Why becoming a carer in my twenties made me realise we need more support

Words by Kate Oliver, founder of The Caring Collective.

I still don’t really think of myself as a carer. I’m not sure whether that’s because sometimes it doesn’t feel like I ‘do’ enough, or because my brain hasn’t really bought into the idea we’ve been sold of carers being someone different from us. It’s taken me a long time to process all of this and get to the point of setting up The Caring Collective.

My mum first became ill in 2017, and since then we’ve dealt with the lowest lows depression and anxiety have to offer. When my mum first became ill, I was 25, and had some big plans on the horizon, which I delayed until mum was back on her feet. Sitting down now to unearth some of those ideas again after five years, I’m struck by how much of a journey I’ve been on. A mostly painful one if I’m honest, but one that’s really made me think a lot about where we stand as carers and how I’d like to contribute to changing that.

The first time I really stopped to think about it and admit I might need some help to manage everything that was happening, I remember picking up my phone at 2am, sleeping in my childhood bedroom, and feeling slightly humiliated as I typed into Google ‘caring in your 20s’. I felt even worse when I saw that the first two pages of results were variations on how to find the right skincare routine, and how to take care of my ‘youthful figure’, and quickly diverted to Instagram to remind myself what I should be doing instead. It didn’t matter that I was exhausted, lost and terrified — I got the memo that these weren’t things I should be thinking about right now.

Being a ‘young adult carer’ (a term so bland I despair) is hard enough when you’re battling the narrative of ‘do it while you’re young’ and ‘make the most of this time to yourself’, without the extra guilt of trying to figure out whether you should even be talking about this stuff at all. Was there any wonder that in the five years I’ve been looking after mum, I’ve only met a handful of people in a similar situation. If 1 in 4 of us have a mental health illness in our lifetime, how come we haven’t heard from any of the people supporting them?

As I grew slightly more confident in recognising what my role in our situation really was (not just a good daughter, thanks guys), I then stumbled into the second barrier that carers, and especially those who are younger, encounter all the time. My identity was tied to another person, and in accepting I was a carer, I had to accept that my experience of this situation was deeply rooted in someone else’s reality. In reaching out for support and saying ‘hey, this is difficult’, was I undermining my mum’s own struggle, and even worse, was I betraying her trust by speaking up and asking for help?

One of the big things I wanted to deal with when I started writing about our experiences — my experiences — of what happened to mum was starting the messy task of separating what was happening to me, from what was happening to her. It felt impossible to try at first, and the self censoring was so real it had me reading back old diaries going ‘but, it probably wasn’t as bad I made out, maybe I was just being dramatic’, lest I accept that sometimes doing an inherently good thing, motivated by love, can feel totally, utterly hideous.

In the end, that was the realisation that made me believe there is a place for something like The Caring Collective.  

It’s not a place where I claim to have all the answers (or in fact any on some things) but it is a place where the mixed middle of being a carer is brought out of the shadows. These are complicated feelings, never ever made any easier by a vow of silence we’re expected to take for fear we might say something that doesn’t fit with what we’re told: caring for someone you love is the easiest thing in the world, they’re the only thing that matters, and ‘you shouldn’t be worrying about something like that at your age’. It took me too long to realise that there are no rules with this stuff, it’s messy — but hearing so can be hugely helpful.

When I think about the power that something like The Caring Collective could have for liberating us all from the idea that you can’t talk about things like this, I feel incredibly hopeful — and for someone with experience of managing complex mental health issues — that is no small thing. 

It’s likely that I will be caring for my mum in some capacity for a very long time, if we’re lucky. I don’t want that side of my life and everything I’ve learnt to be condemned to the pile of ‘not relevant’ just because it might not fit with what we’ve come to expect. Instead, I want everyone who sees themselves in some of what I describe to know it’s ok to want to share it. It’s ok to take up that space, and I’d actually really love it if you came and joined me.

Kate Oliver is a writer and charity professional, originally from Rotherham in South Yorkshire. Despite migrating south, she still spends a lot of time in the North supporting her mum, who is her inspiration for setting up ‘The Caring Collective’ and sharing her experiences of being a carer. When Kate isn’t in transit, she spends as much time as she can in cold water (but draws the line at the River Don).


Grief and Loss: the unexpected corner of social media that is a source of collective comfort

After losing her dad suddenly in 2017, Hannah set up the supper club, Grief Eats, as a way to meet other young people who were grieving whilst honouring her Dad’s love of cooking. Here she explores grief in the digital age, the online platforms offering support networks and the Northern women helping others understand and talk about loss.

It is a well-known fact that what you see on social media is often a veneer; a curated selection of life’s best moments that contribute to an aesthetically pleasing grid. For many, social media – and Instagram especially – offers a slice of escapism; a place where you can go to dream up brand new wardrobes and future sunny getaways, or lust after interiors you cannot afford. While it can be extremely easy to whittle away time getting lost in perfection, sometimes what we actually crave is something much rawer, more un-filtered and fraying at the edges. Something that represents our everyday lives. 

Grief and loss are topics you might think do not have a rightful place on Instagram but in reality, it is quite the opposite. Grief – in whatever form it may take – is something that will affect us all at some point in our lives and, unfathomably, the pandemic has meant many more young people are experiencing it too soon. To read or write about grief in the presence of strangers on the internet may seem strange or daunting, but for many it is a much-needed cathartic outlet, serving as a platform that provides a safe, supportive space when traditional bereavement support is limited. During a lockdown where so many of us do not have a shoulder to lean on when we need it most, it seems like the perfect place. 

The area of Instagram dedicated to grief is the one I find to be most authentic. There are no guises, no attempts for perfection. People talk openly about their losses and experiences of grief in a way that is entirely refreshing. For the majority of us who have sadly lost someone too soon, we feel angry, upset and isolated – even more so during this past year. The platform allows us to come together and to share our day-to-day experiences, although not just the sad ones. We may be grieving, but we also find ourselves inspired by each other’s resilience and discover a collective comfort in sharing past memories. We can laugh together at the terrible, misjudged comments we’ve received over the years. 

Back in December 2019, I came up with an idea to start up a supper club series in Leeds, for people navigating loss in their 20s and 30s, calling it ‘Grief Eats’. After losing my own dad at the age of 24, I felt like this sort of thing was missing – and especially in the North. Both eager and nervous in equal measure, I held my first sold-out supper club in my own home in February 2020 (albeit a bit rustic and makeshift – it was my first go), and I was so excited for it to turn into something bigger, and for young people to realise they weren’t alone in what they were going through. But as the pandemic took hold and thus no way of hosting supper clubs, I quickly realised that I would need another avenue. Instagram seemed like a suitable place to continue with Grief Eats in the interim, and perhaps even open up an opportunity to write about my own journey with grief.

In all honesty, I never envisaged nor felt a personal need to create a space on Instagram to talk about my experiences and felt convinced that face-to-face interaction would be more meaningful than online. But as I began to share my thoughts and musings on the topics of grief, food and anything else that came to mind, I found myself taken aback by the reception. In turn, I have discovered an entire online community and area of Instagram that represented something I didn’t know I needed. 

While I don’t intend to post on social media forever and feel excited to get back to the original plan for Grief Eats, the ‘grief’ space on Instagram really has been a lifeline at times, and I hope my posts have helped others in their journey too. I would also like to mention a number of other inspiring women in the North who are similarly opening up the conversation around grief and loss, and who I am lucky enough to share this online space with. When I lost my dad at the age of 24, I didn’t know anyone my age who had been through something similar. These women, having experienced their own losses, are bravely ensuring this doesn’t have to be the case: 

Jo Ritchie and Faye Dawson: Projecting Grief

Projecting Grief is a portraiture and interview project which explores the use of creativity to help heal from loss. Jo started this project after losing her own brother in 2017, and photographs those who are using creative skill as a distraction, a relief or an expression of their grief. The beautiful portraits are accompanied by the person’s story, written by Faye. Jo and Faye are based in Leeds.

Gwennaëlle Cook

After taking a break from her art practice, Gwen has now returned and has found that it has provided her with a space to process her thoughts around grief. Gwen lost her dad in 2004 and her mum in 2017. Her collages are thoughtful and expressive, and often capture feelings of grief you find difficult to put into words. Gwen in based in Leeds. 

The Everyday Fertility

Kate, based in Manchester, started an Instagram page during lockdown seeking to normalise the conversation around infertility and baby loss. Kate has been extremely brave to share her own journey and is supporting others going through the same by opening up the conversation on fertility issues. 

Words: Hannah Borkin
Feature image: Courtesy of Projecting Grief

At Home in the Community: The North West photographer taking portraits and giving back

Words: Hannah Molyneux

As the country begins to close its doors once more, it seems strange to think that, for so many weeks, our worlds have ended on our doorsteps. This year so far has been fraught with unease and uncertainty for many of us, with the ‘stay at home’ message changing our lives overnight. But that’s not to say that 2020 hasn’t also had its moments of joy, a realisation that Warrington-based photographer Kate Hennessey came to when she began her doorstep portraits back in May.

With lockdown and days spent at home becoming a reality for both of us, Kate spent time in her local community, documenting daily life in a pandemic. “It began with requests from local friends and clients,” she tells me, “marking and celebrating occasions like weddings that had been postponed.” Over the course of the month, Kate would go on to visit and photograph over 200 families on their doorsteps. “Overwhelmed doesn’t come close, and I have never been prouder to call myself Warringtonian,” says Kate. It was a real labour of love, with hours spent not only photographing and editing but also travelling around the area. “It was inclusive across the whole of Warrington. I visited so many streets that I’ve never been to before and planned so many routes – I could be a taxi driver now!” Kate laughs.

The subjects are all different, but the warmth that shines out of each photograph is just the same. Candid, unposed – each photo captures the real emotion in the lives of ordinary families finding reasons to smile through uncertain times. Kate reflects how, for lots of the people she photographed as part of this campaign, their doorstep portrait shoot was a welcome opportunity to shake off their pyjamas and sweatpants and embrace the idea of hair and makeup for the first time in weeks.

“It felt like quite a traditional thing to do, something that previous generations might have done,” says Kate. “Especially the newborn pictures – introducing them to the world on the doorstep of their home.” Kate’s doorstep portraits offer a glimpse into daily life during a global pandemic – the smiling faces of children missing their school friends but staying cheerful; the flags and bunting of VE Day celebrations. Some reflect the reality of the time: “I’ve had a lot of requests from doctors and nurses, and you could tell they were physically shattered.”

With requests for portraits flooding in, Kate realised that, by photographing the community, she could give something back to that same community. Each shoot took place in exchange for a donation to Warrington Foodbank, totalling an amazing £4000 from an original target of £250. “What is usually a space for community members to come and receive advice” – the foodbank runs a full range of services including facilities like debt counselling – “is now a sea of welfare packages. They have had to scale back volunteer support due to COVID guidelines, yet they are far more inundated than they have ever been before. The funds we have collectively raised will go a long way and are hugely appreciated. They are raring to get back to some sort of normality and support those who need it most, not just with food parcels but with a safe place to go to chat to a friendly face.”

I ask Kate what it is that she will take away from the doorstep portraits she has taken and the families she has met. “Solidarity and community. I’ve never felt so much of it.”

Find more of Kate’s work on Instagram @clickedbykate and clickedbykate.com.

Pregnancy in lockdown: women supporting women

Words: Helen Brady

Becoming a parent is often described as one of the most exciting, beautiful, life changing experiences of someone’s life; terrifying, but in the best possible way. And that is when normal circumstances apply. Yet in current times, normal circumstances do not apply, and the impact of the COVID-19 crisis is adding a level of uncertainty into pregnancy that parents-to-be could not have planned for.

Graphic: Hannah McCreath

The global pandemic has meant a new ‘normal’ has had to be established in all walks of life, including across maternity wards up and down the country. Appointments have been reduced to the essentials required to stay safe, classes have gone online where appropriate, and new guidelines have been introduced around access and birthing partners in birthing facilities. In the UK, pregnant women have been grouped into the ‘vulnerable’ category, and official advice states that they should practice strict social distancing along with other stringent guidelines.

A hand holding a video game remote control

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Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

There are however a band of brilliant northern women and businesses that are providing advice, support, and most importantly, lending an ear to those that need it. They are creating forums to allow people to connect, offering reassurances that it is fine to be worried, and adapting their core business practices to adjust to the new climate.

Jemma Wootton is a registered massage therapist who usually specialises in pregnancy and postnatal massage. With Jemma’s own journey and experiences into motherhood underpinning everything she does, she is also an advocate for both physical and mental maternal health. She explained how she has pivoted her energies and business to adapt to the current climate, while continuing to offer support for as many new Mum’s and Mum’s-to-be as possible.

“I have created a Facebook community, Maternity and Wellbeing – North West, to support both pregnant ladies and new Mum’s during this time. There is so much negativity around the changes that have been put in place for giving birth and the restrictions on social interaction so I wanted to provide a place to drown out some of the noise and create a safe, calm and supportive platform to share knowledge, experience and positivity. The focus is on self-care and staying well, finding out about options for birth, keeping up to date with any changes to maternity services and sharing positive experiences with each other to boost morale and keep the amazing act of bringing a new human into the world at the centre of the conversation.”

It is important for online spaces such as the one Jemma has set up to exist, so that pregnant women and new parents know that their worries and concerns are valid, justified and completely normal. A nurse, and soon–to–be–Mum shared some of the main concerns pregnant women may be feeling,

“Anxieties may exist around attendance at maternity appointments and the risk of coming into contact with COVID-19. Also, what impact this may have on birth options such as home births. What if birthing partners have COVID-19 at the time of delivery or when leaving hospital? Not being able to access antenatal appointments and meet other expectant parents could also be another worry. (Although a lot of services are offering virtual appointments.)”

Concerns and worries can also continue once baby is born and everyone is back at home,

“Depending on how long this goes on for, this may mean that no family members or friends could meet the baby. As you need support and input from others around you at this time, how will this impact on the parents and the baby?”

A close up of a piece of paper

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Image credit: Robyn Swain

Emma Cottam is one of the many business owners hoping to help ease these concerns. She is the editor of Positive Wellbeing Zine for Mums and the Host of Positive Wellbeing Podcast for Mums. She is also the owner of Isabella & Us, named after her two-year-old, and a full-time photography teacher. Emma explained,

“The Positive Wellbeing Zine for Mums is an independent magazine around motherhood, self-care and wellbeing, and is the perfect way to support Mum’s through this time. The magazine acts as a vehicle for helping Mums to make that time for them and to read something that is supportive, nourishing, and positive during this time. Issue 8 is due out in May 2020.”

Normally physically published quarterly, there will be a special digital-only edition of the magazine out in mid-May and there are over 35 episodes of the Positive Wellbeing for Mums Podcast available to listen to from the usual Podcast libraries.

Melissa Howard is a Strategic Intervention Coach with a focus on mindset perspective. She is supporting women in pregnancy during the COVID-19 crisis, but is also importantly looking beyond that, past the end of lockdown.

“My motivation is to help pregnant women in self-isolation overcome feelings of overwhelm, fear and loss of control. The long-term effects that self-isolation can have on a person could last for months and for some, years. Having supported a lot of Mums, regaining their sense if identity and instilling a routine of self-care and love is an area I am passionate about supporting.”

Melissa has launched a series of short courses for women to help them tune out of the noise, and back into themselves.

For official advice and guidance on Coronavirus and Pregnancy, please visit the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

The Spice Queens: Pakistani cuisine from the heart of Bradford

Bradford has long been the hub of Asian cuisine. In fact, it’s the only city to have been crowned Curry Capital of Britain six times in a row. As popular (and as insanely tasty) as its food is, it’s the families and generations working together to pass on these precious recipes that makes the city and its reputation for food incredibly special.

Arooj H Din, creator of the hand-crafted and art-filled cookbook, The Spice Queens says the book is a ball of inspiration and pays homage to the amazing women in her life who have shown their love through the art of cooking.

The cookbook, which is now in its second edition after a sell-out first, is pleasing on all sensory levels, with each recipe accompanied by beautiful photography from Arooj and sachets of specially chosen spices to get you started.

The Spice Queens

Interview: Jessica Howell
Graphics: Hannah McCreath

Where did your love of cooking originate?

My love of cooking truthfully came from my love of eating my mama’s food! I sadly lost both my sisters in the last decade. Therefore, it means even more to me; it reminds me of my childhood, of my sisters, of when we used to buy indigestion tablets for Eid celebrations – because we knew we would eat until it hurt! It is a pure form of kindness really, something that mama put in to feeding her wonderful, wild, adventure-filled children.

It was one of the main drives for constructing The Spice Queens book – I wanted a keepsake for me, so that I would always have some of that magic.

Being from Bradford (a city famous for its Asian cuisine), how do you use that history and local culture to influence your cooking?

Bradford is charming for specific flavours; I feel grateful that I am in an age where I can get home-cooked Pakistani food in so many places now. I love that tastes of cultures intermingle, that they sit side by side and celebrate each other. For me, good flavours are one of the true joys of life. It influences my cooking as I often mix in Mediterranean, Caribbean and Far Eastern flavours. 

My love for photography began in Bradford, picking up my film camera at 17. I still own that camera. There’s something timeless about film photography, I can see why it’s my specialism now. It’s fantastic to be able to be able to place my photographic skills into The Spice Queens. I really wanted a visually-led book, so that you can cook from the images alone if need be. I mean when someone says “brown the onions” how brown is brown?! Light? Caramel? Dark chocolate brown?

With your cookbook having family at its centre with many of the recipes being passed on from your mum, have you cultivated your own style over time, or do you keep very close to the original recipes?

Oh my, yes women, I think for centuries women have poured love in to how they cook, it is a way of saying how much you care. I feel that women from my mum’s generation really want to make sure their children, grandchildren and anyone who comes to visit leaves happy with a tummy full of happiness. It fulfils a purpose of need and love all combined into one, it’s beautiful and may we somehow keep it alive.

Arooj H Din

I am definitely a mix master in the kitchen. Right now, I am sat cooking spinach with mum, in the traditional way. Yesterday I made Quorn gnocchi in a spicy sauce (yes, I put my spices in almost everything). I will be off to visit a friend in Scotland this weekend and she is darn amazing in the kitchen, as many of my friends are. I think that is a third book right there. I must say this rings true: “Good food and friends are the true sunshine of life”.

What did you want to achieve from your second cookbook, which makes it different from the first?

How amazing it has been to be on my third and final addition of the book, this one is a little slicker and has no post-it notes in it! The spelling has been checked by my friends so a big improvement on that side (not my forte – cannot be good at everything right…).

You see this book is about good home cooked food. It gives you the foundations to create your own spices, these are what create your curries and take them to the next level of wonderfulness.

The book has evolved into something rather sensational. In 2019, myself and my childhood friend Nosheen launched our spice company Season Yorkshire. Here we have recreated our mums’ spice blends of garam masala and basaar, so that you can easily cook our mums’ food. I want the world to be full of these spices and people enjoying them.

I do have another book in the pipeline, it will more a gathering of herbal healing potions. My mama is a rich source of knowledge, she is a ayurvedic person through and through, a queen I must say of that also. Our house is full of her concoctions for headaches, tummy aches, indigestion and controlling blood pressure…the list goes on. I know it’s time to place these in a spellbook for me and maybe a few others.

I also was part of a collaboration that published an alternative photography book; we are looking forward to exhibiting the book and artwork later this year so watch this space!

For people just starting to experiment with Pakistani/Kashmiri recipes, what are your top tips on how to get started?

Get your spices right (this is your foundation of an awesome curry) and know your heat levels – not enough and you’re like “What blandness is this?!” Too much and your head might pop!

However, it all comes down to this. Get the sauce right. Get the base right, you magnificent spice eating humans.

The secret to a good curry – how you get the flavours of opulent eastern empires, the smells of freshly ground spices from market stalls carrying their delicious scents on a warm breeze, and the vivid colours of ancient cooking techniques – we call this part the ‘Bhuna’ process. This is where you caramelise your masala, or base (onions, garlic, green chillies, tomatoes, salt, basaar and garam masala). The more you cook out your masala, the richer the flavour and more vibrant the colour!

To do it like a pro, check out tips and scrumptious tricks @seasonyorkshire.

Finally, which recipe is your favourite?

You just can’t ask me that. But if I had one last meal. My mum’s cauliflower and potato (gobi aloo) with a paranta (buttery chappati) and her home-made mint sauce. 

I have a long way to go before mime tastes like hers; I swear she sneaks things in when I’m not looking.

I changed my surname to Din last year, that’s my mum’s name (truthfully, she raised me, my brother and my sisters single-handedly). My sisters and I would talk often of taking her name on, I think it was finally time. It is a homage to her and to what I want to take into my future. I want to celebrate her and me and the reflection of her love.

“Nice girls can make it” – filling the North with colour with Myro Doodles

Words: Hannah Molyneux

If you’ve spent any time in Manchester or the surrounding towns, then you’ve probably seen some Myro Doodles artwork. In fact, it seems that there are few pockets of the North West that haven’t had the Myro Doodles touch. Myro Coates is the illustrator and window artist whose doodles have graced the windows of Paperchase, John Lewis, and M&S, the wards of North Manchester General Hospital, and the boardrooms of Bruntwood. Her art radiates joy and positivity in a myriad of colours that shine out of the grey Mancunian landscape. 

The same joy and positivity beams from Myro herself when we meet at one of her favourite Prestwich spots. She speaks with a real love for her craft that goes back to her childhood. “I was the kid that always had to make the poster; I was the kid that drew on the paper tablecloth at the restaurant. I’ve got no background in art really, but on the other hand it’s something I’ve been doing almost every day for my whole life.” Perhaps this is why Myro is still so humble about her work and its place in the world. “It’s mind-blowing that people want my work for their weddings, for their kids’ bedrooms, as a gift… That’s real trust. I’ve seen some customers through lots of milestones in their lives: I meet them as boyfriend and girlfriend when they ask for a Valentine’s card, then they’re getting married and they ask me to do their stationery. Next they’re pregnant and they come back to me again… I’ve seen some couples all the way through and become part of their lives.”

“Whatever I’m doing, a bit of me gets left behind in it.”

There is a little bit of Myro all over Prestwich. She laughs, “My husband calls me the mayor of Prestwich because we can’t go anywhere without someone stopping me to ask if I’m the lady that does the drawing!” Myro’s art is ubiquitous in this north Manchester town, bringing a pop of colour to shop windows up and down the high street. It’s fitting that she should be so well represented here, as the town holds a special place in her heart. “Prestwich will always be home; it’s where the more public part of my work started.”

“While I was working at a local community shop, they found out I could draw and soon I was doing all of the labels and signage – I think there’s still some doodles of mine on their A-board! The windows were always empty, and one day someone handed me a pack of chalk pens and asked me to draw on the window. And I remember being horrified – ‘you want me to draw on the glass?!’ I was gobsmacked that you could even do it. My first design left a lot to be desired but it wasn’t awful – and people loved it. I didn’t invent window art, but there wasn’t really anything like that around here before. People started to look forward to the next designs – it was a labour of love, but it became a real feature.”

And what began as doodling on the job quickly became a job in itself. “Over time, other local businesses started to come in and offer to pay me to do theirs. And it grew and grew. I did more in Manchester and Altrincham, and then in Cheshire and the Midlands. Suddenly, I found myself with a job live drawing for Chambord at an event at Kensington Olympia in London, and that came about because someone had been out for a drink in Prestwich, seen my artwork, and looked me up on Instagram. It was a real wow moment.”

One of Myro’s most special projects, however, came about in 2018, in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena bombing. Wanting to mark the first anniversary of the tragedy while raising money for the charity set up to help those affected, Myro launched the 22 Bees Project, which aimed to see 22 bees – one for each of the victims of the bombing – doodled in the windows of local businesses. The urge to do something to commemorate the anniversary came from Myro’s great love of the city itself, and its people. “I think, in some other places, belonging is to do with being born there or living on the right postcode – but in Manchester, whether you were born here or you arrived six months ago, you’re in. You don’t have to have the accent, wear a parka, or eat gravy, but you’re part of the community. I think it’s very rare to find an identity like that, that’s so precious but also so welcoming and inclusive.”

It’s a Mancunian identity and community that has strengthened the wake of the attack. “I didn’t know anyone directly affected by the bombing,” she tells me. “But at the same time, I felt like I knew everyone. So often, in big cities where these things have happened before, there’s a massive focus on keeping calm and carrying on – I’m thinking of images like the man walking down Tower Bridge with a pint in his hand. And I understand the need to do that. But here, it seemed to hit everyone. The next day, it felt like everyone was in mourning – it was the saddest day.”

It wasn’t long before the bee – the long-time emblem of Manchester inspired by its industrial past – became a symbol of hope and togetherness. Completing the 22 Bees Project, with help from two other local illustrators, Myro tells me how real that hope felt. “On the day we did the 22 Bees Project – the first anniversary of the bombing – I had the privilege of being in Manchester all day. I was expecting it to be sad and horrible, but it was one of the most uplifting experiences of my life. In a city of millions of people, it felt like everyone was a friend.” The 22 Bees Project ultimately included over 200 bees around Manchester and the surrounding towns, raising almost £10,000 for the charity Forever Manchester

From charity work, to local businesses, to big brands, Myro’s distinctive style shines through in all of her work. It’s bold and colourful, with swirling text and floral nods to her Ukrainian heritage. This style is what gives every Myro Doodles piece – be it a shop window or a wedding invitation – a truly personal feel, one that Myro is rightly proud and protective of.

“Sometimes I get a commission and it’s not really my style, but I know that it would be a great fit for someone else. So I put them in touch – or it works the other way round, and someone will put a client in touch with me. I’m part of a collective with two other local illustrators and this works really well for us.” It’s refreshing to hear about small business owners that are collaborative rather than competitive, bettering themselves while building up others. Myro is a vocal advocate for creative women, and often uses her social media space to champion other female business owners. “The world is competitive enough without us adding to that!” she says. “Bitchiness is almost expected when women work together, there’s a definite stereotype there. And that’s a problem.” It’s a stereotype that Myro is keen to overcome. “There used to be a business narrative of the ‘boss bitch’ but I think that’s over now. I’d like to be able to prove that you don’t have to be like that, that nice girls can make it.”

Greater Manchester Fringe Festival: must-see shows

Back for its eighth Fringe Festival, Greater Manchester has opened its doors to the arts community across multiple venues in the city. A space for all with performances from first-time production companies to the more seasoned Fringe-goer, we take a look at some of the must-see shows this month.

Plus, our lucky readers could be in with the chance of winning TWO tickets to a triple bill of About Time by the critically acclaimed, Edinburgh regular Sian Davies; Blue Lines, the debut production by Stephanie Moor (under the mentorship of Kinky Boots’s Tim Firth); and Stained by award winning, punk poet Simon Widdop. The shows begin on Monday 15 July at The Kings Arms theatre venue in Salford. All you have to do is drop an email to assistant.gmfringe@gmail.com, say that you’ve read THIS article and say which of the shows you’d like to see.

Lambs to the sLAUGHTER

A group of new, upcoming comics take on the challenge of putting their own show on at the Greater Manchester Fringe. Most of the acts are residents of Greater Manchester (with all being from the North West) with their own story about why they wanted to get into comedy. Many of the acts chose to try comedy to battle issues with confidence and anxiety and all 13 acts are recent graduates of the ComedySportz UK’s stand up course.

Tickets £2 | 27 July | 4pm – 6pm at Tribeca

Holy Sh*t

Brick Fox Theatre’s original dark comedy Holy Sh*t debuts at Fringe after its sold out run at 2018’s Edinburgh Fringe. Brick Fox are a theatre company made up of students and alumni from Royal Holloway, University of London. The show digs up questions surrounding fate, mortality and what happened to Ryan Reynolds in that film where he was buried alive. Fathers George Hobbs and Charlie Moss are two priests that aren’t exactly cut from the same cloth but their desperation leads them down a dark path that is less than holy.

Tickets £8/£6 | 28 – 30 July | 4pm (28th), 7:30 (29th & 30th) at The Kings Arms

Emergency Door Release

Debuting at this year’s Greater Manchester Fringe festival is a brand-new show about one woman’s journey through an existential crisis and the terror of waking up to her own looming mortality. This is the first show from The Bluestocking Theatre Company, set up by Manchester-born (and Salford University alumna) actress and writer Victoria Tunnah, to give people identifying as women more opportunities to tell their stories. The show will be a humorous 50-minute look at all the ways women harm and degrade themselves in the name of ‘beauty’, how we cage ourselves based on how we ought to behave and what’s expected of us and how exactly you can make attempts at becoming a Feminist whilst still having fillers and botox.

Tickets £7 | 20 & 21 July | 8pm at The Kings Arms

Orlando De-Bloomed

Hector Dunderbridge hates Orlando Bloom. Orlando Bloom hasn’t ever heard of Hector Dunderbridge. Neither of these facts have stopped Hector from writing an entire show about Orlando Bloom. Over the course of an hour, Hector will present the finest trilogy of plays ever written (about Orlando Bloom), deal with the concept of hatred (of Orlando Bloom), and look back over the shows that made him a star (the ones that didn’t feature Orlando Bloom). This is a highly interactive piece of character comedy, where audience members are chosen at random to take centre stage, becoming the leading roles in Hector’s plays. A solo performance by Leo Mates who has been featured on Michael McIntyre’s Big Show, and can be found improvising with Monkey Toast UK, as well as with Steen Raskopoulos in his show Steen Improvises With Friends.

Tickets £9.50/£7 | 18 – 20 July | 6pm at The Kings Arms

Talk to Yourself

A cross art form exploration of womanhood, female identity and human rights, involving live painting, music and spoken word. In a dystopian reality where choices are limited and the system is unquestionable, three women challenge the status quo through the use of a canvas, a cello and a story. Based on true accounts about pregnancy and personal choices, Talk to Yourself is a piece of verbatim theatre which questions and confronts our ideas of women’s agency, especially over their bodies. The show will be performed by YEAP Association which was created in November 2014 in Paris under the chairmanship of Adriana Buonfantino as a non-profit organisation, which was the result of a strong desire to promote international artistic co-operation between young European artists, exploring the notion of protest art.

Tickets £8/£6 | 24 July | 9:15pm at The Kings Arms


Lauren and Reece, both 16, are determined to make the best of it to give their three-month-old baby Hal the best possible chance at life. It’s a risky plan, trying to balance the stress of school, work and looking after a baby in a teenage relationship and it doesn’t take long for cracks to emerge in their
idealistic plans. Home is an original piece of writing by young playwright Gabriel Stewart that hopes to challenge the stigma surrounding teenage parents. JustOut Theatre, a new Theatre Company formed by graduates of the University of York who aim to produce and promote new writing and work in the North of England. First performed at the University of York’s Drama Barn in October 2018, Home is now being performed as part of JustOut Theatre’s debut Fringe season alongside sister show White Nurse.

Tickets £7.50 | 24 & 25 July | 7pm at Lock 91

Strength in Numbers

Written by Gilly Piece

Someone once told me that the physical shape of a theatre building reflects the work that happens in it and the people who engage with it.

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Community Matters: A Small Good Thing

A Small Good Thing, a community greengrocers with a focus on seasonal, organic produce and waste reduction, is the product of a long term friendship originally forged 11 years ago in a pub in Bolton, where Lisa and Emily, founders of the business, were brought together by a shared love of Joni Mitchell…

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