Saturday, 22 September 2012

[Gallery Post] Tackling Slavery with Unchosen

Amongst the many dates that should be marked on our calendar a big red circle should be placed around the 18th October 2012 UK anti-slavery day. It is alarming to think that across the world over 12 million people have been trafficked and worked as slaves with nearly 50% put to work as sex workers. We tend to still think of slavery as a blight on our country's past or something that happens in the developing world yet those figures paint a different picture for the UK. Unchosen, the Bristol based charity that campaigns for end to human trafficking will be marking anti-slavery day with a special screening of Stolen, a heart wrenching film that looks at child exploitation, and will feature a Q&A session with representatives from leading charities as well local and constabulary authorities.

I first learnt about Unchosen through writer and broadcaster Mark Le Leivre who I met  at the Encounters International Film Festival Launch in 2010. Mark asked for help in promoting Unchosen that year which was to run over several days with screenings, talks and exhibitions scheduled  throughout Bristol and Bath. You can read the article, which includes the organisation's history, by clicking here. I was impressed to learn that it had the support of legendary film maker Ken Loach as well as director Nick Broomfield, director of the acclaimed feature film Ghosts,  as Unchosen's Honorary President. 

Basically the organisation is all about using films and documentaries to keep up awareness of human trafficking into the UK.  Unchosen work in collaboration with film makers, NGOs (Non Governmental Organisations) and an army volunteers to set up campaigns at schools, universities and local communities. They help raise awareness, expose traffickers in the UK with the help of their volunteer base, and especially work to involve young people to be aware of the dangers of grooming and generally to get involved and help make a difference.

This year's event features a screening of Stolen, a 90 minute TV movie which aired on BBC One in July last year. The film stars Homeland's Damian Lewis as DI Anthony Carter, an officer assigned to the Human Trafficking Unit, trying to find three young girls brought into the country and forced into servitude. The film starkly examines the profitable and dark underworld of human trafficking in the UK which has seen over 1.2 million children sold into slavery. The film will then lead to a Q&A session with Graham SimsStrategic Director of Neighbourhoods & City Development for Bristol City Council, Ella Remes,Children’s Services Manager for Barnardo’s, and Detective Inspector Dave Grimstead, Public Protection, Avon & Somerset Police. The combination of the film followed by the panel discussion should engage the audience, encouraging them to think long and hard about the subject matter and what needs to be done to tackle its seemingly increasing rise in the UK.

Image Credit; 38 Degrees

If there was a every a time for greater need to raise awareness of human trafficking to the UK it is now, given how it is increasing and very little seems to be done to bring it to an end. In August 2010 the coalition government chose to opt out of the EU effort to clamp down on the trade in sex slaves, causing quite a stir until perceived pressure saw a reversal of that decision the following year. Yet there are still fewer arrests being made and there is speculation that human trafficking, in particular those used as sex workers is slowly becoming less of a priority. An article by Mark Towsend, Home Affairs Editor for The Observer reveals some disturbing facts and revelations about the fight against slavery in the UK. 

Stolen will be screened at the Tobacco Factory and admission is free. For more information you can visit the Unchosen website by clicking on the flier on the top right hand side of the page.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Crowdfunding Bristol's Community Bike Cafe

Whether it be as a means of transport or to keep physically fit, cycling is enjoying something of a renaissance in the UK. This revived interest in pedal power has particularly taken hold in Bristol making it the first cycling city, which has inspired an idea for a community cafe for cyclists. The project, Roll For The Soul, aims to provide a cafe and social hub for cyclists, not only serving quality refreshments but acting as a one stop resource centre to promote and support cycling in the city. The project has turned to crowdfunding to help raise some of the necessary funds, through the UK based platform Crowdfunder.

Roll For The Soul (RFTS) is the idea of Rob Wall, a former lecturer in transport psychology (for which  he also has a PhD) and project manager for Sustrans, the UK's leading charity for promoting alternative day to day travel which includes cycling, which due to the rise in fuel costs as well as concerns for the environment is becoming increasingly popular. As well as financial and environmental concerns, the recent surge in cycling has in part been driven by a need to become physically fit inspired by success of British cyclists in pro-racing events such as the Tour de France and the London 2012 Olympics. 

As well as a cafe or resting stop for weary cyclists, serving quality Fair Trade refreshments, RFTS main aim is to support and promote cycling in Bristol, by providing a plethora of resources which include, repairs service, workshop tutorials and skill sharing as well as limited sale of refurbished bicycles and accessories. The hub will also welcome non cyclists in an effort to promote cycling as fun, healthy, and inexpensive, answering questions and offering support where need. It will essentially be a place cyclists can call their own, and completely non-profit orientated with any surplus revenue going towards promoting cycling in the city working with various organisations.

The project needs £90,000 to cover working capital as well as year one operational costs, of which only £12,000 will be sought through crowdfunding to help pay for kitchen equipment, seating, and cash registers. The project features on the platform Crowdfunder, based in Exeter. Those who donate will receive an array of rewards which include an assortment of RFTS merchandise such as postcards, pin buttons, T-shirts and exclusive prints, as well as an invitation to the opening party with food and drink provided.For those who donate £300 or more, a life time membership offering 10% discount along with a promise to be treated like royalty. The campaign has just under 40 days to raise the necessary funds and to date has received £5,500 in donations. 

For more information and to make a donation click here to visit the project's Crowdfunder page.

Image Credit; tejvanphotos

Friday, 14 September 2012

The Writer's Slump

I am learning all too well the difficulties of the ability to just keep up the writing. The last month or so have not been the best for me in terms of regular posts as indicated by my poor performing starts and beyond laughable earnings. Sadly I cannot blame writers block (although I have been hit by that on occasion) and there is certainly no shortage of material or ideas rattling in my hyperactive screaming brain. My biggest enemy is time and energy. My goal is to become a full time writer, which I am sure has already been said on this blog. Until sites and publications come knocking down my door begging me to grace their domains and limited page spaces with my various thoughts ideas and snippets of information carefully constructed into an article ( breathe), I have to work full time to help pay the bills, eat etc. 

There are many qualities about my job that I do like, such as working with some of the top legal minds of the country, have laughs with my colleagues, and I earn my pay sitting behind a desk, so no hard labour involved. However it is a mentally and at times emotionally demanding role that can leave one drained at the end of the day when all you want to do is kick off your shoes and crash on the sofa (for me it's the floor cushioned with a hefty bean bag). This leaves me mainly with the evening to sit at my desk and write, and no doubt you can imagine the battle of wills that goes on inside when all the brain wants to do is watch the latest episode of Dallas or The Walking Dead. Even a riveting book seems like too much effort and for me it seems to be happening an awful lot lately.

Finding the optimum time to sit down and write when you have to juggle other responsibilities can be tasking at the best of times, and I wonder how those with families manage to do it. For me it is the job that takes up those hours in the day when we are all functioning at our best. I try to find time where I can and for me the best time is lunch hour when taking refuge in a coffee shop with free wi-fi, netbook fired up typing away. The added buzz of caffeine from a quality mug of hot java combined with the knowledge of only limited time to put any thoughts down can help create some impressive work, even if I do say so myself. Yet such moments are short lived and soon the time to return to the rodent race quickly arrives to kill the mood. 

When it's hard to find enough lucid and focused time to craft a blog post, research an article, or even check stats, it is easy to feel a little despondent, even to the point of downing tools for good. I have lost count of the number of times I simply wanted to walk away from this calling and put the time to productive and leisurely use, and have been known to rant on about this frustration much to the understandable annoyance of my partner. Luckily she is an understanding soul and in a true act of support rolls her eyes and tells me not to be silly then offering constructive pointers and honest praise. Supportive friends and family takes the sting away from the frustration, if writing is beyond being a hobby, and I am fortunate in that regard. I have read instances in letter columns featuring fellow aspiring writers being ridiculed, ignored and even discouraged from writing. 

If like me you are balancing a full time responsibility with trying to succeed as a paid writer no doubt similar frustrations have slapped you around and you're left feeling a little wiped out. At this point your inner naysayers will talk you out of your writing passion using your sense of priorities against you and playing on that all hovering sense that you are just not up to the challenge. Really this is just ego talking, parts of the mind that like to feed off our negativity with a tendency to make us feel inadequate. What keeps me focused is the realisation that when I get out of bed in the morning one of my first instincts (aside from rushing to the loo) is to fire up the laptop and get writing. Setting aside time and suitable space are vital for productive quality writing but to quash those inner (and some outer) voices of doom and failure, just remember if when you wake up in the morning and one of your first thoughts is of writing, then you are a true writer and nothing should distract you from the dream of being a successful and published writer. 

Keep the faith. 

Image Credits; Sean MacEntee

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Can Students Take Over Kickstarter?

The power of the crowd has already helped many businesses and organisations (large and small) secure funding and/or quality ideas and designs with impressive results. Crowdfunding in particular has become the preferred tool for fundraising where traditional avenues are still proving impossible to access or simply not delivering essential funds needed. The benefits of crowdfunding, however are limited to businesses and organisations. Students who normally rely on government funded organisations, such as the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in the US or the Arts Council England, should consider looking to crowdfunding especially at a time when such organisations are facing severe funding cuts.

An infographic produced by the team at, a platform that provides information on a variety of online business degrees, illustrates the successes and benefits of crowdfunding, that students might find interesting.

Kickstarter Infographic

A higher pitch success rate, ease of access, a wide variety of categories with even eccentric ideas receiving full funding (e.g. the Robocop statue), the future may well see students taking over Kickstarter.  

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Playing Host to UK's First Crowdfunding & Social Collaboration Conference

There is no denying that crowdsourcing and open source collaboration is growing in prominence here in the UK. Crowdfunding and open innovation in particular are becoming increasingly popular, yet the concept of Web 2.0 collaborative solutions are still a fairly new concept. In order to help with the challenges presented by current economic austerity measures, UK crowdfunding platform PleaseFund.US will be hosting a crowdfunding and social collaboration conference on 26th September 2012 at Somerset House in London. The event will focus on how essentially crowdsourcing and other forms of web based collaboration and consultation can help bring great ideas to life.

PleasedFund.Us was set up by entrepreneurs, James Bailey and Tarkan Ahmet, and launched in August 2011 (same time as the Gazette). The idea for the platform came about from difficulties encountered trying to raise money for their ideas a common hurdle facing many fledgling start-ups. Over the past year the platform has partnerships with various creative organisations such as Big Society Network, Nexters, and IdeasTap, with the shared aim of helping creative projects secure that much sought after funding. 

The conference, hosted in tandem with two of their partners the Big Society Network and Nexters, aims to explore the rise of crowdsourcing, in particular crowdfunding, and how the principles and technology can be used to breathe life into ideas that would otherwise remain in limbo by the limits of traditional methods. Representatives from PleaseFund.Us and Seedrs will talk about crowdfunding covering equity and non-equity fields, and open panel discussions will be held by various groups including Sky Arts, StartUp Britain, Ideas Tap and Spacehive.
Crowdfunding is one of today's hottest buzzwords in the tech world, and it is exploding in popularity. Financial hurdles are just the tip of the iceberg for most ideas though. This is a chance to look at alternative ways that can fuel and help support ideas, both for individuals and organsiations. -  James Bailey, Co-Founder of PleaseFund.Us
Since launching over a year ago, the team of PleaseFund.US have witnessed a variety of creative projects find a lifeline through crowdfunding including smartphone apps, documentaries and theatre productions. The platform's success stories will be discussed at the conference, highlighting the effectiveness of open source collaboration through social media. The event will start at 6pm and is free to all those who wish to attend but spaces are limited. For more information click here for location details and to book your place. 

Image Credit; Oscar Berg