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Full marks to women who gave a helping hand to the needy


To celebrate Marks & Spencer's 50 years in Northern Ireland and to encourage more of us not to live life on autopilot, Stephanie Bell talks to two mums, who work for the famous retailer, about giving back to communities who helped them when they needed it.

Most of us are living on autopilot and are in danger of sleep-walking through the choices we make, according to a new cultural report out today.

The average person makes 15 decisions without thinking every day - that's more than 250,000 autopilot decisions in a lifetime.

And most of us say 'yes' to four things we should say 'no' to every day because we fear letting others down. The Autopilot Britain study was conducted on behalf of Marks & Spencer, which as a result, has declared today its first ever Make It Matter Day, urging us all to stop and think about what is important in our lives.

And the company will be practising what it preaches, as teams of staff go out into the community here to volunteer in charities and groups. Staff from all 20 stores will work on 50 schemes in a huge project which is also part of the Marks & Spencer's 50th birthday celebrations in Northern Ireland this year.

Ryan Lemon, M&S head of region Northern Ireland, says: "For 50 years, M&S has been at the heart of local communities across Northern Ireland, growing from one Belfast store in 1967, to 20 locations across the province. This year, as we celebrate our milestone anniversary, it is important for us to give back to our community, and offer a helping hand to those in need."

The community-based projects here are part of a nationwide M&S initiative, Making Every Moment Special in the Community. And the team at each store has chosen local projects they feel passionate about and connected to, ranging from painting and decorating a room at a community centre, to serving food in a soup kitchen.

The survey was carried out as part of the new #SpenditWell campaign by M&S, and explored the decision-making behaviour of more than 3,000 adults.

The findings revealed that 96% of people admitted to living life on autopilot. These decisions ranged from what to wear in the morning, to what to have for lunch or dinner, as well as what to do at the weekend.

Meanwhile, 81% of us believe if we could change one small thing every day, it would help us think clearer and release us from the autopilot epidemic.

The top three situations we really want to say 'no' to, but are most likely to say 'yes' include agreeing to work late (26%), closely followed by saying 'yes' to a social event we know we won't attend, and visiting people we don't get on with.

We caught up with two M&S staff members who had special reasons to get involved in a local project as part of the 50th celebrations and their chance to Make it Matter.

The top 10 things we say 'yes' to when we want to say 'no'

1. Working late.

2. To a social event we know we won't go to.

3. Visiting people we don't get on with.

4. Going for after-work drinks.

5. Giving into the kids for an easy life.

6. Offering to look after someone else's kids…or pets.

7. Team-building days.

8. Agreeing to give a speech.

9. Going to a partner's work event.

10. Going on holiday with extended family or friends.

‘The fun day was a chance for our group to thank the community’

Janene Titterington (44), from Belfast, has worked as a sales advisor in M&S Newtownabbey for 20 years and was delighted when the store organised a fun day on behalf of the Belvoir ASD and ADHD Family Support Group. Janene’s daughter Alexandra (11), who has autism, looks forward to attending a youth club run by the group every week. Janene and around 10 of her colleagues volunteered at the fun day last Saturday at Belvoir Primary School. She is married to Ian (47), a maintenance supervisor, and they also have a son, Sam (17).

She says:

My daughter has difficulties with social skills and was in the Girls’ Brigade and at dance classes before it became too much for her.

I started taking her to the Belvoir ASD and ADHD group every Thursday a few years ago and she absolutely loves it. It is a chance for children who find it difficult to be in crowds to get together in a small group. They make friends and do arts and crafts and other activities. We also organise day trips and outings.

She is very comfortable in this group.

If someone has an episode it doesn’t matter, no one is judging them. Many of our kids can’t cope with loud noises or being in crowds. For many of them, all they have is this wee group. Alexandra can be herself there and she loves every Thursday knowing that she is going to meet people who are the same as her.

We put the group forward for the 50 project scheme and were delighted when it was chosen.

The fun day was fantastic and was an opportunity for the group to say thank you to the community for its support.

Hundreds of people supported the event. We had bouncy castles, football matches, a visit from a mobile farm and a therapy pony, Summer, was there too. There was also a T-shirt making stall as well as tea, coffee and biscuits, all supplied by M&S.

It was a free day out for everyone.

Fundraising is important to keep the group going and it was brilliant to be able to say thank you to the community.”

The top 10 things that we forget when on autopilot

1. Someone’s name.

2. Returning calls.

3. Packing something vital for a trip.

4. Saying thank you.

5. Smiling.

6. To turn up to places when you say you will.

7. Waiting for your change in a shop.

8. Personal grooming.

9. Paying a bill.

10. Saying I love you.

‘I was delighted to go back and paint homeless shelter’

Lyndsey Shaw (36), who works in M&S in Bow Street, Lisburn, found herself homeless in her teens and living in a Simon Community shelter. Last week she went back to the shelter in Lisburn with a team of colleagues for the first time in almost 20 years to help redecorate the building’s common room. She has two children, Ruari (14) and Charlotte (7), and has been working in M&S for 11 years as a sales adviser. She recalls how the Simon Community gave her a lifeline when she was at her lowest ebb.

She says:

When I was 18 I fell out with my mum and dad and found myself homeless. I was a bit rebellious and didn’t do what I was told. My parents had a curfew on what time I was due in at and I didn’t respect it.

We rowed and I left. I spent some weeks sleeping on friends’ sofas before I went to the Simon Community where I lived for a year and a half.

Obviously I would rather have been at home and I probably could have gone home, but I was young and naive and determined to do my own thing.

A friend’s mum told me about the Simon Community so I went and got a place.

While I was there the charity put me through a couple of courses with the Prince’s Trust and Springboard and I really grew up.

After six months I was given a Simon Community flat which gave me more independence. When you live in a hostel room you share a kitchen and living room so the flat enabled me to stand on my own two feet.

I went to Canada with Springboard and came home a bit wiser. I didn’t like being on the dole and sitting around doing nothing and wanted a job and a place of my own.

Just before my 21st birthday I got a Housing Executive flat and started job hunting.

Around this time I got a part-time job in a pizzeria and then I had my son, Ruari. When he was school age I got a new job working full-time in BHS.

M&S were advertising a job in the new Bow Street Mall store which I applied for and got. I’ve worked there ever since and I love it.

It is not nice being homeless and the fact that I can provide for my family means a lot to me.

Getting the chance to go back to the Simon Community to help them by painting the shelter was fantastic. The team at the charity was really good to me and helped me a lot.

It was my first time back and it has really changed. For me it was an opportunity to give something back.

I would definitely recommend seeking out the Simon Community to anyone finding themselves homeless.

They do a lot for kids as well who are too old to go into care. I was delighted to have the chance to spend a few hours there painting with my colleagues.”

The top 10 times we slip into autopilot mode

1. When choosing what to watch on TV.

2. The commute.

3. Choosing what we wear.

4. Replying to emails.

5. Choosing what we want for lunch or dinner.

6. In our down time.

7. When choosing from a restaurant menu.

8. Weekend planning.

9. Choosing where to meet friends.

10. Planning school lunchboxes.

Belfast Telegraph


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