Monday, 17 December 2018

In order to save our local high street, we need to support our local high street.

I will never understand the mentality of people who continuously complain about shops closing in their local town, and then travel to a big complex, miles away to spend their money in the same shops that are struggling, in their own town.

There's a thought that somehow it's all the councils fault, or the retailers. But that's not the full picture. Consumers are changing their habits. Fact. The internet is killing the high street, there is no doubt about that, but the final nail in the coffin, is shoppers refusing to shop local.

I've seen in from both sides.
In Nuneaton, managing Accessorize, customers would come back to us on a Monday, after spending loads of money at the weekend in a bigger store, normally Fosse Park when it was open, to get refunds or just comment that the shop was so much better. I covered management in the bigger stores too and would see the same customers, picking up the same bags and scarfs we carried in Nuneaton, saying how much they hated the town and much preferred travelling to Fosse/Birmingham to shop. As if Nuneaton wasn't good enough to spend their money in. I've never known a town to complain so much, yet do nothing so help themselves.

This attitude is not surprising, as it's coming from the top down. Conservative MP Marcus Jones, while quing for a coffee my first year managing Accessorize, confidently told me his wife loved the shop, and she would get vouchers/ money for Christmas and loved to shop in Monsoon in London, but that it was so convenient having a local store, so she could return things she changed her mind on.
This man is the locally elected MP, and even he admits to spending his money elsewhere.
Both the leases of Monsoon and Accessorise in Nuneaton are up for sale (along with a number of other stores in the town), and are unlikely to be renewed, if current losses continue to when the leases are up in 2020.

You don't have to look very far to hear Nuneaton people complaining about Nuneaton. In-fact, I'm looked at like I have 10 heads when I say how great I think the town is. It takes an outsider to see it I think. The negativity, especially online, is actually unbearable. No one seems to be taking responsibility for their own town and just expects it to magically pick up.
Comparatively, to other towns our size up and down the UK, our High Street is holding up pretty well. Despite a number of stores being in trouble (Debenhams, New Look, Select, HMV) their Nuneaton branches aren't on the closure list. But that may not be the way if people continue to shop else where.

There are very few brands missing ,and those that are make business sense not being here. Primark don't open in towns, they open in cities and destinations. M&S have changed their structure after financial trouble, and so focus on cities and destinations too. It obviously wasn't making money when it was here, so makes sense that it closed. The same can be said for MotherCare and Trespass.
Evans closed, due to profitability among other issues. There was clearly a market for a plus size retailer though, just at a lower price point as Yours is doing quite well.
Roman opened, despite being surrounded by competition. Schuh also saw an opportunity and opened in the old Faith unit. A brand missing from the high Street for 5+ years now, but still available in Debenhams. JD also have Nuneaton on their plan for the future.
People saying they want Hollister just make me laugh. The same as Zara, The White Company & Tommy Hilfiger just wouldn't make money here.

But what we do have are brands are starting to recognise that the Nuneaton shopper is notorious for sale. They love a good bargain. That is why the likes of Top Shop & Monsoon always carry sale. And when I say there are some good deals to be had I'm not lieing!! When exclusive ranges are marked down, and are size fragmented across the midlands, they are consolidated to Nuneaton, so you can shop them easily. I recently got a pair of Ivy Park running tights for £12! Don't mind if I do!
Warren James even opened an Outlet here.
It would make sense for the council to invest and explore the idea of inviting more brands to do the same. This would increase the variety of brands, and increase footfall. Something which I think all the cafes and independent retailers would be more than happy about.

The council aren't completely blameless obviously, parking charges are a pain point for a lot of locals. And I would have to agree, parking is extortionate in Nuneaton compared to surrounding areas, and no free Christmas parking is just a kick in the teeth. But by the time you paid petrol to somewhere else, the couple quid for parking isn't too bad. Debenhams will even refund your parking if you make a purchase there. Not that it's their responsibility, but they are being adaptive to the climate. I have a feeling more stores will follow suit. I'm actually surprised The Ropewalk haven't yet joined this initiative too considering their fantastic step up in marketing in recent months.

I have made a point this year of doing as much shopping as I possibly can in Nuneaton. I knew the High Street here was good, but I was rather impressed at the amount of big brands we actually have.
As well as a huge number of small and medium size enterprises. Jewellers, Mens' tailoring, Womens' fashion, shoes, gifting, furniture, beauty & cafes. (Molly's is a favourite!!)

If more people made an effort to shop local when they can, the local high street would get a much needed boost, and so many stores may not face closure. We can't expect anyone else to fix our town.

For the record, I've lived and worked in Nuneaton for 6 years, after growing up in Dublin, where I worked in and managed a variety of stores across the retail sector.
I love my new town, and I proudly tell people about the wonderful parks, museum, library and other amenities we have here.

Monday, 17 September 2018

GAA in the UK, a Surrogate Family and a Home Away from Home.

Warwickshire County Championship Winners 2018

Having never been involved with the GAA at home, my first experience with Ladies Gaelic Football was when I moved to the UK 6 years ago. I was enticed into joining the Roger Casements Ladies' squad soon after having Fionn, with the promise of drinking buddies and the reassurance that no one cared whether I was any good or not.
Fast forward 6 years, and I’m preparing for an All-Britain final, with a group of women who have shown me what strength, determination and integrity really mean.

Individuals bring an impressive tally of medals from home. Two All-Ireland winners, 6 Senior County Champions and countless Junior Championship medals from both disciplines; Football & Camogie. These are women who have represented Ireland at every level; in Basketball, Volleyball, Soccer, even Badminton.
And it’s not just the native players who bring a sporting prowess. With new English recruits, coming from soccer, hockey, rugby and judo backgrounds, the athleticism on the team is undeniable.

We have been led by a dynamic management duo, who have been relentless in their efforts to make us fitter, faster, stronger than any team in the country. HIIT sessions every week for months, sprint sessions, skills sessions, pushing us hard right up until last light, and then some.
All in the hope of winning the All-Britain title, which last year proved too elusive.

Off the pitch however, the differences of 20 counties are put aside and friendships have formed. 
It’s hard to explain to someone who has never experienced emigration first hand, but knowing you have a club family there, on whom you can call, makes living abroad all the easier. We have seen each other graduate Uni & take on PHDs, get married, buy homes here, become mothers. The heartbreak we feel when people move back home is immense. But with that come gaps left to be filled by new recruits: Maybe by a student who’s left home for the first time and is looking for a support network. A surrogate family. A team.

Maybe I was just lucky, and joined a good team and got my drinking buddies; but there is definitely something special about Roger Casements GAA Club Coventry.
As a team we would like to thank our sponsors; BCS Group, Kilkenny Construction Ltd. and our Charity Partners Anthony Nolan, saving the lives of people with blood cancer.

Roger Casements Ladies Football Team Coventry, are hoping to continue their 100% season and add to their County Championship Title with a win over Tír na nÓg of Yorkshire in the All-Britain Junior Championship Final in Manchester on Saturday 22nd September.
Come along for what’s bound to be an intense game of football, and a taste of what the GAA in the UK really means.

St. Brendan’s GAA
M33 6LR
Throw in 12.30pm

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Breastfeeding; a more positive experience

I wanted to write something with a bit more of a positive twist on Breastfeeding.

All National Breastfeeding Weeks, all I saw online was articles and blogs about how hard it is, how negative peoples reaction is, how people didn't want to or couldn't, and their justification of that.
Let me start by saying there is no need to explain or justify why you didn't breastfeed. It's each mothers choice, and all each mother can do is her best for her baby.

This has been my 'norm' for the last 5 years
No matter where or when,
if the baby is hungry, boobs are out!
What really irks me though, is that bottle feeding is portrayed as the 'norm'. the majority of books, and TV, and cards, even baby clothes that reference feeding, show bottles. Which is fine, but it does get a bit annoying, when all you can find on mainstream sites on line is negativity surrounding breastfeeding.
Sure, there are a ton of support groups online, but they can get very intense, and sometimes quite judgey of mothers who don't conform to the strict Exclusively Breastfed, Baby Lead Weaning, No Sugar, Low Fat, Vegan Diet, rules that a lot of the families in these groups follow.
I'm in no way judging them, but I am saying there's a need for a middle ground.

I was lucky, all three of my boys took to feeding naturally, and I found it very easy. Something that actually made me feel like I was doing it wrong first time round, because I couldn't find a single piece online about it being easy. I can't be the only one.
I had a massive over supply, so I was able to donate my surplus Liquid Gold to the Human Milk bank on all three.

I fed Fionn until he was 1. I had hoped to go longer, but I needed to stop to start on Anti Depressants for PND. I probably should have taken them sooner, but I felt I needed to get to that year mark.

Daithí is still on the boob occasionally at 2 years 5 months. I thought he had weaned about half way into my 3rd pregnancy, but as soon as my milk came back in, he must have smelt it, because he was straight back on.

Tadhg is 9 months this week. I tandem fed him and Daithí, while donating to the Milk Bank for the first 6 months. With Daithí only occasionally feeding, and Tadhg too old for me to donate, I'm starting to accept that this is the tail end of my breast feeding journey as I wrap up some 'lasts'. I'll continue to feed for as long as it's working for both of us.

In the 5 years that I've been breastfeeding, I've had nothing but positive reactions from people while out and about. Which got me thinking, it can't all be as negative as some of the stories on line might lead you to believe. I reached out to some friends to get their stores, and was pleasantly not surprised to hear that they shared very similar experiences. I know I wouldn't have been so nervous my first time feeding in public had I known people aren't always dicks.

I was in a Costa one day, feeding Daithí, drinking coffee and playing trains with Fionn, and a woman tapped me on the shoulder to say congratulations. She went on to explain she was a recently retired midwife, and loved nothing more than to see women just getting on with it and feeding their babies. I didn't really know what to say, but it made me feel a bit more confident in my parenting abilities.

One of the most received posts on IG
Another time I was out in Nando's with the two kids. My friend had gone to the counter to order, and Fionn waited till I had Daithí latched on to spill his drink all over the table and chair. Quick as a flash, a man at the table beside me jumped to help. I pointed at a muslin square on top of my changing bag and he cleaned up the entire spill. As I was gushing a thank you, he said don't mention it, my wife fed both of our kids, I know how hard it is. Again, I felt a little more of a confidence boost.

Yet another positive experience that sticks out in my mind, is when I was in Thomas Land, Fionn & Daithí were off on a ride with Shane, and I was crouched on my hunkers, feeding Tadhg on my lap. A woman was taking shade from the sun beside me, and commented that I was doing a great job, that she was only ever able to feed sitting down propped up with a dozen pillows.

Shane calls it ninja-feeding. Walking and feeding, or feeding while doing something else. He always  gets excited and points it out to me when we spot someone ninja-feeding. He says he'd love to say well done, or something but it afraid people would think he's weird.

Don't get me wrong, I know those early days of learning to latch, and the cluster feeding, and grizzly babies and sleepless nights are hard.

But please, believe me, trust your body, it gets easier!!!