Category Archives: media & communication

Art for autism’s sake

Tim, 17, had not uttered a word for five years when he arrived at Beechwood College. Two years into his time at the specialist residential college in Cardiff, Wales, the teenager with Asperger’s syndrome started speaking. Two years after that, at 21, he passed his GCSE Art and Design with a grade B, had a work placement at Tesco under his belt and has since left the college and got a job.

Beechwood, a further education college for students aged 16 and over with an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), uses art and creativity programmes as the backbone of its personalised education programme. Students study music, 2D art, 3D art, digital media and horticulture and learn to articulate themseleves through these activities.

Batik Tiger created by a student at Beechwood College
Beechwood College student draws pebbles after visiting the beach in a project led by University of Glamorgan lecturers working at the college

Earlier this month, to mark World Autism Awareness Day, the college launched a national art competition to showcase the creativity of young people with autism and related conditions. The competition project, Create! Art for Autism, is open to those aged 11 to 25 who are formally diagnosed with an ASD, with the aim of showing that art can not only encourage learning and instill lifelong skills but, as Tim’s case shows, also boost quality of life and future prospects. Shortlisted entries to the Beechwood-led scheme will be exhibited in a national art tour, starting at The Old Library in Cardiff and moving to London galleries from the summer.

I know my sister has developed a newfound independence and confidence thanks to activities from painting to pottery, bakery, art and horticulture during her time with the Camphill movement. The Beechwood competition gets my vote not only because it encourages young people with special needs to find their own voice through creativity and practical action, but because it aims to bring the artistic talents of the learning disabled to a wider, more mainstream audience.

Darren Jackson, principal of Beechwood College, explains: “It’s my belief that creativity is essential to those with an autistic spectrum disorder on more than just a therapeutic or enjoyment level. We have seen how engaging in such programmes can transform young people who previously struggled to make themselves heard.”

Jackson says stop motion animation is a particularly effective way of encouraging confidence and self esteem: “The use of this creative multimedia tool has enabled many of our students to gain greater confidence and self esteem which, indirectly has resulted in them demonstrating a greater willingness to share their thoughts and ideas within their peer group. Many students who in the past have displayed high levels of anxiety are now willing to record voiceovers for their animated characters and use them as a vehicle for communication.”

Competition entries in categories including 2D, 3D and digital media art, can be submitted until June 10. The judging panel includes Brendan Stuart Burns, artist lecturer at The University of Glamorgan, Lucinda Bredin, editor at Bonhams Magazine, Hugh Morgan, chief executive of Autism Cymru and Beechwood’s Jackson. Finalists will be announced on June 24 and the awards ceremony will take place in Cardiff on July 24.

Being visionary about sight loss

A new exhibition aims to challenge prejudice about sight loss and explore notions of sensory perception by showcasing works by visually impaired artists inspired by the sense of smell.

The two-day pop-up exhibition, Scents and Sensibility, is organised by sight loss charity RNIB and opens at central London’s Vaad Gallery on Monday. The theme is fragrance expressed through exhibits including painting, sculpture and photography. Read about it in my Society Guardian piece today.

Artist Rachel Gadsden will be exhibiting her work at the Scents and Sensibility show in London from Monday

Digital switchover boss pledges help to the hardest to reach

Peter White must be the only chartered accountant in the country with a corporate slogan that could belong to a social exclusion charity – “Nobody left behind” – a clutch of charity partnerships under his belt and a network of neighbourhood activists whose grassroots knowledge helps him do his job. Read my Society Guardian interview here with Peter White, the head of the BBC’s digital switchover scheme who is trying to ensure nobody is left with a blank TV screen.

Putting an ‘oh’ into OAP

Given the scrap heap syndrome surrounding ageing women, how refreshing to nod to the centenary of International Women’s Day with a photographic project that shatters the stereotypes of older women. In fact, some of the glorious images I’ve been looking at (below), not only shatter the stereotype, but pick up the splinters and waggle them defiantly into the faces of those with age prejudice.

Hermi, 85, above and below: “I don’t really feel like an older woman, even when I’m hobbling about because my knee has got arthritis in it.”

A series of exhibitions entitled Look at me! Images of Women and Ageing opens in Sheffield today, part of a joint project by the universities of Sheffield and Derby, cultural development agency Eventus and photographer Rosy Martin.

The project asked how older women feel about their public representation and the series of exhibitions in Sheffield feature images by local women. The women took part in workshops to create new and alternative images using photography, art therapy and video techniques. The workshops revealed not only how women feel silenced later in life, but how common it is for older women to feel pressure to deny ageing and or feel their sexuality marginalised.

Take one participant, 57-year-old Shirley (is 57 really that old, by the way?) who, when asked to pick an object to represent herself, chose a red high heeled shoe. She recently bought a red sports car to match her shoes: “The car and the shoes are things that aren’t safe, aren’t comfortable but are still part of me because there’s still that bit of me that has a bit of fire and sparkle… Yes, there’s the part of me that’s ageing, there’s a part of me that’s falling to bits but there’s this other bit and this car represents that.”

Shirley, 57, above: “There’s still that bit of me that has a bit of fire and sparkle”.

Shirley, who had a career in business management, wanted to participate because she was aware that she was entering a transition period and feared that these life changes signalled “the beginning of the end.”

Another participant, Hermi, 85, says: “I know I’m 85 so I know I am classed as an old woman. But I don’t really feel like an older woman, even when I’m hobbling about because my knee has got arthritis in it.”

If age brings widsom, then Hermi proves this by sharing a firecracker of a life lesson; the advantage of being an older woman is the freedom which accompanies age. Somehow, though, her own words pack a characteristically better punch: “If I want to wear a sleeveless top, I shall wear a sleeveless top and if my bra bothers me, I shall bloody take it off. That’s it. I mean there’s got to be a silver lining in everything, the silver lining in old age is that you can do what you like and nobody can tell you any different.”

To find out more about the ‘Look at Me! Images of Women and Ageing’ project and the free exhibitions, visit the website

Shattering UK gangland stereotypes

A powerful image of a black teenager, eyes downcast and his bare arm criss-crossed with knife scars, is among the striking images in a photographic exhibition about the UK’s gangland culture.

The photograph of ex-gang member Jean Claude Dagrou, who was scarred during a fight between rival south London gangs in his late teens, is part of Another Lost Child, which opened at the Photofusion Gallery in Brixton, south London, earlier this month. Read about it in Saba Salman’s Society Guardian piece today.

There’s no place like home

I was really struck by these atmospheric, beautifully shot videos which use characters from the Wizard of Oz to expose the lives of the hidden homeless, taking the film’s iconic line ‘There’s no place like home’ as inspiration.

Produced to show during the charity Crisis’ recent Coldplay Hidden Gigs in Newcastle and Liverpool, they’ve just gone on public release. Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow face different aspects of homelessness that most people aren’t aware of.

Dorothy flees violence in a B&B, the Cowardly Lion outsays his welcome on a friend’s sofa and the Scarecrow is a lonely squatter.

If using a vintage Hollywood movie to highlight a contemporary social issue via some pleasing visuals sounds like a totally random stab for publicity, then that’s exactly what it is – and frankly, why not?

As Crisis chief executive Leslie Morphy says: “We are always looking for new ways to bring to attention the hidden crisis of homelessness. We hope these videos make people think about the issue, and hopefully help us in our mission to end homelessness by donating or campaigning for change.”

Official statistics at the end of last year showed rising homelessness. Housing minister Grant Shapps insists that the cuts agenda won’t impact on the homeless, but how, with benefits decimated and support services withering away, can the housing situation of the vulnerable be guaranteed?

The Scarecrow

The Cowardly Lion

Dorothy

The videos were created by Liverpool/London creative agency Mercy, and directed by Nick Brown.

Young people and a load of bull

Kayla Whiting lives in Hackney, a former administrator for media social enterprise Poached Creative, she project managed the short community film Life’s A Bitch which got local young people involved in media and raised awareness about Staffordshire Bull Terriers. Here, she explains how and why she did it.

Young filmmaker Kayla Whiting and her staffies

I did the film because … I wanted to defend the breed of dog and get people in the community to think before they stereotyped the dog and also give the young people an opportunity to learn valuable media skills.

My aim was…to produce a piece of footage that would change people perception on Staffordshire Bull Terriers.

The hardest thing was…keeping the young people engaged with the project and taking responsibility of all the paper work.

The most rewarding thing was…knowing all the young people enjoyed the experience and learnt new skills; which helped them back into training.

I funded it by…applying for funding from funding body Mediabox with the help of Poached Creative and youth-led media group Mediorite.

My tips for others wanting to do the same are…to keep the work as practical as possible. Make sure you create a strong bond with your team.

The biggest problem for communities today is…young people not being able to get jobs and progress in fields they would like.

If I could have a word in David Cameron’s ear I’d… tell him to make politics more understandable and engaging.

My inspiration is… being a young person myself. Being able to help other young people and help them to work towards their dreams as I am.

In 10 years time I want to be…a millionaire!

Wonder women and why we need them

For me, it was an eclectic yet potent combination of Wonder Woman, Kate Adie, Blue Peter’s Janet Ellis and Margot Fonteyn. Although I’ve yet to perform an arabesque while reporting from the frontline and deflecting bullets armed with nothing but golden bracelets and a roll of sticky backed plastic, I did at least pick some interesting female role models when I was growing up.

While it’s unfair to say that today’s girls and young women only dream of becoming reality tv stars, pop singers or footballers’ arm candy, it’s usually the case that the most successful women in the public eye tend to be very famous, very rich and very thin.

Campaigners at Pink Stinks are doing much to champion real, strong female role models who are “inspirational, important, ground-breaking and motivating” and today a new drive is launched to ensure that younger generations also have a range of professional female figures to look up to.

The business group everywoman has created the Modern Muse drive to inspire and engage the female business leaders and entrepreneurs of tomorrow by showcasing successful women in business. Although the majority are women in business and the private sector, there are – admirably – several powerful female role models from the public sector such as former Nurse of the Year Grace Vanterpool and Gill Evans, one of the country’s most senior policewomen.

Karen Gill, co-founder everywoman says: “Younger women today tend to have a strong focus on celebrity role models and we want them to be exposed to a much broader canvas, to women who have built businesses or are working in major organisations, whose lives are equally glamorous in very many ways.”

Modern Muse project aims to reach a million young women and girls over the next three years, to inspire and motivate them to look at business careers and entrepreneurship. The project will showcase stories of real women “whose experiences encompass ambition, passion, success and failure; showing that business is fulfilling and can also be fun and rewarding”. Many of the Muses will speak at community events and in schools, with the aim of nurturing female talent and encouraging women to start, own, run and grow companies.

Grace Vanterpool says: “Some of the role models that young women aspire to can be linked to their cultural or ethnic background and parental influences. Many young women in African Caribbean community aspire to become professional ‘divas’ and mothers – we seem to be less focused on getting involved in business. This may be due to the fact that there are not many successful business women who could become mentors to women from the African Caribbean community, and also to promote the benefits of setting and running a business.”

Vanterpool got involved with Modern Muse she wants her experience to inspire other women “to be the best that they can become”. She recalls, for example, that among the most patronising comments she’s had over the years are those that downplay her role. “Comments such as I am “only a nurse “, brought on by the perception that doctors who are predominantly male are usually the ones seen in senior leadership roles like mine.”

Metropolitan Police Detective Inspector Gill Evans says her motto is “it is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that things are difficult.” She adds: “I feel passionate about inspiring the next generation of young women and girls to succeed whether it be in business or the public sector. I recall a number of times that I just needed to talk or run an idea past someone but couldn’t for fear of being seen as weak. I think that it is important that we continue to encourage young women and girls at every opportunity that they can reach their goals/aspiration regardless of their career choice.”

Modern Muse is launched with the publication of a book and a photographic exhibition by Mary McCartney. The book and exhibition focus on 100 inspirational female entrepreneurs and business women, personifying the ‘Modern Muse’.

Sandi – the networking nan

Sandi Hughes

By Sandi Hughes

Sandi Hughes, 67, describes herself as “a nan with a kick” who not only DJs in her hometown of Liverpool, but is on a mission to get more older people online. Here she describes being what she calls a “digi-elder”:

I’m a digi-elder, I use the Internet and am open to new technology – but it doesn’t always go right, like the time I got ‘lost’ on YouTube.

I was in a friend’s kitchen, there were six of us chatting, and my friend told me to get on his computer and find some tunes for us to listen to. I opened YouTube and typed in ‘Missy Elliott’ and everyone made comments on how great the bass sounded and wanted more. When the song finished, I highlighted her next song, and then the next one, and on the next one she sounded a bit different. I clicked on the next one – and realised it wasn’t Missy Elliot singing the song, so I clicked on the next one and each time I clicked on a Missy Elliott song these different girls were singing and the words were getting changed and the visuals were getting more and more raunchy, and my friend said “why are you playing that type of music?” and “what are you listening to – GET IT OFF!” he shouted.

The more I tried to get another Missy Elliott song, the more unclothed the girls were getting and the melody and ambience sounded more like an adult film. My friend shouts “I DON’T WANT THAT FILTH ON MY COMPUTER”, and leans over and flicks the power switch off, creating a blank screen and bringing silence into the kitchen.

As tech-friendly as I think I am, why didn’t I think of doing that?

I first bought myself a Mac when I was 62, to invest in the skills I had learned while using analogue equipment for a video production course. I concentrated on iMovie and iPhoto software which were simple to follow and easy to use. I have yet to play games on my Mac though – my grandson who is 20 has given me his old Nintendo games console…it’s still in my cupboard!

I was DJing for a project called Giants in the Hood which a group of artists from Helsinki held during Liverpool’s 2010 Biennial. I loved it, and had so much fun mixing vinyl and CDs and choosing tunes that kept people dancing for almost two hours. I was aware of how surprised people were at me being able to do this at 67.

Using technology, remembering which button to press can be a problem but regular practice helps. You could say that our memories have always been in analogue, but now our memories have to become digital, so we can remember everything more accurately all the time, because of the way it is fed and kept into computers.

Elders need tailor-made courses on how to get involved and connected to the Internet, support to improve their skills and protection against things like scams, identity theft and fraud.

So many things are digital now; the gas man gets me writing my name with a piece of metal onto a metal box with a plastic screen on it. “It’s called a digital signature,” he tells me. There’s mobile phones, laptops, games, video and stills cameras, Facebook, digital television, online banking – you can pay bills on the internet now, without the need to handle money – you can do your shopping in most places on the net now.

We need to be able to stay connected to our younger generation, with social networking you can keep in touch with your kids, grandkids, mates on Facebook, Twitter, Skype.

With the Internet you can access and share the sense of wonder when you just push a button and enter a place instantly that could be the other side of the world. A lot of us have a passionate desire to always want to know more, and technology and the Internet does this for me. It fulfills my need to push my creative boundaries, offers easy access to information, education, creativity and is a platform for games. It’s hard to loose stuff in a computer.

N u learn nu kwik n e z spellings of sertan wrds specialy in mob fonz n fcbk.

Politicians should pay attention to digital inclusion issues among elders because of the potential that technology and the Internet has to improve life. They could make a real commitment to listening to, valuing and investing in the elders, socially disadvantaged families, and physically challenged people who can’t access it.

There’s a big gulf between those who are ready and have access to computers and the Internet, and those who do not. There are confident users of it and those who are not – but the gap will close when my generation dies, because newer generations will be born into it. Reminds me a bit of the confusion when money changed over to decimal currency in the sixties!

Internet access should be a human right. I’d like to see free broadband for pensioners, or at least a subsidised package. It’s the future – but not as we all know it, so you need to get to know it!