By Sana Amos
Before I started the Big Issue online journalism course I thought it sounded too short and too long at the same time.
Short, because how much can you really learn in this time frame? Long, because for myself and I am sure for others on the course routine and purpose of days has not been part of our lives for some time. The thought of it felt alien to me and I did not have the faith and confidence that I would be able to last the whole course, let alone complete it!
While I was really frightened at the beginning I applied because it sounded like a great project to be involved in. However from my personal experiences and for many others that I have met and known through hospitals/hostels/care centres, as much as you want to accomplish things or makes changes, there are certain external factors that sway you so fast that they become priorities, habits, part of and at points your whole life; it becomes a circle very hard to break free from.
For me it is my health that has been my biggest challenge over the last few years, as my mental and physical wellbeing has declined. This led to a point of crisis in every aspect of my life, as being ill has restricted what I have been able to do for some years.
For other people on the course homelessness and housing, health and financial issues play a big part in their everyday lives. These are problems that you have no choice but to prioritise and like anything one issue is not exclusive from another, they come hand in hand. So to find a balance by committing yourself to something such as this course can be a real challenge, therefore to complete it is even a bigger accomplishment.
I have never been gladder to have my assumptions proved wrong. Firstly, yes the timeline is short, but in no way does it reflect how much we got to learn. From day one of our journalism week to our last social media week there was abundance of knowledge acquired and learning achieved.
While there was a lot to take in it was not rushed or just handed out as a booklet to read. Instead we were gently introduced to the main topics on journalism, writing, and photography in form of presentations. Handouts were provided for future reference but we talked and discussed each topic within the group and through 1-2-1 sessions with our mentors.
Of course the best way to learn is to practise. Everything we learnt, we got to put it in practise and actually publish it on this blog. News In Brief (NIB), composition and a camera control assignment at the local park and Imperial War Museum, interviews and then the published features, the amazing trip to Thomson-Reuters and actually sitting and learning in a room where many of their international journalists have trained, meeting and speaking to active and inspiring people within the industry such as Carinya Sharp from The Pavement magazine, Jude Habib from Sound Delivery, freelance journalist Veronique Mistiaen and Jessica Smith, the director of Poached Creative.
While it may sound like it was nonstop work, I can assure you it was the most relaxed and safe learning environment it could be, with plenty of time for tea and lunch breaks, group discussions, talking to our mentors individually and foremost having fun!
This course gives you knowledge, alongside real insight and experience of working within the industry.
The 12 days manage to pack all the essentials and provides the opportunity to test your strengths and weaknesses, to explore your curiosities and which interests peak to a point where it becomes where your time and effort is spent in. This course gives an opportunity many of us like myself do not have access to.
Secondly, the time line was not too long what so ever. Yes, all of us trainees had other commitments and issues that kept creeping up, but the 6 weeks allowed for us to find that balance and not fall sideways.
Of course it was tough to find that balance; for example, after the first week I could not walk for a few days which was disheartening to say the least, but our ever supportive team never made me feel under pressure. I would get a call to check up on me, which kept me in the loop or like the time we went to the museum and I could only manage less than 20 minutes before retiring to the cafe or when Tobias made sure the interview I attended was close to our centre, so I did not have to struggle too much with the travelling.
Every aspect of the course feels like it is individually tailored for each trainee, which it is what made me keep coming back to do as much as I could manage.
While the course did not magically solve my problems it did nurture that initial reason why I and others applied for this training. It let me be practical and realistic with my options. It let me try what could and could not work.
It was hard, but small changes I made to attend had the most impact. Without realising these became my motivation, as daily achievements led to a flicker of confidence where there was none. For the first time in a long while I felt I was doing the best I could which was and is enough.
By far my favourite aspect of this course is meeting our wonderful course tutors and mentors Zoe, Glen, Tobias and Declan. It was not ‘positivity makes changes’ ideology shoved on you, or a ‘know it all’ attitude. It’s the subtle getting to know you as a person so they better understand your circumstances and it is in these conversations while making coffee or grabbing lunch that I managed to get the best advice and recommendations.
The support, encouragement, and general understanding from our mentors is what makes this course a cut above the rest. I could not thank them enough.
Lastly, to summarise my experience and this course to our readers and hopefully future trainees in one paragraph:
Imagine a box filled with all the perfumes you may want in miniature sizes. Enough to have a look at, smell, put it on and see how you actually feel with it out there in the world; in order to find out if you like it everyday, or just for an occasional splash while roaming Boots. Try a bit of everything you been curious about, before deciding which one to get in a bigger bottle. For me the course gave me this choice and allowed me to pick my perfect bigger bottle.