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Month: March 2016

One good deed leads to another

One good deed leads to another

Charity brands do great work but not all of them have great stories about how they came into being. The story of Mary’s Meals is a great tale. In fact, it is so good that it’s now available as a book ‘The shed that fed a million children’. 

Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, Mary’s Meals Founder and CEO explains “A lot of my time is spent verbally telling people the story of Mary’s Meals. Over and over again I was seeing how much people loved that story and that they wanted to know more. I thought, yes, this is an amazing story, let’s write it down.”

I recommend you read the book but as an appetiser, here is a shorter version.

The story starts in 1983, when Magnus and Fergus MacFarlane-Barrow joined their parents on a pilgrimage to the Marian shrine of Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The family renewed their family’s Catholic faith and it led Magnus’ parents to convert their guesthouse into a retreat centre or ‘Family House of Prayer’.

Years passed and Magnus and his brothers got jobs on fish farms.

It was one night in 1992 while Magnus and Fergus were enjoying a pint in their local pub that they were reminded of their trip to Medjugorie as they saw TV news reports of the Bosnian conflict.

They decided they had to do something and after spending much of the night debating different options they decided to organise a local appeal and to volunteer to take the donations to Bosnia themselves.

Food, clothing, medicines and donations of money soon began to arrive at their home, where they were stored in the family shed.

In just three short weeks, the shed was full and the brothers arranged a week’s holiday. They bought a second-hand Land Rover, and joined an aid convoy driving back to Medjugorje, the site of their earlier pilgrimage.

A week later they returned to Argyll feel saddened but proud of having done a good deed. They were expecting to return to work but while they had been away the shed had filled up with donations again.

Magnus decided to give up his job and take a ‘gap year.’ He sold his small house so he could drive aid out to Bosnia-Herzegovina for as long as the public kept donating.

 The public, however, did not stop and Magnus was never to return to his old job.

It soon became necessary to set up a registered charity, Scottish International Relief (SIR). Over the next 10 years, SIR expanded. While it continued to deliver aid to Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, it began building homes for abandoned children in Romania and helped returning refugees in Liberia by setting up mobile clinics and other projects.

Magnus was on another trip, this time to Malawi, when he met a young boy who would turn out to be the inspiration for Mary’s Meals.


Magnus himself picks up the story. “I met Edward in 2002, after his father had died of AIDS the year before, and he lived with five siblings and his mother Emma in abject poverty in a mud-brick house. Emma also had AIDS and did not have long to live”.

Magnus asked Edward what he hoped for in life. He replied: “I want to have enough food to eat and to go to school one day.”

His simple but powerful wish inspired Magnus to set up a new campaign Mary’s Meals – to provide meals at schools so that children could get both a good meal and an education.

In 2012 with the school feeding campaign having become the sole focus of its work, SIR officially changed its registered charity name to Mary’s Meals.  Edward’s words were translated into the brand’s vision statement:

Every child deserves an education – and enough to eat.

Our vision is that every child receives one daily meal in their place of education and that all those who have more than they need, share with those who lack even the most basic things.

Working together with those who share our vision, we believe there is no good reason why this cannot be realised.

In an interview with the Daily Record in 2015, Magnus recalls a second and equally heart-rending meeting with Edward.

“I was introduced to him again recently and I have to say that his story is unsettling for me and very poignant, because it reminds me how much there is still to be done. He is still living a life of terrible poverty and working the fields every day to get enough food to survive.

Mary’s Meals didn’t reach him in time but his youngest siblings have been helped in their schools and his son will soon be going to a school where they serve Mary’s Meals too, so I guess we have helped him.

He had heard of Mary’s Meals but he didn’t know that they had anything to do with him. Edward is [now] very aware of what his words led to, thank God, and I think he is proud of that.

I do often wish that we did more for Edward, because his words were the catalyst for so much work by so many people.”

Today Mary’s Meals is feeding over 1,100,000 of the world’s poorest children every day they attend school.

The original shed is still in use as part of Mary’s Meal headquarters.

Magnus has been presented with a CNN Hero Award.

His autobiography “The shed that fed a million children” was published in 2015.

But in his own words “His [Edward’s] story shows that there is so much still to do.”


Footnote: His autobiography contains many more snippets and anecdotes about the Mary’s Meals story, including the time he tried to invite Billy Connolly’s wife Pamela Stephenson to an event but got mixed up and invited Pamela Anderson instead. When the Baywatch star turned up it was a bit of a surprise but she was made very welcome.


Kipling, Lennon and Lury

Kipling, Lennon and Lury


What brand connects Rudyard Kipling, Mary Norton (author of ‘The Borrowers’), John Lennon and my dad?

The answer is what many believe to be the best biscuit in the world to have with cheese – Fortt’s Bath Olivers.

The biscuit itself can be traced back to the 18th Century and Dr. William Oliver.

William Oliver was born in Plymouth and studied medicine in Cambridge where he become a M.D. in 1725. He later moved to Bath where he was a great advocate of the curative waters, and founded the Bath General Hospital (now Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases).

While looking after his many patients he invented the Bath Bun – a sweet roll made from a milk-based yeast dough and including dried fruits like candied fruit peel, currants or sultanas. It had a lump of sugar baked in the bottom and more crushed sugar sprinkled on top after baking. Unfortunately, they proved so delicious that his patients started eating them in abundance and consequently started getting fat.


He started experimenting and finally produced a modification of the original recipe than was plainer and less caloric, but still delicious – it was the Bath Oliver Biscuit

It proved an instant success with his patients, and soon non-patients were enjoying it too

Shortly before his death, Oliver willed the recipe to his coachman Atkins, also giving him £100 and ten sacks of top grade wheat-flour. Atkins immediately set up in business at 13 Green Street and became rich by making the biscuits.  

After various changes in ownership, the Oliver biscuit recipe passed to James Fortt whose name still appears on the pack. 

Like many famous brands, the Bath Oliver has a number of famous advocates and references in British culture

In the first chapter of Puck of Pook’s Hill by Rudyard Kipling: “[the child heroes of the story] were not, of course, allowed to act on Midsummer Night itself, but they went down after tea on Midsummer Eve, when the shadows were growing, and they took their supper—hard-boiled eggs, Bath Oliver biscuits, and salt in an envelope—with them.” […] Everything else was a sort of thick, sleepy stillness smelling of meadow-sweet and dry grass.”

Mary Norton in ‘The Borrowers’  describes an evening ritual “and it would comfort him to see, each evening at dusk, Mrs. Driver appear at the head of the stairs and cross the passage carrying a tray for Aunt Sophy with Bath Oliver biscuits and the tall, cut-glass decanter of Fine Old Pale Madeira.”

John Lennon taste was the more indulgent Chocolate Bath Oliver. Developed and introduced in the 1930s it is a Bath Oliver coated in thick, rich dark chocolate. He once famously requested payment for a TV appearance on the BBC music show The “Old Grey Whistle Test” in Chocolate Olivers rather than cash.

Finally on this list was my dad a lifelong fan who introduced me to their deliciousness.


It started as a joke… but is male laundry a laughing matter?

It started as a joke… but is male laundry a laughing matter?

Leif Frey, who started the FREY brand with his brother Erin, says the inspiration for their new brand was a college joke.

“We were finally doing our own laundry and we found that all the detergent was clearly tailored towards women.”

“Later, we realised it was a genuine problem. It perpetuates the stereotype that women should do the laundry”.

Their solution was based on the insight that “the modern man has his own hair products, grooming products, deodorants, and everything in between. He deserves his own detergent. Challenged to find a men’s detergent in the laundry aisle, we created FREY to fill the void.”

In its first incarnation as a Kickstarter project in 2014, it was called “Real.”

Research and testing led to the brand being renamed as FREY, repackaged in a sleeker, more prominent, black bottle and slightly repositioned with more sophisticated messaging, including giving increased prominence to its oak and musk “cologne-inspired masculine fragrance”. 

It now uses a number of lines, such as “The detergent that works as hard as you do”, which just so happens to have been used by a number of other ‘masculine’ brands like Chevrolet, Clif energy bars and Carhartt.


Leif says the company is seeing a 50% month on month growth rate and is in talks with big retailers and brand partnerships.

Although the brand is not yet making a profit, the brothers are aiming high. They want to start a revolution. Their website says the “detergent industry… is clearly genderised and outdated” and the brand’s purpose is “absolutely to change that”. They hope “to help break down stereotypes about who should do which household chores.”

“We are helping to catalyse an important discussion and people are paying more and more attention,” Leif says.

They are not the only brand aiming to change the washing world. There are other male detergents on the market including Dirtyboy, Hero Clean and Distinctive. 

In India, Ariel is taking a different approach. Using research that showed how little men did at home and how even 2/3 of children believed doing the laundry was women’s work they launched an advertising campaign to encourage men to “share the load”.  In one ad a father is shown apologising to his grown up daughter for not having set a better example around the house and ends with him helping with the washing. 

Ariel says the advert has been shared 26m times across social media platforms since its launch in February. The initiative has spread and Ariel has partnered with washing machine manufacturers, retailers and even clothes manufacturers. It has been supported and endorsed by a number of famous women too including Melinda Gates and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, the latter describing it as “one of the most powerful videos I’ve ever seen”. 

And more importantly, over 1.5 million men have now pledged to “share the load”.

(A summary of that campaign can be seen here )


Three little words – location, location, location.

Three little words – location, location, location.


From the ashes of the blitz rose a successful brand, which still leads its market today.

On 15th February 1944, as the Second World War was drawing to a close, an estate agent called Harold Samuel decided to buy Land Securities Investment Trust Limited. It owned three houses in Kensington together with some government stock.

It was only the first of a number of acquisitions that Samuel was to make in the following years.

To some his strategy seemed odd, he focused on what to others might have seen ‘dumps’, properties that had often been left in ruins from the regular night-time bombing London and other UK cities had endured during the war. 

Samuel saw past the ‘ashes’ and recognised their potential. His unusual strategy was to buy and redevelop bombsites, but not any old bombsites. He choose his sites with care.

He understood that as interest rates were low and development was slow in coming forward, the value of the right assets would rise rapidly. He seized the opportunity and started to build his brand by borrowing at attractive rates, buying sites in the right places, developing and then capitalising on his now higher valued and often sought after assets.


He had predicted the upswing in the property and even coined a phrase that summed up his approach: ‘There are three things that matter in property: location, location, location.’

He had recognised that location was, and is the most important factor in a property’s value.

Success came quickly the 12 March 1948 issue of ‘Investor’s Chronicle’ reported: “Meteoric seems the only fitting term to describe the growth in earning power of The Land Securities Investment Trust. For the year March 31 1938 [prior to Samuel’s purchase], earnings on the Ordinary stock were equal to 3%. Ten years later they are running at an annual rate of 83%.”

In a relatively short time, Land Securities established itself as the UK’s leading property company. A position it still holds today.

In 1963, Samuel became the first developer to receive a knighthood. He was made a life peer in 1972 and remained Chairperson of Land Securities right up until his death in 1987.

What he would have made of Channel 4’s programme named after his famous quote is not known.

And the moral is if you can see past the present and accurately predict the future, then that future can be very successful. Can you see opportunities where others only see problems?