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  1. How to bring nature indoors when you can’t get outside

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    We don’t think we’ve ever paid more attention to the weather than we have in the last year – with restrictions on indoor activity in place, many of us have been forced to rekindle our relationships with the great outdoors.

    Being outside in nature can help to reduce stress, fear and anger and can even physically reduce blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension. Nature is also the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week.

    But what happens when you can’t get outside? We know that not everyone has access to green space and not everyone is able to physically go outside and enjoy nature. Some of us have limited access or need extra support to go outdoors, for example, if you live in a care home or if you are in hospital.

    So we want to bring nature to you, and here’s 10 ways we can do it.

    1. Indoor Plants

    If you are able to buy or grow plants in your indoor space we highly recommend it – and there really is no limit to how many plants you get! Benefits of plants include improving mood, concentration and compassion. Not to mention that houseplants release oxygen through the day and will help improve the air quality in your home.  This in turn helps to improve your immune system and of course, your mental health. You can even download apps to your phone to help keep your plants alive, such as Waterbot. Read about the best 25 indoor plants here and if you have pets, make sure that any plants you buy are of the non-toxic variety to keep them safe.

    2. Ask Alexa

    Research has found that spending 60 seconds listening to outdoor sounds can help us to reach a higher state of relaxation. Did you know that you can Ask Alexa to play some soothing outdoor sounds such as rain, waves, thunderstorms and more? Simply ask Alexa to ‘open nature sounds,’ and she will ask you what you want to hear.

    3. Watch nature documentaries

    We know that this one is obvious – but this is one of our favourites, watching nature documentaries can transport us to almost anywhere in the world alongside animals and wildlife we would never be able experience up close. Just watching how nature thrives and acts when uninfluenced can help to improve our mood and deliver some much needed cuteness. Head to the ‘Nature and Ecology Documentaries’ section on Netflix and you won’t be disappointed.

    4. Start an indoor herb garden

    Herbs are easy to grow and don’t require much work, all they do require is direct light, so they grow easily when placed in windows around the house. Head over to Amazon and you will find lots of indoor herb kits, including this Herb-a-Licious Grow Kit that is also 100% recyclable. And if you’re buying on Amazon – don’t forget to add us as your Amazon Smile charity!

    5. Decorate with images of nature

    Studies show that just looking at nature can improve brain function and positive thinking. In fact, some scientists also say that just looking at the colour green instantly soothes us. Download free nature photos from places like Unsplash and Pixabay and decorate your living space until your heart’s content.

    6. Guided meditation

    We couldn’t create this list without mentioning the power of visualisation. Our imaginations are extremely powerful and under the right circumstances we can simply close our eyes and transport ourselves to anywhere in the world. Use a nature guided meditation to help you relax and focus. If you have the Headspace app, you’ll already find lots of nature based meditations on there, or simply have a Google to see what’s out there. Or if you fancy something more visual, check out Mindful Escapes on BBC iPlayer.

    7. Get yourself a SAD lamp

    The light produced from a SAD lamp simulates outdoor light and can encourage your brain to produce melatonin and serotonin (the hormones that make you sleepy and happy). Research shows that SAD lamps can be used to treat insomnia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dementia. Light therapy usually works best in the morning, but be sure to speak to your doctor if your eyes or skin are sensitive to light.

    8. Let the fresh air in!

    We know this is another obvious one but how many of us routinely open our windows? The great British weather sometimes – or should we say, most of the time – stops us from doing so. But we would always recommend opening windows when you can and airing out your living space and breathing in the fresh air each morning. Opening two windows on opposite sides of the room (if you can) can also create a cross wind, letting the bad air our and the good air in.

    9. Wildlife Webcams

    Fancy watching some cute animals live? Of course you do! As a result of the pandemic many zoos and wildlife centres have been live streaming their animals and wildlife activity, the London Zoo even launched their own Virtual Zoo. But don’t stop there, there are wildlife cameras set up in numerous countries around the world; you can even watch polar bears in Alaska. Check out this article to find the best wildlife cams in the UK.

    10. Breathe in the smells of nature

    Use an essential oil diffuser to fill your home with the scents of the outdoors. You can pick them up on Amazon from £15. Essential oils have many other benefits other than just making your room smell nice, depending on the oil you use they can help to reduce stress and anxiety and improve your immune system. There are so many oils to choose from including lavender, lemongrass and eucalyptus.

    See how to set us up as your Amazon Smile charity here. When you set us up as your Amazon Smile charity, it means we get a portion of the sale.

    • Have you found a great way to bring the outdoors indoors that we haven’t mentioned above? Be sure to et us know!
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  2. There Is Always Hope campaign

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    If you’re struggling with your mental health, please don’t suffer alone. There is someone out there who will listen, if you’d rather talk to someone who doesn’t know you, visit https://hubofhope.co.uk/ type in your postcode and find help near you. You can also download the Hub of Hope app to access support.

    Last week saw the launch of the #ThereIsAlwaysHope campaign. A partnership between our Patron Jake Mills, from Chasing The Stigma, in partnership with Network Rail

    The campaign aims to humanise and normalise mental health, remove stigma attached to mental ill health and signpost people to help before they reach crisis point. The ‘Hub of Hope’ is a free mental health app which lists the most relevant and readily available support near you, when you need it. The app is available for Apple and Android devices.

  3. Your Time Is Now – by Justine Hodgkinson

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    Today is International Women’s Day (IWD) and it looks – and feels – very different to last year when I was stood in front of a room full of amazing women, talking about legacy and what we leave behind as leaders, and as human beings.  I am booked to attend a United Nations online event to celebrate  IWD this year, but as good as I am sure it will be, it just won’t be the same as sitting in a room full of women, enjoying good food, good company and capitalising on great partnership opportunities.  Because when women work together, amazing things happen.  Sure we spend time talking about our children, pets, and the daily challenges we face as working mums, or carers to dependent relatives, but once that is done, we get down to business and make things happen. 

    I’ll be honest, I used to baulk a little at the thought of all women networking. Being a feminist I simply want what all people want, equality, so all women networks felt slightly uncomfortable at first.  However, my mind was soon changed when I joined a Unique Ladies group for the first time and met so many amazing colleagues and embarked on so many fantastic opportunities.  Maybe it’s because we do share a little more, we do open up about the trials and tribulations of home schooling during a pandemic, or the anxieties some of us may personally face or are witnessing within our teams – emotional intelligence front and centre in many of the conversations taking place.  Real solutions to many of the challenges we all face over a brew and a virtual catch up.

    So I began to reflect on this of late as we approached this important date in the calendar.  I thought about the many people I have met, shared my life with and worked with over the last several decades.  Interestingly, each time I think about this, great women come to mind.  From my art teacher at school who said to me “you can’t really do art Justine, but my goodness you are a trier’, to the supervisor who firmly put a peer in his place by saying “don’t take Justine’s kindness as a form of weakness”, to my boss and friend Rosemary Clarke who said “family first Justine, always”, despite her absolute driven focus and passion to put books into the hands of families.  My mum of course, who to this day is the voice in my head telling me “there is nothing you can’t do if you put your mind to it”.  All great women, building each other up, paving the way and cheering each other on from the side-lines. 

    As a leader of an organisation whose workforce is primarily female, I am humbled everyday in how the team have “turned up” week after week during the pandemic.  Women who have had to learn how to work from their living rooms or bedroom.  Women who have had to supervise and motivate children to do their lessons and navigate online learning.  Women who have lost precious family members or friends, attended their funerals, and returned to work and their role as keyworkers.  Women I am proud and honoured to work alongside.

    So whilst I sit and reflect on what it means to be a leader on IWD, it means remembering those that walked the path before me.  The women I looked up to, learned from, admired, and loved.  Of which there were, and are, too many to mention.  I grew up in a very different world to the one now.  I was told not to whistle, because little girls don’t do that.  I was told to be more ladylike and to wear dresses instead of jeans. I was told I was a chatterbox and wouldn’t amount to much of anything by more than one person!  Well just for the record, I do whistle (usually to round my dogs up), I wear jeans more than dresses to this day, and I am a Chief Executive of an amazing charity that is doing great things in the health and social care sector.  And I got there with the support, guidance, and love of many great women – and possibly by being a bit of a trier!

    Happy International Women’s Day 2021, to women and girls everywhere.  Rise up and be the leaders you were born to be.  Your time is now.

  4. Sorry For Your Loss …

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    Many of us know a thing or two about loss. As humans, if we are lucky, our relationship with death and loss often begins through the process of dispatching funfair goldfish or the family pet.  A key lesson in life, is often one that shows us, that at some point, we all die.  A ‘teachable moment’ as we grow from children to adults. The burying of a beloved cat or dog in our back garden etched into our memories as our first experience of loss.  As we get older, those pets morph into grandparents, neighbours or friends and families gather to mourn, reminisce, and celebrate the life of the person that has died.  Some people knowing exactly the right thing to say, and others crossing the road to avoid an awkward conversation.  Death and loss are not an easy subject for many.

    Fast forward to 2020 and a global pandemic.  The rule book goes out of the window and communities across the globe suffer mass losses.  But it’s not just about the loss of a loved one anymore.  It’s far more complex than that.  Since March, we have in one way or another, been in lockdown or under the government’s tier system.  Lives have changed beyond recognition for so many of us, some for the better, some for much, much worse.  The traditional workplace has gone for so many people, instead we now have many teams, working from home.  People were placed on furlough, a word many of us hadn’t even heard before, and never returned to work.  Redundancies and the trimming of organisations and office space was happening all around us.  Relationships made or broken due to the enforced way of living; friendships ended due to divided opinions on the pandemic.  Funerals and weddings of our most loved people were limited in number.

    So we are not just grieving our dead and all those lives that have been taken directly or indirectly by the pandemic.  We are grieving so much more.  Our way of life, a job that we may have held since school, the fact that we cannot look into the eyes of those we hold most dear without a respectable social distance.  Missing people that live outside of our tiers and relying on memories of time spent together in the past.  Many of us grieving for loved ones locked away in care homes.  Attending virtual funerals of close friends due to travel and attendance restrictions. Wedding plans postponed.  Our Facebook memories reminding us of what our lives looked like before a virus shut us down.  Lives paused, 2020 cancelled. 

    So once the dust settles and we move from lockdown into tiers again this week, we must acknowledge that we are grieving as a community.  For the people we have lost and for other losses we have faced over the last 9 months.  It is the only way to heal. There is hope on the horizon in the form of vaccines and a promise that life will begin to look like it once was, by Easter next year.  Which is all good news and can give us hope.  But for those that have lost people, pets, relationships, businesses, their mental health, let’s allow them to grieve and tell them how sorry we are for their loss, whatever their loss may be.  We may have to wrap our arms around our communities in a virtual sense for now, but it is the only way to come through this collectively. Personally I take some solace from a personal favourite of mine, Winnie the Pooh. “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”  

    This week is National Grief Awareness Week. A week where The Good Grief Trust bring all UK bereavement services, support organisations and helplines together to talk about and normalise grief. Early signposting and support for the bereaved and those working with them. A week where people are given the tools to help rebuild their lives. They are asking people to share their story to help others and to remind us that being socially distant doesn’t stop us from sharing our grief. 

    At Advocacy Focus we have remained open during the pandemic and continue to take referrals from people, or can signpost them on to the services they need at this current time. We have also developed a ‘Grief’ toolkit as part of our ‘Healthy Self’ series, which you can download here: https://www.advocacyfocus.org.uk/healthyself

  5. Excellence secured at the Selnet Awards!

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    Like Selnet, we believe that training is a crucial element of many Social Enterprises and this category recognises organisations that strive to ensure their staff or volunteers receive a high standard of training.

    What judges looked for:

    – Scale and relevance of training provision

    – The improvement or difference this makes to participants

    – Recognised quality of provision

    Why we won:

    Advocacy Focus prides itself on having high skilled and dedicated staff. We invest in our team as a whole including our Advocacy Managers and our Independent Advocates. It was our Volunteer training that particularly caught the eye of the judges for this award.

    Our Volunteer Manager recruits, trains and mentors volunteers across Lancashire to add extra added value to our service, allowing us to provide additional support to those with ill mental health, who lack capacity or have learning or sensory disabilities.

    The  judges were impressed with the personal approach that Lauren takes for every volunteer to ensure that they achieve personal goals, as well as contributing to the organisation of the charity as a whole as our volunteer team includes our Peer Advocates who have experience of ill mental health themselves.

    Lauren spends time individually mentoring each volunteer, alongside training them in a group setting. Each volunteer receives an Individual Learning Plan so that our Volunteer Manager can support them to achieve their goals such as gaining interview and employability skill and building confidence and self-esteem.

    In addition, the comprehensive and rolling programme of training that our volunteers receive was also mentioned as a key reason for the award win and includes:

    • A Foundation Course in Advocacy
    • Self-Advocacy Training
    • How to make a Health and Social Care Complaint
    • Training around the Mental Health Act, Mental Capacity Act and Care Act in order to enable them to support members of the community.

    Justine Hodgkinson, CEO of Advocacy Focus said, “Our nomination focused on the excellent work that Lauren has developed in her role and the strong induction, training and mentoring the volunteers receive as part of our team. It is phenomenal to receive this recognition for Lauren, the volunteers, our team and Advocacy Focus as a whole and it really demonstrates the important role that volunteers play here at Advocacy Focus.” To read more about the Selnet awards and winners of each category, visit http://selnet-uk.com/enterprise-in-society-awards-2017/

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