Posts from June 2014

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The Friday feeling

The sun is shining, it’s Friday and I’m feeling good because it’s the last day of the Below the Line challenge!

I’m running quite low on provisions now, with only one pot of noodles, a cup a soup, an apple and some pasta and sauce left to fill me for the rest of the day. Actually, that sounds like quite a lot when you spell it out, but believe me, it isn’t.

So what have I learnt from this experience, I hear you ask?

Something I’ve found surprising is how much I change my mind about the foods I want to eat depending on the weather outside. As we’ve been graced with the presence of the sun this week, I instantly regretted buying lots of hot options and would have usually done a mid-week dash to buy salads, ice lollies and fruity drinks. This realisation has made me question how much food I’m wasting on a week by week basis – and let me tell you, it’s quite shocking. From now on I’m definitely going to forward plan my meals better and stick to what I already have in my fridge instead of buying more impulse products.

Another thing I have realised is how difficult it is to work a full time job on so little fuel to get you through the day. Our bodies need energy and certain nutrients to replenish, but with the absence of this you’re left feeling tired, ill – and let’s admit it – moody. I definitely have a huge amount of respect for people living below the poverty line who have to persevere through the working week without a sufficient amount of food to sustain proper levels of concentration. I’ve found it really difficult and look forward to getting a bit of variety back next week!

Thank you for following our Below the Line journey and thank you to my fellow Refreshers and the First Ark team for all their encouragement.

Tagged with: Below the Line, Manchester, North West , PR Agency Manchester, PR Manchester

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The Artful Dodger of Refresh PR

In line with Laura's confessional blog, I too have a confession to make. While account manager, and fellow Below the Line-r, Gemma Cannon was out of the office yesterday, I stole a packet of crisps from her desk.

I’m going to put this 'Artful Dodger' type behaviour down to a state of cup a soup related delirium because I wouldn't normally touch a packet of salt and vinegar crisps with a barge pole (I'm much more of a cheese and onion man). However, to be frank, I would've eaten anything within grabbing distance, so long as it wasn't powdered or pasta.

It just goes to show that when you have no budget to buy whatever you fancy, you'll gladly eat just about anything by any means necessary.

This week has demonstrated that when living on £5, choices become limited – I've basically spent five days eating toast or pasta and drinking water alongside a daily cup a soup. The lack of variety and absence of anything with nutritional content is startling.

I'm not going to lie; I cannot wait for the end of the challenge and to resume normal eating. I do however think this challenge will alter the way in which I shop. Sourcing bargains, thinking twice before throwing money away on unnecessary sweet snacks and hunting through the 'reduced to clear' aisle are habits I'll definitely be adopting from now on.

Because despite the jokes we’ve made this week and our whinging about a lack of coffee/sugar/alcohol etc, there is a very serious point to the challenge. Millions in the UK live below the poverty line and cannot afford to splash out on foods that many of us barely consider to be a treat at all.

I for one won't be looking the same way at my weekly shop again.

Final point: apologies to Gemma, I owe you a packet of Walker's next week.


Tagged with: Below the Line Challenge, Food & Drink, Manchester, PR Agency Manchester, Public Relations North West

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Living 'Above the Line'

When the team signed up for the Live Below the Line Challenge, apart from the initial shock (Refreshers like their food), I was left feeling a little disgruntled about the fact that I wouldn't be joining in. I was also thinking that Laura would never be able survive without caffeine for five days but I didn't say that out spirit n' all! Turns out I was right - have a read of Laura's latest blog if you don't know what I'm talking about. 

As well as it being a fantastic cause, I also love doing the big shop (weird, I know) so I knew it would be a real challenge to only spend £5. Also, with only £5 to spend then I wouldn't get the same satisfaction from organising my trolley and bags by food type and weight  in order to make packing it, then transporting it in and out of the car, and then unpacking it, as easy as possible...see, I'm weird.

The reason I decided against taking up the challenge is that I'm currently 32 weeks pregnant and I know that by only spending £1 each day on food, I would be depriving my baby of some of the nutrition it needs. The vitamins alone I take each week cost over £5 and I wasn't prepared to give these up. I know the point of the challenge is that some people are not as lucky as me and simply don't have the choice, so you might disagree with my decision but I stand by it.

Even though I've not been participating, watching the team struggle with food choice and portion rationing this week really has made me think about my weekly food bill and appreciate that I can comfortably live 'Above the Line'. I can't imagine being pregnant and not being able to give your baby all the food and nutrition it needs in order to give it the best possible start in life.

With a busy job and equally as busy social calendar, I'm a big convenience shopper - one supermarket, once a week, to get everything I need. But from now on, I'll definitely be much more cash conscious and I'll certainly be shopping around to make my budget go further.

Aside from Laura's small caffeine blip - for which by the way, after 32 weeks of no caffeine or alcohol, I have no sympathy - the team have shown great determination and support for a brilliant cause this week, so I for one will be on standby with the treats tomorrow afternoon: a Costa for Laura, Haribo for Corey and a glass of red for Gemma.


Tagged with: Below the Line Challenge, Manchester, PR Agency Manchester, PR Manchester, Public Relations North West

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I have a confession

So after two days with no coffee or diet coke, I've cracked and 'cheated' on my challenge. I say cheated in inverted commas as I have sacrificed some pasta in return for some instant coffee - I've stuck to my £5 and I'm hoping I'll be forgiven and that it counts? I genuinely have tried my best but I think going from a lot of caffeine to zero was a tall ask and next year I'll be weaning myself off and preparing much further in advance!


That said, what I don't want this to do is detract from what I'm learning from the challenge.  With 1.2 million people living in food poverty each and every day, it's a serious issue.


So, how has it been so far?  What I am finding with my meals is that it's simply boring.  Every meal is pretty much the same.  And stodgy too.  To fill up, I am eating carbs, carbs and more carbs, but there is little money left over for the good things like fruit and veg.  Each day is a mix of bread and pasta with tomato so it makes it very hard to look forward to meal times.  So lesson number one is to sit down and plan this properly next year.  I am sure there are just one or two more ways I can find to make meals times more interesting and I will be looking out for some inspiration ahead of #belowtheline 2015.


That said, lesson number two is that I need to be realistic and budget for things like coffee next year, even though that reduces my food budget down.   


And number three?  I am starting to think about what I will buy in my weekly shop next week.  There are some things I don't want to compromise on; Heinz baked beans and Warburtons seeded batch loaf are two because nothing tastes quite the same!  But why do I choose an expensive brand of spaghetti when I could trade down to a much cheaper alternative, save some cash and enjoy it just as much?  The same goes for eggs; as long as they are free range, why don't I consider the own brand pack?  I know that after this challenge my shopping habits will change, and I think that is a real positive for the purse strings.


Oh, there is a number four.  I drink too much caffeine and would like to cut down.


I made a pact with myself that when my challenge is finished, at 4.45pm on Friday, I would order pizza into the office for everyone.  I thought I would be so hungry that I would be looking forward to it so much.  But I'm not hungry, in fact I am pretty full from all the carbs.  The thought of chewing through a doughy pizza base is doing the exact opposite to what it should.  I really, really don't want one.  So on Friday everyone else can gladly have pizza; I will be at the salad bar in Morrisons Piccadilly Gardens getting my fix of anything but carbs!



Tagged with: Manchester, PR, PR Agency Manchester, PR Manchester, Public Relations, Public Relations North West

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Far from wild in the aisles...

Although I've made it to day three of the Below the Line challenge (with some serious caffeine withdrawals), I think to fully appreciate the impact of this challenge you need to start at the beginning...


I'm not your average supermarket shopper, as I quite enjoy pottering from aisle to aisle each week and don't find it the chore that many people do. However, I underestimated how much extra time I would need to stop on each aisle and work out the cost of each item I was popping into my trolley. I also felt, dare I say it, quite silly stood there totting everything up whilst people around me carelessly threw their favourite branded chocolate and wine into their baskets. I'd never taken much notice of the 'value' range before, yet on this particular trip I found myself actively seeking it out. Not only is the budget restraint harsh, you also have to overlook all the other tasty, higher priced options on offer. I found that quite demoralising and frustrating if I'm honest.


I usually leave the supermarket feeling satisfied that I've stocked up on tasty meals for the week ahead, yet on this occasion I was left feeling a bit nervous about portioning out my sparse selection for the week ahead. I quickly realised that I often take my supermarket spending for granted and for some of the shoppers around me, this was a feeling they had to endure most weeks.


So if you're reading this over your morning brew or nutritious lunch, take a moment to fully savour how lucky you are! Lunch for me today consisted of a ham sandwich - well, bread and ham, no salad or butter - and was washed down with a nice glass of water. I'm counting down the minutes...


Thankfully for me, this will end on Friday, but I'll definitely be a lot more appreciative on my next supermarket sweep.

Tagged with: Below the Line, Food & Drink, Manchester, North West , PR, PR Agency Manchester, Public Relations

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I will happily sell my soul for Haribo

It's day two of the Below the Line Challenge, and safe to say I’m not finding it nearly as easy as I thought I would.  The £5 budget may have bought me just about enough food to sustain me throughout the week, although my meal plan is an unvaried selection of carbs and cup a soups, it doesn’t however allow me to buy the things I love most – snacks.

In the average working week I can easily consume three Yorkies and two bags of Haribo in snacks, alongside rounds of coffee and the occasional can of coke. Three Yorkies alone, even when on offer at Sainsbury’s at three for £1.20, cost more than a healthy proportion of a £5 allowance. I quickly realised while doing my weekly shop, that this challenge meant curbing my snacking habit. Needless to say I spend a lot of time fantasising about confectionary at the moment.

My second quick realisation was how extravagant I am with my food shopping. The spending habits of a World Cup WAG do truly pale in comparison to the money I throw away on sugary snacks. Looking back at my usual eating habits, it didn’t take a mathematician to realise that I spend more than the challenge’s budget on sweet treats on a regular basis.

This is where the guilt set in. After just 24 hours I was moaning that I’d sell my soul for a bag of Haribo, meanwhile others, for whom a £5 budget isn’t a challenge but in fact their reality, do without all the time. Or rather they don’t go without because there is no going with. The Below the Line experience has taught me very quickly how fortunate I am that I can buy food without a second thought.

Therefore I am going to try (but not promise) to not complain about the food I’m eating this week. Five days of instant soups for lunch and pasta for dinner doesn’t seem like that much of a big deal when you consider that there are many in the UK for whom the challenge never ends.


Tagged with: Below the Line Challenge, Food & Drink, Manchester, PR Agency Manchester, Public Relations, Public Relations North West

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Let the caffeine withdrawal begin

When I took a call from One Ark on Wednesday last week asking us to join the team taking part in the Below the Line Challenge, I had two initial thoughts: what is it, and how am I going to persuade the team to take part?  Fortunately the latter wasn't a problem as we like both a challenge and to support a good cause here at Refresh PR - phew!


The former was more of a quandary as I'd not heard of the campaign before.  However after taking a good look round the campaign website, and with famous faces like Hugh Jackman spurring me on, how could I say no?


The rules mean each person taking part can only spend £5 during the week on food and drink. Accepting donations or 'free' food from others isn't allowed either. So, being organised, my instinct was to sit down and look at the week ahead, I've badminton training on Monday evening and golf on Wednesday - both of which mean I need to eat carbs.  Then I've a morning YouTube event at MediaCity UK on Tuesday and the all-day/ evening CIPR Northern Conference and AGM on Thursday - both of which involve temptations like a buffet and coffee.  An evening out on Tuesday was promptly cancelled!  


So I pretty much knew what I was dealing with, yes? No! I sat down and realised I didn't have a clue how much some items cost - a banana, an apple, cheese, and so on.  I know roughly how much our food bill is each week, but absolutely no idea how that breaks down.  Bad, isn't it?  Should I be admitting this? So Sunday was a learning curve and a half - but I'm glad that the challenge has already made me think.


I've never planned meals in advance before, and with no time over the weekend to plan or shop around for the best bargains due to family commitments, I certainly couldn't start now.  Instead a rushed trip to Tesco to stock up on its Everyday range of products had to suffice.  And because of this plus my new found appreciation of the value of an apple (one apple = three bananas fyi), I had to make the quick decision in the fruit and veg aisle to sacrifice drink in the name of food - a tough decision as it is going to mean a whole week without caffeine.  For anyone who doesn't know me, that means I'm going from around eight cups of coffee and two diet cokes pFooder day down to absolutely zero.  But as water is 'free' I'll be making the most off it for five days. 


Needless to say I already feel like I have travelled back in time to my University days, particularly when I actually read down my shopping list when I got home:


Wholemeal loaf - 47p

3 x tomatoes - 35p

2 tins of tomatoes -68p

Pasta - 29p

3 x free range eggs - 50p

Butter - 20p

3 bananas - 33p

2 apples - 68p

2 tins of baked beans - 48p

Cheese - 50p

1 x potato - 32p

6 paracetamol (for the caffeine withdrawal) - 12p

Total spend - £4.92


So yes, the above list looks like the items in a fresher's shopping bag! But it does (I think) give me everything that is in a balanced diet: fruit/veg, carbs, protein, calcium and fat/sugar.


So, let's see how I get on with test number one on Monday morning - remembering to take my pre-made lunch into work rather than leaving it in the fridge as usual...


Oh, and you may have noticed that I have 8p spare.  At this moment in time it fees like a lot of money, so does anyone know what I can buy with this please?  Answers below would be gratefully received...




Tagged with: Below the Line Challenge, North West , PR, PR Agency Manchester, PR Manchester, Public Relations, Public Relations North West

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Refresh PR's Gemma, Corey and Laura sign up to Live Below the Line

During May and June 2014, people all over the world have been signing up to The Below the Line Challenge.  The challenge is raising awareness and funds for the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty around the world today.  Those taking up the challenge of the campaign must live off just £1 a day, each day, for five days.  The aim is to encourage people to think about life for those who live in extreme poverty every day.


The three Refresh PR team members will be joining forces with our client, One Ark, and digital agency D2 to create a team of seven.  The team will be spending the week blogging about their experiences, from meal planning to finding ways to make £5 stretch in Manchester!


For more information about the challenge visit



Tagged with: Manchester, North West , PR, Public Relations, Public Relations North West