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Scams, Cold Calls and Junk

Almost as soon as I moved into my flat the cold calls started. I had to register with energy suppliers, which is when the calls about getting a smart meter began. Mostly I get phone calls about it, but I have had the occasional sales person call at my door. My previous energy supplier nearly managed to get me signed up to a smart meter, but before they came to fit it I made sure I read the booklet they sent me about it. I am glad I did, turns out on a prepay meter a smart meter is actually worse value for me than not having one. I would have had to change to a different tariff that would cost me more per unit, so I cancelled it. I also could not see much point in a smart meter when already being on a prepay meter. I can see how much gas and electricity I am spending when my meter goes down. I know myself what appliances I have switched on, so know what is using up my credit. Maybe smart meters are good for people who use billing, but not in my case.

Another energy supplier nearly got me to switch to them. I had already worked out the best deal for me and switched companies only a month earlier. I made the stupid mistake of letting a cold caller into my flat. He somehow got me to sign something which I feel rather stupid for having done so now. I realised almost as soon as I had done it that it was probably a mistake, so decided to do some online research about the company. They were not cheaper than my current company despite his claims as I was not on the average tariff, but on a much lower deal one. The company had very bad reviews for customer service. People complained of relentless cold callers who would not go away till they signed up. I tried to cancel my sign up, but they took so long to answer the phone sometimes I gave up and even when I did get through they kept failing to put me through to the right department. In the end my current company sorted it out for me, but even they struggled to get the company to cancel. I am glad I am aware of my right to cancel an energy switch over within fourteen days of signing up. I am also glad I am able to do my own online research, as I know some people are unable to do this. I had only been in my flat a few months at the time and it is the first time I have lived totally alone with my name on the energy supplier’s information. Anyone who moves into their first home alone is vulnerable as they have no experience in dealing with this kind of thing. Now I have a no cold callers sign on my door, say no thanks to them and shut the door on them.

Another group who regularly cold call people both on the phone and at the door are charities. They never get anywhere with me as they are asking directly for money which is not something I feel able to give a lot of, and I already give to charity in the form of time by volunteering. The elderly seem the most vulnerable to this kind of cold call. A recent consumer programme on the radio reported of people finding their elderly relatives bank accounts linked up by direct debits to lots of charities without the older person being aware of just how much money they were giving each month. Often these people are easily confused or suffering some kind of dementia and can not work out the long term costs or remember how many charities they have already signed up with. Charity giving is a good thing if you can afford it, but some of these people are struggling financially. A lot of charity cold callers work on commission and get a bonus for singing people up, and some have to sign up a certain number each day to even get paid at all. I do not always blame the cold caller, but the system they work under, the payment set up is geared so that vulnerable people are going to be targeted.

Then there is the fake or scam cold call. There is the now quite well known Microsoft computer scam who claim to be Microsoft themselves calling you and that they noticed a fault with your computer. They say they can fix your viruses or hacked computer over the phone if you follow the instructions they give you. However what they actually want is your bank details to pay for the so called service. Some of the scammers actually go so far as to get you to download a programme that lets them remotely control your computer and if you fail to comply with the instructions they start to delete your files! I know that a company such as Microsoft do not even do computer repairs on individual computers. They rang me once whilst I was at home and I had the enjoyment of telling them truthfully I have no internet in my flat and my laptop was switched off as it lives at my parents house (since they do have internet that is where it is most useful to keep it). The elderly are at risk from this scam sometimes as they often understand computers less well.

This article makes interesting reading on the scam, http://www.wired.co.uk/article/malwarebytes

There are various scam calls out there and a good rule of thumb is to never give bank details to anyone who rings you up.

Text messages are also used to try and get people to sign up to things. I have had texts from British Gas about smart meters, texts about phone deals when I was with EE and about online game deals. It is easy to delete a spam text, but disappointing when a text turns out to be spam since I do not get many texts.

Junk mail, the old fashioned way to try and part a fool and his money. However most of the junk I get is not even relevant to me. I do not own my flat so do not need building insurance, can not sell it and am not responsible for my drains (no matter how many times South West Water tell me that any drains on my property are my responsibility). Almost all my junk mail goes straight in the recycling sack. Some people in rented accommodation may sign up for some of the services on offer without realising their landlord is responsible for them, not them.

The internet is a whole other minefield of junk email, scams and banner adverts trying to sell you stuff. If you have a vulnerable family member who uses social media add them as your ‘friend’ so you can keep an eye on who they talk to and what things they are signing up to.

The learning and mentally disabled can be vulnerable to cold calls if they live alone without much. support. They can end up signing up for all kinds of things. Some are lonely and welcome any kind of human contact so let themselves be engaged into conversation with these people. Giving people more support when setting up a new home could help, teaching them how to get good energy deals and to ignore cold callers.

I gather the law is changing to make cold calls without prior consent illegal. However not from abroad, so I expect a lot of companies will just move their call centres. Also I am willing to bet that if it is a call from your own energy supplier or a company you already hired then it will count as prior consent as you already hire a service from them, even if they are trying to sell you something additional. Also what is going to count as prior consent, if it ticking or unticking boxes online when filling in forms, a lot of people are still going to get cold calls.

I think we can all be more careful what we agree to and sign up for. Also I think we should help the vulnerable in society more learn to deal with cold calls, scams and junk mail.

'You sound familiar. Haven't I swindled you once before?'

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Myths and Facts About Mental Health

 

Living in low support housing for those with various mental health issues and dealing with my own issues I know a lot of the myths surrounding mental health are wrong.  This is my view on why some of those myths are wrong.

Myth: Only certain types of people experience mental health issues.

Fact: Anyone can experience them.  Although it is true that certain events or lifestyles can trigger mental health issues, for me this is not the case.  I come from a loving, stable family, and did not grow up with violence around me or major addiction issues in the family.  It could be that my problems are genetic, I have no idea.  I have met people from all kinds of backgrounds with mental health issues.

Myth: Mental Illness is not as bad as a physical one.

Fact: It can be just as bad as a physical illness, hence suicide and self-harm in some cases.  Mental health problems can sometimes lead to physical problems.  Such as eating disorders, not looking after themselves properly and smoking.

‘People with depression are twice as likely to smoke as other people. People with schizophrenia are three times as likely to smoke as other people.’ (Mental Health Foundation).

Myth: You can tell someone has a mental illness just by looking at them.

Fact: Often you will have no idea if someone has mental health issues or not.  People you work with, friends and even family may have issues you do not know about.  It is hard to know what is going on inside someone’s head.  However just because you cannot see the problem does not make it any less real for the person experiencing it.

Myth: People with mental health issues can snap out of it if they try hard enough.

Fact: If it was only that simple!  It is not being lazy or weak and it requires help to get better when really mentally ill.

Myth: People with mental health issues are usually violent and unpredictable.

Fact: According to Time to Change, a campaign to end mental health discrimination, more than one-third of the public believe that people with mental health problems are more likely to be violent.

‘Violent crime statistics tell a different story, though. One survey suggested that only 1% of victims of violent crime believed that the incident occurred because the offender had a mental illness.’ (BBC Future).

In fact according to various surveys mentally ill people are more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators.

Myth: Mentally ill people need to be kept in hospital.

Fact: With treatment and support most mentally ill people live independent lives in the community.  Although I have been to hospital appointments for mental health help, I have never been hospitalised overnight for it.  Some people may need a stay in hospital, but this is much rarer than it used to be and often for very short periods of time.  There is no need for the confinement and isolation that was commonly used in the past.

Myth: Men with depression or anxiety are weak, lack masculinity and asking for help is an admission of defeat.

Fact: Asking for help makes you stronger, not weaker, it shows you are gaining strength and want to beat it, rather than let the anxiety win.  A strong man is honest with himself and others about it.

‘Anxiety has nothing to do with courage or character. Nothing at all.’ (The Mighty).

Myth: Children do not experience metal health problems.

Fact: Even very young children can show signs of mental health concerns.  I experienced mental health issues as a child.  Although not diagnosed till I was about twelve, I definitely showed signs of mental health issues way before that.  Sadly less than twenty percent of children and adolescents receive the help they need.

Myth: All young people go through ups and downs as party of puberty, it is nothing.

Fact: One in ten young people experience mental health issues.  As a teenager some people would say to me ‘most teenagers get angry from time to time’, but trust me I was more than your average teenage angry.  I think my problems may have been made worse by puberty at times, but I already had mental health issues before puberty hit, so it was clearly not just that.

Myth: A mental illness is the same as being learning disabled.

Fact: A mental illness has nothing to do with how smart someone is.  Steven Fry is known for being very smart, and he has bipolar disorder, which can cause huge mood swings.

I believe ignorance and fear keep mental health stigmatised.  If people understood what mental health really is and how it affects people it would be easier for some people to admit to having problems and to get help.  Those who can need to speak out about it so others can feel that it is not something to hide and be ashamed of.

References

http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/physiucal-health-and-mental-health

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20150723-the-myth-of-mental-illness-and-violance

Themighty.com/2015/07/loving-someone-with-anxiety-what-t0-know/

 

Butterfly Dawlish Community Art and Craft Centre C.I.C

Following on from my last post about volunteering, this post will focus on one of the organisations I volunteer with. I have chosen to write about this particular organisation as I am very passionate about what they do and think they deserve recognition for their hard work.
Butterfly Dawlish Community Art and Craft Centre C.I.C  inside-the-shop1
At first glance Butterfly may look like a normal craft shop, selling handmade items and craft supplies, but it is much more than that. It is a not for profit organisation supporting local good causes and groups of people through a retail business. It is run as a C.I.C, which is a Community Interest Company. A C.I.C is designed for companies run as a social enterprise, with the primary focus of benefiting the local community. Meaning that it is not run by shareholders or owners out to make personal profit, but instead uses any money it makes to help others. The idea of Butterfly is that it is run by Dawlish, for Dawlish. With volunteers and crafters helping to run things.
Butterfly sell local crafts handmade by the people of Dawlish. They rent out shelf space to crafters and artists at extremely reasonable prices, to encourage locals to share their work and become part of Butterfly. The range of crafts they have on sale are very diverse. This includes:
• Cards
• Knitted clothing and toys
• Jewellery
• Clay Ornaments
• Postcards
• Decorations for the home
• Paintings
• Bags and Purses
• Preserves and Sauces
• Candles and Soap
• Wooden Gifts
They also have a few people who sell crafts in aid of charities such as Help for Heroes and local clubs such as the Dawlish Local History Group. The shop also sells art and craft materials to raise money for Butterfly and enable local crafters to get creative. This includes:
• Wool and Knitting supplies
• Sewing supplies such as needles, thread, zips, buttons, etc.
• Second hand fabric and bags of rag
• Things for card making such as blank cards, stickers, card toppers, back ground papers and stamps
• Jewellery making bits
• Art supplies such as paint, brushes, art pencils, etc.
• Books to inspire and instruct
Butterfly run regular one off workshops to teach crafts such as jewellery making, mosaicking, dress making and much more. They also have weekly groups such as In Stitches where anyone making something including a needle and thread or wool can join in, to help each other and socialise as they create. They also help more specific groups of people using art and craft as therapy and as a way to bring people together, like Craft for Carers. They also plan to start a regular home educated children’s group and other classes.
Butterfly was set up just over a year ago in July 2014. In that time they have already achieved things for the local community. They have helped three local residents set up a sewing business. They raised £100 for the Royal British Legion by selling poppy items made by the crafters. They have organised craft therapy for local care homes thanks to a grant of £500.
I have only been volunteering at Butterfly since June, but I have already grown to love the place and its people. I help with various things in the shop such as operating the till and serving customers, tidying and sorting stock, making cups of tea and coffee and anything else that they need me to do. I also attend the recent AGM and wrote a short press release about it for the local newspaper. I also am starting to get more involved online with the Facebook page and Website.
The other thing I love about the shop is that I am a crafter myself. I find working in the shop very inspirational and get lots of ideas of things to make. At the moment I do not sell my crafts, but make them for friends and family for special occasions. I do however hope that one day I can make enough of my crafts to have my own shelf space at Butterfly and to start selling my work.
I joined Butterfly about a month after I moved to Dawlish and everyone there has made me feel very welcome. It has helped me to make friends in the town and feel like part of a community right on my doorstep. I would like to thank everyone at Butterfly for being so supportive and kind.
If you would like to find out more about Butterfly Dawlish Community Art and Craft Centre C.I.C then check out the link to their website or Facebook page. The shop itself is located at 17 Queen Street, Dawlish, Devon. They always welcome donations of unwanted craft supplies to sell or use in store.
Try finding a C.I.C or social enterprise in your area to join and start benefiting local people, who in turn may just benefit you.

Butterfly Website

Butterfly Facebook page

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Butterfly running a stall at Dawlish carnival

 

Getting That Good Feeling: Why I volunteer

I have been a volunteer on and off for various causes since I was about sixteen. I love the good feeling volunteering gives me and knowing that I managed to do my part in some small way for society. I have spent time helping my local youth club, fund-raising for my local hospital, working in charity shops both serving customers and sorting stock in the back room, as a steward for a regional theatre, helping with administration for my local children’s centre and taking part in one off fund-raising events.
Reasons Why I Volunteer
• Enhance my CV: One of the reasons I first started volunteering as a teenager was to have something to put on my CV as work experience. Even now when I have paid work experience, volunteer work means my CV stays up to date, with current experience in the work place. It shows how keen I am to work right now. It also makes me look like a nice person that people would want to work with.

• Get a Job Reference: A lot of job applications ask for a work place reference, which is hard to give when you have never worked before. However after volunteering I was able to use my manager as a reference.

• Gain Confidence: Volunteering has given me the confidence to apply for more kinds of jobs. It has helped me feel more confident in interviews and comfortable in a work environment. It has also given me self confidence in my abilities proving to myself and others that I can work and actually do a good job despite having various disability issues.

• Skills: I have learnt a lot of new skills thanks to volunteering. Also it helps me keep skills I have developed in the work place up-to-date.

• Help with Job Interviews: Volunteer work helps give me real work place experiences to talk about in job interviews.

• Gets Me Out/ Pass the Time: Unemployment can be very boring and tedious at times. Volunteering gives me a reason to get out of bed and leave the house some days. It also helps fill the time in a more interesting way than sitting around at home often does.

• Be Part of my Local Community: Volunteering makes me feel a part of something, like I am joining in with society and being of use to my local community. It helps make me feel less isolated.

• Make Friends: I get to meet new people and make friends who live locally.

• Pride in Myself: As someone on benefits without paying work, I have been accused of sponging off society and being lazy. At least with volunteer work I can say I do something with my life and can prove I am not just being lazy. Also it helps me feel like I sort of ‘earn’ my benefits in some small way and that I have dignity.

• Helping Others: Most importantly when I volunteer I like to be helping a charity or cause that I truly believe in. It is no good volunteering my time for a cause I do not care about as I will do the work less well and not enjoy myself so much. I often like to help with smaller local causes as I can see the effect my work has directly on my local community.
There are many types of jobs you can do as a volunteer, so no matter what your skills or interests there is likely to be a job out there for you. Volunteer roles can include:
• Fund-raising: Either as a one off event such as being sponsored to do something, or in a charity shop.
• Supporting People/ Befriending: One on one support for vulnerable people such as the elderly or special needs. Sometimes this can include helping people to eat meals when in hospital or to have someone to go out to places with. It can be as simple as just checking up on someone and being there so they are less lonely.
• Administration Support: Helping a charity with office based jobs.
• Teaching: Sharing your skills with others either one on one or a group.
• Supporting Events: Helping at community events or fund-raising events with things like first aid, car park attendance, serving drinks, or setting up stalls.
• Driving: Helping people to go places such as hospital transport and community transport. Collecting and delivering furniture for charity shops.
• Handy Person/ Gardening: Helping elderly or disabled people with basic DIY tasks such as small repairs, safety measures like fitting rails and smoke alarms and security measures. Sometimes help with gardening maybe required such as mowing the lawn or cutting back hedges.
• Giving Advice: Either face to face or by telephone for charities such as Citizens Advice Bureau, Age UK or Sure Start Children’s Centres.
I would highly recommend volunteering to anyone. You can take it up as a regular thing like I do helping two charities one afternoon a week each or if you do andot have as much time to spare you could take part in a one off event. I guarantee that you will gain from doing it in some way.

Links to find a local volunteer job near you or learn more about volunteering:

Do-it Helps link you to volunteer jobs using a simple online form

Community and Voluntary Services Can offer you advice on volunteering and link you to local places looking for people to help.  They can do this on the phone or face to face in a volunteer centre and some Volunteer Centres also have online links.

http://www.volunteernow.co.uk/ Another site to link you to volunteer jobs, also has advice pages about volunteering

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