L’Oreal employee volunteers – making a difference locally in Hammersmith

We welcomed staff from a local business to support us in an ambitious 2 week project which saw more than 50 employee volunteers helping us across 3 locations. L’Oreal UK are our neighbours and run an annual citizen day where they encourage employees to volunteer with local charities and give something back to the local community. We’re thrilled to be chosen as one of the charities and wanted to share the results with you.

L'OrealDay one
First we welcomed a team to our Head Office to discuss some ideas around marketing Books for Free. One of the ideas that came from that session was to run an internal campaign at L’Oreal to encourage each of the 600 staff to donate a book, plus create a case study / toolkit so that other businesses could run a similar campaign.

L'OrealDay two
We met the team tasked with helping take our new Chiswick shop from an empty unloved shop into a vibrant “Books for free” centre. This group of volunteers was headed up by Ulisses Retail Design and Visual Merchandising Manager, we were extremely lucky to have someone with such a wealth of expertise in retail shop design and also loves books to create the vision for the new centre.  The morning was spent planning and gathering the things needed for the transformation.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAThe afternoon more volunteers arrived to help decorate and paint, we also had furniture delivered from our partners Furnish who sell second hand furniture. The team proceeded to paint things in the black and white palette and create large sheets of wallpaper made from the pages of old books which had fallen apart and also lining the bookcases with the pages from the books. We also received a delivery of 3 pallets of books (around 3,000) so lots of heavy lifting getting the boxes into the centre, it really hit home how many we are rescuing from landfill and pulping and how much space they take up.

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L'OrealDay three
The fourth team arrived at Chiswick to take the batten to finish the space, lots of painting, we began to start on some of the finishing touches such as the bunting for the windows and painting photo frames.

Day four
Saw the bookshelves put into their correct positions and books starting to go onto shelves, sorting thousands of books requires a really organised team to focus on getting all those fiction and non fiction in their rightful places. We created signs for each section by using old broken books painted with chalkboard paint and then using a chalkpen. We even made an open/closed sign by upcycling an old frame and using book & map pages to create the letters.

L'OrealThis day also saw an enthusiastic team visit our HQ to discuss advertising the new centre, press releases were written, our communications toolkit for the volunteers rewritten,  new streamlined processes agreed and some great ideas put forward. We are also going to be able to reuse this for any new shops we open up which really helps build capacity.

Day five
saw us move across to the established centre in Shepherds Bush which we share with the lovely Petit Miracles team who upcycle and sell furniture.

We were kindly allowed by the West 12 shopping centre to have a stall downstairs to help spread the word about the centre which is up on the first floor, lots of people did not know we are up there!

Recently Updated1We did this for the next 4 days with a few volunteers in the morning and afternoon coming to lend their support, they chatted to members of the public and helped out in the shop. It was really valuable and at 50% increase in visitors was reported in the shop upstairs due to the promo efforts.

We were also lucky enough to be chosen by Sophie Gasperment the Chairman of the Body Shop who are also part of L’Oreal we had a major reorganisation of the books to make it easier for visitors to find a great book to take home and also alphabetised the fiction section and Sophie was a brilliant book sorter up in the shop.

Finally we had another team visit the HQ to support the internal and external messaging for the Books for free centre, this team are from L’Oreal Paris and coordinate Marketing across a wide brand portfolio so they had some brilliant and creative ideas of ways we could layer our comms and encourage people to get involved with the centre.

This project has been really valuable to us as a charity it has offered us a chance to connect with retail and marketing professionals which would be worth thousands of pounds in consultancy.

As a thank you we are holding a little party to launch the shop on the 9th of July. RSVP http://booksforfreechiswick.eventbrite.co.uk

Find out more about:

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Knitting & nattering at Healthy Planet’s Books for Free centre in Upminster

We are pleased to launch a new series of blogs about each of our 38 Books for Free centres across England and Wales.  We want to highlight the amazing work done by the volunteers that run the centres and showcase their unique Our first interview is with Lead Volunteer, Daphne.

Daphne tells us all

Daphne tells us all

Tell us about this Books for Free centre…

Books for Free Upminster (in the London Borough of Havering) opened in premises previously occupied by a Woolwich building society branch, in September 2010. We have a large collection of books, vinyl, audio & video tapes, CDs, we can find something for everyone that visits young and old.

What do you enjoy most about volunteering for Healthy Planet and what do you get out of it?

I’ve been at the centre from the beginning – my husband and I had both retired a couple of years beforehand (Daphne worked in the health service) but I was never as keen as he was to retire – They [husbands] just want you to wait on them all the time hand and foot! My husband was passing by one day and noticed in the window the advert for a volunteer to start up the centre here. We initially opened the doors with just a single table near the door. We even asked a local Indian restaurant who were having a refurbishment if we could have their old tables. Otherwise they would just have been thrown away.

I live close the centre and I’ve lived in the town for 30 years – I knew very few people in the town other than my close neighbours before Books for Free. Now I know so many faces to say hello to, it’s great.

Browsers in the Upminster centre

Browsers in the Upminster centre

Male Visitor: “It’s friendly at Upminster Books for Free and adds to my bedside table book collection. They have a great selection and we often donate books and always return books we pick up from the centre. No one likes to see books go to waste so this is a great way to save and reuse them.”

Female Visitor: “When it first opened I was wary about coming in but when I did it was so friendly and I love that I never know what I am going to find, I always bring the books back when I am finished with them.”

Dave & Daphne Volunteers

Dave & Daphne Volunteers

Your centre is now fully sustainable – book donations from visitors keep stock levels up. Visitors often donate a carrier bag of books – and the bag then gets reused as well.

Where else do the book donations you receive come from?

We have a good relationship now with charity shops in the area. They donate books to us that they can’t sell. Local fetes do the same.  All the unsold or unwanted books that had no where to go except landfill can now come here to continue their life. There’s also someone who does house clearances and often brings us books from those. And there was a lady who came to us who had just had a bring & buy sale at her WI (Women’s Institute). She told us she knew instantly where to bring the books they couldn’t sell. We have a ‘Look for me, keep for me’ book, where we write down their requests so that when the type of book is donated to us we know immediately if someone is interested in it, and then we give them a call to let them know.

Knitting circle Upminster

Knitting circle Upminster

Does your BFF centre have any group’s meetings or special events? Could the general public get any more involved?

We have a weekly knitting circle (this afternoon, every Wednesday). Visitors sometimes come in to ask the regular ladies for a bit of help with their knitting. The rest of the time they spend knitting – with wool donated to the centre – making blankets for the premature baby units of the local hospitals, and hats and scarves for the local clothing guild, which distribute garments to people in need and The Mission to Seafarers charity. Only two of the four ladies here today knew each other before they started coming here. They enjoy the natter just as much as the knitting. They also hold the occasional coffee morning. Daphne would like to be able to start up a storytelling event for the children.

Books and browsers at Books for Free Upminster

Books and browsers at Books for Free Upminster

Volunteers at Upminster Books for Free

Volunteers at Upminster Books for Free

Tell us about your team of volunteers…

Some are what I call our converted customers, basically people who I recognise as book nuts, like myself, because I will have noticed them browsing for periods of an hour or more at a time. They might as well help us by doing a three hour shift – they’re here that long anyway! And we have one volunteer who simply comes to the centre to take away our rubbish for us.

How do they work well together? Do you have any stories?

Two of our team are recently widowed ladies who now volunteer together on Sundays – They live on the same street but before they volunteered at Books for Free they didn’t know each other!

Books donated to the centre

Books donated to the centre

It’s very laidback here, and I don’t like ever having to throw visitors out because it’s time to close [The door does indeed finally close on the day we visit around twenty minutes or so after three o’clock, only once the final visitor of the day has chosen what they want to take] Last week we [Daphne, and recently retired engineer Dave} helped pass the time by reading up about world history and geography – discovering the names of new countries in the world and how they came into existence.

We have a retired solicitor among our team. He looks after any law books we get in and offers free legal advice to any visitors who ask.

Dave tells us he likes Books for Free because he felt bored at home since retiring in February, and volunteering is social – he enjoys meeting different people, listening to their stories, and making new friends.

Stories shared with all generations

Stories shared with all generations

Does your centre work alongside any particular organisation, and what does the relationship do for your centre?

Local authorities have asked us to place a couple of people with learning difficulties – they’re a part of our team of volunteers.  We have a community noticeboard by the door, and as an example of some of the help that visitors provide to the centre, there’s one who regularly brings us dog food which we then pass on to a local charity which cares for retired greyhounds. If there are any magazines for older people that the visitors don’t take, we send them to homes for the elderly rather than recycle them because they have difficulty holding weighty books but still enjoy having something to read. Any books we think won’t be of any interest to our visitors we tear out the pages and donate to schools for the children to make papier mache.

Do you have a favourite type of book yourself?

I like science fiction (Julian May, Iain Banks), thrillers and murder mysteries. We get to know what types of books our regular visitors enjoy.

Interested in Books for Free? Want to get involved?

You can volunteer, visit or donate books at any of our 38 centres across the U.K

If you would like to find a centre near you please visit our website: www.healthyplanet.org/booksforfree

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Be the start – campaign for May 2013

May 2013 be the start of more vibrant communities

May 2013 be the start of more vibrant communities

We’re proud to be part of a nationwide campaign by Start UK called #bethestart which is featuring us on the 13th of May around our #Booksforfree project encouraging sustainability in the community.

If you would like to find out more please visit http://www.bethestart.org/

Be the Start of rescuing books from going to waste.  As part of their goal to rescue books from going to waste, Healthy Planet is asking for pledges from the public to rescue books. This may be by donating books, organising a book swap at your school or office, or share books amongst friends. Conversation is taking place on twitter, #bethestart and @healthy_planet

We're part of start

We’re part of start

Why we need to change the way we see our stuff!

All is a clutter!I have to confess to being a bit of a hoarder (see my previous post) much to my partner’s dismay!

I hold onto stuff in my compact home which does nothing to enhance my life, and if anything it restricts me by encroaching onto my precious space! I was watching TV (The One Show) and saw a feature with Jasmine Harman about her mother who is a serious hoarder and their journey together as Jasmine tried to help her mother overcome her attachment to all her stuff. This made me wonder about the psychology of hoarding and how really it seems related to attachment and addiction. Wishing to hold onto everything due to the memories it holds or how you ‘might need it in the future’ is how hoarders justify it to themselves while their often dismayed loved ones look on in confusion of their lifestyle choices.

Jasmine & her mum

Jasmine & her mum with all her stuff

On the BBC Show My Hoarder Mum and Me Jasmine says:It’s very intense but they also feel a huge responsibility towards their possessions. They feel they’re saving these potentially useful items that have been discarded. In a way we could learn a lesson from that in our throwaway society; its good to reuse items but with hoarders it gets way out of hand!”

Tweet: ” @Jasmineharman  If you missed me & Mum on #TheOneShow yesterday, catch up on iplayer here! http://bbc.in/11iAmda  @39.40 mins ”

Jasmine continues to say how ashamed of her home she was whilst growing up and howshe is so delighted that since they have been working together to reduce the stuff her mother has been holding onto, their family could spend Christmas together for the first time in years as now they had the space for their large family and dogs!

eleIt clearly has taken lots of love, patience and support to reach that point with her mother and it is an on-going battle. Thinking about how much better space is when filled with family and love rather than with lots of  stuff collecting dust is enough to guilt any owner to tackle the “I must get around to sorting through that !” burden.

If you are  interested in finding out more about Jasmine & hoarding I recommend reading the BBC blog or visit the organisation Jasmine has set up Help for Hoarders.

Changing our perspective
I think that we need to stand up to our stuff, stage an intervention, decide that this stuff which sits in piles unloved could be given a new home a chance at a second life and this can be done a number of ways. We need to move from a linear system to a cyclical one – see the video made by the Ellen Macarthur foundation on Circular Economy & the Story of Stuff to explore why this is important to us all.

8199678080_a3a0efd71e_cSince I took some items to our Stuff for Free events (my old necklaces were greeted with whoops of excitement by some young girls at the event) I am beginning to see my things in a new way, I see how some things that I take for granted that are neglected for months could bring another person joy and try to think of the potential of having more space and less things. Most of all we need support from our loved ones to learn to let go and remember that:

Joy is not in things; it is in us. –Richard Wagner.

To get your started on your decluttering mission here are some ideas!

1) Store it!

  • Stuff you want to keep but may not need on a daily basis could go in the loft, under the stairs cupboard (or create one – like I did) or in the garden shed – but don’t forget to label it!
  • Try a #collabcons solution such as Storemates where you store stuff in your neighbours empty spaces.

2) Share or sell it:

  • Take it to Stuff for Free events (the next one is in Islington from 23rd Feb-3rd March) or a Books for Free centre
  • Share it via Streetbank is a site that helps you share and borrow things from your neighbours. Streetbank is meant for everyone. It is not for private benefit – for individuals to make a profit or professionals to sell their services.
  • Sell some of your stuff via sites like eBay or at a car boot sale.
  • Donate items to local charity shops / school jumble sales / local church or Salvation Army
  • Upload them onto Freecycle / Freegle

3) story-of-stuff-book-adds-to-the-vision-of-decreased-consumptionFurther help & support:

4) Decluttering tips

Dawn at Stuff for Free Leytonstone

Author:  This blog was written by Dawn Newton Marketing Executive for Healthy Planet & keen upcycler. Connect on twitter @goreckidawn

If you would like to write a guest blog for us please get in touch.

Waste not, want not

Stuff for Free event January 2012

Stuff for Free event January 2012

Each year the UK alone generates 290 million tonnes of waste, three-quarters of which could be recycled! Fortunately recycling has become a key element in today’s society and due to the thousands of households who live by the ‘Reduce Reuse and Recycle’  motto, 18 million tonnes of CO2 has been saved (that’s the equivalent of taking 5 million cars off the road!) But it’s not only reduce, reuse recycle that can reduce your carbon footprint! Upcycling is a new way of revitalizing unwanted clothes and other items that might otherwise end up in the bin.

Upcycling?

Upcycled Pringles can

Upcycled Pringles can

Upcycling is a way of creating a new or different product from an old one. For example, take an old piece of clothing and rejuvenate it with bits and pieces from your arts and crafts box, and give it a new identity! This is better for the environment; fewer perfectly usable items end up in landfill and as an added incentive… you are saving money!

For some upcycling ideas and inspiration head to our Pinterest Upcycling board http://pinterest.com/healthyplanetuk/reuse-repurpose-upcycle/

Introducing Stuff For Free

Stuff for Free 2012 Infographic

Stuff for Free 2012 Infographic

If you don’t fancy getting your glue gun and sewing kit out, you can also help reduce waste by donating your unwanted clothing and household items to a variety of environmental organisations. We at Healthy Planet have developed an innovative scheme known as Stuff for Free which collects unwanted household items and redistributes the goods into the community for free! This is a great way to declutter your home of items you don’t want anymore and give them a new life. Not everything you own needs to go in to the bin and head straight to landfill –remember one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure!

The Stuff for Free event in Leytonstone, North London was a great success, redistributing nearly 2 tonnes of perfectly good stuff to a new home. Over 350 members of the community came to give and get stuff for free including clothes, books, electronics and bric-a-brac. Attendees said “we enjoyed the friendly atmosphere” and “knowing the stuff I gave or received is finding a new use and a happy home is great!” One happy person took home a full leather motorcycle suit; another left with a never before used exercise machine and many more treasures were there for the taking. We ran 4 Stuff for Free events in it’s first year 2012, check out our infographic to see what happened.

The perfect reason to declutter

Check out this handy Top Tips from a Professional Declutterer produced for Healthy Planet by a professional declutterer – you might find you have a whole load of perfectly good items around your house just collecting dust that would be valued by a friend or neighbour. But you don’t have to bring anything to take stuff – anyone can come along – you never know what you might find.

Next events:

SFF who knows what you might find

Who knows what you might find?

Stuff for Free with West London Waste Authority – Acton event

Give Date: Friday 11th January 8am – 2pm

Take Date: Sunday 13th January 10am – 2pm

Venue: The Vision Warehouse, 15 Kendal Avenue, Acton, W3 0AF

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Give Dates: Saturday 23rd February & Sunday 24th February

Take Dates: Saturday 2nd March & Sunday 3rd March

Venue: Unit 1 City Forum, 250 City Road, London, EC1V 2PU http://goo.gl/maps/20QPa

Nearest tube: Old Street, Islington

You can find out more on the Stuff for Free webpage or signup to come or volunteer via eventbrite.

If you could help us to promote these events by tweeting / using facebook we would be most grateful.

Who Else Wants Your Unwanted items?

There are thousands of other environmental organisations who will also take your unwanted goods and donate them to a worthy cause. A few examples are listed below:

Traid is an organisation which reuses unwanted textiles and clothing and turns them into something new. Each piece of their upcycled clothing is a unique, one of a kind piece and cannot be replicated. www.traid.org.uk

Community RePaint collects leftover paint from homes and businesses. The paint is then redistributed to individuals, families and communities to improve the wellbeing of the people and the appearance of communities across the UK. www.communityrepaint.org.uk

Petit Miracle Interiors uses upcycling as a creative way to engage and assist people who have experienced homelessness or long term unemployment and vulnerable women. They run a series of workshops employing upcycling as a vehicle to improve the living environment, to build confidence, to reduce social exclusion and provide opportunities for further training and employment. www.petitmiracles.org.uk

Furniture Re-use Network are the national co-ordinating body for 400 furniture and appliance re-use and recycling organisations in the UK: theycollect a wide range of household items to pass onto people in need. http://www.frn.org.uk

More information about waste in the UK and recycling is available on the DEFRA website http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/waste/

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I believe that the environmental movement is one of the most important priorities for the future;  Channelling the ‘throw away’ culture mindset into more creative and fun ways to save money and help the planet at the same time is the way forward.

Visit Healthy Planet to find out ways you can get involved and make some small changes that will create a positive difference to yourself, your community and the planet.

Written by Rupal Vaja, a Healthy Planet intern (and an aspiring environmental bud just waiting to flower!) – She is on Twitter

2012 has been an amazing year – will 2013 be green?

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year from the Healthy Planet Team

We have had a whirlwind year and we wanted to say thank you to all our volunteers, partners and supporters as we cannot do any of it without you!

Instead of sending a card we wanted to celebrate and share all the best bits from 2012 with you! We’ve created this clickable, interactive, zoomable presentation for you created using Prezi. Check it out online.

prezi1

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

Our prezi includes:

  • Infographics about Stuff for Free & Books for Free in 2012
  • Celebrating our amazing volunteers who help all over the U.K – with a video message from our Founder Shaylesh
  • Links and videos for Conservation Community
  • Updates on the year Healthy Planet went International!
  • New partnerships with MyHotels & BodyMe
  • Plus the obligatory team photo with staff and interns all dressed in cheesy Xmas jumpers! (Richard won the competition)
Healthy Planet staff & interns Xmas style

Healthy Planet staff & interns Xmas style

New stuff!

There are lots of surprises planned for 2013 including new health & art projects – if you would like to get involved please do get in touch.

Conservation Community – coming soon

If you get any spare time of the festive period please do take some time to visit our Conservation Community preview site with animated video & signup for latest news conservationcommunity.org .

Conservation Community launch video

Conservation Community launch video

The video from our Conservation Community launch event at Google campus is now on YouTube – it’s an uplifting summary of our event which brought together all of our supporters, conservation organisations, local & national charities, businesses and our whole team to a melting pot of ideas and discussion of how we can all help the planet and it’s habitats and wildlife.

Share your green plans for 2013!

Looking forward to 2013 we are really interested in what you plan to do to help the planet so we have created a poll – please share your thoughts with us!

Stallholders at Healthy Planet’s Stuff for Free event

We’re are proud to be working in partnership with several organisations to create a small fair at our Leytonstone event on Saturday the 24th and Sunday the 25th of November 2012. www.healthyplanet.org/stuffforfree

Stuff for free stallholders


(Sat & Sun)

Community RePaint

Stored in homes and garages across the UK, there is approximately 50 million litres of unused, reusable paint – enough to fill 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools! The Community Repaint scheme collects this leftover paint from homes and businesses. The paint is then redistributed to individuals, families and communities to improve the wellbeing of people and the appearance of communities across the UK. http://www.frponline.org.uk/

(Sat only)

Petit Miracles

Petit miracles are a registered charity who works with people who have experienced homelessness and long term unemployment, and with vulnerable women. The charity is a provider of accredited interior design training, DIY workshops and upcycling courses, to help participants improve their living environment, build confidence and provide opportunities for further training and employment. www.petitmiracles.org.uk

(Sat only) Green Peas

Green Peas provides classes for children aged 15 months – 4 years, where children can get involved in messy and creative play with natural objects. The classes are a unique opportunity for children to actively engage with nature in an urban environment, allowing them to create art out of ordinary objects like leaves and acorns which can boost children’s creativity and problem solving skills. www.greenpeasevents.co.uk

(Sat only)

Juliet Landau-Pope

Juliet Landau-Pope is a certified coach and professional de-clutterer who aims to ‘liberate your space, your schedule and your story’, through decluttering your home. The service empowers you to decide what to reduce, reuse, recycle, donate or discard, and find positive ways to part from items you no longer need. www.jlpcoach.com | Twitter: @jlpcoach

 

(Sat & Sun)

Love Food Hate Waste

Love Food Hate Waste is an NFP organisation which works with community organisations, UK businesses, trade bodies and local authorities to raise awareness of the need to reduce food waste and help us take action. Love Food Hate Waste also provides practical information to homeowners on how to reduce the amount of household waste through food shopping and recipe ideas, portion size planning and how to maximise the shelf life of your shopping. http://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/

 (Sun only)

DHL Envirosolutions

DHL Envirosolutions is one of the largest collectors of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), and helps to promote recycling within the local community. http://www.dhl.co.uk/en/logistics/supply_chain_solutions/

(Sun only)

 

EcoACTIVE

EcoACTIVE is an environmental education charity who, through eye-opening experiences, helps explore the complex issues of sustainability and develop the knowledge of both children and adults in schools and the wide community. Projects include: waste and recycling, composting, energy and climate change, and water conservation.  http://ecoactive.org.uk/

Healthy Planet’s First Round of ‘Books for Free’ Overseas

Shaylesh @ Kurdistan Library Opening
Shaylesh @ Kurdistan Library Opening

Shaylesh @ Kurdistan Library Opening

Blog by Healthy Planet Founder – Shaylesh Patel

COMMUNITY SPIRIT – IF YOU DON’T ASK, YOU DON’T GET

Laween is in his early 20s and a British born, first generation Kurd living in the UK.  At this young age he has done more for charity and the community than many do in their entire life.  His contribution and willingness to learn and grow through this type of work has (I am sure) also helped him professionally – he is the Chief Research Officer at one of the NHS Hospitals.  I really do recommend anyone to take up the chance to do more than just your normal job if you can – you will be amazed at the outcome – both personally and professionally.

I met Laween Atroshi and another representative of the Kurdish Community in the UK at Heathrow’s check-in for the first time.  We had spoken several times after he approached our projects and logistics team following a Google search for “free books”.

Cheekily he asked us for 20,000 to help set up the first English Library in a town in Kurdistan, the northern region of Iraq.  He asked, he got.

GIVING TO IRAQ

Laween also had the insight to appreciate that we, like others in the past, were probably worried about wastage of our donation along the way.  He arranged for the Ministry of culture and Media to arrange and pay for the transport as well as vetting our donated books on arrival for suitability, as well as finding a good site to run this free service.  Plus he offered us the chance to visit the books and view first hand that there was a real hunger for our books.

Surprisingly the Healthy Planet team members who had been dealing with Laween did not jump at the chance to go to Iraq, but nominated me instead!

LET’S GET THE EMBARRASSING STUFF OUT THE WAY FIRST

As my wife was not with me, she did correctly predict I would suffer (not sure what she meant at the time) and embarrass myself too.

Firstly I got several looks of “I don’t understand” and “why” when Laween tried to explain my veggie status at restaurants.  The hotel we stayed at did not even serve the emergency veggie protocol dish of “chips” – so you can imagine what happened to my eating and related body parts!

Speaking of which Iraq, like India, still has many of the squat style toilets – I almost wrote ‘old fashioned’ but really I should probably write ‘healthy’.  After all, it stretches and massages muscles that most of us in the western world forgot existed; you carry less baggage (so to speak) at the end of your visit and you probably gain a few minutes a day because you don’t sit around chilling in these ones.  Also less of this region’s precious commodity, water, is used in this system.  Hygiene issues tend to arise because of the heat and the wider infrastructure – Toilet Humour aside, lessons can be learned by both the East and West on this subject.  Let’s make Number 2, the new number 1.

The no hanky panky rule before marriage and focus on family is a big difference to life in the UK.  My cultural boo-boo came because I was caught with my trousers up so to speak.  Here it is considered rude to have one knee crossed over the other when seated in the presence of your elders.  Laween asked me to keep both my feet firmly on the ground at all times.  To avoid the bonus embarrassment of being explained this in public, he sent me a text even though he was sitting right next to me – what a gent!

EACH BOOK LOVER HAS THEIR OWN STORY

Whilst in Kurdistan, I was asked by a museum curator and the head of an arts centre if our library included any music scores or archaeology.  I don’t think the Guinness Book of Records from the late 80s or the singing Bob the Builder were what they wanted, but there was probably one or two treasures to dig out from the 20,000.  However, what set my mind at ease the most, about whether 20,000 books would be appreciated as much as by our UK Books for Free Centre visitors, was when I was approached by one of the junior staff at my comfortable, but not fancy hotel.

his story goes like this….
Laween and I had checked in at the hotel from our flight at 4am and re-emerged from our rooms at 0930.  This very young helper in the breakfast area had heard me and Laween talking in English about our plans for the trip – there was no mention of books or the library at this stage.  He later approached me and a very eerie thing happened.

He asked me for a book in English! Given why I was there, you might be surprised, but I did not have one.
He explained that he previously was an English literature student from Syria but now a refugee in Kurdistan and he really wanted to learn English and progress.  He had the drive but not the resource.

In my many travels I have been asked for clothes, food, money and toys but never books.  Perhaps it was a sign from the book god!

Anyway over the next few days (after the library opening and being spotted by a taxi driver who saw us on the news) I was able to show him pics of the books and share the address of the library with him.  Of course, as well as ‘books’ one of the other favourite words in the healthy planet dictionary that came up during this conversation was ….’free’.  He was clearly one of the citizens of the area that would not have been able to pay to learn if this was a charging library.

Books.  Free.  Interested audience.  Job done.

MY TRAVEL BLOG

I used to work at a travel agent and have seen the positive and negative social, environmental and economic (triple bottom line) impact of tourism and travel in general.   I don’t have any qualifications on the subject but have an inquisitive mind and normally have a family in tow so notice lots of otherwise unnoticed things.  This is my first journey as a lone business-style traveller for a while and I have had a little more time than normal to make some observations.

Alot of the similarities and differences between countries and climates come down to the weather, cultural and economic climate of the nation and their priorities.

In Kurdistan that point really hit home when I got to the front door of the Save The Children office here.  Laween and I were asked to leave our guns at the front before entering the building.  This is clearly quite a normal question here and not something I am used too (well, not since being searched at a London tube station just after 7/7 when I had a full rucksack and a 6’ roller banner in a bazooka looking tube hanging off my back – a fair spot check, I think).

With their relatively recent history of persecution you can understand why health, security and infrastructure rank ahead of promoting green things like recycling.

So although there are plastic water bottles and coke cans on the hillsides and picnic spots it did not actually seem to be much more than what I have seen around the UK.  These guys are broadly speaking very proud of their homeland.  Also, although globally, we have started to question the plastic water bottle for its non-green and unhealthy status, we should not forget that it is us that are not recycling 7 out of 8 of them (they do not walk to the recycling centres themselves).  Also, here in Iraq I am not the only one grateful for their existence at the moment – they are helping reduce the spread of the cholera outbreak .  I am sure some clever spark will find a triple bottom line winning answer to the modern day equivalent of the Chicken and Egg question.

Many of the hotels are not progressed enough to have the ‘signs’ indicating whether you want your room made up or not; reusing towels; recycling bins etc, but the staff do make an effort to accommodate your needs and do some small things that make sense in their climate.

For example power cuts out  are not uncommon, so they have back-up generators, and electrical products are relatively costly and harder to repair, so whenever they clean the rooms (and between visitors) the TV and satellite box are switched off from the mains.  Travelling can be relaxing and stressful at the same time, making it hard for the hotels etc to get anything right in the eyes of a moody, stressed traveller.

No one explained why my TV did not switch on whilst I lazily pressed the buttons on the remote,  but I figured it out and also why – probably because I have seen and done many of these things having spent lots of family time in un-tourist parts of India and because I am the tight git in the office turning off all the screens, the wireless and microwave in the office at the end of the day (or earlier to the annoyance of our night owl, Head Gardener – sorry!)

A lot of the time if the traveller is given the chance to understand the ‘why’, they accept the reason and get less agitated – but that requires 2 things – an attempt to communicate by the business and a willingness by the traveller to overcome the temptation of the “I have paid for it” mentality we all succumb too sometimes.  I even came across it at my local gym when (after ignoring several past opportunities)  I politely asked a fellow shaver to turn off the tap between dunks of his blade because of the drought.  “Who is paying for it” and what “it” is, are both part of another story for another day.

The leisure and travel sectors are on Healthy Planet’s “To Work With” list, so if you feel you know an organisation that wants to take the lead then give us a shout.  That’s how www.booksforfree.org.uk  and www.stuffforfree.org.uk  started.

Pic below (from left to right: Laween Atroshi, the library manager and Shaylesh Patel)Image