Category Archives: Samuel

Trainee journalists hail six-week Big Issue course huge success

Trainee Martin Kitara interviews a member of the public

Trainee Martin Kitara interviews a member of the public

While the Big Issue online journalism and photography course only kicked off last summer it had been a long time coming.

BI founder John Bird had always wanted to help give the homeless and marginalised a voice, not only through the magazine, but also to provide training and a platform for them to express themselves.

After many years his ambition finally materialised when former Big Issue editor and digital projects manager Charles Howgego secured funding from internet company Nominet to run four six-week courses and commissioned ethical media agency and social enterprise Poached Creative to deliver them.

Charles said: “The core idea of getting people from different communities involved in journalism and giving them a voice has always been with the Big issue and John Bird the founder. We’ve done that piecemeal over the years, but to actually set up a training course where people can learn those skills and maybe then go back out into their communities and get stories and deliver them through blogs or even websites, newspapers or magazines; that’s the goal here.”

And that goal has been achieved with many of the trainees growing in confidence and learning new skills they can use to take their passion a step further with a realistic eye on paid work. Since finishing the course former trainees are now studying journalism at college, making a short film for a hip-hop education project, doing media work experience at various social enterprises while one is getting part-time paid work as a journalist at the Big Issue itself and another writing for the Homeless Diamond magazine.

Jan and Yousif writing up their articles.

Trainees Jan and Yousif write up their articles.

All of the trainees have experienced homelessness for different reasons whether it be family break-up, substance or alcohol abuse, following time in prison or unemployment.

After completing their course some of the them interviewed each other to find out what they thought about and got out of the course. Here’s what they said.

Sam Hooper, who had already been running a political and cultural blog for two years, but wanted to see if he could take his passion for writing a step closer to paid and published journalism, described the course as “fantastic”. He said: “Looking back at the last six-weeks I’ve come a really long way. Learning the nuts and bolts about journalism that I had no idea about was brilliant.”

Sam, who signed up with the National Union of Journalists days after the course ended, said thinking about who your audience is, interviewing skills and photography were all new to him. He said: “From weeks one to six we really have covered a bit of everything. It’s been a really good overview of journalism and the online world.”

However, he said going out into the community and interviewing “passionate” people running “amazing” social enterprises was the highlight of the course and a privilege. He also complemented the inspirational guest speakers who came in and shared how they had started their own media and journalism businesses out of nothing explaining how it can be done and offering their support in the future.

Sam said: “They’ve been really free and generous with their time and given us their contact details, so coming from having no network in the industry to knowing a few people willing to help is a brilliant thing. You can’t put a price on that.”

Building on the momentum Sam attended and live tweeted from a journalism conference at the London School of Economics that one of the tutors had recommended shortly after his course had ended and came out with even more confidence.

He said: “I got the biggest applause of the morning for my question to the panel [which included Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger] and a few people asked for my business card. I got to shake hands with Alan Rusbridger too. It wouldn’t have happened were it not for the course.”

Sam had asked the panel how the British media could be considering itself “thuggish” in light of the Guardian’s reporting on the Edward Snowden and NSA mass surveillance revelations when it was the government who was “bullying” the newspaper and its journalists.

Another trainee Jan, who has done a wealth of courses over the years, praised the project for its hands-on approach.

He said: “It was very good. they managed to pack a lot in to six weeks. It was very concise, very clear, and dealt with a lot of practical issues. The courses I’ve been on [before] have been mostly theoretical. This was far more focused on how to actually do it, actually interviewing real people instead of other students or teachers. The approach is towards getting stuff published in real publications not just papers being marked by teachers.”

Jan described the course material as well chosen and well worked out. He said: “The course helps you focus on the main issues, specifically how to write an article, which parts to focus on [and] it helps with networking and with ideas on how to move on with your career.”

Chris Evans, who is now making a short film for a hip-hop education project seeking to set up a free school, said more than the practical skills he learnt it was the idea of building himself up as a brand and service provider that has given him focus and a new found energy.

He said: “[The course] was really good. I was surprised. I learnt a lot and got to meet new people. I learnt a lot about photography, but it was this idea of getting out there and doing stuff. This positive element of  just going out there and doing work even if its volunteering, keep doing it and pushing hard to make it. [The course] is certainly going to help me in future.”

Martin Kitara, who is now studying for his NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists] exams at Lambeth College, said the course had given him discipline: doing things to time and producing results.

He said: “I found it really insightful. I learned a lot about journalism and progressing forward,” but the most important thing he learnt was “how to structure stories”.

Charles, the Big Issue’s digital projects manager, said: “People have got different things out of the course. Some people have transformed from quiet people to much more confident people just through the activity of journalism and news gathering, meeting people and learning about new ideas. Other people are submitting skills that they have already got and creating more of a foundation for their next step in their career, things for their CVs.

“Other people are moving into other areas but with a bit more confidence, having taken a step back from their lives and their problems and looking at the world as a whole, so it’s giving different people different things, but it’s been a really positive from my point of view. I’ve been amazed at the effect it’s had on people.”

Award ceremony Friday 13th December 2013.

Trainee Dave celebrates receiving his certificate with (from second left) Hackney Citizen editor Keith Magnum, Big Issue digital projects manager Charles Howgego and Poached Creative director Jessica Smith in December 2013.

Jessica Smith, director at Poached Creative which designed and delivered the course, was enthused how well the courses had gone and how much people had got out of it.

She said: “It’s gone really well. We’ve had articles published in the local paper and Answers from the Big Issue website and there are people still doing stuff with the local paper, the Big Issue, another homeless magazine, some are volunteering with us and others have embarked on projects of their own. So it’s really great to see people take what they’ve learnt and put it into practice. The course really is about helping people to get back on their feet and not just another box-ticking exercise.”


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Generation Hackney, opening up the world of work to young people

Picture: Ian Aitken - The studio where Generation Hackney is based

Picture: Ian Aitken – The studio where Generation Hackney is based

By Samuel Hooper

The thirty-year-old founder of Generation Hackney rises eagerly to greet us as we arrive, picking his way forward through the studio he shares with an eclectic mix of social entrepreneurs earnestly tapping away on laptops, sipping coffee or mending bicycles in the corner.

From his hotdesk in Hackney, armed only with a MacBook, a mobile phone and his unshakeable optimism, Richard Hearn is trying to improve the lives of disaffected school-leavers struggling with the transition from education into work. “I left my job [working as a volunteer mentor coordinator for a large charity] in November and just went for it. And this is where I am now,” he explains. Continue reading


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Meanwhile Space, making retail space affordable to start-ups

Pic: Sam Hooper: Meantime brings dying an ddead retail spaces back to life.

Pic: Sam Hooper: Meantime brings dead and dying retail spaces back to life.

By Yousif Farah

Meanwhile Space is an award winning social enterprise which is concerned with tackling the empty commercial spaces problem across the capital.

Meanwhile aims to help create and improve the business opportunities of aspiring entrepreneurs by using empty commercial property. The Social Enterprise, which came second in the RBS top 100 social enterprises in London list, provides entrepreneurs with business ideas the space they need at a low cost. Continue reading

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Week 4 – Practicing Interview Skills and Writing Case Studies


By Samuel Hooper

Week four of the Big Issue Online Journalism training saw the trainees learn interview techniques and recap key photography skills before going on location to interview three social enterprise directors about their work. Our efforts led to a series of case study articles profiling the work of these organizations.

We were first split into pairs and assigned a role either as interviewer or photographer. Your blogger today was selected to serve as photographer as we interviewed Eddie Bridgeman, the director of a community interest company (CIC) called Meanwhile Spaces.

The Big Issue Online Journalists also interviewed leaders from Hackney Pirates, an unconventional learning centre helping young people with literacy and academic support, and Chats Palace, a thriving community arts centre in Homerton.

The main objective of the exercise was to produce work that would meet the expectations of our audience – in this case, readers of the Answers From Big Issue publication. It was important to maintain focus and use our limited time to gather information, quotes and images that would work together to tell a positive story about social enterprises benefiting the community.

Preparation was key, and we spent Thursday morning researching the organizations, working out the right questions to ask and thinking of the best photo opportunities to look for once we were on location. The afternoon was then spent conducting the interviews and photographing the interviewees and the surroundings.

The interviewers had to contend with various challenges, including late-running subjects, temperamental voice recorders (the bane of every journalist) and distracting background noise. However, the application of our newfound interview skills yielded good results, with all of the interviewees displaying palpable enthusiasm for their projects and eagerness to increase public awareness of them.

Jan, one of the trainees on photographic duty, also had to be creative and rely on his training in order to overcome challenges while on location at Hackney Pirates. He said: “The lighting was very warm, and was not continuous throughout the room which presented a real challenge.”

Friday was devoted to transcribing the interviews, downloading the images and writing the articles for publication on this blog and consideration for Answers From Big Issue. The assignment was challenging but rewarding, and showed a big increase in our collective knowledge and skill compared to our humble beginnings in February.

Next week, the Big Issue Online Journalists will take on full length feature articles – stay tuned for the results of our work.

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Historic Clapton Building Faces Demolition

Picture: Ian Aitken: Bishops Wood Almhouses on Lower Clapton Road

Picture: Ian Aitken: Bishops Wood Almhouses on Lower Clapton Road


By Samuel Hooper

A seventeenth century Clapton building is facing demolition after a charity put it up for sale, claiming that renovations would be too expensive.

The Grade II listed Bishops Wood almhouses, which have housed poor elderly people for more than three centuries, are being put up for sale by owners the Dr Spurstowe and Bishop Wood Almshouse Charity which plans to use the proceeds to build a larger facility on a new site in Hackney.

However, the sale has raised fears that a private developer will purchase the building and demolish it to make room for the creation of more profitable luxury flats. Demolition would also mean the loss of the chapel, which forms part of the structure and is notable for being the smallest of its type in the country.

The charity says that while the sale is regrettable, refurbishment would cost as much as £750,000 for only four flats while selling the building would enable them to build significantly more homes for the elderly.

Fr Rob Wickham, rector of nearby St. John at Hackney church and member of the charity’s board of trustees, defended the decision. He said: “As a charity for housing elderly people … they cannot justify spending that kind of money to provide only four modern flats. The trustees have tried to get help from heritage organisations but without success. They are therefore considering their options, one of which is to sell the precious old building.”

The news of the sale and potential risk to the historic building came as little surprise to some locals. Construction worker John Doyle, who fears what may happen at the hands of developers, said: “That’s Hackney for you. They’re all after making money and they just don’t care about the history or the heritage.”

Others were more pragmatic, such as local shopkeeper Marcus Solak, who said: “Better it be used for something than lying empty. Anything is better than empty buildings.”

Despite the concerns, any buyer wishing to demolish the almhouses will require permission from the council, because of its listed status. In considering the request, the council would take expert guidance from English Heritage before making a decision.

Councillor Ian Rathbone, chair of the Clapton Pond Neighbourhood Action Group, hopes to take advantage of this fact by including the threatened building on an upcoming tour of the borough by English Heritage. Cllr Rathbone said: “We’re trying to involve them to keep pressure on the trustees to sell to a responsible buyer.”



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Week 2: Samuel’s Photos











February 21, 2014 · 4:23 pm

Sparking Social Innovation Around Europe


A new EU-funded project is giving small social enterprises access to cutting-edge big business services.

Transition – the Transnational Network for Social Innovation Incubation – will provide a new forum for social innovators to collaborate and exchange ideas. Hubs, known as ‘Scaling Centres’, have also been established in London and five other major European cities to provide entrepreneurs with professional finance, design and legal services which would otherwise be beyond their reach.

The first Transition Spark Session was held in London by the Young Foundation on 30th January.

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