Truth: Reflections

Today was the penultimate day of my dissertation placement at Truth Consulting and I have mixed emotions. I won’t miss the 6:30am trains and I sure won’t miss the rush hour fight for a space on the tube, but I’m definitely going to miss the incredibly hilarious and talented people I’ve been working with for the last two weeks. Ultimately I’ve learnt so, so much over such a short period of time and this is my attempt to summarise it. Enjoy!079ea69

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Optimising social media’s increasing popularity

Particularly amongst the younger generations, but increasingly within older generations, social media is becoming a more and more relevant part 0f our day to day lives. We tweet news stories, like other people’s activity, and follow the accounts of the ones we love. Social media is a way of communication, a way of being in the now no matter where you are in the world or what time it may be.

Academics within the field of Geography and Sociology speak of a shrinking world, whereby technological advancements, namely social media, result in larger or imagined communities, whereby relationships can span over a wider, seemingly unlimited space. It’s not uncommon for people to meet each other online, communicate with loved ones from thousands of miles away and even share pictures and videos in real-time; social media can no longer be thought of as a ‘new’ touchpoint. It enables powerful and compelling content to be engaged with by a diverse base of people, and brands need to take advantage of this.

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224,000 hours of stitching, 3 days of photographing

It’s coming to the end of my time here at Guildford Cathedral. Well, it’s not really – I’m just going on holiday to Mallorca and will be busy doing other things until the end of August (rather than looking at kneelers). I will almost definitely be back in September and it wouldn’t be surprising if I’m still around way after my dissertation is handed in.

Anyway, today was the day that I was set to finish photographing and documenting all 1460 of the cathedral’s kneelers. Or it should’ve been. Turns out there were actually 1600. I still finished, just the final remnants of novelty wore off as the count exceeded the expected.

Kneelers

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BREAKING NEWS: Geography doesn’t have to be about rivers

I’ve had a lot of interest in my project subsequent to my last blog post which has been great – unless you are all just being nice. I’ll take it as the former. With all this attention I was hoping to find a kneeler devoted to Europe for a chance to spontaneously pontificate my political views on the EU referendum. Fortunately for you no such kneeler has been found so instead of economics, bureaucracy and immigration, you will be lectured on culture, geography, and textiles.

On a serious note, don’t mess this up Britain (I’ll refrain from expressing my opinion to prevent this becoming a political debate). Continue reading

The end of my placement

I finished my placement at Wildwood Trust about a month ago now, and I am still, more than ever, so grateful for this opportunity. I’ve loved it. Although I guess you’ve got to enjoy something a lot if you’re willing to take tubs of defrosting poo on two trains with commuters and school kids…

Throughout this experience, there have been high points and low points, but there’s always something to counteract the low points. The caramel hot chocolate has regularly been my cure and pick-me-up after two hours of sitting on a picnic blanket in the cold and sheltering under a large umbrella with all my research notes to protect them from the rain.

People (and animals) seem to have found my research interesting: when I’m preparing the hessian sacks, the yard cat is often very inquisitive; on some days people (both visitors and keepers) have come up and asked me what I’m doing – and have genuinely wanted to know about my dissertation, which has been lovely, everyone has a story or piece of information to share. On the cold, rainy weekdays however, sometimes the main company I have are the slugs (not a high point!). Those are the days that even Cara and Shria want to hide in their sleeping quarters.

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My company for my research.

This placement has taught me so much about these amazing creatures, and how much the public are fascinated by them. It’s wonderful to think that despite all the technology we have nowadays, and everything that can entertain us, we can all relate well to nature, regardless of age or background.

It’s no surprise we find the lynx so endearing. They are strong, and people are aware of this enough to know that they need to be respected as animals, which is so clear at certain times, such as when they’re feeding or leaping. But they are also cats, and sometimes their behaviour isn’t so unlike that of our pets.

This video shows one of the last repeats I carried out for my research, and I don’t know why they reacted in this way, maybe they were just in a playful mood, but whatever it was, it shows how similar all cats really are (this does not mean I recommend having a pet lynx).

One of the leading questions posed in the debate over rewilding is “can we cope with a wilder Britain?” and I’m starting to think that given enough time, yes, yes we could. We have lived amongst nature before, and, whilst there are exceptions, most people have respect for animals such as lynx, which surely is able to grow and improve over time.

“I love all cats” – The perks of asking the public for their opinion.

I’ve been down to Wildwood a number of times now, and been able to hand out questionnaires as well as do my experiment. There’s two parts to my questionnaires, one side is to be answered before the lynx keepers’ talk and feed begins, and the other side afterwards. Whilst the plan worked in theory, in reality, it’s not so good. People don’t always to think on their day off.  I admit, this is a sweeping statement, and plenty of the people I have asked have answered the questionnaires as hoped. Even when they haven’t followed the instructions exactly, they’ve still taken the time to help me, and I definitely appreciate it!

However, as always, there have been mixed responses, clearly showing how some people don’t tend to listen to the information provided. My favourite of these has to be “If re-introduced to the wild, would they not attack people?”, which is a genuine concern amongst the public, although, with improved education and awareness of the species, this could be corrected. A number of respondents were also clearly concerned with the Scottish independence referendum, and wanted lynx to be in England, not Scotland despite a lack of suitable habitat.

So far, all I’ve talked about are the less helpful responses. It cannot be forgotten that I have had many wonderful answers, from all age groups. It has to be said, that in my opinion, children give the best answers though, as demonstrated by this young boy:

"I love all cats so woul[d] love to see them"“I love all cats so woul[d] love to see them”

The questionnaires are only part of my research though, and I have the fantastic opportunity to do an enrichment-based experiment on the two lynx as well. In my last blog post, (available at: https://rhulgeogplacements.wordpress.com/2014/09/09/starting-my-placement-at-wildwood/), I spoke about what my experiments entailed, but at that time, had not had the chance to start them. By the end of my placement, I will have done 10 repeats of the experiment, and it will hopefully show that the lynx have a preference for either deer or sheep to prey on. The video below shows part of my experiment (despite the poor quality and my lack of editing skills!). The hessian sack furthest from the fence contains a mix of sheep dung and straw, whilst the closest is the roe deer dung and straw mix.

Here is a far better quality video of the lynx at Wildwood from an episode of BBC’s Countryfile in 2011.

To finish of this post, I just want to thank Wildwood for their continued support of my project. Please go to their website (www.wildwoodtrust.org) and look at the recent work they’re doing, including fundraising £50,000 to rescue two brown bears that are currently being kept in awful conditions.

An end and a beginning…

I have now reached the end of my time at StreetInvest, and honestly, I was very sad not to be returning there this morning. The staff and volunteers there were so welcoming to me, and I have learnt so much, about StreetInvest and their work, about the complexities of supporting street children and about what it’s like to work in an NGO.

StreetInvest have put me in touch with some brilliant people and organisations who are all working towards supporting street children, and thanks to that, I’ve organised several interviews and have sent questionnaires to others, both in this country and worldwide, which means that the dissertation is definitely underway! I’ll be asking them about how their organisations seek to support street girls and whether those street girls are included in other women’s movements internationally.

In modern literature, street girls are seriously underrepresented. This is partly because they are more difficult to see visibly on the streets and because they are often more difficult to support. I know that my undergrad dissertation isn’t exactly ground breaking research, but it feels amazing to be adding to the discussion surrounding these girls.

But this isn’t the end. In fact, this is only the start! It’s the start of my dissertation really getting going, as I start to analyse the information I receive. And then, on a personal level, the last two weeks has completely confirmed for me that I would like to work in the NGO sector, and that my passion lies with helping the world’s disadvantaged children. I really hope that I will be able to keep in touch with StreetInvest and everyone who works there, as it’s an inspirational place!

If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog, and Nat’s blog about his placement at StreetInvest (which I hope you have!), I cannot encourage you enough to check out the website or get in touch with StreetInvest at info@streetinvest.org. The staff and volunteers will be very happy to give you info on how to help the charity to help street children across the globe.

Thank you StreetInvest and thank you for reading!

Starting my placement at Wildwood.

If someone had asked me a year ago what my dissertation would involve, there is no way I would have replied “emailing people asking for their deer poo”. Yes, that is just the start of my project. I’m looking at the potential reintroduction of Eurasian lynx into the Scottish highlands and the public’s views surrounding this.

I can almost guarantee that you are wondering how deer droppings fit into all of this.

When it is being suggested that we bring back a predator to Britain, the first thing many people worry about is what will it eat? No, lynx don’t eat humans. But there is a real threat of the lynx preying on livestock, rather than wild animals, which is a concern to farmers and the general public. I will be testing whether the two lynx in captivity at Wildwood will prefer deer or sheep to prey on. Don’t worry, I won’t be giving them live sheep and deer, this is where the dung comes in. I’m planning on filling two sacks, one with sheep dung and one with deer dung and placing them both into the lynx enclosure. (Hopefully) the two lynx will show a preference to one of the sacks, which would suggest their prey preference in the wild in Scotland.

The Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) is the largest of the lynx species, and is the third largest predator in Europe, after the brown bear and grey wolf. These three species could all be seen in the wild in Britain until around the 18th and 19th centuries, but now, we don’t have any top level carnivores here. I’ve had a lot of people asking me what a lynx actually is, and it’s a cat. Not the kind the old lady down the road has a collection of, nor is it a big cat on the scale of a tiger or a lion, but somewhere in between, around the size of a border collie dog. The photo below is of one of the lynx at Wildwood (photo credit: Butcher, 2012).

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Wildwood is located in Herne Bay, Kent and is home to over 200 native animals. Whilst you can’t see all of these species in the wild today, they have all existed in Britain at various times in the past. Animals you can see here range from the grey wolf and reindeer to birds such as the stork and barn owl, as well as reptiles, for example the European pond tortoise.

I’m really excited to start my placement at Wildwood (more information about the Trust at www.wildwood.org), and if you’d like to follow my progress, then there’ll be further posts both here and on twitter, at www.twitter.com/amyshorter_geog

Is Trade, Not Aid the Answer?

Lectures have properly started now, so it’s officially autumn and I thought I’d better write a final post reflecting on my placement.

I want to start by saying I’m really glad I did this placement and I recommend everyone currently at university – first or second year, studying Geography or otherwise – look into getting an internship or placement or something to find out what a realistic graduate work place might be like. It was useful from a careers perspective in both getting experience and finding out more about the ethical trade industry.

What has been playing on my mind throughout the placement and especially now lectures have started back, are the arguments about using trade as development. Fair trade began post-WWII with handicrafts from Eastern Europe, sold in Oxfam to try to help them recover economically. Since then it has blossomed and the phrase ‘trade not aid’ was used in the 1980s (and is still used today) to show the benefits of trading fairly with people from the Global South rather than just throwing money at the problem of poverty.

While this does make some sense, I was quite sceptical ever since I heard the phrase as I think aid is a necessity in some parts of the world for some people, and this phrase seems completely against aid. When I first heard that The Body Shop’s ‘community fair trade’ value was originally called ‘Trade not Aid’, it shocked me. But listening to the people I met, it was clear they all thoroughly believed that the work they did genuinely helped people – as one person said it’s all well and good giving water and food, but people have a right to earn a living as well. 

This is an on-going debate in the literature I’m currently reading for my Fair Trade and Ethical Consumption module, but what do you think? Vote in the poll to have your say. 

The Police, Perceptions and Street Children: A Little Update

Things are starting to get exciting at my placement with StreetInvest. I have narrowed down my area of investigation, focusing primarily on street children’s experiences with the police and the law. Concentrating particularly upon the police perception of street children, built from the language used to describe them and how this impacts upon their attitudes and actions.  It has also been necessary to concentrate within a particular region as values held and the lives of street children vary so much globally. I have chosen to focus on Southern Asia, specifically India and Nepal. This decision stems from my time in Nepal a few summers ago, where I had my first experience of street children and initially became interested in their plight.

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Why the focus on language?

I have decided to look specifically into language as it is the root of all perceptions and therefore the basis for attitudes and values. The children are understood and become synonymous with the names they are called. Instead of seeing a child in their own right, they simply see a street child, making assumptions on all aspects of their lives.

But why do perceptions matter?

Well, the children’s lives are influenced daily by the way they are viewed both through their treatment in their everyday lives as well as in government’s attitudes and policy implementation. UNICEF states that one of the greatest challenges faced by a street child is not being recognised and treated as individuals with rights.

And why specifically to do with the police?

Police can and should play a central part in providing a safe environment in which all citizens can obtain their full rights. It is argued that they play one of the most important social roles in progression with in developing countries. Their attitudes towards street children are the basis from which society builds their understandings upon, so it’s vital that their role in the children’s lives is fully explored.

So what am I going to do?

I am lucky enough to be working with two organisations, one based in Pokhara, Nepal (Kidasha) and the other in Kolkatta, India (Little Big Help). With the help of these two NGOs I will be conducting focus groups with the children to explore their experiences with the police and how they relate to them as well as hopefully getting the local police officers to fill in questionnaires on their perceptions of the children and the language they hear and use to them and to represent them. I also hope to conduct interviews with those working for the organisations to get as much of an understanding of the dynamics of the language use and relationship between the children and law enforcement as possible. Not easy when I’m 5000 miles away!

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I will update soon when everything is underway!