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eBay finds in scammers favour despite overwhelming evidence

I’ve written this in a bid to warn other eBay sellers of a scam that’s left us out of pocket to the tune of almost £1200 and totally frustrated at the lack of care or fairness shown by eBay – not to mention the fact that they’re enabling a scammer to carry on, despite knowing exactly what they’re up to and having evidence to support it.

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I’ll start at the beginning and try to keep it succinct however there is a fair bit to explain so please bear with me and as always, please feel free to share, comment or offer any pearls of wisdom…

 

My husband and I both have eBay accounts which we use to buy and sell – I mostly sell kids clothes and the like while he sticks to electronics – recently we decided to sell our mobile phones (iPhone 7’s) and each listed them on our respective accounts. They were both fully working, in excellent condition and scuff/mark free, having been kept in cases with screen protectors.

A couple of days later they sold and whilst we were packing them we noticed they had both been purchased using the ‘click and collect’ option eBay now offer, allowing them to be collected from a branch of Argos. *Mine was sent to Argos in South Ruislip by special delivery at a cost of £7.30 and hubby’s went using same delivery method to an Argos in London.

UnknownAbout a week after they had been delivered we both got an email from eBay saying that our customers wanted a refund as the phones were faulty – mine claimed the camera no longer worked whilst hubby was told the light on his didn’t work. As soon as the buyers started the return process Paypal stepped in and held the funds for both – £289 + pp from mine and £295 + pp from hubby’s.

We both chose the option for eBay to issue return postage labels and sat back to await the returns arrival.

Some time passed until, last Monday (17th September) at 10.33am when hubby and I both received eBay emails stating that the returns had been delivered and we had 48hrs in which to refund the buyers.

I checked the porch and hall (lived at same address with same postie for years – no issues before) but could find no sign of any packages at all so I rang the sorting office. The lad who answered explained that the system was down and I would be better calling in the morning to speak to the supervisor.

Tuesday 18th Sept: Called the sorting office at 8am to be told that the postie had scanned our items outside number 5 (we live at 9) and he thought he’d delivered them to number 3 or 5. Customer service guy said he’d asked the postie to try and remember where he had put them so they could be retrieved and I assumed it was a (stupid) mistake.

I called back for an update to be told that the postie was now saying he definitely didn’t have any post for us at all on Monday. Bearing in mind I had been told earlier that they’d been scanned nearby and about the possible mix up, I now began to suspect the worst – that our parcels had been stolen. At this point I decided to call Royal Mail Customer Service.images

After a lengthy discussion with them I was given a reference number and told to call back on Friday after 9.30am for an update. Following this I called eBay to make them aware of the situation and to ask for an extension on the time to issue a refund so that I could get to the bottom of it, explaining that we did not have the phones and offering the Royal Mail reference number. The person I spoke to didn’t want the number and told me to do nothing but wait until the refund date had passed, at which point eBay would contact me to ask why and I could then state my case, including any reference numbers etc.

Thursday 19th Sept a.m: Postman knocks on the door with another parcel for us and goes on to say that he had given that day a lot of thought. He said that he was 100 percent sure that, whilst we had no post at all that day, number 1 did receive 2 padded envelopes that were from eBay and that was what he scanned outside number 5. He went on to say that he was positive they weren’t our phones because they were both flat and very light – he suggested they could have had papers or a sim card in them at most.

Thinking that there had been some strange mix up with tracking numbers, I put together a note including my number for my neighbour and posted it through her door, explaining what I thought had happened.

I then nipped out for half an hour – upon arriving home I saw that I’d had 2 emails from eBay, 20 minutes apart, the first saying the buyer had opened a case demanding a refund and the second saying they had found in his favour and shut the case. With no time to even respond I decided it was best to wait to hear from my neighbour before contacting eBay again – by then I was feeling totally confused by the whole situation and had nothing new to tell them.

Thursday p.m: My neighbour sends me a message to say that she had received 2 empty envelopes on Monday, they had no name on and she didn’t know what to make of it so she had put them in the blue bin the night before. After a couple of messages back n forth she offers to retrieve them and post them through my door.

Now, if you’re still reading this I would like to say thanks and your patience will be rewarded -this is where it gets interesting.

The envelopes are from eBay and are identical,  the way the labels are attached is the same and, interestingly the senders name and address are also the same (different customers, remember?).

Each envelope has an eBay issued label but neither has a name and the address has been edited from number 9 to 1. Suddenly things started to make sense – whoever had done this obviously has some knowledge of eBay and how the loopholes work.

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Edited label #1 on empty envelope: eBay scammer circa 2018

By changing the details on the official labels, the buyer had ensured that the packages was still scanned near to our house and, by omitting our names, had almost guaranteed that they would never find their way to us – leaving us unable to prove what had happened. It is only because of our postie taking the time to speak to us and my neighbour still having the packaging that we are now able to fill in the blanks and realise that we have indeed been scammed.

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Edited label #2 on empty envelope: eBay scammer circa 2018

I requested a callback from eBay straight away and ended up being put through to an Irish lady called Niamh in the UK centre. After explaining that I now had the packaging and that it was delivered empty to the wrong address she asked me to go into detail about what exactly was on the label.

Niamh was clearly shocked as what I was describing was different to what had been issued by eBay and explained to me that it must have been edited – none of the customer details were correct, the senders name didn’t match the eBay accounts and the only thing that was correct were the tracking numbers.

She asked me to upload photographs of the packaging attached to an email she was sending and said that as it was clearly “a large scale operation” and “involved multiple accounts” she would pass it to the risk management team, getting back to me with an update on Saturday morning at 11am.

Saturday 21st Sept a.m: Niamh called as promised and said she “nearly choked” when she saw the photos – they were so edited it was ludicrous. We discussed the fact that the senders address is actually a freight company and that both had been collected via Argos – pretty much making the whole thing anonymous. Niamh again intimated that we had been caught up in what was clearly an organised scam and assured me it was being escalated to all the relevant teams, as well as the authorities. I asked when we could expect a reversal on the refund decision – after all there has to be some seller protection and it was clear what had happened. I also pointed out that this person now had both our phones and almost £600 in cash – a kick in the stomach with a slap in the face for good measure. She explained it would take time but not to worry, it would be sorted and decisions can always be reversed.

She ended the call by promising to call on Monday with a further update and hopefully some information about a refund.

Saturday 21st 11.30pm: I get an email from eBay thanking me for contacting customer service regarding the iPhone and telling me that they “understand how frustrating it is when a buyer doesn’t return an item in the exact condition it was sent out” and that they “appreciate the screenshots of the labels” I sent.

They then go on to say that because they “did not see the condition of the item when it was receive day the buyer vs how it was returned” they must “remain impartial and having the buyer return the item in exchange for a full refund was the best resolution” so they had decided to uphold the decision to find in the buyers favour.

No mention of the fraudulent label, the empty envelopes or any of the other highly relevant points.

I went to bed fuming and resolved to call first thing in the morning.

Sunday 22nd Sept 9a.m: Spoke to eBay, again. The advisor said that the email had been automatically generated and once a barcode had been scanned as delivered the system acted as such – apparently humans cannot override the algorithm they created but, not to worry – she could see there was an appeal going on and that Niamh would be calling me on Monday with more information.

Monday 23rd Sept 5.30p.m: After waiting all day and not receiving a call from eBay I decide to call them. I’m told that Niamh will be emailed with a request to call me and it will be sometime in the next 24 hours.

Tuesday 24th Sept 9.30a.m: Received the following email from Niamh – perhaps she couldn’t say it to me over the phone….

“Apologies for the delay in getting back to you yesterday and appreciate you working with me to provide any relevant information needed about the returns on your and your husbands account.

I sent the details off to our Risk Management Team and they are doing an internal investigation on the buyer/buyers.

Unfortunately, After reviewing our original decision on this case, we’ve decided to deny your appeal. This case exceeds the 200GBP coverage threshold for a fraudulent return. We also do not have the item in our possession at any stage and cannot verify the condition of the item to deny someone’s statutory right.

As a company eBay cannot cover these costs for a business seller, I’m sure you appreciate it from a business perspective it wouldn’t be financially possible for us to cover every single situation like this. We will internally investigate them for this behaviour and the relevant action will be taken. Last year alone we removed 3 million buyers from site for breaching our returns policy. eBay work very hard at making the site a safe community.

I recommend that you report this to Action Fraud and proceed with the case through Small Claims Court.

I appreciate this isn’t the resolution you were hoping for but hope that you understand the process that has occurred..”

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That’s it, no refund, no comeback and no way of warning others, thanks to eBay making it nigh on impossible to leave negative feedback on a closed case.

I’m unsure of what the best course of action is but know that this has to stopped – eBay must be held to account for scamming that they acknowledge themselves is so rife that “from a business perspective it wouldn’t be financially possible for us to cover every single situation like this” – writing the whole sorry state of affairs seems to be a good place to start.

Have you faced a similar situation whilst selling on eBay? Interested in hearing from you as I’m planning to keep making noise until someone listens….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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ASYLUM SEEKERS IN SALE…..THE FACTS.

 Last week it was reported in both the local and national press that there were more than 100 asylum seekers, including families, staying at the Amblehurst Hotel.

It was presented in a very negative light, despite the Messenger having several ‘more favourable’ quotes to choose from, sent by three local community leaders.

Around the same time this post appeared on Facebook, sparking over 100 comments…..

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 I’ve spoken to the manager at Tesco in Sale and she is horrified by these slanderous allegations. Totally refuting these claims she said:

“ We have had a slight increase in pickpocketing but this is purely seasonal and is nothing at all to do with the asylum seekers. We have had no incidents reported in store and I will be speaking to all security staff in relation to this allegation. If it has been said then it’s wrong and will be addressed accordingly, if it has not then this post is both inaccurate and defamatory.”

 It was believed that the asylum seekers were originally from Romania and, with this in mind, I contacted a friend who is fluent in Romanian and we went to the Amblehurst to try and speak to some of the people staying there, in order to get their side of the story.

We arrived unannounced and managed to get in as far as reception. There is a security guard on the door who seemed very interested in why we were there, as was the receptionist who rushed towards us asking what we wanted.

I explained that we wanted to speak to some of the people staying there but it became very apparent that this wasn’t going to happen….

Passing me a business card she said: “Email the manager and if he decides he wants to speak with you he will reply…..”

At this point the security guard showed us to the door, and assisted us through it before we had chance to look around. I did however see that the bar area, on the right hand side near the front door, had been transformed into a playroom of sorts and there were quite a few children in there.

Since this failed attempt other information has come to light – as many of you will already be aware.

SERCO is the Government agency that deals with people arriving in the UK asking for asylum.

They have a marshaling facility in Liverpool and it is from here they make arrangements to disperse the ‘clients’ around the country whilst their claim for asylum is investigated.

They are currently running behind in these investigations and the group in Sale will probably be here longer than the 9 weeks reported.

This has been confirmed by another, reliable source who said it is more likely to be 20 weeks.

The Salvation Army have visited the families and donated some surplus toys that were “gratefully appreciated.” Many of the other local churches have also made contact with them and have offered support if needed.

There are 31 families, 104 people in total and they come from 15 different countries and speak a variety of different languages. It is understood that they have translation and legal support during their stay.

Asylum seekers are given a small allowance for personal expenses, sometimes this is in the form of vouchers.

They are not entitled to, nor do they claim unemployment/disability benefits or housing benefit. They cannot go on housing waiting lists and must live in asylum housing, as defined by the Government.

It would appear that the title Amblehurst ‘hotel’ is rather misleading, a more honest name would be Amblehurst Hostel as it has housed people on benefits for quite some time now. This has only become common knowledge with the recent publicity, and not thanks to the Daily Mail who depicted the hotel as premiership quality.

Please see some images from the Amblehurst that didn’t make the papers, seems they aren’t staying in the lap of luxury after all…..

 image copy image copy 3 Local people who have worked at the Amblehurst confirm that the standards had slipped a long time ago, the extension was uninhabitable when it was new and the general upkeep of the property was shoddy.

Rather different than the Mail would have you believe…

There has been much controversy surrounding SERCO and the treatment of asylum seekers, who incidentally were stripped of all tenants rights back in 1999, meaning they must stay in ‘asylum housing’ whilst their claim is looked at.

RAPAR (Refugee and Asylum Seeker Participatory Action Research) is deeply concerned about the current role and activities of SERCO.

 Allegations of inhumane treatment towards asylum seekers by SERCO are numerous, here are some other facts that may shock you..

 SERCO runs detainee escort services and electronically tag people seeking asylum.

 SERCO has been the subject of many claims of abuse and assault by the very people they are supposed to care for:

Testimonies by detainees, many of whom had fled torture, rape and destitution, have revealed that racial, psychological and physical abuse had often been inflicted by SERCO staffSERCO is also taking over the management of an increasing number of public services in the UK, such as health cetres and welfare programmes where it is accused of prioritising profit over quality of service.

There has since been a protest arranged that took place around midday on Sunday 15 Dec, where a small number of the community met outside the Amblehurst with placards saying “Shamblehurst”

 image copy 5Maybe they hoped that the asylum seekers would pack up and leave, head back to whatever horror they fled from. God forbid they settle here and maybe one day claim benefits or get a house.

What I find most strange is that the ones spouting figures relating to tax payers money are often the same people claiming benefits themselves, having paid either very little or no taxes at all.

 Seeking asylum is not a crime – being xenophobic should be

Let’s hope that none of us are ever in a situation where we seek the kindness of fellow humans and instead are faced with hatred and misunderstanding……

Here is the link to the Mail story…

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2519280/Dozens-asylum-seekers-luxury-hotel-NINE-WEEKS–costing-taxpayer-300-000.html

Caring youngsters walk 35km for charity

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WHILST most of us were relaxing this Sunday, a team of four Sale children completed an incredible challenge to raise money for The National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society.

They joined together at the beginning of the summer holidays to begin fundraising and have already surpassed their own target of £200 with plans to raise even more in a variety of innovative fundraising events.

The four youngsters, three of which live on Exmouth Road, completed 250 laps of the cul-de-sac – an amazing 21.1 miles or 35km.

The walk took 8 hours, 47 minutes and 42 seconds.

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Determined to complete the whole distance they completed the challenge despite some minor injuries along the way.

Best friends, Molly Nugent and Emily Marshall, both 10-years-old, decided to raise money for the charity as Emily’s mum, Nicki was diagnosed with the painful disease twenty years ago and the girls wanted to help others in the same situation.

During a sleep-over Molly and Emily discussed ways in which they could raise money and awareness for RA and decided to support the great work offered by NRAS.

Emily said: ” We don’t like to see anyone in pain, especially my Mum. No-one should suffer with the pain caused by this disease and we want to raise money to help people with RA, and to find a cure.”

They were joined by Emily’s cousin, Dani Heywood, 12 and neighbour, Luke Weader, 10-years-old, to become a determined team of four.

Dad even helped out and manned the refreshment table, as well as marking off laps on a very large tally chart.

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As a team they organised and hosted a table top sale, selling home-made lemonade, cake and biscuits at a bargain price of 20p each.

Ingenious Emily even began to charge people to enter the house and between them they raised just over £14.

Next up was the sponsored walk, Molly had suggested they do 500 laps of Exmouth Road originally but fortunately their parents thought this sounded rather a lot and it was agreed they would do 250 laps.

This turned out to be a good decision as when Graham, Emily’s Dad, measured the distance of a lap it transpired that 250 would actually total over 20 miles and would obviously take quite some time…

Around the 18 mile point the girls began to struggle, Molly had pulled a muscle and Emily’s feet were swollen. Asked if they wanted to stop the walk Emily replied: “People with RA suffer pain everyday, they can’t just walk away from it. I am going to finish this walk for Mum and others like her.”

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Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is a chronic, progressive and disabling auto-immune disease, affecting 690,000 adults in the UK. It is a systemic disease, which means it can affect the whole body and internal organs. RA is more common than both multiple sclerosis and leukaemia although it often is misunderstood as they do not get much publicity.There is currently no known cure.

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Nicki, 39, said: “Support from the community was overwhelming. Most of the cul-de-sac were out cheering the children on and I am so proud of all four of them.”

Diagnosed at 19, Nicki has struggled with the pain of RA for many years. Through lack of publicity there are many misconceptions about this disease.

Nicki has agreed to the following pictures to be shared for the first time, in a bid to raise awareness of the reality of living with RA and to dispel the ignorance that sadly surrounds this misunderstood disease that could affect any of us at any time…..

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The team are now busy planning a fundraising tea party, to be held during the last week of the summer holidays.

The tea party will be held on Exmouth Road and there will be refreshments and delicious home-made cakes for sale.

Tickets for the event are priced at £3.00 for adults and £1.50 for children, numbers are limited and early booking is recommended to avoid disappointment.

For tickets or to offer a donation to the tea party, please contact: michellekiami@aol.com

Donations can be given direct to the teams chosen charity, NRAS, via justgiving.com/EmilyMollyDani

For more information on Rheumatoid Arthritis see The NRAS website.

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Polycystic Kidney Disease…Fundraising and Awareness

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PROUD parents James and Jo Gray are holding a fundraising raffle to raise money for research into Polycystic kidney disease after their son, Isaac was diagnosed with the illness at three-months-old.

Following concerns during pregnancy Isaac spent the first week of his life in intensive care before his condition was identified and the couple were told that it was a hereditary illness, meaning there was a fifty percent chance any future children would be affected too.

baby Isaac             Isaac Gray

Polycystic kidney disease, or PKD, is characterised by numerous fluid-filled cysts in the kidneys and often the liver and pancreas. Over time, the cysts grow and multiply, replacing normal healthy tissue and causing the kidneys to lose their function. Kidneys can enlarge to 3 to 4 times their normal size.

PKD is at present incurable. There is no treatment that will stop the cysts developing and growing. The primary focus is on managing the symptoms. However, a number of drugs are currently being trialled around the world aimed at slowing the decline of kidney function, giving future hope of an improved quality of life for those affected and their children.

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Mum Jo, 27 has set up a just giving page for donations, as well as a Facebook page with details of the charity raffle taking place at Ashton on Mersey Golf Club, which is close to the family home.

Talking of her fundraising plans, Jo said, ” Raising money and awareness turns a situation that could be negative into something more hopeful. The more money raised, the more research that can be done and the bigger the chance that a cure or treatment will be found.”

Tickets for the event are selling out fast and donations for the raffle are welcome.

Local businesses to offer prizes so far include Natural Beauty, Treehouse Crafts, Daly’s Restaurant, Silverblades, Hair by Danielle, Bean and Brush, Agape Bride, Manchester Made, Nail and Beauty Clinic, RAN personal training, Ithaca Hair and Ashton On Mersey Golf club.

James and Jo would also like to thank Wedding Day Photography for the use of a photo-booth as well as The Window Company for their generous donation towards the buffet.

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Mission not-so Impossible for Sale Trio

 

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THRILL seeking sisters Bella Forster and Sarah Bogart are back from their European Crumball Rally adventure, winning third place over-all and raising almost seven hundred pound for charity.

The girls were joined their mum, Chris Bogart, who stepped in when friend Kelly Johnson fell ill at the last minute.

The trio – from the Sale West estate took part in Crumball Rally, a three-day annual event driving from France to Prague in a customized Peugeot 206.

Raising money for three charities, the girls took part in the race called Mission Impossible, covering 1,500 miles and passing through four countries whilst completing a series of challenges.

Bella, 34, who lives on Chepstow Avenue, Sale said: “ One of the funniest challenges was when we drove through Switzerland dressed as Smurfs.”

Whilst in fancy dress the team had to navigate across The Stelvio Pass, which boasts the highest stretch of road in the Eastern Alps, it was here that they came across a fellow driver that had broke down.

Stopping to offer sandwiches and water, as well as replacing a faulty fuse, the girl’s kindness was rewarded when they finished the race and were declared overall third, for both best car design and team spirit.

Chris Bogart, 52 and grandmother of 19 said:  “It was the scariest thing I have ever done in my life, and I loved every minute of it.”

The girls are planning on returning to Crumball next year, in a bid to raise more money for their chosen charities.

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Europe-bound for charity car rally

SISTERS Bella Forster and Sarah Bogart have teamed up with friend Kelly Johnson for the fund-raising adventure of a lifetime across Europe.

They are taking part in The Crumball Rally, a three day annual event where they will be driving from France to Prague in a customised Peugeot 206.

The race is called Mission Impossible, covers 1500 miles and passes through Switzerland, Italy, Austria and Germany.

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Raising money for three different charities, the artwork on the car reflects this with the creative colours and design.

Bella, 34, who lives on Chepstow Avenue, Sale said: “I support MIND and chose the jigsaw piece to symbolise how puzzling mental health can be. Sarah’s supporting Cancer Research with the pink bodywork whilst the blue represents Kelly’s choice of charity, The Alzheimer’s Society.

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They have already raised over £700 and have had lots of support from local business owners including J.Davidsons Scrap Metal Processors in Broadheath donating the car and a full tank of petrol whilst Quayside Bakery, Eccles are supplying them with bread and doughnuts for the journey as well as making a generous £300 cash donation.

The donated Peugeot 206 has a fabulous spray job, done by Sarah, 30 and the clutch has been fitted by mechanic student Kelly, 29.

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The trio, who have six children between them, are eager to raise as much cash and awareness for their chosen charities as possible and welcome all donations, as well as advertising space on their car for business owners wanting to support the cause.

For more information, or to make a donation please contact Bella on 07825 642870 or email bellaforster@hotmail.co.uk

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Charity offers lifeline for working girls in Manchester

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Manchester is a great place to live, shop and study with a cosmopolitan social scene and plenty of opportunities to be found. Born and raised in this bustling city I am proud of my Mancunian heritage however there is another, darker side of Manchester that often goes unseen and unreported.

Prostitution continues to be a problem in Manchester, but whilst there is a demand there will always be business, as I discovered when I spoke to both a sex worker and a staff member from MASH earlier this week.

Manchester Action on Street Health, known as MASH was established in 1991 to provide a confidential and specialised service to street and sauna based female sex workers and female drug users in the Greater Manchester area. The service has moved with the times and now also offers the same service to escorts too, as well as producing literature in other languages as there has recently been a notable rise in Eastern European sex workers in Manchester.

Mash building

‘MASH works with female sex workers to promote sexual health, well being and personal safety whilst offering choice, support and empowerment to promote individual positive life changes.’

Initially MASH was a van based project, offering street outreach in key areas of manchester twice a week. Services include distribution of free condoms, sexual health advice, referrals into drug/care planning, a needle exchange and a “dodgy punter reporting service” as well as distributing personal attack alarms and safety advice.

Whilst the van still operates, and is invaluable to the girls that use it, MASH now also has a designated building on Fairfield Street in Manchester, situated on the outskirts of the red light district.

Female sex workers, or working girls can access drop in sessions which are held between 12.30 and 3.30 Monday to Friday and 8.00 until 11.00 Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evening. Women can drop in, have a drink and something to eat, use the computers and have a chat. Free condoms and a needle exchange are available. Caseworkers and volunteers  provide advice and support and link women into other services. A range of services and activities are available during the drop in. Workers from other agencies link in to the drop in, including specialist midwifery, GP registration, and a Police Clinic.

There is also a Criminal Justice Worker on hand to support women who are involved with Criminal Justice, whether as perpetrator or victim.They assist with writing reports, liaising with police, probation and the courts, as well as providing much needed emotional support.

Helen, the Criminal Justice Worker also provides a weekly clinic for women in Styal Prison, where she helps women in putting together a resettlement plan and offers ongoing, consistent support through their sentence and when they leave prison.

Counselling, art therapy and drama are just a few of the activities on offer at the centre, all of which have had far reaching affects when coupled with the warm, friendly and accepting welcome found at MASH.

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I met with Cate Allison, chief executive of MASH  earlier this week and was struck by her calm, compassionate manner. She said it was often the girls’ own choice to work the streets, also that, “It is very difficult when they have alcohol, drug and domestic violence problems. Our aim here at MASH is to empower the women to make their own choices in their lives. By offering support for their other problems will hopefully enable them to make the right choice.”

MASH has undoubtedly helped many women that may otherwise have slipped through the net, here are some facts and figures from 2011 to 2012 that speak for themselves….

  • Last Year MASH worked with 502 women and 274 Individual women accessed activities at the MASH Centre.
  • 210 women were supported to healthier lifestyles through the MASH Centre.
  • The MASH Clinic: 120 street workers and 60 indoor workers accessed the clinic at the MASH Centre.
  • Our caseworkers provided intensive support to 90 women.
  • 25 women were supported when they were in Styal prison.
  • 23 women accessed complementary therapies
  • 28 women accessed counselling
  • 27 women attended self-esteem workshops
  • 7 undertook self-defence training
  • 7 did First Aid Training
  • 32 accessed Occupational Therapy, including gym and swimming sessions and cooking and budgeting support.
  • 85 women have had full sexual health screening
  • 111 women have been tested for Hepatitis B
  • 304 women have been tested for Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea
  • 63 individual women regularly use our needle exchange
  • 185 women have received support with drug issues
  • 12 of the women we supported chose to exit sex work

As I left the MASH centre after meeting with Cate, I saw a lone working girl on the corner, hoping for business from the passing lunchtime traffic..( it was around 11.30am ).

girl and car

On approaching the lady it became apparent that she was in her late 50s, maybe early 60s, she looked tired and had her shoulders hunched against the wind.

Bundled up in a winter coat with a short skirt and heels, she was shivering and was so quietly spoken it was difficult to hear her as she spoke to me about her experience of working the streets of Manchester.

*Stacey explained she had worked the streets for as long as she could remember, starting to fund her own and her boyfriends heroin addiction. The boyfriend was long gone, but she said the addiction had stayed and forced her out to earn money the only way she knew how.

I asked if she had accessed MASH and she had, saying it was a lifeline and that she often popped in for a hot drink and a listening ear.

Stacey recalled two separate incidents where she was attacked and robbed but still had to go back out and carry on, despite being really scared, and she said she regularly looks at the ugly mug list, as well as speaking to the other girls to share information on dodgy punters.

Seeing Stacey glancing towards passing cars, and sensing her patience drifting, I thanked her for her time and made my way back to my car to head home with a head full of thoughts.

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I decided to write this piece after reading the news on the recent attacks on sex workers in Manchester, and the work of those that were supporting these women through such a difficult time. A man has since been charged five counts of rape, attempted rape, assault occasioning actual bodily harm and other sexual assaults and is due to appear in court at the end of the month. This is obviously good news and hopefully, with time and support, the victims will make a full recovery.

I have discovered that MASH is an amazing service that is an absolute lifeline for some of the most vulnerable women in our society. Non judgemental and welcoming, a big part in the success MASH has achieved in this sensitive area is down to the dedication and skills of the many staff and volunteers that work together so well.

Gaining the trust of the working girls has taken time and commitment, this trust is a major factor in the success of the ugly mug scheme, where information on dodgy punters is shared between the women so that a database can be built and offenders more easily recognised and, in some cases apprehended.

The girls working on the streets of Manchester are often given bad press or deemed a problem for society. They are stigmatised and judged by many around them that feel they are in the position to do so. To those people I would like to say this…

Undoubtedly there are a few women that have made a conscious decision to become a prostitute but these are far out numbered by the rest…..Women that have ended up there through abuse, violence and addiction. Some because they have no other options left and others because it is all they know.

Whatever the story or situation these women are exactly that, Women.

They are mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts, possibly even grandmothers. They do not need people passing judgement or making assumptions, they need understanding and support.They have the same rights as every other woman in our society and it will be a glorious day when all working girls feel able to speak out about their experiences and needs whilst getting support needed, without feeling the sharp edge of societies stigma.

We are fortunate to have such a great service in Manchester, many areas have similar projects but MASH is certainly one to be noted, as many of the women would agree.

* False name to protect identity.

Here are some useful links for issues related to this article…

LIfeline for help and advice on drug use and misuse

Drugscope for all related issues

UK network of sex work projects

MASH name

Photos used with kind permission from MASH…:)

TRAFFORD PRIMARY SCHOOL FACES FORCED ACADEMY STATUS

PARENTS were once again left feeling shocked and disappointed as it was revealed that Wellfield Junior School, of Dumber Lane, Sale is facing the possibility of becoming a forced academy.

Despite making positive improvements across all year groups in a very short space of time, John Tomlinson, acting head, was visibly saddened to share this latest blow with parents at a  meeting to discuss the impact of the recent Ofsted inspection that labeled Wellfield as inadequate.

Changes made already have included an adjustment to the school timetable, meaning the children now benefit from a short break mid afternoon, which Mr. Tomlinson says has had far reaching results already.

The teaching system has been tweaked with focus on much sharper lessons,  links have been developed with a local outstanding school and there is evidence of this paying off in the outstanding work being produced by the pupils.

But are the changes too little too late for Wellfield?

The fact that academy assessors have already been into the school is proof that the Government is flouting its own guidelines, which state that academy status should only be considered for schools with long histories of poor performance.

One parent pointed out, “What is the point of Ofsted giving a notice to improve if the school is not given the chance to implement the changes, it’s like they have already decided the outcome..”

Speaking to Rhonda Evans, founder of Academies and Lies, it would appear that the parent concerns are with good cause, Rhonda is campaigning for greater awareness of the right to fight in this situation, a situation seemingly growing by the day as more and more schools get caught in the net known as forced acadamisation.

Watch the official trailer for Academies and Lies, a short film made by Rhonda which uncovers some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding Academy status and what this really means for our children and their education.

       

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