Zakir (third from the right) with the team of local volunteers cycling from Glasgow to London.

TEESSIDE volunteers have been working closely within the Middlesbrough community raising around £75,000 for charity.

Zakir Mahmoud, 22, Middlesbrough, became involved in charity work around two years ago, as a way of supporting people who are suffering from around the world.

He said: “From just seeing what is happening in the world such as the tsunamis, the droughts and people dying, I realised just how good I have it. After knowing all that, how can I just sit back and do nothing? So all of us got together and got involved.”

Zakir and a group of local volunteers are organising a trip to California to help raise money for the charity. The trip will include a sponsored iCycle bike ride around Death Valley located in the desert.

Money raised as a result of a number of collections and events in the local area has been split between Islamic Relief and the Water4Life campaign.

The team of local volunteers who work towards raising money in the local community have already taken part in one bike ride last year, cycling from Glasgow to London over a period of ten days.

He said: “It was immensely difficult as we were all just normal lads who had not really trained much. There was injuries, break downs, getting lost, running out of water, but we came through it in the end.”

In the North East there are approximately 300 volunteers contributing towards the charity, and for some it is work which they feel is necessary.

He said: “We all do this charity work so we can make a difference in the world and because we believe its a duty of everyone to do as much as they can.”

If you wish to donate money towards the Death Valley bike ride and the charity please visit https://www.facebook.com/iruk.northeast for details.

Islamic Relief (IR) is an international aid and development charity, which aims to alleviate the suffering of the world’s poorest people. Please visit http://www.islamic-relief.org.uk for further details.

Posted in News


I saw this and loved it, it seems to make fashion more fun.

It just makes me want to move to New York even more!

To see the blog please visit: http://advancedstyle.blogspot.com/

Posted in Fashion


The recession could prevent young couples from having a baby.

The world is full of experts who believe they know when it is the best time to settle down and start a family.

Taking the plunge into becoming a parent is something which cannot be determined by a written set of rules.

You cannot measure when the time is right by the amount of boxes you tick on a list of requirements to become a good parent.

However thoughts of becoming a mother or father can be influenced by external factors such as financial issues, especially when it comes to younger parents who are just starting out in the working world.

The latest figures released for England and Wales by the Office for National Statistics state that there are less young women aged 18 and under that are having children.

Figures show that pregnancies under 18s fell by an average of 9.5% from 38,259 in 2009 to 34,633 in 2010. Conception in under 16s has also fallen by 6.8% from 7,158 to 6,674 in total from the previous year.

Julie Bentley, Chief Executive of the Family Planning Association (FPA) believes that it is a positive thing that younger people are having less children, she said:

“The fact that we’re seeing the lowest teenage pregnancy figures in England and Wales for over 40 years is because of the dedicated work of professionals in relationships and sex education, contraception and local services.

We must do all we can to keep the momentum going.”

The exact reason behind why figures have declined is still left a little blurred. Labour would argue that it was down to an initiative which they originally started, which is to increase the sex education to be taught in schools.

Others may believe the reason lies behind the big black cloud currently overshadowing the UK, also known as the recession.

Could the thought of not being able to afford to look after their children potentially stop people from becoming parents?

It has recently been reported that child care fees have increased, adding to the every day financial worries a parent can be faced with.

For working parents child care can be seen as a hard hurdle to overcome, and can become expensive when slotting around work.

The Daycare Trust released figures showing nursery care in Britain increase the hourly rate by 5.8% for a child aged under two, and 3.9% for a child aged two and over.

In London, the average cost for 25 hours nursery care for a child under two is £118.54 (equating to £6,164 per year).

The most expensive nursery reported in this year’s survey was located in the West Midlands, costing £11 per hour. Parents using this nursery for 25 hours per week could therefore conceivably pay £14,300 per year.

Child care at these prices can cause great concern for many families in particular for those with more than one child.

Is there any wonder why soon to be parents are feeling the pinch?

The big debate relies on whether people should plan ahead and determine whether they can afford to have children, without relying on other benefits to help fuel their family lives.

David Cameron caused controversy over his comments when interviewed on ITV1’s This Morning in 2011 when he said:

“Should we do more to help people who want to work hard and do the right thing? Yes.

“I get people saying “we waited before we got married until we could afford it, we waited till we could afford to have children, we waited and then we managed to get a house and I see someone down the road do none of those responsible things and they get put up in a council house, they have as many children as they want.

“They’re not thinking like I’m thinking”.”

However a lot of people would argue that financial worries should not stop you from becoming a parent.

So when is the ‘right’ time to start a family? When your young, fit and healthy or when your older, wiser and more established in your career?

Either way it is clear that age is not a reflection on whether you make a decent parent, but more about the stable upbringing you can offer a child.

As your money worries start to fall upon you, you turn to friends and family searching for that glimmer of hope to solving your financial troubles. When you ask how did they cope they simply say ‘you just do’. Never mind, I suppose there is always the lottery.

Posted in Features


It’s that time of year again. The day where all singletons wake up to their alarm instead of a cosy hug from a loved one, realise the date and slump back under the covers.

Valentines Day: A day for spending money not love. (Picture taken by Sally Thurrell)

Not only are we faced with our colleagues at work if it unfortunately happens to fall on a working day, asking as soon as you enter the office “Did you get any then?” but we are now hounded by social networking websites too. The day in question is Valentines Day, also interpreted by many as Lets-rip-everyone-off Day.

As Valentines Day returns each year, it is hard to distinguish whether to feel more sorry for those who are not in a relationship and spending it on their own, or for those who are in a relationship and are forced to pay the excessive prices.

No wonder we avoid the retail stores like the plague as it creeps upon us, it is ridiculous how we let a so called traditional yet outdated date dictate what we do each year on February 14th.

David Halpern recently expressed his views in the news this week on the lack of social relationships being worse for our health than smoking.

As he tries to encourage the older generation to carry on working past their retirement age, he believes loneliness is more harmful in the long run. If this is the case then we surely don’t stand a chance do we?

Is it due to comments similar to this that are causing all of these dating websites to pop up on our desktops as we start browsing the internet? These websites advertising for you to meet your ‘soul mate’ are breeding faster each day, allowing people to believe ‘this is how everyone is doing it these days’.

It is becoming the norm to meet your partner online and it is for the worry of ending up grey and lonely which fuels these money making businesses.

Most would agree that they believe Valentines Day has turned into a gimmick for retail and is just a day for pointlessly spending money. Like most of the holidays now it is not the thought behind the gift, but more the thought of ‘what can I buy that they don’t already have?’.

Romantic relationship expert Sharon Kell founder of Coco Moon based in the North East says: “Trying to find true love should not be regarded as the ‘magic potion” that will transform your life and make you totally happy.

“Finding a partner cannot fulfil you in every way. If there are gaps in other areas of your life then you will still feel there is something lacking.

“I strongly believe that when people live a full and balanced life and actually like what they stand for then finding Mr or Mrs Right is not as difficult as it may initially seem.”

So who is this St Valentine? The person who has a lot to answer for. Well the story goes that his name was Valentinus and he was the patron saint of love and happy marriages he was executed on the 14th February the year of 269.

To sum it up Valentinus restored the sight of his jailer’s blind daughter and on the eve of his death, the legend says he penned a farewell note to the jailer’s daughter, signing it, “From your Valentine.”

So there we have it, the explanation behind the dreaded day. I bet in hindsight if St Valentine knew how famous he was going to become, he would have put a lot more money and thought behind that note.

Posted in Features


Chief Executive Pat Ritchie, Mayor Olwyn Peters, Gentoo Chief Executive Peter Walls.

RESIDENTS are looking forward to a green future with the opening of a new eco-friendly housing estate.

Developers hope the Eco Village will give the local economy a timely boost when it opens in the South Bank area in March.

The initiative which was originally organised by Redcar and Cleveland council, is predicted to save homeowners around £1,000 per year on energy bills.

The project which is being run by North East based company Gentoo, has built fifteen new houses costing approximately £3.5m in total. With around £936,000 coming from the Homes and Communities Agency.

Local resident Amanda Collins said: “I think this is a great idea, especially as electricity is becoming more expensive these days.

“When I finally get on the property ladder I will definately think about moving into an eco friendly house.”

Another resident, Ross Lowe, said: “The idea of it is great but whether people will actually move into them is another thing.

“But I suppose it is still good for the area.”

Due to the high level of interest in the South Bank Eco Village, two houses have already been sold after the showroom was officially opened to members of the public on Friday, January 27.

The Mayor of Redcar and Cleveland, Councillor Olwyn Peters, was joined by Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) Chief Executive Pat Ritchie and Gentoo Chief Executive Peter Walls for the show home opening.

Development of the site for a mixture of new and refurbished residential units will contribute to the attractiveness of South Bank as a place of choice to live and for further investment.

The regeneration programme seeks to regenerate areas suffering from severe housing market failure and deprivation.

Councillor Lynn Pallister, the Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing and Neighbourhood Renewal, said: “People in South Bank have been asking us to provide new affordable housing for some time and, after years of demolition, the Eco Village is a fantastic centrepiece for the community.”

Gentoo Chief Executive Peter Walls At The Launch Of The Eco Village

Gentoo Chief Executive Peter Walls said: “We are delighted to have been involved in the regeneration of South Bank. At Gentoo, we aim to make a positive mark on the future by investing in people, the planet and property, and Low Pastures is an excellent example of this.

“The development has not only brought new housing to the area, it has also created employment opportunities and engaged the community of South Bank.”

The site in South Bank is one of the most significant in the Greater Eston area and could potentially act as a catalyst for the transformational change needed for further housing market failure and other issues that exist in South Bank.

The project was started in March last year with the houses designed to meet level six of the Government’s code for sustainable homes.

Homes in the Eco Village will have triple-glazed windows and doors, photo-voltaic panels, composting facilities and a mechanical ventilation heat recovery system.

For further information about homes available for purchase visit www.gentoohomes.com


Posted in News


NEWCASTLE prepared to celebrate the year of the Dragon with Chinese New Year kicking off on Monday 23rd January 2012.
Leanne Johnson was in China Town reporting on the celebration.

NEWCASTLE celebrations were on fire this year as residents collated at China Town to attempt to wake the Dragon from its slumber.

The streets were overflowing with excitement as people enjoyed the traditional hot chinese food being served on the street as well as observing the chinese parade which took place around midday onwards.

There were a number of activities available throughout the day with arts and crafts, fortune telling and a fun fair to name just a few.

The traditional element of selecting an animal every year to represent the Chinese zodiac calander was a little different this year, as the Dragon is the only mythical creature to ever be chosen.

Amanda Chan, chairwoman of the Newcastle Chinese Festivity Group explains why she thinks Chinese New Year is for people to celebrate all over the world.

Posted in News


Rooney Mara plays leading character Lisbeth Salander

Title: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Director: David Fincher
Release Dates: 26/12/2011
Rating:  **** (4/5)

This blockbuster re make of the first from the best selling trilogy, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, is a credit to the words written by Stieg Larsson. The film portrays Larrson’s concept of a young female hacker in today’s modern society well, with an exceptional performance from Rooney Mara who plays the leading character, Lisbeth Salander. When you compare Lisbeth’s character to other female hackers that have graced our cinema screens, it is obvious that she has not been created for her envious high flying lifestyle.

Lisbeth holds an essence which seems to intimidate people who do not know her, and frustrate those who do. She is a troubled young woman who expresses herself not through her personality or lack of it, but through her facial piercings and tattoos. As this is the first out of the trilogy to be recreated into a blockbuster thriller, you are left guessing as to what you think has happened to her to make her into a woman with serious psychological issues and a vendetta against most men.

For those who have yet to read the book but who are wishing to go and view the film, may find it slightly confusing to begin with. As it is set in Sweden the heavy swedish accents can be a little overbearing at times. This is an issue when the characters are discussing the ongoing search for Henrik Vanger’s missing grandaughter, Harriet, an investigation into who out of the Vanger family was responsible for her disappearance.

The main male role of the movie is of course played by Daniel Craig who is well known for his charismatic roles as James Bond in Casino Royale, Quantum Of Solace and the new Bond film due out this year called Skyfall. It is fair to say that he does not play the same charmingly handsome character as his former roles, but more the average middle aged man named Mikael Blomkvist, with a damaged journalism career, a daughter he struggles to understand and a continuous love affair with his co worker friend, Erika Berger.

Daniel is clearly not the main character in the film, however his strong British accent helps him stand out significantly nevertheless. The film opens with Blomkvist returning from court in which he has lost a libel case against his arch enemy, corrupt business man Hans-Erik Wennestrom. As a result Blomkvist is approached by an old man named Henrik Vanger who bribes him into searching for Harriet by offering ‘Wennestroms head on a platter’ if he agrees.

The story then follows slowly but surely until Blomkvist is inevitably paired up with Lisbeth to continue on the search that ends up being rather biblical and bordering on Nazi undertones as the plot thickens. For those who have read the book will be thankful to know that the film does not cut out any scenes which are crucial to the storyline, no matter how uncomfortable they may make the audience feel when sat amongst strangers in the cinema. There are a few scenes throughout the film which may make squirm in your seat as the story eventually unfolds, particularly when Lisbeth meets her new guardian to ‘discuss’ her finances which is quite violent and graphic to say the least.

David Finchers work towards directing this film should be commended for his skill at producing such highly disturbing scenes in an adept manner. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo mirror the book extraordinarily well and huge fans will not be let down by the movie. In comparison to his other films such as the Social Network movie which surrounded the creation of Facebook, Fincher definately takes his career one step further with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

We just hope that the rest of the trilogy is to follow and David Fincher carries on his exceptional work for us all to look forward to in the future. It is not for the faint hearted to say the least but is done in a manner which is professional and yet heart wrenching all at the same.

Posted in Reviews