2016 review – (and surviving semester 1 as a Journalism student)

Most years I have written a year review to some kind of fashion, but this year I didn’t feel like writing one. Social media is awful for anyone with even a hint of mental health problems, and with the world basically falling apart for much of 2016, I’ve spent most of the year hiding from social media and under many blankets. Although on the day after Trump, we did have a massive debate at uni instead of discussing the finance of magazines, this restored my faith in humanity a bit. Whoever wants to discuss finance anyways, regardless of whether there’s been a major election or not? I have also been reminded that there are positives to 2016 in amongst the political and worldwide grief, there are good things too. And on a more personal level, 2016 has not been as bad as 2014 was for me – so that’s something.

This year marked one of my biggest achievements – starting (and getting a place on) my second Masters degree, in magazine Journalism. I’ve met like minded people who love to write as much as me – I didn’t think that would ever be possible. I’ve written about journalism here and here if you’re interested in that part of my life.

‘You’re bonkers for doing another one’ as I was recently told. I am, but this time it’s a good kind of bonkers. As Semester 1 ends, and I’m buried under revision and assignment deadlines, I know more than anything that this was most definitely the right decision.

This year I moved a step forward with finding out who I am –  a bit of an odd one because I always thought that I knew what I wanted and where I wanted to go, but turning my attention to writing came much later than it probably should have. I’ve always known that writing was one of my strengths, but I hadn’t considered pursuing it until a couple of years ago when I sat down and had a ‘what the fuck am I doing with my life?’ moment, after a major mental health slump. I’ve been qualified as a youth worker since 2013 and as much as I love my job, I know that I’m not as good at it as I am when I can create things with words. Short of proving someone right (not in the being complimentary about my writing kind of way) who is bad for my life and brain, this part of who I am has really come to the surface this year. But then again I’m still only 28. Plenty of time for working out the career that is right for me.

Another memorable moment this year, has been meeting people who are most definitely going to change my life forever. Not to be named here, but I hope that I’ve spoken to and thanked them all individually, or am about to. Towards the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016, I was just starting to accept my Dyspraxia properly for the first time, whilst also writing this blog. Prior to this I’d be able to talk about mental health until the cows came home, but I couldn’t even utter the word ‘Dyspraxia’ to myself, alone in a room. That I tell you, is worse than the anxiety attacks, not being listened to by a doctor aged seventeen and feeling suicidal when I was eight years old. Being able to accept who I am is something, although I am still working on – I’m so much better at than I was a few years ago, or even a year ago.Image may contain: one or more people and people standing  I’ve attended as many Dyspraxia conferences as I could (which ended up being a Dyspraxic tour of the country), went for coffees and talked about this and unrelated stuff, got as involved in DF youth as I can and despite terrible wisdom tooth pain at the time sent in my contribution to the Dyspraxia Foundation youth video.

After spending years blogging about other things elsewhere, it hadn’t dawned on me that I should write about the most important part of me I could ever talk about – what makes me, me. Doing that has lead onto everything else. This year I’ve made friends, who have shaped who I am, and more importantly made me realise that I am most definitely  not alone – life is so much better now that they are part of it. This year, a group I set up so that others could have what I have has really blossomed. I decided that I am going to give Dyspraxic teenagers, what I have now in my 20’s – acceptance and understanding. So I founded a local Dyspraxia support group for young people and in doing so have been appreciated by their parents more than I would have ever imagined. In the summer I organised a trip to the beach, even making a cake but not expecting much – and somehow the whole world turned up.Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor We ate ice cream, played rounders, shared cake and it was wonderful. I then organised a meal before Christmas, with similar success and the feeling that I have done something small to make the lives better for those young people. We’re planning to get a train to Durham next, to help with their sense of direction and travelling on public transport – and Durham is clearly the place to take people who haven’t caught a train independently before…

 

 

If you follow me on twitter or instagram, you’ll know all about the addition of two kittens into my life this year (sorry for all the cat photos you’ve been subjected to.) I took on Biscuit and Amber in September after their mother had been abandoned and threatened with drowning, and they really have transformed mine and my families lives. If there was one positive thing I’ve done for my mental health this year, it’s to get cats. (Just don’t ask me about the extra anxiety I’ve developed about their safety – mental health lies to you, even if you have cats) I dread to think what I’d be like if I ever became a parent. But Biscuit and Amber have really settled in, and I couldn’t imagine my life without them.

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I spent one of the last days of 2016 with one of my favourite groups of people. When I was growing up Gateshead youth assembly became particularly important for my acceptance and the feeling that I could fit in. For the last couple of years, I’ve been one half of a duo who’ve organised a reunion for everyone whose left the youth assembly, and this years was just as successful as the last.

So, 2016 for me can be summed as the development of friendships (old and new) that really do outweigh all the crap ones.

Things I want in 2017?

  1. No-one to die or to get diagnosed with scary illnesses.
  2. To pass my Masters degree
  3. To get paid for writing WORDS
  4. For my little Dyspraxia group to grow, so that they are self run and lead, without me always being there or offering the lead.
  5. To see more of my friends, more often – simply because they are all wonderful and I don’t thank them enough. Get in touch to get in the diary.
  6. To learn to drive, I have a driving instructor, now I just need the motivation (and not to be terrified of anything on four wheels)
  7. Finish the book (yes, I’m writing a book and have been for a while – it will get finished soon, providing there are no more major life distractions, although a masters is probably one…)
  8. For MH to bugger off on holiday (not going to happen I know, but I can only dream…)
  9. Go to a friends wedding without anxiety coming too.
  10. Have enough money to be able to move out (given that all of my career attempts don’t tend to be well paid, this could be a few years off yet..)

Thank you to everyone who has been part of my 2016 and to those who haven’t ran away when it all seemed to fall apart, get in touch so I can make number five happen…

 

 

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Can honesty always be a good thing?

As children we are taught to be honest, ‘Don’t tell lies’ or ‘can you please tell the truth’ are phrases we would all hear time and time again. I’ve therefore been inexplicably lead to believe- that being honest is something that you have to do, and that not saying something will result in consequences later. But how does disability and mental health fall into this realm of honesty? As I grew up I learned that disclosing is something I should do, in the same way that I shouldn’t lie about eating all of the sweets. As a teenager I was as far away from this acceptance as you can possibly be, I knew I was different- I read books, wrote poetry and played folk music- while others my age were taking drugs, going to parties and having one night stands. The embarrassment of having a completely different teenage life to my peers made disclosure impossible, and hiding away from reality easier to achieve. I remember going away on a hostel weekend with The Woodcraft Folk, I was about 14 at the time and the girls in my dorm were discussing weed, boyfriends and blow jobs – I buried my head in a book as to show that I wasn’t interested in the conversation, but really I was embarrassed – about the lack of experience I had in life and the little acceptance I had of myself.  I find being honest pretty natural now and it’s given me more friends than I have lost, but back then I found uttering the words ‘I am Dyspraxic’ to myself, on my own in a room harder than anything.

Disclosure as common place as it is for me now, despite the sleepless nights regularly wondering ‘have I done the right thing? There have been times when I either wished that I didn’t have Dyspraxia, anxiety or depression OR that I just simply didn’t disclose. Those of you who have followed this blog, or my general life for a while will know that I went to India for three months in 2010 and had one of the best times of my life. Ringing a friend up in tears, when I was worried about getting on the plane all worked out okay in the end. An experience that came later – as it’s a few years ago now, it doesn’t feel so raw.  I applied again to go to abroad, this time to South Africa to do some similar volunteering with an organisation called Restless development, as part of the International Citizen Service. I had visions of this being as good as India- it’s cliche I know,  but I felt I’d ‘found myself in India’ – for the first time in my life, I talked about my Dyspraxia in depth throughout the interview process, a disclosure  that ultimately got me a seat on that plane. Without thinking  I disclosed here too.

‘Do you have a disability or medical condition?’

‘Yes’

And so Dyspraxia & anxiety appeared on my form. I went away not thinking anything of it, knowing that I had done the right thing and that my honesty would help me here too.

I would never have imagined what was to follow. My ‘mental health’ was picked up as being a problem, I was put through the most gruelling assessment process and judgements were thrown at me left, right and centre. More than anything, this experience taught me that the stigma of mental health is still well and truly there.

‘We are totally unprepared to support Alice’ were some of the comments in the emails I later read about myself.

And ‘What if something inappropriate would happen, like if she needs to go back on anti-depressants whilst in South Africa for example’

The list goes on, and so I filed in a formal complaint – for my sanity more than anything, and to channel my anger about an organisation that see’s the word Anxiety, panics and then discriminates, into something positive. I didn’t go to South Africa in the end, but I didn’t want others to go through what I’d experienced. Hence all of the writing. All of the tweeting and the many frank and open discussions I’ve had lately.

It’s experiences like this, that makes many of us wonder if disclosure,  honesty and being as open as I have is the right thing to do. I’ve certainly thought twice about disclosing my mental health or Dyspraxia since, and can understand why people don’t – although I am pretty comfortable writting and blogging about these these kind of things now, this confidence in discussing issues that others would rather avoid on social media, came well after Restless Development and still, sometimes I wonder if I really should.

This week I went to a folk gig with a friend, and as I sat there listening to the music, in the world where I first found a sense of belonging and acceptance, I thought to myself: ‘I fit in so much more now that I’ve started to use disclosure as a positive thing’. And this to me, is why honesty is important.

In other slightly related news, I’ve found that the best thing for mental health (and the latest devastating news in politics) other than understanding and supportive friends, are cats – meet Biscuit and Amber: 

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Being a Magazine Journalism student: part two…

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Sunrise at silly O’clock on the way to uni…

Massive apologies for not updating this blog as much as I would have liked- it’s been (as you can probably imagine) a pretty full on few weeks.

I’ve been at uni for well over a month now, although it’s felt in many ways so much longer than this. Reading week is next week, something that I’m sure everyone is looking forward to- I’m spending mine visiting friends in Nottingham & Leeds (and anyone else who will have me.)

I’ve learned more about myself in the last six weeks, than in a whole year studying youth work, being amongst like minded people and feeling the most ‘at home’ I’ve felt in years is wonderful. I should have done this years ago – as much as I love youth work, I’ve finally found something that I can be good at, without worrying about not being like the loud, lary and more extroverted youth workers in a team.

At the moment when I tell people what I’m currently up to, conversations tend to go like this…

‘WHAT so you’re doing ANOTHER masters?!’

Or: ‘What happened to all of the youth work?’

and occasionally ‘omg you’re at Sunderland?’ As if I’d just told them that I was going to university on Mars. It’s not so amusing when you hear this hundreds of times.

Comments aside, being Dyspraxic there are some things you’d think wouldn’t naturally go together with journalism- processing information, shorthand, working under pressure and getting things turned around quickly- as much as I’ve found some of this hard, and I’m often on the brink of giving up with shorthand (having been reassured that magazine journalists DON’T need shorthand to do well, irrespective of the debate) I’ve been able to give everything a go. My background and being able to be pretty open on social media/in general life about certain issues has made me more determined than ever to get mental health, Disability and more ‘hidden stories’ into the media, and in some ways I feel that I have ‘a duty’ to do so. When the MA began, I made a list of everything I find difficult for the disability support service and then compared this with everything that’s expected of a journalist, and thought how can this all possibly go together? But in some strange, weird and wonderful way it seems to work. It helps that I’m thoroughly enjoying everything we’re doing, the food in the canteen is even exciting and I couldn’t ask for better people to train with. The best thing about this course is that it’s very practical, so we learn, write and create as we go, and for someone who learns by doing and being shown- this is the best kind of learning.

Mondays are spent up on the top floor of the of the media centre, in ‘the hub.’  A live media environment, where our main focus for four hours is to be ‘real’ journalists, writing for either SR news, Northern Lights or pitching to local and national publications- we put into practice researching stories, interviewing people, gaining feedback, having our work edited and eventually being published. Its intense. Loud. Busy. But incredibly exciting. How can I concentrate on anything meaningful in such a busting, noisy environment? I honestly don’t know- but it’s working. AND I’m meeting all of my 2pm deadlines. I also regularly wonder, am I good enough to be here? As is only natural to doubt myself in such an unfamiliar environment, but then I remember that if I don’t try, I will never know- and that’s exactly what I am doing today, tomorrow and the day after that. If I was too confident, I’d be more worried.  So far I’ve written articles about dyspraxia awareness week and world mental health day for SR news. I’ve also written a piece that I’m most proud of, about the release of the ‘I, Daniel Blake’ film, and the people behind the unfair benefit sanctions. The film was powerful, and I attempted to create an equally powerful article portraying the hardship many local people have to go through when faced with cuts and sanctions to their benefits.

In the busiest months of my life so far (bar perhaps A levels & India) I’ve learned how to write news stories, features and reviews. I’ve used editing software and cameras, hunted down a story for video journalism, whilst also understanding how the magazine industry works – and started to design the concept of a new magazine. I’ve listened to media law lectures, and stories about how things can go wrong. If only media law exam questions could be answered with ‘Just don’t do Journalism.’ I’ve felt relatively confident in ‘public affairs’ seminars – we were asked to research our local MP in the first session, something that I knew at fourteen, my background with Gateshead Youth Assembly helps here. I was surprised to learn how many lacked a basic grasp of politics, compared to my upbringing when I was encouraged to debate and hold an opinion from such a young age. Maybe this shouldn’t be surprising, maybe this is just normal- but I don’t want it to be normal. I overthink too much.

How I’ve managed to sleep, eat and feed cats- I don’t know.

If you asked me at the start of this degree,  what do you think the most important thing you’d do this year? I would have almost certainly said ‘writing.’ It almost goes without saying that you need to be able to write to be a journalist but then again not all great writers make good journalists. After being here just over a month, it’s clear that one of the most important skills a journalist can learn, is to build up contacts- because without people to talk to, we don’t have stories or anyone to interview. For the first time in about ten years I actually have a physical address book- it’s relatively empty now, but hopefully by the end of the year it’ll be full of lots of interesting people. ‘Networking’ is a terrifying word- something I have to get used to.

My course is busy, intense and I’m exhausted both physically and mentally- for both related and unrelated reasons. My break into journalism may be slightly later than some, but I’m comforted in knowing that I have most definitely made the right decision. Although roll on reading week!

I also have a new (and slightly scary) online portfolio– it’s a work in progress at the moment, but if anyone fancies having a gander you’d be most welcome.

In other news nanowrimo has gone out of the window, along with my ability to sleep….

 

 

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Surviving week one as a Journalism student…

My morning walk to Journalism school involves boats! 

”So I’ve been a youth worker for two years, what other challenge can I throw at myself? I know I’ll become a Journalist.” And so the rest followed…

If you’d told me two years ago, that I’d be starting a Second Masters in Magazine Journalism, I’d probably have told you to ‘piss off’ or words to similar affect, I would never have imagined that this is what I would be doing, right now at this stage in my life, but here I am after week one of training as a magazine journalist, and I absolutely love it. Hands down, this is one of the best decisions I have ever made, even better than deciding to go to India- and that’s saying something.

As someone who’s taken a bit longer to fit in than others, I’ve finally found somewhere I can really belong- it’s only taken 27 years. After week one I have new friends, a new place I can travel to without getting terribly lost and a whole new world. As cheesy as finding a ‘whole new world’ sounds.  Journalism training is fast paced, varied, practical and exciting. In the last week I’ve learned about media law, discussed the many options in the magazine industry, struggled with shorthand but then celebrated when I remembered how to write ‘the’ and learned how to use a video camera. I’ve understood the importance of curiosity, how to find new ideas, how to re-develop old ideas and what not to do when being a lone video journalist (don’t go and meet a group of armed pirates off the coast of Africa at midnight, was the example) I’ve also heard stories about getting journalistic pieces, methods to follow when reporting court cases or hostile situations, interviews that could go wrong and learned that you need to constantly think about new stories to write everyday. This is all in-between dealing with the arrival of two new kittens, who really are going to get me through this degree (but mental health & animals is something for another day)

In all honesty I was terrified before I started this degree; Have I made the right decision? What if I can’t do it? Will the people be nice? Will they like me? I asked myself. Putting my innate overthinking aside, it is only natural to feel this way, when starting a new course and a pretty drastic career change. I can now tell myself (and you) that I have definitely made the right decision, I really can do it (although the shorthand is questionable), I can’t imagine a nicer group of people to train with and they go for coffees with me so I must be a little bit alright.

I’ve decided to blog about my Journalism training, as a method of reflection for myself but also as an easy way to document how I’m doing for those who are interested. This is going to be one of the most intensive years of my life, but probably the most exciting and thought provoking…

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Planning a future

Recently it was A level results day, ten years since I picked up my As levels and 9 years on from my A level results day in 2007- the day when I learned that despite almost messing up sixth form, I still somehow managed to get into university. Now, my younger sister, 10 years since I made that journey into school to pick up results has done the same, so it’s a more poignant time than ever to write about A levels, working out what the hell to do with that future ahead of you and some things that I’d recommend you don’t repeat.

Back in 2005, I wandered into school to pick up the first of those brown envelopes- my GCSE’s. My predicted grades varied, as someone who struggled with Maths, science and any practical subjects, but I did well in predominantly essay based courses. This confused many teachers, because I wasn’t good at ‘everything’ and because of this, they doubted my abilities to go onto sixth form. I did well in my GCSES’s in the end, even passing Maths (albeit by one mark, but we don’t talk about that) and moved onto study four A levels as planned.

In 2007, now 18 I was there again, with a brown envelope but faced with almost failing some A levels- as someone who was predicted A’s and B’s but came out with a couple of E’s, I was embarrassed, upset and confused. I was probably at one of the best places possible to get these results, being away at Folkworks Youth Summer school in Durham, and surrounded by friends was what I needed at the time. I hadn’t done as well as I could have, or was certainly capable of achieving- and felt that I had really let myself down. The truth being that I still got a place at university to study History and Politics, so I couldn’t complain too much- and I didn’t. When I returned to Folkworks after collecting my results, people asked how I’d done- and I just told them I had got into uni, they didn’t need to know about the E’s that behind closed doors I was devastated by. I remember one girl, who’s birthday was on results day, getting four A’s and being featured in the local paper, with her birthday balloons and a big grin on her face. I was slightly envious, and made to feel that my results weren’t good enough and didn’t deserve to be applauded- I still got into my first choice of uni, so in the grand scheme of things shutting up and just getting on with it was probably the best strategy. I hadn’t considered then, that everything I’d done, experienced in life and achieved  wasn’t recorded in this brown envelope and certainly didn’t compare to those who were good at everything, who the teachers seemed to love. Winning a writing competition and travelling to Slovakia is something that no one in my year had done- but I had ticked off my list by the time I was 17. I was able to write for England, and to write well- my personal statement was the size of a short story, something that isn’t useful in the context of keeping to a specific number of characters, but useful in many other ways. I also learned very early on to stand up for myself and those around me, developing an innate sense of justice and fairness- something others are often scared to do, but a skill that has always come naturally to me, and as I’ve grown up I’ve developed more tactful ways of being heard. My favourite moment was aged 15 when I piped up ‘I can speak for myself thank you very much’ during an SEN review meeting, after being asked if I wanted an advocate to ‘fight my corner’ as it was so clearly put.

The two years of A levels were probably one of the hardest of my life, I basically went off the rails- not in the sense of partying every night, although I sometimes wish I had done as that would have been more fun, but that I basically just stopped, and my brain became full of stuff that wasn’t conducive to sitting four A levels. I remember writing in a diary that I hadn’t achieved everything I wanted to achieve by 18, I wish I knew what this was, because going on a rampage of self pity wasn’t healthy or useful to anyone. My difficulties with AS’s and an upsetting A level music performance when I was torn apart- made me work out that throughout my life and in the world of work I was going to struggle, even with my fiddle playing- the one thing that had kept my mental health up, someone could pick out flaws, and this made me feel quite down. I’d picked up on people’s lower expectations throughout my life, and when I saw a less than helpful careers adviser, who told me that I wouldn’t be able to do an English degree, because I had taken A level language and not literature- my plans were crushed, although now I realise that he couldn’t speak anymore rubbish if he tried.

Looking back on my years in education, I wish that I’d worked harder during those crucial two years at sixth form and listened to myself more than others around me, but I also know that my A level results didn’t stop me doing what I do now. similarly I could have got a 2:1 or even a first degree, if by second year I hadn’t just stopped too  (I can’t think of a better way to describe it) -but it certainly hasn’t held me back. If there’s one bit of advice I’d give to 18 year old’s holding that brown envelope and wondering what the hell to do with their future, is to do what you enjoy and can do well, I’ve never been highly paid but I love what I do, I’ve developed the skills needed in the job market now that I’ve worked for a few years and met people who have helped me to do that. I’ve also been very clear about things that I’ll find difficult or even impossible to do with my employers. I know I’m fortunate to work for such a supportive organisation, and not everyone is as lucky as me- but what I will say is these exam results are only the start of what you can do, and that people and plans often change- but it’s also okay to feel what you feel now,  people will tell you that a piece of paper doesn’t matter, but I know that it does, it did to me and it will to you. It’s important to have that time to be the most difficult person to be around if you weren’t as happy as you could be with results. I was devastated with my A levels at first, but then I realised that there’s more to me than my two E’s and two C’s…

 

 

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Recognising lovely Valerie!

A few Fridays ago, the shortlist for the National Diversity Awards was announced on social media, awards that until accidentally coming across on Twitter I hadn’t heard of. After reading through the award categories- I knew that there was one person who stood out from everyone I knew and I had to nominate her for an award. I nominated Valerie Ender for the life time achiever award, my youth worker as a teenager, who has had more impact on my life than anyone. I knew, that for all she’s done for young people across the borough of Gateshead, Valerie needed to be recognised. I wanted others to know about the valuable sanctuary that Gateshead Youth Council provides for young people, how important youth services are in general and how proud I am now to call Valerie a friend.

I first met Valerie when I joined Gateshead Youth Assembly, as a shy, timid fifteen year old- with incredibly low self esteem and an anxiety disorder that I didn’t have a name for yet. I was also in denial about being Dyspraxic and going through bouts of horrendous bullying, on top of trying to be a ‘normal’ teenager, and dealing with everyone telling me who I should or shouldn’t be. I was, at this time in my life very unsure of myself and the world around me. However the first time I met Valerie, her warm smile and words of encouragement immediately had a powerful affect on me, she saw past the barriers and through to a girl who desperately wanted to be included, valued and be accepted-  so that I could participate. Everything finally started to make sense. She adopted a very caring and reassuring approach, offering an ear when I needed it, a gentle hug when things got too much or simply just a push in the right direction when I had to do something. She was always there, and Gateshead Youth Council became my second home- Valerie believed in me for one of the first times in my life, something very special for a girl with Dyspraxia who was constantly told that I wouldn’t be able to do things, or achieve academically. Whilst on a university trip, when I learned that our lecturers were going to irresponsibly force us into the middle of a riot in Paris- anyone with any common sense/understanding of Dyspraxia would understand how I felt at this point, my instinct was to give Valerie a call. She was sat at home, whilst I was in a hotel room across the channel, in floods of tears with worries about tear gas and French police. Her calm and reassuring approach made it all so much easier to deal with, despite looking back now and wondering how was that situation even allowed to carry on? Isn’t hindsight wonderful. From a different country, she was still able to reason and rationalise with me, to make a terrified Alice feel ten times better.

Valerie was different to everyone else who came before, she knew that I would get there and I was finally able to prove it when I travelled, with Valerie’s support to Slovakia after winning a writing competition. It was on this trip that I finally understood who I was for the first time, and through the tears, anxiety attacks and lack of vegetarian food- I blossomed. The one woman who has been instrumental in helping me achieve this has been Valerie Ender, coordinator of Gateshead Youth council and a brilliant youth worker and friend to everyone, who simply lets young people have a go, without being worried about being different, standing out or indeed getting it wrong. This seems miles away from the world many know at school. She really did make a difference to mine (and many others) lives and I wanted everyone to know this, so I nominated her for this award.

I am delighted that Valerie has reached the shortlist for these awards, and I am sure every young person or colleague she has ever worked with will join me in saying how much it means to them. The NDA’S are about equality, diversity and inclusion- and Valerie has really shown that this is at the heart of everything she does, by bringing young people from diverse backgrounds across Gateshead together. Diversity is the backbone to everything she did when I was a young person, and still does today- making reaching the shortlist for the life time achiever award even more special. She is one remarkable woman from Gateshead, who through her humble and passionate ways has done extraordinary and often life changing things for the young people she works with. When I got a place at University, Valerie was one of the first people I told- who seemed more over the moon than me at points, so you can probably imagine her reaction when I told her that I’d got into Durham to do a Masters. I was inspired so much by Valerie and my time spent in the Youth Council office, that I decided to study for an MA in Community and Youth work, so that I could encourage and support young people just as Valerie did for me. When I finally completed the MA, and it came around to graduating in the iconic Durham cathedral, Valerie was on the top of my list of people I wanted to be there, and I was honoured when she accepted my invitation.

I do everything I do now, because I joined Gateshead Youth assembly when I did, at a time in my life when I really needed to be accepted and understood. I am over the moon that my youth worker and friend, who was so instrumental in me becoming the young woman I am today, capable of standing up and taking the lead, with the confidence to support others in the same way as she did when I spent more time in the Youth Councils office than at home, has been shortlisted for this award.

Valerie writes:  ‘I have been incredibly lucky to work in an amazing organisation for most of my adult life. I have worked with colleagues, parents, carers and most importantly young people who are amazing, inciteful, funny compassionate, confused, overwhelmed and absolutely bloody fantastic. What you should know though, is every decent Youth Worker out there would get nominations like this. I come from a profession of people who believe desperately that people are wonderful, some just need support to achieve their potential.’

The awards take place in September in Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral, and I am pleased to have been a small part of getting Gateshead represented but also to finally be able to show on a national level just how lucky Gateshead and the youth work profession is to have a woman like Valerie who has shaped the lives of so many. Everyone needs a Valerie in their lives.

 

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Four years

Four years ago one of my best friends moved up to Newcastle to go to university, an addition to my life that I probably needed at the time, bringing along with her much needed laughter and happiness. As someone, who still lives at home well into my 20’s now, partly because it’s easier financially but also as it wouldn’t be fair to burden anyone I live with, with my problems- a fear that has become increasingly clear to me, having Rosa in the same city has been a real novelty. Prior to this I was used to having to get on a train if I wanted to see anyone, something that has been harder for me over recent years due to several mental health dips. I was now able to escape around to her flat for cups of tea and a change of scene when I wanted to and she would come to me when my anxiety was too bad or I couldn’t face getting on a bus. I literally, and by no exaggeration wouldn’t have been able to get through half of what I’ve dealt with over the last few years without her here. We’ve both supported each other through lots of highs and lows while she’s been in the North East, drank many cups of tea, eaten any onion rings we can find, danced at ceilidhs and had cheesy chips by the seaside. Now after four wonderful years she is moving back home to Nottingham.

We met when she was 15 and I was 19, and despite being very different, in age but also personality- we immediately clicked and became inseparable. Although we are, by definition of most people, one of the most unlikely duos ever. Our friendship has certainly blossomed and been made stronger since her move to Newcastle four years ago. I’ve refrained from saying much on social media about this, until she knew just how hard it’s going to be for me and how much I will miss her, because aside from how it makes me feel and how much I have already cried over it, she is so doing what is right for her and that’s the most important thing. And I really do support her with this decision. But now she does know, I wanted to write something.

As hard as change is for anyone, particularly if you’re Dyspraxic or you just generally get attached to the familiarity of places and people, this move simply means that we’ll both be spending a bit more time on trains than usual, and as we both have friends dispersed right across the country- this isn’t a rare occurrence. Of course it isn’t the same as having someone around the corner, who you can phone when you’ve had a bad day. I’m going to miss her terribly, and will probably find it harder than most- for reasons related to loneliness, mental health and the need for company. But I have had a brilliant four years with her up here. So if any friends fancy having me visit/meeting up for coffee to make this all easier for me, I will really appreciate it at the moment. Above all I wish Rosa all of the luck in the world with her new adventure and thought I’d leave you with some memories of our time together over the years…

 

There’s not many people who I would happily dress up as a man and dance around a stage with…

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