Saving coral reefs, one Lego block at a time

Singapore is home to a third of the world’s diversity of coral species – a huge amount for a tiny country. Coral reefs protect the world’s coastlines, are home to thousands of fishes and are a vital part of the underwater ecosystem.

However, issues like coastal development, reclamation and pollution have caused Singapore’s reefs to deplete over the decades. But a group of scientists from the National University of Singapore is trying to change this – with the help of some Lego blocks.

The number of coral species around the world is about 800, but they’re delicate and easily-damaged. They’re home to many species of marine life and also play a part in reducing global warming.

(Read more about this coral reef restoration project

For the first time, Lego is being used for reef restoration. Scientists take loose bits of coral from the reefs, which are then broken up and attached to Lego blocks. These small pieces can then grow into larger colonies. 

Lego is fit for this purpose as it’s modular, scalable and so it can be worked up with larger pieces of coral, then more building blocks can just be stuck on. When working with smaller corals, smaller pieces can be used. 

This is called “vertical farming”, and it also helps save space. It’s not a new concept, but now the Lrgo blocks can be strung down to maximise space in the aquarium. 

Neo Mei Lin, a leading marine biologist and senior research fellow from the National University of Singapore’s Tropical Marine Science Institute said: “Detachable Lego bricks proved very useful in helping us to hold corals and giant clams in place.

“It’s easy to see why we should save marine creatures like dolphins and whales, but not many people realize that we first have to start with their habitats which are under threat from man-made activities.” 

(This living sea wall is bringing oceans back to life

At the moment, the coral pieces are just being used for research experiments at the St John’s Island National Marine Lab. But the hope is to one day grow enough coral to be transplanted back into Singapore’s waters. 

Singapore is strategically located at the crossroads between the Pacific and Indian Ocean. It’s unique position in the tropical South China Sea offers unprecedented opportunities for rapidly advancing research and discovery in tropical marine science. 

Similarly, in Hong Kong, marine biologists turned to 3D printing as a means of repopulating dead and damaged reefs. 

The scientists in Singapore also want to launch a ‘blue plan’ for their oceans and seas, to teach Singaporeans new ideas such as retention, rejuvenation and restoration, before it’s too late. 

You can learn more about the National University of Singapore’s Tropical Marine Science Institute here.


How Tom Kerridge is hoping to end child food poverty

Footballer Marcus Rashford and TV chef Tom Kerridge are on a mission to combat child food poverty across the UK.

Full Time Meals, their latest campaign together, aims to stop hunger in its tracks, through the creation of 52 easy, simple and healthy recipes, created by Tom, who has been working in the kitchen for more than 30 years. 

Tom tells Smiley News: “Full Time Meals was created to support the nationwide initiative #EndChildFoodPoverty, and when you hear figures like 4.2 million children in the UK are living in poverty, it’s impossible to ignore. 

“No child should go to bed hungry and although I never went without food, I grew up in a single parent household on a council estate, my Mum worked two jobs and times were difficult and money was tight, so if Marcus and I can make even the smallest difference then it will mean everything to us.

“For Marcus and myself it is about encouraging families to be creative, have fun in the kitchen and gaining confidence whilst learning invaluable skills.”  

(Read about the community initiative to support vulnerable people with free food)

The recipes are specifically formulated so you won’t need many ingredients, and the whole family will be able to cook them.

“The recipes had to be pocket friendly, really easy to make, with very limited and basic cooking equipment, so essentially a wooden spoon, grater, baking tray, saucepan, frying pan etc. no fancy gadgets at all,” says Tom. 

Every week a new recipe is released, so that people can have a go at cooking it themselves. They include dishes such as smashed peas on toast, chicken satay stir fry, rainbow and halloumi couscous, and tuna melt pittas.

Marcus has become renowned for shining a light on the nation’s child poverty issue, and continues to fight for systematic change. He created the Child Food Poverty Taskforce to unite the biggest players in the British food industry, to stand united in finding a long-term sustainable framework to combat child poverty across the UK.

Every Sunday morning, a new cook-along video is launched on their Instagram page, so families can enjoy great meals at home, whatever their cooking experience or budget. 

(Quaker Oats donates 500,000 breakfasts for World Food Day

“The response has been fantastic, we’ve seen an uptake in the Healthy Start Vouchers which is the main priority for us, but yes it’s been great to see people getting stuck in and sending us their videos,” says Tom. 

“It’s lovely to see families and friends all cooking together and messing about in the kitchen, and we hope they will pick up a few tips along the way.”

You can follow @FullTimeMeals to access all cook-along videos featuring Tom, Marcus and famous friends, or find out more here


Two mums find solution to party waste

Two mums have set up a plastic-free party decoration business after being fed up with the amount of waste leftover from celebrations. 

The Conscious Party Box was founded by Rachel & Pippa, who didn’t want fun today to be at the expense of their children’s tomorrows. 

It’s important to celebrate the good things in life, they say, but it doesn’t mean it needs to cost the earth. And their combined skills as a web designer, and fashion and lifestyle designer, means they’re well covered to set up a small creative business. 

Having five children between them, they put on five birthday parties a year, and attend several more. “We know they come with a mountain of waste, from straws and plates, to party bag contents, which often don’t even make it home, or are chucked away within a day,” says Pippa.

(Here’s how Aldi is getting ahead on ditching plastic)

“The Conscious Party Box was created from our desire to encourage stylish themed events for children which didn’t result in a lot of landfill waste.”

The duo sell plastic-free party kits which are either reusable, compostable or recyclable. They also donate to Plastic Oceans UK, with every purchase of a party box and decoration kit, which works to end plastic pollution and foster sustainable communities worldwide. 

Their most popular theme is the rainbow kit, but people also love their party bag and stocking fillers. “A lot of people struggle with sending a load of rubbish home with party guests,” says Pippa. “A seasonal hit has been our new DIY reindeer crackers, the perfect Christmas Eve activity for any family!”

(Read more about the plastic hunting pirates

Pippa says people have been so positive about what they offer. “It seems we have solved a problem a lot of people have been facing,” she says. “We put paper clips in with our decorations which means that they can be put away and used again unlike so many single use decorations.”

With five children, a lack of time means running the business is challenging. But the pair still have big ambitions.

“We would love to expand our range of party bag fillers in the future, and even come up with some of our own kits,” Pippa adds. “We want to stock more decorations, too. We love decorations and there are so many out there. We are excited about future kits!”

You can find out more about The Conscious Party Box and purchase planet-friendly decorations here


Kids’ postcards brings smiles to care homes

A Manchester-based artist has brought smiles to her community by setting up a postcard exchange between school children and care home residents.

Helen Middleton is an industrial designer, who creates furniture, lighting, products and artwork from 100% recyclable materials. During the pandemic – in December 2020 – she felt called to make a difference to those who might be feeling lonely. 

“I decided to work with my local school to create Christmas cards for the residents of the five local care homes in Marple, Stockport,” she tells Smiley News. “Covid-19 has highlighted the vulnerability of the elderly and how isolated they have been from their families due to the restrictions. Usually at Christmas the local children would sing carols to them, but due to crossing over school bubbles and Covid restrictions this event could not happen. I just thought what little gesture could we do to brighten up the residents’ Christmas time.

“I was mindful of how busy schools are at Christmas, so asked the headteacher what she thought of the idea, and thankfully she loved it.”

[Read more stories about everyday heroes who are changing the world for the better]

Helen decided to contact five more local care homes, to see if they were on board. Then she set to work emailing them and asking for their residents’ first names, so the children could create individual cards with their names on.

“I brought some blank cards and some Christmas boxes and gave them to Year 5 and 6, to use their imagination and create fun personalised Christmas cards for the residents,” she says. “I just wanted to prove these small ideas are low cost but have such a massive positive impact on people.”

Feedback from the school was that the children absolutely loved illustrating the cards. Once they’d drawn one, they went back to their teacher and asked for another card to illustrate. The cards were quarantined when Helen collected them from the school, then quarantined once again in the care home to make sure this project was completely Covid-19 safe.

“When I glimpsed the Christmas cards, I was amazed at how beautiful they were, with such detail,” she says. “I noticed some of the cards had the residents name incorporated as part of the design which I thought was lovely. When I delivered the cards to the care homes, the care home staff were so happy and overwhelmed by the gesture.

“They have had such a hard time during the pandemic that this brought a little light relief to everyone.”

(This woman is on a mission to tackle elderly loneliness

Helen has now decided to continue the project, with care home residents writing back to the children. 

“One resident was an artist in her earlier life and the care home staff said how much she enjoyed creating the cards,” she says.

“I’m so proud of the children for sparing their time to help me with this project. Small regular gestures can have such an amazing effect on people’s moral and mental health.”

You can read more about Helen’s work here.

Are you inspired by Helen’s community initiative? Why not set one up in your own community? We’d love to know if you do – email [email protected].


Dolly Parton’s library gifts free books to kids

Reading can take children to a whole new world. It can improve their imagination, creativity, and, of course, their basic language skills. 

But for many kids in the UK, having a steady supply of books is not something they’re used to. 

The Imagination Library hopes to change that – it’s a book gifting programme devoted to inspiring a love of reading in children everywhere, and it donates books to children from birth to the age of five, no matter their family’s income. 

The scheme is run by the Dollywood Foundation UK, which is a partner of the US charity, where the library project originally started. Dolly Parton gives a share of her profits to fund these foundations – this covers the operational costs, and the foundations simply need funds through local programmes to help purchase the books.

[Discover more initiatives improving the lives of children in the UK]

Dolly initially started the idea because she had no books in her home as a child and her father was illiterate. It’s important to her that kids grow up with books – and she’s also passionate that all children can be enriched by the programme. 

Helen Hastle, a regional director of the Dollywood Foundation in the UK, explains that the foundation partners with local organisations, who then register children in the area and pay for the costs of the books and postage. 

The Imagination Library in the UK distributes 48,000 books a month to children. They buy these books through Penguin Random House, who sell them at a reduced rate, meaning they can get these books and deliver them to the child for an average of £2.08 each.

Children will get different books based on their age and stage in their development. “We take that really seriously,” says Helen. “We have a book selection committee who picks the titles and slots them in.”

They’ll choose board books with bright colours and faces for babies, up to complex tales for older children. The books are as diverse and inclusive as possible, so all children will see themselves represented. 

[Get your daily dose of positive news on Smiley Movement]

The first book children receive, as a baby, is a special edition of the tale of Peter Rabbit, with a foreword written by Dolly herself. Then, the month the child turns five, they’ll receive the book Just Imagine by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart – which they call a ‘Graduation Book’ – and also has a foreword written by Dolly. 

Lots of different organisations sign up to be a partner – some are small charity groups, nurseries, local schools, as well as local authorities too. Some will pay for the entire funding of the book themselves, while others will have a blended funding approach.

On the Imagination Library website, people can select from a list of partners who receive donations and pick their local programme to help fund more children to get the books.

Want to find out more or support the library? You can donate to support local projects that will gift books to children. To set up your own local programme, get in touch with Helen Hastle.  

To get your Dolly Parton bedtime reading fix with your child, you can try Goodnight with Dolly stories.


London Fire Brigade saves 726 animals

Every year, the London Fire Brigade rescues hundreds of animals – many of which are much loved pets or strays. 

In 2021 alone, they’ve already saved 726 animals including 331 cats and 86 dogs, as well as plenty of others – from horses to birds to goats and even snakes. 

And they recently visited some of the animals they rescued, as well as dropping by Battersea Dog and Cats home to show support for their ‘Wear Blue for Rescue’ campaign.

The campaign was launched to rally animal lovers across the UK to show their support for rescue by proudly wearing a special new ‘rescue symbol’, to celebrate all that makes rescue animals so special, and help spread the word that these underdogs deserve a second chance in life.

[Discover more positive news on the Smiley Movement homepage]

Leading Firefighter, Tom O’Connor, said: “We’re delighted to be supporting Battersea’s Wear Blue for Rescue campaign. Firefighters love animals too and we are often called to assist distressed or injured animals when our specialist equipment is required. 

“These animals can unfortunately sometimes be strays, so it’s a real comfort to know there are charities like Battersea that are ready to help.

“It was a real privilege to meet some of Battersea’s current residents and see the fantastic work that’s being done there by the wonderful staff and volunteers.”

The rescue dogs lucky enough to spend quality time with the firefighters included Maxwell, an eight-year-old French Bulldog who’s been at Battersea for 163 days; recent arrival Troy, a very lively six-year-old Bichon Frise; young German Shepherd pup Rose, who has a home waiting for her once she’s ready; and delicate Ragu, a four-year-old Italian Greyhound who has already gone to a loving home.

[Find out about more fundraising initiatives you can take part in on Smiley News]

As a special surprise, the visitors were also introduced to two of Battersea’s smallest, and arguably cutest, residents – a pair of three-week-old puppies that are being hand reared by one of Battersea’s many foster carers.

Anyone can get involved with the ‘Wear Blue for Rescue’ campaign, whether they own a rescue pet or not. People and their pets can show their support by proudly wearing the new Rescue symbol, whether it be on a pin badge, a t-shirt, tote bag or a pet collar tag.

To find out more about the ‘Wear Blue for Rescue’ campaign and learn how to support, visit


How Aldi is getting ahead on ditching plastic

Aldi is making moves to reach its ambitious goal of majorly reducing its plastic packaging by 2025 – and it’s hopefully one that will inspire other businesses to take note. 

The budget supermarket has announced its removing all plastic packaging from its entire wooden toy range. Its upcoming Specialbuy range includes 26 different items, including wooden medical carts and pirate ships. The range was originally launched in 2016.

Shoppers can also pick up giant soft toys, which have also had their plastic packaging removed, while an eco plush toy, made from recycled plastic bottles, will also go on sale.

Available either as a bear in Aldi uniform or a selection of endangered animals, including a Galapagos penguin, sea turtle and blue whale, the eco plush toys are made from 100% recycled polyester.

[Find out about other businesses that are giving back to people and the planet]

The changes across Aldi’s toy range will result in a 54 tonne reduction in plastic packaging each year. It has been achieved by a number of changes, including substituting paper tape for plastic, and replacing bubble wrap with paper wrap, meaning the range’s packaging is now made from 93% recyclable materials.

Richard Gorman, plastics and packaging director at Aldi UK, said: “Eradicating waste is a key part of Aldi’s Better Everyday sustainability strategy, and removing unnecessary plastic from our packaging is a fundamental part of that.

“In 2018, we pledged that all our packaging would be recyclable, compostable or re-usable by the end of 2022, so we’re continually reviewing all of our product ranges to remove unnecessary packaging. It’s by making small changes, like removing packaging plastic from our Specialbuy toys, that we’ll achieve our goal.”

Aldi also committed to halve the total volume of plastic packaging it uses by 2025. This will see the supermarket remove 74,000 tonnes of plastic packaging from products over the next four years.

[Discover more positive stories about the world at Smiley News]


Unique shoe shop sparks empathy in its visitors

The Empathy Museum has launched an unusual shoe shop, which invites visitors to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, literally, and hear the global stories of their owners. 

Created by Clare Patey and co-commissioned by Arts Admin as part of an ongoing project, the Empathy Museum, invites audiences to enter what looks like both a giant shoebox and a shoe shop.

This roaming exhibit holds a diverse collection of shoes and audio stories that explore our shared humanity. When you enter, you’re greeted by a shop assistant who asks you for the size of your feet, measures them if necessary, and fits you with a pair of shoes belonging to a stranger. The only thing you know about the person who owns the shoes is their name.

Visitors are told to bring their own smartphone and headphones, and listen to the story of the person who owns the shoes.

(Read how Hootsuite is giving voice to refugees

The stories showcased in the installation are specially curated to tie in with Good Chance Theatre’s The Walk and London Literature Festival’s theme of friendship. 

From a Syrian refugee to a sex worker, a war veteran to a neurosurgeon, you’re invited to walk a mile in the shoes of a stranger while listening to their story. The stories cover different aspects of life, from loss and grief to hope and love and take the visitor on an empathetic, as well as a physical journey.

According to Patey, everyone has a story they want to tell. The shoe shop is an immersive experience, and the idea is every time you look down at your feet, you don’t recognise them, and consequently the way you walk might change. If you listen carefully and radically enough, you will find yourself changed, too. 

Patey hopes it will alter the way people see the world, by hearing a stranger’s story unfold while wearing their footwear. 

(Read how Norway opened its door to refugees)

Visitors have felt inspired, and said they appreciated how the concept of empathy had been made tangible. It was a new form of storytelling, just as important, someone said. Because, we can only really work together if we can see things from each other’s point of view. 

The Empathy Museum is supported by the Garfield Weston Foundation and this version of A Mile in My Shoes is supported by Arts Council England, Choose Love and the Greater London Authority. 

You can find out more about A Mile in My Shoes on the Empathy Museum website and learn how you can support the organisation.


Sand art encourages people to choose love

Sand art is being created by a dedicated team of activists to raise awareness of climate change and eradicate racism across Wales’ Pembrokeshire coastline. 

It all began a little over a year ago, when the government announced they were going to reopen a derelict Army Training camp near Tenby as accommodation for asylum seekers. The unheated, war-time blocks had been deemed too terrible for soldiers to stay in for two-week training courses. But they were seen as sufficient to cram in a few hundred vulnerable people fleeing war and persecution, for months on end, at the height of the pandemic, and in the depths of a cold, damp winter. 

In Pembrokeshire, amazingly, lots of people rallied together to support their new neighbours with practical needs, as well as campaigning with them for better conditions. One of the earliest experiences was to create sand art in Tenby to raise awareness. 

(Read more about solutions to climate change here)

Lead volunteer Hannah explains: “I volunteered to help, even though I’d never made sand art before. It was an amazing experience: creating something so dramatic with such simple tools – just using a rake, a soft brush, our own feet and the materials around us. 

“The response was stunning, too. You’d be amazed at how many people came out of their way to offer words of encouragement and appreciation. We even got a round of applause at the last piece we did.”

Alongside another volunteer, Hannah decided to continue making sand art, which puts a smile on people’s faces, while also subtly raising awareness about important societal issues. Under the name ‘Choose Love Tenby’, they’ve continued to make pieces to support anti-racism, encourage people to be kind, and raise awareness about climate change. 

The pieces have been sculpted on the beaches of Tenby, as well as other Pembrokeshire beaches, including Freshwater West.

“I’m surrounded by water in almost all directions: the Bristol Channel to the south and east, the Atlantic to the west, and the sprawling Milford Haven waterway to the North,” says Hannah. “When you live in this part of Pembrokeshire, the coastline is a constant companion, with glorious beaches in every direction.” 

Sometimes the pieces are single ones, then other times they form a pair of works on two consecutive days. For example, last year, there was one saying ‘Peace on Earth’ and another saying ‘Goodwill to all Men’ on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. 

(This 21 year old started a youth loneliness initiative in Wales

Hannah adds: “We’ve got a lot better, and quicker, at making the art as we’ve gone along. Our first piece took over four hours. But now, we usually just take a couple of hours. If the tide is against us, we’ve even been known to create something magical in as little as thirty minutes. 

“We’d barely finished a recent design highlighting sea level rises ahead of COP26 before the sea was lapping at the edges – it really brought home the urgency of the action needed.

“We’re so inspired by how well they’re received and what a difference they make to people (so many smiling faces!) that we’re hatching a plan to make art on every beach in Pembrokeshire. There are nearly 90 beaches here – on average that’s one every two miles of our 186 mile Coast Path. Throw in that some are only accessible by boat or after a decent walk, and it’s quite a mission. We think it might take us a couple of years.”

You can follow Choose Love Tenby here and see examples of their work here.


Selfless strangers dance for worthy cause

Neil Clavin, 46, and Mya Fawcett, 56, met at during their first session of ballroom dance training. They are just two of the amateur dancers taking part in Yorkshire’s Brain Tumour Charity’s “Step Into Strictly” event, which will take place at The Engine Shed in Wetherby on 27th November.

The pair, from Bradford, both have a close personal connection to the charity – Neil’s wife Shelley was diagnosed with a brain tumour 18 years ago, while single mum Mya’s daughter Fifi was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer when she was just 3 years old.

Having never danced before, Mya and Neil decided to take on a new challenge to raise funds, allowing the charity to pair them up to learn a Waltz and a Cha-cha with a complete stranger. 

(Read about the woman who raised more than £80,000 for brain tumour awareness)

They’ll perform the two one-and-a-half-minute routines in front of four judges and the crowd at the main event, hoping for a chance to win the glitterball.

“I’m taking part in Step Into Strictly to raise awareness of the help and support YBTC has given my family, and lots of other families, over the years,” said Neil. “They helped us out massively at a very difficult time when my wife, Shelley, was diagnosed with a brain tumour. After 18 years, this charity remains a big part of our lives. Shelley is now volunteering and giving back to people who have been diagnosed with a brain tumour. 

“We both find it’s good to let people know what we have gone through and how the charity can help. Yes, brain tumours completely change your life, but you are not on your own.” 

Neil has “no dancing experience whatsoever”. However, when his wife Shelley bravely took to the skies, doing a skydive to raise funds for the charity in September, he decided to take the plunge and put on his dancing shoes.

“Shelley has problems with balance and walking, which is why I needed the charity to find me a dancing partner,” he said. “Myself and Mya were paired in September, we had never met before this. We are well on our way with the training and it’s going really well. The charity has helped us and others deal with this cancer over many years and I just want to give something back.” 

(Learn about this shop which is changing the conversation around cancer and sex

Mya said: “My daughter Fifi, now 20, was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive brain cancer in 2005 when she was just three years old. We were introduced to the charity whilst Fifi was in hospital and we’ve been involved ever since, attending lots of the charity’s events including the most wonderful Christmas parties. We are very grateful for their support over the years and taking part in Step Into Strictly is a fun way to give a little back.

“Fifi is now a happy, healthy young lady and is looking forward to supporting Neil and I on the night! I’ve never danced before, other than our regular Saturday night kitchen discos at home which often turn into shocking karaoke.I’m definitely going to keep dancing in the future, I’m hooked!

“The big night is going to be just amazing, I hope people will come along and watch us all stepping out of our comfort zones and shaking our sequins for a very worthy cause.”

You can buy tickets to Step Into Strictly here. All funds raised will go towards supporting patients and their families and funding vital research.