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Five things to do for free in London

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Visitors at the National Gallery in London
Free history: founded in 1824, the National Gallery houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900.

I was raised in Clapham, South-West London, before moving to the northside near Watford. It is also worth noting that I was literally “made in Chelsea”, as I was born in Chelsea & Westminster Hospital! Therefore, the city holds a special place in my heart as it now makes up much of my identity.

Growing up as a Londoner, I have somewhat become an expert in enjoying what the city has to offer. London is a fantastic city, but the cost of living has reached new levels of ridiculous! Tourists who want to get a London experience can often be left out of pocket. In recent times this has been made much worse through global affairs such as the war in Ukraine and Covid-19 placing a heavy burden on businesses to survive, leading to high inflation and a supply-side recession. Luckily, as someone who knows the ins and outs of the Big Smoke, I can solve your problem with five fantastic activities you can get up to for free whilst visiting the heart of the United Kingdom.

 

British Museum

This is my personal favourite because I’m a huge history and classics geek. In school, I absolutely loved learning about the Ancient Greeks, and Egyptians and even studied Latin in the context of the Roman Empire. The British Museum is actually very controversial because its name is very misleading! The antiquity on display in the museum nearly all originate from foreign lands that the Great British Empire plundered or colonised, leading to social justice groups fighting to have them returned. A great example of this is the Parthenon Sculptures that were taken down from the beautiful temple in Athens by a British diplomat Lord Elgin, who used them for display in his family home in the UK. Whether or not you think antiquity should be returned is a whole other discussion. Still, for now the British Museum is home to some of the world’s most impressive, fantastic and ancient antiquity that will absolutely blow your mind. Entry is entirely free, and I can’t stress enough how much I love it there.

 

Borough Market

I know what you’re thinking; the word market sounds pricey! But to be honest, simply walking around the market is an experience in itself. Plus, most of the stalls give out free food samples, which is definitely worth nabbing. The market itself claims to have existed for over 1000 years, which for context is around the time Ragnar Lodbrok and the Vikings were raiding Saxon churches and settlements. Borough Market is, therefore so much more than just a place of commerce, instead, its actually deep rooted in the history of London, and you will be able to pick up on a level of culture which seems to be dying in our younger generations. So go and experience it before it goes!

 

East London street art

My third recommendation is a slightly more alternative option for those of you who don’t want to do the most obvious touristy things. East London street art isn’t a service, nor is it run by one organisation like those above and below. It is simply an area of art and culture. If you’re a fan of Blur, you’ll love to know that their album cover for Blur: the best of was designed by Julian Opie, who is one of many talented East London street artists. I believe this is a special place because, much like Only Falls and Horses and EastEnders, it captures the essence of east London and the docks. Life was pretty tough for workers and families in these parts, especially during the industrial revolution, and where it’s great to look at how amazing London is as a first-world city, it’s important that you get an understanding of what life was and is really like for lots of people. The east end is full of culture, whether it’s West Ham or Millwall football teams or even memories of Ronnie and Reggie Kray and the gangsters. This is greatly reflected in the street art, and for me, it’s a must-see.

 

Hyde Park

Despite being home to over 8 million people and infamous for pollution during the industrial revolution, London is also one of the greenest cities in Europe, with 8.3 million trees and 14,000 species of wildlife. One significant reason for this is its numerous parks. The most popular of which is Hyde Park. It’s home to a wide diversity of flora and animals for those of you who are interested in nature. Speakers corner is where you can get some of the rawest insights into different members of the public’s views on life, religion, and politics. London is the capital of British politics, meaning that only the most opinionated people get listeners at the speakers corner. Hyde Park also consists of the Rose Garden, fountains, memorials and statues. Overall, Hyde park is visually aesthetic, and its easy to spend a day wandering around the area.

 

National Gallery

Whether or not you enjoy the National Gallery is subjective. Artists and intellectuals love it. However, if you’re not interested in that area of work, you may find it a little tedious. Personally, I really enjoyed my trip there, although this was mainly because I was with my school and we spent the entire time hiding for our teachers! There are over 2,300 pieces of work to observe, meaning that you can definitely spend a day in the Gallery. Its also located in Trafalgar square, which is a really cool part of London with loads of street artists, Nelson’s column, and King Charles I’s statue. The magnitude and fame of the National Gallery made it impossible to miss off this list of the five best free activities in London; definitely worth dropping in!

 

Overall, London is great with so many things to do for free. Some honourable mentions include Oxford street, the Victoria and Albert Museum, St James’ Park and Camden Market. Yes, eating and staying in London is expensive, but that doesn’t mean you have to splash the cash during the day for a good time. For me, London isn’t just a location or city. It’s an artistic masterpiece, a foundation of history, and a way of life. You can’t go wrong, especially if you visit the above places. I hope you find London as heart-warming as I do.

Lifestyle

10 Thrift Stores in London to Shop on a Budget

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10 Thrift Stores in London to Shop on a Budget
Octavia was founded by Victorian philanthropist and social reformer Octavia Hill, who began her work with the poor of London in the 1860s

Thrifting in London offers a fantastic way to shop stylishly on a budget while supporting sustainable fashion. Here are 10 must-visit thrift stores in London, each providing a unique shopping experience.

TRAID

TRAID offers a wide range of second-hand clothing, with proceeds supporting global development projects. The store is well-organized, making it easy to find stylish, affordable items. TRAID’s commitment to sustainability and ethical fashion makes it a popular choice among conscious shoppers.

Opening times: Monday to Saturday, 10am to 6pm; Sunday, 11am to 5pm.
To find your nearest Traid: http://traid.org.uk/shop-at-traid/

Beyond Retro

Nearest Tube: Oxford Circus
Beyond Retro is a haven for vintage lovers, offering a vast collection of retro clothing and accessories. The store is known for its eclectic mix and affordable prices, making it a favorite among fashion enthusiasts and bargain hunters alike.
Opening times: Monday to Saturday, 10am to 7pm; Sunday, 12pm to 6pm.
For more information: beyondretro.com

There are even Fara thrift shops dedicated to kids

FARA Charity Shop

Nearest Tube: Notting Hill Gate
with 40 shops and 30 years in charity retailing, FARA Charity Shops support children in Romania, offering a wide selection of clothing, books, and homewares. It’s a great place to find unique, budget-friendly items while supporting a good cause. If you go a bit outside London, there are even  Fara shops dedicated to kids.
Opening times: Monday to Saturday, 10am to 6pm; Sunday, 11am to 5pm.
For more information: faracharity.org

Oxfam Boutique

Nearest Tube: High Street Kensington
Oxfam Boutique offers a curated selection of high-quality second-hand clothing and accessories. Proceeds support global poverty reduction efforts, making it a great place to shop with a purpose.
Opening times: Monday to Saturday, 10am to 6pm; Sunday, 11am to 5pm.
For more information: oxfam.org.uk

Crisis

Nearest Tube: Stratford
Crisis supports homeless people in the UK, offering a range of second-hand clothing, books, and homewares. It’s a great place to find affordable, stylish items while supporting a good cause.
Opening times: Monday to Saturday, 10am to 6pm; Sunday, 11am to 5pm.
For more information: crisis.org.uk

Cancer Research UK

Nearest Tube: Gloucester Road
Cancer Research UK shops offer a wide selection of second-hand clothing and accessories, with proceeds funding cancer research. The stores are well-stocked and reasonably priced, making them a popular choice for budget-conscious shoppers.
Opening times: Monday to Saturday, 10am to 6pm; Sunday, 11am to 5pm.
For more information: cancerresearchuk.org

Sue Ryder

Nearest Tube: King’s Cross St. Pancras
Sue Ryder charity shops offer a range of second-hand clothing, books, and homewares. Proceeds support palliative, neurological, and bereavement support services, making your shopping trip meaningful.
Opening times: Monday to Saturday, 10am to 6pm; Sunday, 11am to 5pm.
For more information: sueryder.org

Barnardo’s

Nearest Tube: Shepherd’s Bush
Barnardo’s charity shops offer a variety of second-hand clothing and accessories, with proceeds supporting vulnerable children and young people. The stores are well-stocked and affordably priced, making them a great option for thrifters.
Opening times: Monday to Saturday, 10am to 6pm; Sunday, 11am to 5pm.
For more information: barnardos.org.uk

Octavia Foundation

Nearest Tube: South Kensington
Octavia Foundation charity shops offer high-quality second-hand clothing and homewares, supporting local community projects. The stores are known for their stylish selections and affordable prices. Octavia was founded by Octavia Hill, the Victorian philanthropist and social reformer, whose ideas formed the basis of the profession of housing management. Octavia began her work with the poor of London in the 1860s; she was a pioneer of social housing, a founder of the National Trust and the first clean air campaigner for London.


Opening times: Monday to Saturday, 10am to 6pm; Sunday, 11am to 5pm.
For more information: octaviafoundation.org.uk

Shopping at these thrift stores in London not only helps you save money but also supports various charitable causes and promotes sustainable fashion.

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Four great reasons to get married at home

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Four great reasons to get married at home
Hosting weddings at home frees up 60% of the budget for other expenses | Photo: Álvaro CvG

Your wedding venue sets the scene for one of the most special days of your life. If you want to get married in a place that both you and your partner love, choosing to tie the knot at home may be the perfect fit.

There are a multitude of reasons you might want to get married on your own property. Not only does it make for a cosy, sentimental celebration, but it can also be significantly easier to plan a micro wedding. And that’s not all – coming up, we share three reasons it’s a great idea to get married at home.

A low-key, romantic atmosphere

Your home will be one of the places that’s most meaningful to you and your partner. It’s likely where you spend the most of your time together, making it the perfect setting for an intimate, romantic celebration.

Here, you’re surrounded by all your personal items, like family photos, memorabilia and other special trinkets  – that’s the vast majority of your wedding decor taken care of. Plus, celebrating at home means you won’t have to worry about finding a place to stay on your wedding night, and many of your guests will live in close enough proximity to get home after your celebration too. Without all those practical elements of the day to worry about, both you and your guests are likely to feel less stressed, which will only add to the low-key, relaxed atmosphere.

A sustainable celebration

On average, 14.5 tons of carbon emissions are created by the average wedding celebration. There are many elements that make a wedding unsustainable – chief offenders include imported flowers, single-use decor items and food waste.

Getting married at home will most often mean a smaller guestlist, and that means less of these items will be needed to make for a great celebration. With fewer mouths to feed, you’ll be cutting down on food waste. Plus, there’s less space to decorate than there would be in a large wedding venue, meaning you’ll only need minimal decor items, if any at all.

Just remember that while a wedding at home is the more sustainable option, it can still be harmful to the environment – try to be mindful of your energy consumption and waste throughout the day to ensure an eco-friendly celebration.

A budget-friendly option

Having most of the things you need for your wedding already means that you won’t have to purchase lots of new items, which will reduce the cost of your celebration considerably.

Most couples will need to dedicate around 40% to 60% of their overall wedding budget to their venue – by hosting your wedding at home, that’s plenty of money freed up to spend on other things. For example, the honeymoon you’ve always dreamed of.

There’s more you can do to make your day as affordable as possible. You could ask some of your loved ones to bring chairs, rather than having to rent seating. You could also choose to DIY your decor with items you have lying around the house, or make your own wedding cake – a DIY cake will not only add to the homely atmosphere you’re after, but it’ll also be easy to keep it deliciously fresh.

Freedom to plan your dream wedding

Your wedding day is special, so it’s natural to want to celebrate it somewhere that’s meaningful to the both of you. You should never feel pressured to host a wedding that’s bigger and grander than you’re comfortable with – in fact, there’s something magical about keeping your wedding small and intimate, with only your closest loved ones in attendance.

If you’re unsure, remember that there are no rules when it comes to celebrating your wedding. You can pack your house full of a hundred guests if you want to, or keep it to a select few – just make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into if you do opt to host a bigger wedding at home.

Besides the size of your celebration, you can make your wedding at home as lavish or as low-key and rustic as you wish. It’s your home – so you have total freedom to plan it in keeping with your vision for the perfect day.

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Why Are Dogs at Polling Stations So Popular in the UK?

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A Terrier dog at a polling station in the UK
Some of the UK's 13 million dogs have made it to polling stations for the General Election today

On election day in the UK, it’s not just voters who are making their way to the polling stations—dogs are too! The tradition of bringing dogs to polling stations has become a popular one up and down the country. Not surprisingly the hashtag #DogsAtPollingStations has topped the trends on social media platforms since early morning today, with proud pet owners sharing pictures of their dogs waiting patiently outside the polling stations.

In the UK, there are approximately 13 million dogs, with popular breeds including Labrador Retrievers, French Bulldogs, and Cocker Spaniels. The popularity of bringing dogs to polling stations can be attributed to the British love for dogs, the joy of sharing the voting experience with a beloved pet, and the chance to participate in a charming, community-driven social media phenomenon.

Social Media Consultant Anna Skipwith turned up at her polling station in London with a pack of dogs, while author Rory Cellan-Jones brought his rescued Romanian dog, Sofia, to vote with him this morning.

Can Anyone Bring a Dog While Voting?

Yes, anyone can bring their dog to the polling station while they vote. However, dogs are generally not allowed inside the polling station itself unless they are assistance dogs. Most voters tie their dogs outside the station while they go in to cast their vote.

Tips for Looking After Your Dog at the Polling Station

If you’re planning to bring your dog along when you vote, here are some tips to ensure it’s a pleasant experience for both you and your pet:

  1. Leash and Secure: Always keep your dog on a leash and make sure you can securely tie them up outside the polling station.
  2. Bring Water: Ensure your dog stays hydrated, especially if you anticipate a wait.
  3. Avoid Peak Times: Try to visit the polling station during quieter times to avoid long waits and crowded areas.
  4. Stay Close: Make sure your dog can see you or that you can quickly return to them if needed.
  5. Check the Weather: If it’s a hot day, make sure there’s some shade for your dog, and if it’s raining, bring a towel to dry them off.

Restrictions to Be Aware Of

While dogs are welcome to wait outside polling stations, there are a few restrictions to keep in mind:

  • No Entry Inside: Except for assistance dogs, pets are not allowed inside the polling station.
  • Tied Up Securely: Ensure that your dog is tied up in a way that doesn’t obstruct the entrance or pathways for other voters.
  • Behavior: Make sure your dog is well-behaved and doesn’t pose a threat or nuisance to other voters.

Things to Keep in Mind on July 4th, 2024

With the upcoming general elections on July 4th, 2024, here are a few additional considerations if you plan to bring your dog along:

  • Plan Ahead: Check the specific rules or guidelines for your local polling station.
  • Consideration for Others: Be mindful of other voters, especially those who may have allergies or fears of dogs.
  • Post a Photo: Join the fun and post a photo of your dog at the polling station with the hashtag #DogsAtPollingStations!

Bringing your dog to the polling station can add a fun and memorable aspect to your voting experience. Just ensure you follow these tips and guidelines to make it a positive experience for everyone involved.

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