May 052017
 

With thanks to Yvette Rayner, PR Account Manager, Frasermedia.

Aberdeen’s world-class sports venue has partnered with national governing body Netball Scotland and VisitAberdeenshire to win the right to host an international netball competition in May, which is expected to bring almost £200,000 into the area.

Aberdeen Sports Village (ASV), which is based in the city’s Linksfield Road, will host Netball Europe, which involves eight national teams, from 11-14th May 2017.

The event is coming to Aberdeen for the third time, with the event having sold out in previous years.

The four-day international Under 21 championship will feature England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, as well as four developing nations Bermuda, Gibraltar, Israel and The Republic of Ireland, competing in the open challenge section.  

Netball Europe will come to Aberdeen in 2017 after a sustained campaign by Aberdeen Sports Village and Netball Scotland, supported by VisitAberdeenshire.

Netball Scotland CEO, Claire Nelson, said:

“We are extremely excited to be back in Aberdeen for the Under 21 Netball Europe Championships 2017 at one of the best facilities in Scotland.

“As we reach the business end of the season, this is a huge event for all of the home nations as this will be our final competition before the Under 21 World Cup in July this year. The players have committed to an intense training programme, both on and off the court, to ensure we have the capability to showcase the sport at international level.”

CEO of ASV, Duncan Sinclair, said:

“It is a superb achievement to bring Netball Europe to Aberdeen. We have worked hard to promote Aberdeen Sports Village as the best venue in Scotland to hold the event. We hosted the event in 2013 and 2015 and it was very popular and sold out quickly.

“There is a huge appetite in Aberdeen for international events and we will work closely with VisitAberdeenshire to attract more such prestigious events to the city.  The netball community in the North East is consistently growing and is very active, and I’m sure they will embrace the opportunity to watch international netball on their doorstep and become part of the event.

“With over 100 participants, Netball Europe is expected to bring a significant economical benefit of almost £200,000 to the area. It is a real honour to welcome the eight national teams to Aberdeen, and we are looking forward to some exciting games. 

“In 2015, the event sold out with more than 300 tickets per match, and we expect to match that success in 2017.”

Jenni Fraser, business development director of VisitAberdeenshire, said:

“We are  pleased that we have  been able to help bring Netball Europe to Aberdeen and put the city and the wider region on the international sporting map.

“Players, coaches, officials and spectators who will visit Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire in May will see that the region offers not only world-class sports facilities, but high quality hotels, bars and restaurants, interesting cultural attractions and beautiful scenery.  This is exactly the type of event that we want to encourage in the city because of the economic spin-off that it brings.”

Tickets for Netball Europe are priced at £5.50 (adult) and £3.30 (concession) for the Under 21 competition and £3.30 (adult) and £2.00 (concession) for the Open/Invitational challenge. Ticket are available now, from the Aberdeen Box Office, or online at http://bit.ly/2powc1b.

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Oct 152016
 

With thanks to Kenneth Hutchison, Parliamentary Assistant to Dr. Eilidh Whiteford.

ew-with-ethel-risi-l-and-olive-sharpe-r

Dr Whiteford with Ethel Risi and Olive Sharpe of Banff & Buchan WASPI.

Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaigners in the North east have welcomed support from Banff & Buchan MP Eilidh Whiteford, following a recent meeting at her constituency office in Peterhead.

Dr Whiteford met with local women Olive Sharp and Ethel Risi of WASPI’s Banff & Buchan Branch, to receive a petition with 500 signatures in support of WASPI’s objectives.

The UK Government has accelerated the process of equalisation of pension ages for men and women, which means that women born in the 1950s have lost thousands in pensions payments without having sufficient time to plan for the changes.

Hundreds of women in the local area are affected by the most recent changes, on top of the pension age increase of 1995.

SNP MPs have repeatedly raised the issue in Parliament, and have met with WASPI campaigners at Westminster to demonstrate support.

Ms. Sharp said:

“We have no problem with equalisation of the state pension age, but we do feel we should have been informed in 1995 when that momentous change came in.

“Anybody affected should get in touch. We have a local group which people can contact for information.”

Dr Whiteford added:

“The women of WASPI have my full, unequivocal support, and the UK Government really should reconsider this ill-thought out policy.

“Nobody doubts that there are challenges associated with an ageing population. For women born in the 1950s, however, the fact that the pension age has now risen twice is deeply unfair.

“The UK Government should have phased these changes in gradually, without punishing one particular age cohort. That’s why I am pleased to support WASPI’s calls for fair, equitable treatment.

“There are far fairer ways to address the challenges of an ageing population.”

Anyone affected by the changes can get in touch with Olive on 07735575127 or by e-mail on olivesharpe1955@gmail.com

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Sep 092016
 

Aberdeen FC Ladies have three senior teams: Aberdeen FC Ladies (premier team), Aberdeen FCL Reserves and Aberdeen FCL. Can a 26 year-old man possibly serve as a successful head coach for this organisation? After a conversation with Head Coach Stefan Laird, Suzanne Kelly is absolutely convinced he’ll be taking the AFC Ladies to the top.

stefan-laird-megan-reidStefan and I meet for a coffee.

Stefan’s amazingly self-possessed, confident, convinced and balanced; he comes across as someone who’s had decades of experience dealing with the media – and he’s not even 30.

By the time we’re done speaking, an hour has passed, and I know he’s still got more to say.

I conclude he wants to make Aberdeen FC the most desirable club to play for because the club will think about your future on and off the pitch.

It’s a long-term strategy but he’s convinced me he and his ideas will help the women, the club, and ultimately the game. I am genuinely impressed.

The interview flies past; I’m riveted, and he’s far from finished explaining his theories and recounting incidents. Here are a few selections of his thoughts on some of the topics we covered.

On his footballing past:

I was at Rangers youth academy. I left at 16 and signed full time professional for Blackpool. On my debut, after 20 minutes I tore my cruciate ligament and that was the start of a series of unfortunate injures. I came back to rangers after my 2 ½ years and after 3 months did my knee and that was me finished.

On how he became the Head Coach of Aberdeen FC Ladies:

The coaching began during my first rehab at Blackpool. They put me through the first of my English coaching badges. I can remember clear as day now standing in the manager’s office and telling him it was a waste of time, I would never use them, I didn’t like it; I wasn’t good at it. It was Colin Hendry, the ex-Scotland captain who was managing them; he and Gary Parkinson put me through it under the FA’s tutorship.

They took me all the way through my B license and then when I came back, used it briefly at the Blackpool centre of excellence – but I was still fully cantered on the football and when I came back to Aberdeen I thought ‘I can’t play anymore; might as well use it’.

To be honest, for about a year I fell out of love with football completely. I had the attitude of ‘why has this happened to me?’

I made all the sacrifices – didn’t drink a drop of alcohol until I was 20; went home early; never had a new year’s out with my friends, never did all the standard stuff.

‘Why has this happened to me?’ I thought when I saw people playing who I didn’t think were as good as I was I was in the stand watching them– effectively wearing my shirt. To a certain extent I still struggle with it.

On disability coaching experiences:

To be perfectly honest when I went there [disability coaching] on my first night I thought ‘what is this going to be like?’ I had no idea what the standard was going to be. There’s a whole range of disabilities. You can have people in the class with six different disabilities some mental, some physical. I left that training session that night and on every night I’ve taken them on top of the world.

It’s a feeling I’d never experienced before. I make a difference in people’s lives by going out coaching kids in less advantaged areas. Giving them things, opportunities and access to players and people they never thought they’d meet. But leaving a disability session at night, you genuinely come away feeling great because the kids are there because they are in love football. And there’s a lot of coaches that don’t want to deal with that side of things and don’t want to coach that level of foot ball – and acknowledge it. They’re afraid. They don’t want to deal. And on the other side there’s no fear.

Special abilities is the right word because I do think they have special abilities. If people who are more mentally advantaged and more able bodied attacked life with the same attitude as these people I coach– well, we’d have a better world – and as individuals would be a hell of a lot more successful. If everyone attacked obstacles in their daily life like these people do – it reminds me that we don’t really have anything to worry about.

Everybody’s selfish. No matter what you say out here, when you go home at night the majority of people are just concerned about one person – themselves. You can go and help other people – but I will never lose that feeling if I’m honest of ‘why me?’

I see the disabled players – and it all pales into insignificance. I’m still going home after a session, jumping into my nice car, and going home to my nice house where I can have a moan about my own life –which football has got me as well – and when you re’ in that room with them – nothing else in the world matters. You’re involved in the game and the enjoyment of that game.

When you’re in that room with them, the game is all that matters.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve got one leg, one arm, three eyes, a ten million pound house. It doesn’t matter what colour/religion you are – you’re entrenched in the sport and everyone is there to enjoy the sport, to get out of it what they can.

On lessons to be learned from sport:

I would go to training at night and have two Swedish boys on my team. A guy from Turkey. A boy from Estonia. Four English guys. The two Turkish boys did not speak a word of English but you didn’t have a problem communicating with them. I probably still can’t explain it – you could just understand each other through the game.

You see it just now in the Olympics – not just football – sport can do things that I just don’t think people fully understand and I don’t think it’s utilised enough. You learn lessons for your life from Sport. You can pretty much teach every principle there is in a dressing room and take it into an office and into the street. We’re trying to win games, but we’re trying to create a certain kind of person at the same time.

On working with people with addiction issues:

People say to me ‘you don’t understand what it’s like to be a drug addict’ and I’ll say ‘well, I’ll never understand the pain hopefully’ – but I do understand they are addicted to something, because I’m addicted to the dressing room atmosphere. Now that’s a completely different thing from football. And this is probably what I craved more than anything.

I spent probably about 75% of my day laughing when I was a footballer because you’re in the comaraderie of a group, a team.

I’m no longer able to play. I sometimes think the younger kids are spoilt. They’ll get released. They’ll be sat down at 12 years old and be told they’re not good enough.

I still believe in my own experiences when I’m sitting on my death bed I won’t remember beating Celtic or getting into the Blackpool team. What I’ll remember most though is the guys who were sitting next to me. The camaraderie, the slagging each other off – that’s what I’m addicted to. So football players – people don’t know this – Paul Gascoigne – people like him are used to having that every day and then suddenly one day you’re on your own.

It becomes very isolated. You’ve been living life on a high – same as a drug addict – then bang – nobody cares about you any more. The guys that surrounded you are no longer there – you’ve gone from being in a family to being on your own effectively.

Laird on team spirit:

So I try to say to the players ‘listen –whatever happens on the pitch today, it’s about the person sitting next to you, and if you see them in trouble, you must help them. We’re not just a team.

The most successful team in the league last year – Leicester – they’re not the best team in the league – but they are the best team in that dressing room. Those guys will die for each other and that’s why they’ll go the extra mile. And they can overcome things. That will last their whole life – those guys will never forget it.

At our girls academy just now we have about 120 players. If I’m realistic, maybe about four of them will play for our first team. So I want all of them to play, but I want them to leave Aberdeen Ladies better equipped for life than when they arrived.

The likelihood is you’re not going to be a footballer because there’s about 100 million people trying to do it. So the reality is you’ll play to a high level until you’re about 20.

How can I maximise that experience for you over that time and how can you get the most out of it? We’re in the biggest club in the district. So how can we help other teams? 99% of our players will never play for Aberdeen’s first side. So we want them to leave as good a player as possible so they can go elsewhere in their football career and succeed.

So if they don’t succeed with us – and that’s just one man’s opinion which happens to be mine just now – I would love them to prove me wrong so I have to go knock on their door and try to get them back.

On women’s football:

People keep saying to me ‘is women’s football taking off?’ I say – ‘it’s happened’. It’s just not at the level in this country just now as it is in other countries. You could argue that’s the same for men too. Players in this country are getting paid £3k a week; players in France are getting paid 200k/week. You could argue it’s not taken off men-wise here.

Three or four months ago it became the world’s fastest growing sport by a long distance. The women’s world cup did a lot for that. It’s huge in US; I was lucky enough to spend time away with Scottish first team’s manager.

She took a group of coaches over to France five months ago and we spent a week at Paris St Germaine and a week at Lyon. Now their players are getting paid. It’s full time professional women – fully integrated – there are 7,000 fans there; the PSG team took 5,000 fans with them. Their players were on Euros 3,000 – 9,000 a week.

Manchester City have their own fully integrated women’s stadium, I think it holds 15,000, all their players are full-time, professional. Arsenal is one of the biggest women’s’ teams in Europe. So all across Europe, the money is big. In Scotland we are not there yet, but we are nearly there, and it won’t be long before similar figures are bandied around here.

On the winning attitude:

Some Aberdeen people tend to go down there [to international training camps] and stick to the Aberdeen people; some of them can be very quiet and they will never stand up and say ‘I’m the best’ – whereas the Glasgow person is raised to believe ‘I’m the best’ and they think ‘you might beat me, but you’re going to take a hell of a beating doing it so much so you won’t come back for seconds’.

That’s the attitude – that‘s the kind of spirit – I have to create in Aberdeen. I dealt with a lot of Scousesrs and they treated their area as if it were a national area. They played to defend their area their principles, their beliefs. They have a mentality that people are not going to come up there and take anything from them easily.

We need to develop the same mentality here. I was raised by Rangers to believe that I was at Rangers because I was better than anyone else in the country. I was told we were going up on the bus to Aberdeen that we were coming up to TAKE the three points. There was never any discussion of losing.  ‘How many will we win by?’ Was the question, never ‘Are we going to win?’ People up here need to look at people like me and say that they will not let people take things for free.

Fear in general is your enemy more so than your opponent. But up here… I look at guys like leBron James, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan. These guys go on TV and say ‘we’re going to win because we’re better – we’re the best.’

Now, not only are they driving their own ego and pushing their own team up, they are planting the idea in their opponent’s mind ‘we are going to beat you.’ I look at that and the Floyd Mayweathers of the world – who everyone hates – as soon as people punch the code into sky to buy, then his job is done. The thing is to put bums on seats.

I have that attitude – I am the same. At my first interview at Aberdeen I was asked ‘how do you feel about getting this job?’

I said it should be my job, I am the best person. They kept saying to me are you nervous coming down here, you’re only 26? I am apprehensive, because I want to do well – but I am not nervous.

[this is a distinction that if more people could make in their lives I thought, we’d all be better off. By now I already want Stefan to go into motivational coaching, and become the UK’s education secretary].

Now that attitude here doesn’t go down well. People think I’m arrogant but they don’t understand the difference between confidence and arrogance. Confidence is someone who knows they can do something and are willing to work hard at it. Arrogance is someone who’s saying they’re the best but is doing nothing in the background and has nothing to prove it.

The reason I love American sport and America in general, Americans value personality and drive. They have the attitude of work hard and you will succeed. It might not happen, but you have a hell of a better chance. If you can make a big enough noise, the US attitude is ‘love me or hate me, you will not ignore me’.

That is why around the world they will succeed. When asked ‘who wants the opportunity?’ the American person will say ‘I’ll take it’. The idea of failure never enters their mind. The idea of possibly being a hero does. They may fail; but they don’t fear it. And anyone who is going to succeed at anything in my opinion if they fear failure they never truly will succeed anyway.

On Ali and other sports personalities:

Ali’s changed sport; not all people who watch sport on television understand that – for them it’s their passion, their hobby. When you’re actually doing it for a job, it takes on a completely different role. You’re then in the game. You will always be ruled by emotions to an extent, but you will have to look at it objectively. The thing about Mohammed Ali is that he’d made a lot of people billions of dollars.

He has created the boxing industry. You’re now looking at Nate Diaz and Conor McGregor – and people like that wouldn’t exist without Ali. Because like you said about Floyd Mayweather – some people may hate him – but he’s such a character he puts bums on seats. People may hate him so much they will pay to see him lose. Or you may love him so much you just have to go and watch the spectacle.

Life is about spectacle and characters. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has just signed for Man U and it’s not just the ability he’s got. ‘What’s he going to say? What’s he going to do?’ is why people tune in. We watch him to see – ‘is he going to do an overhead kick?’…. Is he going to hit that guy in the back of the heed’ ‘what’s he going to do?’ … and that’s why we go to watch.

People in sports sometimes forget that they’re in the entertainment industry. If you don’t like it – change the channel.

People get on me as I bang on about the America system. America’s got plenty of problems, but on the sporting side of things and the personality side of things and the general message they send out is sound: be yourself, don’t worry about what anyone else thinks. Where my brother lives in Los Angeles you can go down the street in a pink suit and nobody will shout at you or try to intimidate you.

If that’s the way you want to live your life go ahead, and I’ll live my life the way I want to.

Stefan on his coaching philosophy:

We’re playing Stirling at home this weekend [they won]. We played Rangers a few weeks ago. We lost 2-0 to Rangers; I was quite happy with the performance. There’s a lot of new information that was given to the players in the last few weeks. There’s a very big change in style of play to be undertaken. I’m pretty much telling the players to do the opposite of what they’d been told for the past two years. That change can’t happen overnight.

It will be an enjoyable change – I’m telling them now we’re playing to attack. I’d be happier if they lose 6-5 than 1-0 if they play attacking play offensive. I want them to go and try to win the game. As I was saying before, bigger teams have come to Aberdeen in the past and Aberdeen have stood back with 11 players and said ‘let’s try not to get beat.’

I’m not going to be stupid – but why would I ever presume that a team is going to come and beat us? We will make them beat us…. and if we attack them and have an attacking game and they beat us and we work hard and they work hard, I will shake their hand at the end of the game and say ‘well done’. But I’m not going to roll over for anyone.

I’m lucky enough that the ladies committee have put a lot of faith in me. We’re sitting third from the bottom. Now you’re never going to take over a team that’s top of the league – or there would be no changes. No changes would be needed. It’s a different kind of challenge. You’re going to take over a team that needs to be changed.

Now, there is a chance we could go down. But we are not going to go down. The team and the staff we have are too good to go down. I’ve come in and said we’re going to change the style. We’re going to go from launching the ball up the park to and playing really defensively to passing the ball on the ground and attacking teams and playing really attractive football that people want to watch.

It could easily take a season to bed that in. It takes a chairman or a committee a club a lot of courage to say to a coach ‘we don’t care if you lose the next 7 games – go and bed in your philosophy’. It takes someone pretty strong to do that – you could go backwards before you go forward. But it takes someone pretty courageous to give a manager that opportunity in the first place. Especially when the head coach is 26 years old.

On Susan Murray:

We’ve a player on our team, Susan Murray, who has played hundreds of games – she’s a real beacon and I’m really pushing the club to make a big deal about it. There’s not many females in the league who have played hundreds of games. And she made her debut in the premier league at the age of 14 – 22 years ago – when I was 4 and I am now her head coach. Most people in the area have never even heard of her. I think that’s wrong.

On the American College Sports System:

It’s about educating people, getting them more active, how can they achieve their life goal no matter what it is through football. If I had my choice, I would scrap the entire sports system in this country and put in the American system. Because the American system guarantees that you leave with a degree. Unless you know you are going to earn so much money that you don’t need it.

LeBron James can go to one year of college then the NBA because on the day he goes he signs a 120 million dollar deal with Nike. These people are the exception. Everyone else in the American system ends up with a degree. When they finish football, break their leg, they can go and get a well-paid job. We’re kicking kids onto the street here.

So I came up to Aberdeen and now I’m with the ladies. Since joining the ladies under 20s a year ago, I’ve sent 3 players to America on scholarships. One of them left yesterday – sorry, four.

One is at Kansas City; one at the University of Miami. They can go there and play an extremely high level at facilities that are on a par her with Real Madrid AC Milan. They will leave with a degree after three years and will come back a better person.

They will have been a country that’s hungry for talent for having lived there whether they come back after the three years and say ‘America’s not for me.’ Or even if they come back and say they hated it, they’re still coming back a better person – just for mixing with someone from The Lebanon. Just for mixing with someone from Australia, and mixing from some with Glasgow – they will come back a better person.

They will come back better equipped for an interview whether it’s Goldman Sachs or the Co-op, they will come across better.

It’s an opportunity we simply cannot deny them because we do no have the tools to compete. So if a kid comes to me / a kid’s father comes to me and says ‘Stefan, my daughter has an opportunity to go to the University of New York for three years all expenses paid’, I cannot look him in the eye and tell them their daughter should just stay put in Aberdeen because it’s an opportunity I should have taken myself.

Now if I can send people to Aberdeen and the club has already said to me – if we’re sending our best people to America and we’re losing that player – if that player’s of a level, we’re going to lose them anyway because they’re going to go and sign for Paris St Germaine or sign for Arsenal. The message that we’re now sending out is that ‘if you’re serious about your football and if you want to play for that level, you must come here because that’s where the best players are playing’.

There’s nobody from other regional clubs who’s signed for Kansas City. Kim Little who’s favourite to win the Ballon d’Or – she plays for Seattle; she’s from Aberdeen. Rachel Corsie also plays for Seattle, Alex Morgan and all these players are from Aberdeen.

I think my dad would back this up – the world is more connected now than it’s ever been. I know I can go to my phone and tell you right now what’s going on say on Fifth Avenue. I can probably get live feed. So I’m aware of the facilities that are there in America and how much money they are plugging into football.

The Americans will only lose at something for so long before they either decide ‘we’re going to compete here’ – they will not be embarrassed on the international stage at anything for long until they pump money into it and compete– or they’ll say ‘we’re not doing it at all’. I am aware of the facilities. Probably at the time I got the scholarship offer from Brown University – we didn’t know Brown was any different to Aberdeen University.

Aberdeen University is a great university, but it does not have a £300 million training facility. These people who are training at college level sport in America are international level athletes.

Laird on Self-confidence through sport:

But I think that if you watch LeBron James – a great example. Do an interview with him and he‘s a fantastic representative for his sport, for his club, for his country. He could stand in any board room in the world and deliver a presentation or speech. He could also stand on any street corner and talk to any drug addict and talk to them on their level.

We’re not producing people in this country that can do this. They’re standing up on TV and it’s ‘am.. em.. well..’’ They don’t want to speak to the media, they don’t want to project their view for fear probably of getting slaughtered in the media. But they’re not able to stand up there and put their point cross eloquently.

We’re taking kids out of school at 15 and throwing them into training grounds, and then not giving them any media training and expecting them to be able to speak to Sky sports. They will be absolutely bricking it.

I’m lucky. I grew up in a family where people were not afraid to say what they wanted; my dad’s got no problem with expressing his opinion or standing up in front of people and making a speech. So standing up in front of a room of people and speaking was never even something I thought about. When I was 20, I was speaking to the under 19s. People said to me ‘aren’t you nervous speaking?’ and I said ‘No, I’m talking about football. If I were standing up talking about mechanical engineering then I would have a problem’.

This gives the club a reputation now where if it’s a choice of ‘do I sign for Aberdeen or another club’, I can tell that person ‘come and play for me for three years, and you can go and play for Arsenal’. How many players have done that from other teams?

Laird on spending your time wisely:

I would rather people found Pokémon walking around, talking to other people face to face than finding them on their computer at their house. The computer is still going to be there when you’re in your 30s, 40s, 50s. There will be even better things than your computer. There will be things we can’t even imagine right now. There will come a time and it will come so much quicker than you think.

I sound more like I’m 46 now than I’m 26. You won’t be able to do it any more – so squeeze every second of being out there out of it that you can. Because being in that dressing room and down on that pitch with a ball at your feet – or whatever it might be for you – is the best time of your life.

Because no matter what is going on in your life at that time, when you step over that line it doesn’t matter how much money you’ve got, how nice a house you’ve got, what country you’re from – nothing matters when you’re on that pitch, and you only get access to that and the relationships you get from it for a certain amount of time. The access you get to a computer you’ll have your entire life.

A few (feminist) words of advice from Stefan to girls:

So: pick up a ball, especially if you’re a young girl – go out and play. People will tell you ‘it’s not for girls’ but people also said that ‘jobs weren’t for girls. Voting wasn’t for girls.’ There are still some countries in the world that believe that.

Things move on; people get more intelligent. We’re not stoning witches or gay or lesbian people. So if anyone shouts at you for having a football at your feet for being a girl, your reaction should honestly be to laugh at them: because they are scared, not you. There’s plenty of facilities now and people like you who will push you the whole way, and you can go out and pay your mortgages as a young girl playing football, and trust me, it’s the best way to pay your mortgage of any way in the world.

Finally:

Watch Aberdeen Ladies! Follow Aberdeen Ladies at Instagram, on STL, on Facebook. And – I would say to all kids: go outside. You’d be amazed at how good your brain is.

That’s where we leave our interview, and I’m feeling AFC Ladies are definitely going places if he’s at the helm. If anyone wonders what ‘Feminism’ means to me, Laird’s nailed it. I’m going to watch their season with interest, and I’m convinced we’re going to see positive changes, and great things coming from these women on and off the field in times to come.

Follow on Twitter @aberdeenfcl
Link to Facebook Page
Jul 082016
 

With thanks to Kenneth Hutchison, Parliamentary Assistant to Dr. Eilidh Whiteford.

EW with other SNP MPs and WASPI campaigners

Banff and Buchan MP Eilidh Whiteford joined with SNP MPs to take part in the Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) demonstration outside the Houses of Parliament.

They demand the UK government to investigates transitional measures for 1950s-born women negatively impacted by rapid rises in the state pension age.

The SNP has repeatedly called for action from the UK government, and led a backbench business debate on the issue in January which received cross-party support.

The increase in pension age is the second for women born in the 1950s, and will have a stark financial impact on thousands of women in their 60s.

Speaking after the demonstration, Banff & Buchan MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford expressed solidarity with the women, who have now had their retirement age raised twice.

She said:

“I was pleased to see such a good contingent of Women from North-east Scotland at the event in Westminster today. The SNP has given wholehearted backing to the WASPI campaign, and we will keep up the fight for these women at Westminster.

“A large number of local women born in the mid-1950s have been badly affected by the proposed changes, and have been in touch directly with me. They can rest assured that I and my SNP colleagues will continue to press the UK Government for a rethink on how it phases in increases to the state pension age.

“Changing patterns of life expectancy do demand a response from the Government. This, however, was the wrong response, and the Government needs to consider the damage its policy will do.”

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Jun 172016
 

Old Susannah turns her head awa frae Aberdeen this week as her lugs pick up gunfire in the States – again. By Suzanne Kelly

DictionaryLand of the Free, Home of the Brave, Bastion of Gun Worship; Americans witnessed another senseless bloodbath this past week. It was an American born Muslim extremist

in Orlando, Florida, with an automatic assault rifle in a nightclub. Which politicians will try to use these deaths to score points and whip up a bit more hatred (give you three guesses as to one of them)? Where will it be next time?

America needs some new slogans. ‘Land of the Free, home of the brave’ just doesn’t cut it anymore.

It seems to me that no one’s genuinely free. Minority groups, women and the poor have one set of laws to govern them, and freedoms are more than a little limited.

There is now an expression specifically for spurious, racially-motivated arrests, ‘Running (or driving) while black’.

The more money you’ve got, the better illusion of freedom you can afford, and the better protected you will be. Policing is biased in many places, and as we’ve seen from the Brock Turner rape case, Justice peeks from behind her blindfold, and can tell when there is some gold on her scales. Law and law enforcement have long since gone their separate way from Liberty. ‘Truth, Liberty and Justice for All’ no longer reflects the reality.

Aside from if you were a Native American, it all seemed such a good idea at the time.

The American experiment if taken literally would see people today free to choose where and how to live, collecting their own rainwater without fear of prison, living off the grid if they felt like it, and dare I say it – using whatever plants (including cannabis) however they chose to.

Funny, no one wants to take the freedom, equality and rights-concerned sections of the Constitution literally – but the NRA certainly wants to ensure that we take very literally ‘the right to bear arms’ (which of course was in the context of having a militia and when muskets ruled, not semi-automatics and Saturday Night Specials).

In the USA there are those who take the bible literally too, and are at great pains to prove the world is only 6,000 years old and the righteous will float up to heaven in the Rapture (NB this is a US invention, not that most of the bible belters will admit that). The only parts of the bible they don’t want to take literally (while they build ‘creation museums’ showing dinosaurs romping with humans) is the ‘love one another’/ ‘do unto others’ bit.

What a selective species we can be. Interpretation of Truth and Liberty have been warped by special interest and greed to the point they’ve broken.

When I moved to the UK from New York people would ask me why, and I’d half-jokingly reply ‘because I don’t want to get shot’. Some would look at me funny; I’d explain handgun proliferation and gun culture to the interested. But no one I met in the UK could really understand why some Americans are dead set on ‘protecting’ themselves with guns.

From all the evidence (accidental misfire killings and wounding;, parents shooting children arriving home late, etc), I don’t understand how a gun ‘protects’ the average Yank either.

One reason I’m going to try and write on this topic (once more) was a post Nick Tesco (a founder of The Members, but you know that) made on Facebook in the wake of Orlando:

“Dear American friends, do these mass murderers see children, church goers and gay people as tools of the tyranny that they’ve been obliged to take up arms against as demanded by your Second Amendment and like your NRA say? Or is that something you might need to take a look at when you’ve finished giving women a hard time about abortion?”

21st Century – Still tribal after all these years.

In his post Tesco seems to be asking for an American re-examination of values, guns, the meaning of freedom, and where the focus of securing freedom should be.

Tesco’s since qualified his post; he well knows that not all Yanks are the problem, and if you look at the UK through a similar lens, you might not see a pretty picture either.

For instance there is some unnecessary, ugly violence going on over the beautiful game in France at present. Nationalistic fans clash with nationalistic fans in the streets and bars of France on some primitive tribal quest to prove who’s the most warlike (and I suppose to their minds this makes them superior, manly, desirable). Things aren’t different in the US. Scenes at pro-Trump rallies make thinking-people cringe, and that’s before the violence starts.

What is the American Republican/Democrat push-pull if not mindless tribalism? Everyone wants their side to win, and most people stick with whichever party their parents belonged to. No one looks at what their elected officials’ backgrounds are or what entities fund them and chooses – just whether the elephant or the donkey wins.

You might be living in a trailer park on benefits in America, but if mom and dad were Republicans, you’re likely to vote for a billionaire because he’s in the Republican livery, however exploitative he is of you and your fellow poor Americans. The ingrained desire to be a ‘winner’ overrides logic, fact, and common sense for some.

There is a lot to love about America – most of the people, the environment, and the idea of liberty.

How, when and why did a country which declared the notion of freedom being its core value turn into a racist, sexist, elitist police state governed by the rich for the benefit of the rich and their richer multinational masters? Perhaps being formed on top of, rather than along side of, Native American rights and values, and on the back of slavery meant the American dream was always going to become a nightmare, but the bloodshed and inequality has to be countered before it’s too late.

Ultimately I don’t think it’s too late to turn it around (or I’d not bother writing about it) but this must happen now before more ground is lost to the crooked cop, the bent judge, the lobbyist-controlled congressman and the multinational.

An observation which may or may not be a non-sequiter came to mind. I’ve a good number of intelligent American friends and acquaintances; most far more intelligent than I am. A few have put their brains into music, art, politics; the majority have harnessed their talents to making money. I can’t help but think if they hadn’t been conditioned to think that money equalled success that such talent could have been applied to creative, political and humanitarian ends.

I also can’t help but think for some people, they’d be a lot happier if they hadn’t been worried about being a lot richer.

You might think you are freer in the US than in other places. Gun-loving Americans clutch their guns and decry they will use them to guard their freedoms. They think this is freedom; they think it is a free country. I beg to differ. Here are a few thoughts on how freedom is doing these days.

Free Elections?

Turning back to gun violence, there are many worthy groups fighting to get guns under some form of control. Why don’t people just vote for congressmen who will deliver gun control, and that will be the end of the problem?

In order to run for office, a candidate needs millions of dollars. Perhaps candidates start out with high hopes and best intentions. I respectfully suggest that with a few notable exceptions, by the time they raise this money, they will get their hands dirty. They will owe favours. Will they owe the National Rifle Association, arguably the most powerful lobbying group in America? More than likely.

“According to OpenSecrets, a site that tracks money in politics, the NRA spent $984,152 on campaign contributions during the 2014 election cycle. It also spent more than $3 million on lobbying in both 2013 and 2014. The NRA also spent $28,212,718 on outside political contributions during this period, which includes ads paid for directly by the NRA. That makes it the tenth biggest spender when it comes to such political spending.”
http://fortune.com/2015/12/03/san-bernadino-nra-political-spending-gun-violence/

Voting is a right people fought for, but not everyone uses. About 40% of the country will either not bother to turn out for a presidential election – or do not vote for more sinister reasons.

There are those who want to vote – but get turned away in increasing numbers for spurious reasons. Names go missing from electoral rolls. Last minute demands for photo ID sends some away. In a paradox, questions were raised about some of the votes delivered from Florida by Governor Jeb Bush to clan Bush member Dubya – were all of those who voted: alive, able to vote, received postal votes themselves that they alone completed – questions remain.

Can elections be rigged? Of course. Does that only happen in the third world? Of course not.

So, we are not free to select the best candidate to run for office; we are selecting from candidates pre-selected by vested interest groups who give their candidates enough money to run. We are not free to vote if we are turned away because of unconstitutional practices, and racism does still stop people from getting to the ballot box:

“Thousands of black electors in Florida were disenfranchised in last November’s [2000] election by an electoral system tainted by “injustice, ineptitude and inefficiency” a leaked report by the US civil rights commission says. It accuses Governor Jeb Bush, the president’s brother, and his secretary of state, Katherine Harris, of “gross dereliction” of duty, saying they “chose to ignore mounting evidence” of the problems. 

“The eight-strong commission, whose report will be published on Friday, found that black voters were “10 times more likely than white voters to have their ballots rejected”, and pointed to the use of a flawed list of felons and ex-felons to purge the voting rolls. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/jun/06/uselections2000.usa

Freedom fail.

Tesco also once posed on Facebook that everyone should vote; this is true up to a point. Not that I take all my political leads from musicians, but Jerry Garcia is attributed with having said (I paraphrase again) ‘If you vote and choose between two evils, you are still choosing evil.’

So – while I must vote for Clinton – as a vote against Trump – it is not because of any woman solidarity, and it’s certainly not because I approve of her Monsanto links.

She is clearly the better choice over Trump. A nation of 260 million people – and it comes down to this. I might well write in George Takei who has always spoken out against violence and intolerance, or for heroic filibustering senator Chris Murphy whose stamina has forced a congressional vote to ‘close the terror gap’.

In the end, I will vote for Clinton, to avoid the Trump presidency, and the catastrophe that would spell. (besides which, I’d like to be able to visit the US in the next 4 years without winding up in a boiler suit on my way to GitMo). As far as I know, unlike Trump, Clinton’s not racked up 3,500 lawsuits, hasn’t opened a fleecing operation posing as a ‘university’ and doesn’t want everyone armed. She’s no plans to ‘take out’ people related to terrorists, or to ban Muslims / American Muslims from travel.

Free to have guns.

Anything you need to know about the illogic and insanity of having automatic weaponry freely available can be found in Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine documentary. The sad thing is that this film was made in 2002. Oh, and the wealth and power of the NRA tells you why the country is like this.

Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness.

At the same time we Americans are telling ourselves how ‘free’ we are, and how we want to bring freedom to other countries (frequently those with resources NB), liberty is getting a beating at home and abroad. The same ilk of senator who will keep automatic guns on sale is legislating to give American water not to Americans, but to sell or give it to companies like Nestle, which is bottling it up and signing lucrative deals to take water in states like Oregon.

Want to collect rain water on your own property? In many states that will land you in prison – like Oregon, which is giving your water to Nestle.

Nick Tesco is right in his Facebook post when he alluded to abortion, but it is actually worse and worsening for any woman who wants control over her body and life. Have a spontaneous abortion – don’t do it in certain states, or you’ll go to jail for failing to carry full term.

There are places where you will be mauled by a police dog, beaten to a pulp or beaten to death – or shot for offences like having a tail light out on your car, driving too slowly, running, or just being non-white in a white area. The police are brutal in some states. There is no other way of putting it.

And Justice for All? 

Some police officers are people who want to make the world better; however, organisations like Police the Police are proving time and again that the police force today includes Ku Klux Klan members, paedophiles and sadists. They largely seem immune from prosecution – while the guy collecting rain water or trying to live ‘off the grid’ will spend years in prison. In some states, growing marijuana can lead to decades in prison.

However, if you are white, privileged – and a good swimmer – raping an unconscious woman will get you a few months in a cell at most.

I’d add a description of how Native Americans have been treated past and present – but I cannot do it justice at all. Here is a good place to look at one issue though – the veritable kidnapping of Native children who are chemically coshed and placed with white, extreme ‘Christian’ families for no good reason other than money is made from it, and families and culture is destroyed in the process. This is the tip of the iceberg for Native issues.

It’s lunacy, and as far as the eye can see, the root causes are greed and self-interest.

Does this make me a conspiracy theorist?

Does it serve the interests of those in power when these incidents happen? It doesn’t always hurt. You’ve got Trump insisting if everyone had a gun, Orlando wouldn’t have happened (so no hostage or crossfire casualties in his world I suppose). When the serial killer in question is non-white and non-Christian – then the authorities insist we have an Islamic jihad problem that can only be served by the rest of us giving up more of our freedoms and… by panicking the suggestible into buying guns to protect themselves.

We know how well that works out.

CODA

Just as I finish this piece, Jo Cox MP has been shot and stabbed; she supports the Remain campaign, and works to help Syrian refugees. Allegedly the assailant yelled ‘Britain First.’ [17 June:  Jo Cox has been murdered. Britain First’s Facebook page has a BF ‘news’ item that the murderer didn’t shout ‘Britain First’ – they shouted ‘Put Britain First’.  A trivial distinction which ignores the fact she is dead, and those who have worked tirelessly to ratchet hatred up several notches are at least in part culpable.]

If the reports prove true, and they are a Britain First supporter, they have shown BF in its true light. Despite its many Facebook posts using click bait such as veterans, dog fighting, elderly issues – they are only nationalistic, white supremacist violent thugs. If this is how their followers try to advance their cause, let’s ensure we stop sharing their posts at the very least, and let’s make sure they don’t get a foothold.

The US is rapidly becoming ruled by gunpower – let’s ensure that never happens here.

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May 162016
 

Eilidh Whiteford, Parliament [2015]featWith thanks to Kenneth Hutchison, Parliamentary Assistant to Dr. Eilidh Whiteford

Women campaigning for fair pensions ‘deserve a fair hearing’, according to the SNP’s Pensions Spokesperson, Dr Eilidh Whiteford. The comments come following a meeting between MPs and campaigners representing Women Against State Pension Inequality.

WASPI represent thousands of women born in the 1950s, who have now been hit twice by increases to the retirement age.

To date, the UK Government has announced no compensatory schemes for those who will lose out as a result of the changes.

While the SNP believes that the state pension age should indeed be equalised, the party has criticised the manner in which the UK Government has implemented its changes, in the face of significant opposition from opposition parliamentarians and civil society.

Speaking after the meeting with WASPI campaigners at Westminster, Dr Whiteford said:

“It is profoundly unfair that these ladies have worked their whole lives, only to be told that their retirement age is being raised not once, but twice. They deserve a fair hearing from the UK Government.

“The UK Government has railroaded these changes through parliament without heeding the real impact this will have on women born in the 1950s. Stephen Crabb’s statement to parliament seems to indicate that there’s still no change whatsoever to the Government’s position.

“Constituents affected by these changes should be assured, however, that I and my fellow SNP MPs will continue to keep pressure on the Tories to look again at how these changes are implemented.”

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Apr 012016
 

Melrose Sevens, The Greenyards, Melrose, Scotland, Saturday 14th April 2013. PLEASE CREDIT ***FOTOSPORT/DAVID GIBSON***With thanks to Gemma Setter.

On Saturday 9 April, Aberdeen Grammar Rugby Club will join 23 other Scottish and international teams for the 126th annual Aberdeen Asset Management Melrose Sevens. The club will be giving it their all this year in the hopes of bringing the sought-after Ladies Cup back to Aberdeen for the first time.

Now an Olympic sport debuting in Rio de Janeiro this summer, rugby sevens was conceived over a century ago in the picturesque border town of Melrose by local butcher and player Ned Haig as a fundraiser for his team.

With its shorter length and fast-paced action, the seven-a-side sport quickly grew in popularity both in Scotland and overseas.

The annual tournament has captured the hearts of rugby fans across the globe, and 12,000 spectators will travel to Melrose to see the world’s oldest rugby sevens tournament in the flesh. For those unable to attend in person, the competition will also be broadcast live on the BBC.

Aberdeen Grammar Rugby Club will face stiff opposition on the day from around 20 eager Scottish teams, as well as international sides from Italy, France and Belgium who will all be vying for the glory of lifting the Ladies Cup in the home of rugby sevens.

Title sponsor Aberdeen Asset Management will return to support the historic rugby sevens tournament for the fifth time in 2016.

Martin Gilbert, chief executive of Aberdeen, says,

“In recent years, interest in rugby sevens has increased dramatically. From its origins in the depths of the Scottish borders to its new high-profile status as an Olympic sport, rugby sevens’ popularity and impact on the worldwide sporting community is undeniable.

“As the birthplace of rugby sevens, Melrose is still dedicated to fostering new talent and the town holds a special place in fans’ hearts. Each year thousands from around the world make the pilgrimage to The Greenyards in order to witness the sport at its roots. The atmosphere on the pitchside is incredible – unlike any other – but those unable to travel can still enjoy the action on screen.

“With the world’s attention firmly focussed on rugby sevens, the teams will be training harder than ever to lift the trophy at the tournament which started it all. Aberdeen is proud to support a sport which from humble Scottish beginnings has gripped the world, and continues to grow in popularity.”

The Aberdeen Asset Management Melrose Sevens offers fun and excitement both on and off the pitch, making the tournament an exciting experience for families, couples and rugby fans who like their sporting action fast and exhilarating. Couple that with the impressive fancy dress and electric atmosphere that fill the stands, and it makes for the perfect day out.

Tickets for the event start from £10 for children, £15 for senior citizens and £20 for adults. Family tickets are also available for £50, admitting two adults and two children.

For more information about the Aberdeen Asset Management Melrose Sevens, and to book tickets, visit www.melrose7s.com. Keep up to date with the action on Twitter @melrosevens

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Mar 032016
 
Wild Woman Seaweed 2

Wild things! offer a variety of inspiring wilderness and nature based experiences.

With thanks to Chris Muir.

Would your Mum or Granny enjoy a night sleeping under the stars? How would she fair on a short break in a remote mountain bothy?
Environmental education charity Wild things! has launched dates for their Wild Woman breaks for 2016, giving women throughout the UK the opportunity to embrace their wild side and learn some craft skills that will enrich their time outdoors.

With no experience required, the Wild Woman breaks promise to inspire, educate and fulfill participants with new found the confidence and skills in engaging with the great outdoors.

We want to encourage women to swap their hectic daily lives for one of two wilderness escapes; a four-day break in the enchanting mountain surroundings of Glen Affric from 14th – 17th May; or a three day camp on the pristine Moray Firth Coast from 9th – 11th September.

Arriving in true castaway fashion, the weekend will begin by boat or a walk in to a remote location. From there, the intrepid explorers will learn traditional living skills such as how to identify wild edible and medicinal plants, cooking over an open fire, having a go at some creative camp craft, as well as sleeping in a hammock or tipi under the stars.

Jennie, lead instructor for the course, with over 20 years experience of delivering nature based activities, says,

“Wild Woman offers women a truly wonderful wilderness break. The courses will be restorative, inspiring and fun. You don’t have to be butch, brave or buxom for this course as we all work together as a team. There will be some challenges but only those that will leave you feeling more alive than you ever thought possible, as well as totally in love with the natural world (if you weren’t already!).”

Wild things! is a Scottish environmental education charity based in Findhorn, Moray. Wild things! offer a variety of inspiring wilderness and nature based experiences for all ages and abilities regardless of learning challenges, or physical and financial difficulties. For more information about any of our programmes visit our website www.wild-things.org.uk, or call us on 01309 690450.

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Dec 312015
 

howwesupportWith thanks to Esther Green, Tricker PR

A new project to support childhood rape and abuse survivors has got off the ground in Aberdeen – with a helping hand from Aberdeen Asset Management.
The firm’s Charitable Foundation has given a donation that has enabled the city’s Rape and Abuse Support (RAS) to set up a new programme providing assistance and relief to young people and adults who have suffered abuse.

Trained volunteers offer direct and tailored support through a 12-step programme, providing a listening ear in a safe and comfortable environment where issues and coping mechanisms can be discussed.

RAS offers support and information to anyone over 13 years old who has been raped or sexually abused at any time in their life. It works in the main with the survivors of rape and abuse who may have issues around self harm, alcoholism, self esteem and post-traumatic stress disorder. It also provides information and support to families, friends and partners to enable them to support the survivor in the long term.

The charity works with partners in the community to address rape and sexual violence, has a prevention programme and receives referrals from a wide range of organisations. In January 2014, RAS expanded its service to support men and boys.

Lorraine Dobson, the charity’s support services co-ordinator said:

“We are very grateful for this donation from Aberdeen Asset Management that has allowed us to roll out this new support project for young girls and women in the North East. This project enables survivors to discuss issues relating to abuse, and the impact it has had on their lives and to explore issues including developing coping mechanises to address this in everyday life.

“Childhood survivors can share their stories with trained volunteers who can offer direct and unique support to them. This will be an ongoing project as we aim to help as many people as we can.”

Dominic Kite of Aberdeen Asset Management’s Charitable Foundation said:

“Rape and Abuse Support Aberdeen carries out vital work in the city and surrounding area and this new support group will build and develop the service it is able to offer.”

The Aberdeen Asset Charitable Foundation was established in 2012 to formalise and develop the Group’s charitable giving globally. The Foundation seeks partnerships with smaller charities around the world, where funds can be seen to have a meaningful and measurable impact and the firm encourages its employees to use their time and skills to support its charitable projects. The donation to RAS which has enabled the setting up of the new support project totals £4,000.

For more information visit http://www.aberdeen-asset.co.uk/aam.nsf/foundation/home

Nov 122015
 

Neil Hanna Photography www.neilhannaphotography.co.uk 07702 246823With thanks to Jennifer Kelly, Tricker PR.

A cosier winter is in sight for homeless people across Scotland this winter, thanks to the Scottish Women’s Institutes (SWI) picking up their knitting needles and casting on in support of a national campaign to help make a difference to the lives of Big Issue vendors.

As Scotland’s largest women’s organisation, and with many members talented sewers and knitters, the SWI is throwing its weight behind The Big Issue Foundation’s Big Knitathon to ensure that this year’s effort is the biggest and best to date.

Throughout November, the women will gather to knit garments, raise funds and hold events, all of which will benefit homeless people in Scotland. And, in a powerful message to get others involved, they are providing two Big Knitters – expert knitters who will help promote the Big Knitathon by attending events, posting tips online and answering knitting queries.

Although the SWI is no stranger to supporting important issues and worthy causes, it’s the first time that the 17,000 member organisation has been involved in the Big Knitathon – and members are determined that their backing will make a big difference to the lives of people who have become homeless. The SWI will be working alongside Hobbycraft, another key supporter of the campaign, with all 83 stores taking part nationwide.

As the leading ladies and resident ‘Big Knitters’ for the campaign, mother and daughter Anne (73) and Jane Muirhead (47) are determined to encourage all members – from novice to seasoned professional – to keep their knitting needles by their side for the month of November.

Gargunnock SWI member and Stirling Federation chairman Anne says,

“For as long as I can remember we, as an organisation, have gone above and beyond to support local and national causes. We’re passionate about making a difference and helping others in need.

“I’ve been a member for 40 years and I still love the fact that when we work together, we achieve extraordinary results. I, and many of my fellow members, were taught how to knit in primary one and so have had the best part of 70 years to perfect the skill – and practice we do!

“This is a fantastic cause with very worthy recipients so between our scarfs, gloves, blankets and hats, we’ll make sure The Big Issue vendors don’t feel a chill this winter.”

The Big Knitathon is an annual campaign to encourage knitters across the country to create clothing for the vendors, sell the finished articles to raise funds, or hold events with all proceeds going to The Big Issue Foundation. Over the last three years over 2000 knitters have got their needles out for the Big Knitathon and raised over £22,500 for the campaign.

For The Big Knitathon, SWI members are being encouraged to teach novice knitters, share skills, donate knitted goods organise fundraising events and document their knitting journey online through social media.

They are also encouraged to attend the nationwide Hobbycraft event on Saturday 14th November. Held in all 83 stores across the UK, the event will give members a chance to knit together, share skills, share patterns and enjoy a cake or two – all in aid of Scotland’s Big Issue vendors.

Stephen Robertson, CEO of The Big Issue Foundation, says,

“Winter is an especially difficult time for our sellers, especially when the end of the working day doesn’t provide any respite from the harsh conditions. The Big Knitathon enables everyone to help make our sellers’ days and nights easier by buying, selling or donating hand knitted items. This year we’re delighted to have support from the SWI, and know that the warmth of their fundraising and knitting support will be felt by our sellers through the winter’s chill.”

Working outdoors in the freezing winter months, vendors will be protected from the chilling Scottish winds and cold temperatures with cosy knitted hats, scarves and fingerless gloves. Knitters can also donate individual squares that will then be made into patchwork blankets providing some extra warmth during the coldest months of the year.

Joining in with the Big Knitathon is easy. SWI members can submit knitted goods or raised funds to their nearest Hobbycraft store throughout November. Simply register for free online and you will be sent a fundraisers pack. www.bigissue.org.uk/event/big-knitathon-2015. To find out more about the Scottish Women’s Institute visit www.theswi.org.uk.

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