit claimants to support the drastic, often devastating cuts to welfare payments, we’ve had countless documentaries showing us feckless immigrants to make us feel better about closing our borders to refugees and throughout it all we have had the Muslims. We’ve been blamed for almost everything but believe me it will only be a matter of time before they need a new focus. Just hope it’s not you…..

I would like to finish by sharing *Yusra’s story. She is a mum who is refusing to engage with Prevent and is now facing the possibility of having her children removed. There has never been any allegations of abuse, neglect or anything else that could justify the removal of her children. Yes, *Yusra is Muslim but she could just as easily be called *Yvonne – the prevent strategy is so far reaching that no one is truly safe, well no one who thinks for themselves and questions the powers that be or chooses to live their life in a ‘different’ way, whether that be beliefs or the way they dress. You can read more about Yusra’s case here and the video of her interview is below.

Finally, a big thank you to Cage and all they do to help and support those who find themselves on the wrong side of one of the most immoral pieces of legislation since the Terrorism Act 2000. Cage warned that the CTS Act 2015 would result in children being removed from their families and have been instrumental in helping *Yusra fight her case and keep her children InshaAllah.

Using the ERG 22 report to overcome many of the issues Childrens’ Services had tried to push on *Yusra and her family,the brothers at Cage have also attended meetings with her solicitor, offering preparation work on how to incorporate the ERG findings into her case. With this support and advice *Yusra is now “looking forward to going to court” as she feels it’s the only way “to stop the local authorities from trying to co-erce my family into something that we don’t want and don’t have to by law.”

*Not her real name

To learn more about the fantastic work Cage do, how you can get involved or to donate towards helping them help those in need please visit the website by clicking here 🙂

 

 

Tories Shaft Trafford Parents With Huge Cuts To Education Budget…

With so much ‘non-news’ in the mainstream media it’s getting easier and easier for the government to slip dodgy legislation and questionable budget plans through the system with no-one being any the wiser until the either a new Orwellian law affects them directly or they start to feel the pinch of the (many) cuts. One of these budget plans that hasn’t had nearly enough publicity as it should is the Tory plan to cut £3 Billion a year from education spending by 2020. These cuts will have a dramatic affect on schools across the country – this is a look at what it will mean for several Trafford schools.

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In these changing and increasingly competitive times, education should be at the very top of the list when it comes to budget priorities – after all, the pupils of today are the workforce, decision makers and changers of tomorrow. Our future literally depends on the skills we teach our children and future generations so you would think that investing in the education of our offspring is a non-brainer, more than ever in these uncertain Post-Brexit times where we are looking to create more ‘home grown’ talent than ever.

And yet they cut the education budget by the tune of 3 Billion Pound…

education-quotes-10Perhaps Theresa May is looking to grow a generation of low-skilled worker bees to fill the gap that will be left by the thousands of European workers set to leave the UK after facing the Brexit backlash from all angles. It has been well documented that, without the hardworking migrants that come to the UK to work, many jobs in agriculture, hospitality, construction and healthcare would be left short staffed and difficult to fill without them.

Something to think about next time you buy strawberries (picked by migrants), pick up a coffee from a shop (staffed by migrants) and drive on a motorway (built by migrants) on your way to visit a sick relative or loved one in hospital (cared for by a migrant).

Anyway, I digress – back to education.

In light of these proposed budget cuts, two educational unions, the NUT and ATL, have set up a website that makes it really easy to search either by postcode or school name to find out how your child/grandchild/niece or nephew will be affected – click to search website.

Please share this information far and wide – I’ve yet to see it in the news and time is running out to make a stand. Also, please email your MP with a request for them to take action on what is a very urgent matter – you can find out who they are by clicking here. 

If you live in Altrincham or Sale West your MP is Graham Brady and his email address is altsale@parliament.uk

If you are are a parent of a child either attending or expecting to attend Ashton on Mersey School, Sale Grammar or Sale High School, I suggest you sit down before reading any further…

First, how a few of our local Primary schools will be affected:

  1. Wellfield Junior Schoolwellfield-jnr

This Junior School will be faced with £18,711 budget cut, that is equivalent to £213 per pupil or the same as losing one teacher, equating to just 2% of their overall budget.

2. Wellfield Infant and Nursery School

Set to lose 5% of their overall budget is this gem of a school in Ashton Village, they face £35,893 of cuts which equates to £216 per pupil, or the loss of one classroom assistant. Knowing how this school works along with how proactive both the staff and governing body are leads me to think that this will be one school that still manages to achieve despite this latest round of cuts.

3. All Saints’ Catholic Primary School

Losing £49,125 from their budget, this will mean a difference of £170 per pupil or the equivalent of one teacher. This will be 7% of their overall budget.

4. St. Marys C of E Primary School

They are facing a 5% overall budget cut which is £42,292 or £170 per pupil – or the loss of one teacher.

5. Woodheys Primary School    st-margaret-ward

Although this school are only looking at a loss of £9,897, or 1% of their overall budget, it equates to £201 per pupil or the loss of 2 teachers.

6.  St. Margaret Ward Catholic Primary

Classed as Outstanding by OFSTED, this school is looking at a 6% cut in their budget, £354 per pupil, £48,456 or the loss of a teacher.

7. Tyntesfield Primary

Loss of 3% of their overall budget, Tyntesfield are expecting a £33,070 reduction in funds or the loss of a teacher.

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If these figures have left you rattled, wait until you see what lies in store for our secondary schools – If you’re the parent of a pupil or prospective pupil at Ashton on Mersey school, Sale Grammar School, Sale High School  or Altrincham College of Arts you might want to sit down before you continue reading….

8. Ashton on Mersey School

Big school = Big cuts and they are facing huge ones at that. This overssubscribed and popular secondary school is facing a budget cut to the tune of £ashton-on-mersey-school844,579 or £639 per pupil. This is the equivalent of losing a staggering 22 teachers and is 12% of their overall budget.

9. Sale Grammar School

Another massive cut as this iconic school can expect £676,580 in cuts, 15% of their overall budget and equal to losing 17 teachers.

10. Sale High School

12% of the overall budget to be cut from Sale High, equal to losing 10 teachers or £711 per pupil as they seek to manage with a loss of £398,715.

11. Altrincham College of Arts

Previously known as Green Lane, ACA is looking at a 12% budget reduction – £570,542 or £763 per pupil.

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Some tough decisions ahead for our schools and this is just a few of the many that will be affected by the proposed government cuts.

It’s not all doom and gloom – Park Road Primary, Firs Primary and Springfield are amongst the few schools not to be affected by the budget cuts.

However, if ALL our children aren’t getting the very best opportunities then where will our country be in another 20, 30 years time? Will we have a generation that are fluent in a language for a country they now need a visa to visit while lacking in basic employability skills?

Nelson Mandela famously said “Education is the most powerful weapon for changing the world” – and yet we invest more in ‘defence’ year on year and seek to reduce our investment in education. Alrighty then…..

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Looking at the UK spending it becomes clear where our priorities really lie and the biggest spend goes on ‘social protection’. Apparently this covers things like Tax Credits and other benefits paid to the public. Now I’m no accountant but how about we call to account the huge companies that are operating in the UK, making massive profits and paying a pittance to their staff?

If they paid a living wage to employees, then they wouldn’t need to rely on the government to top up their money in order to survive and the money saved could be ploughed back into education. Simples.

What do you think about the budget proposals for education? What should the government be investing in and who is going to pick our strawberries?

Get in touch with your thoughts…

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Fear + Ignorance = Racist Britain

Last night, while watching #MuslimsLikeUs (more on that later), I tweeted that I had experienced racism myself since converting to Islam and was promptly told that “it never happened.” There seems to be a misconception that racism is reserved for people who are a shade of brown and that the rest of us are exempt from such discrimination. 

Well, as a white British Muslim convert in a biracial marriage with mixed race kids, I’m here to tell you that racism isn’t always black n white – it’s a complex issue, and it’s also alive n kicking in the UK today, along with prejudice, ignorance and a whole heap of hate. 

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Quite often our beliefs are formed at home, for most of us that means that by the time we’re adults we have an understanding of the world around us, how to interact with our community and a respect for those that are different from us, even if we disagree with their views.

Sadly others have a different upbringing – perhaps their parents are ignorant of the society we live in, too busy reading The Sun and sending the kids down to the local ‘*Paki Shop’ for fags on benefit day or maybe they think they are superior in some way and don’t feel the need to expand their horizon any further than the latest episode of Jeremy Kyle. Whatever the case may be the fact remains that racism is rife in the UK.

*This word has become almost acceptable despite the offensive way in which it is used – why wouldn’t it be when a judge can even use the phrase in a court room and get nothing more than a slap on the wrist? 

It starts with the kids…

I have four children and have been married twice – my oldest a boy aged 20 and a girl at 18 are both half Bengali and have very pale skin and blue/green eyes. My son is often mistaken as being mediterranean and my daughter looks white.

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My youngest two, aged 11 and 14 are half Pakistani and have inherited dark hair, brown eyes and brown skin. In fact you would struggle to know they were mixed race at all as they both look full Asian.

United Nations could learn a thing or two from my household…

They have all experienced racism in different ways due to their appearance – the younger two have been called ‘Dirty Muslims’, ‘Terrorists’ and, of course, ‘Paki’ on several occasions. The abuse has changed with the times too – when my 14yr old was in Infant School, a kid told him that his skin was ‘the colour of poo’ and he didn’t want to play with him.

In secondary school this progressed to name calling based on his colour/religion and after the Paris attacks they began to call him a terrorist.

I spoke to my son at length about this and was horrified when he went on to tell me about other incidents of racism that were going on at school on a regular basis:

  • A Syrian classmate being told to ‘get on his dinghy and f**k off back home’.
  • A Jewish girl told that she should have gone in the gas chambers and calling her a ‘dirty Jew’.
  • A black lad being told by a group of white boys that, and I quote, ‘You are our slave. Your name is Cotton Picking Joe and we are your masters.”

I called school the next day to report what was going on and was told that they could only act on what they actually hear and that they would look into it and get back to me. This was in July and I am still waiting for their response….

The school did contact me last year, with a form to fill in for my son with questions such as “Do you have respect for other religions?” and “Do you understand how to play a positive part in society?”. When I questioned why he had been given it when many others in his class hadn’t, the reply was rather mind-blowing.

They explained that the council had asked them to give out forms to all the children that had English as a second language and therefore might need extra help. The school, in all their wisdom, had decided the best way to determine this was to go down a list of pupil names and pick out the ones that “didn’t sound English”……

Wow. This crazy method meant that my son got a form due to him having his fathers (Asian) surname while his classmate with exactly the same ethnicity was overlooked because he had his Mums (English) surname.

My daughter on the other hand often finds herself in a position where people start with the whole racist rhetoric while not realising she is actually mixed race herself – being only 18 she describes this as one of the most awkward situations ever. Sometimes she feels confident enough to call them out on it, others she wishes the ground would open up and feels uncomfortable in her own skin. She also said this is happening more and more often after Brexit, with people blaming foreigners and Muslims for all the world problems from lack of housing to benefit cuts.

She recently started her first job and has already faced racism in the workplace. She has this one work ‘mate’ who insists on referring to all Asians as ‘Pakis’. Fully aware of my daughters heritage, she continues to use this offensive term regularly, often backed up by another member of staff – in fact the manager has heard her use this term more than once but has yet to reprimand her.

3947905971_9b2ddcfe45We had a lengthy conversation where we looked at ways she could respond to people like this and I explained the procedure for making a formal compliant at work. The fact she appears white but is mixed race means that she’s going to encounter this ignorance throughout life and we talked about how she could turn that into a positive. Being Muslim and white but not wearing a hijab means that I am also often in situations where people start Muslim bashing or being ignorant about other races, often they’re shocked when I don’t join in – I use this opportunity to educate them and challenge any xenophobic views they’re sharing and the look on their faces when I tell them that I am ‘one of those bloody Muslims’ is priceless.

I’ve been met with “But you’re white”, “Oh, so did your husband make you convert” and my personal favourite – “Does that mean you speak Muslim then?”

Other times they seem genuinely interested and buzzing to actually get the chance to talk to a ‘real life’ Muslim and are full of questions. I have had several conversations that have started off with an Islamophobic/racist comment and ended on a really positive note – dawah in action 🙂ae3c5c6ea67580434eda1f1f8c6972bf

“You’re not brown enough to be a ‘proper’ Muslim” and other fairy tales

Racism is not exclusively a white people thing – in fact some of the worst racism I have encountered myself has come from Asian Muslim women.

When I converted to Islam a number of years ago I began going to my local mosque which happens to be in a rather nice part of Cheshire. I was met by several Asian women who, whilst appeared welcoming at first, soon made it apparent that I wouldn’t be part of their ‘circle’ any time soon. The reason? I was too white to be a classed as a real Muslim.

Sure, I could attend the prayer meetings but they wouldn’t eat the food I prepared, they would smile as I entered but I wouldn’t be invited to their homes, they would see me5bd10f538d6cf918e0b0120cb9da9ec3 struggle to remember the prayer but would offer no help, preferring to talk about my failings in Urdu. I was even asked if I washed my rice three times?! and how my husband managed with a wife that can’t make chapatis. In fact they made me briefly question if Islam was for me after all.

Fortunately I discovered a far more welcoming mosque in Manchester where there were more reverts, less judgment and even prayer classes for beginners on a Sunday afternoon. I also realised that quite often the ones that refer to themselves as Muslim are not a true reflection of the faith – something that should be remembered when you watch #MuslimsLikeUs on catchup…

 

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#MuslimsLikeUs or Not?

After avidly awaiting #MuslimsLikeUs on BBC Two this week, to say I was disappointed would be an understatement, at points I found myself shouting at the TV, at others I was shaking my head in disbelief.

It would appear that BBC chose the participants using a controversy scoresheet and boy did they tick all the boxes – We were given racism, white privilege, imperialism, sexism and even a controversy involving an onion.  onion

A varied bunch to say the least, one that stood out to me was Mehreen who, as lovely as she is, was reminiscent of Aliyah, the daughter in Citizen Khan – kind of like an Asian Barbie. She did handle the racist blokes at the homeless shelter with class and eloquence though.

Nabil who was the voice of reason at many point, including the absolute gem – “when in doubt, don’t be a dick.” He was portrayed as a stereotypical angry black man and has been on social media to complain about the way it was edited to cast him in such a light, as has Baraa, the Syrian refugee.

For the record I think they were bang out of order for stealing his onion and he handled it extremely well given the circumstances.

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Abdul Haqq….well, and I do have my tin hat at the ready, I don’t agree with everything he said but much of it did sound like Islamic teachings to be fair. He delivered it in a really alienating way and the letters he gave out were on another level but I think he was also edited to fit the whole right-wing, pro-prevent rhetoric the Beeb support.

Talking of agendas, #MuslimsLikeUs was made in conjunction with Love Productions – the same company behind Benefits Street, Make Bradford British and Why Don’t You Speak English?  Hardly educational stuff and that sums up #MuslimsLikeUs really, the show left me feeling angry and struggling to identify with any of the participants and if I wasn’t Muslim already I think watching them would have put me off for life and made me even more confused.

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I wonder if they will be doing a follow up looking at other religions – say ‘Six Jews in a Gym’ or ‘Five Hindus in a hotel….’

Finally, I would like to end on a slightly more positive note…

Looking at the survey referenced in #MuslimsLikeUs it became clear that whilst there were some worrying responses, on the whole the outlook is quite promising.

The 18-24 yr old demographic have done us proud once again – throughout the whole survey the acceptance of Muslims with this age range was higher than the older ones, in fact the older the respondents are, the less tolerant they become. No surprise there then. In answer to the statement “I would feel comfortable if a Muslim moved in next door to my home” 54% of 18-24 yr olds agreed while only 29% of 65+ felt the same.

One telling response was to the statement “Muslims have failed to integrate into British society” where only 24% of the younger demographic agreed in contrast to 64% of the 65+ group.

Maybe this is because the younger generation ARE integrating, as Mehreen said, “We go to school, we go university, we work. How else do they want us to f*****g integrate?” and the older ones don’t see this. Perhaps they see the parents of these first n second generation Muslims, the ones that do prefer their own community and are less likely to strike up a conversation in the street. The ones that could do more to integrate but are as set in their own ways as much as white old folk can be…

The bottom line is this – racism and ignorance are still as prevalent today as they were when my mum was a kid and we need to talk about it in order to make a change. We need to be more accepting, more forgiving and less judgemental of each other, regardless of race, religion, gender or any other defining features. Each of us have our own path and it can be hard enough to keep your footing without others trying to knock you down so try to play nice eh…

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“Part of the perfection of one’s Islam is his leaving that which does not concern him”

 

 

 

Around the world in forty cakes…

Have you considered baking as a career? Perhaps cake making is more your thing? Do you also have a sense of adventure and fancy travelling around the world?

I spoke to Mark Cooper, Bakery and Patisserie lecturer at Trafford College who, despite struggling at school, went on to do all this and much more. Quite an inspiration. 

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Mark and students at Trafford College

 

“I am really glad I chose a career in baking and cake making. It opened up a world of opportunities for me that I would never have dreamed of.

I had had a difficult life and, after leaving school with few qualifications, I didn’t know what to do and whether I could be good at anything. However, I studied an apprenticeship in a local bakery and patisserie and since then I have worked in some of the most luxurious five-star hotel and restaurants in the world.

It has not all been easy, I have had to work hard and be committed to achieve success.

Yes, this did mean working all hours on low pay at times, in pressurised atmospheres which meant a lack of sleep and I did missing family and friends – but it has all been worthwhile.

I have gained respected international qualifications, a lot of experience, confidence and working skills including management training. On top of all that I’ve made lots of friends from the many different countries I visited.

I’ve worked in St Moritz Switzerland and some very posh fine bakeries and confectioners in Germany and that is also where I got my Masters qualification in Baking and

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Chateaux Lake Louise, Canada

Confectionary. As an Executive Pastry Chef I was responsible for running and managing patisserie sections. I was fortunate enough to work for Chateau Lake Louise in Canada, Sheraton Hotel and Towers in Dubai, Ritz Carlton in Indonesia. The most mind blowing experience for me was working for the Royal family of Qatar.

Each new opportunity has pushed me to become better and progress to the next level. I have been able to control my career and decide what direction I wanted to take. By the time I worked on the QE2 I was confident about creating menus and teaching junior staff. Since coming back to the UK I have worked in the retail sector for large cake and bakery companies in their product development department creating new cakes, breads and pastries.

It hasn’t all been about work! In the places where I have worked and with the colleagues I have met I have always been able to lead a great lifestyle. I became a ski teacher, learned how to ice-climb, and enjoyed some wonderful backpacking experiences with great

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Ritz Carlton, Indonesia

friends. I’ve become more adventurous with food, experienced many different cuisines and also learned different languages. However, this was all made possible through hard work, believing in myself and my commitment to experiencing as much in life as I could.

I am now passing on all my experience and knowledge as a lecturer of Bakery and Patisserie at Trafford college, where my students are taught the skills to be successful in an ever changing industry. I try to guide my students when deciding which area they want to specialise in i.e. pastry, bakery or cake decoration. I also advise them about the importance of maths and English and how these subjects can help them in their careers. I try to show them that pastry and bakery courses aren’t just about completing courses, gaining the skills and then going off into industry. I hope they learn that they can study in college and then university if they want to-in subjects like food nutrition, new product development, food entrepreneurship, bakery and confectionery manufacturing.

At college my students gain practical skills in the well equipped kitchens and also go out into industry-gaining valuable work experience in hotels, restaurants, retail, bakeries, dessert production sites. They will get the chance to take part in competitions, running shows and volunteering events. These are all key skills in becoming a success in the industry and I am more than happy to support in any way that I can.”

If you would like any further information regarding becoming a student with us at Trafford College, please feel free to contact Mark on the details below

Mobile: 07880618070

Telephone 0161 952 4643

Email: mark.cooper@trafford.ac.uk

Twitter: Trafford College @patisseriearts

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Social Media Job Hunting With Altrincham HQ

It’s that time of year again – cold mornings, dark evenings and wet days means that we tend to spend more time indoors and, for many of us, that also means more time online.

Research shows that people are spending almost an hour online every day scrolling through Facebook updates, liking Instagram posts and chatting on Messenger but could that time be better spent?

With many businesses using social media as a way to engage with the public, there has never been a better time to catch the attention of possible future employers whilst still using the platforms you’re familiar with. However, this also means that everything you share online yourself can can also be seen by the same people you’re trying to impress.

I spoke to Alex McCann, founder of Altrincham HQ, to ask him for some tips about how to use online time in a more productive way and ensure you’re sending out the right messages….

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Alex in action…

“I always tell this tale whenever I’m doing a Business Talk – about how 1999 changed my life….

A normal kid from a normal background who, while at college, decided to set up a music website from his bedroom … and 6 months later got quite a well-paid freelance journalism job from a stranger in London.

I haven’t looked back since and even now, when I’m helping small businesses with Social Media Marketing, I trace back my current success to believing in the power of the internet back in 1999

Opportunities have never been greater for people who are prepared to use the internet as much for work as they are for keeping in touch with friends.

 BEFORE YOU APPLY FOR A JOB – DO A SOCIAL MEDIA AUDITsocial-media-1

If you haven’t heard of a young girl called Paris Brown do a quick search on google after reading this article.

In short – she was a 17 year old girl who got the £15,000 job of the Youth Crime Commissioner. Offensive posts on Twitter from years previous came back to haunt her and she lost the job just days after it was announced.

Now she was in a very public position in the public eye, but regardless of what some HR people say – it’s likely that if you apply for a job they’ll search your name on Facebook to get a picture of who you are outside of your CV

 Four Things To Do Now…

  1. Check your Facebook profile photo and cover photo portrays you in the best light from an employer’s perspective – it can still be you and personal and friendly
  2. Check your Facebook privacy settings are set to friends only – so that anything you do post by accident isn’t in the public domain
  3. Check which Facebook pages / groups you have joined over the years – and check there is nothing to raise eyebrows
  4. Use Twitter Advanced Search – https://twitter.com/search-advanced – for any swear words, abuse or anything that portrays you in a bad light – and delete those tweets

 

Now all that’s done – you can get on with the applying for jobs

 

USE TWITTER / FACEBOOK TO SEARCH FOR VACANCIES

Businesses quite often will try and fill a role from their own customer base / fans before going to more traditional methods of recruitment

Every single day I see local businesses advertise for jobs – both part time roles and full times roles

To make sure you don’t miss out – do the following

  1. Like all local business pages on Facebook from businesses you’d like to work for / businesses that regularly take on staff
  2. Join a specific Facebook job group like ” https://www.facebook.com/groups/salejobs/ ” – there’s always new local jobs advertised
  3. Join local Sale, Altrincham groups and use the Facebook Search option top right of the group to search the word job
  4. Set up a saved search on Twitter for jobs in the local town – simply type job altrincham / job #saletown / job urmston etc in the search bar and click save search so it appears in the drop down menu

 

Word of warning – these are few and far between on these platforms – but be wary of adverts offering “work from home” / “work around your busy family life” – they are often not salaried roles and require you to buy in to an opportunity

 

RESEARCH THE COMPANY TO WRITE THE NUMBER 1 COVERING LETTER / EXCEL AT INTERVIEW STAGE

social-media-3So you’ve made sure you’re Social Media looks squeaky clean. You’ve searched social media and found the perfect job – the next stage is getting through the covering letter stage and excelling at interview stage

And a little note for you here – 90% of covering letters suck!!!

Bland clichés that have been written before the day I was born – “I work well on my own and as part of a team” / “Hard Working And Dedicated” / “This Is Exactly the Kind of Role I’m Looking For” – well done for stating the obvious

Use Social Media to rise above the blandness and show you have some real interest in the company you want to work for.

Every single day on Social Media, the company that you’re applying for a job with, will be pushing the latest news about what the company are up to so reference that in your covering letter. Show them you’re taking note. Show them you care.

 And then once you get the interview do the research again

Very few others will do this – you’ll stand out as way above average and it puts you in a good position to get hired

GIVERS GAIN

There’s a saying in business called Givers Gain – help others and you help yourself.

Think about how you can adapt that idea in your own job search…

If whilst doing all of the above activity for your own job search – you’re thinking of friends and family members who are looking for work and keep letting them know about job opportunities – the help will come back at you like a boomerang

Givers Gain – look out for jobs for other people on Social Media and they’ll look out for jobs for you. It’s like having an army of 10 people helping you out

 

EVERY LITTLE HELPS AND NOT JUST AT TESCO

Everything I’ve talked about above us reactive – meaning you’re waiting for someone else to put the job out, to tell you about their latest news, for a friend to look out for a job for you.

What I want to talk about in this last point is the proactive stuff you can do long-term to draw people to you, rather than you look for it and all of it you can do with a smart phone or a computer … and an internet connection.social-media-2

We’ve all read in the media about people who set up a blog or a youtube channel and suddenly made a career out of it.The ones you know about are on the national stage – but these sort of things happen all the time on a smaller level, where you get passionate about your niche and suddenly someone offers you a job

If people are aware of you. People can offer you stuff.

So whilst looking for the day to day job – why not aim big – follow your passion and set up a blog / youtube channel that you work on at least once a week.

Tell us what this brings you if you stick at it for a year…

You can find Alex on Twitter @altrinchamhq or Facebook – Altrincham HQ

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*This article was originally written for SaleWestVoice Magazine – an online source of news n views 🙂

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Irwell Valley, ‘variable service charges’ and what you really need to know…

As some of you will be aware, Irwell Valley Housing Association are planning to implement an ‘Intention to vary your tenancy agreement and charge you a variable service charge’.

You’ll know this because they wrote to every tenant back in September, to ask your opinion and for feedback – but did you actually read the letter or just throw it in the bin?

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I’m asking because, according to Irwell Valley, they received only 139 replies out of a possible 2580. That is just 5% of residents.

They also received a petition with 102 signatures on it. That’s 102 residents out of 2580 that currently live in property owned by the housing association.

It’s these statistics that make me think that perhaps you didn’t read that letter after all, if you had there would have been far more response from the letter in September and loads more signatures on the petition. That’s why I’m writing up this blog, to point out a couple of ways in which these changes will potentially affect you when they come in to effect on the 1st of April next year.

Firstly, Irwell Valley did ‘note and listen’ to all your responses and held a panel session in order to ‘review them in full’ – there were two resident board members present but at the time of writing I’m not sure who they are.

Either way, there were no comments relating to the variation in the tenancy agreement and they have decided to go ahead anyway, from April next year.

So, why are they introducing the charge? It’s because during a recent review it was pointed out that residents in Sale and Haughton Green weren’t paying for services that were being charged for in other areas and, to ‘ensure fairness’ they decided that you can pay it too.

At the panel it was raised that residents had queried what happens to the power generated by the solar panels on the high rises, as well as any income from the masts also on the high rises. Irwell Valley explained that the energy from the solar panels is used within the building to reduce the amount of energy used in communal areas and this will be reflected in the service charge to residents, although it will be negligible really. The income from the masts is not reserved only for the buildings they’re attached to – Irwell Valley say that this money is ‘used alongside rental income to invest in homes and neighbourhoods’.
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Now for the really interesting stuff…

What exactly does ‘Variable Service Charge‘ mean anyway?  Each year Irwell Valley will assess how much they expect to spend on providing services, this means that the charge is estimated based on the previous year’s costs or estimated costs. At the end of the year you will receive a statement showing the actual costs and any over/under charges. The service charge will then be adjusted for the following year.

So, for the first year they will be working on estimates that could be quite reasonable. However, if there’s a spate of vandalism, houses being damaged, fencing being stolen or general stoopidity leading to damage, you can expect your service charge to go up and up and up…..

Interestingly, Irwell Valley say that the cost of the service charge could vary amongst similar properties – for example, looking at the blocks, ‘the number of repairs required to each block will change each year, e.g. one block could require 3 repairs to the door entry system in one year and another block could have no repairs, therefore the first block will have a higher service charge that year’.

In theory that could also mean various roads or sections of the estate could have differing charges – if you live in a patch that sees a lot of damage you could see a rise in your service charge. Hardly fair if it’s not you or yours causing the damage in the first place….

…which leads me to the next possible bone of contention.sale-west-sign

If you are in receipt of full housing benefit/universal credit the service charge will be covered by your benefits and you shouldn’t be required to pay any additional cost yourself. You do need to inform Universal Credit yourself as Irwell Valley won’t be doing so, but if you receive housing benefit you don’t even need to do that as they will inform them themselves.

However, if you are working full-time or not in receipt of the benefits above, you’ll be expected to pay it yourself on top of your rent.

I pity those that are out at work and not receiving benefits when they come home to find the kid up the road has damaged yet more property that will increase the Service Charge that their parents will be unaware of because they don’t pay it themselves…..

Maybe this is a clever ploy by Irwell Valley to get residents to stand up to the few that spoil it for the rest, after all, what better way to bring it to your attention and bring about a little community action than to hit you in the pocket.

If you feel you may have money problems paying your service charge you should contact the Irwell Valley Income Management Team as soon as possible on 0800 035 22 11 – they will be able to offer you confidential help, advice and support.

Once you get the letter in February 2017 with the full breakdown of charges, Irwell valley will be holding a number of surgeries to allow you to meet with an IV colleague on a one-to-one basis and discuss your individual circumstances.

To try n end on a positive note, here’s a list of all the services you can expect to receive from Irwell Valley – please let us know if they fail to meet any of them n don’t forget to take a pic and post it on SaleWestVoice 🙂

  1. Cleaning communal windows (blocks) – quarterly, in March, June, September and December
  2. Communal cleaning (blocks) – monthly and includes all ledges cleaned, nosing on stairs and bannister rails cleaned, sweep n mop all hard floors, dust, damp wipe of skirting, clean of internal fixtures n fittings, check on external door and light fittings for cobwebs and clean all internal door glazing.
  3. Communal Electricity (blocks) – you’re paying for it in your service charge so you can expect the communal area to be lit, warm and with a working lift.
  4. Lift Service Contract (blocks) – again, it’s included in the charge so you should expect to have a fully operational lift that’s maintained monthly.
  5. Repairs to Lift (blocks) – Irwell Valley have taken into consideration previous breakdowns etc so if there are more this year expect the charge to go up.
  6. Estate Maintenance (EVERYONE) – This cost is included in the service charge and is divided by the total number of properties on the estate. The service is provided by Greenfingers and Nurture and you can expect grass cut fortnightly throughout the growing season, kerb edges and fence lines kept neat n tidy, grass areas to be edged during the dormant season, weeds removed in shrub beds and on hard surfaces as well as all shrub and hedges to be pruned to a neat ‘hedge like’ appearance. Remember that fly-tipping issues and bin emptying will remain responsibility of Trafford Council.

 

Irwell Valley will also be charging a 15% management fee which is calculated by taking the cost of each service and multiplying it by 15% – this is ‘to ensure services are delivered to a high quality n provide value for money, the cost of working out the service charge and the cost of collecting said service charge. Funny times eh 🙂

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New figures reveal 1.6Million school-aged children estimated to be living with an undetected vision problem

More than one and a half Million (1.6Million) school–aged children in England could be living with an undiagnosed vision problem that impacts on their educational and social development according to new figures released by National Eye Health Week and Boots Opticians.

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With up to eighty to eighty-five per cent of our perception, learning, cognition and activities facilitated through vision, it’s clear that the quality of a child’s eyesight plays a vital role in his or her development, especially in their early years.

A recent study by a team of UK academics published in the British Medical Journal found a clear link between visual ability in young children and reading and writing levels. Children with reduced visual acuity – a measure of how well we view detail – had significantly lower literacy development even when other factors – such as demographic, socio-economic and cognitive skills – were taken into account.

Poor vision in younger children is often due to the presence of Amblyopia (lazy eye) – a developmental disorder that leads to reduced vision. The human eye continues to develop until we reach about eight years of age giving just a small window of time where good vision can be restored through early detection and treatment. Unfortunately, there are few signs and symptoms to observe so detection is very difficult for parents, carers and teachers.unknown-2

David Cartwright Chairman National Eye Health Week continued: “As a child’s eyesight is usually fully developed by the age of eight, regular sight tests, every two years unless advised otherwise by your optometrist, are crucial. Sight tests for all children in the UK are free and funded by the NHS – the only investment parents have to make is time.

Conditions such as squint or amblyopia can lead to lifelong problems so it really is a case of ‘After Eight is too Late’. If detected early amblyopia and squint can often be corrected and other visual problems such as childhood myopia can be managed effectively, yet, fifty per cent of parents with children aged eight and under have never taken their child for a sight test.”

Levels of Myopia (short-sight), which typically occurs in childhood between the ages of six and 13, have more than doubled over the last 50 years and currently affect around a fifth of all teenagers in the UK.

It’s often difficult to tell if your child is having problems with their eyes but some tell-tale signs that there could be something wrong include struggling to recognise colours and shapes; frequently bumping into things; not showing any interest in learning to read; not progressing or being disengaged at school; complaining about headaches and sitting very close to the TV.

You may also recognise some physical signs, including:

• Rubbing eyes frequently
• Squinting, head-tilting or closing one eye when trying to focus
• One eye turning in or out
• Blinking a lot
• Excessive tearing
• Red, sore or encrusted eye lids

With a wealth of clinical evidence emerging to suggest that lifestyle factors can play a role in keeping children’s eyes healthy, including the importance of outdoor play in preventing the onset of myopia, National Eye Health Week has joined forces with Boots Opticians to launch a guide to help to care for your child’s eyes.unknown-3

This digital resource includes seven ways to help keep kids’ eyes healthy, tell-tale signs your child could be struggling with their vision and common childhood eye conditions explained. There are also links to resources such as the Boots Opticians eye check story book, Zookeeper Zoe which contains a range of interactive eye check activities to help parents and carers understand if their child might need support with their vision.

Commenting on the collaboration Karl Thomas, Customer Director, Boots Opticians said: “We want every child in the UK to be as happy and healthy as possible. We’ve had overwhelmingly positive feedback about Zookeeper Zoe and we’re delighted with stories we’re hearing around the joy that Zoe’s story brings, be that the simple act of reading, or in raising parents’ awareness of vision needs that in turn are resulting in a vision correction for their child.”

“Good eyesight can be so important for a child’s development, so we want to ensure their vision is the best it can be, which is why we are printing more copies of Zookeeper Zoe and encouraging parents to take their children for an eye test to ensure that their children reach their full potential.”

imagesDespite the UK National Screening Committee (NSC) recommending, universal vision screening for all children between the ages of 4 – 5 years by an orthoptic-led service an estimated 200,000+ children will miss out on this basic screening in the 2016/17 academic year as fewer than a third of local authorities in England provide this service and where it does exist screening has been found to be patchy.

David Cartwright concludes: “Regular eye checks performed on your local high street, by a qualified optometrist and paid for by the NHS are vital to ensure kids live well and fulfil their potential in the classroom.”

Discover more at www.visionmatters.org.uk/children or to share Zookeeper Zoe’s adventures visit www.zookeeperzoe.co.uk

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Pokemon insurance now available…

Not wanting to miss out on the recent Pokemon Go craze sweeping the world, one canny insurance company have launched what they are calling ‘the world’s first Pokédex insurance’, in response to the growing popularity of the new Pokémon Go game.

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No Caption needed…

The British firm, Row which advertises the cover, making references to the Japanese television show launched in 1997, reads “taking up the challenge of becoming a Pokémon Go trainer and becoming the very best like no one ever was is undoubtedly important, but don’t forget to defend your Pokédex (mobile phone) with the UK’s top rated specialist insurance provider to keep you playing the game without interruption”

With reports of the augmented reality game having 5.9m daily users, more than Twitter (4.06m), Pokémon Go has become a phenomenal overnight success.

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90’s classic with a 2016 twist

During the game players explore the real world using their phone’s GPS and camera to catch virtual monsters. Once caught, Pokémon are added to the player’s Pokédex – a handheld gadget that resembles a mobile phone. Players, known in the game as trainers, must catch as many as possible while levelling up by making use of their Pokémon’s unique skills during battles at local ‘gyms’.

So far so good, right. Below is where it gets interesting – [excerpt from press release]

“Many players have been injured while playing the game, been mugged at secluded Pokéstops, found dead bodies while searching for the Pokémon and even been shot at!
The large use of the game will also undoubtedly lead to more phones being dropped, an increase on the 90% of people who drop their phone at least once a month, according to a survey by phone case manufacturer Tech21.

The same survey states that for 38% of people the biggest stress factor of a broken phone is paying for the repair. Luckily, Row’s new Pokédex insurance covers accidental damage, including cracked screens, plus liquid damage and mechanical faults. In the event of theft or loss, the firm boasts they aim to get a replacement phone to your door within 24 hours of the claim being accepted so you can keep catching Pokémon and winning gym badges!”

So there you have it – rather than protecting your Pokemon from being stolen or securing your account from being hacked as the headline would have you believe, they have simply rebranded their existing accidental damage/theft policy to attract a whole new clientele of Paranoid Poke Hunters.

Wonder what we’ll see next, perhaps a ‘PokeSim’ offering unlimited data just in time for the summer hols, or maybe ‘PokePancakes’ –  after all I was one of the parents duped into buying numerous packs of *Tubby Toast back in the the 90s when my eldest was a toddler and the Teletubbies phenomenon was in full effect.

If you’ve seen any Pokemon related PR campaigns that have made you chuckle or shake your head in despair get in touch, I’d love to hear from you 🙂

*  For clarity – Tubby Toast is a round piece of toast with a smiley face on it. Tubby Toast is made from Tubby Bread, and It is one of the Teletubbies’ favorite foods. The Teletubbies make Tubby Toast from the Tubby Toaster. Tubby Toast has also had some fun incidents, the Tubby Toast once made too much Tubby Toast in the Tubby Toast Accident, there was once a Tubby Toast Tower and the Tubby Toaster once made a very big piece of Tubby Toast. The Tubby Toaster made a Tubby Toast Pattern on the Tubby Table. Once, Tinky-Winky made lots of Tubby Toast and put it in his bag. But all the Tubby Toast burst out all over Teletubbyland. The Teletubbies love Tubby Toast……

 

2015 in review

It has been a very busy year – now on to 2016…

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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