MIDLANDSABILITY

“Improving workplace opportunity for those with disabilities”

Once upon a time, a long time ago, two friends and colleagues came up with a great idea.

Although our idea was great, we don’t take credit for the original concept as our lightbulb moment was actually based on an organisation already in existence but only accessible to people living and or working in London. That organisation is WHARFABILITY.

“WharfAbility is a network of networks founded in 2012 by a group of individuals involved with the disability and carer agenda within major firms based in Canary Wharf.  Our mission is to connect businesses and colleagues to share experiences and ideas, enabling them to increase their impact in the work place. We have grown substantially over the past 3 years and now have 27 member organisations, principally from Canary Wharf but also from London generally.”

Our brilliant idea was to replicate the Wharfability network in the Midlands and so the journey began.

My colleague and long-time friend Richard Day has been the driving force behind creating this network as, pretty soon after attending some initial meetings with interested parties, I changed my role at work and began working from home. Reluctantly I bowed out but was more than confident that Richard would take this forward to its conclusion.

Richard and Linzi

Over the past three years, Richard has worked with a number of people also passionate about creating this network. Lorna Gavin; Kate Nash OBE; Graeme Whippey MBE; Karl Edge; Tracey Wright and Becky Brooks to name but a few. The culmination of this collective passion and hard work was the launch of Midlandsability yesterday.

The event was overwhelmingly successful and a testament to everyone’s determination to see this project come to fruition. Everyone involved should be very proud of themselves and everyone else should be very proud of them. I know I am.

Amongst the guests and inspirational speakers were Kate Nash OBE who interviewed the brand-new straight out of the box Minister of State for Disabled People, Work and Health, Sarah Newton; Graeme Whippy MBE from Channel 4; John Coxon from Disability Confident with the very funny, perceptive and down-to-earth Becky Brooks keeping everyone in line and on time.

Sarah Newton MP and Kate Nash OBE

It was a fabulous event hosted by KPMG in Birmingham and I am looking forward to joining this group on their future journey improving workplace opportunity for those with disabilities.

Well done everyone!

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Silver Linings

Well.
If you’d told me a few weeks ago that I’d be standing in front of an eminent audience talking about my depression, its impact and how I cope at work, I would have been extremely sceptical.

Caroline Ashrafi

For just three weeks ago I was feeling very overwhelmed, anxious, mentally and emotionally exhausted and my head felt like eggs being scrambled in a magi-mix.

In fact, to prevent any further deterioration in my mood and general well-being I invoked my work-place adjustments. I don’t like doing this. I try and manage my condition day-to-day but I have to admit that I did lose focus on maintaining my own good health a couple of months ago and, true to form, suffered a relapse arising from the delayed reaction weeks later.

Coincidentally, I had been asked to give a ten-minute talk at the Midlandsability network launch yesterday and had already chosen my topic,my workplace adjustments, never thinking that I would be able to quote from such recent history and experience.

Silver linings. It’s hard to have faith sometimes but I keep reminding myself that there are often silver linings to alleviate my downturn in mood.

But thanks to some amazing friends both old and new, a staggering amount of hard work, passion, dedication and sheer determination, yesterday was pure gold.

“Good” mental health

We all have mental health. Just like we have physical health and need to look after it, so we should take more care of our mental health. Or so they say.

Whilst all the advice about how to maintain good mental health is undoubtedly useful, my mental state does not depend on how much gentle exercise I do, how healthily I eat or drink or how much work I have on hand. I know this because over the years I have made lifestyle changes and they have made no difference to my mood or outlook. Lately, I have made no changes at all and yet I feel so much better.

I still take my medication, my diet could be better and I could certainly get around and move more yet I feel so much better and more stable emotionally than I have done for years. Not two or three years but maybe 10-15 years. So why is this?

Who knows and I am not saying that people should ignore all holistic advice and let nature take its course but I do believe that not all low mood/depression can be “cured” or alleviated by a healthy diet and exercise regime, mindfulness meditation and CBT sessions. This is something that I feel very strongly about and I get very cross when people assume that this is the case. It’s too simple. That’s also why I still only feel 100% comfortable with my Tribe. They understand and they appreciate the individual nature of mental illness in a way that someone who has never encountered a mental illness cannot possibly do.

There is still a long way to go in helping those with poor mental health and ensuring that they are truly integrated into society.

For me, I’m just grateful I am in a period of remission which is (hopefully) never-ending. It’s something I will never take for granted but will enjoy it whilst it lasts.

There is hope.

My wildlife garden 12 months on

Some of my more resilient readers will remember that this time last year I requisitioned the piece of ground that hubby used to grow vegetables on for my wildlife garden. Hubby didn’t have the time, and I am more interested in hedgehogs, birds and frogs than vegetables and so, over the next few months, a wildlife garden it became.

Only 12 months after my first efforts, I agreed to open my garden to the public on our village Open Garden Day. I was a bit worried that no one would be that interested and wasn’t expecting many visitors. Hah! how wrong can a person be? In this case I was hopelessly wrong and desperately ill-prepared for the masses that descended on my small garden.

Between 11.00am and 5.30pm we had a constant stream of visitors that were interested in how to attract wildlife into their gardens. For these enthusiasts, my garden is perfect. I was in the lucky position of being able to develop a garden from scratch purely with wildlife in mind, and although I didn’t plan it formally, the garden which evolved organically is beautiful and what’s more important, definitely attracts the wildlife. I am very proud of my efforts but am even more in awe of the plants that have established themselves so comfortably in the last year and presented a garden to be complimented last weekend.

More details of how I achieved the end (but ever evolving) result in later posts but here a just a few photographs of the finished product as at 11 June 2017.

The Underground Railroad

Something else that I have read about since becoming interested in Civil War quilts and reproduction fabrics is the Underground Railroad.
Just like Red Rock Cider (It’s not red and there’s no rocks in it) the Underground Railroad is neither underground nor is it a railroad. That’s disappointing but nevertheless still interesting.

I understand that the Underground Railroad grew as a romantic myth describing a network of secret routes used by slaves trying to escape their confines and assisted by abolitionists and freed slaves along the way. I wouldn’t have heard about this unless I was reading about the history of quilting in the US and what initially caught my eye was the story that slaves and abolitionists made quilts which included secret codes and messages enabling escapees to seek out friendly homesteads and safe routes towards freedom. For me, this was a great idea and what a fantastic story. The more I read however, the more evidence I found to render this story invalid.

What a shame. I would much rather think of white abolitionists fighting against the regime to help the slaves gain their rightful freedom, than read about the harsh reality. Slaves were more likely to escape on their own, safe routes were often closed down quickly and those enslaved in the deep south were unlikely to survive the longer journey northwards to the free states.

Personally I can’t grasp the idea of having a slave employed to do my bidding. It is unthinkable. Slavery still exists in some countries and cultures which I find incomprehensible but thankfully it is much less widespread than 200 years ago.

So much for coded quilts.

Dogs and Hogs

I love all animals and given the choice and funds, I would have a huge animal sanctuary in the countryside catering for all creatures great and small who need a home.
Unless I win the lottery, I have to make do with animals I do have, namely a gorgeous dog called Jasper and a number of hedgehogs who live and/or visit our garden every night now that their hibernation period is over.

I say a lovely dog, but he was less than gorgeous when he came back from a walk with his Daddy last Sunday. When he left, Jasper was a light golden colour, fluffy with a swishy plume of a tail. When he came back 2 hours later he was…… What can I say?


He had certainly changed colour quite dramatically, although he was clever in keeping his favourite ball very clean in comparison!

He is great company and he is also very good at sniffing out the hedgehogs when they appear.

Over the past few weeks, I have spied more and more hedgehogs running around the garden enjoying the warmer, dry weather and the cat food and mealworms which I feed them. I followed one after he finished eating and am thrilled to learn that he has made his nest in the ground-floor space of the insect house which I built last year. Lets hope it becomes a family home this spring and we have some hedgehog babies (urchins)to boost numbers.


keep calm

Guilt-free quilting

Going through difficult times and wanting to stay at home rather than venture further afield makes it very easy for me to feel guilty that I’m not doing anything. Of course that is nonsensical as it is impossible for me to do nothing except when at my lowest nadir confined to bed and sleeping all day.

So when I look back at the last week or so, although I haven’t been out and about as much as the previous week, I have still achieved a lot and should take pride in that instead of beating myself up. We could all learn that lesson and be kinder to oneself more often.

I finished my mini-quilt swap for my swap partner in the US. I will now be able to put it in the post and wait for her reaction. I just hope she likes it. Likewise, I will be waiting for mine to drop through the letterbox and I am sure I will love mine! Just the thought that someone has spent their precious time and energy on a project for me is warming and I love this idea of quilt swapping.

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Mini-quilt swap Spring 2017[/caption

My quilt-swap partner lives in Texas and I therefore settled on a pattern which has one star at the centre as I understand that Texas is known as the “Lone Star State.” I also hand-quilted it with stars. I love how you can personalise even the smallest quilt either by pattern or colour, or both and all quilts are made with love. They are almost living things and each one gifted goes with a piece of me.

I have also started to hand-quilt one for me. It is divided into 4 large squares which I will sash together when quilted. I find it very relaxing to sit and stitch in the evenings whilst watching TV. Good chill-out time and, as I am being creative and making something tangible, it’s all guilt-free.

IMG_5074
I am also learning a lot about the history of quilting both in the UK and the US. I have to say that the US wins the “most interesting” award and I am now fascinated with the quilting stories, history and myths which abound. All this in addition to the Civil War quilts and fabrics mentioned previously.

[caption id="attachment_14798" width="2560"]IMG_5075 Easy 4-square mini-quilt

I may not be racing around like an ant, but I am still being productive and creative. This should not be underestimated!

Creative

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