John Humphrys: Why Covid could kill off the big city dream…

JOHN HUMPHRYS: Why Covid could kill off the big city dream… and we should all be grateful

He was just what you would expect a New York cop to look like. Big and tough and chewing gum with his gun strapped to his bulging belly and a bored look on his face.

I was a slightly overawed 27-year-old who’d arrived in the U.S. for the first time in his life the night before. It was a sunny Saturday morning and I wanted to explore the city.

‘Excuse me,’ I said politely in my best British accent, ‘can you tell me the best way to get to Central Park?’

He didn’t even glance at me.

‘Buy a f*****g map, buddy.’

John Humphrys (pictured) explains how coronavirus might change the way people look at big cities 

I knew then that when I brought my wife and two small children out from Britain, we would not be living in this city. 

Instead, I rented a house 20 miles away in Irvington, on the banks of the great Hudson River. They arrived a few days before Christmas.

On Christmas Eve, I was flying south to report on a massive earthquake in Nicaragua, riddled with guilt at leaving my family in this strange land where they knew nobody. 

I shouldn’t have. They were immediately adopted by lovely neighbours who treated them as if they were their own family.

This was small-town America.

When Watergate forced us to move south to Washington DC, I chose once again to live in a small town. In the battle between small town and big city, I reckon there’s only one winner.

Big cities around the world — not least London — have been having a hard time of it since Covid-19 went on its rampage. Behind every death lies a personal tragedy.

Cities like London (pictured) have been struggling since the coronavirus pandemic began

Yet Covid is destroying not only life, but the way we live. And perhaps we should not fear those changes but welcome them.

Throughout history, cities have been a magnet. From the late 18th century, people have been abandoning the land and the villages where they were brought up, to find fortune in the big cities of the new industrial revolution, like Birmingham and Manchester. But it was never a bed of roses.

As the great novelists tell us, many ended up in slums with their hideous overcrowding, their violent crime and their susceptibility to disease. 

Yet they kept coming. And no city exerted more pulling power than London.

In modern times, the new arrivals have been mostly young people drawn to the bright lights. Keen to get on and keen to escape the narrowness of provincial life. And keen to have fun.

Then it changed again. Immigrants arrived to fill the jobs at the sharp end of the service economy. They worked in social care and the NHS. Waiters and hotel staff now had foreign accents.

And the rich came, too. The changing skyline screamed out that this was becoming the financial capital of the world. 

A little over a year ago, the financial services sector contributed a massive £132 billion to the economy of the nation. Roughly half was generated in London.

We don’t yet know what effect the pandemic will have on that financial powerhouse. We do know how it’s affecting those who work in it. As I write, their offices — and thousands more — are empty.

Working remotely began as necessity, but is now becoming a choice. Many company owners are re-examining their leases and asking: what are our vastly expensive offices actually for?

Technology is changing everything. And this is just the beginning. Quantum computers are already being developed. You need to be a physicist even to begin to understand what they do, and I’m not. But they will make today’s supercomputers look like children’s toys.

Mark Zuckerberg, in a rare interview this week, revealed his plans to have half of Facebook’s staff working from home in less than ten years. He called it ‘fundamentally changing our culture’. 

Mark Zuckerberg (pictured) highlighted how change can always happen in society when he announced that he wants half of his Facebook staff to be working from home in ten years

Where Facebook leads, others will surely follow. Twitter already has.

And Covid has given this revolution the motivation it needed. Cities equal crowds. Crowds spread infection. 

And it’s not a straightforward, linear equation. The theoretical physicist, Geoffrey West, has shown that as cities grow, the ‘hazards’ they pose grow at a greater rate — not just the spread of infections but crime, especially violent crime. So if a city doubles in size, the risk more than doubles.

Perhaps a new Charles Dickens will emerge to bring home to us quite how dreadful conditions can be in Covid London beyond the bright lights and the comfortable homes, like mine, on pleasant parks.

Perhaps Covid will make those at the bottom end of the social and economic ladder wonder whether the city game is really worth the candle.

Perhaps Covid, combined with the digital revolution, will finally finish what began with the industrial revolution.

Without social life, London loses its lustre and many will be escaping to the countryside

It is not just the poor who may be having second thoughts. Samuel Johnson wrote: ‘When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.’ Not these days there isn’t.

Even for the middle classes, the indulgences have disappeared. The theatres, the opera, the galleries, the museums, the fashionable restaurants. All closed. And when eventually they open, will they still retain their allure if their patrons are treated as potential lepers?

London without social life loses its lustre. No wonder the wealthy have decamped to the countryside.

Like millions of others, I escaped last weekend. I rested after running through glorious woodland that gave way to pastures full of grazing sheep, their mischievous lambs trotting around, a lone hare spotting me and loping off towards the distant hills. 

Everything bathed in the morning sun. I was 50 miles from London. An hour’s drive away. A century away.

Those forced to live in the polluted mean streets of a big city like London often dream of the rural idyll, and the response of governments to this pandemic has focused many minds on alternatives. 

Commuting is not just boring and wasteful. Now, it can also be life-threatening.

Why not build communities where we can afford to live, and where social divisions are not as extreme as they are in the capital?

Take away the power of the financial services, and much that it dictated begins to wither. Once cities lose their economic function, they go into slow decline. 

Ask Liverpool. It is a wonderful city, but 100 years ago it was the greatest port in the world and the world flocked to it.

Liverpool used to be the greatest port in the world – the way the city has declined in value shows that big cities can be doomed

But can cities really be doomed? Perhaps they will adapt to dangers like Covid. London looks as if it may have the better of it for now, and yet the Mayor is cautious about lifting the lockdown.

And anyway, a pandemic changes the psychology of a city. It’s not just the disease that makes crowds potentially so unappealing. Cities are uniquely vulnerable to many other threats.

When the Cold War ended in 1989, I asked the head of MI6 where the next greatest threat to our way of life might come from. He did not hesitate. Cyber warfare. It seemed fanciful then. It seems prophetic now.

A hostile country, or even some maniac loner, might well bring our economy to a juddering halt by hacking into the essential computer systems that keep it running.

The cities would fall first. And then the ‘crowd’ could very easily turn in on itself. We would not be competing for toilet rolls but fighting for food.

In short, the calculus of city living is undergoing great changes. No one knows where they will lead, but if it ultimately loses its appeal, would that be such a bad thing?

Those outside London and other big cities — fed up with being called ‘provincial’ — might rejoice to see the end of city bragging. A provincial nation might be better prepared for a pandemic.

Those who live away from London might just enjoy everyone not bragging about the big cities 

Look at Germany: its biggest city, Berlin, is a third the size of London. One consequence of Covid here could be a resurgent local government.

And maybe those who sneer at ‘the suburbs’ from their metropolitan ivory towers might envy them instead. Especially when there’s no need to spend thousands commuting to the office. Imagine, too, what it will do to house prices.

Both Theresa May and Boris Johnson have talked about ‘rebalancing the country’.

They may not have chosen this new path, but it may lead there. And given how all politicians love a slogan, let me suggest one.

If you love life, leave London.

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World News

How Covid crisis is causing bizarre dreams and night terrors – and tips to sleep better – The Sun

PEOPLE are dealing with the coronavirus pandemic in a myriad of ways and the change in routine is impacting us all.

As our day to day lives have changed so have our sleeping patterns, while some people have relished the extra time in bed where they would usually be commuting, others have experienced a lack of sleep and strange dreams.

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Experts at the University of Boston have now revealed how to prevent intense dreams disturbing our sleep schedule during these unsettling times.

Dr Patrick McNamara said the reason many of us are having intense dreams or nightmares during this time is due to the way we process emotions.

The reporting of daily death tolls from across the globe has made us fear the next announcement and Dr Patrick said we are able to integrate intense fear when memories associated with fear are symbolised in dreams.

At the moment the threat is unknown and unusual and Dr Patrick said this means it is taking longer for these feelings to be integrated into long term memories. 

How to fall asleep during lockdown

Many people are struggling to get to sleep during the coronavirus lockdown. But there are things you can do to make sure to get all the sleep you need.

  1. Keep a sleep diary: Dr Patrick says adressing bad dreams can help you understand what they mean, meaning you won't feel aprehensive about hitting the pillow.
  2. Have a routine: NHS England says sticking to a routine, getting up and going to bed at similar times each day can help improve your quality of sleep.
  3. Wind down: Try and step away drom the screens before you go to bed and try to relax your mind, the NHS recommends a warm bath, and relaxation exercises.
  4. Be sleep friendly: All of us are spending a lot of time at home at the moment but it's important to try and keep your bed just for sleeping. Making your bedroom sleep friendly is a great way to get to sleep. Keep it dark, quiet and tidy.

These memories are then in a limbo state as they wait to be transferred into long term memories.

At present many people are working from home and have no idea as to when they will return to work. This is while many others have been furloughed and are unaware of how their financial situation will pan out.

This is while others are struggling without a varied social life.

These issues make us more prone to strange dreams due to the stress we are under.

There are different types of dreams and the most common will usually include a few people you know in real life and then a couple of strangers.

Other dreams though can be more intense and in some cases debilitating to those who have them.

Nightmares can be treated with simple cognitive restructuring techniques, Dr Patrick says.

“You simply take the scariest image in the nightmare, say the monster chasing me, and then turn that image/monster into something less threatening, like my friend is chasing me. 

“Then, construct and write out a story around that image. For example, my friend is chasing me to give me some important news. Do this simple exercise everyday for a week and you should feel a bit better.”

Speaking to Medium he encouraged people to track their dreams over this time, especially if they have become more intense.

He said dreams can sometimes carry emotional meanings that needed to be reflected on.

Dr Patrick also claimed that some dreams carry images that can signal impending or oncoming illnesses and we should therefore pay attention to our dreams.

This is while sleep expert James Wilson also told The Sun that sleep is fundamental as it is the foundation that the rest of our health is built on.

“It helps us to physically recover and repair from illness and injury and builds our immune system. Sleep also helps to clean the brain of neurotoxins that can contribute to Alzheimer’s and Dementia. 

“Moreover, it makes It easier to stick to healthy eating. Ultimately our emotional and cognitive health starts with getting the right kind of sleep for us”.


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Beauty and Fashion

Striking 'Covid braids' are raising awareness about the virus in Kenya

A striking braided hairstyle is being used to raise awareness about the coronavirus pandemic in Kenya.

The braided spikes are meant to be an echo of the virus’ distinctive shape, and is being used as a reminder of the very real threat of the disease.

Sharon Refa, a 24-year-old hairdresser with a salon in Kibera, in the heart of the Kenyas capital, says the recognisable ‘coronavirus hairstyle’ is booming in popularity with children in the region.

‘Some grown-ups don’t believe that the coronavirus is real, but then most young children appear keen to sanitize their hands and wear masks. So many adults do not do this, and that is why we came up with the corona hairstyle,’ says Refa.

On Monday, Kenya had recorded 649 confirmed cases, 207 recovered and 30 deaths to Covid-19. But with the widespread shortage of testing materials, the real number of cases could be higher. Health officials are especially worried about the spread of the virus in poor, overcrowded areas.

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The hope is that this hairstyle will act as a visual reminder about the growing threat, and the need to protect yourself.

The spiky hairstyle isn’t new to Kenya, but it had gone out of fashion in recent years in favour of longer, straight styles using the imported real and synthetic hair from India, China and Brazil that flooded the market.

The style’s growing popularity is in part due to economic hardships linked to virus restrictions – mums like it because it’s a cheap way to style their kids’ hair – as well as the benefits of spreading awareness.

Margaret Andeya is a mother who is struggling to make ends meet. She says the coronavirus hairstyle suits her daughters’ styling needs and her bank balance. Virus-related restrictions have stifled the daily work for millions of people with little or no savings.

‘This hairstyle is much more affordable for people like me who cannot afford to pay for the more expensive hairstyles out there and yet we want our kids to look stylish,’ says Andeya.

It costs 50 shillings, or about 40 pence, to get the braids while the average hairdo costs 300 to 500 shillings (£2 to £4).

The technique used in braiding the coronavirus hairstyle is threading, which uses yarn instead of synthetic hair braids, which is what makes it so affordable.

‘Covid-19 has destroyed the economy, taken our jobs from us, and now money is scarce. I therefore decided to have my child’s hair done up like this at an affordable 50 shillings, and she looks good,’ adds 26-year-old Mariam Rashid.

‘The hairstyle also helps in communicating with the public about the virus.’

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World News

Bus drivers with covid symptoms still go to work as sick pay is so low

EXCLUSIVE: Bus drivers are told they WILL get full sick pay from now on… after they continue to work with covid-19 symptoms because of money fears

  • Drivers with families have been getting as little as £153.32 per week sick pay
  • Many have carried on working because they could not afford to self-isolate
  • Fourteen transport workers have died after contracting covid-19 so far
  • There are fears that the buses are acting as incubators for the disease
  • After being questioned by MailOnline, Transport for London (TfL) told all London’s private bus operators to offer full sick pay
  • But drivers remain sceptical about whether their bosses will take heed
  • It comes as further videos and photographs of ‘filthy’ buses emerge 

Bus drivers have been told that they will now get full sick pay after many went to work with covid-19 symptoms because of money fears, MailOnline can reveal.

Hardworking drivers with families have been getting as little as £153.32 per week, forcing them to choose between self-isolating and putting food on the table.

Typical sick pay rates should be between £300 and £500 per week, depending on length of service. But in practice, many get far lower sums. 

Fourteen transport workers have died in London after contracting covid-19 so far, including eight bus drivers.

There are concerns that the buses, which are used by NHS nurses and other keyworkers, are acting as incubators for the disease which has been spreading rapidly in the capital.

After being questioned by MailOnline last night, Transport for London (TfL) wrote urgently to all London’s private bus operators, telling them to pay full sick pay.

But many transport workers fear that this has come too late. ‘The culture needs to change,’ one said. ‘They’re used to treating us like dirt and they won’t stop overnight.’

Scroll down for video

A bus driver wears a medical mask as a precaution, as MailOnline reveals that many are going to work even though they have covid-19 symptoms because they are getting low sick pay

Bus driver Emeka Nyack, 36, right, who died of coronavirus after raising concerns about the filthy state of his bus, with his son Makiah, seven

Bus drivers Mohammed Nehman, left, and Nadir Nur, right, both died of covid-19

Speaking anonymously, a driver who has been employed by Metroline in north and west London for five years said he had been forced to work with a cough.

‘I had to self-isolate last week because my son had a chest infection,’ he said. 

‘At first, my manager put it down as unpaid leave because I didn’t have the symptoms myself yet.

‘We had a big row and in the end I got £153 for the week. I haven’t been able to pay the rent and I’m getting threatening phone calls.

‘Bus drivers live hand-to-mouth as it is. Now we’re pretty much broke. I’ve got three children and they’re eating me out of house and home.

‘Now I’m coughing, but I’ve got to just work through it. I’m terrified that if I get too ill to work, what that would mean in terms of money for my family.’

Metroline said that the way the employee was treated was a mistake, but other drivers at the company said they had had similar experiences.

One told MailOnline that he had decided to use his holiday allowance when he was unwell, as the rates of sick pay were so bad. 

‘They’re pushing us to work, that’s the biggest problem,’ he said. ‘Drivers are making that decision: do I go to work or don’t I?

‘Nine times out of 10 we go, because there’s no alternative. We are too scared about losing money.’

A Metroline spokesman claimed that no driver should be forced to work if they have symptoms, adding that ‘anyone with symptoms should self-isolate and will receive full sick pay’.

‘No member of our team will face financial hardship as a result of shielding on the recommendation of Government or a GP,’ the spokesman said.

Any drivers who have been offered low sick pay by their manager, or are being forced to self-isolate without pay, should complain to Human Resources, he added. 

Empty soap dispensers and overflowing bins were filmed by a driver at the depot in Southall, London, leaving bus drivers with little opportunity to practise safe hygiene

Taken by a bus driver this morning before his shift commenced, this picture shows a filthy bus

More pictures show unidentified stains on a bus before it was put into use this morning, after it should have been deep cleaned

A driver working for Abellio, which operates buses in west London, said: ‘I told my boss I was feeling ill and I wanted to see a doctor, but he said it was nothing but a minor cough.

‘We only get between £50 and £150 per week sick pay, so I’m just having to work through it.’

He added: ‘The only thing they care about is getting the buses out, so they put us in the firing line. The managers are all hiding at home, leaving us on the front line.

‘They pay us the bare minimum, whatever they think they can get away with. They’ve got us by the balls.’

When questioned by MailOnline, Tom Cunnington, TfL’s Head of Bus Business Development, said: 

‘We have today written to all of London’s bus operators urging them to do the right thing by vulnerable employees and, like TfL, provide sufficient financial support so that they do not have to come to work.

‘This is to ensure that these drivers don’t feel forced to attend work for financial reasons when they shouldn’t.’

It comes as the row over dirty buses continues, with drivers taking to social media to post pictures of their grimy vehicles.

MailOnline has obtained videos of the staff facilities in the bus depot in Southall, west London, which has no soap, toilet paper or hand towels. The bin was seen overflowing and the lavatory had apparently not been cleaned.

An Abellio spokesman said that the company was ‘disappointed’ that it did not meet its normal ‘housekeeping standards’ on this occasion.

‘We are increasing checks on these facilities and have asked staff to notify a manager or supervisor if there are any hygiene issues,’ he said.

But drivers from the same depot have also passed MailOnline videos and pictures of apparently filthy buses. All were taken at the start of each shift, when the vehicles should have been cleaned.

‘There are three or four cleaners dealing with 50 or 60 buses,’ one driver said. ‘They don’t have the time to deep clean them.

‘The Mayor of London has promised that buses are being deep cleaned, but we haven’t seen that happening on the ground.’

TfL’s Head of Bus Business Development claimed that although the buses were still soiled by liquids and rubbish, and had apparently not been cleaned, they had been treated with anti-virus spray that made them safe.

He said: ‘Every single bus is cleaned before it enters service each day, in addition to daily applications of anti-viral fluid. We’ve been very clear with operators that this must happen, and it is happening.

‘It is the anti-viral detergent fluid that provides the protection from coronavirus rather than the regular sweeping and litter picking on buses. 

‘Sadly, there may be occasions when litter or marks are left on a bus while it is in service, but if passengers and drivers report anything they see it can be dealt with as soon as possible.’

Grime and sticky stains were seen this morning on the floor of the bus by the driver’s cab and the passenger doors after the vehicle was supposedly deep cleaned

Mother makes a desperate plea for public transport workers to be adequately protected after son’s death

A mother has made a desperate plea for public transport workers to be adequately protected following the death of her son.

Emeka Nyack Ihenacho is one of nine bus drivers who have lost their lives to coronavirus in the UK.

The 36-year-old worked in Holloway, north London, for bus company Metroline, which has also confirmed the deaths of two more employees.

Emeka Nyack, 36, sits in the cab of a bus with his son, Makiah, who is now seven years old

Mr Ihenacho’s mother, Anne Nyack, criticised London Mayor Sadiq Khan, saying bus drivers are at risk of catching Covid-19 due to the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Speaking exclusively to MailOnline, she said: ‘He needs to get out there and have a look at the buses and see what condition the drivers are operating in. They are at risk, my son was at risk, sadly he died.’

She said her son had spoken to his partner and his sister about the ‘dirty’ conditions on the buses.

Ms Nyack pleaded with Mr Khan to provide better protection for transport workers and asked him to visit the families of those who have died.

She said of her son: ‘He was given hand sanitiser – he had no mask, no gloves, nothing. Plus, he was asthmatic, he was open to the elements.

‘I don’t want a letter or a telephone call, I want him (Mr Khan) to see the real faces of the tragedy, which is me and all the other bus drivers that have lost their lives.’

In an emotional tribute, a tearful Ms Nyack described her son as ‘a lovely man with a heart of gold’.

‘He would help anybody,’ she said. ‘He was full of laughter and always a joker, he had a nickname for all of us.’ 

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Kelly Ripa Cries Over Relatable Quarantine Family Problems

Kelly Ripa’s sheltering in place has turned into a family feud.

The “Live With Kelly and Ryan” host teared up on Wednesday as she discussed the tension in her household. (See the clip above.)

“I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I’m currently not speaking to two of my three kids. I’m not talking to two of them,” Ripa told host Ryan Seacrest.

Ripa and husband Mark Consuelos of “Riverdale” have Joaquin, 17, Lola, 18, and Michael, 22. And there apparently isn’t a whole lot of familial affection going around, in addition to the obstacles of social distancing from other loved ones.

“I miss hugging my parents,” Ripa said. “And my kids, like, won’t hug me. And I’m like, ‘Guys, we’ve all been in lockdown together. We’re fine. You can give me a hug. It’s fine.’”

Ripa let down her guard as she sought to make sense of her emotions.

“I don’t know why I’m crying,” she said. “Maybe I’m just going to get my period, who knows.”

Ripa reiterated that her family was experiencing “small problems considering that so many people are losing their loved ones” in the coronavirus pandemic. 

In March Lola appeared with her mom on the show and complimented the lockdown arrangement.

“It’s honestly not as bad as I thought,” Lola admitted, per People. “I think we’re all just very lucky to be together at home, all of us. A lot more family time, which is great.”

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Dolly Parton – icon and legend – just got us a little closer to a coronavirus vaccine

Dolly Parton knows exactly how celebs and billionaires can help during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

You’ll no doubt have noticed that your Instagram has been flooded by celebrities “doing their bit” during the coronavirus pandemic. Dolly Parton, however, has decided to shake up our feeds in a big way.

That’s right: rather than share self-care tips or an uplifting musical cover, the award-winning singer has decided to put her money where her mouth is and make an eye-watering donation to medical research.

Addressing her 3.1 million followers, Parton explained that she’s donated $1million (£807,086) to research carried out by Vanderbilt, after learning they are making some “exciting advancements” to treating coronavirus.

“My longtime friend Dr. Naji Abumrad, who’s been involved in research at Vanderbilt for many years, informed me that they were making some exciting advancements towards research of the coronavirus for a cure,” Parton explained.

“So I am making a donation of $1million to Vanderbilt towards that research and to encourage people that can afford it to make donations.”

Check it out:

Parton’s post has received well over 400,000 likes in under 24 hours, not to mention racked up some serious praise from her fans and celebrity pals.

“Dolly, you never cease to amaze me with your generosity and your incredible spirit,” commented Reese Witherspoon.

Tess Holliday dubbed Parton an “actual angel” – a sentiment which was echoed by Goldie Hawn and Kacey Musgraves. And plenty of Parton’s fans took up the cry that their favourite singer should be named president in 2020, too.

Of course, Parton is not the first to donate – and we hope she won’t be the last, either. 

Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds have donated $1m to help provide food for older people and low-income families. Rihanna’s Clara Lionel Foundation (CLF) has donated $5m (£4.2m) towards organisations in the US and around the world. And Angelina Jolie has donated $1m (£843,500) to No Kid Hungry, which will provide meals for children from low-income families across the US while schools are closed.

Here in the UK, meanwhile, fitness trainer Joe Wicks has announced his plans to donate over £80,000 raised from his YouTube exercise videos to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) staff on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic.

And James McAcvoy has donated £275,000 to the Masks For NHS Heroes campaign to provide protective equipment for staff, too.

So how can you help during the coronavirus pandemic?

If you can afford to make a donation of your own (don’t worry: it doesn’t have to be as big as Parton’s), then please consider one of the following causes:

The Masks for NHS Heroes campaign

This campaign aims to raise the money needed to pay for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for all NHS staff. 

Age UK

“Demand for our vital services is increasing rapidly,” reads a statement from Age UK, which provides companionship and support to vulnerable and lonely elderly people.

“Please help us be there for older people who desperately need us during this crisis.”

The Trussell Trust

The Trussell Trust is working to stop UK hunger and poverty, and their network of foodbanks provides emergency food and support to people in crisis.

Beauty Banks

Beauty Banks distribute unused toiletries – think toothbrushes, shampoo and sanitary products – to registered charitable organisations throughout Britain who, in turn, distribute these out to those who need it most.

Battersea Dogs Home

It costs around £50,000 every day to care for the animals across Battersea’s three centres. Now more than ever, they need your support to care for the thousands of animals who arrive at their gates every year.


Self-isolation is tough, but it’s even tougher for those struggling with their mental health. By donating to Mind, you’ll be able to help them help those who need it most.

Images: Getty

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