How makeup affects today’s society

By Alyssa Brown

Women have worn makeup for hundreds of years it’s used to make women appear more attractive and “more feminine” by enhancing their features. Wearing makeup has become an essential tool in society to manage social expectations. By using makeup people are able to cover insecurities, blemishes or features on their face they may not neccesarily want to be seen. Make up is a semi permanent mask for people to enhance or change their features. Its used in movies, on stage and explored all over social media.

There has been scientific evidence that makeup makes women look more attractive by increasing sexual dimorphic factors facial contrast this is defined by the luminance and colour between facial features such as eye, mouth, nose and eyebrows (Russel,2009). This is done by contouring and deepening the depth of cheek bones and other surface areas. However, with todays society and social experiments continuously growing the use of editing of pictures and filters on images that have been seen on celebrities have become more popular and are used daily in photos also known as selfies. Social media app snapchat are known for their hundreds of filters that can completely change ones features, skin tone and at most hair colour, the app which has over 293 million daily active users with four billion snapchats taken and shared every day. (earth web.statistics)

Alice Binns is 21 years of age, she has worn makeup since the age of 15. When in secondary school makeup for her became something she started to explore when others her age also did. Social media was a huge part of her life at such a young age as it became more popular through the following of those in the spotlight, young teens often followed many celebrities where they took inspiration from the clothes they wore, how they styled their hair to the everyday makeup they would post online.

Alice stated ” I can’t remember the last time I left the house to meet or see my friends, go to work, lunch or shopping without a full face of makeup. I do think society has given us all this expectation of what we should and could look like through using makeup and transforming our face with filters or a bottle of foundation. Its quite scary when you think about it because you never know when looking on instagram or other public profiles what someone actually looks like behind that mask. Some days I have good skin and I will just put moisturiser on so I feel more awake and I’m confident to go out others when my skin is a little worse for wear I can’t stand leaving the house without my blemishes covered up.” Makeup has become a tool to hide these insecurities yet also create new ones .

She added ” I do think that if I wasn’t introduced to it so early on in life I wouldn’t have become so obsessed with having the perfect face. I recently had filler in my lips which has helped with my confidence however three years ago that would’ve never crossed my mind, its shocking really as these are ways of making money and were continuing to fund society by following these trends that are becoming more harmful to our bodies and our mind.”

We see it covered on the tv and the news often as well as magazines where we see those in the spotlight doing their jobs. Holly Willoughby for example, she works on a news channel and wakes the country up everyday wearing a full face of makeup each day whilst presenting us with latest updates and stories. This is just another representation of how society has made a working woman look in terms of scheduling time to do a full face of makeup for work to look “professional”.

Here is another example of the power of makeup and how it changes and defines a persons features. Tasha Brook who has struggled recently with problematic skin due to working in a care home where she is required to wear a mask has had issues with breaking out in spots and blemishes.

Tasha said ” I have always struggled with my skin so when I put makeup on it helps to make me feel more comfortable in my body. I don’t wear it for work due to me being a carer so having to wear masks around paitents has left me we having problematic skin due to how itchy, warm and irritating they can be on my face. I am constantly clensing my skin in hopes my spots and blemishes fade but due to working such long hours and the rise of covid I have to face the facts that the need for me to continue to wear a mask around my patients isn’t going away over night.”

In a world where people work hard it seems odd that there is no awareness for the beauty of a persons skin no matter colour or clearness. Tasha adds” I just feel like everyone should be confident in their own skin, we were given a life to live it not look in the mirror and wish you were a model on the front of vogue, the expectations have been put far too high and it can really effect a persons mental well being. I like wearing makeup but I would never change myself to fit the needs of somebody else. Society has become a cruel world with bullying in schools and its something I had to face along with many others, the acceptance of others for who they are I think should be the real lesson not teaching young girls or boys whomever they may be how to dress or look a certain way”.

Permanent makeup

Permanent makeup has also been on a huge incline in the last 5 to 10 years. It has become a conveinince to many who are constantly on the go due to busy schedules. So having semi permanent makeup has made peoples lives much easier. It usually lasts around 12 to 18 months, you can have anything from eyebrows to lips to most recently eyeliner. This is just another example of how society and the social media influence the public to undergo new and upcoming treatments. The singer well known for her beauty Rhianna has supposedly had permanent eyebrow feathering done to enhance her eyebrows. Someone so well known in the spotlight is bound to influence the younger generation.

Jasmine Evans a semi permanent makeup artist talks about how she began her journey on this new and upcoming aesthetic journey. “I started my permanent makeup career in 2018 and since then the demand for it has boomed. Cosmetic tattooing on the face was at one point unusual, whereas now it is more uncommon to meet someone that hasn’t had it. People are loving the convenience of being able to wake up every morning with makeup, rather than taking time out of their daily routine to apply it. It’s also very popular amongst older ladies who struggle sometimes to see to apply makeup themselves, or struggle to get the right symmetry.”

The job can be highly rewarding for Jasmine when she gives help to clients who have struggled with the loss of hair due to treatment they have undergone for personal health. This could mean those who struggle with alopecia and are unable to grow hair. Jasmine speaks about the time she has encountered a similar situation “I have had clients in the past who have lost their natural eyebrow hair due to illness or medication, so they seek out permanent makeup as a way to replace what they’ve lost and increase their confidence. Permanent makeup is not only for women, some men also use it to enhance their features. “

I think social media has given the permanent makeup industry a huge advantage when advertising to clients as it is so widely used. Thanks for Facebook and instagram, people can view photos and reviews of other clients experiences. When clients have treatments they often share their results with their friends, which then encourages them to enquire about it. On the other hand, in terms of makeup and women in general, we are often bombarded with content and images that are heavily filtered. I can understand a woman’s pressure to look ‘perfect’ but I think it’s our responsibility as businesses and brands that we also share realistic images and achievable standards of beauty.

From being young I have also felt the pressure to look a certain way in order to be deemed ‘beautiful’. I have struggled with acne since my teens and it’s always something I’ve been conscious of, so I can appreciate how things like defined eyes and symmetrical brows may make others feel more confidence in their appearance. I love my job as I can make women feel better about themselves.”

Its clear both semi permanent and permanent makeup has changed society due to its influx of following through social media and its expectations throughout society. Although permanent makeup can be seen as convent it can also be there for years to come, this is something not often over thought and what can be a rushed decision to make changes to a persons features. There are a number of things to consider before rushing into this decision such as your age, you must be over the age of 18, women who are pregnant or nursing are not able to take part in the tattooing of permanent makeup, people fitted with pacemakers or major heat problems and viral infections or diseases. All have to be considered and consulted with the artist before undergoing the treatment.

Wearing or having procedure done can help build a persons confidence, they may feel some what more in control of how they are perceived and looked at from the outside due to that being the first place another persons is able to look. As wrong as it is many men and women are judge so deeply for how they look or a portrayed due to the way the dress, style their hair to the makeup they put on their face. This perception of judgement has come from a society where others feel they’re not accepted for looking a certain way or idolising that they wish or want to change their bodies and image to match another persons (usually a star or celebrity in the spotlight). Due to the media and how they are represent young men and women often look up to these people and can change their outlook on themselves. Although, the media can also be a great way to show others that this isn’t reality and the editing of pictures and articles about a star or celebrity can all be fake. This doesn’t always stop the need or want for change.

Becoming They: Gender expression within drag culture

A look into how the boundaries society imposes on gender expression can affect drag culture from reaching its full potential

By Amelia Canty

Since the dawn of time itself, humans have been looking for ways to make sense of the world we live in. Inherent to human nature is the desire to understand what we are, and more importantly, who we are. Embedded in our curiosity is a need to define, box and label, in order to comprehend where, as individuals, we belong.

The biological differences between a man and a woman are arguably the only concrete factors setting us apart. What we have come to know as sexual dimorphism – something so simple – has transcended into seemingly irreversible social conditioning regarding the differences between a man and a woman’s capabilities. These findings have rooted us in a society built on the foundations of patriarchy, defining our roles and establishing our limits as people based on the sex we are assigned at birth. Sexism and toxic masculinity are accessories to our triumph in creating, what was thought to be, a perfectly functioning society. Although now, after being fuelled for so long, their rigidity surpasses the efforts made by those who challenge the very ideas that birthed them.  

The same goes for that of gender expression. Destructive behaviours and attitudes that follow when society feels the need to label and file away anyone and anything that pushes the boundaries of what it understands to be conventional, is inevitable. Establishing firm archetypes and integrating them into the bones of a functioning society has always been present, yet people are complex, and no two people fit into the exact same box. Remaining regimented to expectations of what it means to be a man or a woman – be it in terms of presentation or capability – is a learned concept, not a natural one. The very idea of fluidity, in terms of gender and sexuality, is something people have always been exploring in the shadows.

Joe’s body posed

William Shakespeare himself was amongst the first to push the boundaries of gender expression; the birth of drag occurred on his stage. Given there was no place for a woman in the theatre, the term was coined after the long dresses men wore to play a woman’s part would ‘drag’ across the floor.

Although this very notion of expression potentially only occurred from the absence of a woman’s presence, the flamboyancy of the characters depicted a lack of acceptance for the two-gender norm. His influence and attitudes were carried through to society, were the vivaciousness of men in their ‘gender-bending’ and ‘cross-dressing’ were celebrated later off the stage too. 

As reported in the Telegraph, Professor Sir Stanley Wells and Dr Paul Edmondson recently conducted a fresh analysis of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets from the 1609 edition, in the order in which they were most likely written. Adding the sonnets from his plays, the scholars were left with 182 sonnets dating from around 1578 onwards. They found evidence strongly indicative of the much controversial suggestion that Shakespeare was, in-fact, bisexual. Needless to say, gender fluidity and sexuality are not explicitly linked, although this would suggest that given his poetic approach to challenging his era, and as a potential member of what has now become the queer community, he certainly wasn’t opposed to playing with the boundaries of gender and sexuality. 

Joe exhibiting a serious face

To look at drag today, defined by The Conversation as “a temporary and deliberate performance of gender used to break down the limitations of masculinity and femininity”, compared to how it began, shows dramatic progression, albeit tainted with irony from its emergence. 

Joe Harris, of Bradford, is a gender queer creative who has recently started experimenting with drag. 

“Being non-binary, my interpretation of drag is more an extension of my personality as opposed to something that I’m creating. It’s more hyper-realised, more extreme. I think because I only recently got to understand that I am non-binary, I did push drag away from myself for a bit – I thought it was only really for cisgendered people who wanted to explore the other gender, which just isn’t the case. Drag is something that is for everyone. And it is something that is a process. It’s not just lip syncing, it’s not just death dropping, it’s not just performing, it’s not just looks – it’s everything and anything that that person or that entertainer wants it to be. It’s something that’s subjective and interpretable and can’t be defined”.

Joe’s fist pulling and stretching their tights out

Presently, drag encapsulates the all important conversation of exploring and accepting various gender identities which is increasingly becoming the most pressing one to grasp an understanding of. According to data giant Statista, in a global survey conducted in 2021, two percent of respondents from 27 countries currently identify themselves as transgender, non-binary/non-conforming/gender-fluid, or in another way of their own description. Considering the widespread discrimination faced by people within these communities, it wouldn’t be too far removed to suggest there are many more than what the statistics implicate. 

RuPaul’s Drag Race is an extremely popular reality show which, when it hit our TV screens in 2009, was seen as a groundbreaking celebration of all things queer. In recent years, it has effectively turned drag culture into a pop culture phenomenon.  On the show, contestants lip-sync, walk runways, do celebrity impersonations, design and create custom outfits and more, all in a bid to be crowned as the best drag show performer. It has taken a heavily marginalised subsection of society, and thrust them into the mainstream media’s spotlight, exposing many people to the ways in which gender constraints can be eliminated in a highly entertaining and engaging way.

Many queens themselves have claimed RuPaul’s drag race has been pivotal in helping to change attitudes towards drag. Drag queen and performer in the show, Charlie Hides, said it shows drag queens as “fully formed, three dimensional people with feelings and souls”. She continued: “We’ve been humanised and that’s important, that we’re seen as more than just a dancing freak. We’re actual people”.

A close-up of Joe looking past the camera

For all the positive impacts it has served for the drag community, there is a darker  side to RuPaul’s Drag Race, plagued by the restrictions defining and boxing can impose on something as progressive as the show. 

RuPaul himself was recently at the center of a controversy regarding his comments and previous treatment over transgender queens on his show. Peppermint, an iconic New York City transgender performer, made the finals in season nine. In an interview with The Guardian, RuPaul stated he “probably” wouldn’t have admitted a transgender woman like Peppermint, if she had already started gender-affirming surgery. In response to growing backlash to his comments, he later took to Twitter to justify his position: “You can take performance enhancing drugs and still be an athlete, just not in the Olympics”. 

As aforementioned, the emergence of RuPaul’s Drag Race into the mainstream media has largely expanded its target demographic in the past few years. Consequently, a large part of Drag Race is catering to straight people, commercialising drag culture to make it easy to understand, easy to market and more likely to be a hit. Within this pursuit of making drag appealing to everyone, the heart of it – arguably one of the purest forms of self expression – has seemingly been lost in translation. 

Drag is something that is for everyone. It’s something that’s subjective and interpretable and can’t be defined.

Joe Harris, non-binary creative

RuPaul’s compromising – subconsciously or not – on the core of what drag stands for, is testament to the idea that people naturally seek out things they know to work and understand the functions behind, becoming reluctant to respond to changes, whether it’s necessary or not. The introduction of transgender queens and non-binary queens upsets the status quo within what mainstream drag showcases. The idea of it not just being a man or a woman cross-dressing pushed the boundaries of what everyone has, owed to its portrayal within the media, become to understand as drag. Boundaries prevail, even within a space that is supposed to be a safe haven to those from the queer community; there is fear in the unknown, even in drag. 

Joe’s legs staged for the camera

The importance of determining clear cut vocabulary and establishing distinct definitions when you’re in control of such powerful narratives is crucial. A pattern has emerged within the mainstream media of discussing trans people and drag queens synonymously, which isn’t only insulting to queer people’s identities, but also dangerous when a person not part of the queer community is using it as a means of education.

Joe Harris explained their frustration at the lack of awareness cisgendered people continue to possess surrounding the boundaries of gender. 

“It’s just not our responsibility to explain ourselves or justify ourselves to someone just because they want to know more. I don’t owe you anything. I think what a lot of straight people and cisgendered gay people do not understand, is that a lot of genderqueer people have had to explain themselves their whole life; with different people, in different jobs, in different education. I explain myself all the time. I explain what my pronouns are, what I identify as, I still get misgendered on the daily and I just think, I have to experience that for something that is so natural to me, but so complex to someone else”. 

Joe posing with their hands resting on their face
A highly focused photo of Joe’s earring from behind their shoulder

The restrictions in perceiving gender as a binary have been acknowledged at an institutional level by 10 countries. Currently, Australia, Denmark, Germany, Malta, New Zealand, Pakistan, India, Ireland, and Nepal offer gender-neutral passports. The UK failed in becoming the 11th country after activist Christie Elan-Cane’s efforts were in vain. Elan-Cane, who identifies as “non-gendered”,  took a case to the UK’s High Court to get the Home Office to provide “X” passports, meaning people would be able to enter “X” instead of “M” or “F” in the sex category of their passports. Unfortunately for her, the Home Office ruled they did not have an obligation to do so.

 Speaking to the Guardian at the time, they said: “The UK’s passport application process requires applicants to declare whether they are male or female. It is inappropriate and wrong that someone who defines as neither should be forced to make that declaration”. 

Joe’s side profile adorning a highly stylised pose

North America is home to an indigenous community named Two-Spirit. Within their society, gender non-conforming members have been celebrated since at least the 1800s. As the 1992 documentary Two-Spirit People explains, individuals who have both masculine and feminine qualities are seen as conduits between the physical and spiritual world, and are therefore revered and put in positions of power within their communities.

The foundations of their functioning society resides on the belief that in order to be an enlightened being, you have to understand both femininity and masculinity, and how they are both a part of us. To them, understanding the fundamentals of gender fluidity is essential to being your own higher being – they don’t accept, or need to accept, gender binaries as a basis of understanding people. Seemingly, it is majorly the West that uses these methods of classification to understand who people are.

Joe’s tattoo reading ‘queen supreme’

When discussing how they used drag to surpass boundaries that restricted their own understanding of themselves, Joe emphasises the importance of internalising, before you can externalise.

“I’ve never felt more in control of myself, or more understanding of myself being in the position that I am today with my gender identity. Drag is only helping that, it’s only encouraging me to go deeper. I would now go out and do a look as a man – for almost 22 years of my life, that was something that I was so uncomfortable with – whereas now I can see beyond that, I can see beyond my once-desperation to present feminine, so I’m not scared of it anymore. I don’t care what anyone thinks of me because I’m okay with it. I’m comfortable with me”. 

Joe staring head-on into the camera

Considering where we stand today, with more informed, more transparent and less prejudiced conversations, especially amongst our future generation, it seems the prospect of beginning to unlearn centuries worth of overbearing boundaries is potentially feasible. Early exposure and education has the ability to remove the fear we possess of the unknown within our society, and reduce the temptation of attempting to pigeonhole someone or something into a category within your individual realms of understanding.

For those who are members of the queer community, it seems as though drag is a fundamental art form which will continue to be regarded as a safe space for self expression. And to those genderqueer queens who have been looking in on what should be your home, your way is being paved now.

To drag or not to drag: that is the question.

Cinema: The COVID effect

By Caitlin Bardsley

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to anything and everything worldwide. For over a year the world was on and off. Many businesses unfortunately didn’t survive the continuous lockdowns the UK went through and were forced to close their doors forever. 

Cinemas took a massive hit when the lockdowns came into effect, with new releases being pushed back due to uncertainty about the pandemic. James Bond: No Time to Die, was the first cinema release to be affected by COVID. The release of the film was pushed back 3 times before it’ s release at the back end of 2021.

Many directors, during this time, had to think about if it was worth it to wait for a cinema release or if to send it straight to DVD or streaming platforms. One of the top streaming platforms Disney+ came about before the first ever UK lockdown, at the time, it wasn’t known that, that platform would get people through the uncertainty. For an additional fee on £20 on top of the subscription fee, you could watch these new releases from home as the cinemas were still closed.

Whilst some directors held off and wanted to wait for a theatrical release, some just sent straight to streaming platforms, knowing that would be the best financial move for them and they would walk away with a profit. For example, the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre film (2022) was released under Netflix. Some think that this move was because this generation won’t be lining up in cinema to watch but would happily watch it at home on a whim.

Another example is The Irishman by Martin Scorsese. The director made the decision to release it on Netflix as the streaming platform offered the filmmakers the budget and resources to be able to compete with Hollywood blockbusters.

Empty cinema foyer

Before, during and after Covid

Eventually the cinemas began to open, but the days were slow. Anya Keleher, a customer assistant cinema worker in Leeds, talks about what the cinema was like before COVID, “We’re in the city centre so there used to be a constant stream of people. During the week it was usually slow because people were at work or school or university, but there was always something to be doing, there was always a customer to be serving.”

“Fast forward to, how long has it been? Nearly 2 years? People in work are struggling for hours. Only being given one shift a week. It’s not fair, but we know it can’t be helped. Most of the staff working here are students or recent graduates. We still have bills to pay, we still need to eat. It’s definitely made me more conscious when it comes to money.”

She then went on to say, that it’s not all bad as it is a very flexible workplace, where you can pick up shifts and give them away if needed.

“When it’s the school holidays like Easter, the hours are pretty good, and everyone is happy. Also, when there’s a popular release like a Marvel film, you know for the next few weeks you’re guaranteed a good set of shifts, possibly overtime too.”

Before COVID, depending on where you went, cinema tickets could range from £4.99 up to the £15 mark. That’s just for tickets. Regulars to the cinema have noticed a ticket price change and have wondered if that was the pandemics doing.

“We don’t get told ourselves when prices are changing. We log onto our till and have to notice and figure it out ourselves. Sometimes there not a massive change, but there are times we have to have a mess around for a few minutes to get a hang of it.”

“Even though we have staff discount, we still understand a rise in prices is going to cause people to complain or stop coming to the cinema all together. But at the end of the day, we’re not the one in control of our prices. Customers know this, but it still doesn’t stop a select few thinking that it’s my fault.” 

Ben & Jerrys stand

Buying snacks at the cinema has always been universally known as a ‘rip off’ but that doesn’t stop people from coming in early to purchase their snacks. Some still try sneak snacks in, not knowing that you don’t need to be secretive and that it’s not illegal to do so.

“There have been a few times where I’ve seen people’s bag’s bulging with snacks and trying to cover them with a jacket. We don’t care, we know ourselves how expensive cinema snacks are, and how expensive a cinema trip can be. I think to deny someone from bringing their own drinks and snacks to watch a 2 hour plus film is cruel, but I think every, if not most, cinemas allow outside snacks.”

sweet, salt or mixed?

As the lockdowns are over and COVID has essentially ‘gone away’ to some, that still doesn’t stop people from choosing to watch the new releases from the comfort of their own home. During the lockdowns when places were opening and closing every other month, cinemas followed the recommended guidelines of keeping a metre distance between each customer. This also applied when sitting in the screens, so there was limited space and tickets available. 

At the same time whilst films were being released in cinema, they were also being released on Disney+. Some you had to pay for or wait a few months to watch for free, and sometimes they were available straight away. Whilst the film Free Guy starring Ryan Reynolds, hit cinemas, it wasn’t long before it was available on Disney+ for free at the same time. It’s a no brainer that people would rather stay home and watch it.

“Yeah, there has been a few times where were playing something that’s free to watch somewhere else. I feel like Disney+ has gotten in quite a bit of trouble during COVID for releasing things, but thankfully everything is back to normal and if you want to watch something you have to come to the cinema.”

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Did COVID kill cinema?

There has been debates that the pandemic has killed cinema or has sped up the death of it. Having new releases sent straight to streaming services has made people realise how much more convenient it is to watch at home, as well as how much cheaper it actually is. Being told to stay at home forced people to turn to streaming services, illegal and legal, to watch films that would usually be in cinemas.

Lawrie Lee, a cinema worker who has been there for 8+ years said, “Cinema is slowly dying. COVID definitely pushed that along, but with streaming services, cinema is bound to die out soon. I’m not talking next week or next year, but soon, directors are just going to be sending their films straight to platforms.”

“Working in the cinema before, during and after COVID, you can tell the difference. It was James Bond and the new Spiderman which got people back to the cinemas. I know if there’s a big release there will be big numbers because there are certain things that do need to be watched in cinema, but I know some people may not feel the same or care about where they watch a film.” 

“For some, sitting in a dark screen with a bunch of strangers all experiencing something for the first time is quite exciting.”

“I’ve worked here for long and have seen so many changes. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but I don’t think people know how much the lockdowns affected cinema and the industry.”

Cinema worker Lawrie Lee

In 2020, the MPA, Motion Picture Association, released a report about the theatrical and home entertainment industry worldwide. According to their reports, “In 2020 the entire global theatrical and home/mobile entertainment market totalled $80.8 billion, the lowest figure since 2016 and a decline of 18% from 2019. The sharpest decline was in theatrical revenue which dropped from $42.3 billion in 2019 to $12 billion in 2020. Theatrical entertainment accounted for only 15% of the total global entertainment venue, compared to 43% in 2019.”

There was no choice but to reply on home entertainment, but what would the figures be like if the pandemic never happened? 

The future of cinema

Trying to predict the fate of cinemas is near impossible. 2 years ago, if you would’ve told the world that they would be in the mist of a global pandemic which would change their entire way of living forever, guarantee they wouldn’t believe you. 

What’s to say something like COVID wouldn’t happen again. We’ve learnt from first-hand experience how uncertain the world is and that anything life changing could happen on a random weekday. If another pandemic was to happen, could that be the final straw for cinemas all over the world? There will always be a demand for cinema as it is a good pastime and a great place to make memories, but with streaming services, illegal and legal, being easily accessible, it’s understandable why people would rather stay at home. 

For some COVID has made them feel uncomfortable leaving the house. With government guidelines no more, places still encourage you to wear a mask, but as it’s not a requirement anymore, you cannot be made to. 

To make some customers feel more at ease, cinemas have kept up the plastic partition to try and protect its workers and the guests.

Partition between worker and customer

Even before COVID, people were slowing turning into home bodies, preferring to stay at home instead of venturing to the cinema. But with people being forced to stay at home, this has encouraged more people to stay in their ways even now that things have gotten back to normal. 

The appeal to stay at home and watch Netflix, Amazon Prime or Disney+ has only grown more since the latest releases of films have been above a certain age range. At home, no matter your age, you’re free to watch whatever film you please, but at the cinema, rules are rules. No ID. No entry.

“The new Batman film was a 15. We had to take it off our do it yourself screens because people were just getting sent back down for refunds due to them not having ID. I think the workers get kind of nervous when it’s a popular film, especially ones rated 15. It’s that age where the person could genuinely be 15 or 13, whereas with an 18 rated film, you have a better understanding if someone is of age,” says Lawrie.

“If I had a pound for every refund I’ve done relating to ID issues, I’d be set for life.”

Film age ratings & meanings

Having a drink is also an option people like to have when watching a film, but to continuously be leaving the screen to grab another drink is another reason people would prefer the streaming flatform route. If you need to grab or do anything, just pause.

Cinema’s alcohol policy

Whilst it doesn’t seem like cinema is going anywhere at the minuet, the continuous rise in ticket and snack prices could be pushing potential customers away. With new streaming platforms popping up every year with their competitive subscription price, it’s easy to see why staying at home is the desired choice.

Why would you pay nearly £10 for one singular ticket when you could subscribe to a streaming platform for less than that and have access to hundreds of films?

How my life changed in lockdown: I lost my mum

Since February 2021 my mum was diagnosed with cancer of the unknown primary, giving her up to fifteen months to live, she didn’t even make it to twelve.

Victoria’s mother Hilary taken at a wedding before covid

At 32 years of age its not often you need to move back home, this was the reality of knowing how unwell my mother was becoming very quickly. I gave up most of my free time to be at home so myself and my sister could continue to care for my mother over the past year until her passing on the 1st of January 2022.

It’s hard to think that any New Years Day will ever be the same again. I still listen out for her calling us for help. She relied on us for her care and I still feel myself going into her room for an update on my life and although she isn’t physically with us I often talk to her as she is which gives me comfort.

Although my heart aches for my mother no longer with us, knowing that she was able to pass so peacefully with all of her family around her gave me so much hope that she was now at rest and isn’t in any pain, we were given the time to say goodbye that some families don’t always get and I will always be great full for that.

My mother was a hard working and did not want anyone to be sad, she told us if you need to cry you should cry in the shower and step out ready to take on all the touch obstacles that life will throw at us. That will forever live rent free in my head and I hope to continue to make her proud.

Turning the tide on an ocean emergency

If the ocean dies, so does everything else” 

By Louise Hollingsworth

The sun is shining, the skies are blue and the one thing you want to do is go to the seaside. So you make a picnic, grab your beach towel and head to the car for a glorious day by the beach. When you get there, you realise you haven’t brought enough food and have to buy more. At the end of the day when you’re packing up, you don’t want to carry all your rubbish to the car so you just leave it; someone else will pick it up, right?


Just some of the litter left behind on the beach.

What actually is beach littering? It’s where items such as crisp packets, coke cans, buckets and spades, barbeques and bottles have been brought to the beach, and left discarded after use either intentionally or by mistake. It’s not only unsightly, but it is damaging to marine life, ecosystems and people and is causing an ocean emergency. This is not the most ideal scenario, and with the rise of ‘staycations’ and the UK roadmap leading us to more freedom and more people coming to the seaside, beach litter needs facing head on and now.

“Beach litter is a significant problem. Polluted beaches pose a serious health risk for people who come in contact with dirty water or sand, and it is estimated that beach pollution affects more than 800 species of wildlife around the world” says Samuel Wickes, of the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

When litter is left behind on the beach, it stays around on the planet for a long time and that’s if it’s not mistaken for food. It doesn’t just stay in one spot either – Samuel Wickes of NRDC says: “Litter can travel thousands of miles. Global ocean currents act like giant conveyor belts and move water, animals, and trash. While there is no telling where one specific piece of trash from North Yorkshire may end up, it can’t be denied that even one piece of trash can be dangerous to an animal anywhere in the ocean.”

Plastic oceans

Marine litter is made up of 60 – 80% plastic, and even reaches 95% in some locations. 

Why is this bad? Plastic is a man-made material which is derived from fossil fuels, such as coal, crude oil or even salt. Using these materials is bad because they’re nonrenewable, and once something is made from plastic, it then takes hundreds of years to breakdown and causes damage through both toxic pollutants and greenhouse gases.

Samuel Wickes from NRDC says that: “eight million metric tons of plastic finds its way into the world’s oceans every single year. The majority of this plastic does not biodegrade, so once it is present in marine environments, this pollution will have far-reaching impacts on organisms and ecosystems for centuries to come.”

Litter found on beaches is made up of several items. Member of marine conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage and Scarborough resident Fliss Cater litter picks in her town: “In summer it’s mostly cigarette butts (by a long way), on South Bay we get a lot of plastic tags and nets from beach toys sold by shops on the beach, and food/drink packaging. In winter, and after storms it’s mostly fishing wires and ropes, they get tangled in seaweed, or buried under the sand and are really difficult to remove”

Holiday makers in Scarborough on May Bank Holiday

An alarming example of how far litter can travel is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This is an area in the North Pacific ocean which is full of plastic marine debris; meaning that beach litter from all over the world has gathered here. It has occurred due to circulating currents from the Pacific ocean, and there have been reports of nearby fish consuming the plastic.

Marine life

Plastic can come in any form, from a plastic fork to the infamous plastic rings found in packs of beer. While there are risks with micro plastics, there are also more direct dangers with these plastics in their original form, in particular its damage towards ocean wildlife. 

Because beach litter is made up of many different items that have been discarded along the beach, it can have many different effects on numerous sea life and marine life.

Seagulls are just one type of seabird affected by beach litter.

Sara Howlett from the RSPCA says: “Animals who get their legs, heads or necks stuck in litter can suffer severe injuries as they struggle to break free and can even suffocate, while others will slowly grow weaker and weaker as they try to hunt or find food or water. Some get fishing line or netting cutting deep into their skin, affecting circulation and with wounds becoming seriously infected. 

“These hazards can very quickly become a matter of life or death for these animals and action is urgently needed to tackle this problem head-on. It’s up to everyone to do their bit in the war against litter”

Not only do animals become entangled in it, but they can also mistake it for food, and this means most animals end up digesting plastic which can seriously hurt them too.

Some of the tiny pieces of plastic are consumed by fish and can be passed on to humans as well. These are known as microplastics.

“Plastics often resemble food for marine life. They can be confused for small fish, krill, and plankton, and plastic bags in particular can be mistaken for jellyfish, especially by sea turtles. Because plastic cannot be digested and does not pass readily through the digestive tract, eating it causes a wide range of complications for marine species, including starvation, malnutrition, intestinal blockage, and intake of toxins, all of which can lead to death,” says Samuel Wickes.   “Additionally, scientists are concerned about the larger, long-term impacts of toxic pollutants absorbed, transported, and consumed by fish and other marine life, including the potential to affect human health.”

Some of the litter collected by me on a litter pick with Surfer’s Against Sewage.

The story of travelling litter

When litter is left discarded on the beach, the tide often washes it away. Just because we can not see it doesn’t mean it’s not a problem, and the litter washes up elsewhere; usually thousands of miles away. 

“Plastic is found across marine environments, even in some of the most isolated places on the planet. Images from remotely operated vehicles show plastic bags drifting 10,898 meters (6.8 miles) below sea level in the Mariana Trench, the deepest known place in the world’s oceans. Seven Scientists have found traces of 17 different types of plastic embedded in core samples taken from Arctic sea ice.8 Swaths of plastic nurdles, the small plastic pellets used to manufacture larger products, are scattered on beaches across the globe,” says Samuel Wickes, of NRDC. 

A Diet Coke can found on Cayton Bay

Scarborough resident Bryony Wild litter picks in her spare time, and began to do so when she was visiting Indonesia: “There were no waste management systems in place, plastics were usually burnt in a pile in people’s own gardens, and much of the waste ended up in the waterways. Beaches glistened with what first appeared to be fragments of coral at the edge of the tide, on closer inspection it turned out these iridescent shapes were little pieces of plastic (microplastics),” and this shows how bad the global ocean pollution problem is.

Surfers Against Sewage member Fliss Cater finds a lot of things when litter picking, but has found an array of new rubbish and old rubbish. “I’ve found a walkers crisp packet once, with a best before date of 1992! It was immaculate, apart from the print that had faded slightly. It makes you realise plastic that doesn’t break down can be around for a long time… and when it does break down it causes havoc”

Beach littering and local areas

Seaside town Scarborough is the second most visited town in the UK, with an average of 1.4 million people making a trip to the coastal area each year. If half of these visitors left just one piece of litter behind each, that would be 700’000 pieces of litter affecting our oceans and damaging the planet, from just one beach alone.

Local resident Fliss Cater has lived in the town for 3 years, and is now a member of the local litter picking community No More Trash, as well as Surfers Against Sewage.  “Seeing the natural beauty of the beach destroyed by litter made me sad, and a bit angry (plus the damage to marine life washing up on the beach), so I just couldn’t help but do something about it”

Fliss Cater, of Surfers Against Sewage after one of their beach cleans.

“We have an ocean full of ticking time bombs, so even if we stop every bit of plastic entering the sea from today, there’s tonnes of it already there. SCARY S***”

Fliss Cater’s mission of litter picking is “To try to prevent as much plastic as possible from entering the sea. Once it gets washed away by the tide, it rarely comes back and will break down into microplastics. Intercepting it on the beach is the last opportunity to stop it washing away into the sea. If the ocean dies, so does everything else!”

On the 13th June, the Facebook page ‘Visit Scarborough’ shared a photograph of the rubbish someone had left behind on the beach. Included in the photo was buckets and spades, an empty can of vimto, a carrier bag and a dirty nappy. As expected, the comments on the post were of like minded people sharing their disdain for this kind of behaviour, but this happens frequently despite there being numerous bins all along both bays in the town.

Fliss Cater adds: “The more visitors we have, the worse it is, so it can be particularly bad around school and bank holidays in summer.”

Fin the Fish on Scarborough’s South Bay.

One of the bins found along the seafront is Fin the Fish. You can deposit plastic litter into Fin the Fish, which is a big, fish-shaped sculpture bin which has been placed on Scarborough’s South Bay beach, and is to encourage everyone to throw their rubbish away.

“Created to showcase that plastic pollution is damaging all marine organisms on a daily basis, Fin is one step towards reducing this volume and showing that however small your action is, everyone can help to reduce the plastics entering our oceans if they ‘do their bit’.” Says Councillor Janet Jefferson.

Featured alongside Fin is a big sign which educates the person depositing the litter. The sign features facts about beach littering and how it affects different eco systems. 

The sign accompanying Fin the Fish helping raise awareness for the affects of beach litter.

Turning the tide

There are many things that we can do to help turn the tide on beach litter. Fliss Cater suggests numerous things, for both consumers and business owners, “Reuse, repurpose, recycle. Buy from refill shops and packaging free where possible. Businesses should also be looking to reduce plastic packaging, if it’s not on the products in the first place it won’t be a problem.” 

Samuel Wickes agrees with Fliss, and adds: “One of the most effective solutions is to call on producers of single-use plastics to take greater responsibility for their products. You can speak up for policies that you support by contacting your elected officials. Similarly, makers of plastic packaging should be required to find innovative ways to design better materials that can be more fully recovered for recycling or reuse, and reduce the amount of plastic used for packaging overall. They should also help cover the costs required to keep plastic out of our oceans.”

For members of local communities, Fliss adds: “Join local community litter picking groups, and put pressure on your council to put more public bins in litter hotspots, and fine people for littering. There needs to be a big shift in attitudes towards littering, we need to try educate people about the effects of dropping litter, as well as deter them “

Sure, litter picking is essential for the health of the planet, but unknown to many it can also be great for our mental health too!

Bryony Wild litter picks for a hobby and has found it to be therapeutic, “Purely from my perspective, beach cleaning can be something that feels quite holistic. It involves sea air, it connects you to the elements, and it can somehow present itself as a cleansing process psychologically.”

Beach littering has an adverse effect on our planet, but if we pull together, we can make a difference.

The rise in second-hand clothing schemes: The solution or a cover up?

In the past year there has been a significant rise in UK consumers buying second-hand goods, especially clothing, and it is expected that the second-hand market will take over the fast fashion industry by 2029.

Following this increase new schemes have been popping up, involving major businesses selling or recycling second-hand clothing. But is this breaking down the stigma of second-hand shopping or covering up a deep-rooted issue which they originally caused?

This image shows a pile of clothing.
350,00 tonnes of wearable clothing goes into landfill every year in the UK.

With the closure of our much beloved high-street stores due to the pandemic, thousands of people took to online shopping to fulfil their retail needs. 

It was reported by eBay, after it revealed its lockdown data, that two second-hand fashion items were sold every three seconds on its site between January and July 2020. However, this wasn’t the only positive data as they also revealed that there had been a 404% increase in pre-loved sales since July 2018, showing a steep incline in second-hand shopping over the last two years.

However, it’s not just eBay that’s caught the Brits shopping attention, with many consumers buying and selling pre-loved clothing on apps such as Depop and Vinted.

This increase in second-hand shopping didn’t stop there, people had fallen in love with buying pre-loved items. With the re-opening of shops in April, charity shops were inundated with donations, and they saw a significant boost in sales. With 3,943 second-hand retail shops in the UK, it is clear it’s a retail sector which is on the rise.

This image shows colourful items of clothing hung up in a charity shop.
Charity shops in the UK raise around £300m every year, which goes towards supporting vital causes.

The rise in sustainable clothing schemes

It’s not just the charity shops that are benefiting from the rise in people buying second-hand goods, with big companies such as Asda picking up on the craze.

Asda’s new sustainability store in Middleton, Leeds has recently been running a successful trial of selling second-hand vintage fashion items as part of its ‘George for Good’ range. The scheme is part of the company’s commitment to cut down textile waste and to advocate the sustainability and recycling of clothing to its customers.

Mel Wilson, Global Professional Lead for Sustainable Sourcing and Quality at Asda, said: “This is an exciting partnership for George, it’s unique in that not only can our customers pick out some vintage and often designer garments at an affordable price, but they’re also helping to support reduce waste by giving these items a second lease of life which is something we are proud to be a part of.”

Asda's new sustainability shop in Middleton, Leeds
George has also recently announced the launch of its ‘Take Back’ scheme, which encourages customers to bring back their unwanted garments to help raise vital funds for charity.

The new concept is in partnership with the popular wholesaler ‘Preloved Vintage Wholesale’, who aim to give a new lease of life to pre-loved items of clothing.

With customers being able to easily buy vintage, second-hand and pre-loved clothing during their weekly shop, it will prevent thousands of items of clothing ending up in landfill every year and will hopefully encourage more people to shop second-hand.

Steve Lynam, Managing Director of Preloved Vintage Wholesaler said: “Our Partnership with George at Asda is one that we are extremely proud of. In a world where we are becoming more environmentally conscious this partnership will help bring sustainable Fashion to the mainstream, which is something as a business, we strive for in everything we do.”

Following the success of the trial in Leeds, George is expected to launch the sustainable fashion partnership across a further 50 stores in the UK, including London, Brighton, Birmingham, and Bristol.

Pre-loved Vintage Wholesale inside Asda
Preloved Vintage Kilo have saved over 800 tonnes of clothing going to landfill.

It’s not just Asda that are encouraging customers to be more sustainable when shopping for clothing. Fast fashion stores such as H&M, New Look, John Lewis, and M&S have all started initiatives which allow you to swap your old clothes for new.

These schemes involve donating items of clothing and in-return you will receive a voucher to spend in store. The items of clothing will then go to charity or be recycled, preventing them from going to landfill.

Clothing recycling point at H&M Leeds
Drop off unwanted clothing and textiles at H&M and receive a £5 off £25 voucher to spend in store.

Although we have seen a rise in consumers buying second-hand clothing, the coronavirus pandemic has still severely impacted the income of the charity shop sector. During lockdown Oxfam revealed it lost around £5m a month and stated that charity shops “need more support now than ever before, to raise funds for a wide range of important causes.”

So, this begs the question of, are big companies taking away vital funds from already struggling charity shops? And are they doing enough to fix the damage already created from fast fashion or are they still the issue? 

Causing more damage or fixing the problem?

While it’s a step in the right direction that big companies are starting to think more sustainably, are they doing it for the right reasons or are they simply trying to cover up a deep-rooted issue that they have caused?

Elly Bazigos is a 21-year-old illustration student who can’t remember the last time she supported an unethical company and says: “I feel better not giving my money to fast fashion companies who are doing awful things, I just think their evil.”

Elly holding up patterned skirt found in a charity shop.
Elly finds it more interesting to shop in charity shops and finds she can create her own unique style.

Elly says she would rather go charity-shopping then shop in fast fashion stores because she believes “absolutely everybody wins” as it is good for you financially, it’s good for the environment and you’re also supporting a worthy cause. It’s about getting “into the habit of charity shopping” and going on a “little journey” to find specific items you want or need.

Elly rummaging through a clothing rail.
If Elly knows she needs a specific item she will go on a little journey to find it, rather than go out and buy new.

However, Elly worries that big companies who are trying to re-deem themselves by selling or recycling clothing is just to please people who don’t understand the bigger issue with fast fashion. She says: “it’s like BP telling me if you walk to work, I’ll give you £1, when they are actually the problem in this scenario. 

“I think their trying to fix their reputation as to oppose fix the problems that they’re creating, but I don’t think they would really survive without the fast fashion cycle.

“At the same time, charity shops are only so cheap because they are second hand. I think if you were to pay people properly for the work they do, a lot of clothes wouldn’t be affordable for most people.”

Elly paying for her charity shop clothing items
Clothing is often more than 50% cheaper in charity shops then it is on the high-street, making shopping second-hand good for the environment and your pocket.

However, many people believe that these schemes are a step in the right direction for the second-hand industry.

24-year-old Ellie Lewtas tries to shop second-hand as much as possible as she believes it is a more sustainable way of living and likes to support her local charities.

Fast fashion is something which Ellie has been learning about quite recently and now feels she has a better understanding of how much damage has been done by the fast fashion industry. She says: “Even though they have done so much damage already, I would never say there’s no point in them trying to re-deem themselves and the damage they have already caused.”

Ellie Lewtas pictured in Hyde Park, Leeds
The UK is the epicentre of fast-fashion, with each person buying 26.7kg of new clothing every year.

Ellie believes these schemes will help validate to individuals who still hold a stigma, that it is okay to shop second hand and that “With these big companies selling second-hand clothes it introduces the concept of recycling waste and helps to reduce the fast fashion cycle.

“Big companies selling second-hand clothes might also help in reducing the stigma around buying second-hand because they already have a lot of the say on how the trends go and people will do whatever the big companies tell them too. It’s all about showing the benefits and talking about it more.”

Breaking down the Stigma

For years buying second-hand has been subject to a deep-rooted stigma within British culture. Second-hand is often associated with being poor, unclean, and scruffy. But it’s often nothing to do with being poor, it’s about individuals wanting to be more sustainable and care for the environment we live in.

Some individuals such as Lois Whitehead hopes the new schemes help break down any remaining stigmas people have of second-hand shopping and encourage them to buy second-hand goods more often.

Lois is a second-hand enthusiast and has always loved buying second-hand clothes. Recently she set up her own Instagram business, The Secondhand Shed, where people can swap or buy second-hand clothing items, which are all priced under £10. She says: “I think there is more of an uptake of people going to charity shops and buying second-hand now more than ever.”

The Secondhand Shed was set up to encourage people to acquire clothes in a more sustainable way. The fact that Lois accepts swaps as well as selling the clothing allows for people, whatever their income may be, to still accept “new” clothing. 

Lois Whitehead pictured in a coffee shop in Leeds
Lois’s Instagram business is built on donations and for each item she is given, she donates £1 to charity.

Lois is also hopeful that these up-and-coming second-hand schemes will create a “knock-on effect” allowing more people to “embrace second-hand shopping” if they can conveniently pick up second-hand items whilst doing their weekly shop. She says: “if they like the items they might go and buy more or even decided to visit their local charity shops because they might think, you know what this stuff isn’t bad.”

Lois also explains how some people may need a bit of a “push” in the right direction when it comes to buying second hand, she says: “I recently bought my little boy some vintage summer shorts and they arrived when my auntie, who buys everything new, was round in the garden. I opened it up and they were packaged in this beautiful tissue paper with a little note in. They had been washed, pressed and they looked lovely, and she was so shocked they were second-hand. 

“I think a lot of people think second-hand is smelly or is going to be stained but often they look brand new. I guess once you try something it’s not always as bad as you think. That’s why I think if people do go into Asda and get introduced to it from a different perspective then they will realise second-hand isn’t what they thought it was.”

Choosing style over stigma

However, it’s not all about breaking down the stigma, it is also about learning how to move away from the suffocating trends of fast fashion. Charity shops allow you to be an individual, develop your own style and play around with different colours and patterns, something which fast fashion industry doesn’t necessarily allow an individual to do.

60, year old Paula Regan is an inspirational woman with a real passion for fashion. She believes it is important for people to wear clothing which they truly love and have an “emotional connection too” otherwise we will become less caring about the items we own.

Paula pictured in Hyde Park, Leeds.
Paula believes clothes enable women to express their personality and show individuality.

Over the years Paula has developed her own style from buying second-hand clothing, she says: “Buying from the charity shops is much more interesting because you get a mish mash of different colours and styles.

“Sometimes when you are pushed to get something that you probably wouldn’t normally get it’s great because it’s more individual. Whereas the mainstream market would just have you wear whatever they want you to wear.

“It’s about being tuned into your alignment with life on this planet and you living your best life. You are not a monochrome module you are your own being so, don’t be afraid to be yourself because a lot of the stigma comes from fear.”

Say yes to second hand sign pictured in Oxfam
Approximately £29m is raised each year from selling clothing in Oxfam shops.

Whether you have been shopping second-hand for years or have been persuaded to try something new by your favourite high-street shop, it’s clear that the trend of shopping second-hand isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It is actually more than likely to increase in popularity over the coming years.

At the end of the day, the second-hand industry is reliant on fast fashion and always will be because if consumers didn’t buy as much clothing as they do, less clothing would be donated. 

It is inevitable that people will discard of clothing throughout their lives, but companies should be promoting alternatives to simply throwing old clothing away. However, these alternatives shouldn’t add to fast fashion by buying back into the company with a voucher or money off, it should be providing better alternatives and more sustainable options.

So, perhaps next time you go to Asda or pass a charity shop, give it a go, try something new, and most importantly say yes to second-hand.

Staying local: The importance of 15-minute communities

How independent businesses have grown and changed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2020, the total retail sales volumes fell by 1.9%, the largest annual fall on record, according to the Office of National Statistics. 

Online shopping rose to a record high as shops up and down the high street closed their doors. 

During the second lockdown in November, sales fell again by 4.1%, though card transaction data suggests that during the second and third lockdowns people started to spend more.

Many businesses tackled the lockdown by developing online services and relying on their local areas to help support them, with social media being a key player in the growth of my businesses.

Staying Chirpy during lockdown

“As the second lockdown eased and we went into December, I was shocked by the number of people that came in to visit when we reopened,” says Jo McBeath, owner of Chirpy, a small independent shop in Chapel Allerton.

Jo, stood outside the entrance to her store in Chapel Allerton, waving to a local customer in the street.

“It snowballed a little; we’ve been open for years and I’ve always wanted to sell our products online, but I just never got around to it, there was always something bigger to do or some papers to file, but once the lockdown hit all I had was free time,” Jo goes on to say. 

Chirpy is a contemporary gift shop and workshop space that stocks a variety of products from independent sellers, many of them based locally in Chapel Allerton, and offered sewing workshops before the pandemic. 

“I was so surprised when it started, it was during the run-up to Christmas and we were getting so many orders, we even had a few from London and I just couldn’t believe it, I don’t even know how they would have found us.”

Some of the products sold in Chirpy, all from independent sellers. “I’m proud that everything we stock is so individual and unique, it’s what I think draws people to the shop.”

Councils have encouraged people to shop small, with Brent Council using the slogan “Shop Safe, Shop Local,” to help businesses bounce back.

Bigger companies have also been pushing for local businesses, with Tesco even producing an advert in papers and online that encouraged people to, “pop to your local if you can”. 

However, according to a report by Simply Business, an estimated 234,000 small businesses were forced to close and 67% were forced to stop trading at some point during the pandemic. 

“I felt that we were really lucky, I was overjoyed when people ordered from us online and it was great when we opened and we were able to have people in our shop again, it felt like nothing had changed.

“Where we’re based also helps, there are so many amazing small shops in Chapel Allerton and it’s not hard for people to shop local in this area, and since we stock such a range of products I feel like there’s something for everyone here.

“From what we’ve heard from customers and from how business has been since we reopened, it seems like a lot of people seemed to have extra income, especially during the first lockdown, since no one was going out, and people seemed like they wanted to treat themselves. 

“People also seemed to want to shop local, I noticed a lot more people were finding us online from all over the country, and I think that during the pandemic people didn’t really want to support massive companies anymore,” Jo says. 

“I wanted to make sure that when people came in they could see all of the local art, that’s why I’ve put all the prints up here,” says Jo.

COVID-19 gave many businesses the chance to develop online services, with Growth Intelligence reporting that 85,000 businesses launched online stores in the four months from April 2020. 

“I’m happy we’ve developed our online presence, I think without the pandemic it could have been years before I would have, and that would mean that a lot fewer people would have been able to find us.

“I think that there is a time for using sites like Amazon and eBay and a time for shopping locally; it seems like it’s that time now more than ever.”

“I love to sit up here; it’s so peaceful and quiet. We also used to host workshops up here, like sewing or other small crafts, it was another little thing that I thought really bought the community together,” Jo says, reclining on the upstairs sofa.

Have you Botany plants recently?

“The second lockdown was different from the first lockdown, people stayed home less and the variety of plants available for a lower price from supermarkets increased as the house plant trend continued,” says Rebecca Aning-Brown, owner of Silver Grey Foliage and The Green Yard. 

As the lockdown progressed, many people started to pick up new hobbies and interests; one of the more noticeable hobbies was botany, specifically houseplants, as hundreds of Brits brought greenery into their home. 

Antony, the co-owner of Silver Grey Foliage, watering the outside plants at The Green Yard. 

Research from the Flowers and Plant Association said that the UK indoor plant and fresh flower market is worth around £2.2b, showing the enthusiasm people have for their leafy friends. 

The Green Yard is located in the Heart Centre in Headingley, stocking both indoor and outdoor plants, and Silver Grey Foliage is a site that houses not only plants and flowers but information on how to care for your garden, and the benefits of developing a green thumb. 

“We’ve had individualised orders on specific plants, and you could tell when someone was just getting into the hobby,” says Antony, the co-owner of Silver Grey Foliage. 

“Branching out into Headingley was great, opening up The Green Yard in the Heart Centre meant that we could sell more products but also be a part of the community; we’re in an area with a butcher, a baker, an art shop and now, a flower shop.

“It’s also been great for us personally; it’s given us both something to focus and work on since everything shut, the only negative is just the level of uncertainty that seems to be clouding over most independent shops, no one was sure if they were still going to be there after each lockdown came,” Antony revealed.

A selection of the outdoor plants available from The Green Yard. Antony revealed that a lot of people have gotten into gardening, with younger people veering towards indoor plants and older people starting to work more on their garden. 

“Shopping locally is still a theme,” Rebecca goes on to say. “But now people are conscious that losing the big high-street brands also has an effect, which is visible now that some shops just haven’t reopened.”

Rebecca and Antony consider local businesses and communities to be very important, their website asks the reader what life would be like if everything could be found by walking only 15 minutes; creating a 15-minute community. 

“Imagine being able to walk to the shops and have the full range of services available. Imagine having the butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker, not to mention the doctor, dentist, post-office, banks, schools and parks right on your doorstep,” Rebecca says.

The Green Yard is based at Headingley Heart Centre, both outside and indoors. The outside planters were painted in a workshop for children, Antony revealed.

Rebecca and Antony moved into the plant business in 2019, despite the fact they both have backgrounds in health and medicine, as they wanted to explore the different seasonal flowers that you can grow in Britain and challenged themselves to grow out of season eucalyptus for a close friend’s wedding.

“We wanted to reflect on how we should open, but thankfully business has been steady and we’ve been lucky enough to see our regular customers as well as a few new faces,” says Rebecca. 

Anything you fancy?

“We were around for only eight months before we had to fully close for the pandemic, which was quite scary for a small gift shop,” says Tasha Grant, owner of Flavour Like Fancy, a small retail shop in Meanwood. 

“The lockdowns were difficult for us, having to rely on online sales alone for a shop that had the benefit of bricks and mortar is naturally going to be a struggle; I am so glad we were able to come out of it.”

Flavour Like Fancy is an independent gift shop based in Leeds; set up by London born jewellery maker Tasha Grant, with the aim to highlight independent artists and businesses from the north. 

Alice Newton, an illustrator and staff member at the shop. She revealed that in the week the shop can get quiet, but they have no shortage of online orders. 

According to a report by Simply Business, there was an 18% increase in online retailers from 2019 to 2020, and 11% of businesses were able to adopt new digital technology into their business. 

“When we closed we had no choice but to use our website to create a stronger online presence,” Tasha goes on to say.

“In the beginning, it felt like a mad rush of photographing products and uploading images, as the website had always been secondary to shopping, but the great thing about having to focus on the website is that now it is stronger than ever!

“I’ve learnt a lot in terms of the build and finding ways to improve the customer journey which is fantastic for us.”

Flavour Like Fancy sells clothes, prints and various knick-knacks. Some of Alice’s own prints are available in the shop.

Many businesses have also reported that the vaccination roll outs have made them more comfortable reopening, as 65% said that the roll out has made them more confident about the recovery of their business. 

“Since reopening we’ve had some bust days and some quieter ones, I feel it’s a reflection of how people are feeling within the pandemic.

“Retail can be really unpredictable in general but I do hope to gain some level of continuity soon; it will be very interesting to see what happens in the coming months as the vaccines continue to roll out and more and more people feel safe coming to see us.”

“I’m so happy I’ve had the chance to continue working here; as an independent artist myself I feel very lucky to know that I have a stable source of income,” says Alice Newman, an illustrator and part-time staff member at Flavour Like Fancy. 

“There has definitely been a lot of people who want to shop local since everything’s happened; I think people are looking for quirky and individualised pieces of art now more than ever, which is exactly what you’ll find in our shop.

“I tried to make the most out of the pandemic, the main benefit has been I’ve been able to create more artwork and work on expanding my audience, social media has definitely been a key factor,” says Alice. 

“People have been buying prints more than ever. Maybe it’s because people are in their houses and their rooms more than ever, but I’m glad that people are bringing some colour into their lives,” says Alice, showing the display of the most popular prints. 

It’s thought that the pandemic has cost independent businesses upwards of £126.6b, which is almost double the projected number from 2019. 

“What we saw was a mixture; at the start of lockdown people spent money mostly on themselves, but as time went on it seemed more people started to buy gifts for each other, not necessarily to mark any occasion but more of a just-because style of gifting,” Tasha says.

“It was lovely to see this type of attitude, and we noticed that when purchases were made, the average spend increased, which could be due to an increase in disposable income but may be down to the push to support local independent businesses.” 

Infographics released by Mediaocean suggested that the amount of money spent on advertisements across top marketplaces and social media platforms rose by 31% year-on-year in March 2021, the highest rate since January 2020. 

The increase in advertising is thought to be due to the pandemic, with the UK advertising market expected to be the second-highest for growth in 2021. 

“A lot of new people have discovered us over the past year; there has been an amazing drive of community spirit with locals going out of their way to support the local businesses within their area.

“Whether it’s from our new online presence, social media or just word of mouth we’ve been so lucky to meet so many new customers who discovered us after each lockdown, we really hope it continues,” Tasha says. 

Alice, organising stock that needs to be sent off for online orders. She says that they’ve had a lot of online orders during lockdown, and people seem to be spending more than ever. 

The silver lining

Looking towards the positives, many businesses have reported that the lockdown has given them a chance to rest and has given them more time to spend with their family.

The report from Simply Business also claims that there has been a 157% year-on-year increase in requests for insurance, as new entrepreneurs have seen a massive surge of growth. 

With the vaccinations rolling out and the country continuing to slowly reopen, it’s projected that in-store and online sales will return to pre-pandemic levels by spring or summer of 2022 at the latest. 

Thankfully, according to the Office for National Statistics, as a whole retail sales in Great Britain have recovered from the “large contraction” in March and April 2020, and should continue to grow as time goes on. 

Covid: The impact on a city

a man sleeps on a train wearing a face mask
The idea of wearing a mask once seemed strange, but now it’s part of everyday life.

2020 was the year the UK froze as shops closed their doors, pubs turned off the taps and families were forced to stay apart, as the nations key workers aided the battle against the coronavirus pandemic. 

None more so than in the city of Leeds, known for its strong diverse community, the city like all others was faced with an unexpected change that no community was ready for. From big brand shops, independent stores, the community centres and the people that make Leeds, each has been impacted by the pandemic in unimaginable ways. 

Now 16 months later, as Leeds gradually begins to re-open its doors to the public, the real damaged causes by months of closure, is now being discovered. 

A recovering economy 

The city of Leeds is most notably known for its historical buildings, vibrant nightlife and renowned shopping scene. But when the cites population returned to its popular centre, they were faced with abandoned stores and forgotten nightclubs. 

With the closure of the high street seeing the economy take a massive hit, marking a record of a 9.8% drop, resulting in the lowest decrease of the pound since 1921. But it wasn’t just the economy that was injured. 

In Leeds, well-known nightclubs Mission and Tunnel shut the doors for good as well as the once-iconic department store Debenhams which is now a vast empty space. Much like popular high-street fashion brand Topshop which saw all nations stores close as retail company Arcadia Group fell into administration. 

People walk around the now empty Debenhams
Debenhams was once a staple part of the British high streets, now it remains an empty building lost to the pandemic.

Though big names brands could not withstand the damage caused by the pandemic, it seems as though thanks to the aid of funding and local organisations, independent stores came back stronger and feeling more supported than ever.

Like back in December when an online directory was set up by organisation #buyleeds, to help customers find local independent shops, cafes and bars that were offering delivery or collection across Leeds. Within two weeks over 900 small shops had signed up. 

One store that signed up to the directory was Released Records, a small vinyl store based in the Corn Exchange. Before the pandemic Released was thriving seeing a daily influx of loyal customers, but when the first lockdown hit the store was devastated. Manager Tony Green discussed how their shop and his business partner Marko Crossley were affected by the pandemic:

an overlook of the cork exchange as people walk around
The Corn Exchange is home to many local independent shops, including Released Records.

“At first badly, the shop closed, Marko had no income and our online offering was not ready. We couldn’t access stock as the Corn Exchange was closed. We ended up with a bounceback loan that we are about to start paying off. During the second lockdown, I could only access the Corn Exchange on certain days as it wasn’t fully closed like back in lockdown one”. 

Although the store took a beating, they were able to keep sales high after opening their online store and offering hand-delivered records. Since re-opening back in April, the team at Released Records have found that their customers have been more loyal than ever before: 

“The community of vinyl lovers have been buying our selection for sure. The public has supported us and we’re very thankful for anyone who bought a Released record during the lockdown.”

a man empty's a bin next to the now empty Topshop
Another store lost to the pandemic, as all Topshop’s across the Country close after the damage of the falling economy.

Released Records wasn’t the only independent store that took a hit by the falling economy and the closed streets. Based in the heart of the city centre Our Handmade Collective is a collection of 74 small businesses that use the shop to sell their products. Like so many other stores, owners Claire Riley and Natalie Entwistle were not prepared for the sudden closure of their beloved store:

“When we had to close, we had no idea what would happen. We didn’t have an online shop presence at that time as it was a conscious business decision not to do so and we didn’t know just how long we would be closed. We lost almost all of our income overnight and had to work really hard and really fast to try and combat that while trying to remain positive and keeping ourselves and our families safe.”

When shops were given the green light to re-open, the pair expected that there would be a rush of eager shoppers to their small shop, but unfortunately found that some days they would go without seeing any customers. The worst came for the two businesswomen when the second lockdown was announced in November. What was expected to the busiest and most important months for the shop was instead the quietest for the local store. When it was declared shops could once again re-open, the two had hoped they could make up for their lost earnings, but their hope was short-lived when a third lockdown was announced:

“We opened for one day in January 2021 and then lockdown three was announced. Lockdown three felt particularly tough on everyone and morale was at rock bottom. It was very hard to try and remain positive, particularly when fellow businesses were announcing they wouldn’t be able to reopen and had closed their businesses for good.”

a couple walk in the rain with mask on
Masks are the new normal when out shopping in public.

With worry that they two would have to shut shop, Claire and Natalie decided to move all 17,000 products to a new online store. The decision to sell online ended up being key to the saving of Our Handmade Collective but the pair know that the real saviours of their humble shop were their loyal customers: 

“People have been amazing, we have had lots of love on our social media, and we are lucky that we have a core of loyal customers who continue to support us through thick and thin. We now need people to feel safe and secure enough to want to return to the city centre, to increase the footfall and venture to see us in the Grand Arcade! The message of shopping small and shopping local was so important during the lockdowns, and it remains so now.”

The unsung heroes

Throughout the entire pandemic, there has been no doubt that the NHS has been the saving heroes. From the Doctors, Nurses, support staff and former workers that returned to be a helping hand, all were key to helping the UK get back to normal. But there is one essential group that feel their hard work was not acknowledged. 

Born and raised in the heart of Leeds, Erin Clark has always known that she wanted to help others. Now as a student nurse currently on placement, she’s one step closer to fulfilling her dream as she trains to become a children’s nurse.  

“I’ve always found medicine very interesting. I knew I wanted to be a surgeon originally, but that’s a very big job and takes a while and I knew that was never going to happen. So then I weighed up all my options and thought a nurse would be something that would fit me better.”

erin smiles at camera wearing a yellow jacket
Student nurse Erin hasn’t found it easy working in a pandemic but likes to remain positive no matter what.

Back in December, Erin started her required placement at Leeds General Infirmary during the height of the second wave. But due to her university campus being closed and only having online teaching, it meant that Erin had little to no training yet was expected to start her placement ready to be a supporting hand to staff. 

“I went into placement with only learning the absolute basic of CPR and the Heimlich manoeuvre. So everything else I was meant to know I didn’t. And I haven’t met any of my classmates, I’ve only met three people on my course. And there’s 50 of us. Some of them (hospital staff) are very understanding when you have to ask them questions, but then some are kind of like, Oh, we’ve already been over this and it’s just not very helpful, because we might have been over it before, but sometimes you don’t grasp it.”

Not only did Erin not feel fully prepared to enter the wards, but after her winter placement was cut short, she felt that there was a lack of support and communication from the Government towards student nurses. 

“The government were useless with helping us, and especially with student nurses because we were all over the place. Like, we went into placement, and then two weeks into placement they were like, you might be taken off again. We had no idea what was happening, it was all completely guessing game.”

Although Erin’s first year as a student nurse has not been what she expected, she still has hope that the next few years of her education will be different and she’ll soon fulfil her dream of becoming a fully qualified children’s nurse. 

a man walks towards the camera wearing a red hat and looking his phone
Erin was a key part to getting the UK back to normal and will be essential to the future of the medical world.

A stronger community 

The community centres of Leeds have been known to be called the beating heart of the city, a place for people to meet, support each other and learn. One of the best-known community centres in Leeds is Left Bank Leeds, found in central Burly in what was once a church. Prior to the pandemic, the centre was used more as an event hire space, typically for weddings, with limited public access. But when the lockdown was announced and uncertainty of when weddings could go ahead in full capacity again, the staff decided it was time for a re-think the use of the space with Director Sue Jennings at the helm of the re-brand:

“Although it was a tough time, it gave us a huge opportunity to reevaluate what Left Bank is and what it needs to be and to be relevant to our local community. So we took the plunge and decided it was really important that we opened Left Bank up every day. So we brought a secondhand coffee machine and started making sandwiches and found some old antique German bierkeller benches and just opened the doors with a real open door policy, just saying come in, share the space, meet your friends.” 

the inside of left bank showing the old church and the couple eating at a table
Since reopening Left Bank Leeds has seen locals venture into the space to try out their cafe and meet with friends.

Unlike Left Bank, not all community centres are lucky enough to be based in a vast open space with plenty of room for social distancing. Like next-door neighbour The Cardigan Centre, which in comparison to Left Bank could be described as quite small and with limited room for covid safety measures. But not all was lost for the centre when staff at Left Bank noticed the small room, they offered their own: 

“The Cardigan Centre next door we were able to let them use our space to deliver their workshops. So they were running creative workshops, sewing classes, and we were able to host those at Left Bank and also run some really important workshops, to help people with their English skills.”

Since re-opening, the space has been busy running events for the community of Leeds from hosting drawing classes to having rollerskating nights and so much more. Sue has also found that since making Left Bank a much more public space, they have started to receive a lot more support from the local community. 

“I suppose generally people know that we’re nonprofit and that we are trying really hard to put things on. So I think there is that sort of spirit of generosity there were people want to support you, they want to pay for tickets and come along and, and help in any way.”

With the re-brand seemingly being a triumph for the local community centre, there is hope that the future of Left Bank Leeds will be a success and help support a growing and stronger community. 

a pair walk past a bus selling fudge
As the city re-opens, the streets have been busy with eager shoppers wanting to support the shops and restaurants of Leeds.

The future looks bright

16 months ago, Leeds was most known for being the largest city in West Yorkshire, now after facing a pandemic and seeing some major loss in the city’s economical sector, Leeds has shown the nation it is a persistent and supportive hub. From the independent shops that felt more supported by the local public more than ever before, to the student nurses that helped battle the coronavirus and to the community centres that have grown and brought people back together. Leeds has shown to be a powerful city that is building its own bright future and is ready to face whatever the future brings.  

‘I’d never wish this upon anyone’: Trans surgery waiting times increase over the pandemic

In 2020, support group LGBT Hero reported that visits to their suicide prevention pages had increased by 44% between January and March. Of the LGBT community, trans people make up around 20% and over two thirds have reportedly considered suicide. Gender dysphoria, anxiety and depression are the silent killers of the trans community and while not the cure, gender affirming healthcare such as hormones or surgery can massively improve a trans person’s quality of life.

Not all trans people will go down the route of gender reassignment surgery but those that do are offered the removal of breasts, construction of a vagina or penis, and face and voice altering hormones. These procedures can be done privately, but the expense prevents most from accessing the surgeries, costing between £10,000 to £100,000.

A pride flag hanging from a tower block balcony.
Celebrations commence around the world for Pride Month

The NHS offers everything from gender identity consultations to reassignment surgery but with the huge pressures healthcare faced during the pandemic, ‘non-essential’ surgeries and treatments were postponed. While this postponement was crucial for the NHS’s survival, trans people have directly suffered. Gender reassignment surgery on the NHS already has a waiting list of at least five years and while deemed ‘non-essential’, these waiting times can actually be life threatening.

On May 20, trans activist Sophie Williams took her own life after waiting over five and a half years for her first appointment at the Gender Identity Clinic. Just last year, Williams co-founded We Exist, a UK organisation committed to raising funds for trans private healthcare.

June is globally recognised as Pride Month but in what should be a time of identity celebration, tragedies and injustices are still rife in the trans community.

Children coming out as trans

Sam* came out as a trans man when he was 16. Despite being assigned female at birth (AFAB), he felt different to others but couldn’t pinpoint why. He’d often say to his friends “don’t you just wish you were a boy?” and get opposing responses, making him realise this wasn’t what most young girls think. Not having a definition for what he felt was what delayed Sam in coming out, but when he had the understanding, it was a sudden acknowledgment that he would now identify as a man.

A man stood in a field looking over a town. He's wearing a black top and facing away from the camera.
In 2017, 50 children a week were referred to GIDS

When a minor comes out as trans, they are referred to the Gender Identity Development Services (GIDS) for emotional support up until their 18th birthday. Before treatment of any kind is given, a person has to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, which is the mismatch between biological sex and gender identity. For a person who feels their identity matches with their biological sex, this can be a hard thing to understand. For Sam, it felt like everyone was telling him what he was, when he knew he was something else.

“Imagine being told you look a certain way but in the mirror you see something entirely different, or everyone calls you Steve but you know your name is John- it’s so frustrating.”

The process of being diagnosed with gender dysphoria can be invasive. When a minor is referred to GIDS, their whole family is involved in the process of diagnosis, having meetings to discuss the possible family impacts or reasons why their child feels this way. Puberty blockers and hormones are then offered after a consultation period to prevent the development of female/male features. Sam’s parents were supportive, but for many trans children, even this first step is daunting.  

While Sam felt he had a relatively positive experience with the children’s gender services, by the time of his referral he was told he’d been through female puberty so was denied puberty blockers. This was the start of his issues with the system.

“It felt like nothing was being done, I hadn’t emotionally gone through puberty yet despite the physical changes and that wasn’t considered. I was positive when I first came out but the longer I waited and still nothing was being done for me, I started to get more negative and my mental health declined.”

Gender reassignment surgery

Currently in the UK, to be referred for gender reassignment surgery, you have to be over 18 and have been on cross-sex hormones for at least a year. From GIDS, an 18 year old moves to the Gender Identity Clinic (GIC). Sam was 20 when he received his double mastectomy; this was still after a multi-disciplinary team meeting and 4 years after he began his transition.

For top surgery, only one medical opinion is required. For lower surgery, two opinions are needed which increases the wait time even further. ‘Opinions’ are the clinical assessment of a person’s mental health and physical health to ensure they are prepared for the transition.

A man sat on a bench in front of a stately home. He has a white mask and a black box covering his eyes to remain anonymous.
Sam* was denied hormone blockers despite wanting to see physical change

“For lower surgery, you have to be on hormones for at least a year and then you have to wait for this first opinion. After the first opinion, you have to wait another 18 months at least for a second. The logic in this is fundamentally flawed, the wait between the opinions is too long, never mind the referral time and Covid has just extended it further.”

For a child entering the adult services, wait times are lower having already been in the system. For an adult entering the system, waiting times are upwards of five years.

Annabell Roodi Newbould, 33, came out as non-binary at 26 but didn’t get a gender dysphoria diagnosis until she was 28. The wait for cross-sex hormones was so long that she began self-medicating.

“Self-medicating Oestrogen can be so dangerous, it can cause blood clots, liver failure, not to mention the toll on your mind. GPs aren’t trained experts in trans people’s health concerns and it took me seeing three GPs until one would test my blood for these potential problems.”

A close up of a woman with glasses and a lip ring and 2 nose piercings.
Many trans people resort to buying hormones online from unregulated sources

Not only do the waiting times encourage self-medication, but they can lead lying to your clinician. Sam experienced this when waiting for lower surgery.

“You don’t get surgery until they know you’re mentally ‘well’ and I’ve heard of trans people saying they’re not suicidal when they are, just to speed up the process. They’re suicidal because their body doesn’t match with their mind and if the process of changing that was faster, maybe their mind would be better.”

Annabell experienced something similar in her initial consultations.

“They delve into your childhood and it’s actually extremely outdated. If you’re transitioning into a woman, they ask you if you had a strong maternal instinct as a child or if you spent time in the kitchen. If you’re transitioning into a man, they ask if you were into sports or cars. The process is that baffling that you end up saying yes to things that aren’t necessarily true.”

Tattoos of theatrical faces, the sad and the happy.
‘Homophobia, transphobia and sexism are intrinsically linked, and not
acknowledging this has perpetuated society’s apathy and misunderstanding of
trans people.’

While these long waiting times deny a person of the true self for longer, the toll of self-medicating or lying about mental health only add to a person’s possible depression or anxiety. The system continues to hinder the trans community.

This is of course not the NHS’s fault, but instead the lack of understanding and the constant cuts in funding. Since 2015, the government cut funding to health services by £850m and this has a direct effect on funding for gender reassignment surgery.

Having been on the waiting list for lower surgery for nearly seven years, Annabell is desperate for something to change.

“Some people risk their lives and go abroad with little research, some get stuck in another country with complications because they’re not insured and in some cases the NHS will not treat people who have gone abroad. As it stands, this country is not equipped to see everyone on waiting lists. Every year there are more and more trans people, but less and less funding.”

However, funding isn’t the only setback in the journey to transitioning, especially for children.

The 0.5%

In 2020, 23 year old Kiera Bell sued the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust for prescribing her cross-sex hormones at 16. Bell was referred to the gender clinic and began her transition into a man but she has since started the process of de-transitioning and believes as a 16 year old, she shouldn’t have been allowed to give consent.

The High Court ruled that a child is unlikely to give informed consent on using puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones, meaning that new referrals to these treatments for under 16s were halted entirely.

Kiera Bell regretted her decision to transition to a man, acknowledging that gender dysphoria didn’t necessarily mean she was trans. According to the BBC, Bell said she should have been ‘challenged more’ and being only a teenager, shouldn’t have been able to make this life changing decision. However, cases like Kiera Bell’s are extremely rare, research showing only 0.5% of trans people de-transition.

A woman looking at herself in the mirror.
The term gender dysphoria is more often being described as gender incongruence

For children who are going through these identity difficulties, it is crucial that they are given this time and information before making this life altering change. The waiting times can cause numerous problems but for a child, they can help solidify their decision.

While the effects of hormone blockers and cross sex hormones are reversible, medical intervention is often not and is a costly and long procedure. Despite limited funding, the NHS works to make sure medical intervention is the right path for the child and won’t cause complications, such as de-transitioning, when they’re an adult.

However, for the children and adults like Sam and Annabell, who are sure about changing their gender, the waiting times and invasive questioning can be traumatic and makes what should be an exciting transition, instead a very damaging one.

Annabell commented: “I’m proud to be trans, but I would never ever wish this upon anyone. Why would anyone choose to make their lives difficult and painful.”

Local Support

Annabell has been the director of TransLeeds for a year now. TransLeeds is an support group for trans people in West Yorkshire and hosts weekly meetings which involve friends and family.

“My aim with TransLeeds is to register us as a charity and provide more support for the community, as currently the NHS has no support in between appointments. I think raising awareness also helps. Trans exclusionists spread vile false facts about how “easy” it is for trans people to transition. This is not the case. People need to understand the entire process.”

A woman sat at her desk making a sculpture.
Trans support groups are becoming paramount for those waiting for gender reassignment surgery

For people new to the trans community, TransLeeds can be an immense help for understanding yourself. As many GPs are not trained for it, trans people have to know what to ask for and TransLeeds can accompany members to appointments.

A woman practicing ventriloquy with a green furry puppet.
During the pandemic, medical care for trans people was put on hold

Annabell described the support between waiting times as life saving:

“Only fairly recently I got my two surgery opinions, but I was told that surgeons are not taking any referrals at the moment, and this has been the case for nearing two years! So when they finally take referrals again there will be a massive backlog. If it wasn’t for TransLeeds, I would have been completely isolated.”

A woman stood in front of the tower block she lives in.
Annabell hopes she can help trans people through the waiting times and give the support she wished she had

She added:

“It brings me a lot of joy knowing that I can have a positive impact on the trans community and potentially give people chances in life that I never had.”

The waiting times for gender affirming healthcare are only getting longer due to the pandemic.  While pressures on the NHS have been high over the past year, trans people have endured the extensive limbo phase for years. Private healthcare is not an option for most and even with fundraisers, loans are still required to cover the costly process.

For the majority of trans people, these waiting times are unnecessary, unfair and exacerbate mental struggles. It is also no easier for the few who go through the long, arduous process and then change their mind. Regardless, it is clear that more support is needed for people struggling with their gender identity.

*This name has been changed for anonymity

Battling uncertainty: Small businesses take on the pandemic

Business owners have faced huge challenges in the past year. The first nationwide lockdown caused an almost immediate drop in customers as all non-essential businesses were forced to close. Without any real understanding of how long this would last, owners were left stranded with bills to pay and their livelihoods at stake.

Fast-forward to well over a year later and these businesses have adapted to a whole new climate. The way their customers shop has undoubtedly changed but small businesses are actively recognising this.

For many the pandemic has been a chance to make an impression and valuable lessons have been learnt on what it really takes to run a business.

A gap in the market

Dog and Hat were formed back in 2017 and are a UK Coffee Subscription service. The family business is run from a picturesque farmhouse on the outskirts of York.

Dog and Hat is ran from the family home

They began to see a real growth in sales when the national lockdown hit. Susanna Morgan is the co-founder of the subscription service and says the pandemic allowed her business to grow.

“We started the lockdown with around 100 subscribers, and ended lockdown on 1000 across all our gifts and main subscription services. I think this was actually helped by the closing of the hospitality industry. People began making more coffee at home and our online sales just started to grow.”

“Dog and Hat was always going to be an online business and we just saw sales soar. We also began to see several retail brick and mortar businesses open up online because they weren’t allowed to operate. I hope this is a permanent change because it means those businesses will have an online presence and they will be better placed for future pandemics, should there be any.”

Susanna (on the right) and her colleague outside the the business.

It is clear however that many businesses struggled during the past year. According to a report by Simply Business the total cost to UK small businesses after the pandemic could exceed £69 billion. Approximately 67% of these businesses were forced to stop trading at some point during the pandemic too.

Susanna recognises that other businesses will have struggled. She insists that despite her success, there have been moments of uncertainty for Dog and Hat which have made keeping up with demand difficult.    

“An online sales company like ours succeeds when people are home, but a closed café in a town during lockdown suffers much more. For people in these industries it has got harder.”

Susanna packages all of her products by hand

In our case all the uncertainty lies with deliveries and shipping. During the peak of the pandemic it was always an unknown if a driver would be on their round, if their depot would stay open and if our coffee would make it to us. We just had to take things on a day-by-day basis. It wasn’t easy, but we didn’t have many staff to worry about, and we did not need to worry about opening dates or other deadlines.”

Online businesses are one of the few sectors that may come out of the pandemic stronger. Susanna says that forward planning may protect small businesses moving forward.

“I think we will always plan to keep our business simple, and easy to manage. The more complex the business I imagine the harder it is to manage in a pandemic.”

Online businesses have adapted much faster to the pandemic

Research by Growth Intelligence shows that more than 85,000 businesses in the UK launched online stores in the four months after the first lockdown. Small independent businesses clearly recognised the need to move online to ensure their survival.

Christian Azolan is a Visual Artist who started his business at the start of 2020. When restrictions were first introduced, he decided to pursue a full-time career as an artist. He has spent the last 12 months making agreements and collaborations with resellers, with his art now being sold on Handmade on Amazon and Wayfair UK to name a few.

He says that setting up his business during the pandemic has been challenging and at times very isolating.

“The last year has been full of ups and downs. I had to enter the art market and business through non-traditional means as there were no art fairs, no pop-ups, no face-to-face networking events. There was no way to show my work in the real world so I had to do everything online.”

“The hardest thing has been working by myself and running and building a business day to day. I’m a very sociable person so going from working in a team to working on my own has been a huge transition. Doing everything online can be difficult as you have all meetings and work all day in a virtual environment.”

Despite the difficulties Christian has faced, he says the fact that restrictions forced him to do things differently may have benefitted him long-term.

“There was no way I was going to rent a space without seeing it first. I also think it really depends on what you do as a business and who you rely on. A lot of artists only sell through galleries and since they closed I guess they have had to struggle to make money. If they also had an online platform they would have been able to continue and not really feel the closing of galleries.”

“I’ve been lucky as I started my business during the pandemic, that’s all I know. Now that things are slowly lifting and re-opening and going back to normal, I can now focus more on things like retail, trade shows, networking with galleries and business activities that will feature and showcase my business.”

Business owners have had to get use to working remotely

The ‘new’ normal

For traditional businesses that were already well established, the pandemic has forced them to think on their feet. With precious money and time often invested in retail units these business owners have had a difficult year.

According to the Office of National Statistics, in April 2020 the total retail sales volumes were 19% lower when compared with February levels. Even after non-essential shops were allowed to open, there was a clear decline in footfall.

Floral Expression has been trading at various locations in Leeds since 2005 but can now be found at a premises in Far Headingley. The shop has close ties to the UK industry and tries to buy as many British grown flowers as possible.

The shop front in far Headingley

Alison Ruud is the owner of the business and has been a florist for 23 years. She turned to the profession after falling out of love with her office job and insists on protecting the skills her industry provides. She is also a huge advocate of the high street and the role it plays in local communities.

For a brick-and-mortar store like Floral Expression, the pandemic has forced them to close their doors several times. Without being able to trade from the shop, Alison’s business has been forced to adapt. Alison says that because she deals with flowers and other fresh produce this has been made even more challenging.

“The beginning of the pandemic was a very emotional time. No one really knew what was happening and if the business would be viable when we could eventually re-open. It was such a testing time.”

“The lock down happened right around Mother’s Day and I had thousands of pounds worth of flowers in my shop ready to sell on Mothering Sunday. Fortunately, we were allowed to trade, and we sold them all and shut the very next day. The shop was then emptied of any perishable stock, and we began to allow the enormity of it all to sink in.

“It has been an absolute roller coaster, but the Government grants were a welcome financial help, and the Furlough scheme was an absolute lifeline. Without that my staff may have lost their jobs. As a small business I feel we have had the tools to adapt very quickly to the circumstances. Having a small team has helped as we can be so flexible.”

Alison at the front of her shop

The UK fresh flower and indoor plant market is worth an estimated £2.2 billion according to research by the Flowers and Plants Association. When businesses were allowed to open back up, Alison says this popularity was clear and she received a huge amount of support from her community.

“When we were first allowed to reopen I was on my own and had to make the deliveries myself. The local support was amazing. I suddenly then started to get phone calls from customers further afield and even abroad that couldn’t reach their loved ones but wanted them to know they were thinking of them. Our website went mad with orders.”

“As time has gone on and everything is slowly opening back up that mood has obviously changed. I have gained new customers who have used us and enjoyed the experience but now people’s lives are becoming normal I feel they do not have the time to just stop and think about supporting local. Sadly, it is back to convenience.”

Safety measures can be seen around Floral Expression

Something Alison doesn’t think people are considering is the direct impact the pandemic has had on the industry as a whole. With travel restrictions still in place and it becoming more difficult than ever to travel around the world, the movement of goods has been directly affected.

“I think it has got harder for our industry from the point of view of importing stock into the country. When the pandemic first struck the flower growers in Holland started burning their stock. The photos were so upsetting for everyone in the industry and some growers have even ceased trading since then. Obtaining the variety of flowers we used to have is slowly coming back and most customers are understanding about choice.”

“Weddings were all cancelled and that was extremely hard work having to postpone and reorganise those. All our contract clients disappeared as all offices, restaurants and shops closed overnight.”

“Putting all that side, being a small business that has been able to adapt so quickly, although it has been hard, has made us stronger.”

Alison puts time and effort into her displays

For any business owner, the pandemic will have caused a severe amount of anxiety. Not only are businesses trading in such unfamiliar times but they must ensure that they are doing this safely.

The Health and Safety Executive has provided businesses with a criteria they must now meet, which gives employers an overview of how to make their workplace or business COVID-secure. This includes:

  • Risk Assessment
  • Social Distancing
  • Cleaning, Hygiene and Handwashing
  • Ventilation and air conditioning

Alison insists that although the pandemic has brought with it uncertainty and complexity, she will carry forward what she has learnt.

“I think the uncertainty at first made me really anxious but as time has gone on it has become the new normal for us. As business owners and members of this industry we just adapt and change as we must. Customer’s being allowed in the shop again has caused some anxieties, as not all want to abide by the rules.”

Far Headingley is full of independent shops

“I think the pandemic has allowed us to reflect on how we work. Being able to adapt to situations and changing how we work has made us realise that it is fine to do things differently. For example, if we have to close early or take time out, then it’s okay to do that. If we don’t have a certain flower then the customer will have to choose from what we do have available.”

“Personally it has shown me that we never know what is around the corner and we have to take each situation on its own merit and deal with it.”

If there is one thing that small business owners will take from the past year it is that determination is the key. The small businesses who were just starting out have thrived in this new retail climate because they were determined to grow and have adapted quickly.

Established businesses are still trading because they were determined to survive, with both types of business likely to come out of the pandemic in a much stronger position.