Thursday, 20 February 2020

Why I'm becoming a Brownie Leader

One thing that you're sure to recognise from your childhood is Girlguiding or Scouts as they've been around for over 100 years. Although they've changed a lot throughout the years, they've always been a place where you can go to meet with friends and learn outside of a school setting. I myself was a Brownie (the second group in the hierarchy of GirlGuiding from age 7-10) although I don't recall much from those days except an abundance of crafts and lots of outdoor activities.

I'll get into why I'm becoming a Brownie Leader, but first a bit of background. In 2018, in early January,  I was in the 'new year, new me' phase. I needed to find something else to introduce into my life, a new hobby, maybe volunteering.  As luck would have it, I was browsing Instagram and I stumbled across an advert for Girlguiding, looking for volunteers to spare time to help local groups. At the time I had ambitions to possibly go into teaching, although this didn't pan out, so I thought it would be the perfect thing to do.

It's a nerve-racking thing to do, join an established group when you don't have much experience around kids or anything like this but sometimes you have to put yourself in these situations to get something out of them. And get something I did. It took me a while to find my feet, start interacting with the girls and understanding how I could be of some help but when I did, every week it felt more and more rewarding.

Images of Brownie Girlguiding Pack

For over a year I was a Unit Helper, coming into the meetings every Thursday night to support the leader's sessions, helping out with games and generally supporting the girls in their activities. In the Spring of 2019, I was asked about becoming one of the leadership team within the unit I attend. At first, I wasn't really up for it, and at the time I was going off for a few months to retrain, so I put it on the back burner. When I came back in September, I had a discussion with our Brown Owl and decided I had nothing to lose, so why not give it a go.

The process of becoming a leader is much like an NVQ or something similar in that you have a booklet of tasks you need to complete and evidence you need to collect whilst getting parts signed off as you go. I'm probably around 75% of the way there, so I'm hoping to finish before the end of Spring, maybe sooner if all falls into place.

So, why did I decide to become a Brownie Leader, and why do I value my volunteering position as much as I do?

Brownies (and other sections of Girlguiding) provide girls with an opportunity to meet with friends, make new friends and generally just be around local girls without pressure or judgement. Before I started attending the sessions, I didn't realise how much I think young girls need this. With mounting pressures starting with girls younger and younger, a place where they can just have fun without people thinking they look silly or learn new and exciting life skills with the support of other young girls is so important. I've heard a few of the girls in our unit mention themselves in a negative way or compare themselves to others and I value the opportunity to rebuttal their statements and empower these girls to think positively about themselves providing a platform for them to grow in the future.

Further on this point, it is a chance to help shape a young girls future. We do such exciting and creative things at Brownies, whilst we also talk about issues and fight stereotypes. We want to show the girls that no matter what they want to do when they are older or whoever they want to be, it's possible. I think that it is extremely valuable to do this.

Thinking about more selfish reasons for becoming a Brownie leader, I feel a sense of self-fulfilment in helping the girls to realise their potential. It's a great position to be in and its a pleasure to go in every week to speak to the girls and see how they are growing.

When at Brownies, we get to do lots of cool crafts, I do love a craft, and we get the opportunity to visit places with the group. For example, we went to the panto on ice before Christmas, have been to Whitby on pack holiday and we're looking to go to Flamingo Land in September. We're not travelling across the World or anything (although you can) but I enjoy getting out and experiencing things I otherwise wouldn't.

Finally, I think becoming a Brownie Leader is just fun. I get to go for an hour and a half every Thursday to spend time with some fantastic leaders and bright young girls to play games, do crafts and complete activities. If that isn't a reason in itself to be a part of Girlguiding, I don't know what is.

If you're considering applying to volunteer at a local Girlguiding (or Scout) group, I'd definitely suggest you go for it. There are different age groups you can help with and varying levels of commitment you can offer and you can, of course, take time off when you need. Please get in touch if you have any questions, want to talk about what the leadership booklet entails or you're currently going through it. It would be great to speak to other leaders-to-be!

Oh, and did I mention you get a cool owl name? The girls decided that I'm 'Happy Owl'. I'm pretty sure they don't know me too well...

Also, if I've inspired you to enrol your child, get her to a session, I'm sure she will love it.

Sunday, 16 February 2020

68 hours in Carcassonne and Toulouse, France

We’ve recently returned from a weekend away in the South of France. To be specific, a small town called Carcassonne. When I mentioned our trip before we went, a lot of people had not heard of Carcassonne, and to be honest I hadn’t known about it long. We bought a book a couple of months back which has a bunch of recommendations for trips away in Europe and Carcassonne was one of them. Flights were super cheap with Ryanair from Manchester (£40 each return) so we booked up and found a cute little Airbnb to house us for our long weekend away.

The South of France is of course known for its hot climate and is a popular destination in the Summer, but not so much in the Winter. When we met our Airbnb host she warned us that some restaurants and shops may not be open due to the time of year. Once we started our exploring it didn’t bother us too much, it was very tranquil and added to the relaxing atmosphere. Obviously, it would be lovely to visit it when everywhere is open and in full swing, but for our visit it was great. 

We explored the streets on our first night looking for a supermarket to fill the fridge and a restaurant to fill our bellies. The newer part of Carcassonne is small and very walkable. There are quaint little streets that lead you to open squares with cafes and restaurants.

Carcassonne police station art deco clock
Carcassonne Saturday food market
Carcassonne streets

On our second day, a Saturday, we were told about the market that is held in one of the squares. In an effort to take in the French culture we had a walk along. It was such a bustling and vibrant market full of fresh produce. It was so fantastic to see that this was their way of living, popping out on a Saturday morning to buy their essentials, with very little plastic insight, and to chat to their friends along the way. There were many times we saw people bump into people they knew and stop for a chat. The simplicity of it all and the slower way of life makes me want to move right away. 

After this, we headed to the Medieval city. When I first saw it I was awestruck at how pretty and beautifully preserved it is. It is like a huge adult playground. We walked up the steep hills to get inside and it was a maze of streets with restaurants and small shops. If you’ve seen Game of Thrones it reminded me of King’s Landing. We walked around the fortified city many times seeing everything there was to see and taking in the many fabulous views of Carcassonne. Later on in the day, I told you it’s a maze in there, we finally stumbled across the main part where you can pay to on in and explore further (Le Château Comtal). It’s definitely worth the trip inside as you learn about the history of it all and you get to walk parts of the wall you otherwise can't.

Cité Médiévale Carcassonne - Medieval City
Cité Médiévale Carcassonne - Medieval City Views
Cité Médiévale Carcassonne - Medieval City
Cité Médiévale Carcassonne - Medieval City
On Sunday, we took the double-decker train to Toulouse. Unfortunately, almost everything was closed there on Sundays but we had a good look round at all the tourist spots and down to the river. We ate burgers and came across a super busy and very delicious tea room. The cake selection was small enough so that they did it well but big enough for a good selection. I went for the sickliest chocolate item I could find and Matt went for the biggest piece of apple pie he’s ever had. Having a pit stop amongst the French, eating our cake and drinking our tea was lovely. 
Toulouse France City Hall
Toulouse France City Hall
Toulouse France River Garonne
Toulouse France Street

On our last day, we were back on the streets, wandering around for some breakfast and of course, we had the most French breakfast there is; pastry, baguette and jams, juice and tea - all served out in a typical French square. Again, a little later on, we went for cake. With so many fabulous bakeries and patisseries, it would be rude not to take advantage. My cake was stunning and then it was sadly time to leave.

Although our time in Carcassonne was very quiet, it didn’t hamper our trip or put us off future visits. If anything we got a little flavour for this French town and are eager to go back.

If this is somewhere that you're adding to your travel list, I’ve got a few tips for you:

  • Decide if you're happy with it being quite quiet, or if you want to come in high season and enjoy the full Carcassonne experience. 
  • Use the airport shuttle bus. Carcassonne airport will most likely be the smallest airport you ever did see. When you get out of the airport, a bus will be waiting. Pay €6 each and the bus will take you into town. It usually waits around 45 minutes from the plane landing until it sets off so don't worry if you think it isn't moving. In terms of transport from the airport, there is a severe lack of it with no taxis in sight and no rail connection, so the bus is probably your best bet and it takes less than 10 minutes with no traffic. The first stop is the train station and then there are a couple of other stops after taking you further into town. Then for getting back to the airport, as there aren't many flights the bus has transfers just for these. Check the train station bus stop for times dependent on your flight. 
  • If you're around on a Sunday night, make sure to stock up your fridge the day before. For us, almost everywhere was closed so we couldn't get anything to eat and so went hungry for the night. 
  • Learn a bit of French to get by. A lot of places here only speak French so it’s good to go with a little knowledge of what is being said and what you’re asking for. They are all very friendly people and will try, but it's always nice to learn the language. 
  • Stay in our Airbnb. It was super cute and a great location and also very reasonable for the price. Isabelle the host is also really nice and will show you her recommendations, including a cake shop around the corner which is amazing!

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Three tried and tested places on Teesside to visit during Veganuary

At the start of a new year, everyone starts to eat a little greener, some even go full vegan for the month that is dubbed, Veganuary. Although I'm far from a Vegan, I've tried some delicious places on Teesside that specialise in fully plant-based cuisine. For anyone trying Veganuary this year, it might be wise to check these places out to try some yummy food and get some ideas to cook up yourself. Although no meat will be dished up at these places, your carnivore friends should definitely visit with you as they won't miss not having it on their plate with the culinary delights they'll be served at these three places.

First on the list is Alkaline Kitchen, a fully vegan health cafe located on Middlesbrough's up-and-coming Albert Street. Opened early last year, the cafe offers innovative food which is oil-free, preservative-free, gluten-free, soy-free and refined sugar-free. I've been on two occasions now and the food is always colourful, full of goodness and delicious. Offering a varied menu from lunch until teatime, everything about the food options is creative and exciting. There is so much goodness on the plate and it all works so well together. If you're looking to try something unlike anything you've had before, this is definitely the place to go.

Vegan tacos at Alkaline Kitchen, Middlesbrough
Vegan nachos at Alkaline Kitchen, Middlesbrough

Next up is The Waiting Room situated in Eaglescliffe right next to the station, not far from Preston Park. I've written about this place before as I've been a few times now and although I haven't been for a while, I'm eager to get back. The Waiting Room is promoted as a vegetarian restaurant, however, the staff here are happy to make most dishes vegan where possible, so vegans will have lots of choices when they visit.

Here you get some fantastic food that feels homemade and cosy. As it is all made with vegetables, everything you eat feels filling and good for you, although some dishes can be quite hearty. What I love about this place is that their menu changes depending on the season, although some dishes such as the enchilada stay year-round. Even from season to season they change up what they offer so often if you go back you probably won't recognise the menu.

Food at The Waiting Room, Eaglescliffe, Yarm

Now it's time for dessert with Ellephant Vegan Bakery, a fairly new business established in 2019. Elle and her partner Alex whip up some amazing vegan treats from cupcakes and cookies to pizza rolls and quiche. Now with a unit in Stockton, they sell their products at farmer's markets and events across the region and take orders to collect. Their cakes are literally to die for, so rich and moist. You won't be able to tell they are vegan. 

Christmas cupcakes from Ellephant Vegan Bakery, Teesside

There are plenty more vegan spots in the area and also places that cater heavily to people on a plant-based diet. With the popularity of this way of eating on the up, I can only see more places offering more delicious vegan grub. Do you have a favourite spot in Teesside for vegan/vegetarian food?
© this Northerner.

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