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Archive for March, 2012

Vivienne Westwood’s comments beggar belief

Courtesy of The Independent Blogs.

Westwood said during London Fashion Week the UK public was "ugly".

Westwood hit out at the UK public during London Fashion Week, calling them badly dressed.

It seems rather unfair of Vivienne Westwood to hit out at the UK populace, saying that we have never dressed as badly as we do today. While, admittedly, I am no fashion guru, and agree that there is a certain similarity between the discordant fashions of the day, it seems fair to argue that we’ve actually never had it so good.

The septuagenarian said, “In history, people dressed much better than we do today. If you saw Queen Elizabeth it would be amazing, she came from another planet.”

But Queen Elizabeth had the finest dress-makers and tailors in the country. She would have had her choice of the finest materials, the softest silks – the shiniest satins and the most voluminous velvets known to man. With all the money in the world, looking good is easy.

What Westwood forgets is that for the Queen to have all these accoutrements the majority of her people lived in poverty. Again, we have one of the elite forgetting that the 99 per cent don’t have Mary Poppins handbags or bottomless wallets.

Most of Queen Elizabeth’s subjects would have worn pretty shoddy clothes by comparison with today: picture hessian sacks, with rope tied round the middle, or Baldrick from Blackadder. For the designer to accuse the majority of the country as being conformist, while harking back to an age where variety was for a privileged few literally beggars belief.

You only have to take a short walk down any high street to witness the menagerie of prancing peacocks that make up the diverse crazes of the British public today. There has never been so much variety in fashion.

When you strip away the feathers, and get down to the real velour, we are privy to the fact that fashion is intimately linked with money. The poor spend a huge amount of their income trying to look like their celebrity icons. It is easy to forget that these false gods have it easy style-wise. They have millions of pounds to spend on brand-clothing, and if they don’t like any of those brands, they can make their own. They can hire make-up artists, style gurus, hairdressers; a veritable army of servants to help them look good.

The regular hoi polloi have to assemble their ensemble as best they can from Primark, discount stores and the sales. Yet the fashion elite have the nerve to say: “People have never looked so ugly as they do today.”

What a corker Viv.

Now, this might not be completely fair. Vivienne Westwood has always been on the cutting edge of fashion. An industry legend, even. Yet coming out of her latest show during London Fashion Week the age-old phrase, ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ could easily spring to mind.

So, before harking back to a bygone era, maybe you should appreciate that you’ve never had it so good? At the tender age of 70, Dame Westwood should count her lucky stars that we are in an age where people  can indulge in myriad fashions and trends that were once the province of a select few.

So before you go knocking the regular Joes out on the high street, please spare a thought to those on squeezed incomes, worried about unemployment and job cuts, stuck on the dole, or in debt. It may not be as bad as the days of serfdom, but buying the latest fashions is still a luxury that only the rich can consistently afford.

I will eagerly await Vivienne Westwood’s hessian range for the squeezed middle, complete with dung-ball accessories, modelled by Tony Robinson in next year’s London Fashion Week.

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Can we save water, pennies and time during the drought?

How do you save water in a drought?

Showers can use up to 200,000l of water a year, cut the time to save money...

Courtesy of The Independent Blogs.

I have to admit that I am a self-indulgent when it comes to showers. There is nothing I like more than to stand under hot water, washing the sticky sleep out of my eyes, preparing for the day ahead. It is also the easiest cure for a hangover.

With the South East and Midlands in a state of drought, I was shocked to learn that my power showers could use as much as 136 litres of water each. Radox estimate that a family of four could use up to 200,000 litres a year in showers, which could fill a swimming pool in less than two years.

The cost is staggering as well. An eight-minute shower every day can cost the average family £416 a year, whereas a power shower not only uses nearly twice as much energy and water as a bath, but could cost consumers £918 per year.

In light of this, they’ve offered a series of tips to save water and money during the drought. But how far are you willing to go to save both water and some pennies?

Some of them seem pretty obvious. Halving your shower time will save on average 45,000 litres of water per year. Every minute less you spend under the hot jets will save 17 litres.

If you are worried about taking an egg-timer into the shower with you, or are unable to accurately estimate the time you spend there, Radox are here to help. They have come up with a shower app that will choose a song of appropriate length for you to shower to – singing is purely optional – so that when the song is over you know you should be towelling-off your intimates.

The one issue with this is, how long do you have to spend in the shower to be clean by the end of it? It’s all well and good using less water, but if you smell like last nights beer and doner kebab you might not be too popular.

A novel idea for some will be turning the shower off when you apply shampoo and conditioner. Radox estimate that a family could save £104 a year if they switch it off when they shampoo, condition and shave.

I remember staying in a hostel in China, where they had the tiniest bathroom I’ve ever seen. What was even worse was that slap-bang in the centre of the shower, was a hole in the ground. Now I’m all for brushing my teeth in the shower to shave a few minutes of my schedule, but the idea of urinating at the same time could be taking things a little too far.

It turns out that consumers in Brazil have also indeed been encouraged to wee in the shower, so maybe it is simply my British sensibilities being tested here.

As well as washing your face and hair, brushing your teeth and going to the toilet in the shower, are we about to see new showers coming with a coffee machine and breakfast bar? What about having your wardrobe in the bathroom so that you could have breakfast, go to the toilet, brush your teeth, and select your clothes, while showering at the same time?

It seems doubtful whether doing more in the shower is actually going to mean you spend less time in there. It runs contrary to the spirit of the water-saving advice, if not the letter.

Once again, consumers are forced to walk the fine line between practicality, affordability, and being environmentally friendly. We have to choose between saving time, money or water, and as DEFRA has officially declared a state of drought these choices could become ever more pressing over the next few years.

One day in the distant future we might be able to have all three at the same time, but for now we are left with these hard choices.

End clustering of betting shops on our high streets

First published on The Independent Blogs, Tuesday 28 February

Are clusters of betting shops, fast-food outlets and coffee shops taking over the high street

Are clusters of betting shops, fast-food outlets and coffee shops taking over the high street?

The high streets of the UK have been hit extremely hard from all sides lately. If competing with out of town shopping centres and the boom in internet shopping wasn’t enough, the 5,200 shops that closed last year because of the recession is another example of the old saying that bad news comes in threes.

It has become all too common in the UK to find clusters of similar shops in certain areas. All too often there is a string of bookmakers, kebab houses, tanning salons, with little diversity in between. Very few would argue that streets filled with similar shops make the area appealing to potential buyers.

A ComRes survey found that over half of participants in England and Wales felt that clusters of sex and betting shops had a negative impact on high streets. A further 36 per cent said the same of tanning salons and fast food outlets.

Last week Southwark Borough Councillor Rowenna Davis sent an open letter to Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, highlighting that there are 77 bookmakers in her constituency.

“What’s happening is they are clustering in particularly poor areas,” she explains, “so we are pushing for the government to respond to Mary Portas’s high street review by giving more powers back to councils.”

Davis is not the only person to speak up for our town centres. MP David Lammy has expressed concerned that in his constituency of Tottenham there are 39 bookies and not a single bookshop. And even Boris Johnson has written to Mr Pickles to demand more powers for councils to counter clustering.

Chairman of the LGA, Sir Merrick Cockell explains, “Currently councils are powerless to prevent betting shops setting up.”

Clusters spring-up because of planning laws allow stores with the same ‘use’ license  to replace each. This means that when an independent café, shop or bank closes down, there is nothing the council can do about a new one opening, no matter how many shops of that kind there are already.

The principle is the same for betting shops. Currently they fall into the same category as banks, which are financial services. It means banks can be changed into betting shops without local authorities having any say in it.

The LGA is campaigning for a new ‘use’ class, or ‘super’ planning class as Sir Merrick describes it, for premises of potential future concern to local authorities. Each council would be able to add to this new class premises which their residents believe have a negative impact to their high streets.

This call seems to be widely echoed by the public, 63 per cent said they would be in favour of the government giving more power to councils to tackle clustering. But nearly three quarters of respondents were in favour of giving more powers to councils to help shape the high street based on communities’ wishes.

The public also has some strong opinions about what they would like on their high streets too. Nearly 80 per cent felt local producers would be important to the future success of their high street, followed by over 70 per cent feeling retail stores and local amenities would too.

Last year Mary Portas recommended the government to address the restrictive ‘use class’ system to make changing property uses easier, and suggested that betting shops have a ‘use class’ of their own. The rationale behind this was that many vacant lots were not being filled because changing the use required planning permission. By separating betting from the financial service class this would mean that every betting shop would have to apply for planning permission if they were changing the use of premises.

With the Department for Communities and Local Government building up to launch its response to Portas’s recommendations, a spokesman said: “We are currently reviewing ‘change of use’ and are considering views expressed on this, including betting shops.”

It’s not pretty, but it works – Why charities use street fundraisers

Charity fundraising is seen as a nuisance but is vital to charities in the UK

Charity muggers - chuggers - at work on the high streets

Charity begins at home,” runs the mantra, and at times almost everyone must have wished for some benevolent benefactor to help them in some way. It is hard to get worked up about famine in Africa, or deforestation in Indonesia when you’re worried about how you’ll afford your winter heating bills.

But these issues are being thrown in the face of shoppers on high streets across the country. Typically touted by long-haired, ever-smiling youths, charities have taken over the streets to win over the hearts and minds of the British public. Commonly dubbed ‘chugging’ (charity mugging), the voluntary sector calls it face-to-face-fundraising.

Almost everyone has gotten annoyed with being harangued in the street. Why anyone would think that because you’re carry a dozen heavy bags, soaked to the skin in the rain, and powering home that you want to stop and discuss world poverty is a mystery. But teams of fundraisers are spread across the country on a daily basis trying to bring supporters into their fold.

It has now come to a head in Islington. Councillor Paul Convery, Islington Council’s executive member for planning, regeneration and parking, has spoken out against the sheer number of fundraisers operating in the Borough.

People regard it as excessive and a nuisance,” he says. “We’re not talking about hundreds of thousands, but scores of complaints.”

The majority of people of Islington seem tired of charity fundraising in their area. A recent Daily Telegraph poll suggests that 58 per cent of people want it banned in London.

Out on Upper Street, my quick stroll poll found that 64 people thought there were too many fundraisers in Islington, compared to 26 who didn’t. Leaving 10 per cent who said they didn’t think there were more in Islington than anywhere else.

Cllr Convery is clear that they do not want to ban street chugging. They are campaigning for it to be regulated by local authorities rather than independent organisations like the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association (PFRA).

This is the only type of street canvassing that is regulated privately,” he says. “Every other type of on-the-street activity requires a license except fundraising.”

The PFRA liaises with councils and charities to decide where, when and how often fundraising can take place.

But all this chugger-bashing has obscured why people in out in the street in all weathers, day-in and day-out, in the first place: they are raising the necessary funds for charities to continue their work.

It can be annoying to be approached by a charity, but as PFRA spokesman Ian MacQuillian explains: “It’s a myth that people give to the charities they give to without being asked.”

He highlights that chuggers are not taking donations there and then, but signing members up to regular direct debit payments, pledges of a set amount on a regular basis. These are widely regarded by charities as the most effective way to monitor and budget their contributions. Fundraising in this way breaks-even after two or three years and can return £2.50 for every £1 invested.

PFRA figures show that during 2010-11 street fundraising brought in over 170,000 supporters to their charities. It shows that despite the huffing and puffing of councils and the public, a great many people do stop and contribute to chuggers.

Mike Blakemore, media director at Amnesty international UK says: “It is an important for all organisations and it provides an opportunity to speak to members of the public that we wouldn’t meet otherwise.”

Despite the chagrin that many people experience when approached on the street, Mr Blakemore says only 0.04 per cent of the people their fundraisers spoke to complained.

Amnesty stands firmly behind keeping the PFRA regulating street fundraising.

Council’s shouldn’t be able to decide which charities can fundraise,”says Mr Blakemore.

He believes that to shift regulation from the PFRA would lead to more expensive administration for councils, and could result in arbitary decisions about which charities could fundraise.

Many would argue that the decision to give or not is purely down to the individual. This sentiment is echoed by Mr Blakemore: “It is a very personal thing and people are capable of making that decision on their own.”

Islington Council and the PFRA are in talks over the issue in the Borough. But both, and many other interested parties are awaiting Lord Hodgson’s ongoing review of the 2006 Charities Act. At present he is listening to the parties involved and the general public, and after the consultation period ends in April his final report will be awaited with bated breath before the summer recess.

At a time when the economy is sagging and public sector funding is tight, it seems a no-brainer for councils to take on the regulation of charity fundraising. And with household income being squeezed from all directions, the decision to give or not give to charities might safely be left to the general public.

 

Charity fundraising is seen as a nuisance, but it is vital for charites

Chuggers at work on the UK's high streets