Columbia Road Flower Market

Bunched together, fighting for space. Some blooming in the sunshine, others wilting in the heat. The exotic, the beautiful, the plain. And that’s just the people!


Time to drop the pyjamas

imageI’m just going to have a little moan. Only for a couple minutes but, you know, I thought I should warn you…

I like Red magazine and most of the time it gets it right; there’s a good mixtures of features and reviews that interest me. In the May issue there was a great feature about flexible working. So why did it make some trite reference to creative freelance types “grateful for an excuse to get out of their pyjamas and away from the fridge”? And it’s not the only publication to make this ‘joke’. Time after time I see it in reference to freelancers, homeworkers, the self-employed – call us what you will.

It’s nonsense and, frankly, a bit offensive. Homeworkers are, by and large, not airy fairy types lazing around in their onesies pretending to have a career. Self-employment is on the up – over half a million people started their own business in 2013 and over 70% of these businesses are run from home. The majority of homeworkers are working hard to make a success of a business that they have chosen to develop through ambition or circumstance. Together we contribute £243 billion to the economy every year.

So what’s with this obsession with what we wear? Admittedly I am one of those people who picks up their iPhone and reads their emails before making their first coffee of the day, so if that’s your measure then I stand guilty as charged, but I did that when I was employed too. The truth of it is most of us – gasp! – get dressed for work. Like any professional we want to feel appropriately dressed for the day ahead. How you look prepares you mentally and drives confidence. Showering, drying your hair, dressing and having breakfast are our transitions into the day ahead as they are for anyone.

The way I dress as a homeworker is not a whole lot different to when I worked in an office: if I’ve got an important meeting or am speaking at an event I’ll wear a dress; if I’m on a shoot I’ll probably be in a skirt and boots or jeans and converse; if it’s the end of a long week and I’m doing ‘Friday finances’ I’ll be make-up free and in my leggings. My clients deserve better than having me dial in to a conference call in my Sunday slobs and my business partner really doesn’t need to be discussing our work plan on Skype while looking at me in my PJs!

So, if any journalist are reading this, then next time you write an important article about this burgeoning and important aspect of the UK economy can we drop the pyjamas?

At the market

Earlier this week I did a cooking course in Hoi An. I went with the Morning Glory course – a lazy option really as it’s well-established and widely advertised, but I decided to go with it because the holiday is short and I’ve got better things to do that spend hours researching cooking courses.

It was good and I’d recommend it, with caution – it won’t be for everyone. It’s good value but it’s a slick operation – the group size is large, the premises shiny, new and with ‘designed’ atmosphere, and it closes with a nudge to buy the $40 cookbook. If you’re after a more homely, personal, ‘cooking with mama’ experience then spend the time on research that I couldn’t be bothered to!

One of the appeals of the course was the trip to the market. Markets are fascinating places, full of colour, life, noise and some things you’d rather not see! But they’re hard to poke around with your camera when you’re not shopping and don’t speak the local language. So heading out for the shopping trip was too good an opportunity to miss! I’m not sure I was the most attentive pupil during the herbs and fruits lessons – I was too busy snapping away! I can tell you though that I have utmost respect for the woman slicing that lemongrass at that speed – I glanced my finger across one of the slicers she was using a bit later and the pain and blood were instant!



Making photos, not taking photos

Years ago when I was backpacking I remember I always used to chuckle when Dutch travellers asked me to make a photograph of them. You don’t make a photograph, you take a photograph, I used to think (although never say!). Today I tried not to take photos.

imageUp a red dusty track on the north east tip of Phú Quóc island, in the Southern reaches of Vietnam, is Peppercorn Beach Resort. This is where I have come to unwind before the ‘doing’ bit of my holiday starts. A quick glance at these photos will tell you all you need to know about the initial appeal of the place, but want I also liked was the contribution the resort makes to the nearby fishing village of Ganh Dau. The school has been renovated, families have received help to reroof their homes, support is offered during the rainy season when the fishing catch is low and, of course, there’s the employment opportunity.

imageAfter 72 hours of loafing around and not moving more than a few hundred metres, I decided to see if my legs still worked and take a stroll into the village. I was expecting it to be sleepy and a little quaint – how wrong I was. I didn’t spend 90 minutes wandering anonymously through a fishing village, I spent 90 minutes wandering into and through people’s lives. The village is in fact one long walkway just a couple of metres wide, hugging a bay packed with fishing boats. All along each side are hundreds of homes and businesses. They face inwards on both sides and each one is open-fronted so neighbours both next door and opposite are quite literally touching distance apart. Televisions and radios are constantly competing with each other, creating an ever-evolving but blended noise as you walk down the street.

All life is lived together. At first glance you see a neatly arranged cafe of red plastic tables and chairs, then you spot the double bed nestled amongst them. You marvel at the garish packaging hanging in a shop doorway, wondering what the product is, and then realise you’re inadvertently staring at a family eating lunch. And there were so many amazing photographs to take: the ironmonger sat amongst piles of blackened metal eating noodles; the group of old men playing cards for money in the midday sun; the piles of beautiful fruit and veg with an old lady sleeping in a hammock above them. But I didn’t take any of them.

Everyone was perfectly friendly: older people smiled; shy school children said hello; a not-so-shy little boy smacked my bottom! I’m sure if I’d asked, some people would have let me take their photos, but I don’t think the smiles would have been quite so relaxed. I’m a stranger and more importantly I haven’t earned the right to point my camera at their lives. It was an odd feeling because at Mile 91 we’re frequently in communities like this for just a couple of hours. But they’re expecting us, they’ve agreed in advance to have their photos taken and be interviewed, and we’re working with local colleagues who translate for us so we are able to quickly build rapport. I could have built rapport here of course – if I’d come into the village daily I would have become a slightly familiar face, or if I was here for a couple of weeks I could come down early in the mornings to watch the catch coming in and have breakfast in the local cafés. But I am here for four days and I’ve spent most of that time on my veranda admiring the view of the bay next door.

So today I didn’t take people’s photos, I made some pictures. I captured some images of things that will hopefully remind me of the life and colour of the community. And I was given the thumbs up to take a picture of the new school building. Nobody’s perfect though – the woman raking what must have been MILLIONS of prawns was just too good to resist…she did (quite rightly!) fix me with a proper frown when she spotted me. Well, would you want someone sneaking up and taking your picture when you were working?!

Today, at a road junction…

20140420-173157.jpgBeing on holiday on your own gives you lots of time to do things you wouldn’t do if you were with someone. Like sit in cafés, drinking beer and seeing if you really can get the photos from your camera to your iPhone to your blog using wifi and a couple of apps. If you’re reading this I guess we can say the answer is yes.

The other thing you can do when you don’t have someone else’s time to be mindful of is take 262 photos of a road junction. Yes I did just say that. I have a new camera and I’m playing with various settings and shutter speeds. I was trying to capture the freneticism of Ho Chi Minh City’s roads. I hadn’t quite realised just how many shots would be captured when I used the ‘continuous shooting’ function. Put it this way, I could make a great time lapse film of that junction!

I didn’t get any shots like the one I had in mind, but I’m including this one because it made me chuckle; I hadn’t noticed when I took the shot that amongst the bikes, scooters, cars and buses is a woman on foot. Cool as a cucumber. I promise I’m not doing that Mum!

Marathon Training: Things I’ve learnt so far…

RainSo, it’s back to work tomorrow and I’ve got the usual post-Christmas excitement about the New Year and a fresh set of challenges. This year it includes one I never imagined I would tackle and that’s the London Marathon.

I’ve been plodding around the streets of Crystal Palace since early November and I have just worked out that in the first two weeks of the beginner’s 16 week training plan I am following I have run 26.42 miles. So, over the course of the last two weeks I have run what I hope to cover in about 5 hours just 14 weeks from today. Mmm…

I am early in my journey but here are some things I learnt so far:

1. Children try to poke you with sticks as you run past them. It happened twice on one run (different children!).
2. Some children are nice and shout ‘stay strong, stay strong’ as you run past. When this happens you try to absorb the goodwill and ignore your concern that you look that in need of encouragement after two miles.
3. In really big parks with lots of space, toddlers (and dogs) will appear from nowhere to trip you up.
4. Rolling a tennis ball up and down the wall with your arse is really bloody painful (more on that another day, maybe!).
5. Dogs in south London have some seriously large bowel movements and their owners don’t seem to notice. Keep the pavements clean people!
6. Running in the rain is really good fun (strange but true).
7. Wicking fabric is really clever. How can it rain that much and the only bit of me that’s wet be my head?!
8. When you’re running in the rain people will look at you like you’re mad.
9. Hawthorn berries squashed on the pavement are as slippery as ice.
10. Running to 80s film soundtracks is not a good idea. Powering through the park to Danger Zone may get you off to a good start but it makes for a bloody exhausted finish.

Find out why I am running the marathon here:

A little change of emphasis…

Shiny new running shoes!As many of you know, a couple of months ago Ben Langdon and I launched Mile 91. We capture spine-tingling stories that inspire action and encourage giving. Catherine Raynor Communications lives on though and I will still be providing broader communications support to charities, but all of my story-related work – whether that’s making a film or helping an organisation set up its own story gathering team – is now part of Mile 91’s family of services.

Meanwhile, I am about to embark on my own spine-tingling story. I have a place in next year’s London Marathon and I will be running for Pancreatic Cancer UK. Two of my best and oldest friends lost their mothers to pancreatic cancer in the last month or two, and my sister-in-law’s father also died from this a couple of years ago. It is a cruel cancer (aren’t they all?) and I am looking forward to doing my bit to help improve survival rates.

So, this blog is going to get a little bit running obsessed over the next five months. I will still be blogging professionally at (do sign up – it’s great!), but here it will be about the blood, sweat, tears, and blackened toenails! Stay with me, I’ll need your words of encouragement

Fundraising campaign launching soon…

This morning I sponsored a bottom.

This morning I sponsored a bottom. Well, I sponsored a whole person and a cause, but it all started with a bottom…a woman’s bottom to be precise. And it wasn’t even a woman I knew.

The story began shortly after 9am this Sunday just gone with me wandering up Constitution Hill to the start line of the British 10k. The heat was already rising and I was trying hard not to think about the inevitable discomfort of the next 90 minutes. I sought comfort from the fact that nobody was taking the official advice of jogging the 1.5k from the bag drop to the start as a warm up.

I started to look at the T shirts around me. A bright yellow one caught my eye. I was touched to see a photograph of loved ones pinned to the wearer’s bum. I always find the names and photographs that adorn people’s kit particularly poignant at these races. Friends, families and loved ones whose stories you will never know, but who have inspired some committed person to run, jog, walk, hobble…

So I snapped a picture and tweeted this…

A couple of hours later I read this:

Then this:

Sarah Turley was in my team at VSO. Claire Cooper is her colleague at Crisis. Sarah just happened to be having a lazy mooch through Twitter of a Sunday morning and saw me tweet her friend’s bum. Of all the 25,000 bums I could have chosen to snap and tweet, it was that one!

So last night we all went for a glass of wine. We toasted our sweaty run. Claire told me the story of the photo, of how she was running in memory of her best friend’s Mum who died in June, just five months after being diagnosed with Leukaemia. It was a story I never expected to hear as I’d idly tweeted 36 hours earlier.

There were hundreds of sad stories pinned to people’s t shirts on Sunday, but this little anecdote is going to make me smile for years to come!

Taking down the electric fence of NGO communications

“If you are a reportage animal and you want to report on poverty you have to get through the electric fence of NGOs. You sense danger and run away.”

Those were pretty damning words from BBC Producer Nick Fraser. He was speaking at an ODI-hosted event that explored some of the lessons learned during Why Poverty? and explaining why he had previously shied away from reporting on poverty.

If you missed it, Why Poverty? commissioned eight documentaries and 30 short films that explored the issue of poverty through the real stories of people living around the world, from America to Zanzibar. Last week’s thought-provoking event touched on a whole range of issues, from the BBC’s last minute decision to restrict broadcast to BBC4 to the need for Government, NGOs and broadcasters to work together more effectively to spark and encourage public debate about big issues.

But for me (somewhat obviously!) the most interesting conversations were around the brilliant storytelling that was the hallmark of the series. Nick used the example of Solar Mamas when describing how these were not issues films but documentaries that got you into people’s lives and then approached an issue through the protagonists. “Solar Mamas purports to be about solar but actually it’s about the grim circumstances of women. It could easily have been called the Stupidest Husband in the World.”

I can see some NGO folk shuddering at the prospect of such a trite programme title. The idea of explaining the complexities of gender hierarchies and the impact of participatory community development approaches with one person’s story simply doesn’t compute for some people. Too often communication teams lose out to the development thinkers and insights into the real change that’s happening to real people gets lost behind statistics and development speak. In other words, the electric fence goes up. But the need to find engaging ways to explain the complexity of development is something NGO storytellers need to take seriously.

The ODI’s Leni Wild, spoke about the findings of last year’s IPPR and ODI report, Understanding public attitudes to aid and development. The public are growing tired of the way development messages are presented. The repeated use of images of people living in need has created the impression that nothing has changed and they are questioning what has happened with money already donated. The stories that research participants responded to most keenly were those that explained progress and how change happened, even when that process was complex. The report suggests that “stories about how development actually happens may be more effective than campaigns just focused on inputs and outputs”.

If we’re moving to a place where there is a genuine appetite for a deeper understanding of how development happens, warts and all, then there is an even greater need for NGOs to use the stories of real people. A desire to understand the ‘how and why’ of development is not an open invitation for NGOs to liberally pepper their communications and fundraising materials with jargon. We will need people to tell us what has and is happening in their lives to explain complex issues to those who are interested, but not experts.

This is what the Why Poverty? films did so well; they ignored the language of development, ditched the baseline data and beat the impact statistics into the ground and introduced the world to people. Our natural human nosiness kicked in, we became absorbed in other people’s lives and along the way we learnt about the impact of poor infrastructure, failing health systems, sanitation, land grabbing, and much more.

Changing the way we tell the story of development will not be easy. Teams will have to work hard to understand each other’s perspective. We must earn the trust of the people telling us their stories and ensure it is an enriching experience for them. But if we’re going to continue to engage the public in development it’s hard work that has to happen. It’s time to take down the electric fence.

The evaluation that made me cry!

Project evaluations have been known to make people cry for all of the wrong reasons! Yesterday I was working on one that made my eyes well up for all the right reasons.

Cash for Kids is an initiative from Bauer Radio, which is a group of radio stations. Every year stations across the UK raise millions of pounds for local children and young people who are suffering from abuse or neglect, who are disabled and have special needs, or who simply need extra care and guidance.

Cash for Kids fundraising days are heavily promoted on the stations. Presenters encourage local businesses, schools and community groups to raise as much money as possible. One the reasons the Cash for Kids days are so successful is because Bauer builds the campaigns around inspiring stories and uses real voices of children and parents who have benefited from the support of the chosen charities.

For the last two years CLIC Sargent, the charity for children and young people with cancer, has been one of the beneficiary charities and I have supported them with their story gathering. Every interview with a young person or parent and each conversation with a child is inspiring and I am always amazed by the courage with which they speak about their experiences of cancer. There is always warmth and emotion in their voice when they describe their relationship with CLIC Sargent.

But some stories just stand out. This year, one of them was the story of six year old Georgia. What made this one different was her Mum is a paediatric community nurse and she had previously worked on a bone marrow transplant unit. When she was given the name of the consultant she would be seeing she didn’t need to be told the news. She knew he was a paediatric oncologist. Her friends have been treating her daughter. She described how her insider knowledge meant there were 10 worst case scenarios going through her head at any one time.

Rock FM in Lancashire followed the story of Georgia in the lead up to the fundraising day, which took place a couple of weeks ago. Obviously it’s impossible for me to listen to nine or 10 radio stations at the same time so I have to wait a while for the stations to hear the highlights. Yesterday I read this:

“The most amazing news of the day was a call from Georgia’s mum to tell us that Georgia’s scans had come back and she is currently clear of cancer. Georgia spoke to Darren on air and told us, ‘I’m fine, I’m going to do my homework and watch Scooby Doo!’”

Wow! Imagine being a listener who heard it live on air?! Georgia gets a special mention on the Rock FM website and the station raised an amazing £22,000.

Some evaluations are great to write!