Lonely this Christmas

We are in the final straight and the sprint is on to the finish line with Christmas. The recent snowy weather has made us feel festive and I am sure your kids are bouncing off the walls.

Christmas is a magical time for the family, but for some people it can be an incredibly lonely time of year. Have you ever spent a few days in the house and got “cabin fever”? Imagine having that feeling tenfold and that is the situation for some people every single day.

We automatically assume that it is the elderly that suffer most with loneliness. This is simply not the case, it can affect any age and gender. Young teens can find it difficult to make friends and feel isolated. Single parents who have no-one to turn to after the kids have gone to bed. Middle aged adults may feel that they are at a point of mid-life crisis, in an unfulfilling job or unhappy family life.

Smile!

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Then there is Christmas to deal with, some people feel the pressure to be happy and have to put on a brave face. The adverts on TV at this time of the year give the impression of happy families going about Christmas, all bubbly and bouncy. We know that it is just TV, but it does tug on the heart strings.

If you are feeling lonely and not wanting to join in, the comments of “stop being a bah humbug” or “here comes the Grinch” do not help. Talking to that person instead of ribbing them may unearth signs that something is wrong.

There could be many reasons why. Has your sibling recently returned home from university for the holidays? Have you asked them how university life is for them? Does your partner work away a lot? Being at home at Christmas may seem like the perfect antidote, until they must go away again and leave the family. Has someone recently had a relationship breakdown? Watching people play happy families is really difficult for someone in that situation to deal with.

Helping those that will be alone

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Not everyone wants to be alone at Christmas, but some have no choice. And this is where you can make a difference. There are many ways to spread some festive cheer to those people

  • Pop over the road and just check on someone to see if they are ok. Do they need some shopping doing?
  • Offer them a chair at your Christmas table. When you are cooking for 20, is one more going to hurt?
  • A random act of kindness. If you see an elderly person on their own in the supermarket, buy them some flowers, offer to pay for their shopping. I guarantee it will make them smile, and guess what, you will feel good about yourself too.
  • If you cannot be with a relative who is alone on Christmas Day, call them.
  • Volunteer and lend a hand at the Local Care home.

Tackling the loneliness issue

The awareness of loneliness has been highlighted in the press, more so at this time of year. Charities and celebrities also recognise this and want to make a difference. A few examples of this are:

Age UK have launched their “no one should have no one campaign”. The accompanying film, Just another day, follows an older man’s unchanging daily routine, of which Christmas is just another day.

Sarah Millican is tackling loneliness on Christmas Day by getting people who are alone or feeling alone to chat to each other on Twitter with the hashtag #joinme

And, a charity close to our hearts at Vigiles, The Marmalade Trust are taking people who would otherwise be on their own, out for lunch on Christmas Day.

We wish you all a very happy Christmas

 

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The Internet of Things. What is it?

In our blog last month, we focused on Smart Cities. The Internet of Things or IoT was mentioned and is a critical part of a cities ability to become smarter. In this blog we will go into more detail about what the IoT is and how it will affect our everyday lives, both now and in the future.

As the name suggests, the Internet of Things is a very broad term covering many aspects of technology which can be connected to the internet. Any physical device, vehicle, building, and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors and network connectivity falls under the IoT spectrum. In turn these items can store and share data via the internet. And it is a lot of data that is shared.

So, what is the whole point of it? Data can be used in ways we could not have imagined even 10 years ago. By gathering this information, it can be analysed and then create an action to help someone with a particular task, or learn from a process.

This will mean improved efficiency, accuracy and personal/economic benefit.

It’s only the beginning for the IoT

There are various products and innovations for the consumer now available due to the Internet of Things. Some of these are:

Smarter homes

Hive for starters, smart technology allowing you to control your heating and lighting from a mobile app. The Amazon Echo is another. You can control connected home devices, order an Uber or make a shopping list.

Wearable technology

All wearable technology, which includes smart watches, fitness trackers, VR headsets and more, generates a ton of data that businesses are just beginning to understand the possibilities and potential applications for.

Environment

Our planet is struggling. Through climate change and other factors, the data clearly shows what is happening. Technology can also help us understand what is going on with a particular species. There has been a lot of talk recently about bees and their place in the ecosystem. This article explains how bees can be tracked and scientists can help their survival.

Business and IoT

Technology has always been at the forefront of a successful business. With the current pace of technological advances, those who adapt in business to the IoT are the ones who will survive and thrive in the future.

Inventory Tracking and Management

A business that relies on manufacturing or storage can use remote scanners and similar high-tech devices to help their workers keep track of inventory item by item.

Remote Work

Due to business needs and flexibility, home working has become popular in recent years. With multiple devices all wired into the same network, remote working employees will be more connected than ever before. They can accomplish new types of tasks by tapping into devices in an office or factory floor.

Speed and Accessibility

Since consumers will have access to new forms of devices due to the IoT, the buying cycle will likely shorten in length. Consumers will, with a handful of spoken phrases, be able to find and order exactly the product they’re looking for. For suppliers and logistics providers, they will all have similarly advanced technology at their disposal, meaning customers will get products faster.

Efficiency and Productivity

IoT developments will allow workers to accomplish large-scale tasks faster and with greater precision. A business may need fewer staff members, so could scale operations in new areas that allow a business to expand.

Whether the IoT reaches the heady predictions of 50 billion connected devices by 2020 remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, the IoT is growing and will continue to grow into 2018 and beyond. This article explains some of the predictions for the IoT next year. Watch this space………

 

Christmas Fire Safety

Well, here it is. At Vigiles, we love this time of year. Christmas is just weeks away now. The tree is up. The presents are nearly wrapped. The turkey is on order. All that remains is to leave out the whiskey and mince pie for Santa.

As you know, Vigiles take fire safety seriously. We do not want your festive season to be spoilt. Follow this checklist so this Christmas is a cracker and not to be remembered for the wrong reasons.

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  • Christmas tree – Old trees can be identified by bouncing the tree trunk on the ground. If many needles fall off, the tree has been cut too long and has probably dried out. We would not recommend buying one like this as it is a fire hazard. Once you have chosen your tree, keep your tree watered. An un-watered tree is also far more flammable, to see what we mean, check out this video.
  • Decorative lights – More than likely these will have been kept up in the loft for nearly a year. If there are any rodents up there, they love to nibble cables. Give them a thorough check over for any signs of wear or damage. Your light display may look spectacular, but do not leave them on when you go out or overnight.
  • Decorations – Do not attach them to or near any light source or heaters.
  • Sockets – Have you noticed how your decorative light collection seems to grow each year! All those lights need to be plugged in somewhere. Resist the temptation to add further adapters into a socket bar. An overloaded socket is a major electrical fire risk. This handy interactive guide will ensure you do not exceed the maximum load.
  • Portable heaters – The temperature is really taking a dip at the moment. The portable heater will be a useful ally to keep you warm. As it won’t have seen the light of day for a while, please check over the unit, its cable and plug for any deterioration or damage.
  • Candles – There is something about candles at this time of year. Never leave one unattended. As we have more flammable decorations around at Christmas, please ensure they are placed well away from them.
  • Open fire places and log burners – There is nothing better than a cosy fire and a glass of mulled wine after the post-Xmas dinner walk. If you have guests with young children and pets, a fireguard is a must.
  • Cooking – As any parent knows, there are two major distractions on Christmas Day. Your excited children and the couple of sherries you may have had! Unattended cooking is a recipe for disaster.
  • Smoke alarms – The presents are opened and that remote-controlled car from Auntie Irene doesn’t come with any batteries! The toy must be played with straight away. Where to get some batteries on Christmas Day without any shops being open? The temptation to remove them from your smoke alarm might seem like a great idea. Until you forget to replace them.

Now go and celebrate. Have a magical and safe Christmas from Vigiles.

The time is now to engage your employees

An employer should recognise that happy employees equal a more productive workforce. So why do so many companies fail to engage their staff?

A study from the University of Warwick reveals that happy and engaged staff are 12% more productive, while unhappy staff are 10% less productive. Meanwhile, low employee engagement is reportedly costing the UK £340bn per year.

What does a happy employee do? Transfers that attitude towards the employer’s customers. Simple. So, why do so many companies have such a high percentage of staff turnover due to employees being unhappy in their jobs? Why do some people feel they are just a number and not a person in their workplace? An employer can do so much to ensure their staff remain focused, happy and loyal to them.

According to this article, Employee engagement specialist Officevibe revealed only 13 per cent of staff worldwide feel engaged. The article explains how employers can engage their staff and the explains benefits of an away day. It may seem like a cliché but they work wonders for team bonding and morale. That is just one-way engagement can bring benefits.

Interactive technology – Here and now

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Technology is a huge part of our lives, you cannot get away from it. Look at the hype behind the release of the latest iPhone for example! Shouldn’t employees be thinking to use technology to increase engagement?

  • BT – Created environmental champions across the business that are promoting best practice techniques for staff to improve energy efficiency. Using the latest technology these champions are motivated through online hubs and forums that allow them to discuss energy saving at work. They even have a dedicated hub for energy savings at home.
  • KFC – Begun using a VR training gamein which the new employee tries to escape a locked room by completing the restaurant’s five-step cooking process.
  • Holovis – Offers a Near Miss Simulator that can recreate non-compliant and unsafe working conditions.

One area where engagement is lacking is through training and safety lectures. It is all too easy to rely on “Death by PowerPoint” or the same safety video recorded in 1973.

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An employee will switch off straight away as it is nothing new. Your brain goes “blah, blah, blah, oh look nearly lunchtime”. Afterwards, an employee will feel as though nothing has been achieved, it has just been another tick box exercise. If an employer cannot be bothered to engage with their staff, why should they make the effort at work?

When it comes to Fire Safety training, the same applies. Bad acting in a badly made video. How can it be taken seriously when you have seen the video countless times?

The same applies when staff are asked if they want to be a Fire Marshall in the workplace. Hardly a show of hands. When it is pointed out the training involves going to the local fire station to be taught how to put out a small fire with an extinguisher, the hands shoot up. It is because it is interactive, it is interesting and memorable.

This is where Vigiles comes in. From surveys we have run the problem with Fire Safety training is that it is not memorable. It is not fun. We are developing a creative solution which will disrupt the Fire Safety training marketplace. An interactive, accessible mobile phone application. Watch this space for further information.

 

How Smart Cities will shape the future

Just what is a Smart city?

There are many factors that come into effect to determine a Smart City. Broadly speaking though it is an urban area that uses different types of electronic data collection and sensors to supply information to manage assets and resources efficiently within that city. For example, management of traffic and transport systems, schools, hospitals, energy supply networks to name a few. This information is usually collated from devices connected to the Internet of Things (IoT).

The need for Smart Cities is driven by many factors. Environmental changes, particularly climate change means we must improve our way of living. Urban growth is increasing at a rapid rate, meaning many of our cities infrastructures are struggling to cope. Our social and spending habits have changed to a more on-line world. Finally, there is the pressure on local government finances. As technology has increased ten-fold, then this is one answer to the problems we have created.

Therefore, the aim of a Smarty City is to use technology to enhance the quality and performance of a city. This will in turn reduce costs and energy consumption.

What makes a city smart?

As there are many elements and variations towards making a Smart City, let us look at 3 examples from around the world.

Amsterdam

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The Amsterdam Smart City initiative, https://amsterdamsmartcity.com began in 2009 and currently includes 170 projects collaboratively developed by residents, government and businesses. Some of which include:

  • Amsterdecks is an urban network of water quality monitoring decks that provides access and information about water in Amsterdam.
  • Measuring canal traffic, the aim is to avoid traffic jams on waterways.
  • The Green Living Lab is a living lab in a nature where education and research into healthy urban living takes place.
  • A city that senior citizens enjoy living in and which encourages healthy and active aging. 

Stockholm

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One of the leading lights in the Smart City stakes, Stockholm has a four-pronged attack to make this city smart, http://international.stockholm.se/governance/smart-and-connected-city/

  • Green IT uses information technology to reduce negative impact on the environment, as well as lowering the energy consumption and environmental impact of the IT sector as a whole.
  • E-services provides support in everyday life. Applying for permits, schools, elderly care or to plan a rout to work amongst others.
  • Kista Science City is the place for anyone working in ICT (Information and Communication Technologies). Since IBM and Ericsson moved to Kista in the 1970s, over 1,000 other ICT companies have followed suit.
  • Through Skoab, the aim of the City’s fibre network is to build a competition-neutral infrastructure capable of meeting future communication needs.

Columbus

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Columbus, https://www.columbus.gov/smartcolumbus competed against 77 cities nationwide to win the Smart City Challenge in 2016. With $40 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation and $10 million from Vulcan, Inc., a Paul G. Allen Company the city has many ongoing projects, some of which are:

  • Biking, driving and taking the bus are obvious ways to travel, Smart Mobility Hubs at selected spots have been set up so residents can easily get around the city
  • A new system that uses camera technology will spot potential human-bus collisions and alert bus drivers to it. Making neighbourhoods safer in the short term, and the data captured will shape safer bus route decisions in the long run.
  • When people gather for local events, technology tells users where parking exists to help reduce congestion

And as for Vigiles home town?

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Bristol has a programme called “Bristol is Open, https://www.bristolisopen.com.

The Bristol is Open project will effectively turn Bristol into a giant laboratory and look at how big data can be used to solve problems such as air pollution, traffic congestion and assisted living for the elderly. The network could also be used to collect and understand data from the city’s trial of self-driving cars. Bristol is one of four UK cities currently testing driverless car technology as part of a government scheme.

Indeed, Bristol has now overtaken London as the smartest city in the UK according to this article.

Great news for the burgeoning tech scene within the city!

Fire Doors – keep them closed!

Fire doors. What is the point of them? I have lost count of the number of offices, blocks of flats and buildings I have visited where they are propped open with boxes of paper or a door wedge! I know they can be quite cumbersome to open and are fairly heavy when trying to bring an arm full of stationary back to the office or getting a pushchair through. But, quite simply, leaving fire doors open endangers other people’s lives.

Did you know a fire door can stop the spread of a fire from 30-120 minutes depending on the type of fire door that has been installed. This is more than enough time to find a safe escape route should a fire break out. Imagine how much more difficult it would be to escape if a fire door was left open. If proof is needed of their effectiveness, please check out this video

Fire Doors fall under current legislation called the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO). Within this regulation the responsibility to ensure fire doors are correctly installed and within good working order fall under the following responsible person(s).

  • Rented property – The landlord must ensure that their properties and tenants are safe. They can be criminally prosecuted if they do not fulfil their duties.
  • Council and Social housing – Social Landlords (be they Local Authorities or Housing Associations). In 2015, 58% of all fire door fines (£454,786) were issued to landlords of HMOs in the UK
  • Care homes and sheltered accommodation – Whoever the nominated person is within the establishment, they can be criminally prosecuted if they do not fulfil their duties.
  • Offices, shops and industrial units –  Building owners, employers and operators have a responsibility. There is concern with mixed use buildings where businesses and residents co-exist where either party is unsure about who the responsible person is.
  • Schools, Universities and Colleges – They are all responsible. Educational establishments are often a harsh environment for doors, with high pupil and student flow so are often the most taxing to monitor. Halls of residence fall within the relevant remit of the school, university or college.
  • Hotel and Guest Houses – The Owners have a responsibility to ensure that guests are safe. With fire often happening at night, whilst guests are disoriented in a unfamiliar environment, a clear and well communicated signposted fire plan is essential
  • Hospitals – Hospital and Healthcare Management have a responsibility to ensure that employees and users of their patients are safe.
  • Public Buildings – Building managers take the responsibility, which can be quite tricky due to the nature of some buildings being listed and placement of fire doors.

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Fire Door Safety week starts on 25th September. The main aims of this action group are:

  • To raise awareness of the critical role of fire doors, drawing attention to specific issues such as poor installation and maintenance.
  • To encourage building owners and users to check the operation and condition of their fire doors and to report those that aren’t satisfactory.
  • To link together the initiatives of many organisations with common interests in the fire door and passive fire protection industries.
  • To engage and educate people, helping the whole building industry and every property owner to understand the correct specification, supply, installation, operation, inspection and maintenance of fire doors.

To get involved visit the website at http://www.firedoorsafetyweek.co.uk

Samaritans – more than just a last resort.

Before you read this article, I need you to conjure up an image. Say to yourself “Samaritans” and close your eyes for 5 seconds. What did you see? Quite possibly it was the image of someone in despair, possibly hanging onto the railings of a bridge, wanting to commit suicide and calling Samaritans as a last resort for help.

This image is far from the truth of what Samaritans is about as we will find out later.

The phrase “a good Samaritan” is part of our vocabulary and means someone who goes out on a limb to help others, even if they are complete strangers, possibly endangering themselves in the process

The origins of this meaning goes all the way back to biblical times. In one of the parables told by Jesus, a Jew was beaten, robbed and left to die by the roadside. Many people passed by but did not help. The only person to help was a man from Samaria. This act of kindness was particularly admirable because Jews and Samaritans were generally enemies.

So why do Samaritans have this “last resort” image?

Samaritans were aware of this, research for the charity found that while 90% of the public was aware of its existence, few people could accurately describe its service. Many respondents said the charity simply supported people when they were suicidal.

So, in 2002 Samaritans re-branded. The main aim was to make it clear that suicide reduction remains very central to their philosophy, but that people may not be actively suicidal to need hope and support. Samaritans is to do with coping and finding a way forward, whatever the issue. You will also notice that they dropped the “The” from their name. This article from the Guardian back in 2002 goes into more detail and is well worth a read.

As their website says, “We offer a safe place for you to talk any time you like, in your own way – about whatever’s getting to you. You don’t have to be suicidal.”

The key words there are “whatever’s getting to you”. The most common calls to Samaritans are:

  • relationship and family problems
  • loss, including loss of a friend or a family member through bereavement
  • financial worries
  • job-related stress
  • college or study-related stress
  • loneliness and isolation
  • depression
  • painful and/or disabling physical illness
  • heavy use of or dependency on alcohol or other drugs
  • thoughts of suicide

Samaritans are there to listen, they are there to help talk people through their concerns, worries and troubles. All Samaritans are volunteers who are trained to a high level. They won’t make decisions or give advice to people, rather support the decisions they make. Samaritans strongly believe people are the experts of their own life so their advice or opinions are not important.

As these personal stories tell, Samaritans service changes lives, for the better. If you ever feel in a situation where you need support, you could not go far wrong than calling Samaritans first, not last.