When the s**t hits the fan for friends, family and colleagues, we send flowers.
It’s become a sympathy reflex, a go-to gift to say you’re thinking of someone, whether they’re going through something life-changing or just having a tough day. And there’s nothing wrong with that – it’s always lovely to know someone cares.
But sometimes, especially for long-term issues or slightly difficult situations, you find yourself searching for a more original or useful present than a beautiful bouquet. What about the friends who are going through miscarriage, having gruelling chemotherapy, facing an extended hospital stay? Bereavement, bad news or simply trying to handle being a new parent?
We’ve curated a gallery of thoughtful and unusual gifts, including subscriptions, hampers and services for when flowers just don’t cut it.
(Plus, most are also just great Christmas or birthday presents for pretty much anyone.)
Additional images: iStock
Comfort For Chemotherapy Gift Hamper
Dr Shara Cohen was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, and soon found that well-meaning friends and family generally didn’t grasp what her treatment involved. Thus, she launched Cancer Care Parcel in 2017, a range of presents stuffed with practical items – not only useful, but a way for people to reach out at a time when they might not know what to say. The chemotherapy set (pictured, £59.79) includes natural sickness aids, handwarmers and a neck cushion.
From £26.97, cancercareparcel.co.uk
Lucky Dip Subscription Service
As its Instagram account will joyfully attest, The Lucky Dip Club is a riot of brightness and fun. Promising to deliver “a pop of positivity and a confetti cannon of colour” through the recipient’s letterbox, this subscription service sends monthly socks and/or pin badges. What's more, it champions female artists, has one-off products available on the website and there’s a thriving online community of creatives.
From £6 a month (plus one-off £6 joining fee), luckydipclub.com
Whether housebound or in need of entertainment during long, boring hospital sessions, a monthly book is a lovely thought. Publisher and bookseller Persephone Books finds new, little-known or out-of-print titles and publishes them in its signature stylish sleeves, promoting female creativity at every turn. There are six-month and 12-month services, with books chosen by the buyer or recipient.
From £81, persephonebooks.co.uk
At-Home Beauty Treatments
If someone has been going through a hard time, whatever that may be, their self-care has probably been limited to the immediate needs of washing and dressing, though often not even that. But there’s much to be said for the ‘frivolous’ – a manicure, a pedicure, a facial, a massage, a blow-dry – being brought to their doorstep and helping them take proper time out for themselves.
Do you live nearby? Do you know what’s pretty nice when you’re stuck in the house? Having a friend drop off your favourite coffee or breakfast, just as you like it.
If they’re feeling rough, you don’t have to stay and chat – just hand over the goods, whether you do it once, a few Sundays in a row or every day for a week (obviously ask in advance if this is something they’d like). This also works for supermarket shops or batches of cooking; it seems small but it could make all the difference. Symbolise the gesture with an eco-friendly reusable cup or flask from a brand such as Ecoffee Cup (because we don’t want to contribute to all that unrecyclable waste).
From £8.95, ecoff.ee
Postal Beauty Box
Yep, it’s another subscription box – this time packed full of beauty products guaranteed to brighten anyone’s day.
For cosmetics addicts, try the high-end Cohorted (pictured, £35) full of big names such as Nars, Mac and Bobbi Brown, the nail-focused MeeBox (£20) or the well-known Birchbox (from £12.95) of five personalised beauty treats. Meanwhile, the men’s Grüum kits (from £6) come in three categories (shave, beard and cleanse) and can be customised.
All available as subscriptions or month by month.
Fruit and Veg Delivery Service
If someone can’t visit the supermarket as regularly as they would like to, a subscription or one-off order from a delivery service, such as Riverford, would be much appreciated. Fruit, veg, salad and meat combinations are available (tailored to personal preference), as well as farm shop products and compact recipe boxes – brilliant for an easy dinner. Riverford offers fresh, seasonal, organic food, prioritising UK produce and considering environmental impact.
Boxes from £10.95, riverford.co.uk
There’s little we love more than exciting post. Except, perhaps, stationery. Combine the two with a regular postal gift and it’s something we can envisage one buying for oneself as well as a deserving recipient. Ohh Deer’s The Papergang offers a monthly themed box of varied contents, including the likes of greeting cards, notebooks, desk accessories and art prints. Boxes can be ordered on a month-by-month basis, but there are discounts for three, six and 12-month subscriptions.
Additionally, for every four boxes sold, a tree will be planted. Perfect.
From £13.90, papergang.ohhdeer.com
Book a hotel break (or a voucher for it) including the things you know they’ll enjoy, such as spa time or fantastic foodie perks. Even a one-night stay in a local hotel half an hour down the road can feel like a holiday; the attraction here is spending quality time with you and getting away from the norm, as well as being a recuperative relaxation exercise
If your natural reflex is to take a friend out for drinks and dinner when it all goes tits up, but it’s not geographically possible, use this tip we picked up from an episode of the Savage Lovecast podcast: let them know that in lieu of your actual presence, you’ve set them up a tab at their favourite restaurant, bar or café.
Useful New Baby Gifts
New mums and dads are appreciative of any gifts, but when the 23rd already-too-small Babygro drops through the door or they’re struggling to find a space for another bunch of flowers (gorgeous as they are, nobody owns more than two vases: fact), you might want to consider something else.
How to know what? Ask. Perhaps they’ve realised they could really do with another cellular blanket, a particular pram cover, a bunch of muslins or simply a shedload of nipple cream. Just ask.
Satin-edge baby blanket in grey, £18, thewhitecompany.com
Provide them with a night in, no effort required (whether you attend yourself is your call).
There are ready-made hampers available for film nights, such as the pictured by Whisk Hampers, but there’s no reason you can’t go for the personal touch and pop your own favourite DVDs, some pyjamas, a blanket and their favourite snacks (plus booze, if allowed) in a nice box.
We are Brits and we drink tea.
Buy a stonking mug and stock up the intended recipient with teas tailored to them. Perhaps they swear by Yorkshire or Betty’s but can’t get it in hospital. Ginger and peppermint brews are often good for nausea, or try an energiser blend for new parents. Meanwhile, those missing booze might be excited to know prosecco tea exists.
Remember: there are herbal teas to avoid in certain situations, such as pregnancy or if taking anti-depressants, so do check first.
Teapigs Pick ‘n’ Mix Sample Pack, £17.99, teapigs.co.uk
Cancer Comfort Gift Hamper
Cancer Care Parcel’s ‘comfort’ hamper for adults contains everything someone might need for a bit of cosiness, whether recovering at home or stuck in hospital, such as a soft blanket for warmth during therapy, a gel eye mask to combat the common fatigue that comes with treatment, earphones, colouring book and water bottle, to name just a few.
Loungewear: some would say the best of all wears. However, if your friend is due a hospital stay or a long period of recuperation, days, weeks and months in the same old pyjamas can eat away at their wellbeing. Gift them a new set of loose, comfortable threads, or a pashmina to wrap up in.
DKNY Clean Slate Capri, £57, figleaves.com
Can they drink? Do they like gin? Sipsmith’s Sipping society delivers a quarterly box of four different gins through the letterbox (including experimental one-offs and flavoured liqueurs), paid either on a quarterly or yearly basis.
From £45, sipsmith.com
A box full of cheese can work wonders for the soul. In fact, any food and drink hamper will probably be welcomed. While in some circumstances, it’s better to go useful with everyday shopping or batch cooking, in others, only a treat will do. As with most of our suggestions, gifts such as these are perfect for both one-offs and subscription services.
London’s Neal’s Yard even caters to pregnancy diet restrictions with a selection safe for mums-to-be to tuck into (as well as a ‘new mum’ box including all the beautiful fromage they’ve been denied).
From £20, nealsyarddairy.co.uk