Tell me Zoe, why did you create Care Labels For Humans?

Well…

For as long as I can remember I have experienced seasons of low mood, but I find that even if I feel quite down, I can still feel like attending events and mixing with people.

If I’m having a bad day, I push myself to approach new people, strike up some small talk and make a connection.

Zoe E Breen

Or sometimes I don’t. Instead I sit quietly on the edge of things, wishing I felt more sociable or that someone would just come and talk to me.

One thing that I have learnt is that almost nobody enjoys the awkwardness of having to ‘break the ice’ at these kinds of events. I just think it’s harder if you feel, think or communicate differently from other people.

The birth of Care Labels For Humans

One day in 2014, when I was feeling particularly reflective, I mused upon the fact that the clothes we wear carry care labels so when we put them in the laundry we know how to look after them to keep them at their best.

And I asked myself – how come there was something like this for our clothes but not for ourselves?

In that moment Care Labels For Humans was born.

I’m going to fast-forward through some of the next bits. What you do need to know is that over the following years I experienced what I now describe as ‘catastrophic loss’.

This included the death of my 90-year-old grandmother Muriel (my mum’s mum) in 2015, and then losing my mother, who was just 69, to pancreatic cancer in 2016.

In 2014, shortly before these events I lost my dear cat Cosmo who had been with me through thick and thin for sixteen years.

They were not easy times and I needed Care Labels more than ever.

OK, so what are Care Labels For Humans?

It was through attending a F*ck It ‘Do What You Love’ retreat in Italy in 2017 that I was finally to reflect on what really mattered to me. When I got home, I started work to prototype and test a very basic version of Care Labels For Humans.

This is probably a good point to illustrate what Care Labels For Humans looks like now. You can wear your Care Labels on your lanyard card at event. This video might give you a better idea of how they work.

The card has space for your name, your name on social and your preferred gender pronouns.

You can then add labels which describe how you would like others to approach you, how you’d like them to behave around you and the kinds of things that are important in your life.

So, in the example you see here. The flower represents openness, inviting others to ‘step right up’, the dots in the circle mean you can ‘ask me anything’ and my interest labels are travel, healthy habits and shows.

The current deck features 3 ‘Approach’ Labels (A), 6 ‘Behaviour’ Labels (B) and 22 ‘Chat / (Self)-Care Labels.

And what can I do to help?

I’ve had so much great feedback from user testing mostly done with my Manchester Girl Geeks group, and from people suggesting different applications of Care Labels For Humans that I’m now developing several related products which I plan to bring to market later this year.

I’m running a Crowdfunder campaign to raise money to pay a third party to undertake a product validation project. I work full time so it’s not something that I can do myself.

I’ve produced some great rewards for the Crowdfunder, as well as event kits, there are Care Label definition cards and an exclusive journal which allows you to reflect on your Care Labels privately.

This project has been a labour of love for me for over five years. Many hours of love, thinking and cutting up coloured paper have been involved.

I am deeply grateful for any contribution that you can make. Please pledge and share with anyone else you think might be able to support Care Labels For Humans.

I’ve only got until 18th September to raise the funds and every bit of support really does help and any pledges will be very gratefully received.

Zoe E Breen is a Digital Producer and Product Designer, you can find her at @ZoeEBreen on Twitter

Care Labels For Humans can be followed on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @CareLabels4

TEDx Oldham: Jo Taylor from After Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Having “survived” primary breast cancer, Jo went on to be diagnosed with metastatic ‘stage 4’ cancer, which was detected in a number of sites on her body. She was never told the survival statistics but knew she had a median life expectancy of another two to three years.

Jo Taylor set up After Breast Cancer Diagnosis (ABCD)

But Jo had other plans, she wanted to live well for the sake of both her family and herself. She also knew that she wanted to support other women.

She knew that exercise made her feel better and she wanted to raise money for the Christie cancer hospital and loved leading 23 people in a 62 mile charity cycle ride between Manchester and Blackpool.

“Exercise really is a pill.”

Jo Taylor, After Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Jo wanted to help other women living with breast cancer and the harsh treatments associated with it. This led her to set up After Breast Cancer Diagnosis or ABCD as it’s known.

In between rounds of treatment, she started running retreats which challenged the women to be active and motivated through cycling, Nordic walking, running and yoga. In addition and the friendships developed by the women on the retreat flourished with small support groups.

Through her own experiences and research Jo has begun to gather evidence for the role of exercise in preventing secondary cancer, ‘prehab’ exercise in preparation for surgery and the mental health benefits of exercise for those being treated for and living with cancer.

Last year, having won Big Lottery funding, she ran retreats for 38 women in Saddleworth with another five retreats planned for 2019.

Jo has created a movement, just look at the hashtag #busylivingwithmets on Twitter. She tells the people that she helps “you will be lapping everyone on the couch”, it’s about making little changes that can have immediate and future benefits.

She urges healthcare professionals to encourage exercise and good nutrition for recovery from cancer and its treatments. “Exercise really is a pill” she says, both for mental and physical wellbeing.

Read my main TEDxOldham 2019 blog here.

Beyond ‘box ticking’: MIF introduces the Lived Experience Movement

Picture courtesy of Manchester International Festival via Twitter

When you are different society does not cater to your needs, you do not have power and more than likely you don’t have access to the freedoms that those with power take for granted.

But things are changing. Diversity initiatives have invited people from a wider range of backgrounds into the institutions that make important decisions for all of us, about things like our health, wealth and the law.

Of course this is a good thing, but it is only a very tentative step in the right direction.

For real and meaningful changes to happen which genuinely make society a fairer place for all our citizens it is not good enough merely to employ people with lived experience of disadvantage.

The value of lived experience among the leadership of the organisations that shape our society needs to be recognised, championed and believed in.

As part of the Interdependence line-up at this year’s Manchester International Festival, a panel entitled ‘How do we reclaim our humanity?’, six extraordinary people described how their life experiences had led them to head up their own organisations.

Human rights lawyer and Clore Social Fellow Baljeet Sandhu headed up the cast of ‘New Constellations’ – the bright stars who are leading a new era creating new services and opportunities for the unheard.

Baljeet founded Migrant and Refugee Children’s Legal Unit based in London and was its director from 2012 until 2019. She is one of the UK’s top experts on children’s rights in relation to asylum and immigration law. 

Paula Harriott is a mum, grandmother and part of the senior management team at the Prison Reform Trust, she is open about having faced a long custodial sentence herself and believes that more needs to be done to meet the needs of the one in ten people in the UK who have a criminal record.

Sunny Dhadley talked about his own experience of addiction to heroin and cocaine. He explains how he developed a peer-led treatment model after he found post-detox support failed to adequately support those in recovery. (More on this in his excellent TEDxWolverhampton talk).

Farzana Khan is a youth worker from Tower Hamlets, one of London’s poorest and most culturally diverse boroughs. She started working with young people when she was 14 and created inclusive arts products.

She found that institutions didn’t meet her needs or those of other people who were the brown or black, or those with LGBTQI identities, disabled people and those from a range of disadvantaged backgrounds.

Farzana set up Healing Justice London to address the need to ensure that health and wellbeing can be a focus for every person, and that the distress of loss and trauma are shared, acknowledged with individuals and communities given the chance to repair themselves.

Jane Cordell has an incredible career portfolio as a musician, educationalist and diplomat among other roles. In 2010 she was denied a position on the basis of the cost of reasonable adjustments in relation to her hearing loss.

She believes the world is missing out on the talents, skills and experiences of many people because of kind of treatment that she has faced in relation to her disability. (There’s lots more about Jane on her website gettingequal.com).

Peter Atherton grew up in the care system and became involved in crime during adolescence resulting in a custodial sentence.

With little to aspire to, his impulsive behaviour led to drug addiction and poor mental health and his chances of finding paid work faded.

In his thirties, he realised that he could use his experiences to help others. He volunteered before working in the public sector. However, he started to feel that his presence there was token and was frustrated.

Wanting to do more than ‘tick a box’, Peter set up Community Led Initiatives with another former addict. The peer-led organisation helps people to move on from difficult and traumatic experiences such as addiction, time in prison or homelessness.

It’s time for Lived Experience to make a difference

While ‘service users’, ‘clients’, ‘claimants’ and other outsiders are starting to get their voices heard in the development of state provision, having a place at the table is not enough.

So let’s not tick boxes, let’s turn the tables themselves.

There’s enough room for us all to bring our lived experience, share it and help each other to heal from the trauma, loss and alienation we have faced and build services that meaningfully involve those they most impact.

Move over Care Labels…

I have neglected this blog.

But it’s OK. We’ve had a chat and we both agree that maybe having some time out was best for both of us. The blog has been most forgiving.

There are rules though.

  1. This blog will now be the home of reviews and comments about mood, mental health and wellbeing apps and related online and offline services.
  2. Care Labels For Humans now has to exist on its own website and mostly not be mentioned on here.
  3. Rules 1 and 2 can be broken.

With a renewed focus on the future of this blog I have selected just a few of my favourite entries to give a taste of what once was.

My hope is that by pruning back the old I will be leaving space for new shoots to grow.

Onwards!