I didn’t have to put on the radio to know what had happened. More police tape, more dishevelled looking journalists pounding the streets in larger patrols than there were police. They too were clearly fatigued and uncomfortable about being here again. But sadly for their editorial guidelines, I was too young to pass comment and a little too late as I had been selecting my large white bread cake from the shop to shove some space raiders inside for my packed lunch which I would nibble at on my two-bus journey long trek to senior school at the affluent side of the city.
In my latest newspaper column and blog post, I share why I journeyed from an “underprivileged” “mixed race” “abused young woman” with invisible “disabilities” and shimmied into being brandished with a very different misunderstood label of a “journalist”… to creatively tell stories from the heart of seldom-heard communities from presenting documentaries for ITV to candid Youtube vlogs and a published book on my “beautiful and damned” life story in which I have finally found my own voice…
I would no doubt cross paths with more journalists travelling to our ‘impoverished’ area as I sought some attempt to fit into their tree-lined neighbourhood during school hours whilst they were forced to investigate yet another crime near to my home.
Whilst ‘my area’ provided the perfect backdrop for the crime page, the close up of the police tape, the rundown shop fronts and the grey backdrop of a poor urban suburb neglected by society and at best cut out of government funding priorities… They wouldn’t have time to look beyond the exterior because what wasn’t visible as they scurried to break the news, was the richness of the estates, the bonds between the back-to-back housing, the relationships prospering behind the hanging of bed sheets which would have appeared Daz-white clean (well Netto’s, version) had all the pollution of rich commuters which passed through engulfing the fractured looking housing residents had been left in, not just covering up the brightness of such a hearty place, but our community appeared grey and lifeless with visible cracks which still managed to cover up our truly powerful life force. No doubt a contrast to the commuters speeding through, who had their washing hung up in the lush gardens of their detached houses, shielded by beautiful leafy trees.
There was so much beauty beyond the superficial surface of headlines, there was so much more depth to the picture than the state-of-the-art student made feature film production could demonstrate and there was so much more soul than the flimsy plastic of the police tape separating us from the redevelopment of the other side of the city. Just to live on the other side of our beautifully diverse northerner city, where I caught my buses too, would mean your life expectancy was higher, your career prospects were much more radiant and you were much more likely to continue to prosper in life.
I daren’t even compare our marginalised area to that of our southern counterparts.
Words are not just uttered from the lips, but the way we move, write, speak and interact can either promote peace or create division.
From fake news on social media and gossip in the street to profound speeches, blogs and books which can transform our lives, we hear so many stories nowadays whether they be junk food for our minds or carefully crafted communication to feed our souls.
We have such a huge array of mediums to now consume, create and communicate in more ways than ever before.
But the leading yet archaic technology in driving deep state-of-the-art human connection is story-telling.
Story-telling can powerfully create a more peaceful wholesome world and yet it can also create huge divisions.
The kaleidoscope impact of story-telling can be abused or it can transcend propaganda to heal the world.
Something that has depleted me when having to hit targets for how many online news stories I can recreate, thrash out and publish per hour as a young journalist on a national newspaper, churning click-bait to drive revenue and an art form which has written me out of the depths of despair.
We need space to create, to let our cluttered minds swirl as they transcend into stillness to comprehend our increasingly polluted world of excess, cutting through the noise to deeply connect.
We need space to create, to let our cluttered minds swirl and transcend into stillness to truly express our emotions which are too often stifled in our increasingly shouty and busy world.
We can find creativity and deep story-telling is trashed as quickly as fast fashion and fad diets but the art of communication must not be lost because it fosters a deeper connection with ourselves, the world and with others.
As we move with the harsh Hokey Cokey of the Pandemic, I have been connecting with other creatives to discuss the importance of multi-dimensional stories to unite us all regardless of background.
“Telling unheard stories through voices, art, drama, in a visible setting”
“Drama, role play and storytelling are incredible ways to allow people to communicate in all manner of ways, no one way is the right way. We don’t solely focus on the voice. Through acting and playing it’s easy to read bodies, emotions, reactions and expressions.”
Explains Rebecca of Stride Theatre whose aim is to make performing arts accessible to all through working with a range of adults with learning difficulties and community groups, based in the visible and accessible setting of The Ridings Shopping Centre in Wakefield.
How do we ensure that people who share their lived experiences are valued and that those experiences are treated as a valid form of data in their own right? How does society, institutions and organisations – get better at working with stories and using them to create change in communities across the UK and Europe? How do we mainstream storytelling as a way of sharing learning, building relationships and bridging divides?
These are all questions myself and other passionate community reporters will be discussing at the Institute of Community Reporters (ICR) conference, about the future of lived experience storytelling.
I know as someone who discovered journalism through a calling to speak out from the perspective of my own seldom-heard community in which I was born and bred, rather than just sweep in, interpret their truth with a fast news agenda and misunderstand.
As Hayley Trowbridge, from People’s Voice Media who is organising the Institute of Community Reporters Conference The Future of Lived Experience storytelling, says: ”Community Reporting is basically a way of bringing people’s stories, experiences and ideas together so that we can collectively find ways to make the world around us a better place to be. Taking the time to listen to different perspectives – including ones that may challenge your own – is a way of understanding through empathy how different people experience the world differently. There is power in people’s experiences being described in their own words – a chance to really connect, person to person.”
How do we share these stories to have the greatest impact possible?
I grew up in newspaper-loving homes with talk radio on first thing as the kettle boiled then breakfast watching tv news then chatter on the school run or music in the car. I loved dancing, singing and drama and creative writing and when I reached my teens with the emergence of mobile phones and social media emerged.
In my case, I’m fortunate that my heritage has enabled me to straddle the worlds of traditional media and art with the wider sharing tool of the social media wagon.
This is reflected in my work as a journalist, speaker, content creator and published author which helps me to share and tell multidimensional stories on multiple platforms using digital creativity. We hear about how these worlds collide and clash with influencers being branded as fake or the conspiracy theories around the traditional news agenda.
But actually when it comes to publishing and extensive, I believe carefully crafted content, creatively aligning a variety of mediums online and offline, may just be the solution to engage and change the universe for the better.
Hence why, “Uniting Creative businesses across the North and encouraging them to come together, to unite, share their experiences and collaborate will be extremely powerful in helping to shape the future and create change,” explains Sarah Novotny, of GC Business Growth Hub who are hosting the Creative Leaders Festival which aims to connect, inspire, and energise Creative Industry professionals from across the North of England, such events will also “play a key role in the recovery of the UK economy.”
At Creative Leaders Festival, I’ll be discussing the evolving media world and the future of the theatre with the likes of Northern Ballet, Sparkle Influencer Community, and politicians. In Summer, I’ll also be sharing more seldom-heard stories and my own lived experience at the Institute of Community Reporters event.
Book free tickets, now:
Creative Leaders Festival:
Businesses will have access to a packed programme of content, delivered by trusted names in the Creative Industry, including keynote speeches, insightful panel discussions and sector-specific roundtables.
With thanks to AD:VENTURE for the introduction… after all it’s all about celebrating, collaborating and connecting one another! Sophie also writes and is an ambassador for their free business support: https://ad-venture.org.uk/self-care-for-start-ups-managing-your-mental-health/
The Future of Lived Experience:
With thanks to Creative Minds and CoActive Charity for enabling me to get involved with this powerful initiative!