Thursday, 14 November 2019

Kidz to Adultz - Top 5 Christmas Gifts


After a whirlwind of a week involving unexpected hospital trips, we made to Kidz to Adultz in Manchester. The free exhibition is dedicated to children and young adults up to 25 years with disabilities and additional needs, as well as their parents, carers and all the professionals who support and work with them. Although I am 25 myself, many of these stands are useful for all ages and I really do love networking with like-minded people who want to make a difference in the disabled community.

For those who follow my instagram or facebook pages, you might remember last year I uploaded a video with the top 5 products I recommended for wheelchair users to buy for Christmas. This proved really popular, and I wanted to do something similar this year, so I was on the hunt for my top 5 products I'd recommend from the exhibition today. I've popped them in price order:

1. Accessible Indoor Skydiving with Ablenet - £25.99

Indoor skydiving was one of the best things I have ever experienced. Many years back now, a friend and I completed an indoor skydive whilst raising money for charity. I’m a total thrill seeker but unfortunately will never be able to do a ‘proper’ skydive because of my medical conditions. This experience though was fantastic and I would definitely recommend it! 

2. Meru Flexzi Stand - £40

Flexzi is an adjustable support system which I would use for things like my mobile phone and camera. It is made from a single  strand of flexible plastic segments that allows perfect positioning of your devices. It comes with a clamp that attaches to your wheelchair, which means no more dropping your phone and the ability to record whilst self propelling or driving!

 3.  Bundlebean Wheelchair Cosy - £44.99

I'm not just saying this... This cover is one of my favourite wheelchair accessories on the market. I purchased the flamingo design when Bundlebean first started and it has been with me through everything. This waterproof, fleece-lined design, folds into a tiny bag so you can carry it easily on the go for those sudden downpours. And, it goes over your legs so there's no having to climb in (or fall out in my case) like cosy toes. I now have the flamingo design and the polar bear one too. I've got my eye on the new thunderstorm one, they just give me a bit of sass and I love it. 

4. Nicosy - From £68

I am currently struggling a lot with pain and I need an extra layer to go under my Bundlebean. Instead of an extra blanket layer, I'm hoping to get a Nicosy which will provide me with that little bit extra warmth. Currently, I have an extra blanket underneath which is dragging across the floor so I can't wait to invest my Christmas money in this!

5. Loopwheels Urban - From £1,800

Loopwheels have a new set of wheels coming out and boy am I excited. I've got the original loopwheels at the moment on my manual chair but they are launching their new 'Urban' wheels in 2020 (They currently have 5 left on pre-order!). They're set of wheels for all occasions – from the streets to the park to the forest. They're much lighter (I tried them) - light enough to lift easily with one hand. And, they look great. These are an investment piece, but they currently have a 'try before you buy' scheme for the original loopwheels on their website which allows you to try those wheels for 21 days for £20. 

Are any of these on your Christmas list? 

A big thanks to Lauren from Access Your Life for recommending a number of these products previously so I had a good idea of what would work for me - thank you!

Kate x

Friday, 8 November 2019

AD - Celebrate Difference


I was thrilled to be asked to join Sunderland Culture's Young Ambassador Team as they took over the Arts Centre Washington for the night for 'Celebrate Difference'. The event was about embracing and celebrating differences of young people, whilst empowering them to be proud of who they are. 

This event was a particularly special one for me, as I becoming unwell at the age of 14 put me into an identity crisis. I lost all things I loved and was able to do, and 11 years on, I'm still finding myself again. Now, one of my biggest passions is working with young people and supporting those who might be going through similar things. 

From the moment we arrived at the Arts Centre you could feel the excitement bursting out of the venue. After a warm welcome, I made my way around the maze of exhibitions and instillations, whilst talking to artists, guests and young people. Many of the pieces were commissioned by professional artists who worked with the young people or produced specific workshops for this event. 

Here are 3 of my favourite pieces of artwork from the event: 

 World Artists are a team of young people ages 13-23. They ran a drop-in Gelli print workshop with artist Emma Beattie exploring the theme of body positivity. Here is my creation. 

Mark Shields is an artist specialising in graffiti. At the start of the event, the canvas simply said 'Celebrate Different' but people were encouraged to add their own quotes of positivity. By the end of the night, the canvas was full and it looked stunning!

Sarah Dobbs is an arial artist and provided a stunning live display which mesmerised a packed audience. The young people also worked on photographing her piece, based on grief, which was incredibly powerful.

Overall, it's hard to believe that a group of 13-25 year olds organised this very professional event. Of course, they have some incredible leaders supporting them, and with the kind backing of Sunderland Culture and Helix Arts, this event was possible. I'm proud of what the whole team have achieved, I loved the mix of people who attended and I was so pleased to see that it was such a success. Here's to the next one!

Kate x


Thursday, 7 November 2019

I Treat My Dog Better Than I Treat Myself


"He's been a good boy this week." "What's he done?" "Well, nothing that special, he's just been, well, Spencer."

I sat at my mental health appointment whilst my psychologist quickly finds I stall most conversations by talking about my assistance dog, Spencer. Spencer is my 3 year old black Labrador Retriever who bounded into my life a year and a half a go. Best described as my shadow, simply because he goes everywhere with me (even to the bathroom...), he has changed my life in so many ways. 

"I wish I was as kind to myself as I am to Spencer"

In that moment I realised I had put myself right at the bottom of the pile again. I've never been great at looking after myself well, more so other people, but it suddenly clicked when I spoke about Spencer.

Here are a few examples of how I care for Spencer, but not as well for myself:

  • I tell him I love him everyday. I have a very critical inner monologue and I'm often just busy planning, not telling myself anything nice!
  • I reward him for every small task he does. Every small task for me is a huge achievement, yet often I don't recognise it 
  • If something is wrong with Spencer, I book him a vet appointment or contact his trainer immediately. Yes, if I went down to the doctors for every health problem I'd be there a lot, but many I often need a lot of persuasion to pursue. 
  • I make sure Spencer has the correct food & is fed every day. As someone who has both physical and mental health problems, if my carers aren't around, I often skip meals or have a cheeky slice of cake
  • I make sure Spencer gets the correct amount of sleep. He needs his sleep to work, but so do I. Why do I then work through the night?
  • He gets fresh air/walked every day. I can't go out every day, but I know I'm not well when I spend more time in bed. For me, getting onto my recliner chair every day is important and helps maintain a routine.
  • I accept help when I need it. If I can't get a task, or I'm having trouble with something, I contact a trainer and get some help in for Spencer. Yet if I'm struggling, I rarely ask for help.
Things aren't going to dramatically change for me, but I'm just going to be mindful of what I do now. Mindful when I praise my dog that I also praise myself for the work I've put in. That I also get enough sleep. And that I'm doing a good job, too.

Kate (and Spencer) x

Do you feel the same? Does your pet also mean the world to you?

Monday, 21 October 2019

[GIFTED] Wicked In The West End - Show's 13th Birthday Celebration


Elphaba rose up into the auditorium, the audience on the edge of their seat, not a pin drop could be heard from them. The final note of the famous ‘Defying Gravity’ was executed with perfection and the audience roared. I wipe away the tears away from my eyes. I made it. I’m here. 

Earlier that day, I travelled on the train for the first time to London by myself. This was a huge deal for me ,who previously had major train anxiety, but I was confident after many trial runs that I could meet Pippa at the end. Pippa is one of my close friends and someone who I inspire to be like, so taking on this adventure together was truly exciting! We are both ambulatory wheelchair users, so navigating to and around London together was going to be challenging, but also something we were prepared for. Once we were reunited at the train station (which involved hugs, a nice portion of Leon’s food and a quick catch-up) we made plans to travel to the hotel for a rest.

Our hotel was about a 40 minute drive away and since the tube not an option (if you are a wheelchair user, you’ll be with me on this…) we opted for an accessible Uber. Uber gives their drivers bonuses to pick up disabled passengers on top of a flat rate for the time taken to go to an access job. This fantastic initiative means that more vehicles are available for wheelchair users, as before the drivers would be likely to choose smaller jobs over driving further to pick up a disabled passenger. 

We stayed at the Hilton Metrapole and I certainly would stay there again. The hotel itself is huge, yet we both received the most personal welcome and were shown to our room by a receptionist. The room was spacious enough for both of our power chairs and had my much needed bath (which took me a whole 2 minutes before I was in!) to help with my pain. They also had a cosy coffee bar which we met our friend Shona, a Starbucks and catered very well for our combined allergies at breakfast the next day. 

Now, the big event. We filmed a theatre themed GRWM for youtube whilst getting ready (which you can find here) and got so into it that we had a little bit of a mad rush to book a taxi in the end. After deciding to get a black cab (note: we managed to fit power chairs in one cab - result!) we arrived in the West End and both took a moment to take everything in.

To say I’m a Wicked fan is an understatement. This was the 4th time I'd seen Wicked, but the first time seeing Wicked in the West End. Even with a few minor bumps with accessibility regarding a lift breakage (which can't be helped!) the whole team managed to come up with a plan b; even reserving my own toilet for me in the ladies nearby as I couldn't get up to the disabled one on the other floor. 

The West End version was certainly the best; with a a larger production and atmosphere it felt even more magical. As a dancer, apart from singing along in my head to all the lyrics of every song, I really enjoy watching the staging and choreography. Wayne Client is in charge of musical staging and you can see why he is a seven time Tony nominee. Wicked uses a lot of flowing contemporary movements in their choreography as well as plenty of props from ribbons to scooters. Personally, I know how difficult it can be working with props but with the musical being so magical, it really enhances this feeling of being in the Emerald City. 

After the performance, there was a fabulous speech about the shows 13th birthday followed by a spectacular balloon drop. I'll be honest, we spent the next half an hour after the show taking pictures and playing with the balloons, which we realised upon getting home meant we missed celebrities like Craig Revel Horwood... But no regrets.

The night wasn't over and we wheeled our way to the afterparty at the Crown Plaza. And what a party. From Wicked themed cocktails, magic mirror selfies, Wicked themed food and fantastic backdrops, we sat there in awe at the guests and paparazzi around us sipping on our drinks. We did make an entrance though, as I picked some fairy lights to put around our power chairs which everyone loved (so much so someone thought they were props - let's not get into that...) so we looked the part. A night I certainly won't forget. 

Pippa and I are two women who planned their career to be on stage. Both struck down by chronic illness, we’ve now had to find different ways to not only enjoy theatre, but also now campaign for better facilities and inclusion in the industry. We may not be on the stage, but I had to take a moment to just realise how lucky I am to have the opportunities I have right now. Passion for dance & musical theatre never goes, even when being struck with a limiting condition, so moments like this are extremely special. And, I hope that I’ll find a way to share this in the community very soon.

Thank you again to Official London Theatre and Wicked for letting us celebrate the show's 13th birthday! And of course, Pippa for letting me come along with her! [GIFTED]

Monday, 26 August 2019

Managing An Assistance Dog With A Chronic Condition


Being a young, chronically ill woman I crave an independent life. After being poorly for over a decade, in a bid to keep as much freedom as I can, I convinced my parents that it was the right time to apply for an assistance dog. Just under two years later I received my phone call saying I’d been ‘matched’ with a dog. Little did I know just how much four paws were about to transform my life. 

Spencer is a labrador-retreiver, and because of this, I assumed he would be a golden colour. So, when a stunning charcoal black dog bounded through the door at our first visit, my first words were ‘I’m not sure that’s my dog, Mum’. After we laughed about the mix-up, I was hit with a wave of emotions and soon realised that he was perfect for me.

Spencer and I have now been partnered for over a year now. I see him not just as my dog, but my colleague and my companion. His task-list is ever growing and adapting with my needs. He helps me with personal care like getting undressed and even bringing a towel for me after I wash. He helps me around the house by fetching the phone, pressing a ‘help’ alarm if I fall and even putting the washing in the machine. He also helps me out and about by picking up dropped items and with general companionship which aids my anxiety. 

Having an assistance dog isn't an easy option, however, and we have hit multiple bumps along the way. It wasn't until we hit around the 6 month mark of our partnership when I felt like I actually started to save energy, as looking after a dog is tiring work. It involved getting up early for toileting, feeding and walks. It involves constant training. And, it involves you to put in a lot of effort both physically and emotionally to keep the bond between you as strong as possible. 

I now get extra help looking after Spencer, which means my family, carers & dog walker can help with some of his care. But in the first 6 months, most charities have a 'hands off' rule which means you are solely involved in their care, so, it takes a lot of energy. It's certainly wise to think about how much 'spare energy' you do have when taking on an assistance dog and also the intense training process. However, this pup has certainly enhanced my life in many ways and I honestly can't imagine life without him now. 

Kate x

Facebook and Instagram: @spencerandkate

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Craft Yourself Calm (#gifted)


I am a person who truly believes that crafting has therapeutic values. Through my own mental and physical health struggles, crafting has provided me with an outlet, focus and comfort.

Once hospitalised for severe mental illness, I had over a year's art therapy where I tried to let go of my perfectionism and enjoy the flow of being in the moment of crafting. I have also ran a small crafts business for many years which encouraged me to eventually complete an A-level in both textiles and graphics; each of which I excelled in. To this day I still am engrossed in crafts, from making handmade Christmas presents to creating leads for my dog. So, when the 'Make & Mend Co' invited me to their festival (#gifted) I was buzzing at the thought of getting stuck into some new art forms.

Survival Techniques Mural

Rachel and Lydsay are the creators of the 'Make & Mend Festival'; hoping to spread a passion about restoring, repairing and rejuvenating. It is held each year at the stunning Preston Hall Museum in North East England, which holds a glorious walled garden, grand ballroom and even it's own old-fashioned sweet shop! No expense had been spared on the decoration, making it a totally instagram-worthy location filled with art from Survival Techniques, banners and a large centrepiece in the ballroom. 

Mum and I were booked onto a workshop in the afternoon but arrived early so I could have a look around first. We saw a whole array of workshops including bookbinding, macrame and flower arranging. Each workshop cost a small fee of £10 which I personally think was extremely reasonable for the crafts which were being created. We carried on through the village square, where a number of free drop-in workshops were present and had a look around the craft market.

 Bookbinding with Cloe Sparrow. Macrame hanger with Naomi Graham. Summer wreath by Blummin Nora.  Origami lampshade by Namita Vijayakumar.
Following through the walled garden, we arrived at the wellbeing garden just in time for some relaxing yoga. This was one of my favourite activities because Kerrie Murray who ran the class was extremely inclusive in the session. Being a wheelchair user, any activity (especially one involving anything which involved movement) means I have to sit out or the instructor panics. Not this time. She explained the exercises I could do sat down and asked me to use imagery when the rest of the class were standing up to ground myself; as a disabled teacher myself I was very impressed!

Kerrie Murray Dru Yoga

Lunch did not disappoint us with both vegan, gluten and diary free options on the menu (WHAT?!) meaning we could relax in the sun whilst enjoying our food. It was time for our workshop with The Crafthood and we were making knitted necklaces with recycled t-shirt yarn. The workshops was fantastic! The instructions were easy to follow, we both made a piece of jewellery we would wear and on the way home I ordered 2 large balls of yarn so we could make more - officially hooked! I particularly love the way that the yarn used is all recycled because of the huge amount of waste in the fashion industry. Also, I also love The Crafthood as a business with their 'buy one, gift one' scheme which gives back to the community through donating a workshop to a local charity when you purchase a workshop. Fabulous work!

 Workshop with The Crafthood. Lunch at The Sitting Room.

Overall, we had a fantastic day out and will definitely be putting it in our diary for next year. It reminded me the importance to put some time aside for self-care again and that I can incorporate things I love, such as crafts, to relax and rewind. A very regenerative and restorative day - thank you Make & Mend Co!

Kate x

Sunday, 14 July 2019

So you want to be a model...


The modelling industry is known as being competitive, fierce and fast-paced. I have grown up watching programmes like 'America's Next Top Model' which has both scared and inspired me to take my own plunge into the modelling world. And, I'm here to provide you with an honest documentation of it. 

As a 6'1-6'2, long legged, slim girl, I was scouted for modelling at a young age. At 14 I was picked up by STORM where I seriously considered a modelling career. Then, illness hit. I became a wheelchair user and thought my modelling days were long gone. Over the years I'd do the odd (usually time-free) job modelling bridal wear but  in doing so I'd try hide my disability.

After battling with my conditions for several years, now knowing that it was life-long, I decided to go for my first modelling experience in my wheelchair. I was invited along to a casting for a pageant/agency and as soon as they saw my wheelchair I was completely blanked. I left in tears, followed by my furious mum and it put me off both the profession and the people involved.

Fast forward many years and I hear of Zebedee Management as a mutual friend recently signed with them. Zebedee are an inclusive agency, representing models with all kinds of disabilities and that's why initially caught my eye. Reading into the agency further, I saw they had some absolutely fantastic success stories with amazing brands and were really pushing boundaries in the fashion industry (and beyond). I am majorly into inclusivity as I focus a lot of my public speaking on it, so seeing an agency with this as a top priority really drew me in. 

I decided to apply for the agency and after a test shoot I was signed. It was a big step and I have to say, a risky one too. Would I get a job out of it? Would my health manage? Is this just going to be a costly hobby?

So, after being with Zebedee for a few moths now I wanted to share with you 5 things you should know when joining an agency like Zebedee: 

  1. You need to be super flexible. Train at 9am tomorrow? Of course.  Many brands work to short time scales and also give you details last minute. It isn't unheard of to get details the day before. Flexibility is key and can be hard with a disability, which is why agencies like Zebedee do their best to negotiate start times/stays/etc. But, sometimes a brand needs someone urgently! Being near London is a bonus because most jobs are based there, but if you're not in the capital, you definitely must be able to travel. 
  2. It is going to cost you money. We won't beat around the bush about this one. The test-shoot costs money. The agency takes a cut of any earning. Traveling costs money. This is all totally normal. It's up to you to decide how much you can spend on this and what jobs you're willing to accept. Sometimes, the experience is worth the cost to get your foot in the door. But don't go into this thinking either you don't need to invest money in it or you're automatically going to suddenly be a millionaire.
  3. Your disability matters a lot. So do your talents. Unlike your 'average' agency, Zebedee are obviously representing those with disabilities. You will be casted because of your disability which is actually such an amazing thing. Your talents matter too, whether you have experience in sport, public speaking or magic... you'd be surprised at what directors specifically cast for.
  4. The days are long. My first job was for a TV advert and I had a 12 hour shooting day. You start early with hair & make-up then have the rest of the day on set. It does depend on the production but especially with TV it's not a quick 1hour job. The good news is that the crew were fabulous with my disability. I usually only get up out of bed for 2 hours a day so you can imagine how much I pushed myself to film. I had food/water breaks, always had my legs elevated, rests to lie down and was kept warm. But, it's something to bare in mind when applying. 
  5. Nothing is guaranteed. But, you could get the most amazing experiences. I'm not going to sit here and type 'You'll 100% have a job within 6 months' because not one agency could guarantee that. But, I can share my experience. I have worked my bum off behind the scenes and it paid off. Not all of it is about the agency pitching you, it's about improving yourself and making those opportunities come to you too. I've been incredibly lucky that I have had 2 jobs come through in just a few months with the agency but I know that it's not going to be guaranteed regular work and because of this it could never be my full time profession. But, I have loved each experience and happy-cried at each one thinking 'wow, Kate, look at you go' because I couldn't believe the opportunity. And, it's worth every penny and every ounce of energy.

If you are a committed person, who is in the position to be able to travel and willing to initially invest then I honestly would definitely recommend it. The hardest decision for me was whether joining the agency would affect my health and in all honesty, it did. But, I'm the kind of person who has the ability and the support at home to grab every opportunity then pay for the consequences later. And, I make that decision. It's so so worth it. Zebedee is an agency who is there to support you every step of the way and I 100% can honestly recommend them, I've already just recommended one of my friends to them. I'm incredibly excited to see what my future brings and have my eyes firmly set on being able to model for a big brand one day! 

Top - Zebedee Shots         Bottom - Joe Laws, Katie Meehan, Brook-Rose O'Brian

Follow my progress at @katestanforth on instagram 
My Zebedee Profile - If you want to have a nose.
Zebedee Website - Accepting applications until end of July - let me know if you apply!

Kate x