These face masks can be planted

The pandemic has meant people now wear face masks as they go about their daily lives. While in the UK, it’s no longer a legal requirement in most settings, many still choose to wear them while they’re in crowded or public spaces.

Reusable face coverings are a great option, but many opt for the blue disposable face masks that are chucked away and sent to landfill. 

[Read More: 9-year-old braves Ben Nevis for her grandad]

Marie Bee Bloom face masks are different. Creator Marianne de Groot-Pons explains that she made masks that are 100% biodegradable and contain flower seeds. This means you can plant them in your garden or flower pot after use, and they will sprout flowers.

“With these masks, we can bloom the world,” she tells Smiley News.

Marianne says it took a while to collect all the right materials with her husband when she first had the idea to make biodegradable masks. It all started in lockdown at the kitchen table, she says, folding, gluing, testing, and trialling.

“After it became a success, we got a lot of orders,” she says. “We made the masks with than 20 people, controlled by a professional producer, all by hand with local materials from the Netherlands.”

[Read More: The power of knitting is helping those in need]

It was an important project for her. “I was very annoyed by all the masks that pollute the earth, I wanted to do something good, something back for mother earth,” she says. 

The masks are sold online through their website and shipped to all countries in Europe. Visit to find out more


Friendship charity provides companions for the elderly

It’s no secret that loneliness exists in our world – but there are people, charities, and initiatives fighting hard to help combat it. One of those is b:friend, which pairs individuals with elderly neighbours to make connections and receive companionship. 

Stats show the number of over-50s experiencing loneliness is set to reach two million by 2025/6. This compares to around 1.4 million in 2016/7 – a 49% increase in 10 years. In fact, half a million older people go at least five or six days a week without seeing or speaking to anyone at all. That’s what Mike Niles hoped to change when he set up b:Friend in 2017. 

Mike had been living in London and was volunteering for another charity in 2017. After moving back to south Yorkshire, he noticed a need for befrienders in Doncaster. And from there, it spiralled. The charity now covers all of south Yorkshire.

[Read More: The woman on a mission to tackle elderly loneliness]

The premise is quite simple: volunteer befrienders pledge to visit a socially isolated older neighbour near them for one hour per week for a cuppa and a chat. On the way back from work, the shops, dropping the kids at school – whenever is convenient, a befriender will spend an hour just chatting, listening and supporting someone that otherwise may have no one.

The charity pairs individuals primarily based on locality and also make connections based on personal interests. Each befriender and older neighbour receive regular support to ensure they’re benefitting from the project. Since it launched, b:Friend has created, delivered and evaluated hundreds of hours of community social group activity in Doncaster.

“Social connection is vital to older people,” Rayelle Broomhead, a project officer at b:friend, tells Smiley News. “Many have lost partners, poor health or mobility may have restricted their ability to leave their home, some have no family or limited connection with them. 

“Social isolation has been associated with a 50% increased risk of dementia and can lead to a significantly increased risk of premature death from all causes, a risk that may rival those of smoking, obesity and physical inactivity. Company has a huge positive impact on a person’s mental health – the team at b:friend sees this all of the time.”

[Read More: Meet the man making London edible]

Rayelle says she regularly speaks to people referred to the charity, who are feeling incredibly low before they’re paired. “I speak to them a little while after they have a befriender and the difference is huge,” she says. “Only today a lady referred to her befriender as a delight to her ears, stating that she looks forward to every call and how it brightens her day. 

“It is a privilege to witness that. Many of our pairings are life changing for the older people referred to us. We currently have a gentleman in hospital, who previously wouldn’t have had a single visitor. Our volunteer (who sees herself as a friend, not a volunteer) has been visiting him whenever possible and has been phoning him every day.”

Rayelle says if anyone is inspired to sign up, “I would say that they may be surprised how much they will get from doing so”.

“Countless numbers of volunteers have said this, that they are surprised how they benefit as much as the older person,” she says. “The relationship between a befriender and an older neighbour is quite unique. Neither know other people in one another’s lives so they will talk about all kinds of things knowing there will be no judgement.

“They learn about the differences in society in different generations. True friendships grow. The charity asks volunteers to commit to an hour of their time a week. One hour that has such a significant impact on an older person who very often has nobody.”

Find out more at


5 good news stories to end your week

It’s that time of the week again. 

Make your day brighter by reading through good things that have happened, to end your week on a high. 

1. Tom Daley shared a powerful message to the LGBT+ community

The British diver and his partner Matty Lee won the men’s synchronised 10-metre diving event at the Tokyo games. After four Olympic Games and two bronze medals, it was Tom’s first time taking home a Gold. During his speech after the win, he said: “I feel incredibly proud to say I am a gay man and also an Olympic champion. 

“I hope that any young LGBT person out there can see that no matter how alone you feel right now, you are not alone and that you can achieve anything. There is a whole lot of your chosen family out here ready to support you.”

[Read More: Meet the man making London edible]

2. RNLI charity receives record increase in donations

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is the largest charity that saves lives at sea around the coasts of the United Kingdom. The charity received a 2,000% daily increase in donations after criticism of asylum rescues in the Channel. 

The charity said in the same 24-hour period, there had been a 270% increase in people viewing volunteering opportunities on its website. It would normally receive up to £7,000 in daily donations, but it received £200,000. Downing Street praised its “vital work”.

3. Hydrogen is powering the Olympics village

Hydrogen power is seen by some as the “renewable energy of the future” – hydrogen fuel-cells produce no emissions of any kind except for water.

“With their immense reach and visibility, the Olympic Games are a great opportunity to demonstrate technologies which can help tackle today’s challenges, such as climate change,” Marie Sallois, Director for Sustainability at the International Olympic Committee, told Euro News.

[Read More: Woman tours in ice cream van discussing grief]

“Tokyo 2020’s showcasing of hydrogen is just one example of how these Games will contribute to this goal.”

4. A Washington state has banned fossil fuel infrastructure

Whatcom county’s city council has approved a measure that bans all new fossil fuel infrastructure. The climate action policy also requires existing fossil fuel companies to offset any extra planet-heating gases emitted from expansion. Burning fossil fuels emits a number of air pollutants that are harmful to both the environment and public health.

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions, primarily the result of burning coal, contribute to acid rain and the formation of harmful particulate matter.

5. Stormzy pledges to support 30 Black students through university

Each student will receive a £20,000 annual scholarship under a new partnership between banking group HSBC UK and the musician’s charity, #Merky Foundation.

The funds will cover tuition fees and maintenance costs for 10 new students each year over the next three years. Read more in our story here

Image credit: IM_photo / Shutterstock


Europe’s top 5 sustainable holidays

Resisting the urge to hop on a flight might be difficult this summer after so many months cooped up during lockdown. But with emissions from tourism expected to rise by 2030, opting for an eco-conscious holiday is the more virtuous choice.

The great news is there are tons of green holiday destinations and activities available to make it easier for you. Hotels, tourism boards and resorts are seeking innovative ways to offer summer breaks during which you can relax fully in the knowledge that your pleasure isn’t coming at a cost to the planet. Here are some of Smiley News’s favourite eco-holiday ideas.

[Read More: Why seaweed is vital in the climate crisis]

Electric roadtrip

Wave goodbye to petrol-fuelled road trips and say hello to electronic adventures – made extra feasible by Switzerland’s E-Grand Tour. The route takes you through the Swiss Alps, as well as the historic cities of Bern, Zurich and Geneva. Hire an electronic vehicle and the regular charging points along the way will allow your smooth journey past mountains, coniferous forests and great blue lakes.

Sun, sea and solar power

Reduce your carbon footprint by picking a destination run entirely by renewable energy. Two suggestions are the Greek island of Tilos and the Orkney Isles off the northeastern coast of Scotland. Tilos is one of the greenest spots in Europe, using only wind and solar power. Meanwhile, communities on the Orkney Isles produce so much energy from water and wind that they even have a surplus to export to the mainland.

Go glamping

While the weather is hot, the best place to be is the great outdoors. Glamping offers a way to keep your holiday local and cut down on your travel emissions. What’s more, the yurts, eco-pods or treehouses that keep you snug at night are usually sustainably built and powered by green energy. Among the many glamping sites in the UK, Eco-Retreat in Powys, Wales, is a great option that conserves surrounding woodland and offers locally-sourced organic food.

[Read More: 5 benefits to living off-grid]

Tour Europe’s organic farms

It might not sound like the most relaxing option, but WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) could be the ultimate mood booster you need after lockdown. By helping out on organic farms around Europe, you will come into close contact with microbes in the soil that are proven to encourage serotonin production and improve your wellbeing. It’s also a great opportunity to meet interesting people, all while helping to cultivate a sustainable source of food.

Zero waste luxury

If you’re searching for a more comfortable option, zero waste accommodation might best suit you. Many mainstream hotels chuck away a horrifying quantity of half-used toiletries, slippers, uneaten food and more. But others are showing luxury doesn’t have to come at the expense of the environment. Italy’s first zero waste hotel, Conca Park Hotel in Sorrento, proves this. The hotel’s gardeners use raw restaurant waste to fertilise their flowerbeds, empty glass bottles are ground down to make pool filters and they take every opportunity to avoid needless packaging.


Meet the man making London edible

Coming from a farming family in Cyprus, Sunny Karagozlu transferred his horticultural skills to the unlikely environment of London. Repurposing disused land as thriving vegetable gardens, he set up Community Interest Company Edible London

Throughout the pandemic, the north London-based initiative – which aims to grow food and prevent waste – has been invaluable to those struggling to put food on their tables. It feeds up to 35,000 people a week with fresh, organically-grown fruit and vegetables. 

“No pun intended, Edible London actually happened very organically,” says Sunny. “I changed my life – eating differently, changing what I do with my time – to become more environmentally beneficial.” 

[Read More: The woman on a mission to tackle elderly loneliness]

The seeds of an idea

Edible London kicked off a couple of years ago, when Sunny started cultivating his parents’ vegetable garden in Tottenham. Soon, he was producing so much surplus food, he started to give it away. At first he would pass it on to neighbours, then he began donating to soup kitchens. 

During that time, Sunny was offered various gardening jobs, which he refused, determined to make his own way to help resolve the growing problem of food insecurity in the capital.

“I had this idea to make everything in London edible,” he says. “Then I thought, ‘that’s a good name’, and Edible London was born.”

‘It wasn’t a soup kitchen, it was a banquet’

Just one of the projects organised by Edible London involved distributing healthy vegan meals to people experiencing homelessness. This part of their work was different to the usual soup kitchens or food banks most readily available to vulnerable people.

[Read More: 5 benefits to living off grid]

Sunny used his cousin’s cafe in Tottenham to host people, treating his homeless invitees more like guests than charitable beneficiaries. He crafted beautiful invitations on recycled paper that he handed to people in person. 

“I went out and befriended people so now I know most of the homeless people in Tottenham by name,” he says. “I’d invite them to the cafe to sit down, chill out with us and enjoy the day. It wasn’t a soup kitchen, it was a banquet.”

Growing business for better

In two years, Edible London has expanded to more than 20 different sites across the city. It has distributed more than one million meals worth of ingredients, saved 300 tons of surplus food and gained 350 volunteers. 

The initiative offers safe spaces for thousands of local people to socialise, learn, eat and share. It teaches regenerative farming skills, hosts sensory classes for autistic children, and teaches the benefits of a plant-based diet with the support of local councils. 

This summer, Edible London is running a plant-based lunch club, extending its support to young people over the school holidays. Through its work – tackling hunger, poverty, health issues and more – the company is taking action on all 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

When asked how he managed to develop the project so quickly, Sunny says: “It’s teamwork that makes it dream work, but good leadership is also integral to things operating well. I’m a proud leader of my organisation and, as my dad told me, that means I’m the first one at work, and the last one to leave.”

Edible London is run entirely of donations. To support their work strengthening communities in London, donate or offer to volunteer here.

For more information visit


30 Black students to receive £20k uni scholarships

A further 30 Black students will receive a £20,000 per year scholarship to study at the University of Cambridge following a new philanthropic partnership between HSBC UK and the #Merky Foundation, the UK charity founded by British musician, Stormzy.

The scholarships will fund the tuition fees and maintenance costs (equivalent of £20,000 per student each year) for 10 new students each year over the next three years, for a degree course of either three or four years’ duration.

The combined support of HSBC UK, the #Merky Foundation and an anonymous donor means the University is set to welcome a total of 13 Stormzy Scholars in the autumn. The move represents a significant expansion of The Stormzy Scholarship programme, launched in 2018, which to date, has supported six Black students through their Cambridge education.

[Read More: US retailer pledges $1m a year for anti-racist causes]

In June 2020, Stormzy’s #Merky Foundation announced it would be donating £10 million over 10 years to charities and other organisations committed to tackling racial inequality in the UK. HSBC UK’s donation is in addition to #Merky Foundation’s initial commitment, with the Foundation encouraging other companies to follow suit and join them in pledging.

The Stormzy Scholarships are credited with helping Cambridge to attract more applications from a traditionally underrepresented group. In 2017 the University admitted 58 Black British students to undergraduate degree courses. In 2020, this had risen to 137. This represented a 50% increase on the previous year and in turn was coined ‘The Stormzy Effect’.

Stormzy, said: “For 30 more Black students to have the opportunity to study at Cambridge University – the same year our initial 2018 scholars graduate – feels like an incredible milestone. Thank you to HSBC UK for their significant donation and of course, Cambridge University for always backing our mission. I hope this scholarship continues to serve as a small reminder to young Black students that the opportunity to study at one of the best universities in the world is theirs for the taking.”

The first two Stormzy Scholars graduated this summer with a high 2:1 and 2:1. The University of Cambridge’s Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Professor Graham Virgo, said: “We are enormously grateful to HSBC UK for supporting the #Merky Foundation in funding the degree courses of an additional 30 Black students over the next 3 years.”

[Read More: New initiative offers grants to Black music professionals]

All Stormzy Scholarship applicants will also have the option to explore work experience, skills development and mentoring opportunities with the bank.

To be eligible for a 2021 award applicants must have a confirmed place to start at Cambridge in October, and be a home student (UK) of Black or mixed race heritage. Applications must be submitted to the University no later than Friday 27 August 2021. Students from low income families can apply for awards of up to £3,500 a year from the Cambridge Bursary Scheme. In the 2019/20 academic year, almost £8.5m was distributed to a total of 2,711 students.

Image credit: Ben Houdijk / Shutterstock


The woman on a mission to tackle elderly loneliness

In the tight knit community of Longridge, south of the Yorkshire Dales, retired carer Susan Reid is on a one-woman mission to tackle loneliness among elderly people.

Susan first entered care work when an elderly man asked her if she would look after him. She’d just received an exciting new job offer, but turned it down to help him enjoy the two years he had left to live instead.

“We did all sorts in those two years,” she recalls, with tears welling up in her eyes. “We’d go everywhere. I’d take him to the beach, we’d have a picnic or go to the cinema together.”

[Read More: Woman tours in ice cream van to talk about grief]

Eventually he passed away, but Susan knew she’d helped him make the most of his last moments. “That’s when I decided to stick with care work because I was good at it and could make a difference to people’s lives,” she says.

Helping through thick and thin

One day Susan received some terrible news that meant, for once in her life, she had to give up caring for others to focus on herself. Her doctor told her she had cancer and in order to let the treatment run its course, she’d need to take time off work.

To the enormous relief of her family, friends and community, her cancer treatment was successful. At first she thought she could return to her job, but then Covid-19 hit, preventing her from working when she was needed most.

Being well connected among the residents of Longridge, she quickly learned who she could best help. While taking all precautions against spreading the virus, she set about visiting community elders, bringing them groceries, doing household chores and keeping them company. 

[Read More: 9-year-old braves Ben Nevis in memory of her grandad]

A local hero

Working entirely of her own volition, without any pay or help from organisations, Susan has continued to help her elderly friends ever since. “They’ll ring me up to ask when I’m coming to see them,” she says – and she’ll quickly respond, offering to chat with them or attend to their needs.

The most vital part of her work is offering social stimulation. Many elderly people experience loneliness with hundreds of thousands across the UK cut off from others, a situation which worsened during the pandemic.

But at least in Longridge, Susan’s work tackles this issue. The best part of it, she says, is how much laughter she gets out of it through talking to them.

Despite the enormous value of her work and the fact she’s doing it for free, she believes what she’s doing is unexceptional, saying, “I think most people have inherent caring skills, it just depends on what happens in your young life as to whether or not those skills are allowed to blossom.”


9-year-old braves Ben Nevis for her grandad

Climbing Ben Nevis – the highest mountain in Scotland and the United Kingdom – is no mean feat. The summit is 1,345m above sea level and is the highest land in any direction for 459 miles.

But a nine-year-old, from Middlesborough, decided to take on the challenge in memory of her grandad. 

Elise Hatfield successfully completed the climb with her family this month, including her two brothers Josh and Charlie, raising money for Yorkshire’s Brain Tumour Charity (YBTC) in the process. 

[Read More: 7-year-old eco warrior is a litter picking hero]

It was in memory of her grandad Julian Smith, who passed away from a brain tumour in 2006, before Elise was born. Though she never got to meet her grandad, Elise chose to support the Yorkshire-based charity to help fund research that might find better treatment – and ultimately, a cure – for others like Julian.

The 4,435-foot climb took Elise and her family just under eight hours in total, and Elise’s achievement helped her raise an enormous £2,572 on JustGiving so far.

“We’ve always wanted to walk Ben Nevis as a family,” says Elise’s dad, Mark. “Elise thought it’d be a great idea to try and raise some funds, so she picked the charity. We’re really proud of what she’s done. She made it look easy, and we all loved the day. It was a bit emotional when we reached the top, but fantastic.

Elise adds: “I just want to say thank you everyone for helping me and I really hope that I can help people out there just like my grandy.”

[Read More: 5 benefits to living ‘off-grid’]

Jen Aspinall, community fundraiser at YBTC, thanked Elise and her family for completing the challenge. “The amount she has raised is just amazing and will make a huge difference to brain tumour patients and their families,” she says.

YBTC is Yorkshire’s leading brain tumour charity dedicated to raising funds for life-changing research and patient support. Around 9,000 new cases of primary brain tumours are diagnosed in the UK every year, and 15 each week in Yorkshire alone. While working to find a cure, the charity provides financial, emotional and practical support for patients, children, carers and family members at any stage of their journey.

To visit Elise’s JustGiving page, go to

To find out more about YBTC, go to


The power of knitting is helping those in need

When you think of knitting, what do you picture? An elderly person knitting at home on their chair, perhaps? It’s a stereotype many people have – but actually, knitting can be an incredibly powerful tool.

Dame Hilary Blume is the director of the Charities Advisory Trust – and, as part of that, she developed Knit for Peace UK, an initiative that helps communities all over the world benefit from the hobby. 

So, how did it all start? 20 years ago, Hilary started the ‘Good Gift Catalogue’ as a refreshing alternative to unwanted presents. The gifts provided practical help directly to those in need, helping them take the first step out of poverty – such as feeding abandoned animals, or giving toys to children in a refugee camp. 

Soon after it launched, Hilary went to Rwanda to see a project they’d been sending money to. “There were terrible genocides there,” she says, “and displaced women, where their husbands and children had been killed. There were really horrendous conditions for them. There were many surviving widows, who couldn’t go back to their homes.”

[Read More: 5 benefits to living ‘off grid’]

Hilary noticed these women could knit and crochet, and suggested they knitted school jumpers, for the child orphans – “it’s cold there and rains a lot,” she says, “and the orphans couldn’t afford a jumper.” Hilary said she’d put the gift of supporting a widow to knit jumpers for children in the Good Gift Catalogue. “It was very successful,” she says, “and it’s still going now.”

The knitting initiative grew, as Hilary told communities they worked with in India about the project. They organised groups in Delhi slums to give women yarn – they had no income, but they could knit! “People started to knit and give away their creations as a peace gesture to children,” says Hilary. “People from Afghanistan asked to join in, too.”

And so it got bigger. Through the charity, Hilary would give women the material to knit. This would not only make them feel good (as knitting has been proven to have health benefits), but also enable them to donate their knitting as gestures of peace to each other’s children. 

The word spread, and Hilary was contacted by a woman in Canada who wanted to join the initiative, too. “So we said, ‘okay send the knitting to us and we’ll organise to send it to people in need.’” That’s very much how Knit for Peace works today. “Once we said we would distribute donated knitting we found we were inundated,” says Hilary. “The operation has grown organically, and we estimate we have over 40,000 knitters.

[Read More: Woman discusses grief with touring ice cream van]

“If you want to knit for people in need, we find a home for it! We’ve built up a big network of places we distribute to. We ship to refugee camps in Turkey, as well as refugees in Calais, too. We also distribute knitting like blankets to care homes and hospices in the UK, as well as refugee drop-in centres.”

Now, when Hilary visits India, they like to keep Knit for Peace alive and will take lots of knitted items. More and more communities are taking up the idea of knitting, too. Hilary says they send yarn to prisons, so people can knit, and to any community group in need. 

“Knitting is good for everybody,” says Hilary. “It’s a wonderful way to help people, but it also relaxes the person knitting, too. It works both ways. The health benefits are enormous, as it can reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, and make you feel like you’re achieving something.”

Want to get involved? If you’re interested, Hilary says contact Knit for Peace on their website and ask what they’re in need of being knitted. “Send your knitting to us and we will make sure it goes to a good home.”


5 benefits to living ‘off grid’

In recent years, more people have unplugged from what’s called ‘the grid’, which includes national energy providers as well as water supplies and waste collection. Today, there are up to 170,000 people living off the grid in the UK alone, about 40% of them in vehicles. 

To grasp why so many people are making this choice, Smiley News spoke to author, filmmaker and campaigner Nick Rosen. He has first-hand experience of this alternative way of life, touring the UK in a van to visit off-grid communities for his book, ‘How to live off-grid’ in 2007. He gave us these top reasons to opt into this liberating lifestyle.


Over the next decades and even years, we’re looking at increasing environmental, social and economic precarity. Living off-grid means if the system collapses, you won’t collapse with it. By letting go of the grid, which should be a relic of the 20th century, we can solve multiple environmental and social problems such as the housing crisis in one fell swoop. 

[Read More: What it takes to be a serial fundraiser]

Financial security in the long-term

With the financial benefits, it depends how far into the future you look. In the short term, it will cost the same as extending the grid to every corner of the planet. But in the long term, it should be much cheaper because maintenance costs should drop by up to 90%. With falling prices for renewable energy technology and rising prices for energy from big suppliers, it will become increasingly cost effective.

Reducing your personal carbon footprint

Knowing exactly what happens to your waste and taking control of your own energy supply means you become much more aware of how much you’re consuming. What we do as individuals is hard to calculate on the grid. You might have bins for recycling and organic waste. It gets taken away, supposedly to be composted and recycled. If you’re responsible for where that goes, you’re more likely to cut down on waste and energy usage.

[Read More: Woman tours UK in ice cream van to talk about grief]

Reducing the collective carbon footprint

When it comes to collective action, off-grid living saves an immeasurable amount of energy, including roughly 30% of the energy that otherwise gets lost in transmission via the current grid system.

Being at one with nature

Taking care of your own energy supply can make you more aware of the world around you, including the sun, the temperature, the wind and water, if it’s nearby. So living off-grid often puts you in closer contact with nature, giving you a feeling of tranquillity that is beneficial for your wellbeing

Since exploring the off-grid world, Nick has built a website of resources to help people wanting to adopt this way of life. “The biggest obstacle is lack of suitable land with planning permission.” He urges readers from around the world to get in contact with him with their ideas, saying: “I have spent many happy years in India. A lot of Indians live off grid and I think we have a huge amount to learn from Indian culture in the West.”

To contact Nick, email [email protected].