Residents celebrate victory for safe housing

For communities to thrive, the UN states we need to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” Until recently, this was not the case for residents of Caspian Quarter, an apartment block in East London built with Grenfell-style cladding and other combustible materials.

But thanks to a grassroots campaign run since May 2021 by residents associations, local organisations and unions, the inhabitants are celebrating new safety provisions. The housing developer, Bellway, announced it will pay to rectify the buildings’ defects, rather than burden residents with these costs. 

In one of the lowest income communities of leaseholders in London, this certainly comes as welcome news. 

Chloe Waite is a co-founder of the campaign group, Action of Fire Safety Justice, and a resident in Caspian Quarter. She explains: “It’s just such a massive relief for us all as residents. It’s one of the cheapest blocks to buy within the M25 and basically everyone’s bought on help to buy.”

[Read more about initiatives to build more sustainable communities and cities around the world]

“What that means is a lot of people here have really scrimped and saved just to get that first foot on the property ladder. Then suddenly, they were hit by bills to improve the building’s safety,” she adds. 

Families living in the three-bedroom apartments of the Casper Quarter initially received bills of around £6,000 just to replace their hazardous balconies. 

Another co-founder of Action of Fire Safety Justice, Joanna explains: “The building safety crisis has so many facets and consequences. In addition to safety and financial worries, it puts tremendous pressure on leaseholders’ and their families’ mental health.”

But now that the developer will cover these costs, this stress has completely lifted. 

“In the shop the other day, a resident stopped me just to express how relieved he was that he didn’t have such a huge financial weight hanging over him anymore,” Chloe recounts. 

Strengthening community bonds

The campaign has also united residents from diverse backgrounds who otherwise may not have met. In the run up to their victory, they baked, shared music, ran arts and crafts sessions and organised children’s activities. “It felt almost like a neighbourhood party,” Chloe smiles.

Joanna adds: “I am over the moon and cannot describe the feeling of relief upon hearing the news of Bellway finally doing the right thing for Caspian Quarter after they had agreed to do the same for our friends at the Marconi development in Chelmsford.”

[Discover other positive news stories about the people and organisations running initiatives to improve society]

Built under four years ago, the properties of Caspian Quarter received the lowest (B2) rating on its EWS1 form at the start of 2021, meaning the six blocks that comprise the development was deemed to be at a “high risk of fire”, despite all being under 18 metres in height. The identified defects were missing or poorly installed cavity barriers, B-rated ACM cladding and combustible balcony decking.

Around the UK other properties face similar issues. Action of Fire Safety Justice call upon Bellway to remediate the rest of their defective buildings, and on other developers to follow suit, protecting residents’ lives and livelihoods.

Find out more on the campaign’s Facebook page.


Here’s what’s in store at the Women and Power festival

While the world still strives to achieve gender equality, Shakespeare’s Globe theatre in London is using the stage as a platform to discuss how we can move towards this goal. 

From 6 to 12 December, the charity and theatre will host a festival called Women and Power, featuring live panel discussions, workshops, and an educational symposium all around the topic of gender equality. 

Their last Women and Power festival in 2019 spotlighted some of the most remarkable women throughout history, including female authors, Black women activists and female politicians. This year’s empowering event will use theatre to explore solutions to the issues facing women today.

[Discover other great endeavours to work towards gender equality around the world]

The theatre’s co-director of education, Professor Farah Karim-Cooper, explained: “Our second Women and Power festival uses Shakespeare’s works to ask questions about our moment and its resonances with the past.” 

“Issues that women face today – inequality, sexual harassment, diminished access to power – will be discussed through the lens of Shakespeare, performance and social justice.”

Audiences can learn on 6 December, from a panel including the TV series, Shameless star Maxine Peake. She will speak in a feminist discussion of the role of Hamlet, who she played in 2014. 

Another Hamlet actor, Michelle Terry, will join Maxine along with Professor Karim-Cooper, to talk about what Hamlet means for women. 

[Read more positive news about the individuals and groups supporting, protecting and replenishing people and planet]

Offering some light-hearted relief, the festival will also feature a satirical feminist podcast, The Guilty Feminist, on 12 December. Host Deborah Frances-White will perform the podcast live, speaking to special guests who are yet to be announced. 

An online symposium titled ‘Empowerment to Disempowerment: Intersectional Voices’ also makes the festival lineup. Experts, activists and theatre practitioners will participate in this day-long event on 10 December. They will cover topics such as intersectionality, women, and power. 

As a registered charity, the Globe depends heavily on donations. To help ensure its future donate on its website.


Finalist in Global Student Prize goes above and beyond

We’re profiling under 25s who give back – through their work, volunteering, or any projects that give back to people and the planet. 

If you thought students at university were there simply to study (of course) and to party – well, you’re wrong.

Through our Gen Z For Good series, we’ve already shown how many students are doing volunteering work, or projects that give back, on top of their studies. 

Take Elliott Lancaster, for example – a student at Keele University. He was recently shortlisted in the top 10 for the Global Student Prize thanks to his work campaigning for mental health, social enterprise, sustainability, and a solution to homelessness.

Elliott also supports a number of charities both locally and nationally, including his work as a volunteer and Trustee of Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, I Have a Voice CIC, Spirit of Peace, and the Wolfpack Project, a charity dedicated to reducing loneliness and social isolation amongst young adults.

[Read more positive news on Smiley Movement]

The 24-year-old, from Newcastle-under-Lyme, is currently studying a PhD in management at Keele University. He was recognised in the Top 10 for supporting his peers, as well as his community work.

“Service above self is at the core of everything I do, and is my focus,” Elliott tells Smiley News. “I have used my voice to stand up for others, providing local mentoring and virtual peer connections, all to create a national conversation around student hardship and sustainability.”

Elliott led the annual Rough Sleepout at the Keele campus – an awareness and fundraising campaign to assist homeless people in the local area. “This took place after speaking to those impacted when packing and delivering food packages with a local foundation,” he says.  

With Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, he established the Youth Environment Summit Staffordshire to empower young people in schools, colleges, and universities to take part in environmental debates and access skills development sessions. He also chairs the Sustainability Project group, successfully lobbying SWT to become carbon neutral, review procurement policy, and decrease waste and water usage.

But that’s not all. As a board member of I Have a Voice, he’s engaged in encouraging young people from all backgrounds to engage in political debates and become active citizens. 

[Discover more people giving back to the world on Smiley News]

Elliott has also founded Utter Rubbish, a social enterprise, after identifying a gap in recycling council policy and citizen awareness. It uses mobile phone app technology with artificial intelligence to enable local councils to improve recycling rates, reduce fly-tipping and provide live information to residents.

The app is currently being trialled by councils across Staffordshire, whilst conducting integration measures across the UK. 

Recognition for his work

“Being recognised as a finalist is an honour and I am humbled,” says Elliott, speaking about the Global Student Prize. “This would not be for just achieving a first-class honours degree, but empowering other students, solving student issues and contributing to global community cohesion.

“The most important part was being part of a network of other change agents. Through this we are able to implement tangible solutions.”

It’s a lot of work, alongside his studies, but Elliott is unstoppable. “I believe we all have a duty to make this world one we would like to live in,” he says.

“I would like to be seen as a creative disruptor, an individual who is willing to challenge the status quo, and focuses on what can be achieved to support others.”

Do you know someone 18-25 who is giving back to people or the planet in some way? Let us know by emailing [email protected].

Watch: the charity feeding thousands of people in need



These sisters will spend winter in Calais for refugees

Spending winter surrounded by cold, wet mud is probably not most people’s preferred way to spend winter. But sisters Miriam, 23, and Lydia Instone, 26, from North Manchester, will do just this. 

By volunteering for the Refugee Community Kitchen in Calais this December, they hope to support those fleeing difficulty abroad.

“I just think, I’m in a position to help people, and I know that if they were in the same position, they’d do the same for me,” Miriam says.

Her sister Lydia adds: “I am travelling to the kitchen to rediscover the power of collective action and community organising, and to understand better what is happening in Calais, what our futures might look like, and what I can do.”

Already Lydia has left for Calais, where Miriam will join her a week later. In the kitchen, they will chop fruit and vegetables, cook, serve food, wash up and clean the cooking facilities. A local household has offered them somewhere to stay.

[Read more positive news from Smiley Movement about the people and organisations doing their bit]

While this is Lydia’s first time in Calais, Miriam has already volunteered there twice before. 

“People are living in abject squalor in Calais,” she recalls. “It’s horrific. The conditions are so bad compared to what they’re used to, too. Because often conflict has forced them to leave places like Kurdistan or Syria, from relatively affluent or established households. Yet, despite what they’ve had to leave behind, they remain polite and kind.”

She hopes that by volunteering, she and her sister will be able to make some small difference for these displaced people. “I think it’s essential that they at least have access to some nourishing, hot food while the local authorities are destroying their tents and moving them on every day.”

Just after over 30 people died attempting to cross the channel, and while France argues with the UK over who is responsible for these refugees, Miriam and Lydia hope to appeal to people’s humanity.

She adds: “It’s absolutely vital to humanise and see individuals who are there, otherwise we’ll never fully be able to understand the problems more and more people face around the world.”

To help provide hot food to people in Calais, donate to the Refugee Community Kitchen.

Find more information and sign up to volunteer at


‘If I can’t get it without plastic, I won’t buy it’

Ex-BBC television producer Janet Everett is determined to stop plastic pollution. Whether she’s singing about the plastic clogging rivers, or dressed as a strawberry to highlight plastic waste from fruit juice bottles, she is constantly pushing to end wastage.

But she also lives by the Gandhian philosophy that you should “be the change you wish to see in the world”. This has led her to go three years without buying any plastic at all – not even the tiniest bit of soft plastic or a single bottle top.

Instead, she buys essentials like shampoo and washing liquid in refillable bottles. Any fruit or vegetables that she can’t find loose, she purchases in tins because they’re easier to reuse. “If I can’t get it without plastic, I won’t buy it,” Janet says.

So, how does she do it? “You have to completely change your mindset,” she explains, “I see it as rebelling against our consumer-based society of disposability.”

[Discover other brilliant individuals and organisations pushing for more responsible consumption and production]

Janet describes how she replaces plastic products by reusing, repairing and making things herself. Old jumpers or gardening string become dishcloths. Rather than buying plants in plastic pots, she shares seeds and cuttings with friends and neighbours, planting them in old tins or jars.

“It’s a way of living the changes we’re going to need to see in the future. I don’t kid myself that doing my bit is going to make an impact on the mountains of waste out there and the entire problem. But I’m ready for the changes when they come,” she says.

This dedication is deeply rooted in Janet’s past. Since the age of 10, she has been obsessed with the problem of plastic pollution. She remembers reading John Steinbeck’s 1962 travelogue, ‘Travels with Charley’ which decries non-biodegradable waste in the US. Walking along the banks of a river near her childhood home, she recalls her disgust at the sight of plastic floating in its waters.

“As a child, I was really worried about plastic,” she says. “I remember eating things in little plastic tubs and asking my mum where they went. She said they get buried. So I did a little experiment in my back garden and found that it didn’t biodegrade, meaning it wouldn’t ever go away.”

[Read positive news about initiatives to protect the welfare of people and the planet]

Her discovery eventually led her to fully reject plastic from her own life in 2018. But it’s not easy. She’s unsure whether it’s more or less expensive than living without plastic and admits that, it’s relatively convenient for her living in eco-conscious Brighton, where there are plenty of refill stores. But elsewhere this won’t be the case.

While she prepares for a future without plastic consumption, she hopes governments and companies will do so too, introducing legislation to make plastic-free living easier for everyone, everywhere.

“Governments around the world are pinning their hopes on recycling, which is highly energy-intensive and relies on toxic chemicals or incineration to provide energy from waste which is equivalent to burning crude oil as feedstock,” she says. “Whereas recycling is just another way to get rid of waste, reuse systems are genuinely sustainable.”

Find out more about Janet’s campaign to stop plastic pollution on her Facebook page.

Watch: 5 ways to be an eco-warrior at home



Dad invents currency for disadvantaged people

Last Christmas, father of two Verral Paul-Walcott had an encounter that dramatically changed his outlook on helping homeless and disadvantaged people. 

He and a group of friends had been cycling in pairs during lockdown, for exercise and to maintain good mental health. Feeling fortunate in such difficult times that they had this diversion, they decided to give back to people in need.

They loaded up three cargo bikes and headed out to central London loaded with snacks, bottled water and warm clothes to support people sleeping rough in the cold.

“I approached a tent and asked if anyone would like some food,” says Verral. “The zip went up and a lady’s head emerged. She was shaking so I offered her some gloves, which she took and hugged to her, like a kid would hug a teddy, and cried.” 

[Discover similar initiatives to help disadvantaged people get their lives back on track]

For Verral, this was a pivotal moment that encouraged him to do escalate his efforts further. He searched for ideas for how he could most effectively help people. That was until one evening, after volunteering for a food bank, he was discussing with his wife whether to get a takeaway for dinner when he realised how privileged they were to have this option.

“Cooking with ingredients from food banks can get monotonous and tiring,” he says. “I used to be someone who donated food. But that way people have no choice about what they eat.”

To give homeless and disadvantaged people a more dignified way to access food, he came up with a new currency – special coins with a code on the back assigned to different local businesses around North London. 

By leaving money behind the tills of those businesses and distributing the coins, he created a pay-it-forward system for people to have a choice as to what they eat, getting what they want, when they want.

[Read more positive news about the people and projects making the world a better place]

His initiative has spread to cover several local takeaway shops, including We Are Tottenham Pie and Mash, Mama Gees Kitchen, Juicy Roots, and Chicken Town. A chain of four laundrettes called Time Dry Cleaners also accepts the currency, allowing disadvantaged people to get wash and repair their clothes for free.

Since launching the new currency, Verral hopes to expand to other London boroughs. His work has gained national media attention, followed by messages from people across the world wanting to replicate his initiative where they live.

But this approach to helping people doesn’t require setting up the token system. Although a currency helps encourage others to join in, he suggests anyone can help give people a choice by taking requests for food, paying for what they want and giving them the receipt so they can collect their order whenever it suits them best.

Overall he believes we need to change our outlook in order to build a more altruistic society. “We need to completely reject the narrative that homeless people have dirty clothes just because they’re an alcohol or drug abuser so it’s their own fault. A person who lives that way certainly doesn’t choose to do so,” he says.

Follow Verral’s Street Team page on Facebook. You can also donate to his mobile food bank on JustGiving

Watch: how to be an eco-warrior at home



Help these 5 charities deliver gifts this Christmas

Christmas is traditionally a family time when the joy on a child’s face as they receive presents puts a smile on their parents’ faces in turn. 

But for some, difficult circumstances can make it impossible for parents to give their children the magical Christmas they wish to provide. 

To help all families enjoy the festive period, these charities are distributing gifts for those most in need. Help them spread the Christmas joy.

Family Action’s Toy Appeal

This year the charity, Family Action, is aiming to send out 9,000 presents to disadvantaged and vulnerable children around the UK. Donate however much you can to their toy appeal to help them reach their target.

Support here.

UNICEF’s Paddington parcels

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is delivering Paddington parcels this Christmas. Pick as many items you want and can afford to add to your parcel which will be sent out to children around the world facing dangerous circumstances such as conflict or natural disaster.

Support here.

Operation Christmas Child

Organised by the Samaritan’s Purse, Operation Christmas Child has been going annually since 1990. For 2021 donations they ask that supporters fill a shoebox with new toys, print off and stick on a pre-designed label, and drop it off at your local distribution point. 

Support here.

FSCI Christmas Box Appeal

The Foundation for Social Change and Inclusion (FSCI) offers multiple options to help supply children with necessities and treats this Christmas. You can send items yourself, they can create a box for you, you can volunteer to pack boxes or donate to help cover delivery costs.

Support here.

The Shoebox Appeal 2021

After 30 years of supporting international relief efforts, Dave Cooke set up a charity called Teams4U. Their step-by-step guide explains how to prepare a shoebox that they will distribute via their local community network.

Support here. 


21-year-old wins award for 2,500+ hours volunteering

Many of us have given up our time to volunteer and help others – but probably not as much as Amy Hughes. 

The 21-year-old final year Photography undergraduate student, who goes to Portsmouth University, has recently won a Vice Chancellor’s Award for Excellence from her uni in recognition of her volunteering efforts this year, which totalled a whopping 1,300 hours. 

By the end of the year, she hopes to have extended that to 1,500. 

She’s currently the Unit Manager at the University of Portsmouth St John Ambulance Unit, which has around 30 St John Ambulance student volunteers.

[Find out more about everyday heroes giving back]

Amy volunteered the equivalent of a four-day week for the NHS during the pandemic. She started volunteering for the charity when she joined university in September 2018 through the university’s first aid society, which is linked to St John Ambulance. 

“Through my volunteering journey, I’ve had so many amazing experiences,” Amy tells Smiley News. “These include volunteering in hospital A&E departments including Nightingale London, supporting local stadia, volunteering at local events in my community, and training more than 300 members of the public on how to do CPR. 

“I’ve volunteered doing nighttime economy supporting the city and working alongside South Central Ambulance Service, and I’ve done numerous frontline ambulance shifts supporting various ambulance trusts.”

Amy says volunteering makes her feel more connected to her local community, which she really loves. “Since the start of 2020, I have completed 2,500 hours of volunteering alongside my full time university degree which sounds like an awful lot but it’s something that I really enjoy so it doesn’t feel like work to me,” she says. 

[Discover positive news every day on Smiley Movement]

Despite having to do it alongside her studies, she says if you enjoy something enough, you will find time to fit it in. “I enjoy my degree and volunteering so much that I find I dedicate days to each to make sure everything I need to do gets done.”

Her most privileged moment she’s had through my volunteering is where she held the hand of a patient in their final moments so that they weren’t alone – ”It’s something I will never forget and I feel extremely privileged to have had that experience,” she says.

Her advice? “For anyone who is considering volunteering I say go for it,” says Amy. “Even if you just give a couple of hours a month in the long term you are making a huge impact and also doing something really great for yourself. 

“You will meet new people, form new connections and learn some great skills which will come in use in life.”

If you’re inspired to volunteer for St John Ambulance, which is the nation’s leading first aid charity, visit their website or make a donation to help them continue their work.


Did you know about Aldi’s deposit return scheme?

In good news for the planet, Aldi is trialling its first deposit return scheme at its Bathgate store in West Lothian, Scotland, allowing customers to return bottles and cans in exchange for a voucher to be redeemed against their shopping.

Customers are encouraged to return single-use PET plastic or glass bottles from 50ml up to three litres, and aluminium drinks cans, to the reverse vending machine in the Bathgate store car park.

For each item deposited, customers will receive 10p in the form of a voucher, up to a maximum of £5.

[Read more positive news on Smiley Movement]

As part of the trial, Aldi will gather key insights in preparation for Scotland’s deposit return scheme, which is due to launch in July 2022.

Richard Holloway, regional managing director for Aldi Scotland, said: “We’re always looking for new ways to look after our environment and promote recycling whenever possible.

“We hope local customers in Bathgate will embrace this trial and we will use their feedback to inform our plans as we prepare for the deposit return scheme roll out in Scotland.”

Making moves for the planet

Aldi is Britain’s fifth largest supermarket with over 940 stores and around 38,000 employees.

The supermarket has pledged to donate 10 million meals to families in need in 2021, to help combat hunger’s devastating effects, making it their mission to fight against child food poverty as no child should ever go hungry.

It also has a 10-year partnership with Teenage Cancer Trust – Aldi recently achieved its fundraising milestone of £6m ahead of its five-year target, which will go towards helping the trust to reach out to every young person with cancer in the UK. Aldi has also now committed to extending the TCT partnership for a further five years with a commitment to donate an additional £5m over this period.

Watch: 5 ways to be an eco-warrior at home



Christmas bakery shop gives 100% profits to help others

An award-winning, Scottish social enterprise, The Larder, has launched an online Christmas bakery shop to support their mission to create real solutions to poverty in Scotland.

Currently, in West Lothian, 23% of people are living below the poverty line. The Larder’s aim is to provide learning and community development opportunities that act as the catalyst for individual and social change. The social enterprise offers hope for many local people through training on employability, life skills, health and cooking as well as creating access to quality food in a dignified way.

Sadly, for many people across Scotland, Christmas is not a time of joy but a time of worry and desperation. However, by purchasing a sweet or savoury treat from The Larder shop, you can help local people in need, as 100% of profits will go to supporting the most disadvantaged people across West Lothian.

[Read about more organisations giving back this festive period]

The Larder chefs have created a range of handmade, freshly baked cakes and pastries to sweeten your day, as well as homemade savoury snack. All of the bakery items are made locally, using quality ingredients and placed in eco-friendly, bio-degradable packaging, ready for collection.

For something extra-special, you can surprise a loved one with the Festive Afternoon Tea Box or treat the family to a delicious Yule Log, complete with meringue mushrooms, on Christmas day. In conjunction with The Larder’s Christmas Meal Appeal, you can also purchase a voucher to gift a meal when you place your bakery order, from as little as £5 for one person or £20 for a family.

CEO of The Larder, Angela Moohan said: “On behalf of all our team at The Larder, I’d like to thank everyone who has supported us over the years, especially throughout the pandemic. As a result of your donations, we were able to continue to support 199 young people to continue their engagement with learning and also provide 116,000 meals to those experiencing food insecurity.

“Now in the season known for generosity and giving, we ask for your support again to help us to ensure that Christmas is an enjoyable day for all.”

You can finally feel good about buying sweet treats this festive period as your support will help some of the most vulnerable in our society. Visit The Larder shop now to place your order and help to change lives for the better:

Watch: 5 ways to reduce waste this Christmas