“Out of adversity comes opportunity.”
– Benjamin Franklin
Tuesdays come around each week, regular as clockwork. These days Tuesdays see me going to Derby. Well, it makes a change from weekly visits to clinic… but that was on Thursdays. Anyway, my weekly visits to Derby started last summer through an exciting opportunity that came my way…
A few months after the stem cell transplant last year, I was beginning to feel stronger, a bit more human. I certainly wasn’t ready for paid employment, as I was very much still recuperating, but I wasn’t feeling too bad in between the languishing fatigue and I wanted to do something good with the energy I had. I find that doing good generally makes me feel good and feeling good is definitely part of my recovery plan.
I’ve always been a big fan of voluntary work and have volunteered for a variety of projects and organisations over the years, from mediation to mentoring, narrowboating to coaching youth at risk, reading with youngsters and Playback Theatre. And a few years ago, I initiated a Big Lunch in my neighbourhood to bring people together. Volunteering is a bit of a healthy addiction for me.
So, I had begun to think about volunteering as a way forward… a way to re-engage with people, to do something of value, to gradually re-build my confidence and stamina, to gently test my energy levels without putting myself under too much pressure and to hopefully shake off the growing anxiety and depression that was lurking. But I hadn’t actually made a move until I got a phone call from a friend.
Simon works for Community Action Derby, an organisation that supports local voluntary and community groups. Amongst other roles, Simon takes the lead on a community reporting project called Citizens’ Eye Derby, which uses digital media (video filming, interviewing, blogging) to tell stories and report on issues happening in and relevant to the local community, with the aim of raising awareness and improving life for people in Derby.
When he told me about the project, I thought it sounded interesting and exciting, which was exactly the response he wanted from me, because he wanted me to join the team. I think he also wanted to support me in my recovery. Thanks Simon! x
I had no prior experience of filming, not even making home videos of children or pets doing cute things, but Simon reads my blog and he thought that my writing skills would be an asset to the team. I could learn the filming and editing skills ‘on the job’.
That was back in July and I’ve been a voluntary community reporter since then. When I first started, I was a gibbering wreck, still quite lost in the pit of depression, lacking confidence and feeling that I had precious little to offer. I don’t think I contributed much initially, even in conversation. I was really not in a good place.
But over the months, I’ve not only been able to contribute and come out of the depression (thanks to good support and Fluoxetine [Prozac] as much as volunteering), but I’ve also learned heaps of new skills, and watched delightedly as my confidence has grown. I’ve met lovely new colleagues, both volunteers and paid staff, I’ve interviewed and filmed some really committed, admirable people. I really enjoy the work and the great team we have.
Initially, we worked on short films about different volunteering experiences, such as young people using hip-hop to engage with other young people, older people challenging feelings of no longer being of value, a visually impaired young woman supporting other disabled young people and one of our team members, Debbie’s experience of volunteering at the Paralympics.
As the team have developed skills and confidence, we are widening our repertoire, getting a bit bolder and tackling weightier issues, campaigns and problems affecting people in the community.
Having identified an issue we want to explore, we work in small project teams of 2-4 people. We usually start off by doing some research online or through contacts, trying to understand the issue as much as possible from all angles, to see what is already available in the public domain, including any other films or articles, to see what has not been said or asked and to discover any controversial views on the subject.
We draw up a preliminary storyboard: a flexible outline of what we want to cover, which direction we want to take, etc. Then we contact relevant organisations and individuals to explain what we do and find out if they would like to share their story with us.
The next step is to agree dates to interview and film the participants, having a conversation first about what we and they wish to cover, explaining how we work and allaying any concerns about ‘performing’. As well as speaking to the organisations involved, we especially want to capture the voices of individual local people who are affected, so an organisation will ask their users/participants/clients if anyone is willing to be filmed or recorded.
Once the filming is completed, we usually have a lot of footage, out of which we need to create a film. This involves compiling and editing the clips into an order that makes sense, sometimes requiring a change in the initial storyboard, adding cutaway shots, voiceovers and titles, and finally the Citizens’ Eye logo.
The editing is definitely the longest part of the process, but it is so satisfying when there’s a watchable film that makes a strong point at the end of it. Once it’s ready, we upload it to our YouTube channel and to the Citizens’ Eye Derby website, where one of the team will write a blog post to introduce the video. And then we hit the PUBLISH key!
Please feel free to visit the website and subscribe to the blog if you’re interested to see how we develop.
The first film I was fully involved in focused on a truly supportive mini community that has developed amongst neighbours living in a cul-de-sac. I really enjoyed interviewing Arthur – he was so animated and had so much to share… There was a LOT of footage we didn’t use, as we try to keep the films as brief as possible, to keep the attention of our audience. I’m hoping we can go back to film him again about one of the other topics he was enthusiastic about.
On the weightier side, we recently published a film about the rise in the use of food banks in the city. Derby is not alone in seeing an increase in the number of people in food poverty. Austerity measures are cruel, demeaning and create poverty, not wealth. Sadly it’s a nationwide problem… and this in the seventh wealthiest nation in the world!
I’m very proud of this film because it’s the first project that I led and the project team of Suzie, Rebeca and I worked hard to make it an impactful piece of reporting. I hope you agree.
On the back of this type of work, Citizens’ Eye is now receiving attention and invitations from people/organisations wanting us to help spread their concern/issue, or wanting to share the work they are doing to improve things for the community. This is one of the aims of Citizens’ Eye, to help local people, groups, organisations to share their stories.
Watch out for upcoming films on cuts in supported housing, alcoholism in Derby, the work of the BME [Black and Minority Ethnic] Network and Local Area Co-ordination [LAC] – building social capital at the individual and community level.
As we grow, we also intend to share our skills and offer training to local groups so that they can create their own videos and blogs. With this in mind, two of us have been asked to work with Media Trust (who helped the project with initial training and support), to devise training that we would provide at no or minimal charge to help local groups get started with digital media promotion. This is a great opportunity for me to bring my training experience into play and to work with one of the team members who has a degree in Broadcast Media and professional experience of film production.
If I had not been ill…
If my employment contract had not ended shortly after I was diagnosed…
leaving me with free time without having to go back to work quickly…
If I had not needed to regain my confidence and rebuild my stamina…
If I had not been faced with the adversity of myeloma…
If I had not written about it…
I would not have known that I can write… and nor would my friend, Simon.
If, if, if… I may not have had this opportunity, from which who knows what other opportunities may arise… like maybe making a short film of my own? (See my List for Living).
Thank you Benjamin Franklin, for your wise words!
All views expressed are my own and are not necessarily shared by Community Action Derby, Citizens’ Eye Derby or other members of the team.