Behind the UK's doors: Christmas traditions

Anyone who knows me knows I love Christmas. My flatmates and colleagues have definitely had to put up with this little elf for a lot longer than they’d have expected - festive playlists are fine to blast from early November, right? From the music and food to the religious traditions and decorations, it is something that, for a month (or, in my case, more), everyone and everything gets involved in - in many places, there is a real sense of community

The UK is so diverse - over 300 languages are spoken in the capital alone, according to government statistics) - so while on first glance, it may seem we follow the same quintessentially British traditions year in, year out, behind our closed doors, there's a hell of a lot more going on in this multi-cultural country. 

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My Christmas

In our house, Christmas Day starts like many other households in the UK. We wake up early to open the presents my youngest brother has sorted into piles, devour a fry up, then retreat to our rooms, or the sofa, for a nap. The day ends in similar familiar fashion to many of you reading this, with the Christmas episode of EastEnders and a bottle of Baileys or Port floating about. However, it's the middle bit that has some added flavour where we're concerned. Alongside the dulcet tones of Mariah and Buble, Parang music blasts out and our table sees pastelles, stew chicken and rice amidst the pigs in blankets, turkey and roasties. 

Behind other doors…

“The sheer amount of people involved [in our Christmas]… it’s literally a game of how many Greeks can we fit in one house. After church in the morning, we come home and wait for the whole family to pile in - it’s usually around 20 to 30 people, sometimes more. We then have a bowl of soup, either avgolemoni (egg, lemon, chicken, and rice soup) or drahana (crushed wheat soup). We also play a Greek card game called gounga with my grandparents, which is basically Gin Rummy, but with more cards, and my bapou (grandad) is the master!” 

Elle, 27

“We celebrate according to the old religious calendar, on the 6th January. We have a 12-course Christmas dinner, each dish representing a disciple, so there is lots and lots of food! Traditionally, you start eating dinner when the first star appears in the sky that evening, but we always end up starting much sooner… There’s always a bush of wheat in the room where we eat dinner, too, which represents the people who have died.”

Christina, 21

“Back at home [in Ecuador], we celebrate Christmas on 24th with all the family round, opening presents after dinner. However, when I am here, I have a very British Christmas. I like to have Latin music on in the background when I cook though!”

Fabio, 30

“When I was younger, my parents would always take all our presents over to my gran's on Christmas Eve, and we'd stay there the night and open them the next day - that's something I plan on doing with my kids, too. My gran would always make this sauce that was way too runny, but we'd love it because that was her way of making it!”

Eleni, 27

“We drive to a farm to get our Christmas tree and meet with the other villagers on Christmas Eve to sing carols, and I make pepperpot a week in advance to eat with freshly baked bread on Christmas morning - a Guyanese tradition.”

Nirvana, 30

A spotlight on side hustles: Photography

Images: Arron Watson-McNab (@facesplaceslaces)

"Choose a job you love, and you'll never have to work a day in your life."  We've all heard that saying, right? Well, Confucius, it ain't always that easy. We may not have known what we love back when we were studying, sometimes you've gotta hella graft for ages before you can properly achieve what you love, and sometimes what we love might have changed.

More and more, people aren't just doing their nine-to-fives, but also have a passion project - a side hustle, if you will - that they maintain in the hope of it becoming their main job in the future, so they achieve this elusive notion.

Arron Watson-McNab, 26, works full-time as a therapy assistant at a prestigious London hospital, as well as freelancing as a writer and photographer. His side hustle is photography - Faces, Places & Laces - while Dwain Caulker-Johnson, 25, is a part-time retail worker, whose passion is making music, under the stage name DeeWain. Amy Deeprose, or amybakesuk, 26, is a design engineer who uses her design knowledge in the cakes she bakes on the side. In a three-part series, I have quizzed them on how they manage their day-to-day jobs and maintain their side hustle, and how they hope to develop it in the future.

This week, Arron's up. Intrigued by the others, too? Then check out Dwain and Amy, as well.

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How long have you been shooting images?

I got my first camera back in 2015, as a gift to capture my time spent working in America, but I would say it’s only been in the past year that I’ve started to take photography more seriously.

So, was that trip how you got into photography, then?

I've always been interested in photography, but never had the tools. While working in America, I found myself often going for strolls and taking photos of pretty much everything. This progressed to trying new angles, getting creative with my surroundings and learning about my camera to having a story or purpose behind some of my shots. From then, it just continued and I found a style, which my brand states neatly - Faces, Places & Laces. Alongside people I meet and places I go, my love for trainers found its way into my portfolio.

What motivates you to make time for your photography?

It’s like therapy for me. London is hectic at best of times and I have always searched for something to take me out of that madness. Holidays are great and I also meditate, but venturing out with headphones in and my camera in hand in my new favourite escape, especially as it speaks to the creative side of me.

How do you get your name out there?

Events, mostly. I am always looking out for cool events or attending galleries. I occasionally work in coffee shops, which has led me to meet some really fascinating people. Instagram is a great tool for photographers, as well, however, I much prefer connecting face to face. I will often stop people on the street for some of my projects and always meet really interesting people. Just this weekend, I met someone with their own brand looking for pictures, two club promoters who invited me down to shoot at their next event and an individual who was pretty well-connected in the sneaker scene. You never know where opportunities come from! Talk, share your stories and always have a business card on you.

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What return do you see?

Personal satisfaction, mainly. I love the process of creating and seeing the outcome come out how I pictured it - it is always very pleasing. Financial gain is, of course, always a benefit, but the opportunities that have presented themselves outweigh that significantly. I am grateful to be in a company that has given me the chance to shoot individuals that I have been following for years, then, in addition, have them complement or use my work. That feeling is great!

What challenges have you faced juggling the photography with your full- and part-time jobs?

It’s not finding the time, or it’s being motivated to use the time efficiently. After a long day at work, finding that energy and mindset to go and do a photoshoot, write, blog or find new opportunities, as well as general life - cook, clean, go to the gym, see friends - is hard to maintain. Opportunities have been missed, friends let down and there have been countless late nights and early mornings, but love for the craft gets me through.

Do you invest any of your own money into your venture?

Yes, always investing in my development and photography is an expensive hobby. I am very fortunate to have the support of friends and family who all recently contributed towards a new camera for my birthday. I will forever be grateful and stunned by the amount of backing I receive!

Do you consider your photography a business? 

I am beginning to. Previously, I just enjoyed the process and never believed my work was up to a standard to make a business out of…I still doubt it now. However, I have had some very kind words from individuals in a variety of industries that have provided me the confidence to see this as a business. People need photos, those photos make money, thus the creator of those photos needs compensation. Simples!

What is your long-term career goal?

Currently, I am pursuing two, it seems. Firstly, [I want to be] a photographer, although I’m not quite sure where exactly I picture myself as a photographer. I have a deep-lying love for music, so mixing my art with capturing the journey and progression of artists would be cool. Plus, I’m so fascinated by the process of art - how an idea is transformed into a song/drawing/[item of] clothing/building - so, that would be cool to capture.

Secondly, I've headed back to uni to do a masters in Physiotherapy this year. Long-term, I would love to work with elite athletes, possibly track their recovery from injury [to recovery] in a series of pictures… who knows.

What advice would you have for someone who wanted to turn their hobby into their job?

Enjoy the process of working hard on something you genuinely have a passion for and say yes to every opportunity available. Alongside this, depending on the hobby, there will be a stage where you’ll have to take a step back and study the business element of your craft. Just be prepared for it.

Check out Faces, Places & Laces today.

A spotlight on side hustles: Making music

Images: Arron Watson-McNab (@facesplaceslaces)

"Choose a job you love, and you'll never have to work a day in your life."  We've all heard that saying, right? Well, Confucius, it ain't always that easy. We may not have known what we love back when we were studying, sometimes you've gotta hella graft for ages before you can properly achieve what you love, and sometimes what we love might have changed.

More and more, people aren't just doing their nine-to-fives, but also have a passion project - a side hustle, if you will - that they maintain in the hope of it becoming their main job in the future, so they achieve this elusive notion.

Arron Watson-McNab, 26, works full-time as a therapy assistant at a prestigious London hospital, as well as freelancing as a writer and photographer. His side hustle is photography - Faces, Places, Laces - while Dwain Caulker-Johnson, 25, is a part-time retail worker, whose passion is making music, under the stage name DeeWain. Amy Deeprose, or amybakesuk, 26, is a design engineer who uses her design knowledge in the cakes she bakes on the side. In a three-part series, I have quizzed them on how they manage their day-to-day jobs and maintain their side hustle, and how they hope to develop it in the future.

This week, it's Dwain. Intrigued by the others, too? Then check out Amy and Arron, as well.

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How long have you been making music?

It's always been a hobby of mine, but seriously, it's been eight years.

How did you get into it?

I've always had music in me. I played the piano when I was young and I use to sing, too, but I didn't really get into it properly until university, really. I performed at an open-mic in my first year. After that, people were telling me that I should do something with music, but honestly, I didn't know what to write about and I wasn't good. However, at uni, I'd gone through different experiences and the only way I could express [how I felt] was through music. I started from there and just kept studying my craft. Now, I've got so many things to write about because I've seen a lot. 

What motivates you to make time for it, though?

Just the fact that music is a universal language and that it enables me to relate to people that I've never met before. Words are powerful and people believe in them, so I have to put the medicine in the message because I know my lyrics can inspire people to do greater things.

What return do you see from your music?

For people to feel moved by the music, that's the biggest thing, really. If people are coming up to me and saying that one of my songs or projects affected them in a certain way, I've achieved my goal, to be honest. 

I'd love for that feeling to expand though, so I can build a following big enough to sell out arenas one day - the 02 is my main goal. The idea of performing in front of your own fans on a big stage is mind-blowing. 

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What challenges have you faced so far? 

I heard Will Smith say in an interview, "the fight to remain positive is the toughest fight you'll have," and that is the biggest challenge in this industry; you literally have to give everything before you get any kind of result back. The hardest thing is to keep going knowing that you're putting your best foot forward, but you're being ignored - but you have to keep pushing. Self-belief is so key to all of this.

Not having money is frustrating, too, but I can't get too mad because I'm doing what I love. I always tell myself that as long as the music is good, that's all that matters; the rest will come.

Also, the music I make is quite unique to the rest of the urban scene, so I have to accept that not everyone is going to be used to my sound, which can be frustrating. But I'm happy my music is different and I can create my own lane.

Do you invest any of your own money into your venture? 

Yes. I only work part-time, so I can make more time to study my craft, record, shoot videos... but most of my paycheck goes into my music. 

Would you consider your music a business? 

Technically, yeah, I'm getting paid for performances now, so it's a business. But I'd love to get into the music business properly. I've got dreams of owning a label!

What is your long-term career goal?

To be known as an elite artist. A legend. I want to be known as the guy who came and shifted black British music culture and did it my way. I'm coming for everything. Awards. Big tours. Classic albums. Classic moments. Everything.  

What advice would you have for someone who wanted to turn their hobby into their job?

Stay focused, stay disciplined and stay positive. Have a plan and speak things into existence - I believe in the law of attraction and your thoughts becoming things.

In my field, Instagram is so useful, but the best way is to find your pocket and feed it. Keep releasing good music consistently as you never know who's listening. Use different media outlets too - in my genre, there's GRM, Link Up, and SBTV.

Get what you deserve from this earth, too, because no one is going to just give it to you. It's going to require a lot of sacrifices, but as long as you're making progress, that's all that matters. Let go and let God.

Check out DeeWain on Spotify today.

A spotlight on side hustles: Creating and baking

Images: Amy Deeprose (@amybakesuk)

"Choose a job you love, and you'll never have to work a day in your life."  We've all heard that saying, right? Well, Confucius, it ain't always that easy. We may not have known what we love back when we were studying, sometimes you've gotta hella graft for ages before you can properly achieve what you love, and sometimes what we love might have changed.

More and more, people aren't just doing their nine-to-fives, but also have a passion project - a side hustle, if you will - that they maintain in the hope of it becoming their main job in the future, so they achieve this elusive notion.

Arron Watson-McNab, 26, works full-time as a therapy assistant at a prestigious London hospital, as well as freelancing as a writer and photographer. His side hustle is photography - Faces, Places & Laces - while Dwain Caulker-Johnson, 25, is a part-time retail worker, whose passion is making music, under the stage name DeeWain. Amy Deeprose, or amybakesuk, 26, is a design engineer who uses her design knowledge in the cakes she bakes on the side. In a three-part series, I have quizzed them on how they manage their day-to-day jobs and maintain their side hustle, and how they hope to develop it in the future.

This week, it's Amy. Intrigued by the others, too? Then check out Arron and Dwain, as well.

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How long have you been baking and how did you get into it?

It's been 10 years. During my college A-level exams, I began baking cakes and learning to decorate them as a means of stress relief from revision. Then, when the baking got too much, the revision seemed like a break, so it worked out quite well.

What motivates you to make time to bake, though?

Enjoyment, stress release, people wanting to eat cake… Also, it's a creative challenge!

Do you see any return from it?

At the moment, I have only been baking for friends and family, but this helps spread my reputation by word of mouth, so when I eventually start running it as a proper side-business, it will mean I have a larger portfolio to do so.

This is legit a cake!

This is legit a cake!

What challenges have you faced maintaining your baking on the side?

Mainly time. Given that I work full-time, if I have a large cake - such as a wedding cake – I’ll have to take a day off work, or plan my schedule carefully, which can sometimes mean a full working day, followed by six hours an evening over a couple, or more, days baking and decorating for an event.

Also, creating content for social media can be a bit of a challenge; making cakes can cost money and isn't something that’s as quick as some people might imagine, so having new content is something that can be difficult.

Do you invest any of your own money into your venture?

Yes! On equipment mainly - though sometimes, I’m given a small sum of money towards consumables. However, I am usually giving my baked goods as presents. 

Do you consider your baking a business?

While I still feel I am learning, and don't have all my ducks in a row just yet, I feel it cannot be one. However, when I have decent enough portfolio and some qualifications under my belt, it definitely could be - many people have suggested it should!

What is your long-term career goal?

To run my own business part-time cake-making, alongside other business ventures, either in products or management.

What advice would you have for someone who wanted to turn their hobby into their job?

Have a loose plan for a transition period where your hobby won't be a business, but you can use that time to grow your network - it's here where you may invest a lot of your own money. Taking jobs for a small fee, or free, is often necessary, too. Also, the best people to start networking with are your friends and family, and it grows from there.

Definitely make sure you have [an adequate] cash-flow and a business plan that's adaptable, and remember, if you survive a year as an actual business, then that's a massive milestone!

Order an amybakesuk creation - or set her a baking challenge - today.

Leukaemia Awareness Month: Using grief for something positive

Images: Kerri Walter (@kerriwalterphotography)

Google defines Leukaemia as "a malignant progressive disease in which the bone marrow and other blood-forming organs produce increased numbers of immature or abnormal leukocytes. These suppress the production of normal blood cells, leading to anemia and other symptoms." In layman's terms, it is cancer of the blood where, as more cancer cells are produced, the body is less capable of making healthy white blood cells - the guys that help us fight infections.  

September is Leukaemia Awareness Month (referred to as Blood Cancer Awareness Month on this side of the pond) and, while it is all good and well knowing what Leukaemia is in theory, it is a disease that affects more than just the person's blood: on an emotional level, it is a horrible disease that affects not only the sufferer, but the people around them, too. 

According to the Cancer Research UK website, 27 people are diagnosed with Leukaemia each day, and one in 63 men, and one in 94 women, will be diagnosed with the disease during their lifetime. Five days before her 25th birthday, Georgia Hutchins passed away from this form of cancer. 

"I didn't know much about Leukaemia when I found out Georgia had it, apart from that it was cancer of the blood. Initially, I thought she'd stand a good chance of fighting it because she was so young and healthy - there was literally nothing wrong with her, yet she was gone within three months of diagnosis," said her friend, Zoey Lewis. 

Zoey & Georgia - Image: Zoey Lewis

Zoey & Georgia - Image: Zoey Lewis

Georgia and Zoey met in secondary school; they sat next to each other on their first day of year 7 and hit it off straight away. Throughout school, they were inseparable, doing normal things all girls growing up in Essex do, along with the rest of their friendship group.

"I can't really remember a situation when Georgia wasn't there when we were growing up," Zoey reflects. "Even if she wasn't in my class, she'd be helping me revise and, after leaving school, she was always at the end of the phone. She would always text us at 6am on Christmas Day without fail and we had long conversations on the phone during every Eurovision contest."

As the girls got older, Zoey recalls that Georgia was excellent at organising things and would be the one to set up a dinner, or other plans, for the friendship group: "you could always count on her; she would never let you down or let you be forgotten."

Georgia was diagnosed with Leukaemia in February 2018 and, unfortunately, Zoey was unable to see her at the time as her immune system was quite vulnerable. However, she seemed quite upbeat and positive on the phone, and was really quite blown away by everyone's response. 

Throughout her illness in the months that followed, meeting up obviously became harder. "I bought her lots of little pampering gifts, which ended up staying at my desk at work because she'd be too tired. Also, if I, or anyone else, had a cold or an illness, we were not allowed to visit in case it harmed her immune system."

On 24th May, Georgia sadly succumbed to her illness. However, despite her grief, Zoey is channeling her energy into doing something positive in Georgia's memory. "I couldn't just let her go without doing something for her as a thank you for everything she did for me in the past. At the funeral, I learned apparently Georgia was so blown away by the care she received that she said she'd be poor for the rest of her life because she'd give all her money away to charity! That was the point I silently said to her, "okay, let's do this"; Georgia had cut off her hair when she was told she'd probably lose it and she donated it to charity. Her bravery and selfless attitude made my shave seem really simple. I had nothing to lose apart from my hair, whereas Georgia had everything on the line."

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"[When I first shaved my head] everyone said I really suited it! The first week or so, I did get a few stares from people on the street, but I don't notice them anymore. I feel proud to know the reason I don't have any hair, even if the people looking at me don't know!"

On a jovial level, Zoey noticed a few things: "wind is a strange experience. Showers are strange, too. I reach for my hairbrush in the mornings automatically, then laugh. I keep going to brush my fringe out of my eyes and tuck my hair behind my ears, or play with my ponytail, forgetting it's not there."

Currently raising money for the Teenage Cancer Trust, at the time of publishing this piece, Zoey has raised £3,710 on her JustGiving page alone, but has also done other things, like bake sales, that have added to her fundraising total. "I think Georgia would have been happy with [the bake sale]; she was excellent in the kitchen."

Zoey added: "I'm grateful for the time we live in - I would never have been able to raise this much without the use of social media and being able to reach out to the people I didn't know, but Georgia did."

Teenage Cancer Trust, along with Clic Sargent, supported Georgia throughout her illness and Zoey plans to also do fundraising for the latter within the year. This stretch has been her first time fundraising for charity and credits her success to Georgia herself: "if she hadn't been so loving and giving, most people wouldn't have given this a second thought."

To donate to the Teenage Cancer Trust on Zoey's JustGiving page, click here.

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Why it's okay to change your career as many times as you want

Images: Kerri Walter (Instagram: @kerriwalterphotography)

So, you've done it all by the book; you've headed to Sixth Form or college, got into a good uni, spent as much of your time interning as you did drinking through funnels, and landed your perfect job upon graduation. Life is good! You're getting paid, you can see a progression path, and your career is turning out to be everything you dreamed of in those 9am (lol) lectures. But what happens when it's not? What happens when you wake up and decide you no longer want to do that career you mapped out for yourself at 16 years old?

This is the position many of us find ourselves in - and not just in our 20s. I have many friends in their 30s, and even 40s, who have lost the passion for what they do and want a change of career, but have MAJOR fears about committing to something new. 

We get ourselves in a panic: will I need to start from the bottom again? Do I need to go back and study? Has everything so far been a waste? Am I gonna be earning less? Will I lose my flat? Would this even be the right decision?! 

Right, let me just say, these thoughts are totally normal. Change brings about uncertainty and your job is a huge part of your life to be unsure about. You spend more time at work than anywhere else, if you're a full-time worker.

Despite following the traditional path myself, earlier this year, I chose to take my writing career in a different direction. Part of the reason I had the confidence to do so is because of my mother. She has had multiple career changes since she was 16 and has excelled in all of them. From telemarketing to midwifery, with primary school teaching in between, she has always landed on her feet. She didn't follow the 'path' and actually got her university degree when I was around 10 years old. Currently a community public health nurse, I asked for her advice...

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At what age did you change careers?

My most significant career changes - from teacher to midwife, then to community public health nurse - were at ages 32 and 48. 

What led you to change your career each time?

There were many reasons! Some were pretty life-changing events, such as moving country, the end of a relationship and wanting a university degree, but then there were the more generic reasons, too, like wanting more financial security. With my career choices, in particular, I wanted to be a specialist in a specific health field and, of course, I wanted to make a difference.

What challenges did you face when applying for these different roles?

With having three children, particularly with one under the age of 16, childcare was an issue, as was the financial strain I encountered with returning to academic study. When I moved into midwifery, I had to face the physical and emotional challenges of working in the NHS, which I wasn't used to. Long 12-hour shifts and night shifts are no joke! Finding a work-life balance can also be hard, especially when you're working, as well as studying.

How have your previous careers benefited the ones that followed?

Education and health are the main threads throughout my working life, as well as nursing, parenting and child development. Teaching gave me the basis of child development knowledge, communication, and good interpersonal skills, while midwifery gave me transferable skills in clinical and evidence-based knowledge for maternity - from pregnancy through to birth and the postnatal period for mothers and babies. My public health sector role has evolved from midwifery in that I deal with issues from birth up to five-year-olds, and with their families. These issues range from parenting to child development, as well as public health issues such as obesity, immunisations, safeguarding and social issues, such as domestic violence and mental health. 

What did you want to be when you were younger? 

A nurse - I used to give my brother injections with knitting needles as practice!

What workplace support have you received when changing careers?

When I did my university degree in midwifery, government funding was available. Thankfully, I was also being paid a nurse's salary to work, train and study when I did my postgraduate diploma to become a community public health nurse.

What advice do you have for people who worry about starting over when they are already established in their field? 

Do it! You are never too old to retrain and start a new career. You can use all your experience and knowledge, as they are transferable skills. Follow your dreams, as you can achieve anything you are determined to do. You can reinvent yourselves as much as you wish to, and make a positive difference to yourself and others in the process.

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Mamma Mia: Becoming a mother in your 20s

Header & flat lay images: Kerri Walter (@kerriwalterphotography)

My ultimate goal is to be a kick-ass working mother. For me, that is the epitome of an incredible woman; someone who is a doting caregiver (whether this is to her own children, fostering or adopting, anything), excelling in her career, and is a strong, independent female, with or without a partner by her side.

As of last year, the average age UK women enter motherhood is 30, however, I am intrigued by those taking on this mahoosive role a little younger, and how they balance it with everything else their 20s throws at them. For my generation, there is a huge expectation to use your 20s to have the job, the social life, the relationship, the travel, and excel in all these aspects while still getting eight hours sleep a day and enjoying it to the max. It's tough enough as it is, without adding a little dependent human into the mix!

According to the Office of National Statistics (2017), the amount of mothers in employment has gone up by 11 percentage points in the last twenty years. While, this appears to be quite a low percentage increase given the time period, it still signifies progress. Boy, we have far to go, but there is still some hope, eh?    

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Thankfully, I am surrounded by some incredible role models. My own mother had me at 27, and she has done a damn incredible job (if I do say so myself). She maneuvered the breakdown of a relationship, battled the minefield of dating with two kids, and has had many different careers, all of which she has excelled at.

Two of my close friends, Rachel and Nirvana, are also incredible mothers. They are nurturing, bring up their sons to be solid in their morals and have respect, but haven’t compromised their own quirky personalities for this new life role. I love watching Nirvana’s son dancing to exactly the same music we danced to with his parents in our student union four years ago, while Rachel's son has such an incredible wit and humour about him that I cannot wait to see the young man he grows into. 

Rachel was 24 when she had her now nine-year-old, while Nirvana was 26 and her son is now three. Here, they have shared some solid words of wisdom regarding motherhood during your 20s. 

On being considered a 'young mum'

"Being a mother is about my relationship with my child, so I just consider myself a 'mum', not a 'young mum'," says Rachel. 

"I knew that having my son wouldn’t hold me back from anything - it just meant that I had another person to take on the ride! I think, as a mum in your 20s, you face the same challenges as any other mum, whatever your age. The only difference is when you are younger, other people like to point it out constantly, which can be very annoying by the time you get to month five! That said, I was definitely fitter and healthier in my 20s and I felt like I had more energy to get up and go back then."

She added: "Although, my pregnancy wasn't planned, I was in love and in a relationship I had been in for years, I had a successful job and I couldn’t wait to be a mummy. I expected my dad to be unhappy, but he was actually really excited. Initially, Mum thought that I was too young and wanted me to do more with my life before settling down but, as the pregnancy went on, that apprehension turned into excitement. 

"I am planning on having another child now that I am in my 30s and I am worried about whether my body can handle the ordeal in terms of the pregnancy and the energy required to care for a newborn baby. I think I have the nine-year-old bit nailed, but can I still handle a newborn?"

Nirvana added: "I got quite mixed reactions during my pregnancy: some people were very pessimistic - which is quite insulting - while others saw the positives. Personally, I think to become pregnant in my 20s made for an easier recovery and I feel like I have more energy to spend with my son. I also quite liked the idea of 'getting it out of the way' as I know women in their 30s who have struggled to conceive naturally."

 
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On your career

"Having a child at 26 meant having to put my career on hold but, that said, it has now fully dawned on me that I would have had to do so no matter what age I decided to have a child," said Nirvana. "And, actually, having a child doesn't necessarily mean putting your career on hold at all; I chose to do so because I wanted to be at home with him and raise him myself. Prior to having my child, I had 10 years of job experience and a degree behind me, so apart from initial doubts, I felt quite prepared.". 

Rachel added: "I don’t think motherhood has had an impact on my career. I’m working in the industry that I want and, while I gave up a management position because I wanted less stress, it more affected my perception on what's important to me rather than what I want to do overall.

"I was lucky to work for a brilliant employer when I got pregnant, so maternity leave and returning to work was seamless. Then I found a brilliant childminder, which meant that I could maintain my hours, be as effective and ambitious as I always was, and have the work-life balance that works for me. The only real change is that there are times where I may want to work late and can't, but it just encourages me to be amazingly organised, so the need to work late is few and far between. I can’t always make after work events, but I don’t think this has affected my career as I have been blessed with understanding employers who know how hard I work and appreciate that I am an asset. I know this isn’t the experience of all mums - I know I am lucky."

On your social life

Having a child in your 20s doesn't mark the end of your social life - not by a long a shot! It just means that some priorities will change.

"I found out I was pregnant on a Thursday, which was a few days before a planned trip with my uni mates, so my first test came early on! I went to Cambridge for a night out on the Saturday - that just wasn’t the same because I wasn’t drinking; I collapsed at the currency exchange on the Sunday because I chose to sleep in, then missed breakfast, so I could get my errands done - but, of course, missing meals wasn’t good for a pregnant woman; and then, by the Tuesday, I found myself in Amsterdam, them all drunk, and me opting to go to museums instead. I wanted to keep me and my baby safe, well fed and healthy, and not be around the smoking fumes. After this series of events, I realised that my priorities had changed in an instant. It was no longer just about having fun and getting on it with my mates; it was about being the best mum ever and I was so happy about it - albeit slightly unprepared at the time!" Rachel recalled. 

"I go to the nights out, bottomless brunches and festivals that I can make that work around my child but, as I have gotten older and wiser, I no longer feel bad about saying 'no' to friends and events. Good friends understand that time with my boy is precious. I was the first one in my friendship group to have a baby; everyone was ecstatic when I was pregnant and, even now, my son still gets spoiled by my friends."

You can expand the activities in your social calendar, too. As a group, my friends and I hold an annual Sports Day with our personal trainer friend at the helm. Last year, Rachel's son joined us (and definitely outshone a few of us... namely me).

Rachel added: "I feel like I can relate to my son better because I am still fairly young and, whilst I may not be a spritely as I was in my 20s, you can see the difference in the park and in a school Sports Day Parents Race." 

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On travelling

I have actually been on a few holidays with Rachel, and I am about to go to Disneyland Paris with her, her son and another friend of ours. "Travel requires more planning and more consideration about the logistics and entertainment. There are certain places that I wouldn’t take my son as a result, but there are so many family-friendly options; family travel can be done in a stress-free way. However, I will say, it is more expensive due to the restrictions of the school holiday and, even when this doesn’t affect the price, there is the fact that you are travelling with extra people."

Nirvana said: "One funny memory from my pregnancy is going into the Guyanese Jungle during my first trimester to see a waterfall. However, I was unable to show - or tell - my partner about the beautiful insect that was hiding a few feet from us because I was puking so hard!

"I am very lucky when travelling with my son now; my child is quick, easy-going and is always up for an adventure!"

Last words of advice

"Don’t think about how old you are," says Rachel. "Think about what you want, what makes you happy and, as long as your child is your priority and you love them as they love you, the opinions of everyone else doesn't matter.

"You can do your best for your child and still do you, too; just think about the life you want, the kind of mum you want to be and then put things into action to make it happen. Work, career, love life, social life, and childcare can work together to give you the balance you want - sometimes you just need to be brave enough to ask for the help, or the flexibility, required to make things happen."

Nirvana concluded: "I actually haven't faced any particular challenges by having a child in my 20s that I wouldn't have faced at any other time. If I could give any advice to mothers - whatever age they are - it would be to enjoy the ride! They really do grow up too quickly!"

In defence of using dating apps to network rather than date

Being a single gal in ol' London town, I am obviously on a dating app. However, it's no secret that I hate dating. The awkward chatter between two complete strangers, both eyeing each other up and questioning each and every interaction - each little giggle, glance, or brush of the arm - within an inch of its life. Ew. It's weird.

So why the F am I on dating apps then, I hear you ask. Well, OBVIOUSLY, the end goal is to meet 'that guy', but in the meantime, I just like the idea of getting a snapshot into some random people's lives that I otherwise would not have met. Is that odd? Are you judging my intentions? WAIT, let me explain...

We're on dating apps because we haven't met that special someone in our daily lives, right? Colleagues, existing friends, friends of friends; they're all very similar or they have something we just do not want in a partner (or there is some unrequited love shit going on, but let's not get into that). On a dating app, there are thousands of people at your fingertips. No pressure, no expectations, no anything. You dip in, and you dip out. You chat, or you don't chat. You literally have no obligations to this person, and they have none to you. You get half an hour/45 minutes/a day's snippet of a total stranger's life and, with it, a totally different perspective. It's like a constant rolling documentary told through words. For someone who is inquisitive and intrigued by human psychology and sociology (read: really f-ing nosy), I relish it.

Obvs, you get the absolute weirdos who are straight in with their intentions (yes mate, OF COURSE I'm going to invite you to my flat within 15 minutes of talking to you  *rolls eyes*), the weirdest chat-up lines ("I once had a guy tell a riddle about a parrot and a bucket that went on for AN AGE," one of my friends told me) and the ones with absolutely ZERO chat, but every so often, you'll actually have some decent conversations.

With most of the guys I've chatted to, we had a really good conversation about homelessness/bread/music/the Kardashians. Some of them changed my perspective on things, others offered a peek into a daily life I know nothing about. Again, with most, I've never spoken to them again. No fizzling out; just the documentary had ended.

A friend told me how she once swiped right on a mannequin: "it was dressed as a British soldier and when I asked how his day was, he replied it was okay; he'd just been staring out the window all day, stuff like that." For the serious dater, this would be a waste of time, but personally, I think that's hilarious.

Of course, there is the question of leading people on. If I continue to chat, does that mean I'm giving false hope to men I have no intention of meeting? Maybe, maybe not. I think it depends on the guy. I won't be outrageously flirty if I know I'm not going to meet them, but then the fact we're chatting on a dating app could seem like a clear indicator. Personally, for me, if they have an issue, there's the block button, there's the unmatch button, and I'm okay with that. 

There are actual 'swipe to make new friends' apps, and Bumble actually has a Bumble BFF section, too, but it really isn't that well-known. At the end of the day, there are less interesting people to chose from on those. Don't get me wrong; I love my friends and my life is filled with an array of stimulating people, but isn't it nice to just chat to a stranger sometimes, without an agenda or forward plan? It's just a bonus if you continue talking to them after day one, if they slide into your WhatsApp, into your calendar, and into your life.

 

What does community mean to you?

Images: Kerri Walter (Instagram: @kerriwalterphotography)

As the end of the year approaches, we’re encouraged to celebrate the notion of ‘Christmas spirit’. This encompasses many things, one of which is the conscious effort to surround ourselves with people during the festive season, more than at any other time of the year.

For those with fewer, or difficult, family connections, friends and community often take the lead.

“To me, a community consists of people from different paths and backgrounds with various opinions and points of view, banded together by the group that they find themselves in. This can be a place they live that isn't 'home',” says Heather, 31, one of the founders of The Only Way Is Singapore, a community for expat women living in the South Asian country.

What primarily began as a Facebook group has now become a great way to meet like-minded people. Women can ask for recommendations on anything from travel, to where can they get their hair done, as well as looking for a new housemate, selling their items or just asking for someone to go for a drink with.

“It is a lovely community that I am proud of that I know has helped a lot of women whilst living there,” she said.

Of course, we often seek out others for support when we’re out of our comfort zone, but what about a little closer to home? Community means different things to different people, so we asked six people what community means to them:

Paul, 44

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“To me, community is about looking out for one another. By creating a community, we are able to protect those who are vulnerable, help those who need assistance and work together to create a better immediate environment for those we share it with. It is building a family that is not based on unconditional love, but instead on unconditional proximity that means we should work together to make our space interesting, enjoyable and simply good. Growing up, my community was based on my school. It was a little school with a maternal headmistress who taught us to respect and help one another. Despite her old fashioned ways and strict manner she taught us that we were all equal and to appreciate everyone's differences. At the moment, I have my neighbourhood which is full of friends and I am part of a local Jewish community. However, I do think that recently people have started to shy away from their local communities and instead live in their global digital communities. People talk less in the park or at the shops, instead they believe a digital connection is as good as a real life one. I'm not so sure.”

Vanessa, 24

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“The word community for me is not so much of a tangible place but more so of a group of people who do not have to share similar interests, but wish to create a better, healthier and more socially substantial space to do good for the world and the people around them. Growing up abroad, I was not drawn to a particular community and being mixed raced, it was difficult for me to open up to the very different racial communities that my parents were a part of. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place, per say, but after moving back to London I soon realised that there are many more communities existing than I was led to believe.”

Valerie, 77

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“It’s about getting on with each other; being friendly, not falling out, or arguing. The community I grew up in was very nice actually. Used to all play together, all the little children. We lived out in the country and you could go walk about and no one had to worry. It was very safe years ago. Not everyone knew each other as it was a bit of a small community, but when I got older, about 10 or 11, I used to go and do two ladies shopping. One used to like me going down the shops because she couldn’t make it - I used to get a penny a time. Another lady grew to like me, she wanted to adopt me, but my mum wouldn’t let that happen! Recently, my neighbours had a family party - the mum and dad’s anniversary - and they put me in the wheelchair and took me to their party. It’s not as good as it used to be when I was younger, things change over the years, but if I was in trouble of course my neighbours now would be here.”

Gerrard, 63

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“I moved here from Dublin when I was five or six and when I first came to this country there was every race and we all congregated not far from here. My neighbour taught my mum how to make curry and my mum taught her how to make traditional British food. We also had a Jamaican family living next door and you’d feel like you were in the Caribbean with the music playing. I still know them now - two of them still come in here. Community means people who live in the area, and I think, in England, most parts of the community love to meet in the pub. It’s been going on for hundreds and hundreds of years. This here is a community pub and most of these people are from around this area and they come in here as it's peaceful, they get a good drink and they get well looked after. That’s my job as a licensee: to look after people. I’ve owned the pub for 35 years and I’d say 98% will know of each other. There’s a good sense of community in this pub. The customers look out for everybody. There was a fella walking past who fell over and five or six people picked him up, brought him in, put a blanket over him, found out where he lived, headed to his wife and got him to hospital. They see someone coming up in a wheelchair and two, or three, fellas will run out and help them, if people are ill, they’ll drop each other home. I think people always say people these days aren’t like we were, but I think people are just as good now. Young people are great, they’ve got manners. This is a family pub; that’s what it should be.”

Hilary, 23

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“'Community' has the same definition as 'family': a group of people who come together. It’s an environment you can thrive in, and I feel like while it's more about the people, than the area in some respects, every aspect also makes a community, too. I grew up in a few different communities. The first was in southeast London, which was very family-orientated and everyone looked after each other. I moved around a lot and, when I moved to East, it was very different. Being in that house didn’t feel like I was part of a community; no one spoke to each other except for at school. I also lived in a hostel in Orpington and everyone used to have each other’s back. If there was anyone without anything - like milk, or sugar - we’d help each other out. There was also once where I was locked out after taking the bins out - I’d left my phone inside, I had my slippers on, and I forgot to put on the latch - and neighbours knocked our front door down.”

Chris, 28

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“Community is safety. Feeling relaxed. It’s yours. My Dad used to say that if he went to a pub that was outside London, that wasn’t his, he would drink with his back to the wall. He was outside of his local place. You want to feel like you’re part of something. Being here, in a family pub, feels like going back in time. This is rare. I don’t see this. I feel like being part of a community feels old fashion; like a 1950s thing. 10 years ago, you used to know everyone. Now, no one knows anyone. Community was a street thing, especially as a kid. Being a kid now isn’t like when we were kids. I think you get more of a sense of a community as a kid and then when you’re old. You lose that sense of community in the mid-stages between being a kid and when you’re old because you’re just trying to work and earn money.”

What does community mean to you? Have a little think this Christmas...