Fran's Blog

‘Media Village’ a poem by James Massiah

This poem was performed at the end of the Trust and the Media debate on Monday 24th March.

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there’s shady goings on
going on in media village
some stations are talking
but they aren’t saying much
they tell me this and that
in truth i don’t know who to trust
half of it’s not fact
and the other half is fallacy
what you don’t see
what you see
you see
i thought all blacks were gangsters
i thought all chicks were sluts
i thought all gays were camp as hell
 thought africa was dust
i thought they needed money
i thought that it was a country
thought the middle east was too
up until i found out who
owns the local paper?
who runs your favourite blog?
whose magazine is this?
tell me, what’s their politics?
do they use their publication as a propaganda platform?
do they want to force an issue?
or to launch a campaign?
at first i was confused
about why much of what’s on screen
appears to be at odds
with what’s in my reality
but then it all made sense
it all comes down to pounds and pence
even the rawest broadcasters are slaves to money spent
so who cares about our views?
who cares about the truth?
who cares about the facts
my friends, i’ll happily say who

the ones with the gold make the rules
the ones with the gold tell the news
the ones without get confused
for rapists, thieves and delinquent youths
terrorists and chavs and cheats
and people that we cannot trust
whoever shall defend the NEETS
speak on behalf of us?
the others on the outside
those whose stories seldom told
from an objective perspective
those inland without the gold
perhaps they’ll buy a camera!
start a channel! share a link!
to detail all that’s on their mind to tell us what they think
a new vice! a new spectator!
i am other! or young turks!
without the corporate interest
or allegiance to THE church
an honest open forum for discussion
of events would be a blessing and a bonus
one might just say heaven sent
so go forth and be wise
hook up to the satellite!
and be careful what you do dear friends
i hear the walls have eyes

Trust and Authority youth debate blog by 18 year old Kimberley Nyamhondera & Fran Plowright

Free Word Trust Debate 13

Part One: By Kimberley Nyamhondera, 18 year old Gap Year student:

On Monday 18th November 2013,  we gathered at the Free Word Centre for a debate which promised to take a closer look at the topic of ‘Trust and Authority’ from a young person’s perspective. After the last few years and the revelations that those holding positions of power and once synonymous with the words honesty, integrity and responsibility, being hit with embarrassing scandal after scandal revealing them to be doing just the opposite: Snowden Files, Banking Crisis, Phone hacking scandal, Cash for questions, Policy U-turns to name but a few, it seemed timely and necessary to discuss the issue of trust and authority in regard to young people. It was a platform to air some grievances and come to a level of understanding between both parties and to start looking at how we all might communicate better.

The evening started and ended with two specially commissioned poems by Young Poet Laureate London contender, James Massiah, around the topic of trust and authority. Both poems were a frank yet different take on the influence of those in authority over our lives and how the breakdown of trust in this relationship affects us all. They were both striking pieces and set the tone of the evening.

We obviously weren’t looking to reinvent the wheel in this one evening but it felt necessary to have and be able to take advantage of a platform that allowed young voices to be heard on this topic, because we have a lot to say, questions that need answering and feel that there are some barriers that need to be broken down. This sentiment was reflected in the voices that started to ricochet around the room, after a stilted start, where many shied away from the microphone, the evening’s atmosphere was electric and my personal favourite question of the night put to MP for Islington North– What did it feel like, before, when you had people’s trust?

It seemed like the sheer honesty of this question spurned others on and I found myself wondering if I could remember such a time and if it was really that simple?

The audience was made up of the often unheard voices, the voices that wouldn’t be part of Prime Minister’s Question time or any other Question Time or University Challenge type debate as these were people who wouldn’t be invited or entertain the thought of attend events like these.

The questions and opinions that eventually did make their way through the microphone found that their honesty and their words challenged, impressed and most importantly made many scratch their heads.

Free Word Trust 1 Debate


At this point I would like to hand the blog over to Fran Plowright, producer and co-curator of this debate:

We didn’t come up with any instant solutions, but we definitely started a conversation and found there was a lot of feeling and passion relating to some these issues as described by Kimberley, and not just “apathy, indifference and ignorance” which is often the criticism levelled at our “disaffected and uneducated youth”. There were genuine suggestions about how young people and our panellists might look at taking things forward and some creative solutions on how to open the channels of communication up.

The panel was made up of  MP for Islington North Jeremy Corbyn, retired Police Superintendent Leroy Logan, 17 year old Young Mayor of Islington Jasmine Martins, Young Poet Laureate London contender James Massiah and Advisor and Youth Worker for Kids Company, David van Eeghen. The debate was skilfully chaired by ITN Broadcaster Charlene White.

The audience comprised  14 – 25 year olds from all over London as well as stake holders in education, youth services and the arts and media.

There was a lot of passion and honesty in the room and some very good points were raised: When it was revealed that the majority of  young people in attendance didn’t vote, and might never vote when they reached the right age, one student from the University of Manchester asked When there would be reforms to the language used by politicians so that young people could better understand what was being said, and Community Arts Co-ordinator at a local North London Secondary School made the point ‘ this debate needs to be happening in secondary schools all over the country”.  Trevor Blackman CEO of Ape Media wondered why we can’t educate young people in politics at school from a very early age, so that it is part of every day language and not something which is associated with debating societies in the private education sector.

The debate undoubtably unearthed the feeling that there is a very real lack of understanding and common language between young people and authority, making  mutual’Trust’ virtually impossible to achieve. One audience member Kasey from South London wanted to know why those in power find it so difficult to use the channels of communication that young people use on a daily basis to make contact with them: social media, BBM’s, Facebook but pointed out angrily “You managed to do that during the riots of 2011 so why can’t you do this regularly not just when you’re trying to hunt young people down or to shut them up?!”

At the end of the debate, which really had only just got going, Charlene skilfully tried to draw some conclusions and look at some positive and possible steps forward and towards greater understanding with the question: “Where do we go from here?  One positive suggestion from the MD of You Tube youth channel Grime Daily put to MP Jeremy Corbyn was whether he would consider being interviewed on the channel alongside some of the stars of these networks like rapper Giggs, to see if he could access the audience of stations like this and start a conversation and let them know about the good work they he does for young people in the community. Mr Corbyn accepted, so watch this space for more info on that and performance poet and Mentor James Massiah talked about his project “A to Z” which is all about using words to empower ourselves to be able to pull up and question those in authority so whilst in some ways he agreed there could be some reforms on the language and less jargon used;  his tip was about how to regain power : “My mission is to open up our ears and your eyes, and to make sure that myself and my peers have access to the same language that the messages preached on the radio, on the internet and in the media use, it’s up to us, we have access to the same dictionaries as they do and the internet is a powerful resource, so let’s use it”

He rounded off the evening with his poem on Trust “Golden Square” which looks at the very complex relationship we all have to the word trust with the last  few lines serving as a warning to all of us not to be complacent or too judgemental about where we stand on the subject of trust and honesty   “it’s funny how fast we let our values go once we let passion, lust and greed take hold”

The full podcast of the first debate in the Time To Talk series “Whose Voices are Heard – Trust and Authority” can be found here. There will be three more debates in the series at Free Word Centre in March, May and September 2014.

“What About Tomorrow?” Launching the RSA Academies student podcasts

Here is an extract from my blog on the RSA podcasts.

Students from RSA Tipton

Students from RSA Academy Tipton

What About Tomorrow? is a series of four short audio podcasts, brainstormed, researched and voiced by students from the RSA Family of Academies around the theme of uncertainty and what it means to be a young person growing up today.

As an RSA Fellow with a background in radio production, youth engagement and mentoring, I was delighted to be asked to combine my skills and experience to give a platform to some of the younger members of the RSA community to express their opinions about the world they are growing up in and to encourage them to talk about what they really think about their education, aspirations and values. What opportunities do they really think await them? How do they think they can better equip themselves to achieve successful, independent and happy futures in these rapidly changing times?

The brief was to allow their authentic voices, opinions, wishes, hopes, fears and dreams to come across, as well as give them the opportunity to be involved in the production process, learn some presenting and editing skills and gain confidence in interviewing people. Interviewees ranged from fellow students and teachers to a series of experts and professionals in the fields of education, technology, youth engagement, gaming and psychotherapy.

Leading on this project was Whitley Academy in Coventry, where I spent a morning back in March with a small group of Year 10 and Year 12 students, brainstorming how we might best create something that would allow each Academy to explore the umbrella theme ofuncertainty and form a series of linked programmes.

Whitley students settled on the umbrella title What About Tomorrow? They decided that they would focus their podcast on education, creativity and identity, looking at how you encourage young people to develop high self-esteem and inner confidence, gain a good set of qualifications from school or college and simultaneously develop a wide ranging skill set that equips you to go out into the fast paced, 21st century world with a good chance of ‘success’ and ‘happiness’. Along their journey they met and interviewed Sir Ken Robinson, as well as Ian Livingstone, Life president Eidos and inventor of Lara Croft, plus Sam Conniff and Michelle Clothier, CEO and MD respectively of youth marketing and engagement agency Livity.

Whitley also came up with a brief which they sent round to all the pupils at the other schools who had been chosen to participate in this project, suggesting that under this umbrella theme of uncertainty, they consider a few of the headings that came from their brainstorm as possible themes for their podcast: work, aspirations, opportunities, education, technology, confidence and appearance. It quickly became evident that students at the other schools were equally as enthusiastic as Whitley about their brief and very keen to have their voices heard.

Interesting and sometimes heated conversations followed as I toured the Midlands and travelled the Victoria Line from Finsbury Park to Vauxhall to kick start the process in each Academy so that all schools would be working simultaneously on a shared goal.

RSA Academy Tipton  decided to focus on work and aspirations. In an area where unemployment is quite high, and traditionally people left school at 16 and went to work in local industries, coal mines until the pit closures in the 1960′s and then the factories and more recently trade and retail industries or hand to mouth work, the students wanted to explore if and how things have changed over the generations and decided to interview three generations of a family, the youngest of these -a year 10 pupil at RSA Tipton – Alex Beddall being the first in his family to be planning to go to University. They also visited their local steel factory Carparo and interviewed Loic Menzies, Director of LKMco  on whether he thinks it is lack of aspiration, or in fact just lack of opportunity that is preventing children from less privileged backgrounds from being encouraged to aim high and do well at school and beyond. They called their Podcast ‘The Big Unknown’

The pupils at Arrow Vale RSA Academy and its sister school Ipsley CE RSA Academycalled their podcast ‘Technology, Friend or Foe?’ Pupils ranging from Years 5 up to Year 12 from both schools joined forces to examine the pros and cons of growing up in an age of rapid technological change. Is technology making teenagers lazy and producing a generation of couch potatoes bereft of the capacity for original thought, relying on Google and social media to tell them how the world is rather than experience it first hand? Is it dangerous and uncontrollable and leaving young people much more vulnerable and strangely unsupervised?, is it detracting from a healthy more active life or do the benefits by far outweigh the possible cons, allowing for greater knowledge, access to information, education, more sophisticated ways of communication and does it intact lend itself much better to creative freedom of ideas and expression? After the initial discussions and brain storm, a couple of year 10 students from the Arrow Vale radio group, took on the challenge of creating the podcast, interviewing fellow students and staff. They also sought the expert advice via Skype of Cisco Systems’ technology and educational advisor Dr Michelle Selinger, as well as blogger, educator and teacher Ewan Mcintosh.

Back in south London, a group of Year 9 students from  Lilian Baylis Technology School decided to take a closer look at whether teenagers these days have bowed to increasing pressure from the media, magazines, fashion and music industries plus non stop images of each other on social networking sites like Facebook to look a certain way and conform to stereotypes of what is deemed attractive and therefore acceptable. Do young people in particular worry about this more than they worry about their school work or their futures? As well as interviewing their fellow teachers and students they also visited the charity Kids Company in Kennington, to meet up with Director and psychotherapist Camilla Batmanghelidjh. They called their podcast ‘Individually Beautiful’.

Camila Batmanghelidjh and Year 9 students from Lilian Baylis Technology School

Camila Batmanghelidjh with Year 9 students from Lilian Baylis Technology School

These podcasts came together over a five month period, during which time the students really did go on a journey of discovery, watching how an idea can change and morph and take on a life of its own.  They also got to understand the highs and lows of the production process. Appointments had to be re-made, timetables shuffled and re-organised, many hours were spent editing and re-recording things that had fallen foul of technical hitches or simply needed to be re-recorded as things progressed. Staff in each school- to whom I am very grateful – worked hard to ensure that interviews took place as planned. For me, an essential and rewarding part of this process is not only the satisfaction of hearing the finished result, but also when working with young people in this way. It is essential that they get a glimpse of what it’s like to have to deliver a high quality product on schedule to a deadline as if in a real work situation.

Overall, the project has been a very exciting one and many of the staff and the students who have been involved are very keen to follow up the podcast series with a debate or panel discussion bringing together the pupils and some of the experts involved to discuss some of the themes and main ideas raised during the enquiry. Watch this space!

I will leave the last words to RSA Whitley Head Boy, 17 year old Prince Chivaka who presents and signs off the series.

“Whilst we are left with more questions than definite answers, we hope that having heard these podcasts, you can form your own opinions. And more than this, we hope we have created a platform for young people to communicate how we feel about some of the issues that matter most to us to a large adult audience. Finally, we hope you enjoy listening to the podcasts as much as we have enjoyed making them.” 

For more information about the podcasts and to hear the series in full please visit

Sir Ken Robinson speaks at RSA

Sir Ken Robinson and Whitley academy students

Sir Ken Robinson and Whitley academy students

On Monday 1st July, Sir Ken Robinson visited the RSA to give us his latest thinking on what our education system really needs in his ‘How To Change Education From The Ground Up’ talk. I was lucky enough to bag a front row seat (hundreds had to make do with watching the live stream via The RSA website, as it sold out faster than Glastonbury apparently!) along with 5 students from The RSA Whitley Academy whom I’m working with on a series of Podcasts titled “What About Tomorrow? – teenagers growing up in uncertain times. And what could be a more fitting way to inspire them on their mission to find out how best to turn young people into evolved, confident, well educated and thoughtful adults with high self esteem and the confidence to follow their own dreams and passions, then to take them along to a lecture being given by the world-renowned educationalist and let’s face it, one very engaging, funny, honest and passionate man.

We were not disappointed.

Sir Ken Robinson

Sir Ken Robinson

Sir Ken focussed on what he identifies to be four purposes to public education: Economic, Cultural, Social and Personal and not surprisingly, put a lot of emphasis on the importance of the personal and the celebration of the individual and of difference. When it boils down to it, he says, if you remove all the timetables, and rules, and systems, and bells and the data analysis, true learning, is all about the magic which happens between the pupils – who especially as children have a voracious appetite to learn – and the teachers who are the artists “teaching is an art form”,”we can’t improve education by alienating the people who do the work” so “let’s support rather than vilify our teachers, and support them to inspire their students with a sense of their own possibility”.

Prince Chivaka who is in Year 12 and is Head Boy at the RSA Whitley Academy was lucky enough to pose a question to Sir Ken about what useful role young people like himself and his colleagues could play in the changes at ground level that need to be made, and afterwards, he and his fellow students, Pavani Konda, Cherise McIntosh, Chloe Sedgley and Joseph White got to interview some audience members about their responses to Sir Ken’s talk.

SMJ 7 hour Olympic Challenge no 1

Armed with 3 Ipads, 1 camera, a flip cam an Apprentice style call to action from our very own Benji Lanyado, Claudia, Joe and Kaspian, set off on a 7 hour challenge which began in St Pancras Station at 9am this morning.

Their challenge, to find out which country is making the best of London 2012 to show their nation in its best light?

They have a list of venues where countries are based, offering games coverage, hospitality, and a chance to show off the best or worst of their countries.

Fellow Headstarter Rosalyn is accompanying them, taking part in the task, and to document their day in pictures.

They have till just 5pm to file a 400 word piece which includes photos and a film.

A prize awaits them on successful completion of this task

This is them as they set off from St Pancras this morning.

Check out their posts at 5pm today  to read the results of their day’s quest and what their reward will be!

The Burning Question..?

Websites, blogs and tweet lines are crackling with anticipation .. who will it be who lights the torch tonight in the Olympic Park? and just what are those surprises that haven’t yet leaked out about tonight’s Opening Ceremony?

So here we are! … The Day has dawned, bells have been rung, and there is a pent up feeling looming over East London – we’re now on countdown 3 hours and 39 minutes until the moment of truth for Danny Boyle and his team..

So many thoughts and things to say, but ultimately it’s  it’s how to make the universal and global and collective pride, also a personal one..

For me so far my highlight has been my 10 year old son clutching the Olympic torch in his hand last Saturday as the torch came through Stoke Newington, moments before torch bearer 106 had the flame passed on and ran his short but significant stint..

Enjoy the ceremony!