In the words of Ned Stark, ‘winter is coming’. But in the real world that’s less a sign that white walkers will soon be invading our land so much as the onset of grey gloomy skies, cold wet weather and long, dark nights.
I always hate the switch to British Summer Time in the spring – that loss of an hour feels so much more than a mere 60 minutes. But at least it’s offset by the delights of spring, with days growing ever longer and brighter, and a calming profusion of lush green and colourful flowers.
In contrast, winter is heralded by the return to Greenwich Mean Time with clocks going back by an hour on the 30th of October. Most years, I greedily take that as an extra hour in bed, or at the very least an hour longer to read a good book or have a long hot soak in the bath.
But this year I’ve been asked by Elizabeth Shaw ‘to use that hour do something thoughtful for someone else instead’. I love this idea! It’s a perfect reminder that a single hour is enough time to make a difference to those around you. It’s easy to be put off thinking about what you could do to help others because of the assumption that you can only contribute usefully if you volunteer several hours a week on a regular basis or take part in a huge time- and energy-intensive event.
Of course, that’s not true at all and what I want to talk about are the easily achievable small gestures you can do to improve someone else’s day and bring a little more happiness into the world.
Source image from shutterstock.com, text added by me
I am lucky to know many enormously decent, kind and lovely people. When I asked for their ideas on the kinds of things we can do to help others if we have just one hour to give, the response was staggering (in a good way) and hugely inspiring. I want to share with you all the things my friends do to make the world a brighter place.
All of these are ideas that you can do if you have an ad hoc hour or two spare.
- Does your area have a local homeless shelter? (Citizens Advice should be able to provide a list). Instead of going shopping for yourself, go out and buy items to give to the shelter which they can distribute amongst their residents. A friend of mine who does this whenever she can recommends asking the shelter for guidance, first. For example, if you’d like to buy food items, ask whether residents have access to cooking facilities and if so, whether they have use of an oven, a stove top, a microwave, a fridge… and choose your donations accordingly. Ask what toiletry and hygiene items are most in need – toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, moisturiser, female sanitary items, shaving foam and razors
- In a similar vein, get in touch with your local food bank and ask how and when to contribute. At mine, you can leave donations pretty much any day of the week, but with others they are only able to accept donations on certain days. Your food bank will be able to give guidance on what they are particularly short of as well as items that are considered a special treat. I like to donate a mix of affordable food essentials – pasta, sauces, tinned food – with a few items that may be a welcome treat – chocolates, good quality biscuits, a nice jar or honey, jam or chocolate spread. (And a note for fellow food and drink bloggers – if, like me, you are often sent product samples beyond what you need for review, consider donating what you can – just make sure everything you give is within the use by period).
Image from shutterstock.com
- If you grow fruit and vegetables in your garden or allotment, you’ll almost certainly already be sharing gluts with friends, family and colleagues. You may also be able to donate fresh produce either to a food bank (check if they can handle fresh produce first), or to a local homeless shelter or other organisations that cook and feed those in need.
- Even if you can’t offer your time on a regular basis, local charities can often use help on an ad hoc basis. Organisations that provide meals to the homeless are often happy for help with kitchen prep, even if you can only offer it now and again. If you have specialist skills, can you offer to help with their accounts, tax returns, website or marketing? Maybe the organisation in question has an administrator who could do with better Excel skills – commercial training courses can be expensive, but a one-to-one lesson from a patient and willing helper could be just as useful. One of my friends is a master chef and he donates his time by way of cooking classes for a community cooking school, for various events and demos, and at his local shelter. A family member of mine has run cooking classes for a local education group, helping parents learn to make good, affordable and nutritious food for their families.
- Have you got a spare hour in the kitchen? Bake a cake (or two or three) to give as a gift or donate for fundraising. One of my friends suggests freezing extra cakes, and she can then donate several at a time when there’s a bake sale. Another loves to surprise neighbours with cakes and other baked treats now and then, just because.
- One of my favourite ideas for those who enjoy baking is a scheme called Free Cakes For Kids, run entirely by volunteers. Members provide birthday (and other celebration) cakes for children (and occasionally adults) who wouldn’t otherwise have them. A friend of mine has signed up to her local group and finds it a lovely way to do something small that has a huge and positive impact on someone’s day. Recipients can be referred by schools, social workers and other aid organisations. The requests are sent out to volunteers by email, and there are enough volunteers in my friend’s group that there is virtually always a volunteer who can accommodate each request.
- One way of doing something that can benefit a whole community is to join a community group that organises activities in your neighbourhood. A few of my friends belong to church groups and other community groups, and one is a member of Good Gym, a community of runners who combine exercise with doing good. Members of these various clubs take part in group activities such as litter picking, weeding and gardening in parks, community gardens and other communal areas, fixing or painting park benches, fences and railings, planting trees, running fundraisers or community social events, and helping elderly locals with home and garden chores. The advantage of these groups is that while some members may be able to attend every time, those who can only attend sometimes are still welcome.
On a more personal note, there are plenty of small gestures that can make such a big difference.
- If you have any elderly or housebound neighbours, go around for a cup of tea and a chat, perhaps taking a cake or some biscuits with you. Those with reduced mobility and living on their own, can easily become lonely and isolated. If you don’t know anyone personally, contact Age UK (a merger of Age Concern England and Help the Aged) and ask if they know anyone in your vicinity who may appreciate a visit.
- One of my friends helped a neighbour decorate their home for Christmas. Getting decorations down from the loft and putting the tree up can be difficult, and for some it might be easier not to bother with a tree at all than to ask for help from others. A good tip from my friend is not to just tell someone to ask you if they need any help, but to make a few suggestions of specific tasks you could help with – it’s easier for people to say yes to a specific offer of help than to ask for something they feel may be too much of an imposition.
- What kind of tasks could you offer to help with? An hour’s time is plenty to mow a lawn, tidy up a garden, sweep autumn leaves or clear the front path of snow, or do other small maintenance tasks such as repainting a front door or garden fence. Perhaps you could do someone’s weekly shop for them at the same time you do your own – it can give more peace of mind to have a friend or neighbour to do this rather than relying on supermarket deliveries – especially for those who are not confident ordering online. Think about whether any of your neighbours or friends could benefit from this kind of help, or again, ask Age UK if they know of people in your area.
Collage created using images from shutterstock.com
- Do you have friends suffering from depression or anxiety? Offering to accompany them for a walk in a nearby park or the local neighbourhood can be hugely appreciated; a way to get some fresh air and a different perspective.
- Professional babysitting services can be very expensive and many people simply can’t afford them and may have no extended family who can help. Offer to babysit for a friend (whose children know you) or have their children over to yours for a few hours so the parent(s) may enjoy some time out.
- Do you know someone who is a full time carer to an elderly, disabled or chronically ill relative? Perhaps you could take their place to allow them to get out of the house for an hour or two – not everyone has extended family that can share the role. If you don’t know anyone personally, you may be able to find a local carers support organisation that could connect you with someone in your vicinity.
Although I’m focusing predominantly on the kinds of gestures you can make even if you only have the odd hour or two now and again, my friends also mentioned many ways of volunteering for those who can give time more regularly.
- These range from joining your children’s school Parent Teacher Associations, where there are all manner of activities you can help with, to becoming a leader for a local Guide or Scout group – a great way to help children in your community learn new skills, develop confidence and be more active.
To make a small gesture of their own, Elizabeth Shaw are offering a hamper of their delicious products to one reader of Kavey Eats. Click here to find out more and to enter.
Kavey Eats was commissioned to write this post by Elizabeth Shaw Luxury Chocolates. All opinions and suggestions are my own.