Austin's Blog

 

Austin’s Charitable Fund Update

March 24th, 2020    Author:

As we reflect on another year of Austin’s Charitable Fund we are delighted to share the news of our 2019 success and who we will be supporting throughout 2020.

As a bit of background, our charitable fund was set up in 2002 and has since raised over £130,000 for community-based and local charities including the Samaritans, Stevenage Haven, Cancer Hair Care and Tracks Autism. We’re very grateful to everyone who has helped to raise money for all of our charities.

 

Over £5,000 raised for the Butterfly Volunteers

Back in early March we were delighted to make a donation of £5,169 to the Butterfly Volunteers at the Lister Hospital, following a series of events throughout the year.  Take a look at this video that RewindMedia kindly made explaining what the volunteers do https://player.vimeo.com/video/362540032 

These wonderful, specially-trained volunteers provide companionship for end-of-life patients at the hospital and need to raise £25,000 a year to continue their work. We’d like to thank each and every one of you who helped us in raising a fifth of their annual fundraising target, hopefully taking the pressure off just a little bit!

Our Managing Director Claire Austin visited the Lister to hand over the cheque to Abdellah El Alami, General Manager for Cancer Services at East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust, and Butterfly Volunteer Service Coordinator Angela Fenn.

Claire Austin presenting cheque to Butterfly Volunteers

 

Introducing Cruse Bereavement Care – our 2020 charity of the year

We’re pleased to announce our 2020 charity of the year is Cruse Bereavement Care Hertfordshire. If you’ve recently visited one of our branches you may have already noticed the Cruse charity boxes inside.

Cruse Bereavement Care exists to promote the well-being of bereaved people and to enable anyone suffering bereavement caused by death to understand their grief and cope with their loss.

Cruse was established as a charity in 1959 and quickly grew across the country with local branches being set up. Each and every Cruse volunteer goes through a nationally accredited training programme in order to ensure that they practise to a consistently high standard and ensure continuous delivery of service.

Cruse Hertfordshire is run as a free service from their office in Hatfield with around 80 volunteers operating the helpline and visiting clients in their own home on a one-to-one basis.

Although volunteers provide their services free of charge, the charity needs to raise funds to pay for administrative and office costs, the telephone helpline and volunteer expenses.

Of course, these are very challenging times during the current pandemic and Cruse are currently having to transfer all of their services over to telephone support.  Although they have many trained volunteers who are able to provide this service, the charity says that they will need to cover the extra costs arising from the telephone sessions.

Once their service resumes and they are able to reinstate training, the team at Cruse would like to provide their volunteers with a number of extra training opportunities, and we very much look forward to being able to support them in doing just this.

Chair, Sue Friend, said: “Cruse Bereavement Care Hertfordshire are delighted to be chosen as Charity of the Year by Austin’s. Their recognition of the help our dedicated volunteers give to bereaved people means a great deal to our organisation.”

To find out more about the Cruse Bereavement Care Hertfordshire, visit: www.cruse-hertfordshire.org.uk/contact

 In the meantime, we’ll be posting updates about the work they do throughout the year on our website and social media channels.

 

Claire’s Arctic Survival Challenge

February 24th, 2020    Author:

During the last week of January, our MD Claire was a long way from Hertfordshire – she was 150km south of the Arctic Circle in Ostersund, Sweden. Not content with the typical wet British winter, Claire was getting ready to take on an Arctic Survival Challenge, heading off into the wilderness to live off the grid, test her survival instinct and learn all about life in this challenging environment.

‘But why’, we hear you ask?! Well, despite Sweden being a very beautiful country with fantastic stargazing opportunities and miles of open space, a few miles closer to home is an amazing charity called Home-Start Hertfordshire.

All for a good cause

They help families in difficulty by putting volunteers into homes for a few hours a week to act as mentors, helping to prevent issues from becoming bigger problems. Claire’s mission was to raise much-needed funds for Home-Start Hertfordshire, setting herself a target of £5,000 to donate to the charity. Thanks to the generous support of friends, family, colleagues and total strangers, she has, to date, raised a whopping £4,665.00, just shy of her target.

One thing’s for sure, Claire never shies away from a challenge. She completed a trek in India back in 2010 and Vietnam in 2015, raising funds for local causes on both occasions and with the same company as her Arctic Challenge, ‘Different Travel’. She’s very grateful to her team of colleagues who continue to “keep the Austin’s ship on course” in her absence, enabling her to embark on these adventures and help so many in the process. In fact, Home-Start Stevenage (as it was called) was Austin’s first ever Charity of the Year back in 2002.

Ready for the off

With an emergency whistle, camping mat, toilet tissue and her “very expensive but very worthwhile” duck-down jacket all safely packed, Claire flew out to Sweden ready for her challenge to start. She met with her fellow adventurers on arrival and had a few days adjusting to life in this environment, from learning how to get around on cross-country skis, to finding food, lighting fires and building shelters.

“There was a real mix of ages,” says Claire, “from 23-67. It was a test of personality because you quickly worked out who you would work well with and who you probably wouldn’t!”

Given the harsh environment, with temperatures dipping to -11 degrees, teamwork was going to be key once the three day survival challenge got underway.

Settling in

“We spent the first few days in a log cabin,” says Claire. “There was no electricity so everything was by torch or candlelight and we spent our time lighting fires and keeping warm!”

“I hadn’t realised how inhibiting the darkness would be,” she says. “It was only light between 9.30am and 3.30pm everyday. Although the skies at night were just spectacular.”

Let the challenge commence

The ‘luxuries’ of the log cabin were soon a distant memory as the team set out into the wilderness with their bare essentials, camping mats and sleeping bags, which would keep them warm down to around -50 degrees!

Day 1

The first night was spent in a traditional Scandi tent with a log burner in the middle. “We had to keep the log burner going, so took it in turns to get up through the night. We also had to melt the snow for water,” explains Claire.

“It was cold that night but I did sleep. I’m lucky that I can sleep anywhere!” And it was a good job Claire did sleep, as the team had spent some of the day starting construction on the ‘quinzee’, or snow hole, that would be the final night’s accommodation.

“We had to start building it two days before to allow the snow structure to freeze solid,” she explains.

Day 2

The second night’s accommodation was a little more rustic than the tent – and took the whole day to build. It was an A-frame shelter made out of the surrounding trees, complete with a trench in the middle for a fire.

“We spent the day collecting, sawing and chopping wood. We had an open fire and a window to the stars!

“This was my best night’s sleep – I got 10 hours and had to be woken up! We didn’t have to keep the fire going that night so we all got a good rest.”

By now, all that fresh air and hard work was starting to take its toll. Claire and the team were living on sachets of food that they just added hot water to. Each one provided around 600-700 calories per person. “They weren’t too bad!” says Claire, “we had all sorts including pasta dishes!”

Day 3

As Friday night came around the snow hole was ready for occupation.

The team had been tunnelling the hole with spades and ice axes to carve a domed ceiling. They then made a couple of entrances and put a ski pole up into the roof for ventilation.

Once inside they had to light a candle to ensure there was enough oxygen present for all eight of them sleeping inside. Of course this meant it was back to ‘candle watch’ with Claire on the 4.30am shift!

Homeward bound

On Saturday morning the team returned to the log cabin where the sauna, hot tub and a proper meal were ready to greet them. And by Monday morning Claire was back in the Austin’s office!

If you’d like to make a donation to Home-Start Hertfordshire you can still do so via Claire’s Virgin Money Giving page at https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/ClaireAustinHope

Thank you so much to everyone who has already donated and offered Claire so many words of support.