Fran's Blog

What’s in a role?

By Fran Plowright and Bianca Manu

I have recently been pondering precisely what is it that makes a successful mentor/ mentee relationship work? As a friend and colleague – who runs her own mentoring programme for women Angel Investors in the waiting pointed out over lunch, ‘the thing that busy mentors hate the most, is to be invited out for a coffee!’.

But if mentors don’t want a vague, non specific kind of a chat over a flat white, then what do they want from the relationship and how do mentors and mentees find the perfect match?

In ‘Lean In’, Sheryl Sandberg says that the mentor / mentee relationship works best if the mentor and mentee find each other organically; ‘if you have to ask someone if they will mentor you, then they shouldn’t be your mentor’. Sheryl’s point suggests relationships can only be sustainable if there is a true and natural connection between mentor and mentee rather than an involuntary connection.

So if a mentor and a mentee should be lucky enough to ‘find each other’ or at least – let’s be realistic here – in many cases, unless you already work in the field of youth engagement – finding each other, often will require a helping hand in the form of organisations or individuals whose role it is to facilitate these ‘perfect matches’.

Fran and Bianca

Fran and Bianca

Once that relationship has had a few debut dates and in some cases, a few managed sessions – perhaps goals are brainstormed, discussed and then written down, the relationship begins – but what next? There is no ‘one size fits all’ plan of a mentor/ mentee relationship and no finite period of time during which this thunderbolt, impactful relationship will happen.

What does a busy mentor want out of their role? Why do they want to do it?

What do phrases like ‘to put something back’, ‘to share some of my hard earned knowledge, experiences, wisdom, stories’ mean? It seems to me that what they want is a purpose and a real role, something specific rather than a vague response to ‘I want to do what you do, how do I get there?’ and involved issues to unpack using their experience and expertise.
Feedback from a conversation with a CEO at a successful multi-platform production company revealed that he would like a ‘satisfying relationship’ with a person whom he would mentor through regular, honest and meaningful meetings rather than light touch and superficial contact:

I would rather give up more of my own and my staff’s time and have a greater sense of investment in that person than a few superficial meets and placement of someone in my company without a goal or a purpose, it would feel more authentic and ultimately much more satisfying I believe.

I think these are good questions that any prospective mentor should be asking themselves; ‘what do you want out of this contract?’ and ‘what is the impact you would like to have?’, at the same time, a mentee seeking some guidance and support should also think about what qualities they are looking for from their mentor and more specifically, to come up with a list of concrete questions and to take along something specific or issues to get feedback on rather than vague statements.

Most importantly, I think that a successful mentor/ mentee union, also has a lot to do with the reciprocity. It never is just a one-way street, and as much wisdom often comes from the mentee as from the mentor through a good relationship which is built over time, with trust and respect being the most important qualities both should be imbuing the relationship with.

That brings me neatly onto one of my mentee’s Bianca Manu, and my experience of watching her give a talk at ‘Grown Your Own Talent ‘ at the International Festival for Business at the beginning of July.

I have known and worked with Bianca for four years and over that time we have definitely gone on a bit of a journey together. She is now just going into her second year studying English Literature at Manchester University and is also a successful young entrepreneur, assistant, researcher and environmentalist in her own right.

Bianca joined a programme I was working on called Headstart which documented the welcoming of the world leading up to and during the 2012 Olympics from a young East Londoner’s perspective using social media. I saw something in Bianca and she in me and she has worked for me on and off as an assistant and researcher ever since.

Along with another employer of Bianca’s, – when she isn’t at ‘Uni’, we have both been lucky enough to mentor her, I say lucky because as much as I know I have had positive impact on Bianca and some of the choices she has made and continues to make, she also has brought her voice into the work that I do. As a person who works in youth engagement as I do, having a good and on-going relationship with the young people I work with like Bianca and other inspirational young people including Kimberley Nyamhondera, who also guests on my blog, I would not be able to do my job properly. The input, intelligence, research they give me and their resources and network of their peers is absolutely invaluable to the work that I do

So, going back to the conference, at the beginning of July, I travelled up to Liverpool to watch Bianca give her first – of many I’m sure – talks and as her mentor and employer, I was very moved and proud to see her standing on the platform delivering her own presentation at part of the Liverpool International Festival of Business about what she thinks makes for a good young prospective employee and what the ingredients for successful mentoring and work opportunities for the next generation..

At this point, I am going to hand over to Bianca herself who will pick up the blog from here:

Bianca Manu gives talk at Grow your Own Talent

Bianca Manu gives talk at Grow your Own Talent

On Wednesday, 9th July, I spoke at the International Festival for business’s two-day event: ‘Grow your own talent’. Held in Liverpool, the event explored the importance of retaining and recruiting young talent to develop industries and workforces.

With the number of work opportunities and graduate programmes increasing, the event delivered practical advice in the employment sector focusing on both traditional methods of recruitment as well as offering an in depth look at the dynamic schemes designed to engage employers with employees, such as apprenticeships and traineeships.

The opportunity arose from a recent feature in Sheryl Sandberg’s international bestseller, “Lean In: the graduate edition”.

By relating my own experiences of transitioning from internships to employment, I explored the importance of employers adapting to understand and attract young talent whilst creating mutually beneficial working and mentoring environments.

It’s particularly through employers and mentors like Fran, who’ve allowed me to grow and develop my skills professionally whilst teaching me important life skills that influence the decisions and work ethic I maintain today.

The opportunity to work with employers who consider and care about me has given me the confidence to believe in my ability and understand the process of translating ideas into reality.

Its so important young people are given the opportunity to have mentors and reap the benefits of guidance from someone who’s been there, done it and wears the t-shirt.

Young people should be given a larger platform to experiment and test their abilities.The constant reassurance, trust and cultivation has made me grateful for the opportunities I have been afforded.


‘Turfed’ at the LIFT Festival – a guest entry by 19 year old blogger Kimberley Nyamhondera

Last Wednesday night, I attended the world premiere of ‘Turfed’, – part of London’s International LIFT Festival – which is a very powerful piece of theatre, spoken word, music and movement, about global homelessness. Using real stories from an amazing group of young people – some of whom have spent time living on the streets themselves – Turfed, really made the audience work, and to stop and think hard about what it means to live without a home. Turfed is on as part of the LIFT Festival until June 21st. 
I went along with some friends including some of the young people I work with, here’s 19 year old Kimberley’s take on the evening: 


The ‘Turfed’ Experience

Entering the Hackney Downs Studios to seeTurfedon Wednesday 11th June 2014 was a lot more than I’d imagined. ‘Turfed’ was somewhat more than a performance, it was a journey.

In a bid to break my habitual cycle and do something other than sleep, work, sleep, eat, repeat, I decided to see the show with an open mind, with only the dual interpretations of the show’s title; being turfed out onto the streets and football pitch turfs guiding my thoughts about what the evening would be about.

In a sense, I think entering the studios almost completely unaware worked better for me. I quickly learned that ‘Turfed’ would be more participation/physical theatre rather than the conventional sit down stage theatre. I’d just about managed an ‘uh what?’ before being shown into a darkened room. There was an almost mystical glow from the lighting that felt like entering a different realm where time and real life were temporarily suspended, as we were taken away from the beliefs and thoughts of problems that plague our daily lives and confronted by an issue that has a serious and devastating effect on a vast population of people without a home.

With this in mind, a line said within the first five minutes really resonated with me during the performance and for a long time after, in that it sort of brought a tear to my eye. I’m paraphrasing but throwing someone out of their home only teaches them not to need home anymore. You’re not teaching them the lesson you think they’ll learn. This introduced the most pertinent theme, for me, about something of a sacrifice of; relationships, familiar surroundings and even, self. 

The rest of the performance felt like a blur of music, dance, passion, beginnings and endings. Of being unified by the all-encompassing feeling of spirit, change and difference, in a way that left me stunned and most importantly, excited.

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We started, uneasy strangers in a dark and dim room, sharply focusing and unfocusing on the set spread out around and between us and ended with a reverent sense of togetherness, looking at the ‘stars’, after being choreographed into this story and unable and unwilling to disregard the importance of ‘Turfed’.  

By Kimberley Nyamhondera

Trust and New Technology – a spoken word response


On Wednesday 7th May, an audience comprising young people 14-25 including school students from as far a field as Coventry, gap year students, university students and stakeholders from the world’s of technology, education and youth engagement came together for the third in the series of debates held at Free Word Centre with a focus on young people and the business of Trust.

The purpose of this debate was to take a closer look at the very pertinent topic of surveillance, privacy and technology and wondering whether it is possible to maintain security and privacy at the same time? Many questions around our rights and whether they were being transgressed in the name of protection and security were posed and a big over-riding concern seemed to be whether we should be worried about the future impact and effects on young people who are encouraged to live out so much of their lives online. There is more information on this in young blogger Sandra Townsend’s response here.

The debate was hosted by BBC Radio 1 Dj and broadcaster Gemma Cairney who expertly guided the panellists and the audience towards discussing and finding out some of the answers to the many, many questions that came up. On the panel for the first half of the debate, Acting Director of Big Brother Watch, Emma Carr gave us an informative and insightful macro and political perspective on surveillance and privacy and how that effects us. In the second half, Gemma was joined by Hannah Flynn, Senior Communications Officer for ChildLine and 19 year old blogger and gap year student Claudia Andrew talking about privacy and security and online behaviour from more of a young person’s and personal perspective.We also had the wonderful Deanna Rodger who performed two poems relating to our theme.

For an audio podcast of the event, a 15 minute highlights film plus blogs and links please visit the Free Word website.
Below is an impressionistic poem of what she took away from the evening written by 19 year old gap year student Kimberley Nyamhondera.

To listen click below.

Trust and New Technology: Do we ever disappear from the internet? – Guest Blog by 15 year old Martyna Adam

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On Wednesday 7th of May, I attended the third in the series of debates on trust at Free Word Centre, this time focusing on trust and new technology. Radio 1 DJ Gemma Cairney hosted the debate, and the whole evening kicked off with a spectacular poem from Deanna Rodger called ‘Tooth Fairy’.

The debate was split into two parts; firstly looking at the role of the law in relation to privacy, our rights, and what if any kind of surveillance is ‘acceptable’ when it being carried out in the name of security and protection? and secondly, security and privacy from an individual’s point of view. The first panellist to join Gemma was Emma Carr, who works at Big Brother Watch, which is a small civilities and privacy campaign group. As part of her work, Emma campaigns against intrusive CCTV cameras and questions the power of government and local businesses to access and keep hold of our personal and – what we think is – private information, and also campaigns to protect people’s rights and to educate people about what is really known about us and stored about us and what are rights are.

Emma Carr started off the first half of the debate with a statement that she firmly agrees with, that you have to have security and liberty working in conjunction with each other, and I agree with her. The questions that were bouncing around the room were whether the government should carry on hiding information about what it is that the MI6 is doing? Should the public have any insight as to what is going on, at least the headlines? Emma commented that at the moment it seems that the government is asking society to just trust them in the usage of our personal information, but she feels that ‘normal people’ should be kept informed about what the government is doing to protect us from terrorists and ‘bad people’ who might be out there.  We learned that the laws that were created in the UK with regards to privacy and protection for example when we enter our personal data online , were drawn up in 2000, and have not since been updated!

Personally, I feel that in order to be able to know what it is that the government is doing to keep me safe, I need to be presented clear facts, updated laws and legislation, especially about the topic of privacy. Our information is used, and society does not know when it becomes illegal to delve into somebody’s personal information too much. Since these laws, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have burst onto the scene and the capabilities of the technology behind smartphones and iPhones has developed hugely, and there is new software developing all the time! These sites and pieces of software have become much more sophisticated, therefore the laws created back in 2000, simply no longer protect us. The real question is whether we should just accept that many of our communications and our personal information might be looked at, and should we do something about it? Here’s are the voices of some students at Manchester University on whether online privacy matters to them?

Thoughts on privacy, security and personal data from Manchester University students "Thoughts on privacy, security and personal data from Manchester University students"

For the second part of the debate, two more panellists where introduced; Hannah Flynn who works for ChildLine, and Claudia Andrew, a young blogger. Hannah talked about how much data and information Childline collects. Due to the nature of Childline, it is very confidential, you don’t have to say who you are, and you do not use your email (you set a new one up with the website), and also the website doesn’t use cookies, so that someone else who uses the same computer doesn’t know that you have used Childline. That really demonstrated the power of technology for good use!

Claudia talked about cookies and personalised ads targeted at her being the reason she deleted her Facebook account. She felt weird being bombarded with ads everywhere and it didn’t fit into her online lifestyle. Gemma noted that we don’t always know the real extent of what we are giving away by clicking ‘Ok’ or not checking the privacy settings on our devices. By using Instagram and the world map feature, she realised that all the photos she posted from her house could be pinpointed on a map, for everyone to see, putting her in a possible vulnerable position. In fact, we all need to be careful, and should all be allowed to go offline for a while, without everyone knowing your address. However, as mentioned later by Deanna Rodger, “nothing ever dies on the Internet, and I believe that it is simply impossible to go ‘off the grid’. Your actions, tweets, statuses, credit card payments, whatever it may be, will always be kept somewhere on the system, and as scary as it sounds, someone is able to track you. I was able to share my opinion and findings that actually teenagers don’t realise the consequences and possible dangers of the internet, but when I asked if they trust the internet? people answered with a ‘no’ even though ironically, they are teenagers who use the internet every day.

The debate was again finished off with another poem from Deanna Rodger called ‘iPhone,’ which was about an emotional break up and the need to trust the ex-partner to not post anything online. The overall message of the debate was simply to be careful about what it is that you post online.

By Martyna Adam Year 10 Student at RSA Whitley Academy

For a podcast of the debate and more information, go to Trust and New Technology youth debate 

Trust and the Media – Who Do You Believe? Guest Blog by RSA Whitley Academy’s Martyna Adam

This is a blog by year 10 student Martyna Adam, a student at the RSA Whitley Academy, Coventry, who attended ‘Trust and the Media – Who Do You Believe?’ at Free Word Centre in March. This was the second debate in a series of four talks exploring the theme of trust and young people. 

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On Monday the 24th of March, I attended a live debate at the Free Word Centre in London, with other students from our school and two teachers. The whole debate was based around Media and whether or not we should trust what the media tells us.

The panel featured the chair Dekan Apajee, a Producer and Broadcaster at the BBC, Piers Bradford, Commissioning Editor for BBC Radio 1 and Radio 1Xtra, Derren Lawford, Commissioning Executive for new 24 hour entertainment channel London Live, Ruby Mae Moore, Editor in Chief, Amor Magazine, Angela Philips, Reader in Journalism at Goldsmiths, and Adam Sich, Senior Producer at ITN’s online new’s channel Truthloader. To set the mood and the atmosphere of the debate, a poem was read out by Natasha Bailey, the winner of the Free Word and Young Poets Network competition, all about trust.

To start off, the first topic to be discussed was ‘The camera never lies’. The questions included thoughts about whether we trust photographs that are used in the media, and whether certain images change how you feel about a person or a news story. Adam Sich started saying, “We have really strict rules that we have to stick to and we are not allowed to knowingly use an image to show something or to suggest that it shows something that it doesn’t”. He also talked about how the biggest problem is verifying the photographs and videos that have been sent out.

Ruby Mae Moore talked about the fact that it’s very hard to be certain about what the context of a photo is, and whether it shows exactly what it says it does. One member of the audience said, “I think what a lot of people do is they will find a picture and write a thousand words about it, whereas it should be about writing a story and then finding a picture to go with that story.”

The next subject was ‘What is news?’ and by a show of hands the panelists were able to see where the audience get their news from primarily. The audience then got to see a video about what others thought about what news was. Angela Philips commented, “News is something you didn’t know until you found it out”.

The question that sparked the most interest and was by far the most engaging was the topic about young people’s portrayal in the media and whether young people are presented in a fair way. The audience all agreed that young people are treated unfairly and inaccurately in the media, and that the younger generation is presented negatively. Audience members were saying how they are “fed up of young people being portrayed as crooks, joyriders and vandals”, whilst others said that “bad reflections of people in the media have huge negative effects on how they see themselves”. A change is on its way to switch the portrayal of young people in the media, and actually, it’s young people themselves that are making this happen. The voices need to be heard, and Derren Lawford gave young people a platform when he explained that a new and democratic platform is on its way and it can help share voices of young people fairly. It was realized that the media often bring out all the negatives in a story, without proposing any solutions.

The debate was finally wrapped up with a wonderful poem called ‘Media Village’ By James Massiah, a Poet, Musician and Philosopher. He recited an amazing poem about whom it is we can trust, and how stereotypes have been planted by the media. His poem was a fantastic end to the debate. One of the most important things that I have learned from this debate is to never 100% trust a news story, because after all, we don’t really know who or what to trust.

Martyna Adam

RSA Whitley Academy Student

For full details on the event including the podcast, a short film and to read 19 year old Claudia Andrew’s blog go to Trust and the Media – who do you believe? – on the Free Word website.

Trust and the Media debate

On Monday March 24th, an 80 strong audience of young people aged between 14 – 24 plus professionals,  stake holders and interested parties from the worlds of media, education and youth engagement, packed out the lecture theatre at the Free Word Centre for the second in our debate series looking at young people’s trust or lack of trust towards those in positions of authority. The title of this debate  Trust in the Media – who do you believe? promised to take a candid look at young people’s feelings towards those responsible for creating and manipulating contemporary news media and pose the questions; do young people feel that their voices are heard? and following on from that, how well they feel they are represented by the news and media?

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We split the debate into different sections:

The camera never lies?, What is the News?, How are young people represented in the news? and ending on the question, Do we need to trust the news?

We had a great line up of speakers on our panel of industry speakers: Piers Bradford, Commissioning Editor for BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra, Derren Lawford, Commissioning Executive for London Live, Angela Phillips, Senior Reader & Lecturer at Goldsmiths University, Ruby Mae Moore, Editor-in-Chief of Amor Magazine and Adam Sich, Senior Producer for Truthloader, ITN’s Youtube News Channel. Dekan Apajee, freelance journalist and media trainer with 10 years experience working at the BBC was our Chair for the evening.

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The young voices in the room comprised of 14 – 25 year olds from all over London and we even had a group of students from RSA Whitley Academy in the Midlands, and the voices of some students from Manchester University on whether they trust the news and media and if they think their voices are heard.

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In the Camera never lies section, we took a close look at a series of images, including the now infamous photo of Mark Duggan, which though taken at his daughter’s funeral when he was holding a wreath and clearly in disbelief and shock, was cropped to make him look aggressive and thuggish, going viral at the time of his death just before the 2011 London riots. We asked the room whether they could believe their eyes and trusted what they saw online and in papers?

The debate was very interactive with lots of people from 15-70 grabbed the roving microphone and added in their opinions, including Stoke Newington Schools’ Head Girl Eden who said she wished that young people could stop always being represented as ‘gangsters, in hoodies’ and start being celebrated for all the good things they do and contribute to society.

Amor Magazine’s young women’s life style magazine’s Ruby Mae Moore noted that she felt that young people are often mentioned in the news when it’s in response to a negative news story and she wished it would be the other way round.

We also heard from Hacked Off’s Director Brian Cathcart who said that he felt that the news is “stuff we tell each other” and he felt that there are “too many white, middle class blokes” like him responsible for the news and things need to change.”

Despite the fact that we shared the statistic from a recent Demos Report that

“81 percent of young people feel that they are misrepresented by the news and media” 

We ended the debate on a positive note.

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Jo Glanville Director of English PEN  who is a former current affairs journalist and who campaigns for the freedom of speech and the rights of writers and journalists around the globe stood up and gave three examples of what she calls “ground shaking” examples of journalism which have uncovered important stories which needed telling, and otherwise would not have been told namely: The Snowden Files as revealed by The Guardian, the Phone Hacking Scandal, also published in The Guardian, and The Daily Telegraph’s revelations of the ‘MP’s cash for questions’ scandal. Jo pointed out that “all three stories have resulted in seismic changes, including, the loss of jobs, people going to prison and even the closure of a newspaper. ” She said that though we should maintain a “healthy scepticism and distrust” of what we see and hear in the press, that it is still “vital, living in a democracy as we do, that we also allow the freedom of speech for the press and we celebrate the art and craft of good journalism”

Angela Phillips, Senior Lecturer at Goldsmiths, heartily agreed with her and said she felt – as a teacher – that it was important that we teach the next generation of journalists how to evaluate and trust but not trust the media and to be rigorous in our story telling.

Piers Bradford felt that as commissioning editor who also is responsible for lots of outreach that Trust and their relationship with young people, is the single most important thing that a network like Radio 1 has to have at its heart and soul and as the driving intention behind everything that they do.

Steve Moffitt A New Direction’s CEO argued that 25% of young people in London are unemployed and don’t feel like there are platforms for them to get their voices heard or opportunities out there for them he asked the panel of speakers what they were going to do about it?

Derren Lawford, Commissioning Executive at London Live’s soon to be launched 24 hour entertainment and news station replied that he’s responsible for a daily nighttime slot called ‘Roar’ and that he’s looking for talent and ideas from young Londoners and invited audience members to come and talk to him and send in videos, blogs, ideas for stories, particularly local stories from their London borough.

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Finally, young Poet Laureate contender James Massiah rounded off the night with a specially commissioned piece for the evening entitled ‘Media Village” which touched on themes that wove their way through the evening.

For the full podcast of this event, please click here.

This debate was co-curated by Fran Plowright and Free Word Centre in association with English Pen and is part of the Time to Talk Crisis of Trust in Europe series.


Our next debate in the series ‘Trust and New Technology’ takes a candid look at young people’s relationship to new technology and will be chaired by BBC Radio 1’s Gemma Cairney at 6.30pm on Wednesday May 7th.