11 positive things you can do if everything seems bad right now
2016 has been a year of division. Let's try to bring it together instead.
Whether you were left or right, Leave or Remain, Trump or Clinton, there's no doubt that lines have been drawn down the middle of our society. It's going to take time and effort for these lines to blur, before we can get back to being whole. In pursuit of harmony, let's work together to make things better for everyone.
For everyone that has been hurt by 2016, channel that hurt into doing something good. For everyone else, pitch in anyway - there's no reason not to. We've had enough arguing and fighting for one year, so there's no political agenda here, just constructive ways to use your time if you're looking for ideas or ways to help.
1. Set up a winter coat drive
It's getting colder every day, which means that life is getting harder for our most vulnerable, particularly homeless and elderly people. Most of us have an old coat that's been hanging in the wardrobe for a couple of years, so why not give it to someone who needs it?
Your colleagues and friends probably have coats hanging in their wardrobes too, so go one better and organise a coat drive. Stick up posters, put out boxes and bags for people to put their coats in, then contact your local homeless charity to find out how you can donate them.
2. Donate to a food bank
Photo: Calvin Shamoon
According to Trussell Trust figures, over 1,000,000 emergency food packages were given out to families in need last year, and with the cold winter months approaching, people are being forced to decide between heating and eating. A small donation from you could spare someone from having to make that decision.
You can donate food, money, toiletries and other essential items - everything is welcome. Your local supermarket probably has a food bank deposit by the tills, so next time you're out shopping, consider picking up a couple of bits that someone else could really use.
3. Pay it forward
A simple, random act of kindness can make someone's day. Let's say you're in the queue to get a coffee and you overhear the person behind you on the phone - they're having a terrible day. When paying for your order, give your server a couple of extra quid to pay for a drink for the person behind you.
Imagine how happy you'd be if someone did that for you. It's a small gesture that could make a huge difference to someone's day, with the proviso that they do the same for someone else sometime. A cynic would say that they'll just take the coffee and never do the same for anyone else, but if we've learned anything from the last few days, it's that cynicism isn't good for anyone.
4. Send a care package to a soldier
Photo: Mark Abueg
Things may be turbulent at home, but there are men and women serving abroad who would love to be back with their friends and family right now. If there's a serviceperson in your life then chances are you're already in contact with them, but if not, this is the time to let them know you're thinking of them. If you don't know any servicepeople but would like to show your gratitude, there are ways to do so.
One is to send a care package; a box of home comforts and esssentials that are often hard to get when you're deployed. Support Our Soldiers help provide care packages to servicemen and women abroad. You can send an individual package or organise an event through your work or community centre - it all helps.
5. Adopt an animal
Photo: Dave Parker
Obviously not everyone is in a position to suddenly bring an animal into their home, but if you are thinking of getting a dog or cat any time soon, it's worth looking into adopting rather than buying from a breeder. Most adopted animals aren't puppies, they're grown animals with pasts and personalities, but they're animals without homes.
Very often these animals have been rescued from cruelty or taken in after they were abandoned, and as a result they're not always the easiest pets to have. However, if there's enough love in your house to accomodate a furry friend, consider sharing that love with one that really needs it. Visit your nearest animal shelter or contact the RSPCA to find out more.
6. Give blood
Photo: Shane Karp
Blood is crucial for saving lives and there's never enough of it, particularly type O-. It's one of the easiest ways to make a massive difference - for an hour of your time and a little discomfort, you can literally stop someone from dying. Men can give blood every 12 weeks - that's pretty much four times a year.
There are donation centers up and down the country and special donation days happening all year round - check Give Blood to see when and where you can make a donation.
7. Right the old wrongs in your life
Let me give this some personal perspective: someone close to me recently got a text from an unknown number. It was from a girl who bullied my friend when they were at school together. In the text she said that my friend's name had come up in coversation and she remembered how horrible she'd been to her, and she wanted to apologise for what she'd done.
My friend was thrilled to recieve this apology. Though she'd moved on with her life, that message gave her some closure and made her day. Hopefully no one reading this has bullied anyone, but we've all made mistakes that we should have apologised for and have hatchets that need burying. Making a little more peace can only be a good thing, right?
8. Go litter picking
Photo: Maebel Tinoko
With just a brush and a bin bag, you can make a huge difference in your community. Remember Clean For The Queen? Whether you're a royalist, a republican or couldn't give a hoot either way, you can agree that people getting together to tidy up is a great initiative, whatever its motivations may be. You can head out to the park solo and fill up a bag, or get a crew together and sweep an entire area.
Little efforts like these make a difference, not just immediately but long term. People will always litter, so we have to lead by example and show that we're not willing to put up with it. It is the council's job to take care of this, but sometimes the council just isn't up to it. We can show them how it's done.
9. Give away your skills for a good cause
Photo: Jorge Royan
Everyone has a trade, something they're good at, something they can do that has value. They say "If you're good at something, never do it for free", but there's always an exception. David Cameron (remember him?) used to talk about the Big Society, which was basically just a way for his government to shirk social responsibility, however there was something to it.
If you know a thing or two about cars and your neighbour is having some trouble getting theirs started in the morning, have a look and show them what's going wrong. If you're handy with a drill and the community centre across the street needs some shelves putting up, do them a solid. Obviously your time is your time and no one can expect you to go around fixing every squeaky door on the street, but it's something to consider.
10. Write letters to prisoners
Prison is often an isolating and demoralising experience, with many prisoners cut off from the outside world entirely. You go to prison as a criminal, but you should come out of it as a functioning member of society, and rehabilitation is a big part of stopping prisoners going back to crime.
Writing letters gives prisoners a way to express themselves, to be creative and have some sense of the world outside their cell. For some prisoners, it gives them human contact that they never had, the lack of which may have led them to a sentence. Prison Fellowship offers volunteers the opportunity to become pen-pals with prisoners, which can be an extremely rewarding experience for both parties.
11. Teach English to UK residents who don't speak it
Communities can only thrive when they work together, and speaking the same language is the first step toward achieving that. Unfortunately, there are many people in the UK who don't have a good grasp of English, but there are ways to try and help improve this.
Talking Together is an initiative in London, Birmingham and Leicester that sets up informal spoken language training for people who don't have strong English skills. All you need is to speak English and be available to teach two hour-long lessons, twice a week - no teaching experience necessary as you'll receive full training. All the volunteer spots are filled up for this year, but there'll be more classes in the new year.
Find out how you can get involved with Talking Together. Thanks to @peatreebojangle for flagging this up.
Feature: Leah Stiles / @bataviapierce