Alison leads Cumbria’s top businesswomen to Westminster

Fidget Design went south to Westminster when our guiding light Alison joined 8 other Cumbrian businesswomen for a day out with a difference.

All are Enterprise Vision Awards finalists  representing the best in business, and they were taken on a tour of the Houses of Parliament by MP Tim Farron. The trip was organised by Alison who had written to Mr Farron.

ally at westminster

Alison, fourth from left, with the EVAs finalists at Westminster

The women have been shortlisted in a wide variety of categories: retail business, hospitality, small business, solo business, financial services, internet industry and creative industry. Their businesses range from local crafts, tasty treats and stunning accommodation to professional services. “Being a part of the EVA’s will help to raise the profile of these high quality female led businesses,” said founder organiser Coral Horn.

Said Mr Farron: “It was a real pleasure to meet these incredibly successful local businesswomen. We know that we have a fantastic pool of talent in Cumbria.  As a county, it’s buzzing with creative individuals and entrepreneurs.  I applaud the achievements of these businesswomen and will be supporting them all as they continue to shine a light on our very special corner of the UK. I have my fingers crossed for all of them for the final.”

Alison said: “The energy and enthusiasm from this group of ladies is fantastic. An amazing day surrounded by positive and inspiring people. And the Houses of Parliament tour was quite good too!”

The winners will be announced at a gala event in Blackpool on September 28.


Design response to the plastic crisis

Guilt is a powerful emotion. Until we watched Blue Planet in horror we would happily sip cocktails through a plastic straw, buy coffee in disposable cups – and wrap our babies’ bottoms in disposable nappies.*

Now the guilt factor has kicked in – and the design response has been impressive. It’s not just guilt-free functionality that draws us to products that won’t damage the planet, but their style and good looks too.


The new style reusable nappies..a design world away from terry towels

And we’re getting militant. When I buy a baked potato from a takeaway, why do they present me with a plastic fork when eco forks in bamboo or wood are readily available? A few months ago, would I have even noticed?

So let’s first hail the heroes. Our local chain of deli supermarkets, Booths, have stopped giving away their ‘loyalty perk’ coffee in take-away cups. Now you need to take your own re-usable travel mug or you can buy an ‘eco-mug’ and fill it up.


On a bigger scale, Dave Hacking from Precious Plastics  is renowned for his DIY inspiration and creation of New Marble Plastic which can be cut and milled just like wood. The groundbreaking Better Future Factory,  a group of dynamic imaginative engineers, known as ‘imagineers’, have helped many start-ups to create products like the fully recycled plastic 3D printing filament.

Interface, the world’s largest commercial carpet tile manufacturer, have a ‘climate take back’ scheme where as part of their ‘full cycle’ ordering process they will collect your old office carpets and take it away for recycling into new carpets.

And Genomatica, a leader in bioengineering, have upscaled their mass production of biodegradable takeaway containers and packaging which are made using a natural chemical process which can be composted with the food waste, so time and money is saved by less sorting.

But what can we do ourselves to help save our blue planet? I’ve tried my best to reduce, reuse and recycle, but then we learn that our recycling attempts are passed over to China in huge shipments for them to ‘sort out’.

Following my recent trip to Clerkenwell Design Week I went to a lecture given by five of the top UK movers and shakers dealing with environmental issues and hosted by TV presenter Paul Rose. Among them were a couple of people I made a beeline for, a lecturer from Brighton University (my old stomping ground) on environmental product design and a VERY brave packaging director for Tesco, who looked understandably uncomfortable during question time. I believe it is not the consumers’ responsibility to change our habits but the responsibility of the supermarkets to change their offering. The buck surely stops with them?

He did concur and fully understood where I was coming from. I was delighted to hear that they are looking at ways of using alternative ‘eco packaging’, but what I hadn’t appreciated was the care for livelihoods at the heart of their decision making, as the strength of their buying power could seriously affect whole communities. Responsibly supporting sustainability for long term job creation and ‘re-training’ the plastic manufacturers into new ‘eco’ methods and packaging products, is top of their priorities.

Bamboo straws

Bamboo straws

The irony of it is that everything on this planet is derived from this planet. Plastics are made from oil, a natural fossil fuel which is running out, but “intelligent” humans changed its molecular structure so it can’t return back to its natural form. And for all our efforts less than 10% of plastic in the world is actually recycled.

My daughter came home from a school lesson insisting we need to use a local milkman and stop buying plastic bottles.  That’s a no-brainer, though a subsequent home-experiment to go one step further and try recycling by melting some old plastic milk bottles in the oven was an unmitigated disaster.

But we must move away from the old linear way of doing business to a ‘circular economy’ which requires courage and a new way of thinking, where waste becomes a resource.

We need to use our local butchers and fruit and veg markets. This presents another dilemma. There’s no market in Windermere so should I make a 20 mile fuel-burning round trip to Kendal instead. I tried the HelloFresh home delivery food box, which is British-sourced and delivered in eco packaging, but I’d rather support my local growers and suppliers.

We should be growing our own, or joining a community fruit and veg growing scheme, but that takes time, which we don’t have (too busy earning money, to pay for the food….)

And what are we prepared to sacrifice?  Synthetic fabrics like fleece release microfibres into the water when washed, which then transit into the rivers and lakes, are eaten by fish and go into our food chain, so now we’re eating plastic.

But come the winter, will we sacrifice fleece jackets and blankets for hemp, cotton and sacking? Come on designers, help us out with this one.


*Disposable nappies are 25% plastic. Three billion a year end up in landfill.


Fidget’s Alison makes the news

We’re thrilled to see this news story and make no apologies for reprinting it here.

Top designer Alison Tordoff has reached the finals of a major business award scheme.

Alison, who runs Windermere-based Fidget Design, is in the line-up for the Enterprise Vision Awards which recognise women in business from across the North West.


Recognised as dynamic and inspiring interior architect, Alison set up Fidget Design in 1997, and has earned a reputation as one of the most creative and innovative designers in the UK. She has worked on a wide variety of prestigious projects with top brands including Jaguar, Aston Martin, The Samling, Langdale Leisure Club and award winning Serenity Spa at Seaham.

Her designs for the Cedar Manor Hotel won Best International Hotel interior at the Bloomberg Hotel Awards. She has since created a distinctive Welcome Lounge at the hotel which helped them win a string of regional, national and international awards.

She pioneered a new range, The Love District, home furnishings based on the landscape, history and traditions of the Lake District, including cushions embroidered with the outlines of the fells, and a Lakeland bookends wallpaper.

Alison has recently been working with universities and design organisations and publishes a regular and highly regarded blog about design issues. And she is involved in a major Cumbria-based interactive project involving artificial intelligence, robotics and human machine learning.

Alison said: “This is a great honour. The North West is packed with amazing women running businesses in many different fields, and it is wonderful to be listed among them.”



Food for thought in the kitchen

In the final part of an occasional series about mindfulness, we head to the kitchen for immersive therapy

The kitchen is the most important social room in your house, and the best place to encourage friends and family to open up and talk it through.

Whatever the issues, talking is good. Really good. And it’s amazing the number of people who have been there, understand and genuinely do care about you. So invite friends around, cook food together, share dinner, share problems. Share some wine, but not too much, and cut out the caffeine after 3pm. That includes, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, coke and other fizzy drinks. There are plenty of wonderful herbal drinks and teas around now.


Make your kitchen a focal social point in your home. Eat with the family around the table (in the kitchen or dining room) rather than with a tray in front of the TV. That’s how the Italians do it, and they understand the value of family dynamics and talking through problems.

Acknowledge what’s happening in your life and take little steps which can lead to big and positive changes. I’ve been on a journey that’s brought me to this point, a life event that has actually unlocked me. I feel I know myself so much better, accept my boundaries, know when I need to step back, make changes and where I want to head next in my life journey.

There are many ways of dealing with and treating the symptoms of anxiety, cares and worries, both naturally and with medication and you have to open your mind and find what works best for you. If there is one word I can sum all this up with, it’s ‘immersive’. Be immersive. I think it’s a better descriptive word than mindfulness.

teatwoel and apron1

Loving life in the kitchen with mug (above) , apron and tea towel from Alison’s Love District range



Loving life in the kitchen with mug (above) , apron and tea towel from Alison’s Love District range


This above all: to thine own self be true*


This week we look at the conflicting demands of technology that are a barrier to mindful living

Is your phone is constantly, pinging, whistling and demanding your attention, day and night? This is very distracting and not good for your brain, as it is constantly being bombarded with ‘splinters’ of information, some of which is utter drivel and quite frankly useless bits of information.

Manage your tech interactions and take control by switching the sound alerts to silent for the various social media sites. Then you simply allocate specific times of the day to dip in and have a look. This applies to emails too, in order to improve your productivity, personally or in business. Set your boundaries, be committed and manage it properly.

bath text

Sometimes you need to switch off the tech altogether. Phones, iPads, computers and TVs are all visually and audibly stimulating. They should be switched off at least an hour before bed, to let the brain calm and get off to sleep, particularly for kids. It’s recommended that children should only be on tech for a maximum of two hours a day. It is also suggested that we should not sleep with tech on the bedside, due to radio waves interfering with the brain waves and development. Research is under way on this but why not choose to be on the safe side. If you use for phone as an alarm, put it outside your bedroom door, or in another room, and buy an alarm clock.

Poor memory? Foggy brain? About to say something…and ‘poof’ it’s gone? This is because your brain is overloaded and simply doesn’t need to remember non-essential things. It can also be age or menopause related. If you are concerned about this go and talk to your GP.

Otherwise, learn the value of the –to-do list. If you are struggling to remember things, use to do lists on your phone or a small note pad.

But if you don’t manage to be perfect, don’t beat yourself up. Research, understand and make changes. Stuff in life happens. Official stats say that one in four of us will suffer a mental health event at some point in our lives.  But we are more aware of it and have a better understanding, which can only be good for everyone.

If you still feel your job is stressful, then remember that life is not a rehearsal, and we are only on this planet once. Do yourself a huge favour and consider making a change. This can be very scary but can literally be life changing, put a spring in your step, the love back in life and you may be a much nicer person to be around. Life is too short.

Maybe it’s time to give something back? Ever wonder why you feel good when you have helped someone? That’s because the endorphin release in your brain is massive. So volunteering for a good cause or helping some needy people, can have huge feelgood benefits. It’s also contagious. If you help, then people like to help in return.

And instead of staring at a screen….relax in front of a fire, watch the flames and listen to the crackles. If you don’t have a real fire, go find one in a cosy pub and relax. This is great mindfulness.




“Our bodies are our gardens…”*

This week’s post about mindfulness takes a walk into the garden

There are all sorts of theories behind “grounding”. I occasionally go out into my garden and walk on the wet or dewy grass, because I like how it feels on my feet, I think about it and enjoy the sensation, just walking around the garden. This is mindfulness.

walking on grass

Be happy in yourself. Why do some people feel they have to ‘prove’ themselves, be demonstrable, confrontational or point the finger? When you are asked something or perhaps even be criticised, be confident in your own conviction, rather than argue back feeling like you have to raise a point. Simply reply with ‘Yes, I’m happy with what we are doing/ the decision I have made/ where I am at…’ etc… This can both defuse a situation and also say, in a polite way, it’s none of their business anyway.

Play music. Anything you love and makes you feel good, though preferably something upbeat or calming, (not thrash metal, then), even when you’re in the garden or hanging out the washing. Just as helpful, try listening to a podcast, a story or interesting talk show, or an audio book. This can be a very positive experience.

But a note of caution: avoid sound overload. Don’t have multiple sounds, music, tech, iPads, TV all going at the same time, easier said than done when you have kids. Contemporary open plan living is very social, but needs to have noise boundaries. So for everyone’s sake, don’t overload the brain with clashing music and noise. Manage it in a calm way, by allocating kids to other rooms and / or implementing time frames.

And don’t forget to laugh! Just by laughing more endorphins are released, so naturally it’s good for combating stress and rebuilding neurones. Laughing is contagious. Research shows that in work areas where employees laugh and enjoy play time, productivity increases, defensiveness decreases and teamwork improves.

*”Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners.” Iago, in Shakespeare’s Othello




“Lay aside life-harming heaviness…”*


In the second of my musings on mindfulness, let’s start with the physical. Exercise is really good for combating stress, anxiety and depression as it releases the feel good endorphines, increases neurone production and combats cortisol production. So start the day with some Pilates stretches on the living room floor

Avoid emotional triggers, whether it’s a violent movie or one that makes you blubber. Put any potential confrontational situations at arm’s length if appropriate, or deal with it if you have to, then box it off and move on. You may then need to do some meditation, mindfulness or read to really take your mind off the problem and calm the anxiety reaction.

Take time to learn meditation and breathing exercises, which can be hugely beneficial in calming the mind, or try a Sound Bath, a form of relaxation through music vibrations.

sound bath

Understanding yourself and what you are dealing with is an essential part of healing yourself. For a lighthearted but fascinating read try Sane New World – Taming the mind by Ruby Wax and her second book Frazzled which is equally brilliant.

Cuddling, stroking and talking to a pet is very calming and good for mindfulness. And if you have a dog the exercise is great too. But if it’s needed,  CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) can be very beneficial if you have some issues (past or current) or stress triggers that you are struggling to deal with. It may be an incident that happened in the past, which is putting up barriers and stopping you from moving forward in personal or business life. Talk to your GP about this.

And finally, try to avoid being reactionary. If you are stressed or anxious you already have a heightened level of adrenaline, so a relatively minor passing comment can irritate and annoy you. STOP. Do not react straight away. Think about what has been said, then try and look at it from the other person’s perspective and why did they say or do that.. If it’s a text or email, read it several times as you can sometimes miss inferences or even words, that may affect how you react. Go away and think about it. Then if you need to reply or comment, do so in a calm, understanding, non-inflammatory way, saying ‘I do understand, perhaps….”. This quite often can defuse a situation from the outset, and reduce your own adrenaline reaction.

*Lay aside life-harming heaviness: Richard ii



To sleep, perchance to dream

Mindfulness – where the likes of Philippe Starck, Prince Harry and Ruby Wax converge, because mindfulness needs to be about mindful living. And as a designer who has worked with people at all extremes of the stress-level spectrum, it seems right to put some ideas into action.

For the next few weeks I’ll present a series of short blogs which might help….beginning with the most important need in all our lives: good sleep.

townhouse bedroom

Do you wake during the night and can’t get back to sleep? Instead of fighting it, get up and go to  make a warm drink (without caffeine – decaf tea or just hot water) and snuggle up on the sofa with a duvet and watch some quiet and calming TV. No horror movies or anything that will trigger adrenaline. This should take your mind off whatever thoughts keep playing in your head. Eventually you’ll feel sleepy and switch off, back to bed. Or you could read, or listen to a meditation app,  whatever makes you concentrate on the here and now, and switches the chatter off in your brain.

I read before I go to sleep… until I’m falling asleep. Other ideas include burning a few bay leaves on a plate to reduce anxiety; they smell great too. And of course yoga is great for detoxing, meditating and calming the mind as well as the body.

However busy your day, it’s really important to get some ‘me time’ perhaps with a friend so you can chat about stuff (problems or not, preferably fun things to talk about). Too much time alone, even when out for a walk, can lead to ruminating and dwelling on your problems. So better to share your walk and be less introspective.

Do something mindful that you enjoy. Take up a hobby that makes you spend an hour or half hour concentrating solely on that thing. It could be art, playing an instrument, knitting, making something, model making, colouring by numbers, or trying out a new recipe. This helps to rebuild neurones in the brain which counteracts the cortisol produced by the amygdala gland in your brain, which tells the body to send out adrenaline. Cortisol is your stress chemical for inducing ‘flight or fight’ and it can get into a pattern of being easily triggered, so you need to break that cycle. It’s not a quick fix, you need to have faith and just stick at it for many months to really feel the benefits.

four poster pic

Four poster bed design by Fidget for the award-winning Cedar Manor Hotel at Windermere

Which brings us back to good quality sleep. If your partner, is a noisy snorer or restless, this can wake you and your brain chatter switches on. If you don’t get enough sleep, you feel sluggish and thoughts can become unreasonable, situations can blow out of proportion. On occasions it may be worth sleeping in another bed or another room or even on the sofa if necessary. As long as you are comfy, not too hot or cold and get some quality undisturbed sleep.


A birthday tribute to the queen of design

You know the bold chevron and geometric patterns that are everywhere now? Well, guess who started that trend? Yes, Mary Quant back in the fifties and swinging sixties, along with block panels of colour and bold stripes. I reckon stripes will be coming back in soon, too.


Mary Quant was the first ‘designer’ I was ever aware of when I was just eight, introduced to me by my mother. Even though she was highly successful and at the height of her career a couple of decades before I was born, I was captivated and blown away by this bold graphic style, bright colours and of course the iconic stylised daisy logo.


Me and (above) my style guru…..

Mary, who studied Illustration at Goldsmiths College London, was a self taught designer, a game changer in the fashion world. She opened her first store in 1955, Bazaar, on the Kings Road in London and frequented by the Chelsea Set – a group of young artists, film directors and socialites interested in exploring new ways of living. Her cutting-edge designs were on the covers of Harpers Bazaar and Vogue, and she mixed with the new trendsetters in society, the Rolling Stones, Beatles and photographer David Bailey.

With her cottage-industry approach, the rails at Bazaar were continually refreshed with short runs of new designs, satisfying the customers’ hunger for fresh, unique looks at competitive prices.

She also offered a radically different shopping experience with loud music, free drinks, witty window displays and extended opening hours creating a ‘scene’ that often kept going late into the evening. Young women travelled to Bazaar to enjoy shopping for ‘something different’ in a much less formal environment.

Quant’s first collections were strikingly modern in their simplicity, and very wearable. Pairing short tunic dresses with tights in bright, stand-out colours – scarlet, ginger, prune and grape – she created a bold, high-fashion version of the practical outfits she’d worn as a child at school and at dance classes. She’s also said to have invented the mini-skirt.

By 1957 demand for Quant’s clothes had led to the opening of a second Bazaar store on the King’s Road, in a space designed by Terence Conran. 

In 1966 she was awarded an OBE for services to British fashion and in 1990 she was awarded the prestigious Hall of Fame Award by the British Fashion Council, recognising her outstanding contribution to British fashion, and became a Dame in the 2015 New Year’s Honours list.

 In 2006 Quant’s iconic mini-skirt was included in a range of stamps by Royal Mail celebrating a decade of iconic British design alongside images of Concorde, the Mini car, the anglepoise lamp, the red telephone box, the Routemaster bus and the London Underground Map.

Mary also invented hot pants and was the first to use plastic coated fabrics and PVC with her ‘wet look’ fashions, and the fabulous Mondrian boots which, as shoe addict, I simply adore and would love to get my hands on a pair.

Go Go Girls arrived with their Go Go Boots and the Daddy Long-leg boots with their zip off leg section turning them into ankle boots. Her fashionable rain boots made of the new high gloss plastic fabrics were described as ‘waterproof, durable and indestructible’.

From the late 70s onwards, the business moved into mass-production high quality womenswear, alongside coordinated interior designs for British manufacturing company ICI, including bedlinen, carpets, paint and wallpaper, diffusion ranges such as swimwear, hosiery, jewellery, the Daisy fashion doll, and popular ‘Paintbox’ make up brand and skincare products.

When I was a teenager I wore baggy orange T-shirt dresses, black and white striped tights and monkey boots. I hadn’t realised the ‘modern day’ link with Mary Quant until I look back now, but it was to go on and influence me all through my life as my own design career unfolded.

As a professional designer, the eye catching stripes have never left my side, both in interiors and graphically in branded design. I love the simple shapes, beautiful proportions and clean lines which portray a confident image.

Mary’s style is still influencing today with over 300 Quant cosmetic stores in Japan, and the likes of Boden clothing, Alessi design products… and my own Fidget Design.

Mary Quant… Eighty four years young and still going strong. I salute you!


How to use colour therapy as spring approaches

Spring is on the way, one of my favourite times of the year, as colour comes back into our lives. But how well can you handle colour?

Audrey Hepburn, who was never seen in mis-matching colours, took the theme for her whole life, and would eat by colour to maintain a good balanced diet. But apart from eating your greens – and blues – you need to know how to use colour confidently in design.

audrey hepburn

Putting together complementary colours and creating a balance of hues, and the strength of colour, can make or break the look you are wanting to achieve.

A quick science lesson: colour is derived from the spectrum of light and has three components – lightness, saturation, and hue.  With these components, we get the theory of colour.  The lightness is based on light versus dark, or white versus black.  Saturation is based on the brightness v dullness, or warmth v coolness of the colour. Hues are what make the colour we see and name.

What matters more to us is the impact of colour. There is actually a treatment – chromatherapy – which uses the effect of colour to bring about physical and other changes, and has proven health benefits. That’s why it’s so important to choose the right colours to have around us. But what’s “right” is always personal preference.

So even though I love spring, and gardens filled with bright yellow daffodils, I don’t particularly like yellow as a colour. But it is making an impact on the design scene now, and there are ways to warm to it. For me, it has to be muted tones like mustard yellow, or soft creamy custard. My entrance hall is a very rich petrol blue, and to add some spring colour zest I’ve added complimentary muted yellow accents.

How do you add the right splashes of colour to give vibrancy and balance? Simple touches can create a stunning effect, and adding colour to your interiors can really enhance the enjoyment of your space, whether it’s energising, uplifting or calming. Do you know, for example, that prison cells now tend to be painted a soft pink for its calming effect on the inmates?

In commercial environments colour can be really exploited to create visual impact and draw the eye, enhancing a company’s visual branding, but this would not necessarily be applied in the same way for your home, where you’re living with the effect day after day..

A version of this article first appeared in Lancashire Life magazine