Time Banking – How Can it Benefit You

I’m fairly sure I’ve mentioned being involved with TimeBanking on previous posts. I wanted to blog specifically about it today because the people involved who give up their time freely for others deserve a mention and because I want to share about how it can help very small businesses.

Our local timebanks are run by 2 community workers from the local council – Gwyneth and Linda – Gwyneth works on the West of Southampton and Linda, the East. The idea of the scheme is to get people in communities together, helping each other. You give as much time as you are able and the hours you give are logged on a “bank account” as are the hours you take.

My main “giving” is centred around crafting and the joy of it is, that I only commit what I can manage. So I’ve recently needed to take quite a chunk of time out through illness and family pressures, but I hope to back with the group soon. I also volunteer as a textile mender at a local Repair Cafe monthly, run by Transition Southampton. This is affilitated to Time Bank so I can also claim those hours. I’ll blog at a later date about the Repair Cafe.

I have joined the Timebank both as an individual and a small business, the advantage to this is that I can choose to use my hours to either support me in my personal life – things like DIY, decorating etc or to support my business. This could be anything from a leaflet drop to business advice or designing publicity materials.

My latest exchange was to have a postcard designed that I could use for generic advertising – I was really struggling with layout and copy so an exchange was duly arranged with a gentleman who runs a local community centre. I then used his format to design the front of the postcard as we were struggling to find a decent photo of me – camera shy is probably a mild description of my efforts to avoid photography!

Here’s the finished result – would be interested to know what you think:


And if you would like to know more about Timebanking, whether in Southampton or further afield, click here and email Gwyneth and she will be happy to put you in touch with someone who can help 🙂

Hopefully Creative 3 – Managing Pain Through Craft

My last post was about crafting helping me find a sense of purpose, and I’d mentioned being referred to the pain clinic and also using some of the things I’d learned from people in my previous job with the Expert Patients Programme to help me get better. So I thought that this week instead of skimming the surface of my story I’d talk about about how crafting helped me manage my pain and get better.

So to start, I have a spinal problem that causes chronic pain, fatigue and from time to time episodes of bizarre muscle spasms, which can be anything from mildly irritating to downright debilitating and embarrassing, but also handy for terrifying baby lifeguards at the pool if the water is a little on the cold side! Chronic pain is very different from the pain you get with headaches, toothache etc and often is hard to describe. Sometimes it can be a continuous dull, draining ache, at others it can feel as if 2000 volts of electricity are shooting into your spine and down your arms and legs, or perhaps like someone is sticking needles in your thighs with every step you take. Other times its like having pulled muscles in bizarre places or at its worst like there’s someone living in your spine who has large boots on and is attempting to use all their strength to put the boots through the bones, whilst another member of the body inhabiting team is taking all the muscles in your back and twisting them as tightly as possible, like string around a pencil. Another bizarre symptom is hypersensitivity – the worst area I have is my neck, shoulders, back of head and upper back and arms – if  someone touches me gently I can go into such a severe spasm I fall off the chair I’m sitting on, and getting into the pool is a nightmare if the water is cold as that also sends me into spasm as soon as any of those parts touch the water – fortunately the spasm subsides as my body adjusts to the temperature but it does mean I need to choose my pools carefully and definitely can’t swim without someone with me. I also get weird sensations like ice being tipped down my outer legs or if I touch my lower leg on a table leg for example it feels like someone is holding a candle flame near my skin.

The most frustrating thing is that because your nerves are generating all these insane pain signals, your brain tends to respond by making you sit on your backside and because this is unpredictable, falls are pretty much inevitable. It also means that when walking different muscle groups can pull up into spasm without warning and I can end up in some very interesting shapes – so to go very far I need a zimmer frame  or wheelchair. The spasm also makes the muscle tired and then my legs gradually seize and stop working, first my feet drop and the rest of the legs rapidly go and I literally cannot stand. All this is really tiring to live with and the medications I need to take are pretty heavy duty and can also cause feelings of tiredness. So another issue is fatigue, which means I have to plan my time carefully where possible and build in rest periods.

Pain circleSo where does crafting fit into all this? Well one thing I learned was that many symptoms interlink and feed off each other, making personal experience of illness worse. For example pain can cause fatigue, fatigue makes you feel down and useless, that in turn can lead to depression, depression makes your perception of pain and other symptoms worse, this leads to anxiety, which leads to muscle tension which leads to even more pain…… so basically living with any form of long term illness means you can get trapped in a vicious circle of symptoms. But it is possible to break the cycle and do things that help you lessen the impact of the condition on your daily life and gradually build up what you are able to do before the symptoms impact on you again.




Crafting and Pain Management an Example


The above “diary” is a condensed version of one of the notebooks I was keeping at the time to record my symptoms and what triggered them. Oddly its a very motivating read as I can see just how far I’ve come and I can also look at it during flare ups and realise I’m not back at the bottom of the ladder yet!

When I looked at my notebooks I realised that I was incorporating 3 key strategies to help me break the vicious cycle described above – distraction, pacing and goal setting…. all of those can be used to help you build some craft time into rest periods whether you are recovering from an acute illness or operation or living with a long term condition. I’ll explain how each technique works and then show you how crafting fits in:


This technique works by taking your mind off the situation you are in,and removes the focus from the illness and how it affects you.It effectively breaks the arrows that link pain, fatigue and depression by cutting right through the middle. This is because your mind is absorbed and you are focusing on something outside of yourself  – so the symptoms recede to the back of your mind and become less important. Therefore you have taken back control and are able to do something about your situation.

Crafting is brilliant for this because it requires both physical skill and imagination, which keeps the brain very well occupied! When you create something, you first start with an idea, a picture in your mind which you can focus on – result, less pain as your brain is tuning into something different. As you take the idea and start making it into something concrete your hands are busy – you’re using a wide variety of motor skills, again keeping that brain occupied, so again the symptoms are staying put at the back of your mind! Time tends to pass more quickly too as you are not clock watching and waiting for the next dose of medication….

From the groups I am involved with, my clients often talk about how crafting is helping them deal with symptoms from pain through poor concentration to depression and other major mental illnesses. They all say apart from the opportunity to get together and chat to other, that it really takes their mind off things. I hope that I can gain permission to write up a couple of individual case studies as this series develops so that you can “hear” similar stories from others.


If you want to understand the science behind distraction and therapeutic crafting,  Betsan Corkhill is a physiotherapist who has set up an organisation called Stitchlinks, to support people with long term illness who  use craft in this way. She has been involved in many research projects and even runs conferences. Even if you don’t want to sign up for anything the site is well worth a visit and I promise you’ll learn alot!


In one of my notebook entries, I said ” my shoulders seem to be more painful, perhaps I need to have some rest breaks” This is the one “danger” of distraction, that you get so into what you are doing that you overdo things and forget to rest and that is where pacing comes in!

Pacing is important because trying to continue living your life as you did before, means you quickly come unstuck! When you start pacing yourself it can seem restrictive and frustrating but over time it allows you to gradually and sensibly increase what you are able to achieve, without putting your body into flare ups. However if you can pace yourself then you start to notice small improvements in what you can do.

Pacing isn’t easy though and sometimes its fine to say “I’m doing what I want today” and just go and enjoy yourself, whilst having planned a rest day a day or so later. Pacing works by never pushing your body to the point where your symptoms worsen, which can be difficult when your symptoms fluctuate or you have a flare up / relapse as you do need to start virtually from scratch again.

How Do I Pace Myself?

Using my example I developed shoulder pain after around 40mins stitching. So I knew that was my limit at the time.

To reduce the likelihood of pain I halved the time I stitched to 20 mins and took 10 min stitch breaks initially. Over time I was then able to up the time I stitched by 5mins a week i.e. 20mins per session week 1, 25 mins per session  week 2 etc, but I kept the 10min rest period. Once I could stitch comfortably for 40 mins at a time with no pain I was happy. However if I had wanted to continue to up my stitching time, I could have continued to add on 5 min increments, but in this case it wasn’t necessary.

However when I swim I continue to add lengths and reduce the rest period between lengths – so currently I can do 6 x 2 lengths but my aim is to swim 3 x 4 lengths and then once I have fewer rest breaks increase the distance by 1 length at a time.


Goal setting

This is the key to using the tools I’ve described above. The idea is to take a long term goal and break it down into weekly or even daily steps that you know are achievable. Goals must be something you know are within reach over time, otherwise you are setting yourself up to fail and you end up feeling more depressed and hopeless. I know I’ve done that many a time and its really not worth going there!  I usually aim to do an activity 2-4 times in the week. Why? Because I would need to plan for bad days, perhaps the great British weather and family stuff  – so I make my goals achievable by being realistic about my condition and the demands on my time. Goals also need to be measurable – have a set target in terms of time, distance or the amount of work you plan to do.

A personal example, which isn’t crafty is my swimming programme

Long term goal 1: Swim 6 x 50m lengths of the pool within 3 months

Where I was at: I was able to get into the pool, do my physio programme and swim 20m before I was exhausted

Goal 1: To swim 2x weekly and increase the distance from 20 to 25m over 2 weeks

Goal 2: To swim 2x weekly and increase the distance from 25 to 50m over 2 weeks – swim 2x half lengths

Goal 3: To swim 2 x weekly and increase the distance from 50 to 150m over 4 weeks – swim 3 lengths

Goal 4: To swim 2x weekly and increase the distance from 150m to 300m over 4 weeks – swim 6 length

Did I achieve it – yes and in under the 3 months I allowed as I paced myself carefully and added on an extra half length each time I swam.

I’m currently swimming just below this target as I’m recovering from a flare up and viral infection so when I swam last week I made sure I was aware of my body and my fatigue levels and reduced the distance accordingly. I have also changed pools to one which is both warmer and cheaper, so am now in a 25m pool, so need to swim 12 length to reach my target. Next time I go I will assess how I am after 8 lengths and if not too tired will add a 9th.

I hope this post has helped, my aim was to to demonstrate to my readers that crafting can help you change your focus when you are going through as rough spell, whatever that might be and to explain how the tools I use work, so that you can apply them to your day to day life. You don’t need a long term illness to use them either, as we all tend to have extremely busy lives these days and often don’t take the time out we need to rest or do things we enjoy.

4kcbwday3 An Infographic

Today’s challenge is a trip down memory lane. In a past job I was a clinical auditor and had to learn to summarise and present data as simply as possible.  I was part of a team implementing an older people’s outreach service to acute medical and surgical wards in a major UK teaching hospital. It was my first job after my spinal issues meant I had to give up nursing and I did it alongside an Open University Health Promotion Course – which is what taught me the beauty of infographics!

The job and course together helped me realise  that despite being unable to do what I loved I was still useful. And of course craft was also there helping me with the transition.  It was during the 8 weeks I spent laid on the floor, waiting to get better that I taught myself cross stitch and blackwork. I made all our Christmas cards and some presents too that year. And on numerous transitions since its been craft that’s pulled me through the dips and deteriorations and has given me new openings and horizons.  One of the many reasons I love working with people who are experiencing difficult life circumstances is that I love to empower people to discover latent abilities and new horizons.

So my infographic can only be based on crafting as a life changing opportunity 🙂

Let’s imagine I asked 100 people who crafted 3 questions:

1. Do you craft when happy?

2. Do you craft when worried?

3. Has craft ever helped you get better from a serious illness / accident or deal with a big change to your life?

And of those the numbers who answered yes to each question were roughly split into 3 equal sized groups and I wanted to know about where those groups overlapped….  and show you in very clear and colourful terms I might use a Venn diagram to do this:


Without looking to loads of numbers you can see that:

A certain group of those who craft when happy also craft when worried

And a bigger group of those who craft when happy have also crafted to help them recover from a serious illness, but the group who have used craft when worried and to help them is even bigger

And a small number of  those who craft when happy, also craft when worried and have crafted to help them get over something major.

But if I presented this as a table of numbers you would probably spend ages ploughing through the tables and fiddling around with calculators – assuming you hadn’t lost the will to live of course – before you got the information you wanted.

Discovering Hope – The Role of Creativity

I had a completely different topic in mind for this week’s post but having spent a lovely morning teaching 3 ladies with learning disabilities to crochet a chain and make a bracelet it occurred to me to explore the role of creativity in building a sense of hope.


I honestly believe that we all have a creative ability…. it might be handicrafts, art or even building a wall – it doesn’t matter what it is you like to create, the only thing that matters is that you put your heart into it and are pleased with what you have achieved. It actually doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of your finished work – they might love it, they might not but that’s not the point. The point I believe is in your personal achievement.

I’ve already shared bits of my own story – how I’ve rediscovered that I can be creative and the journey I’m taking into freeform work. However if it wasn’t for crafting I have no idea where I’d be now! 5 years ago I was pensioned off by the NHS following a massive flare up of the complex pain syndrome I have. I was pretty much bed / chair bound and came out of a discussion  with a back to work provider feeling pretty fed up – I was told if I wanted to work I’d have to find a job to do laying down!! I sent my daughter off to the shops for a kids knitting kit and had ago and found I’d not lost the ability so started making things – I hunted down yarn and fabrics on Freecycle and in charity shops as I got a bit stronger – thanks to the pain clinic and their brilliant and very inspired physio – and eventually opened a Folksy shop. Things gradually grew from there, I gained an adult teaching qualification about 3 years ago. It was pretty scary going into the classroom in a wheelchair – I wasn’t sure what the group would think etc but it was great and I found I could still teach! Since then I’ve run workshops and classes with the help of friends and family and attended fairs etc. And met some equally amazing people along the way….


I’ve mentioned the Headway group before – currently they’re embarked on

knitting preemie clothes for Lisa’s Stars. The loom knitters are producing hats, one lady who hates knitting is making tiny blankets and another lady who has not been able to follow a pattern for 8 years is now churning out tiny hats, mitts and booties from simple patterns and has decided to attempt a tiny cardigan over Easter. I’ve rewritten the pattern so its a bit easier to follow and I’m sure she’ll do it as her confidence is really growing. Our next project is to make a wall hanging / quilt. Its going to take some inventiveness but our sewing star has promised me she’ll make sure I’m teaching things well so I’m sure it’ll be fine. When I first met the group I had no idea what would be possible but to see them grow and gain confidence through their achievements is amazing and no matter how bad a day I’m having I always come out feeling better. Its easy to look at the label and decide on people’s capabilities but its only when you give people a chance to do something creative and forget labels that you discover their potential.


I’ve recently started working with a group of ladies with mental health issues on a monthly basis. I support them in working on projects of their choice. Some can already knit or crochet and need a bit of confidence and others are beginners. The rule I work to is progress not perfection so until the person can confidently do something I don’t spend time on mistakes because it actually doesn’t matter. What matters to these ladies is that they are doing something and achieving something that they feel good about. One of the group has already joined the Friday Knit and Natter group and is making new social contacts too.

And talking of Knit and Natter, we’re a diverse group sometimes all female, sometimes with the odd man coming along. Some can knit or crochet well, others are complete beginners. We talk about all sorts, help and support each other and I think encourage each other to achieve. For some members the group is a break from a fairly isolated lifestyle, for others its a chance to learn something new or pass on existing skills. One girl had never tried knitting or crochet at the beginning and is now making toys and dolls clothes for her children.

And this morning was amazing – I worked individually with each lady and their helper. Ok the correct crochet grips etc went out the window but everyone was really proud of the chain bracelets they’d made. I was kept busy making flowers to add to them and everyone took one home to give to a friend or relative as an Easter gift. One lady has asked if I can come again as she eventually wants to make a blanket and I’m really looking forward to it.

So based on my experiences, I think hope for the future comes from feeling positive about yourself and one of the best ways of feeling positive is to have a sense of achievement. And creativity definitely has a role!

The Value of Networking

I used to be really negative about networking do’s – I could never see the point of going and used to feel it was a necessary, if unpleasant part of the job in my former employed life. But over time I began to see benefits from networking, it really helped to build contacts, get people talking and explore ways of working together to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.

So when I started Bits and Bobs I knew I needed to find a way to network with other crafters and find out more about the world I was entering. I started off online over at Folksy, by joining in with the forums. I learned that to make sales online I had to learn to promote online and so a facebook page became needed, swiftly followed by accounts with twitter, craftjuice and creative connections. I found the networks were useful for learning about how people work, but sometimes felt they were quite competitive and found it hard that despite all the work I felt I was putting in, I didn’t seem to be getting much of a return on my investment.

I started talking to people about what I was doing in a small way offline and that started to bring in the odd sale here and there but it was still pretty sporadic. The Taste of Enterprise course offered a ready made network as part of the progression and whilst this was interesting and I learned alot from people about the practicalities of business, I wasn’t really getting the leads and contacts I needed.

So I dipped my toe into the world of Craft fairs and that was great, I found lots of encouragement and positive feedback about what I did and got to meet lots of lovely people. But again it didn’t really lead to where I’d hoped – which was finding opportunities to work with people collaboratively. Or so it seemed at the time. But now the work with Taste of Enterprise and Craft Fairs is really taking off and is promising to lead onto some really positive opportunities around running craft fairs and specialist wedding “learn  to make” events.

I then found out about the CHAOS network, a local organisation that brings artists, crafters and people from the worlds of music, film and theatre together and that did start to open a few doors. Around the same time I met up with Steve and Ross from Third Age Centre and the local Age Concern group. This lead onto joining SIGN, which is a local network of people and agencies who work across the generations. I made some great contacts there which has lead on to my developing courses and is now leading to work and commissions. I also made some connections with Networking Mummies and Mums and Business and this is now starting to lead to collaboratives and work.

I have to admit though that I’ve been feeling that my information is dropping into a black hole sometimes and that I’ve had strong misgivings at times about whether I’m doing the right thing with marketing and letting people know about who I am and what I want to do.And that’s another positive about networking – people come and approach you and want to meet you, based on the information you’ve sent out to them at some point. That’s happened today and I attended a really positive networking lunch at Third Age Centre and have got 2 leads and a commission. I’ve also had the opportunity to talk to some Mum’s at Sure Start who are getting to the point of needing to return to work and share a bit about me and my journey and also hear about other women who’ve faced and overcome multiple barriers to working.

I’ve drawn up a series of little post-it type notes that you are welcome to download as a result of my reflections on networking which you are more than welcome to download and print off  if you find them useful: