Last week, I saw this tweet from our ambassador Stacey Copeland. Stacey is a professional boxer and is also passionate about #PaveTheWay, which helps to shift the view and opinion on women participating in sport.
This week, across the country, we celebrate Emmeline Pankhurst and the 100th anniversary of women’s first right to vote in Britain. Pankhurst and fellow Suffragettes were committed to securing a voice for women; that they could and should participate in the political dialogues shaping our country.
Much like Emmeline, Stacey Copeland challenges the status quo through action and dispels the perceived limitations based on gender (oh, and did I mention both are Northerners!). These are the role models I point to when I hear a girl say she can’t.
At Mini Mermaid UK, we use a character-based curriculum that acknowledges the positive and negative voices that girls encounter on a daily basis. We work to strengthen the voice that builds confidence, which is the most important voice telling a girl that she can, and quieten the negative voice that erodes self-esteem.
Emmeline Pankhurst and the Suffragettes achieved a ground-breaking beginning for equality for women in Britain. Most importantly, they laid the foundation for the ongoing quest for equality for women. Women like Stacey Copeland continue that fight today. Amongst our young Mini Mermaids are the leaders who will carry this into tomorrow.
The thread between these women – past, present and future – is the belief that they can.
To all of them, high fins!
“Lack of physical activity among girls leading to poor mental health and low aspirations, warn experts.”
There was a lot in the news this week discussing sport, the differences between how young girls and boys participate (or in some cases don’t) and the correlation between physical activity and mental health. But this headline from The Independent jumped out at me. I found it frustrating. It frustrates me that so many young girls avoid physical activity, mostly because they’re so self-conscious. Uncomfortable sweating. Don’t want to seem “unfeminine.” Worry that they’re not perfect at it, or even worse, that they’ll fail. And that this avoidance can have long term implications for their future - mentally, emotionally and physically. In fact, a study in 2015 found girls aged 10-12 in England struggle more with their bodies, looks and health than most other countries in the world
But, you want to know what was more powerful than the frustration? The motivation. I want to reach out to every girl who feels this way and say, “You CAN! You’re amazing!” It’s ok to sweat and it’s ok to not be perfect. The most important thing is you tried. Your best IS the best!
While I brought Mini Mermaid to the UK for very personal reasons, I’m inspired by the girls who have participated in our programmes in Leeds, London and soon in Liverpool. In 2016, we conducted an impact report to see if our programme achieved what it set out to do. Five key benefits for the girls emerged:
These benefits transcend just participation in physical activity. Yes, we end each curriculum with a 5K challenge, but this challenge acts as a powerful vehicle for goal setting for each girl, and the belief that she can achieve. It’s the starting point for applying the lessons of Mini Mermaid. The girls became more aware of their own value, their strength and their ability to positively contribute to their families, schools and communities. We had one girl tell us, “I used to think I was bad at maths....I'm not bad, I just do it at my own pace.” Other girls said, “you learn how to stand up for yourself” and “It helped me to walk away and not listen to the bully.” A third said, “At Mini Mermaids we learn how to make people feel better if they have a problem.”
As we continue to grow Mini Mermaid in the UK, we hope that more girls have this type of positive experience with lasting rewards. I’d welcome anyone interested in learning more about Mini Mermaid UK, whether it's about volunteering or starting a programme to contact me.
We say this a lot here at Mini Mermaid and Young Tritons Running Club UK. Probably because it's true.
Ever since we started Mini Mermaid in Islington more than a year ago, I've continually been amazed by, grateful for and excited about how communities have responded to our mission. Schools, community centres, local businesses, parents, students and volunteers - all have come together to make our programmes a success. Since then, we’ve added 10 new programmes and are ready to launched our first London Young Tritons programme.
You can imagine how stoked I was when a new group joined this already impressive list of supporters - The Arsenal Foundation, which awarded us a grant last week. Since Arsenal's formation in 1886, they've identified ways in which they can give back to the communities that support them, and formally launched The Arsenal Foundation in 2012. The Foundation share our core value of helping young people achieve their full potential.
With this grant, we can fund even more programmes in Islington and Hackney. Why is this so important? Our 4-year programmes work with girls and boys, independently, between the ages of 7-11 to build self-worth and value, and instill a love of movement. Girls gain more confidence and self-esteem. Boys recognise that there’s more to strength than just physical. All take on a 5K challenge, the finish of which can mark the beginning of healthy long-term emotional, physical and mental habits.
High Fins to the crew at The Arsenal Foundation, as well as to everyone who's supported us as we grow here in London.
The Mini Mermaid Team
Interested in volunteering with us? We’re always on the lookout for new members of our tribe. Contact Khara at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’d like to bring Mini Mermaids and/or Young Tritons to your local school/ community, click here.
Mini Mermaid and Young Tritons has been a HUGE part of my life for nearly 3 years. I can’t imagine my life without it, without waking up at 3am in the morning with ideas and worries and scribbling them down in my notebook (#oldschool), without everyday being blown away by the dedication and support of my AMAZING community and without the amount of Mermaid gifts that I have been given!
In this time, we have had near to 700 girls through our programmes, we are just about to launch other pockets of programmes throughout the country, AND we are continuing to grow the boys programme.
The inspirational MMRC founder, Heidi Boynton had visited the UK when we were a little fledging organisation and so it was only right that it was my turn to go and visit her over in the USA (It was a tough decision, leaving a -2 degree, grey and soggy Leeds, to go to the 24 degree blue skied California in December!)
This trip wasn’t just about cementing the Mini Mermaid relationship with Heidi, (watch her brilliant TED talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RbNDisGJ1wE) but also to meet and form relationships with the USA team that has been instrumental in the success of the programme in the States. It was also going to give me an opportunity to see the work of the charity ‘Finding Sophia’ and to help set up and run a ‘I Am More Than What You SEA’ a retreat for women based on the principles of Mini Mermaids.
As I arrived at LAX, I was a bit nervous, I hadn’t seen Heidi in nearly two years and with only having brief skype conversations with her every few weeks and with my anxiety at leaving the kids for a week it was a bit overwhelming. Everything felt a bit much and surreal walking through the arrivals door. However, as soon as Heidi dived over to me and enveloped me into a HUGE bear hug, I knew everything was cool.
The next day we collected Marisol (Mini Mermaid Creative Director, she is the one responsible for all of the cool artwork!) from the airport and headed to Mexico to see a wonderful woman that the Finding Sophia project has supported over the last 10 years, by building her a house and providing her with work. https://www.findingsophia.org/
Esveide and her family were incredibly welcoming, Their home was warm and filled with love and happiness. Clearly, I don’t speak a word of Spanish. Esveide and her family found this quite amusing as I tried to join in the conversations and nod my head at what I thought were appropriate occasions.
The Finding Sophia project not only provided Esveide with a home for her and her family, but it also pays her to make bracelets, necklaces and ornaments. This gives her a guaranteed income each month so that she can support her family. http://www.lovebeadsproject.org/
What struck me the most is the positive impact that she is having on her children. As we were leaving, her eldest came over with some things that she had been making and showed them to us, asking if we would consider buying them from her. 10 years ago, this wouldn’t have been an option for her, but because of the positive influence that her mum has had, it has sparked another entrepreneur in the family. (NB to self, go easy on the Mexican taco’s next time… hot hot hot!)
‘I Am More Than What You Sea’ is a retreat that was set on the incredible Lavender Farm. https://www.kclfarm.com/ A wonderful environment with generous hosts and a postcard picture location. The retreat was set up by Mini Mermaid Running Club to spread the message of Mini Mermaids and help women from all backgrounds to identify with the principles of the programme.
The retreat uses a combination of meditation, yoga, running and workshops. This was a safe environment where every woman there was cheering for each other. Everyone came away from the day feeling refreshed and ready to address their Siren voices that have been holding them back.
Meeting and integrating with the Mini Mermaid team was wonderful and I felt at home. Everyone has the same vison and mission, to enable the next generation of women to grow up with strong, powerful voices, loving their bodies, moving their bodies and accepting who they are.
I am immensely proud of being a part of this awesome family and I am grateful to all of the team in the USA and all of the team in the UK for the support, love and commitment that they show to me, a crazy lady from Leeds.
Running the New York City Marathon - Brittany Hayes
My real passion for running as a sport began in late 2013 when I participated in my first timed race in New York City. Although growing up I played sports all seasons and ran recreationally to stay in shape, I left school in 2006 and was feeling a void in sense of community around athletics. I had been living in New York since early 2008, and my father who used to compete in races of all distances convinced me to sign up for a 10k distance race on an autumn weekend. Without any training, I managed to place quite well in the race but more than that, seeing everyone participating with their friends and teammates genuinely made me happy.
From then, I was hooked. I spent the rest of the year focusing on running and extending my mileage, including running my first half-marathon distance. In October of 2014, I had finally built up enough stamina to attempt an 18 mile race along the New Jersey coast where I would vacation over summers. Something in the last 4 miles of the race went horribly wrong, and while I made it to the finish line, ended up with a serious stress fracture on the base of my right foot and had to spend 6 weeks in a walking boot. It just so happens that during this incredibly frustrating time of recovery (and NOT running!), the New York City Marathon was also occurring. It was my first time attending the event and my friend and I posted up on 1st avenue Manhattan somewhere between mile 16 and 18.
I was absolutely blown away as a spectator; first by the elite women who seemed to effortlessly float by us, and again by the powerful elite men and again and again by the thousands of runners who were achieving such an incredible physical feat and all the while, smiling, laughing and high-fiving their way through. I think I cried - it was astonishing to watch! I said to my friend “I have got to be a part of this race next year!”.
Once recovered from my foot fracture, I invested a lot of time and money in training smart to avoid future injury. I joined a club team through New York Road Runners and was participating in races almost every weekend – anywhere from 5k to half-marathons. I became a stronger runner and competitor thanks to the community I had around me. Running gave me an outlet to focus on my mental and physical health but also socialize in a healthy and productive way – which isn’t easy to do living in one of the biggest (and busiest) cities in the world!
I was accepted to the New York Marathon in 2015 through a charity spot and fundraised with a breast cancer awareness not-for-profit. My mother is a two-time breast cancer survivor, so as you can imagine it was a very emotional day for me. The energy in New York is unparalleled and I found myself exactly like one of thousands of runners that I witnessed the prior year - smiling, laughing, and high-fiving my way through the 26.2 miles! To this day, I can’t think back on the day or talk about it without a huge smile on my face.
Fast forward to this past September… I had relocated to London for work the prior fall with the intention to run the New York Marathon again in 2017. This time around, I qualified for guaranteed entry to the marathon, meaning no fundraising necessary. During my training, I was separately looking for an organization local to my new London community to volunteer with. I stumbled across the Mini-Mermaids and couldn’t believe how much the messages of the club spoke to my own sentiments on the benefits of running and importance of community.
Unfortunately due to crazy work and training schedule, I had been unable to commit volunteer time to the club in the months leading up to the marathon; however, they became my unofficial sponsor for the race and subsequently I was able to fundraise on their behalf. I’m extremely humbled to be able to help such an amazing cause. The New York Marathon passed about 4 weeks ago now, and was again a day full of smiling, laughing and high-fiving, not to mention such a great homecoming for me at the one-year mark of living abroad.
I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to offer my time volunteering with the Mini Mermaids in the coming months. Physical movement has been a fundamental component of my own development from childhood and beyond and this message is very important to me. I know first-hand the incredible sense of pride that comes with setting and accomplishing goals, even (and especially) when obstacles are in the way. Through MMRC, I hope to be able to positively influence the lives of younger women through the teachings and curriculum. I honestly can’t wait to join this community and share my own journey with everyone!
Where on earth to start….? Dawn I suppose, which on that bright-ish breezy 30 September day on Highbury Fields in London was 6.59am
Dawn Til Dusk is the brainchild of our Mini Mermaid and Young Tritons UK director, Hannah (Spanner) Corne. She first mentioned it to me, slipping it very causally into the conversation during our weekly (ish) phonecall at the beginning of September. Trial it in London she said, it’ll be great we agreed, I’ll come down for it she said, ok fab I said. Shortly after, I went on holiday to relax, with a head full of new ideas and knowing there was a lot to do and even more to learn about organising a fundraising campaign and event like this!
Fast forward a month or so and A LOT of lessons learned with a huge amount of help from our online fundraising partner, Podium Partners and a very late night (there were lots of these!) followed by an even earlier morning cutting out moon and sunshine sourdough bread shapes, it was time to run. All day!
Nine runners, seven Mini Mermaids and their families, three parkrun runners and a dog called Flora moved in a continuous relay style throughout the entire 11hrs and 43 minutes. We carried Mini Mermaid with us all the way in the form of one of our fabulous medals (we these give out at the end of the 5k challenges following our 6 or 8 week programmes), tied to a hair band to be sure we didn’t drop her (ahem!).
I’m glad to say the event was, well, uneventful. We achieved our goal, have so far raised over £800, ate wonderful pizza, gorgeous bread with lush peanut butter and nibbled on pieces of lovely granola and flapjack bars. All washed down with bottles of water; everything was donated by some very generous local businesses and really helped to keep us going. No one got injured, which is still a big surprise to me considering none of us had trained for this or been running for much more than 5k at a time for months, or ever!
We’ve been awarded some funding for the equipment required for our programmes in London like medals, certificates, t-shirts, journals, pens etc. from The VINCI Foundation and our sponsor Dave from Eurovia South, part of Eurovia UK came to the event to present us with a BIG CHEQUE, along with his colleague Bill and Bill’s daughter Katie who took some great photos, thank you. We’re fundraising to try to match the money from VINCI so we can offer free or heavily subsidised programmes in some of the most deprived areas of Hackney and Islington where after school and community programmes wouldn’t otherwise be able to take place. We’re so very grateful for the funding and to everyone who gave up some of their Saturday to come and support us.
We all enjoyed the running, even though things started to hurt towards the end every time another lap came around for each of us. I was glad of the challenge, asking people to give money isn’t always easy and I wanted to hurt a bit to justify their generosity as well as to feel extra good once it was over! I don’t know how to get across the atmosphere of the event, or the happy expressions on people’s faces or the excited giggles and general chit chat or even the slightly low point mid way through when the day already felt very long. What stays with me most about the day is the community spirit that shone through and I’d love to be able to translate that in some way for you.
Whenever a Mini Mermaid chooses to get involved in running or moving their body in any way, that’s always a positive thing for their physical and mental health and makes us all smile. Being able to take the time to chat a bit more to the parents who brought their girls along on the day was a real bonus and felt pretty special. Highbury Fields parkrun gave us a lovely shoutout as one of our runners carried Mini Mermaid during the whole event staying with the tail runner to be sure our relay didn’t interrupt anyone. So many people out and about in the park came over to chat with us and ask what we were up to. We even saw one group three times during the day out walking their dogs. At the start we were strangers, by the end we knew names and chatted freely. It does give me the warm fuzzies meeting new people, especially locals. Hannah and I had been chatting the night before about the benefit of starting Mini Mermaid Running Club at my most local primary school before starting to grow and offer it to new schools. I hadn’t appreciated how much difference keeping it local would make, and it’s during events like Dawn Til Dusk as well as parkrun that I really understand and feel the real active community connection we’ve made here and are continuing to develop. All the hellos and high fins when out and about in Newington Green really do make my day and I hope things continue to feel local enough as we start new programmes in Islington and neighbouring borough Hackney.
Local businesses also gave us some great gifts so we could hold a prize draw which brought smiles to many faces the following Monday when handing them out. There are many memories from the day that I hope will linger for a very long time.
It was kind of local councillor Jenny Kay and deputy mayor of Islington Dave Poyser to pay us a visit towards the end of the event.
Supporting friends, family, the community, local businesses, strangers and park users including those with four legs, THANK YOU from us all!
It truly was a tremendous day and for the runners out there here are some stats:
Over 120 miles run
Countless laps of Highbury Fields
11 hrs 43 minutes of non stop running
1 super supportive parkrun
A tribe of mini, mama and papa mermaids
A community full of positivity, connections and joy
1 deputy mayor striping off in the park to squeeze into our t-shirt
1 councillor commending our work
Plenty of smiles, giggles and high fins!
A cracking amount of money raised to help develop Mini Mermaids and Young Tritons in Hackney and Islington!
It really does take a community to do something like this and although our tired legs are now feeling fresher, the happy hearts we left with stay full of joy and hope that we can encourage more young people to lead a balanced life with higher levels of self esteem than the current stats confirm. If we can help them understand that strength isn’t only about your body, but your mind and what’s in your heart too, while really truly falling in love with movement, then we’ll be doing our job.
The parkrun runners:
Special guest runner:
Flora the dog
The local businesses that supported us:
Oi Vita - pizza and more
Shine Holistic - hair, health, beauty
Newington Green Fruit & Veg
Mother Earth - cafe & shop
Shaun - maker of Shaun’s Nuts Bar
Gallo Nero - Italian deli
Dandy - restaurant, cafe, bakery
Belle Epoque Patisserie
It was the end of European Week of Sport and we were most certainly part of the #beactive campaign.
You can still support our campaign if you’d like to here. Brittany is hoping to start volunteering with us in the near future and is running the New York Marathon on 5th November. She's generously raising money for our campaign, so please help her motivation on the day by making a donation if you can.
So where to finish…? Dusk of course, 6.42pm. Swiftly followed by a very long train journey back home to Leeds for Hannah and fish n chips with mushy peas & champagne for the rest of us!
Mini Mermaids at Nightingale Academy was a really positive experience for all the girls involved. We picked a mixture of girls who had a range of needs which we thought Mini Mermaids could help with. For example there were some girls who were new to school and spoke little English, so each training session provided them with an opportunity to chat in a small group and socialise with other girls that they might not play with/be in class with. A lot of the girls benefitted from this and this was helped by Aurora who was able to translate key vocab for the girls.* It was lovely for them to have Aurora to translate if they needed, I think it made them feel included and gave them more confidence to ask questions.
There was also a marked improvement in the behaviour of two of the girls in particular. It was great to see them open up a bit more each week and become more confident in their abilities. The sessions also allowed me and the other teacher involved to build relationships with girls that we don't normally teach which is hugely important especially in a small school. I found it easier to understand the girls behaviour out on the playground because I had got to know them through our sessions. One girls began to speak to me at lunchtimes and break times about stuff going on at home which is a huge step for her :)
Parental engagement was good and there was lots of positive feedback from the parents. A dad of one of the girls said that he had noticed a change in her confidence and positivity since she had started running. All the parents were so proud of the girls each week and were all very happy for the girls to be part of such a great opportunity!
Coach Caroline was super enthusiastic and the girls loved her. She was really friendly and approachable and we enjoyed getting to know her.
We were so lucky to have Mini Mermaids at our school and the girls were so proud of their achievements. We had a special assembly where they showed of their medals and some of them even wore their tops to our sports day the following week. Thank you so much for the amazing experience and I hope that Nightingale will now be a regular school for Mini Mermaids.
*One of our coaches was Romanian and helped translated the curriculum for the girls.
I’ve never written a blog before, let alone a guest one! This all came about because I thought guest blogs and other interesting or useful links might be a good addition to the Mini Mermaid Running Club UK website. Then this happened...
Great idea about blog. I've never written one but would you like to be one of the first guest bloggers?
Ha, omg, now you’ve got me! Nor have I, I’ll think about it though and maybe I can try to write a bit about my London Sport ambassador thingamy!
So, you can find out about my involvement in the London Sport #LDNMovesMe campaign here. I’m enjoying trying to encourage more people to get active and I hope I’m a good role model.
Maybe it would be good to blog about some of the things I’m passionate about; running, Mini Mermaid Running Club, food, running, volunteering with GoodGym, parkrun and junior parkrun, running, pilates and more recently yoga, running and more running. They don't all sound that interesting now I’ve written them down and if you’re reading this you probably know about MMRC UK any way! Here’s a link about GoodGym and I might blog about that another time if Hannah will have me back!
I generally have plenty to say, which is why I agreed to write this. I’ll talk to almost anyone even if it’s just saying hi when I’m out running. I’m also sure to make eye contact with people when I’m out and about in general, simply because if they need to ask for help for any reason, they at least know I will have seen their efforts to communicate. Mobile phones have a lot to answer for regarding lack of actual person to person communication these days and that’s just within families or groups of friends, let alone the wider general public. Look up every now and again, someone might need you.
Something I’ve noticed over the last few years is that a lot of what I have to ‘say’ stays inside my own head. I talk through stuff with myself all the time, sometimes it’s a full on debate, sometimes it’s about managing my Chimp; mostly it’s me actually talking to myself as if I’m trying to say it to someone else. I think most of the these conversations would be useful for other people or at least interesting, be that advice about being more active or what to eat (I work in nutrition with fitnaturally) or even how over the years I’ve worked towards a more balanced life and how this is so important for body and mind health. But something holds me back from ‘putting it down on paper’, or speaking with people, and certainly from going into very much detail. I worry that I’ll sound smug, that I’ll offend, that it will fall on deaf ears or not be anywhere near as interesting as it all sounds in my own head! I wonder if I feel the pressure, that there just isn’t enough time these days to have the longer ‘proper’ conversations, and if fitting stuff into 140 characters on Twitter is all people want...
I started coaching the Mini Mermaid programme in November 2016 at Newington Green Primary School. My biggest revelation has been how it helps ME! Ha, I know, I volunteer to help others and that is what I do, but by taking girls through the amazing thoughtful evidence-based curriculum and introducing them to the feel good factor involved in being more active, I’ve realised that this is the most effective way to truly make a difference and ‘be heard', and there aren’t many things that make you feel better about yourself than helping others. It’s not really about the words or how to craft what you’re doing, it’s about turning up, putting yourself out there and giving a bit of you - sometimes more sometimes a bit less, it doesn’t really matter. I’m DOING, I AM a positive role model and I’m able to help others find a bit more balance in their lives. I feel comfortable knowing I’m able to do good and help others in some way, simply by giving my time and showing them I care and am willing to listen, which doesn’t need any words at all.
My name is Holly, I’ve been running since I was about 10 and at the lofty age of 32 I still run for fun, have made loads of friends and been to some interesting places with the sport. I wanted to be a Mermaid coach because the programme is a brilliant fusion of sport psychology interventions, personal story telling and running. It makes sense to me and I can see it working in just 6 weeks. I really enjoy teaching the girls how to be strong and trust their instincts while having fun moving their body. I have a young daughter and hope to inspire her to feel proud of her talents and be brave enough to stand up to untruths in the outside world about what it is to be female. I haven’t worked it all out yet but I try to be the version of myself I'm most happy with so she has a good role model.