“Protect Swindon 18-30!”: The Unexpected Success of Community Fundraising

You’re only as valuable to the community as the last thing you did for it.

That might or might not be a plagiarised quote from someone notable or, more likely, something I just made up after two (large) glasses of wine, but I’ve put it in fancy italics so the point stands.

This is the story of a group. No, actually, not a group, a community. Thrown together by birth, work, or sometimes just passing through; a community of humans who came together under limited expectations, only to save something far greater.

The Birth of a Community

When it comes to community the good deeds you make only go so far. It’s harsh but true. Unlike the good old days, people come and people move on.

The movement of people was one of the reasons I initially established Swindon 18-30 Professionals. People were coming into the town (mostly for work) and then rapidly fleeing as soon as they’d decided it wasn’t a place for them. Not enough to do, not enough of a scene for young people. And I couldn’t blame them; I’d relocated to the area and was feeling the cold shoulder of the real world. A world outside education where you can’t make best friends with people simply by shaking hands or offering out birthday chocolates by means of bribery. The real world just simply isn’t like that, in or outside Swindon.

From Strength to Strength

It came as a massive relief to me when I won the support of a local sponsor to cover the essential website maintenance costs. With the free subscription membership blossomed, and with it the strength of having a group that arguably was the biggest apolitical collective of local voices the town had seen in many years, if ever.

Over the months and years that followed, friendships were made and romances solidified. Multiple engagements, weddings and even babies have been created as a direct impact of the conversations struck up in pubs or over bowling lane rivalries. I was humbled, that feeling that the group was now self sufficient, it didn’t need me to babysit it 24/7 anymore.

Anything But Normal

And then Coronavirus happened.

Our version of normal was now ‘old’ and everything else was now to be referred to as the new version (whatever that was). Social gatherings were illegal, mental health, financial security, a secondary concern compared to the threat of a killer virus. We watched it all slip away, like sand through our fingers.

My steadfast sponsor, like everything else, was forced to close. As their income disappeared overnight, so did the lifeline of Swindon 18-30. I sat on my bed one night, barely able to sleep. Years of hard work, of creating and building, ended before people had even the chance give it a decent send off. I was left hollow, wounded but without the blood to show for it.

“Sh*t Happens, Get Over It”

I proposed to the leadership team setting up a fundraising page. A last-ditch hope that we could scrape together enough to cover the next six months of fees (around £100).

I did some research, compared the options eventually went for GoGetFunding which was one of the few which let fundraisers withdraw money, even if they don’t make the target set on the page. This in mind, I went for a over optimistic £260 which would cover costs for a year, plus the fundraising page fees. I hit submit, the page went live.

I sent a frank and blunt email to all the members with a link to donate money and walked away. A watched pot never boils and I couldn’t bear to spend a wasted evening watching a page that got no engagement. In five years I’d never asked anything of my members, new and old, so to be begging for money now? I was adamant that they’d see me as being unrealistic.

The Kind of Thing That Only Happens in Movies

I retuned to my laptop and was taken with the number of emails in my inbox. “Probably spam,” I thought, but I was wrong. Very wrong. Because instead of the junk mail I was expecting, all the emails were notifications from the fundraising website.

Donations came in thick and fast and at values that almost made me want to cry. I probably would have if not for the personalised messages getting to me first.

There I’d been, working my socks off and building up a strong leadership team and thinking no one had noticed. That no one had particularly cared for all the effort we put in. The words I was reading now, they proved me wrong.

“Every penny well deserved!”

“An amazing organisation, I hope it carries on long into the future.”

“This group helped me take control of my social anxiety and build my confidence.”

“I owe so much to Swindon 18-30. So many incredible people I wouldn’t have even crossed paths with if it were not for the events put on.”

“Well done Alice! Keep up the good work and long live the mermaids!”

In just over 24 hours we hit my target for funding, but yet the money kept pouring in, it seemed everyone wanted to show their support and ensure the group stayed alive. And this wasn’t just current members, people who’d long left Swindon donated, keen to ensure its legacy for new batches of young professionals.

For the second time that week I found myself unable to sleep, although this time it was out of happiness and relief. The group had validated its existence, it had an army of young people prepared to fight tooth and nail to keep it running.

Stop the Press!

The local press release was published the following week with a number of last minute updates. The original purpose, framed to act as a plea for help was now repurposed as an awareness piece, to reach out to those who felt alone and isolated. That at the end of all this there would be a place to safe place to meet and engage with other people.

The finished article can be accessed online via this link.

Trouble on the Murky Crime Horizon

Like everything that happens in my life, there had to be a catch to all this positivity. For me, this came when the webpage was bombarded with fraudulent donations. The alarm bells came when the donations were coming in tiny denominations (usually £1) and from people I didn’t recognise. Later it transpired that these payments were likely stolen cards being tested out prior to the thief either selling them on or using them for bigger transactions. Wanting to do the right thing (and wanting to avoid severe penalties), I promptly returned the money back to the payment card, only to then be charged a handling fee for doing so!

I spoke with both customer services on GoGetFunding and then PayPal, voicing frustrations. They both pointed fingers at the other, both refused to acknowledge the faults in their system, both saw no reason to refund me for doing the right thing. I enchanced secrity controls, as per PayPal’s recommendation, which made things worse. The next morning I had ten transactions to refund. It was at that point, stressed and deeply angry, that I was sadly forced to close the funding page ahead of time.

If there is one top tip I can place in all of this it is to not use GoGetFunding. The commission is less but damn, you pay more in blocking fraudulent payments in the long run!

However, all said and done the final figure at the point of close spoke for itself. The group had done it, we had enough to keep going throughout the tough months to come.

The Future is Bright…

On the far side of all this (whenever that might be) it’s confirmed, that there will be a group and place for people to call their social home. A place to buy a pint or two and give toast to everything that’s made us who we are today.

Here’s to the silent supporters and the ‘this one’s on me’ drink buyers. Long live the donators of good causes, the ones who have the vision to see beyond the news headlines and the weeks on a calendar. From my heart to yours, thank you. Thank you so much.

You can find out more about Swindon 18-30 Professionals via the group’s dedicated website. https://www.meetup.com/Swindon-18-30-Professionals/

**

This isn’t a sponsored post, but you can support me by buying me a coffee

**

Round Two with the Laminator

After the utter calamity that was the last time I used a laminator, I once again found myself facing my old nemesis.

With the new track and trace system, Mumma B asked me to print and laminate a sign for the holiday cottage in Devon (#MiddleClassProblems).

“Sure!” I said. “What could go wrong?”

It started off alright…

But sadly I discovered this afterwards…

It’s a little blurry, but aka it’s a black hair from one of the cats who have now taken to sleeping in the house 24/7. So there goes another perfectly useable laminator pouch.

Yes, Bubble, I am looking at you.

Oh well, nothing is ever perfect. At least I didn’t blow anything up this time…

**

This isn’t a sponsored post. Support an unpaid writer like me by donating to my funding page: Buy Me A Coffee

**

New Ways to Support

Just a quick reminder that I’m still here, earning tumbleweed from my writing (well, actually, tumbleweed would at least be something…)

A big, big thank you to those who have donated so far (you lovely people know who you are). For those less aware, I have an active donation page called Buy Me A Coffee, a platform which helps creatives get money doing what they love and keep producing content for their fans.

If not for me and my coffee spilling antics, it’s worth checking out to discover some hidden gems from people across the world.

I’m always reviewing the page and just recently added two funky new extras you can buy as a one-off. Check out the website to find out more.

Thank you in advance!

**

This isn’t a sponsored post. Support an unpaid writer like me by donating to my funding page: Buy Me A Coffee

**

Three Secrets of Resilient People

I’m not gonna lie, times are tough. Working from home, cat bum in my face as I try to juggle conference calls with a window that washes me out (aka looking like a knock-off Second Coming of Biblical proportions).

It’s easy to shrug it all off, make out we’re invincible. Likewise, it’s also very easy to blame ourselves for the things we cannot help.

I discovered the video below via a work colleague and it massively helped improve my understanding on resilience. That actually, part of my general fatigue was an over exhaustion of trying to be strong and hold myself to my own high standards. After watching I slashed back on the social media and have started making moves to reduce time wastage on unproductive activities.

(So FYI, that’s why I deleted you from Facebook or left your group. Honestly, you really are better following my Facebook page. I update it more often.)

Anyway, here is the video. Give it a watch, I’d be interested to know your thoughts and reactions. Would you take a different approach to the personal impact of 2020 if you’d had the chance to make different choices?

The moral of the story? We all need to be more like my pet cat.

**

This isn’t a sponsored post. Support an unpaid writer like me by donating to my funding page: Buy Me A Coffee

**

VIDEO: Staycations in York

A perhaps more sombre video (pretty blue compared to the stuff I normally produce, I admit), of the four days I recently spent in York. I wasn’t going to do anything, that was until I came back and Mumma B said, “when are we getting the picture presentation?”

So I quickly pulled this together, complete with backing music which I heard whilst watching the world go by in one of the nammed coffee shops below.

Big love to the city of York, big love to whoever controls the weather for giving me sun and zero rain and big love to ‘The North’ for giving me a warm welcome during my visit.

Places visited:

**

This isn’t a sponsored post. Support an unpaid writer like me by donating to my funding page: Buy Me A Coffee

**

It’s All Gone Potato-Shaped

Remember a little while back I introduced you to a new family addition called Mr Potato? He first came into family life not long after lockdown started, when Mumma B found a misshapen potato in the shopping. She took a liking to the vegetable and before you know it you’re fighting for parental love from a flipping potato.

Well patience has finally paid off and it’s now with a heavy(-ish) heart that I have to report Mr Potato is no more.

He’s wrinkly, he’s shrivelled and, in Mumma B’s own words, it’s started sprouting stuff from the back of his head.

(And technically his bum, but lets not dig too deeply into that.)

Mr Potato is now in the compost bin. Actually, given the rate of decompostation for your average potato, I’d probably say he’s more likely to be feeding Papa B’s runner beans in the polytunnel. But again, we’re really splitting hairs here.

If you are just as upset as Mumma B over this development can I kindly suggest you invest in a new hobby. Also, I have reason to believe that during his/its lifetime Mr Potato was a little bit right wing…

And trust me, in our household there are enough personalities going on to then try and fit a Boris lover in there as well.

So, in short, Mr Potato is gone and life is certainly no worse for it. Lets just leave it at that (please, Mum?)

**

This isn’t a sponsored post. Support an unpaid writer like me by donating to my funding page: Buy Me A Coffee

**

Why I Haven’t Published my Book…Yet

In response to the frequently asked question “hey, Alice, when do we get to read your book?” here is a list of genuine reasons why I haven’t and why I’m not sorry for it.

  • My manuscript (at time of writing) is c. 70,000 words and nearing 200 pages. That’s a lot, but I want to make it up to the 80,000 mark. My History dissertation back (in 2014) was 10,000 words and took a year of solid research and writing (with no distractions). Go figure.
  • I realised three weeks ago at least half of it needed rewriting.
  • I’ve spent about six weeks working on the opening extract (first 5000 words).
  • I have a full-time job which I have continued to do throughout pandemic.
  • Up until mid August, I had only take one day off of my allocated annual leave. One day, in all of 2020.
  • I have to do human things; shop for food, eat, sleep, poop etc.
  • Shoot me, I get writers’ block/creative fatigue.
  • Covid-19. Just Covid-19.
  • I commute frequently from family home to the actual home I pay a mortgage on. A 1.5 hour car journey will just about sap up any energy you got.
  • Some days I really can’t be bothered to write.
  • Some days I really write a load of rubbish.
  • Believe it or not, I do other creative exploits. All writers need the satisfaction of quick-win completion, which is why I’ve also been writing more short stories. I can’t post these on the blog, because then I’d be unable to make money from them at a later date and/or submit for competitions. A ‘short story’ for me is 2000 words. Nine pages (double-spaced).
  • I blog.
  • I self-promote. See TV/Radio Appearances for a flavour of how much!
  • I’m busy building up a social media following. Half the battle with any published book is having an author that people love and can market.
  • Is there a chance this will NEVER be published? Yes.
  • I therefore need an agent. And to submit to an agent means you have to have your manuscript at the absolute top of it’s game.
  • (Mumma B suggestion) – ‘why don’t you just say “the dog ate my manuscript”?’
  • And as for the publishing industry in general? Please see video below. Spoilers, it’s infamous for being a slow.

Pinky promise to keep you posted on progressed. It still means a lot that I have a massive fan base that are chomping at the bit to pre-order something I haven’t even completed yet!

Much love xx

To give you an idea of time passing…that succulent I bought, it’s dead now.

**

This isn’t a sponsored post. Support an unpaid writer like me by donating to my funding page: Buy Me A Coffee

**

The Battle of Cakegate

Mumma B made a coffee and walnut (but not walnut because she only had almonds) cake the other week. It was lovely.

However, very quickly battle lines were drawn when my sister, also in lockdown with us, questioned the fairness of the portion sizes. See some people in the family tend to favour the little and often approach, others the massive slab at a time. Papa Bennett is also a fan of the unheard of fad of ‘breakfast cake’ (still waiting on the proof that coffee cake is a fair substitube to the morning drink).

India, being young and thereby somewhat left of centre, proposed that a system was drawn up and rapidly used the Spode cake cutter (#MiddleClassProblems) to mark out portions on the cake. Putting to one side how badly drawn and unequal these lines were, I was happy to go along with it.

“But how will we know who has eaten what?” Mumma B cried out loud. I just shrugged, Dragon’s Den was on TV and I love that show.

So while I was half-hearted watching a television rerun Mumma B was out planning how to resolve the biggest catering crisis since home bakers having to buy substitute flour during lockdown.

I walked into the kitchen to discover my dear mother had been at it again with the cocktail sticks and PostIt notes.

Oh yeah, AND it was done through the clingfilm, making it a Middleclass nightmare to even gain access to said cake!

Funny thing is, it didn’t even stop people. It’s like the time Papa B was eating a magnum ice cream and only afterwards saw the wrapper had been labelled with a large white sticker saying ALICE. I learnt a lot about our parent/daughter relationship that day…

Anyway, people still ate cake regardless of the little flags, BUT no one complained this time. Who knows, maybe this approach could be here to stay. The battle of cakegate could be the Bennett family’s new normal.

**

This isn’t a sponsored post. Support an unpaid writer like me by donating to my funding page: Buy Me A Coffee

**

Your Call is Important to Us

Had to be done. Sorry, not sorry.

Because nothing is open and everything has all been moved online, I’m now spending, on reflection, an unhealthy amount of time in call centre hold queues. Thing is, the worst bit isn’t even acknowledging how much of my finite life is slipping away, oh no, the worst bit is that I’m actually starting to get off on the music.

And you learn so much about the vibe of each company from it.

Here are a selection of some of the terribly awful hold music tracks I’ve come across, either in daily life or thanks to the gold mine that are fellow disgruntled customers on the internet.

Oh, and yeah, I have officially lost the plot.

Cottages.com go for a classical theme with this cheeky little hit, “we secretly hoped you’d go away, go away, go away!”

Just think, some people pay a small fortunate to listen to classic music concerts, I got 45 minutes for free!

Barclaycard are owning their unique brand of elevator music (I may have been bopping along to this while on hold…)

Natwest – sing along if you know the words!

Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. “Hey, the 90s called. They want everything in this video back.”

I tried thinking of something witty to say about Green Flag Breakdown Cover‘s hold music, but gave up.

(Secretly I was hoping for comedian Harry Hill to answer my call.)

Contrast this with Halfords, which sounds like that cool American uncle just decided to throw a few cords together on his guitar, whilst sat on the Californian coast.

Just me? Okay.

Tui Holidays – because music is overrated

And as for UK energy giant ScottishPower, they’ve really pushed the boat out with their playlist. That said, couldn’t help but feel the company was being a bit defeatist when faced with such a down-beat soundtrack.

Alright Scottish Power, I’m only calling to pay my bill. Jeeze.

Still, could be worse…

Anyone else currently relating to this love/hate relationship with hold music? Or should I show myself out?

Update: Huh, while researching this post I found a funky little vid that explains why hold music can be so terrible in quality:

Well now we know.

**

This isn’t a sponsored post. Support an unpaid writer like me by donating to my funding page: Buy Me A Coffee

**

Podcast Interview: Stratford Calling

Stratford(-Upon-Avon) Calling is a new podcast series, promoting individuals and businesses in and around Warwickshire.

The series is available to download on all major podcast providers, including Spotify (search ‘Stratford Calling’).

Emma kindly interviewed me as part of episode 7, where I feature alongside the town’s new mayor and a dog grooming service (it’s a unique mix, I grant you).

In my segment you’ll find me talking all things bloggy and the challenges and opportunities it brings for creative types such as myself. I also read out my poem Sometimes It’s Hard.

(I wanted to read Mr Blobby’s Take on Mental Health, but we agreed that it would quickly turn into a lengthy discussion of everything 1990s.)

Stratford Calling Podcast

Bio: “This week I speak to the new Mayor of Stratford, Councillor Tony Jackson, and find out exactly what it is a Mayor does, and to Sophie from Happy Paws in the Shire, about doggy holidays to the beach and fussing and feeding our feline friends. I also speak to local blogger, Alice, who writes the blog ‘My Housemates A Mermaid’, about her very interesting housemate, and she shares her lockdown poem with us.”

Jump to 24:25 to listen to my interview in full.

**

This isn’t a sponsored post, but you can support by buying me a coffee

**