“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/

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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…

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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!

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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.

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New Season, New Identity

As part of the UK’s approach to tackling Coronavirus, a number of establishments have implemented methods as part of ‘track and trace’.

I get it, makes perfect sense. What I’m less supportive of is how a lot of venues are using as a way to get hold of personal details for marketing cr*p.

Do I really need to informed of your new banana loaf range? Oh, great, you’re offering 2.5% discount because it’s the CEO’s daughter’s 25th birthday BUT ONLY THIS WEEKEND! God, can we get GDPR in to fix this again?

So, in a mark of defiance, I am now now using an alternative details on any wifi login that demands it. Just for clarity, if it’s strictly track and trace I am providing accurate information. However, you asking me to set up an account to order a cup of coffee from the counter literally three meters away? Nah, girl ain’t having that.

In those occasions this is what I’m registering myself as:

Yes, that’s right, my name is now Ms Boom Town (although where possible I choose to not identify as a specific gender). I was born on 1st January 1950 (because we all know that was the birth of Boom Town) and my email is a randomised mix of letters @GenericEmailProvider.com.

So there you have it, from henceforth I insist all my food and drink orders sent over public access wifi are made in the name of Boom Town.

You got a problem with that? STOP EMAILING ME YOUR SPAM THEN!! (Thanks.)

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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?)

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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.

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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.

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Career Stories: Bucking the Stereotype

My old Secondary (High) School wanted to do a feature on me for their website. After a series of email exchanges (and some editing support from the lovely Alicia), my post-Chipping Campden School career story is now live:

Alice E Bennett: Bucking the Stereotype

Check it out and discover more about how I went from being a reclusive History graduate to an extroverted Finance professional / creative writer.

Opportunity shout out! I’m currently offering mentorship opportunities for students enrolled at my old Secondary School. Please contact the Alumni Developmental team for more information.

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Writing Course Success!

In July last year I subscribed to a Novel Writing course offered by the London School of Journalism. Keen and eager (although somewhat less convinced my idea could hold a story) I penned the first draft of a synopsis in a charming little coffee shop in Ilfracombe, North Devon.

(Shout out to Annie and The Flint – perfect atmosphere for penning those challenging first words!)

Fourteen classes and twenty-seven written submissions later, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve have completed the course with flying colours. Go me!

This isn’t the end of my creative exploits. Spurred on by the course, I’m continuing in earnest on my manuscript (#AmEditing as the cool cats on Twitter say) and dipping my toe into the world of short stories.

While my love, life and ambition is to turn my manuscript into a fully published novel, I’ve discovered that diverting energy into other avenues is a great way to refresh and experiment. Also a bit of fun! (Which I know for some people must sound weird. The idea of hours of writing, followed by 2000 words of something news.)

Thank you to my wonderful tutor Val Holmes for being a fresh pair of eyes throughout the course and being unafraid to challenge the creative choices I make.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, this isn’t the last you’ve heard of my writing exploits.

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