Category Archives: John W

A march on Boris, a march for hope.

By John Watts

The marchers were a diverse group, with names that could have come from an indie gig in Camden, TUSC, COUNTERFIRE, OCCUPY, all under the March for Homes’ umbrella. Even the cold wet weather couldn’t dampen their unity and hope for rent controls, secure tenancies for all, cuts to rents not benefits, the stopping of the demolition of councils’ homes and the building of new ones.

They gathered outside St Leonards Church in Shoreditch and Elephant and Castle shopping centre; two temples of faith to God and Mammon, and lest we forget, religious denominations are one of the biggest landowners, and private developers’ architectural sermons are without doubt mortal sins. Continue reading

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The Sound of Yellow

The Sound of Yellow

By John Watts

On the first day of rehearsals I arrived early, walked through the foyer, met the producers and managers, was shown around the club room and out onto the set. It then hit me, I’m in a play at the Young Vic. Participating, contributing, acting, performing and I don’t give a flying hoot what I’m actually doing, all I know is that I’m in a theatrical production at the Young Vic!

Ten weeks have flown past since I attended a taster workshop aimed at helping the homeless and marginalised into theatre and we began developing our production, The Sound of Yellow. Inspired by the Young Vic’s production the Valley of Astonishment, the play is an exploration of synaesthesia; where your senses crossover and you start seeing smells, hearing colours and how memories of past events are shaped by our emotional responses.

Rehearsals went really well and lying on the floor in the tent with the other performers I really felt a growing sense of being a company, if that is the right word, maybe community would be better. It was all starting to gel and it felt wonderful.

After great opening shows I think the success was getting to some people’s heads. Would you believe it but one of the other actors came up during warm up and said directly to me that I should not play about with the script, because she was finding it hard to get into character. Well, knock me down with a BAFTA. I was furious until I saw the faces of all the others, all desperately trying to stay in ‘character’ and vainly attempting not to laugh.

With the final curtain call a growing realisation dawned for all of us at what we had accomplished. We were such comrades that there is going to be a Sound of Yellow Facebook group. We are asked to consider the Young Vic as home, which may not be such a good idea as we are still experiencing various degrees of the spectre of homelessness.

So what did we get out of it, well a hell of a lot! From new friendships to a huge learning curve about the practical art of theatre and what it can achieve. I have my own doubts about art as therapy, but what it can be is a mirror to one’s own humanity and that of others. For this reason alone there should be more projects like this, their value to the participants is immeasurable however much the audience gets out of it. So, ‘the Smell of Yellow’, the sequel, anyone?

A big thank you to all the organisations involved in the creation of the Sound of Yellow and please give them all a great big hug from me.

John has recently completed the Big Issue online journalism training and has just started volunteering for Poached Creative. To read more articles by John and other past trainees visit Poached Creative’s blog

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A very rare event – A blog by John Watts

John WattsFirst rule of journalism – Don’t write about yourself! But in this case it will be impossible not to…

Last Friday I was invited to the St Mungo’s/Broadway Achievement Awards. As I am training with the Big Issue online journalists, I thought it would be a good idea to cover it, as they helped me get on the course.

I arrived at the event with notepad, pen, phone/camera and voice recorder, diligent trainee that I am. To my surprise and shock I discovered was the recipient of two awards and was left in a rather peculiar situation of trying to cover a story/article I was in!

I sat and listened to speeches by staff and other recipients about their work and achievements in a state of total bewilderment and failed to take any notes or take any photographs!

When my moment came and I was invited to speak I didn’t know what to say, which as anyone who knows me is in itself a very rare event but I finally managed to blabber something about being there as a Big Issue online journalist. Then amongst the handshakes and photos, I failed to even thank them.

Afterwards I had a little chat with some of the other recipients, most I know personally, and who were greatly amused at my predicament. Between the smiles and the feeling of empathy it dawned on me just how much we all owed to the staff for their hard work, dedication and above all patience.

The St Mungo’s/Broadway Press Office have been in touch and are providing me with the award statements and photos, so that I can write up my piece with some degree of objectivity. As always, they are helping me again! So this time I will remember to thank them properly for this very rare event.


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Hackney Laces

Pic: Courtesy of Hackney Laces.

Pic: Courtesy of Hackney Laces.

You don’t have to be good at it – all ages and abilities are welcome. Enthusiasm is all they’re after. Hackney Laces is a football club for girls who just want to play football.

Every Tuesday evening at the Stoke Newington School and Thursday evenings at Haggerston Park Astro, dozens of young women meet to play the beautiful game. It started in 2011 as a place for girls and women in the community to come and play football; there just wasn’t enough opportunities for them. It now has teams for the under 14s, under 16s and the over 16s. Continue reading

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Week 5: Feature articles & photography

Pic: Stephen Archer. John interviewing Jessica Lamond from Hackney Laces.

Pic: Stephen Archer. John interviewing Jessica Lamond from Hackney Laces.

The Big Issue Online Journalist course welcomed guest tutor, award winning journalist and Pulitzer prize nominee Veronique Mistiaen – a freelance journalist who writes a regular blog about human rights, which you can access here

Veronique talked to us about feature writing and how pictures and words can work together to provide in-depth, engaging content. The five W’s of who, what, where, when, why provide a question format for interviews. My background is teaching English as a foreign language so I have plenty experience of writing but it’s the photography that is a completely new challenge to me.

We were set a practical assignment, which involved travelling to Soho to interview Jess Lamond, a player and trainer with women’s football team, the Hackney Laces. I was working with John Watts, another trainee on the journalism course who was tasked with the writing. I was given the role of photographer. The tutor accompanying us was Rob Johns, who is a professional photographer and also teaches photography. You can see his work here

John has a background in screenwriting and knew the area well from his experience in the film industry. We arrived on time, which is always a good start for any appointment. Jess showed us to the room which was all white with large windows to one side.

My thoughts were focussed on a need to return a professional outcome. In my experience trepidation is cured by being organised. Rob had already thought about the light and asked Jess if she would be happy to sit with a clutter free background with plenty of light. John started the interview, making notes and used my smartphone for recording.

Rob helped me tremendously throughout. I thought I would just take pictures at the end but Rob told me to shoot throughout the interview to get a wide variety of photos and encouraged me to continue shooting even when I thought I had taken enough.

Taking a picture with Rob is about thinking about the light and composition and getting as much variety as possible during the interview. I found myself encouraged to capture different pictures and angles. It became easier in the time we had. Manual mode allows for individual adjustments. Automatic options do free the photographer up but cameras have their limitations. With action photos especially there is little time to stop to make changes. Once being given a free rein l began enjoying the opportunity to make a positive contribution to The Big Issue Online Journalists Course.

Back in the classroom John wrote the report and Rob showed me how to upload pictures to a computer and how to make adjustments like cropping using Photoshop. My skills are improving with a better understanding of how to take effective pictures.

You can see John’s article with my pictures on this blog.

Many thanks to everyone.

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Pic: Declan Slattery. now>press>play's director Alice Lacey

Pic: Declan Slattery. now>press>play’s director Alice Lacey

now>press >play create and deliver immersive educational workshops aimed at bringing the curriculum to life, whether it’s literature, science or history.

The social enterprise provides educational resources that use stories and sound to engage children through kinaesthetic learning. Children put on wireless headphones and immersed in sound and music are plunged into a world where they become a character in a story; meeting people, discovering places, solving problems and most importantly learning while on an educational adventure.

Speaking with the Big Issue online journalists, Alice Lacey, the executive director, said: “It’s fun and it’s that that makes it work. They don’t realise they’re learning. Kinaesthetic teaching is especially good for those ‘naughty’ kids who are over-active at the back of the class.” Continue reading

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A Very Different Cinema…

Pic: Declan Slattery

Pic: Declan Slattery

Hackney has a new kind of cinema that harks back to the past and surely provides more character than modern multiplexes. Hollywood Spring is genuinely different, rather than just being simply independent, and is situated behind Well Street in a disused factory space shared with other artistic ventures.

The cinema has the feel, if not the vibe, of a retro New York art warehouse and you almost expect to see two Beatniks hotly debating what the French call the Seventh Art – ‘le Film’. Its owner David Thompson (no relation to the famous film guide of a similar name), is a reluctant public face who prefers to stay out of the limelight.

The venture came about when Thompson visited a film event at the Hackney Picture House called ‘How to become a Cinema’ and a chance meeting with film host and programmer, Josh Saco, of Cigarette Burns. The result was an organising of a cinematic event that projected John Carpenters’ iconic and seminal film Assault on Precinct 13 on 16mm film, alongside a live band playing music from the director’s various soundtracks: Halloween, the Fog and Christine. The collaboration of art-forms is important to Hollywood Spring and in May the cinema presented Jazz music alongside ‘Let’s get lost’, the Chet Baker documentary, and a three-day film weekender with such ‘classics’ as Radio On, Feminine Carnivores, The Iron Giant and Dust Devil.

Asked how he chooses the films, Thompson replied: “I have collaborated with many film curators who come up with these incredible programmes. Old school picture houses have gone. We offer something different, a nicely stocked bar, a more relaxing atmosphere. We apply for temporary event licences and run a couple of nights of films. We call it ‘monthly cinema’ rather than say a film club. It will morph into something else and it’s been difficult these last few months just setting it up.”

Thompson, having been an actor, director of short films and documentaries, thus far said producing will likely be the next step. “I didn’t expect to be [setting up a cinema] at the beginning of the year. We kind of dared each other. I live in Hackney. I wanted to give something back to the community. I love Hackney, but for it to succeed it has to be a neighbourhood thing and that is how I see the future”.

Hollywood Spring has events coming up over the next few months and is keeping the spirit of the ‘Seventh Art’ alive in the neighbourhood. For more details visit


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