Monday, 24 February 2014

Has London 2012 Really Improved Stratford? The Tale of Two Cities

My boyfriend is currently completing his dissertation on the economic impacts of London 2012. Last weekend, I went down to Stratford with him to survey the local business owners about how their company has been affected by the Olympics. We spoke to business owners and store managers in both Westfield's and the surrounding area.

What we found was very two different sides to Stratford. The new shopping centre is a huge, glossy lit up building, with marble floors and even an alfresco area. As you can imagine for a Saturday afternoon, it was heaving with shoppers. The food court spread itself across the three floors of the centre: one level with your larger, and more well known fast food outlets, such a Mcdonald's and KFC, the second level a world food village with outlets specialising in cuisine from all over the world, from Mexico to Japan. The top level had restaurants such as TGI Friday's and Pizza Express. Not only were all customers catered for in the food department, but the extravagant range of shops fitted all kinds of budgets, from Primark to Mulberry. There's no denying that the new centre has bought thousands of new customers to Stratford. 

On the other side of the Train tracks is Old-Stratford. The Stratford Centre has existed there as long as I've lived. After winning the bid for the 2012 Olympics, local business owners told me about how much they looked forward to having their area regenerated in preparation for the millions of tourists that would flock there. However, the much anticipated regeneration of the area did not stretch further than the tube station. The Stratford Centre had a fair amount of customers that Saturday afternoon, but as the business owners told us, those were just the regulars. As one guy told me, 'you wouldn't have known the Olympics had been down the road at all, we've had no new customers during or since the games.'

This is probably because the original area of Stratford had barely been touched as a result of the games. The local businesses were run down and were a stark contrast from Westfield's, a mere 10 minute walk away. Some of the local owners even complained how there were potholes in the road and a high rate of crime. A lot of the shops are boarded up and closed down. Many business owners told us that the cost of owning a business in the area had rocketed, even though the influx of customers hadn't.

Stratford High Street during the Olympics
Of course, there have been some benefits. Leyton High Street has famously had a fresh coat of paint, but of course, that is because it is along the walking route from Leyton Tube Station to the Olympic Park. 

And Westfield's Presents is a nice idea. The event is organised by Emerging Icons, a group who promote raw, emerging musical talent. Every Saturday and Sunday, unsigned musicians have the opportunity to play in front of a half decent crowd. Playing that day was 16 year old Ryan Green, an unsigned musician playing to the thousands of shoppers. He had all the equipment he needed, and was hooked up to sound systems that meant he could be heard over the bustle. However, it was essentially glorified busking.

Ryan Green playing at Westfield's Presents

What was most revealing about the 'two Stratfords' was how the old Stratford was treated during the games. All of the business owners I spoke to noted how tourists were 'shepherded' from the Olympic Park to the Westfield's centre, deliberately away from the shops that had always been in the area. The owners told us how they had experienced a drop in trade during the two weeks of the Olympics, as no tourists were coming in and locals were deliberately avoiding the area. A man who owned a family fruit and veg stall that had been running since 1929 said that he even complained to the mayor and the stewards. Unfortunately, he said they were 'only doing what they were told to do'.

My boyfriend's dissertation question is 'What are the economic impacts of the London 2012 Olympics on the local area?'. After speaking to local businesses, the question can be answered quite easily. While there has been an influx in jobs (most of which have not been given to locals) and customers in one small segment of Stratford, the rest has been left untouched and unloved. The government has only split this small town into two parts, rather than regenerating the whole area to benefit the locals. 

This study may come prematurely, but I can't see the two halves of Stratford coming together any time soon.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

My Name Is Tash and I'm Starting Group CBT

After agonising for days over whether I felt comfortable enough to do group CBT, I have finally agreed. I'm reading Yes Man at the moment, so I thought I'd just go for it and see what happens.

In fairness, it is an Anxiety group. Everyone else there will be in the exact same position as me. And it's only a small group of about 5 people (although I'm not sure if that makes it better or worse). 

I am absolutely terrified. It is completely outside of my comfort zone. I guess that's the point really. The more I think about it, the more worries I have about it. Some of the things I am worrying about are:
  1. Icebreakers. I hate 'icebreakers'. They are always so cringey, and I never know any more about a person after the task than before. And I never think of anything good or original to say about myself.
  2. Group Activities. I'm hoping we will just sit there and talk. I hate that awkward situation where I'm the only one without a partner. I also hate asking to be someone's partner.I saw this photo of a group CBT session and it's probably my worst nightmare. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
  3. Standing Up. Standing up in front of people makes me feel so isolated with everyone looking at me. Again, I really hope we just sit down and talk.
  4. I don't actually want to tell anybody anything. Before all this I only wanted to talk to a therapist and for them to tell me what I needed to do. I know it sounds stupid (because I'm writing about it on a blog) but I don't want anyone to know. 
  5. That I'm not going to get better. To be honest, I can't imagine not feeling this anxious ever again. 12 weeks doesn't seem like enough time to completely change my lifelong way of thinking. 
Why on earth am I doing it? Well, firstly the therapist reckons its the best treatment for me. Plus, she's said that if I don't like it I can swap to one-on-one CBT if need be. There's no harm in giving it a go. It will be good for my blog, as I haven't yet come across anybody that has done it. So it might be nice for all of you to hear about!

The problem with group therapy is that it's not flexible. My group will meet at 2pm for an hour and a half every Monday for 10 weeks, which is slap bang in the middle of my working day. It's meant that I had to tell my boss and all relevant people at work about what's going on. They've been ok with it. I even found out we had a company psychologist that we can see whenever we want. And it also means I get a half day every Monday!

I'll be starting CBT on the 10th March, and no doubt I'll write a post about it, so stay tuned!

Monday, 17 February 2014

Hidden Kingdoms: Another Example of Dumbed-Down TV

When I was a kid I loved watching nature documentaries with my Dad. I used to love observing how the animals lived. And it was not only me learning about how the animals lived, but also my Dad and sometimes even David Attenborough and his crew. Educational television used to be important for not only teaching us commoners about the world, but also to extend our knowledge of the natural world academically. Nature programmes used to be the warts and all study of nature, where sometimes, your favourite animal was eaten, or mated, or sat about. This, I feel, is important.

Hidden Kingdoms has lost the essence of what it is to be a great nature programme. It is not educational. While the photography is gorgeous, that is it's only winning feature. The shots are great views of animals close up, but do not show them living naturally. Different scenes of animals running are put together to look like a chase, although it is clear the chase the programme shows never actually happened. The chase is a tool to tell us a story, one that is written before viewing any animals. The BBC have even admitted that many scenes were staged.

While Stephen Fry would be a great choice of narrator in a conventional nature programme, it is his talent as a storyteller is used here. Instead of explaining what is happening, and why it is happening, he narrates a pre-arranged story with ebbs and flows in tension.

Another huge gripe I have with Hidden Kingdoms is its use of music. High speed chases between animals are backed with exciting fast paced tunes, which slow when a more gentle scene of scavenging through foliage is taking place. The music is used to invoke emotion in us, whereas a standard nature documentary is impartial. In addition, the noises of the animals have been electronically altered, adding to the incredibility of the programme.

The advert for the programme boasts that it allows you to 'experience this wonderland through their eyes'. I disagree. The programme only lets us see animal worlds through our own eyes. And the fact that this programme sets out to make us believe that it is any different, is the most dishonest of all.

The series is over now, but you can probably catch it on repeat (as it inevitably will be for the next 5 years). To find out more, check out the promotional BBC page.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Has Education Given Me a Black and White View of What Is Right and Wrong?

If you follow me on twitter, you will probably know that I have quite strong opinions about the education system. Having studied for 16 years, I finally gained a degree in English and Creative Writing last year.

I was always a high achiever and received top grades; from early on teachers believed I would go to university. And for the most part, I enjoyed learning. Even now I would quite happily go to a museum or read a book to learn something new, for enjoyment. Personally, I was never really grade driven. I only ever strived to get the grades I needed for the next level, rather than worrying about getting the highest possible marks, as some do. I always felt as if I had quite a healthy attitude to my education.

However, since leaving university, having a full time job has made me realise my concern for doing tasks in the right and best way. I continually worry about getting something wrong and making a mistake. The biggest problem I find is that there is no definitive ‘right’ way to do a job.

I stumbled across this problem when I first started negotiating sales prices. When I asked my boss for a benchmark price I should aim for, or a budget I should stick to, I was told, ‘Just get the price as low as possible’. Well, the cheapest price something would be is 0, but that is obviously unrealistic, unfair and insulting. Asking for that may even turn the sales people off from doing business with us. So the best I can do is impossible; it might not even be something I should aim for.

What if the lowest possible price was £1 cheaper than quoted? My bosses would hardly be happy with that. Or would they? The problem with negotiating is that there’s no right way (as long as the price doesn’t go up!). Any money off seems to be a success of some kind. That’s my guess anyway.

Having worked so hard for grades all my life, I expect targets and feedback that I can measure myself against so I can improve. I imagine if negotiating was an academic subject, we would evaluate average prices, what it costs to produce a product, our budget, competition etc. before we began negotiating. After agreeing on a price, a tutor would say whether you did well, or if you should try a bit harder etc.
But in the real world, I pluck a number out of the air and see what happens. I receive no feedback as to whether that’s a good deal, only whether we wish to go ahead and accept the offer.

This is a really difficult concept to adapt to. Education should prepare you for this, by focusing on the learning process rather than the assessment process. It is actually a much more valuable lesson to accept mistakes and work a way around them rather than try to re-take them until we get them right. I know a lot of teachers that would agree with this; they want to teach their fantastic subjects rather than how to pass the exams.

The government’s obsession with assessment is getting in the way of our children’s learning and many people’s attitude to work. Something needs to be done. 

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Guess Blog Post: Misunderstanding Mental Illness

I've written another guest blog post for The Red Falcon Project for Mental Health Awareness Day. Have a read and let me know what you think!

Mental Illness can be a really hard concept to understand. When my best friend first told me she thought she was bi-polar, we were 17. I just didn’t get it. People are happy sometimes, people are sad sometimes, that’s just life. She didn’t seem mentally ‘abnormal’ or anything.
At the time, I didn’t realise how common mental illness was. My image of mental illness was people with extreme psychosis, held in strait-jackets. My friend was ‘normal’. While I felt sorry for people with depression and mental illness, I couldn’t understand it. Why couldn’t she just look on the bright side?
It took a suicide attempt for me to realise the severity of her feelings. READ MORE...

Monday, 3 February 2014

Haters Gonna Hate: Sufferers of Anxiety Gonna Worry

Being anxious means that I worry about pretty much everything. What I worry about the most however is ‘Is what I am doing right?’, ‘Is what I am doing good?’ and ‘What will people think of me?’.

Working in and having a knack for marketing means that I have a good understanding of what my target market wants. Being a content writer, I am always aware of which tone I am writing in, how to grab the specified audience and things to say to please them. Knowing what people want comes quite naturally. But it is because I know what people want, that I am very aware of what I do in relation to that.

I think this is where a lot of my anxiety comes from.

I know social norms, what behaviour is accepted by society, and because I know how judgmental a lot of people can be when these norms are broken, I persistently worry that I will break them, and when I feel like I do, or I will, I go into meltdown.

The problem is that these norms are actually highly subjective. While I can write to please a target market as a whole, there will always be someone who dislikes it. And it is near impossible to appeal to all target markets at once. Therefore, I can never please everybody. However, for some reason, this is what I try to do.

I once started a job, and on my second morning, a man called me into my office. I hadn’t met him yet, so very politely I said, ‘Sorry we haven’t met, I’m Tash. What’s your name?’ It was the way I had addressed everybody else when I had met them, and everybody else told me their name. Except for him.

‘What do you mean, what is my name?’ He shouted. ‘You should always learn the names of your bosses when you start at a firm.’ He proceeded to have a go at me for the next couple of minutes. Halfway through the lecture, the office manager walked in. My ‘boss’ turned to him and said ‘This girl doesn’t know my name! Why does she not know my name?’

The office manager was startled, told me his name and that he was the founding member of the company. His name was part of the company’s. So of course I knew his name, I just didn’t know his face. And how was I meant to? Maybe he expected me to find out, but he wasn’t in on the day that I’d started and nobody had introduced us. Was I meant to wait and try to figure out his name over the next few weeks?

Obviously, it was a culture clash. As a working class Essex girl, I am pretty upfront. If I don’t know someone’s name, I ask what it is. This guy was much more conservative, from a more upper class background. He owned the company. People should know his name, and when they don’t it is an insult. Me saying ‘what’s your name’ was interpreted by him as ‘who the fuck are you?!’.

Of course, I wasn’t to know he would take offence, and as I was bought up, I did perfectly the right thing. However, this remains to be one of the most embarrassing and humiliating moments of my life. I still shudder to think about it. I regret it so much.

Even though I know I shouldn’t worry about this, I am overly conscious about asking people their names. Even though whatever I do will never please everybody, I still can’t help but worry about it. For some reason, my logic just doesn’t marry up with my feelings anymore. I know it's irrational and impossible, but I just can't help it. I feel like I will always worry.