I is for Ice Bucket Challenge

Unless you were awol from all social media last summer, you can hardly have escaped witnessing the viral phenomenon that was the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Motor Neurone Dystrophy, as it is known in the UK or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis/Lou Gehrig’s Disease as it is known in the States is a devastating condition which, prior to the Ice Bucket Challenge, received very little attention.  The ALS association state that prior to last summer less than 50% of Americans had heard of the condition.  By the end of the summer they had recieved more than $100 million in donations.  Donations to the MNDA in the UK eclipsed £7 million.

The premise was a simple one: once nominated you have 24 hours within which to make a donation in aid of ALS/MND, or you must receive a bucket of ice and water…over your head.  Once your participation, be it financial or chilling, was completed you in turn nominated three tributes to face the challenge themselves.  The challenge grew increasing momentum with celebrities, athletes, politicians and civilians posting their videos online and making their nominations, and the money came pouring in.

Now here at Phoenix Rising we do not shy away from good causes.  When three of our intrepid members were nominated for the Ice Bucket Challenge, it was an easy decision to make.  We donated.


Oh, and faced the Ice Bucket as well, for good measure.






“Gishwhes?” I hear you cry. Yes my friends, Gishwhes. The Greatest International Scavenger Hunt The World has Ever Seen.

The principal of a scavenger hunt is a simple one: teams or individuals must attempt to obtain all items/complete all tasks on a list prepared by organisers. So what makes Gishwhes so special? Well, as its acronym suggests, gishwhes is an international event where thousands of hunters from over a hundred countries group into teams of 15 and strive to fulfil a list of around 200 tasks, and provide photographic or video evidence of their success. GISHWHES-2014

Tasks can involve creating a work of art (a sculpture of the gishwhes mascot crafted from the natural environment), they can involve an act of unadulterated silliness (wear a bathing suit, cover yourself in whipped cream and carry a sign offering free hugs through a crowded public place) or, and for me this was the absolute clincher, they could involve a random act of kindness. And kale. They probably involve kale.

Last year a few of our intrepid members joined a team for their first ever gishwhes event which saw them creating a prom dress entirely from articles found in a bathroom, completing online first aid courses, jumping a shark, registering as a bone marrow donor, performing a random act of kindness for a rival gishwhes team, competitively racing paper boats in a public fountain and many, many more.

 Gishwhes Boat race

The winning team spends a week with Misha Collins (American actor best known for his role in Supernatural) in an exotic location, but when the list of tasks is posted that coveted prize soon fades into the background. For once that trite phrase “it’s not the winning, it’s the taking part that counts” is 100% accurate.

Once experienced, it simply has to be repeated. This year Phoenix Rising are entering an entire team of gishers to endure the fun, wild, absurd, touching and downright hilarious task list that sees an enormous group of people across the world spend a week united in acts of kindness and laughter. Let’s face it: every week ought to be a gishwhes week.

E is for Equality

Oxford dictionary defines equality as ‘the state of being equal, especially in status, rights or opportunities’. A beautiful concept, yet how often is it seen in reality?

Cast your mind back. When did you last experience inequality? As a woman who chose to go into a science-based profession, I have had my own experiences of gender inequality at the hands of both men and women. Optometry is a healthcare profession that I would expect to appeal to both men and women alike. I have however received countless exclamations of surprise over my gender, from both men and women (expressed with varying degrees of rudeness) when I, a woman, call a patient through to the consulting room.

As a woman I have previously been loath to identify myself as a feminist because the word has become synonymous with ‘man-hating’. But let’s delve back into Oxford dictionary for a moment: feminism is defined as ‘the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes’. And there you have it. All the reason needed for women and men alike to proudly stand up and proclaim themselves to be feminists. You see, men are subjected to inequality too.

Men frequently have their role as a parent neglected or valued less than women’s. Baby changing facilities are invariably situated inside the women’s washrooms. What of the father out alone with his child? Or of the father raising his child single-handed?

UN Women's "HeForShe" VIP After Party

Emma Watson gave an impassioned speech on gender equality at the UN, in which she mentioned that she knew of men who had been reluctant to seek help for mental illness for fear of being seen as less of a man. Horrifyingly, in the UK suicide is the biggest killer of men between the ages of 20-49, eclipsing road accidents, cancer and coronary heart disease.

Shouldn’t we all to be free to be sensitive and express our feelings and show vulnerability? Shouldn’t we all be free to be strong and independent? Shouldn’t we all be free to go out to work in any profession bringing us enjoyment and fulfilment, or to stay at home to raise our children?


I have barely scraped the surface of the issues of gender inequality, which is in itself only the tip of the iceberg. All over the world people are subject to inequality based on their gender, race, religion, social ‘class’, or sexual orientation.

As Edmund Burke said “All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing”. For myself, I can now say I am proud to declare myself a feminist, and I promote equality by volunteering within a chapter of the Harry Potter Alliance, a charity striving for equality, human rights and literacy.

And you? What could you do to fight inequality?



Phoenix Rising visits Hope for Food’s soup kitchen

In the course of my profession I have visited several halfway houses, generally for recovering addicts or those recently released from prison.  I’m not easily intimidated, but I found the atmosphere was frequently ever so slightly tense.  Prior to my visit to Hope for Food I had a vague preconceived notion of what the soup kitchen would be like.  I imagined the same tense undertones.  Plastic chairs lined up at chipped formica tables.  Patrons sitting several chairs apart from each other and eating in perhaps slightly territorial silence.  The reality could not have been more different.

For one thing, Hope for Food is outdoors in a churchyard.  The Founder, Claire Matthews, has been unable to find any venue willing to allow the homeless inside.  This may be quite pleasant on a balmy summer’s evening, but I try to imagine queueing for and eating my dinner outside in pouring rain in the middle of winter.  There is no shelter from the wind or rain in the churchyard.  Claire is hoping to be able to buy gazebos for the winter, but it’s still a far cry from the cosy lounge most of us can eat in.


I arrive before 6.30 and find a queue has already formed.  Having come straight from work, I’m dressed in a suit and holding a handbag and iPad of notes to discuss with Claire, yet I feel completely safe & comfortable.  There is no underlying tension: the atmosphere is tranquil and friendly.  Even the two or three dogs sitting dotted around the yard wait quietly without growling or barking at each other.  I am obviously not a volunteer yet I am treated to smiles and nodded greetings.  Two people wish me a pleasant evening.

On this occasion Claire is caught in roadworks & is 10 minutes late.  The patrons queue patiently, exchanging smiles and greetings as more visitors arrive.  There is no disruption, no British shuffling of feet or tutting at the delay; just touching faith that Claire at least, will not forget them.

A folding table is set up and the queue filters past collecting a foil container of stew and dumplings (a firm favourite), a packet of crisps, a sandwich, and a styrofoam cup of homemade fruit crumble.  Diners sit on the floor or garden wall to chat & eat.  One and all express their gratitude to Claire, and as darkness falls, collect their meagre belongings and depart.312913_410574555704808_829819424_n
Hope for Food is clearly providing a vital lifeline for a huge number of people, and YOU can help their invaluable work continue:
  • Donate unwanted clothing/blankets
  • Donate groceries (food/toiletries/laundry products/etc)
  • Make a financial contribution
If you wish to donate items, please use the contact form below and we will be in touch to make arrangements.  If you wish to make a financial contribution, please use the secure PayPal donate button.

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Supporting Hope for Food

Hope for Food was born due to a chance conversation between the founder, Claire Matthews, and a friend.  Claire was horrified by her friend’s admission that she was being forced to chose between heating her home & feeding her children.  Claire did some research and began to realise quite how many people in the area were struggling.150991_377624632333134_346527939_n

Claire set up Hope for Food and began collecting donations and trying to organise a location to hold a soup kitchen.  On the first night Claire fed one homeless person.  On the second she fed seven.  By the third night twenty people were queuing for food.  6 months later, Claire now feeds over 80 people.

Hope for Food has become much more than a soup kitchen.  In addition to feeding more than 80 people 3 times a week, Hope for Food provides groceries for several struggling families, collects donated clothing & blankets and distributes them, has helped 4 homeless people find & furnish new homes, and provides endless support and advice.


Becoming a registered charity would make an enormous difference to Hope for Food: they’d be able to use justgiving sites for fundraising, gain more support from donors and companies, and, crucially, pay no more than 20% of normal business rates on occupied buildings.  Claire dreams of having premises where her patrons could sit down indoors to eat their dinner (currently they eat from foil containers, outdoors in a church yard), with a small shop selling donated items to fund food purchases.  In order to achieve registered charity status, Hope for Food needs to raise and bank £5000, which can then be spent on food and premises.

Phoenix Rising will be supporting Hope for Food, and YOU can help us!

  • Donate unwanted clothing/blankets
  • Donate groceries (food/toiletries/laundry products/etc)
  • Make a financial contribution
If you wish to donate items, please use the contact form below and we will be in touch to make arrangements.  If you wish to make a financial contribution, please use the secure PayPal donate button.

PayPal Donate Button