Breaking into broadcasting as a disabled person

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I met Christina Lee when we were both on a workshop while volunteering for Leonard Cheshire. She was immediately a fantastic addition to the LitFest’s volunteers and here, she shares her insights on breaking into the broadcasting industry as a disabled person.

Photo: Christina with Joanna from Wall to Wall.

Recently the government announced that national broadcasters, including the BBC, ITV, and Sky, plan to double the number of disabled people working in television by 2020 in an attempt to diversify the industry. The Creative Diversity Network (CDN), who proposed the Doubling Disability plan, had found that disabled people only make 6.8% of those appearing on screen, and 4.5% of those off screen, despite the fact that 18% of the UK population is disabled.

Why are there so few disabled people working in television?

In the media sector, work experience is vital. But getting work experience can be extremely difficult for young people with disabilities for reasons such as access problems, financial costs, health limitations and cultural attitudes towards disability. Misconceptions about what working in television is actually like, also put off many people with disabilities from the industry.

Back in February this year, I had the fantastic opportunity to undertake a work placement at Wall to Wall television production company for two weeks. (I wrote about my experience for Muscular Dystrophy UK, which you can read about here.) Later I caught up with Joanna Gatcum, Talent Assistant, and had a great post-placement chat about the experience. We talked about how to get more young disabled people into the media industry, and she gave some fantastic advice on how young disabled people interested in television can embark on their careers.

The television industry is without doubt a very competitive sector for anyone. Depending on the type of job you apply for, it can be physically and mentally demanding, involving working long hours or out-of-hours, or travelling frequently between sets. This may appear daunting, especially for young people whose disability may limit the type or duration of work they do. The good news, as I found out at my work placement, is that the television industry is incredibly diverse and accommodating. Given the nature of television production, you never really just do one thing at a job. So if there are certain tasks (e.g., heavy lifting, being on outdoor sets), it is often possible to swap with colleagues and do the tasks you can do (e.g. logging or transcribing).

There are increasingly more and more companies operating flexible hours and job-share schemes, not just for people with disabilities, but also for parents and caregivers. Joanna herself job-shares with another colleague and works different hours to normal office hours to accommodate childcare. On the days during my placement when the UK was hit by a freakish snowstorm, I worked from home and communicated with the team via email. Employers are often happy to negotiate and make appropriate compromises to enable people with disabilities to do their jobs well (in fact, they are legally obliged to do so, as we learned from the Disability Law workshop). Joanna was optimistic that young people with disabilities stand as much chance in television as anyone and encouraged anyone interested in the sector to give it their best shot.

I asked Joanna what, from her experience working in Talent, are the most skills and attributes young people need to succeed in television. She explained that since most jobs in television are contract-based and project-based, flexibility and ability to adapt are crucial survival skills, especially for freelancers. The skill requirements vary depending on the type of job you are applying for, but as there are tight deadlines and things can (and often do) go wrong, problem-solving and organisational skills are also very important. Most graduates starting a career in television won’t have much experience in the media and they are bound to come across sector-specific practices that they are not familiar with.

Even if your degree has nothing to do with media or if you didn’t go to university, it is still possible to have a successful career in television. More than qualifications, it’s experience that matters. That’s why willingness to learn is key to getting to grips with the tricks of the trade. Entry level jobs such as secretarial roles and PA positions may not sound very impressive, but they provide opportunities to learn how television works behind the scenes and meet important people like directors and producers, who could be useful contacts for the future. The words that we went back to again and again were passion and enthusiasm. All the staff I met loved their work; even though it’s hard, their passion shines through and that’s what make their work so brilliant.

Evidently, the television sector is far from perfect and disability representation remains low. But things are changing, onscreen and off-screen. And hopefully getting more young disabled people into the television industry will drive change to the right direction.

Special thanks to Muscular Dystrophy UK and Wall to Wall for the fantastic opportunity and experience. If you are a young person with disabilities and would like to learn more about similar work opportunities, please visit their Moving Up page for details.

Final Tips:

  • Be boldDon’t be afraid to try something new, even if you don’t think you are good at it. For me, pushing myself out of my comfort zone by taking up placements at MDUK and Wall to Wall taught me not only about the industries and the workplace but I also learned about myself and what I can do. It made me realise that a lot of my existing skills are transferable and made me more optimistic about my career options.
  • Be proactive! Television is a creative industry, it’s competitive, so you need to create your own opportunities. Joanna gets a lot of emails from applicants every day, so it’s not always possible to reply to emails quickly. However, this does not mean that your application is rejected; your CV gets stored on the company database for future uses. If the company does not reply within a few weeks, send a follow-up email. Sometimes companies will require someone urgently for a specific job, and if your email arrives at the right time then the job could be yours. There are job-posting websites and talent databases like TalentBases and MediaParent where companies recruit freelancers that are free for applicants.
  • Be-friend! Networking is important for any career, but especially for television. Freelancers work with different teams on every project, so it’s a good idea to keep a list of contacts from each project who can potentially point you to other projects and introduce you to other people. Taking up work experience placements, internships, and media events are also very good ways of meeting people. For writers, finding a good agency with the right contacts can make a huge difference.

Good Luck!

With huge thanks to Christina for sharing this with us 🙂

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It’s been almost two years (I thought it was longer)

2019

Yep, almost two years since I last blogged. Outrageous isn’t it? Or would be if I hadn’t been busy with all sorts of things that, sadly, were just more important.

But here I am, having guilt tripped myself into it, mainly to get back in the habit of just writing freely – even if it’s a load of nonsense (which it quite likely will be).

I’ve been concentrating on screenwriting, which includes reading and watching lots of stuff too, and also organising the first Murderous Medway which – even if I say it myself – was bloody good. Quote of the day? “The quality of the panel discussions was as good as any I’ve heard at Harrogate” – from a regular Theakston’s Old Peculiar attendee.

So it’ll be happening again this year – details will come in due course. My personal aim for 2019? To write at least 3 pages per day. I’ve still a few hours left today …

First up though (and the guilt comes from having had this a while) from one of the Litfest’s lovely volunteer’s Christina, who did some work experience at a television production company earlier this year and shared her thoughts on how disabled creatives can break into the industry. Stay tuned!

Nine unique luxury items on Desert Island Discs

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Desert Island Discs celebrates its 75th anniversary this week, having first aired on 29 January 1942 when original host Roy Plomley interviewed popular Viennese comedian, actor and musician, Vic Oliver.

Originally a Forces Programme, its peek into the private lives of public figures from the worlds of politics, entertainment and everything in between has proven irresistible to Radio 4 listeners.

The host’s chair has since been inhabited by Michael Parkinson, Sue Lawley and the current incumbent, Kirsty Young, who will be talking to one of Britain’s modern brand of National Treasures, David Beckham, in its regular slot at 11.15am on Sunday.

Since this is a man who can buy anything he wants, I’m curious about his choice of luxury item.

Will he follow the majority of guests and opt for the usual home comforts, art or writing materials, musical instruments, sports equipment, a desire to learn new languages or astronomy  – or will he surprise us, and decide on something utterly unique like these previous guests:

TV Presenter Julian Clary wanted an all purpose prosthetic arm. Having seen a sound man with one that had a multi purpose tool instead of a hand, he believes it would be very useful for cracking open shellfish and peeling the bark off trees, while the glint off it might attract a passing ship to rescue him.

Journalist Virginia Ironside chose to take an enormous bag of plaster. Having dabbled with sculpture, she’d make the heads of all her friends and dot them around the island like an art installation, and be forever surrounded by the people she loves.

Actor Maureen Lipman would take a parking meter with a year’s supply of tickets (but didn’t actually say why) and a gypsy caravan with a wooden floor to tap dance on until rescue.

A life sized laminated picture of the “adorable” and “deeply attractive” James Caan from Dragon’s Den would be actor and director Kathy Burke’s choice – to body surf on!

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Comedian turned actor Hugh Laurie is someone you might want to avoid upon his return – he wants two sets of throwing knives so he can come home with an uncanny skill: “being able to knock the piv out of the Ace of Spades at 20 paces would be a great thing”!

It’s lovely to know that the Pythons are so close still. John Cleese wanted to take Michael Palin but wasn’t allowed because he’s animate. You could have him stuffed, advised host Sue Lawley. “That’ll do,” replied John.

Captain Jacques Costeau, the conservationist and oceanographer who co-invented the aqua-lung with engineer Emille Gagnan, wanted something he could touch all day long, choosing the stone from the stomach of a fossilised dinosaur he’d once been gifted.

High wire walker Philippe Petit felt his ‘Mysterious Object’ would force him to keep thinking while marooned on the island. It was found in a barn when he was a child, and his father tried without success to get it identified by tool manufacturers and other trades across different continents. It’s wooden and looks like an artillery shell, about 20cm tall. Inside, it has two rows of sharp teeth, suggesting some kind of trap. But they only fit together when the object is closed. Any ideas? 

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It’s Lego all the way for actor Hugh Bonneville. An enormous pile has been accumulating in his den for the past decade, which he built and then foolishly dismantled. He has the instruction leaflets though, and will rebuild the lot. He also had a practical use for it – struts for all the sand tunnels he’s going to build! Is there a Lego Downton Abbey? There should be, shouldn’t there? 

I’m completely predictable – writing materials all the way for me!

14 Things You Didn’t Know About Milton Keynes

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The Milton Keynes Cows in the town centre

‘New Town’ Milton Keynes isn’t so new anymore – it’s 50 years old today! It was formally designated a new town by the government on 23rd January 1957 and is famous for its roundabouts. But it must have more going for it than that, surely?

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Enigma code-breaking centre, Bletchley Park, is situated in the area, and is credited with shortening World War II by between 2-4 years. Alan Turing, whose story is told in The Imitation Game, was instrumental in breaking the Enigma code while at Bletchley, working alongside other mathematicians, chess champions, linguists and crossword experts to crack transmissions made by the Axis powers.

An Enigma machine at Bletchley Park

Bletchley hosts the National Museum of Computing. It opened in 2007 and houses Colossus, the world’s first electronic computer, and offers the opportunity to revisit all those old games in the PC Gallery.

The government intends to open a cyber-security college at Bletchley in 2018, for which students would be selected due to their aptitude (see above criteria) and include coders and computer programmers rather than academic achievers.

Who’s who?

Reigning Ping Pong World Champion, Olympian and winner of Britain’s most table tennis medals in the Commonwealth Games, Andrew Baggaley was born and raised in the town. His mum began playing table tennis with him in their back garden and he hasn’t looked back. He will be defending his title this week at Alexandra Palace.

Arguably Britain’s most famous television Geordie, actor Kevin Whatley – a star of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, Morse and of course his own spin off, Lewis – has made the Woburn Sands area his home.

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Kevin Whately as Inspector Lewis in Oxford, August 2015.

Award winning horror writer Sarah Pinborough aka children’s fantasy author Sarah Silverwood, was born in the town and has written a series of spinoff novels based on the shared Torchwood/Dr Who universe.

Where to go and what to see:

The town’s most iconic attraction is cows! Concrete Cows, to be exact, a sculpture created by Canadian artist Liz Leyh in 1978 from materials donated by a local builder. Comprising three cows and three calves, all half life size, they reside in the Milton Keynes museum, while Bill Billings’ more famous replicas are situated on the A422 Monks Way.

Making the most of the area’s connection with covert activities, Si5 Spy Missions and Room Escape give an opportunity to think like the cryptologists of the past. Can you pass muster?

The National Bowl is the town’s major entertainment venue, playing host to any and everyone from the late David Bowie to the Foo Fighters. Formerly a clay pit, it’s an open grassed area in the form of an amphitheatre which holds 65,000 people unseated, but is the subject of constant speculation about its future.

The Bounce Trampoline Park was the first of its kind in the UK. Forget spotters, this is wall to wall trampolines where you can play with your mates or all the family, engage in dodgeball or dive around in foam pits!

Wimbledon FC moved from south London to MK when it became apparent their home ground at Plough Lane wouldn’t allow them to keep growing. They eventually changed their name to MK Dons, and  enjoyed a second round Capital One Cup victory over Manchester United in 2014, beating the self styled Biggest Club in the World 4-0!

The Buddhist Peace Pagoda – erected in 1980 in Willen Lake – was the first Buddhist stupa built in the western hemisphere.

Milton Keynes Peace Pagoda

There is evidence of human settlements as far back as 2000BC, with the Milton Keynes Hoard, a valuable bronze age find, now housed in the British Museum

Fears that this new town would be a concrete jungle proved unfounded – there are three ancient woodlands, 4000 acres of parks, 400 acres of lakes and at least 20 million trees. The Parks Trust, an independent body, is pledged to prevent building on any of the park lands, a power bestowed upon them by the departing development corporation.

50th anniversary celebrations are taking place throughout the first part of the year, including this weekend – find out more here.

Image credits:

Cows

Enigma Machine

Kevin Whatley

Peace Pagoda

7 Reasons Women Feel Guilty But Shouldn’t

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We beat ourselves up, us ladies, especially those in the transition phase between the olden days (know your place, accept inequality, do your duty to your husband) and these days where having a man is not the be all and end all of our lives and we are completely in charge of our own destiny.

So here are some common reasons women feel guilty – and why we shouldn’t.

Housework: If, like many women, you’re juggling being a wife, mother and worker, the housework could well be your main source of guilt. In which case, identify the tasks that need to be done most, i.e. those that will soon pile up and cause more guilt (you’ve no clean knickers; school shirts aren’t ironed) as opposed to those the family likely won’t even notice (i.e. dusting). And draw up a chore rota – the rest of the family can get involved and do their bit too – it’s not just your job these days.

Taking sick days : If you’re genuinely ill, you’re doing neither yourself nor your employer any favours by struggling in. If you’re not performing at 100%, and if you’re in a sales job, for example, wouldn’t it be better for a colleague at full strength to close that sale than you struggle your way through it, potentially losing the client?

Motherhood: Damned if we do, damned if we don’t, right? Every woman has to find their own way when it comes to parenting. Sure, they give you parenting books but reality doesn’t come neatly packaged. While there are some obvious do’s and don’ts, every child will respond differently. Read the advice, listen to other mums, check things out with health professionals then do what works best for you and your child – and don’t believe everything the playground mafia tell you about their perfect lives and children.

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Breastfeeding: The mothers who breastfeed and do so where and when required are very vocal (quite rightly), along with midwives and other health professionals about the benefits of breastfeeding. But if you don’t want to breastfeed in public, then don’t. And if you don’t want to breastfeed at all, then that’s fine too.

Feminism: Let’s get this clear right from the off – being a feminist does not mean you hate men. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s recognising that for all members of a society to feel valued, they should have an equal say in how their society runs, and not be subject to discrimination.

Caring: You have a job, children, a husband and elderly parents and you’re feeling split between them all because there aren’t enough hours in the day. Hang on, haven’t you forgotten someone? Oh, yes – YOU! Think for a moment how any of them would cope if anything happened to you? So don’t feel guilty for that little bit of me time you take: you need to recharge your batteries and if that means reading a book in the bath in the company of an overflowing laundry basket, so be it.

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Body image. Thankfully, the messages these days is about being healthy, as opposed to being thin, curvy, hipless or with cheekbones to die for. Being obese is not healthy, neither is being stick thin. Wean yourself away from the unhealthy images – if you want a glossy magazine to read, with practical lifestyle features and interesting content about interesting people, pick up the Radio Times – where said featured people come in all shapes, sizes and ages.

Take control of your life and don’t apologise for doing so – it’s as valuable as everyone else’s.

Work is the curse of the creative classes …

Why do I want to write? A) Because I enjoy it and B) earning a living doing something I enjoy is preferable to a boring office job, isn’t it? But how much do I want it? Am I prepared to compromise on my own voice, my own style, to make a living?

Working with the Restore Rochester Castle committee means I’m going to be sending press releases to various media outlets – I’ve already done one – and I wrote a basic but informative piece, not overlong, which gave them all the relevant information they needed because I know how it works: they’ll re-write it, unless they’re lazy journalists – which isn’t my problem because if they print it as it is I know it’s professionally written, at least in respect of grammar, spelling etc.

However, I’ve resisted the temptation to look at any ‘How-to-write-a-press-release’ gumph, because do I want the Restore campaign to have the same voice as every other campaign out there or do I want them to sound human and individual? But should I be writing to a formula, a pre-ordained format? Isn’t it unprofessional of me not to?

I love writing for Rochester People – the guideline to the publisher role was very much to make it my own, to write however and whatever I feel the local community would want to read. Indeed, what they were looking for was a blogger rather than a trained journalist, for exactly those reasons stated above – a human voice, not a machine churning out the same as everyone else.

Had I managed to land the local reporter role I went for recently, would I have had to adhere to certain rules – rules I imagine that trained journalists learn at college, of which I have no knowledge? Rules that would have ruled out* the digressions I make in the middle of articles sometimes (*did you see what I did there, eh? Did you?) or the *addition of a little aside in asterisks* or #twitterhashtags references – and therefore made my job of writing said article much less fun for me? The media chief who asked for the applications via Twitter made my day by leaving a comment on The Scatter – only for me to find out during the resultant conversation that I’m “a star” but to “carry on what I’m doing” – because “that’s where your talents lie” i.e. not in the reporting of a local court case with little scope for creativity.

To say I was gutted would be true, totally. I am going to check out the ‘how-to-write-a-press-release’ gumph, because writing, any sort of writing, is what I want to do. I want to be challenged by writing about subjects I’m unfamiliar with. I want potential clients to see my complete portfolio and know that I’m someone who can write whatever they want me to write, in any style or form. Simply because, I love writing and I want the freedom to pursue it at a creative level. If formulaic press releases are where I begin, that’s fine with me.