Saturday, 16 January 2016

The price of a slice

Social media seems to have got itself into hot water this week - over the price of a slice!

A cafe owner in York responded to a bad review on Trip Advisor by detailing the costs involved in supplying a customer with a cup of hot water with a slice of lemon.

The story went viral. Some defending his stance, others critical of him. There were many comments around the attitude of both the manager and his staff, but don't we all react differently in these situations and one persons assertiveness may be another's rudeness.

When it comes to the bare facts a cup or pot of tea is no more than a tea bag infused in hot water. The cost of a tea bag may in fact be less than that of a slice of lemon.

Managing The Kitchen has taught me that the costs involved in serving customers go way beyond the price of the ingredients. And when it comes to ingredients we refuse to compromise or use products that exploit workers or animals.

We've all heard stories of cheap labour, poor workmanship, exploitation of people. To rise above these and ensure staff are treated and paid fairly can be costly. We bear some of those costs but ask our customers to share in this too.

However. If a customer is unhappy we will do everything in our power to turn their experience around and make it a positive one. A slice of cake seems too small? Speak up - we can cut some more! Drink not quite hot enough - let us make you a fresh one. Serving hundreds of customers a week, and training young or inexperienced staff to do so, does mean that there may be times when we could do things better. Please tell us and not Trip Advisor!

We believe business is about more than money. Our business is very much about building community - hence our involvement with Link4Growth. We charge what we do to ensure our suppliers and staff are treated fairly, and our aim is to treat our customers in exactly the same way. 

Sometimes we give things away - every Wednesday cupcakes are buy one get one free! We sell our cake scraps for 20p. We offer a milkshake for £1.00 including a free cookie. We are happy for customers to use our staff toilet and baby change facilities. And we never charge for tap water.

But we understand the response of the business owner in York. If his rent was due, if he was worried as to whether he could pay his staff this month. If he needed to order stock that would disrupt his cash flow... a review like this on Trip Advisor could make him angry and upset and why wouldn't he seek to justify himself?

The answer to that may be because in doing so he didn't do himself many favours. But perhaps he did by igniting this debate and causing us all to stop and think for a moment.

A comment was made about other retail outlets, and how we don't question their costs. Some of us do I know but perhaps more of us could ask questions about why things are so cheap. Are workers exploited in making disposable fashion items? Is the fabric produced in ways that damage the environment?

I don't have all the answers but one thing I do know. Next time I am in York I will be popping in!

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Bore of the year?

It's quite possible that I may become #boreoftheyear as far as Link4Growth is concerned. Like a zealous religious convert I seem to have been telling all and sundry about the conference last week. I've handed out leaflets, lent people books, and I am proudly drinking my skinny latte from my Link4Growth mug.

I guess I'm a bit of an all or nothing person when it comes to personality traits. If I like something I throw myself into it pretty wholeheartedly (we're talking rock music, baking and in another life playing tennis...)  If I don't then I will try to understand, listen, engage and enjoy but if it doesn't float my boat I can't keep up just for the sake of it. (we're talking cricket here - sorry but that's just how it is...)

Link4Growth have been meeting at The Kitchen for the last year or so. Latterly twice a month. We've been part of several TV shows and interviews and I enjoyed several conversations with people I may not otherwise have met. It felt like something "they" did and "we" hosted. The people seemed very nice but I always seemed to be a bit too busy to sit down and properly engage with them.

Rather than write more - much as I would like to - here I am speaking about what I took away from the conference with respect to this. You will need to fast forward to about twenty minutes in but here I am - warts and all - explaining how I see my role in Link4Growth going forward!


Monday, 11 January 2016

A bit of an aside

Woken to some very sad news, that David Bowie has died.

At the height of his fame I wasn't his most massive fan. My teenage years were somewhat dominated by my infatuation with David Cassidy if I'm honest. As my musical tastes matured I bought albums from Bruce Springsteen, listened to T Rex and Queen, went to Genesis gigs and somehow Bowie didn't feature highly on my playlists. (I use the term loosely of course - playlists at the time often consisted of cassette tapes with fuzzy bootlegged versions of songs recorded off the radio but that's another story)

You could say that I slowly came to an appreciation of his music. On hearing of his death I looked again at some of his musical legacy and its honestly quite breathtaking. I'm looking forward to listening later to many of his classic tracks as I am sure the radio will be full of them.

Why then did I feel the need to write about the passing of someone I knew of but didn't know? Whose life was a million miles removed from my own and who didn't know I existed?

I don't have the answer to my own questions. Other than a sense that we never quite know how our life may impact others. I don't suppose for one minute that David Bowie ever considered a 56 year old woman in South West Hertfordshire would wake up and write this on hearing of his death, especially when she only ever bought one of his albums.

But his creative genius, softly spoken words, undeniable good looks and distinctive voice were there as I grew up and now I wish I had paid a little more attention. I'm also inspired to live my life a little bit differently, in the knowledge that we really never fully appreciate the impact we are having on others.

Rest In Peace x

Sunday, 10 January 2016

And so it begins

A highlight of the Christmas television schedules was an adaptation of Agatha Christie's novel "and then there were none"

Each of the characters receives an unexpected invitation to attend a gathering on Soldier Island. Without wishing to spoil the plot for anyone unfamiliar with the story they then die - one by one - until there are none.

Receiving an invitation to Missenden Abbey wasn't quite as unexpected - or maybe it was. When the suggestion was first made that I attend I knew nothing of the Link4Growth conference. Had I seen it advertised I may have been vaguely interested - we host two L4G meetings a month in The Kitchen. But taking a day or two out of a hectic schedule to sit and listen to speakers - was that really good use of my time?

No one really thought that I would come to an untimely end in Great Missenden. But there was a degree of curiosity and scepticism amongst friends and colleagues. Aside from the jokes about murder mysteries there was some concern as to what this was all about. Was Link4Growth some kind of a cult? What's in it for us - or more importantly for the leaders? Surely it's all a bit too good to be true - a free awayday - including lunch. After all - we all know there's no such thing as a free lunch!

One thing made it all much easier - the request to bake a cake for the conference. Initially this was to be a sponge cake with the L4G logo on the top. But as my curiosity about the day grew, as I read and discovered more, I wanted to do justice to what I felt was going to be a special day. The cake therefore grew to four layers - baked in the L4G colours - and covered with white fondant it provided a perfect canvas on which to somehow depict what I was learning.

The fabulous artwork from Sophie Honeybelle was my inspiration. Some artistic licence was necessary as I was working with fondant but I felt that somehow the cake captured the L4G journey and illustrated the various aspects such as Link4Business and L4G.TV

Arriving at the conference I was thrilled to see it on display. And if I am allowed for one moment to take pride in my work it was fun to have people say things to me such as "isn't that cake amazing!" and "what a talent - don't you wish you could do that?!" I replied "Thank you" and enjoyed their reaction!
L4G banner.jpg

And so - the invitation accepted, the cake baked, and the days off negotiated I found myself sat in the front row of a conference about which I wasn't sure how much I knew. If that sounds confused then perhaps that's because I was.

Working as I did at Christian Aid for many years I lost count of how many conferences I organised. I would be familiar with the attendees, the programme, the workshops, presentations and after hours plans for socialising.

Within various other Christian organisations I was familiar with conference schedules. They would open with notices and fire safety announcements. There would be a time of worship - usually singing a few songs and someone leading us in a prayer. This would be followed by speakers, break out groups, workshops and discussions. Interesting as it was I often found myself looking forward to a break for coffee, lunch or something that meant I could stretch my legs - and brain - by talking to other delegates.

Ironically perhaps it was often the after hours socialising that I found most useful - chatting to colleagues over a drink or two, getting to know people properly and setting aside the day's agenda to share what we really felt.

This was probably what I expected from the Link4Growth conference. If indeed I expected anything at all. After all I had found myself at an event about which I knew very little and which I hadn't exactly chosen to come to. What would the day turn out to be like...?

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Twice in one day

The previous post was a good opportunity to revisit blogging. Not least to remember the password and how to post - but also to write something in the knowledge that it will be "out there" for all to see.

Factual posts about building The Kitchen and baking cakes don't require the level of thought that this one is going to, so it felt right to start again gently. I'd like to think of this afternoon's offering as the warm up act prior to theactual event, or the starter before a main course to tuck into!

There are so many aspects to the last couple of days that this post is likely to stretch over three or four entries. I'd be really interested to hear comments and feedback. Especially from those who were there too but also from other friends who care about the way the world is, and believe it doesn't have to be this way. Or indeed think that nothing will ever be any different - I'd love to hear from you all!

Facebook friends often post stories with comments such as "what's the world coming to?" Others tell me they no longer read the newspapers or try to understand the news as its always bad and there's no way things can change. But I also have friends in politics and working for NGOs, seeking to make a difference by working within and challenging the systems and structures that govern society. Friends from faith backgrounds may interpret things as signs of the times, evidence of a fallen world or of mankind's sinfulness. Within my sphere of contacts there seems to be an acceptance that things will always be this way and whilst we aspire to change the world do we believe it's possible?

This weekend presented things in a new light. For those of you unfamiliar with the image above, or wondering where I am going with this post I spent Friday at the inaugural Link4Growth conference.

Link4Growth is an organisation I discovered soon after we moved into The Kitchen and my journey with it has been somewhat slow at times. But I'm now excited to begin sharing something of what I've learned, and to be a part of an organisation who believe things can and will change and the power to make that change happen is in our hands. Maybe that's for the next post though!

Back to blogging and why I need to write

Its been two years and two months since I last felt the need to get stuff out of my brain and onto the blog, and in doing so process it, make sense of a few things and hopefully move on a stronger person.

Obviously I haven't gone two years without writing - the implications of that are too scary to contemplate. But to be fair, Project "The Kitchen" took up a lot of time and energy, and documenting it for future generations - not to mention Facebook - used up all the spare time available for what can feel like a selfish indulgence.

After all - it's not as if I have any obvious need to write. I make no money from my blog. Readership fluctuates and I have no idea how many will see this (though statistics do suggest it's received 55,000 page views which isn't bad I guess?) And yet a while back I proudly posted that "I am a Writer" - the implication being I must write I guess. And, finding myself in Venezuela 18 months ago, with a poorly son, the first thing I asked for when offered assistance was a pen and notebook. How could I have left home without one? (that of course is a rhetorical question - I also left home with a change of clothes and insufficient soap or toothpaste to last the three weeks I ended up staying ...) As I see it, I simply need to write.

No one is surprised if someone says that they have to eat something. Hunger is a need that must be satisfied with obvious results if it isn't addressed. Likewise thirst - three days without water is likely to end a human life. Sleep is another obvious example, as are trips to the bathroom - but writing? How can you need to write?

Personally I have found that for my own mental well being it is important to do so. It has to be hard for anyone who doesn't own this need to understand and I'm really not sure I can explain but I will try.

As a teenager I had various pen pals. The excitement of sending and receiving those paper thin airmail envelopes used to thrill me - and offered a window into the life of someone my own age living far away. As I grew older and friends moved away we would exchange letters - sometimes two or three a week. Full of news, thoughts and feelings, making sense of the world around us as we wrote to one another.

Enter the digital age and with the novelty of the email this was all so much easier. Email correspondence with those around the world was almost instant - who reading this remembers the delight at seeing a reply after the whirring of the dial up connection (and the complaints you were hogging the landline of course).

But things have moved on. Email seems to have become the tool of business. Inboxes overflow with subscriptions, promotions, offers and updates. Friends are more likely to connect on messenger or Whatsapp, or by sending a text.

There is nothing wrong with this of course. But where now is the space for a thought out expression of what we are feeling? When do we take the time to tell someone how we are feeling in a medium that can be stored and revisited in darker times maybe?

Greetings cards have been replaced by texts, Facebook messages and e-cards. They save time, money and resources but, just like pen and paper or good old fashioned email they are merely a tool. How we use them lies in our hands and we can make a choice. I referred to the Venezuelan adventure earlier. In the midst of the worry, anxiety and loneliness it was so good each day to wake to a missive from one of my dearest friends. Facebook messenger became our light blue paper, sending thoughts and support across the world in the middle of the night.

When did blogging begin? When did it become fashionable? I suspect I jumped on the blogging bandwagon fairly early on as I recall a degree of suspicion amongst friends and family. Some indeed were hurt that I chose to express myself on here when I found it difficult to talk about things.

What is so hard to explain is this. If you are hungry and someone says go to sleep that probably isn't going to help. If you are thirsty and someone suggests you go to the loo it's likely to be impossible. If you need to write then talking about things may simply not be an option. Perhaps after writing may be a good time to chat things over, but not if the very act of writing has caused upset or sadness. And that can easily be the case when we choose to use what some see as a very public platform to express our feelings, rather than share them privately with each person in turn.

Some have suggested a diary might be a more appropriate means of "dumping stuff" and yes, I have diaries. Five year diaries, week to view diaries, notebooks and all manner of beautiful paper waiting for the stroke of my pen. I also have online diaries - password protected documents I may never re-visit.

What these do not demand however is the degree of processing I find necessary in order to create a blog post. The discipline in making sense of what I think or feel - as well as I am able at the time. The need to be grammatically correct, reasonably engaging, and concise.

I am a writer - I need to write. Blogging is my current thing but who knows what will surpass or replace it? I never dreamed I would stop buying books of stamps, or that my email inbox would fill me with anything but delight. What's next I wonder?