Thinking of You Week

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I've always loved writing letters in some form or another. Back in school my friend Sarah and I wrote letters to each other even though we saw each other practically every day. At one point we even had a notebook that we kept all of our letters in and just passed the book backwards and forwards. When I was at university in Barcelona I would send a weekly round robin email to everyone in my address book; ridiculously long emails that I doubt were of any interest to most of the recipients back home, but it was my way of feeling like I was at home. Fast forward a year to my placement in Paris, my friend Katie and I would sit in the laundrette on a Monday evening and both write letters to her sister Louise who was back home in England. It became a bit of a joke that we'd be talking about what one of us was writing and commenting on it in our own letter.

I don't know when I stop writing letters regularly. Probably when I joined Facebook and realised how much easier it was to keep in touch with everyone with the simple click of a button. I don't think it's laziness so much as wanting to treat all my friends and family the same. I could send one or two people lovely long letters or quickly say 'Hi' to about twenty within the space of a few minutes. 

But there's something special about a letter though, don't you think? I love coming home from work and seeing the familiar writing of a friend or family member on an envelope and opening it carefully with my letter opener before curling up on the sofa and reading it. When I read a letter from someone I know I tend to hear their voice in my head and it's like they are there talking to me. I appreciate the time that has gone into writing it and the fact that they may have had to go our and buy stamps and find a post box (I'm lucky, my nearest is right opposite my house).

Tomorrow is the start of 'Thinking of You Week' which encourages people to spread happiness by sending a card to a different person each day. Phoenix Trading have supported this initiative since it started three years ago and this year they created a 'Thinking of You' Card Selection Pack with enough cards for each day of this special week. What makes it even better is that £1 from the sale of each pack sold will be donated to Mind which is a cause close to my heart.
I haven't decided who I'll be sending my cards to yet (and even if I did I wouldn't say because I want it to be a surprise), but I will be spending my lunch breaks this week writing them so that I can get them in the post when I get home in the evening. Maybe this will encourage me to write letters more often like I used to, in which case I'm sorry if they become as long as they were in the old days. I like to ramble. I'd encourage you all to take part in 'Thinking of You Week' and would like to know who you would write your seven cards to and why? 

Use Your Voice 2016

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I’ve just realised that I don’t really talk about what I do with guiding on here which will definitely have to change in the future. Let me start to rectify that by telling you about an event I had been looking forward to for well over a year which I volunteered at last weekend.

Throughout this year each of the Girlguiding Countries and Region has put on a special event for The Senior Section Spectacular which celebrates 100 years of The Senior Section (members aged 14-25). Use Your Voice 2016 was Girlguiding London & South East England’s contribution. For two years my good friend Helen Beecher Bryant and her amazing team worked tirelessly to create a 2-day democracy festival for members of The Senior Section in Girlguiding and other WAGGGS organisations. This is my experience of the result of all that hard work.
I signed up to be a volunteer at Use Your Voice as soon as I was able to. The day I turned 26 was a very sad day in my life because it meant I was no longer a member of The Senior Section. Don’t get me wrong, there are so many opportunities for adults in guiding, but I have fond memories of my last few years in that section and it was hard to accept that I couldn’t just sign up for everything I wanted to do anymore. Volunteering at events like this allows me to soak up the atmosphere even if I’m not actually taking part in the activities myself. Being surrounded by the buzz and enthusiasm is a real mood lifter.
On Saturday morning I rose groggily from the sofa bed (my room was still being decorated) at 5:30am, showered, put some make-up on (I knew there were going to be loads of photos taken. If that makes me vain, sue me.) and donned my uniform that had been tucked up in the wardrobe all summer. Mum’s taxi service dropped me off at the station and I was at London Waterloo (cue Abba being stuck in my head for most of the day) in time to register at The Warehouse at 8:15am.
Once I picked up my Use You Voice lanyard and goodie bag (complete with travel card holder, pen and BADGE!), I grabbed a sexy hi-vis vest and started my first task of the day. Marshalling. In the rain. Luckily my new Girlguiding waterproof had arrived earlier in the week. Despite the weather I really enjoyed it. I was stationed at the entrance so gave everyone a hearty “Good morning” as they approached. Some looked exhausted from their early morning travels from whatever part of the country they had come from, some had clearly already had some form of caffeine consumption and were raring to go, but they all looked excited for the day ahead.
At 11am the registration desks were packed up and workshops in The Warehouse began (they had started in the other venues at 10am). I was rostered on to be a member of the welcome team at this venue which meant I was lucky enough to sit in on the sessions that took place there:

‘How I started the campaign to make London a National Park City’ – DanRaven-Ellison, National Geographic Explore and Campaigner
‘Three brilliant campaigns – and what makes them inspired’ – SarahCroft, Campaign Manager at CAFOD
‘Use Your Voice… lobbying Parliament’ – Alisdair MacKenzie, Parliamentary Outreach Service
‘Use Your Voice… with WAGGGS’ – Nicola Grinstead and the WAGGGS team
‘Need to know: what Girlguiding is campaigning about’ – Elli Moody, Girlguiding’s Head of PR and Advocacy
Once all the sessions had finished for the day, we had a quick tidy up and then sat down for our volunteers evening meal. Pizza. I smelt them before I saw them. My gut told me it was Dominos, but I didn’t let myself believe it was true until I saw the boxes being marched into the room. I hadn’t had much for lunch (well, I did, but I ate it about 11am) and it tasted like heaven. I had too much, but I don’t care. We still had more work to do and I needed fuel.
Use Your Voice included three sleepover options for the Saturday night – ICANDO (one of Girlguiding’s Training and Activity Centres), YHA St. Paul’s and the HMS Belfast. While some people went off to check in, the rest of us made our way to the Greater London Authority to get ready for ‘Live from the Living Room’. This was a special evening showcasing the concept of voice with performances from Kate Willoughby, Efa Supertramp and Selina Nwulu, and an address from Nicola Grinstead, WAGGGS World Board Chair. The evening actually left me feeling quite emotional and proud of everyone who was there.
I had the Sunday morning off-duty which was somewhat of a relief after being up for 18 hours the previous day. All volunteers had a half day at some point over the weekend during which they could attend some of the workshops for themselves. I was very lucky that I had been able to listen to four of the talks the previous day, but now I had the opportunity to choose which ones I went to I felt slightly overwhelmed by the choice that was on offer. I wanted to do them all. In the end I went for ‘The Science of Storytelling’ and ‘Unashamedly awesome: body, mind and spirit’.
I took so much away from both sessions and I admit to fangirling over Rebecca Baron as she talked passionately about Storytelling, but if I take just one thing away from that morning then it will be when Sara Hyde explained that when we say no to someone then we are actually saying yes to ourselves. I will remind myself of these words whenever I need to even with my brother pointing out that saying no to someone offering you a million pounds would be a bit of a silly move.
In the afternoon I was back on duty welcoming people to The Warehouse where Chloe Bishop had been running 90-minute sessions on ‘Yoga and Mindfulness’ all day. I really wanted to join in, but the room was jam-packed so it was only fair that I let the people who had actually paid for the weekend to participate. The scented candle and soft music did help me to relax though.
And all at once the weekend was over. All the planning and logistical nightmares and stressing had paid off. I haven’t gone into any of the sessions I attended in depth otherwise we’d have been here all day, but I’ve linked to everyone’s Twitter accounts so if you are interested in finding out more about what they do please follow them. I want to thank each and every member of the planning team who helped make the weekend so special, everyone who ran a workshop and imparted their knowledge on us, everyone at the GLA whether they were performers who were sharing a little bit of their soul with us or the staff who kept us going with food and drinks and finally the participants who just came to the weekend full of enthusiasm and passion and left ready to "be the change".
Over the two days around 70 separate events took place in a series of venues near London Waterloo. 155 members of The Senior Section and their Leaders became informed, equipped and inspired to use their voice in a variety of different ways to promote the causes that are important to them. Out of all the things that I have done through guiding Use Your Voice 2016 will definitely be one that stays with me having left a positive impact on me and my future.
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