Walking in dizzying circles inside Leeds Train Station as my dyslexic brain attempts to navigate my dyspraxic body around the arrows on the floor. My anxious attempt at public transport was fortunately and literally ‘masked’ and, for a moment, I swapped my nerves of being in crowded places containing lots of bodies, with the ‘stress’ of trying to social distance.
I had mentally rehearsed this moment, because whilst I work in the media in public facing roles, I am naturally introverted and feel more at ease presenting in front of a camera, speaking on a global stage or my younger self could be found dancing live on TV in front of 10 million viewers.
But that doesn’t give me as many feelings of anxiety as this part of my journey…Leeds Train Station thoroughfare… which has transformed into my public transport version of Leeds Ring Road!
That’s just one of the bizarre parallels about me and in many of us. What might be a challenge to me, is relative to how I perceive it and whilst my personal fears may have developed into memories in the cells of my brain and body, I do have the learned power of mindfulness techniques I develop daily to retrain my own neural pathways, connecting our mind and bodies.
Ironically, to the ‘outside world,’ I look like a confident multi-platform journalist on her way to model in her friend’s photoshoot. Yet as I try to get out of dancing in a circle which I had trapped myself in by focusing too much on quickly trying to pass through the ticket barriers, this ‘stresses my brain and body’ rather than the shoot but for many people it’d be the opposite because we are all unique complex organisms, made up of a range of factors.
Growing up, however, as a non-Twiggy nor Kate Moss look-a-like, the thought of being surrounded by beautiful models and cameras today with a “curvy common clueless me,” would have been a greater source of nerves. But that’s the power of our mind because we can rewire it the more we see ourselves as whole rather than ‘just a body.’ And here I am with an inflamed stomach due to my physical ailments (which have been neglected throughout Lockdown and, the lack of treatment over the years, which a lot of women experience due to their complex holistic health needs from hormonal imbalances to gynaecological issues).
Yet, it depends what ‘fragment’ of my day you stumble across - I only alluded to two elements of my much longer day more intricate day already - and narrowing that down further you may only stumble across a glossy photo finish online, or bump into me with my head down now walking in zig zags…or watch my raw behind-the-scenes vlog. Hopefully, you’re reading this! Either way, as much as I am more candid than most, and I try to be balanced thanks to a decade of journalism, at the end of the day you will still have your own perception of one of my unintentionally curated versions from a brief segment of my story that morning alone. That’s the problem of judging ourselves or others off one ‘data point’ alone and the most common is body size.
So is it a wonder that those of us ‘fortunate’ enough to have access to the digital world during Lockdown, which in many ways has enabled us to evolve our work, attempting communication and even connecting socially, that with us all only seeing snapshots of each other’s lives, some versions we have selected, some not. Plus, with the added disadvantage of those in charge of profit-generating social media sites and the human fuelled bias of Artificial Intelligence, has led people to overly scrutinise their superficial appearance or those of others even more?
Whilst it’s been a transformational time for many, these self-reflections and judgements aren’t helpful to our souls.
I am one of the lucky ones who initially fell on to the addictive bandwagon of the ‘noise’ of social media in times of need, but after a long history across platforms and life experience, I knew I could only tear myself off the messy mass of information and eventually use this time to start living in the present no matter how painful or joyous it has been at times! This has really helped me to connect my mind and body rather than focus on external appearance.
Sadly, those still less well versed into the pros and cons of our professional-personal blurred world of online, it has been a place of depletion along with the relative impact of the Pandemic on individuals. It is important to not only join together to evolve but also to start viewing our own minds and bodies as one and just accept ourselves.
I have noticed an increasing appetite to fragment our minds and bodies into ‘parts’ where we have become increasingly fragmented about ‘hang ups.’ From a need for more people embracing their bodies and going from the previously status quo of ‘size zero’ models to a ‘strong is the new skinny’ vibe for women specifically. I myself at times have been swept up by this ‘anti-institution’ vibe, which had been needed for a shift in presentation of ‘body types’ in the media. But now we are in danger of demonising a range of body types. Whatever you class as a ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy figure.’
Whilst we cannot completely control Covid or our bodies… what is in our power is learning to connect with our whole selves. Photos, body types and our own perceptions need not focus on showcasing an array of purely aesthetic stories because our minds and bodies are already beautifully made-up of internal memories, sketches of maps for our lives and our present state evolves like nature. Let’s move to a world of wellbeing, optimal health and, ‘Mind and Body Neutrality.’ It may not sound as ‘sexy’ as other fads… but even if I have to change the name each time to make it sound more appealing!
None of us get the balance right all of the time but ignore everyone else and begin within. Only then can we be the true masters of our own lives rather than letting society, culture and our world of excess take control, making us feel in a deprived state of not ‘being enough.’
Read more from Sophie at https://womensworldofwellbeing.com https://mamamei.co.uk
BACK TO OUR VALUES: Let’s give our local businesses a feel-good real revival and shop independent… the ultimate retail therapy!
Like most my moral compass and core values have been challenged somewhat in Lockdown. I have gone from instagramming my surprise ‘charity shop finds’ to fast fashion that is delivered in the post.
I have gone from a love of discovering plant-based food (often at bargain shops or past its sell by date grub) to being at home, shopping on Amazon when I needed everything from groceries to cleaning products.
And ironically whilst it’s appeared initially cheaper at first, the accidental subscriptions, the long term impact of my not-so eco-friendly foot print will be long lasting and those instance hits of dopamine in Lockdown challenges from the mind dulling nature of social media escapism to the quick hits of desperate next day deliveries… and who would blame us for resorting to hedonistic ways when we are facing huge challenges in life, it is by human nature that we can and need to go into survival mode. Granted in our modern life of excess means that this so-called ‘survival mode’ is sometimes panic over possessions and clutter rather than the threat of being killed by a tiger… but we can still experience feelings of constant trauma from work stresses relative to some of my own personal experiences of more acute situations, but I understand it’s all relative and often how we perceive situations levels our response. Either way we experience trauma or fight or flight feelings and no longer always have the communities and warrior rituals to shake and heal it off. We have natural instincts but without the natural coping mechanisms often our bodies need.
And as I felt my soul dwindle and started to get on a new track I am determined to be more eco-friendly, less cluttered, busy and most of all, to focus on supporting issues close to my heart such as soulful enterprise, independents and community spirit which combines a lot of my passion.
Ironically as a child growing up in a beautiful community there were just three places that brought some of the community together which I attended such as the church hall for dancing and fundraising, the local charity shop and our local shopping centre!
Now I live in Wakefield the shopping centre I frequent is much larger, less supermarket style and more community based and accessible.
The Ridings Centre is my favourite place connecting the community with independent stores, coffee shops, entertainment and arts! More on them below.
And if you need a friendly reminder to shop local and independent now most places are opening back up, that this Independents' Day UK which is a campaign that exists to support and promote independent retail businesses which takes place this 3rd-4th July Independents account for 65% of the approximately 290,000 retail outlets in the UK.
CELEBRATE INDEPENDENT RETAILERS PLUS A SPECIAL OFFER FOR INDEPENDENTS’ DAY
From bespoke clothing and one-off antique finds to eco-friendly cleaning products, hand-made ‘gifts for life,’ to affordable arts and crafts, interesting groceries, ethical clothes and hand-crafted coffee and freshly made smoothies… and that’s just my favourite array of a few things on offer at The Ridings Shopping Centre-come-community hub… Whether you enjoy a self-care trim at the barbers, or your eyebrows threaded like I do!
After losing access to some of our favourite independent retailers in Lockdown, I for one am vowing to return and support more than ever our independents old and new. From craft markets to records, if there’s something you love… Please shop local and independent.
Whilst corner shops and independent grocery stores have reported a 63% surge in trade as shoppers turned to local outlets during the coronavirus crisis, we all know how much internet giants have thrived even more (online groceries for example, leaping up by 75%). Not to mention the fact that most of our favourite indies have been forced to temporarily close completely with no replacement online for the personal touch and customer service like no other.
Plus, The Ridings Shopping Centre have a special offer for customers.
To grab a FREE, quality canvas shopping bag when you spend just £20 in one of their independent stores over the weekend of the 3rd & 4th July. The stores involved are: Created in Yorkshire, Made and Found - Yorkshire, Morgana Clothing, Hellraiser Records, Niche Handbags, Wakefield Antique & Collectables The Ridings Centre Wakefield, Transform Images, Future Links, Hidden Extras, Home and More, More Value Everyday and Art Originals.
Just take your receipt along to the customer services lounge on the upper mall adjacent to Boot on Saturday or Sunday between 10.30am and 4pm, to claim your free bag.
Full details and the list of stores that qualify can be found here:
The rise of independent retail is reviving our high streets with its dynamic colourful creative offerings from our sometimes hardest hit yet strongest community bonds that independent businesses can offer. Not only when we shop local and independent are we supporting more ethical trading and sometimes supporting families as a result, but I can promise you, you tend to get better quality produce, a wider variety of interesting clobber, groceries and hand-crafted goods… but genuine feel-good retail therapy.
To support The Ridings’ independent retailers, you can find them here:
LET’S FOCUS ON MAKING OUR YORKSHIRE THE MOST ACCESSIBLE COMMUNITY FOR ALL TO GET ACTIVE OUT OF LOCKDOWN AND BEYOND
“We have complete communities rather than fragmented families. It’s our language which is divisive.” Sophie Mei Lan
From a 2.4 household to Gay Dads and a Mixed-Race Single Mum to Step Families and creating my own mini family as a young student mum to becoming a solo married mum in business to a now ‘Working Single Mum’ or ‘Co-parent’ by both definitions… I have had the luxury of experiencing a variety of “unconventional” labelled households. Although the one line that threaded through my childhood and now that of my own two daughters is not just blood but most of all love.
This past year more than ever has shone a light on a plethora of family lives as we have discussed everything from support bubbles to beginning to redefine the world of work with more agile and flexible working than ever before.
The important thing ‘through the keyhole’ all comes back to creating strong communities or what the non-urban amongst us might live in ‘villages.’
People often assume that certain families such as single mums who make up 90 per cent of lone parent households have ‘no support’ when as my friend Emily Winn-Khan explains that it’s about either being born into a village or creating one: “I've learned to unsubscribe from the label 'single or line parent'. Parents and carers need not be labelled but supported to connect to a community or reach out for help if they feel alone. Parenting is about connection not separation.”
For me this rings so true because whilst at times I have had to consciously create my own support bubble after relocating to have my babies and work from home sometimes we feel most ‘lonely’ when we are shunned by professionals or society because of our so-called labels, these are what’s damaging by articulating diverse family life as ‘fragmented.’
So to move into the opportunities of villages rather than ‘ideal families’ during this redefining generation it is first of all important that families of all backgrounds are treated equally.
But unfortunately whilst this Pandemic may have provoked discussion around inclusivity, single parents for example are still not protected by the Equality Act.
As Ruth Talbot, the founder of the campaign group Single Parent Rights, who campaigned to support a change in lockdown restrictions for single parents allowing support bubbles has said the economic future of one-parent families such as hers risk being set back years if they do not receive targeted help with her survey showing four-fifths had experienced a type of discrimination and those living with a disability, or who were from an ethnic minority background or on low income experienced greater levels of discrimination.
She suggested however the potential that this period could also bring to promote change and utilise it as a “turning point in terms of tackling the structural barriers and inequalities single parents faced.”
I too have faced a lot of stigma but like Ruth, I agree that we can utilise such crisis periods as turning points too, focusing on the foundations of family life. From some of the most supportive ‘families’ I know of people clubbing together on estates and amongst social housing to create community spirit like no other strength I have ever seen to faith groups, leisure clubs and lots more ‘pockets’ of strong connections.
For me, it begins with redefining ‘family’ as a community of people connected by unconditional care for one another. It’s why I set up Yorkshire Families Magazine as a collaborative project to showcase the best activities to do in Yorkshire and beyond, as well as creating a community hub online of support networks, information on vital services as well as campaigning to get all ‘families’ active by promoting accessibility not assuming it for all so that rather than merely offering a ‘set day out’ one size fits all budgets, backgrounds and traditional family set-ups, instead it fosters creativity for venues and activities to open up their services to accommodate for a huge range of communities.
Simple small steps can reap results from recently offering a ‘family pass to the Reel Cinema at The Ridings in Wakefield’ which doesn’t assume a ‘family pass’ as 2 adults and 2 children, instead it was a flexible number of winners’ tickets depending on the size of each winning family. We have also started to include accessibility reports of sporting venues as well as the standard match reports. We aim to train more community reporters from all backgrounds to write for us to share their views on how we can best support one another. Our first pioneering not-for-profit upskilling project is Digitally Active - to support adults with disabilities utilise their online skills to learn how to report on blogs, vlogs and podcasts, run a community enterprise and work with local businesses offering cost effective web maintenance and content services so that they too can work online if they wish.
To consume, create or collaborate with Yorkshire Families, go to:
https://yorkshirefamilies.co.uk or https://sparklecommunications.com or find them on social @YorkshireFamilies on Facebook and Instagram or @yorkshirefams on Twitter.
Words are not just uttered from the lips, but the way we move, write, speak, and interact can either promote peace or create division.
From fake news on social media and gossip in the street to profound speeches, blogs and books which can transform our lives, we hear so many stories nowadays whether they be junk food for our minds or carefully crafted to feed our souls.
We have such a huge array of mediums to now consume, create and communicate in more ways than ever before.
But the leading yet archaic technology in driving deep state-of-the-art human connection is story-telling.
The kaleidoscope impact it offers can be propaganda or transcend to heal the world.
Something that has depleted me when having to hit targets for how many online news stories I can recreate, thrash out and publish per hour as a young journalist on a national newspaper, churning click-bait to drive revenue or an art form which has written me out of the depths of despair which has inspired my grassroots reporting for regionals.
We need space to create, to let our cluttered minds swirl as they transcend into stillness to comprehend our increasingly polluted world of excess, cutting through the noise to deeply connect.
As we move with the harsh Hokey Cokey of the Pandemic, I have been connecting with other creatives to discuss the importance of multi-dimensional stories to unite us all regardless of background.
I know as someone who discovered journalism through a calling to speak out from the perspective of my own seldom-heard community in which I was born and bred, rather than just sweep in, interpreting my subjective view with the pressures of a fast and at times heartless news agenda.
As Hayley Trowbridge, from People’s Voice Media who is organising The Future of Lived Experience Storytelling, the Institute of Community Reporters Conference, says: ”Community Reporting is basically a way of bringing people's stories, experiences and ideas together so that we can collectively find ways to make the world around us a better place to be.
“Taking the time to listen to different perspectives - including ones that may challenge your own - is a way of understanding through empathy how different people experience the world differently. There is power in people's experiences being described in their own words - a chance to really connect, person to person.”
How do we share these stories to have the greatest impact possible? I’m fortunate that my age enables me to straddle the worlds of traditional media with the wider sharing tool of the social media wagon.
This is reflected in my work as a journalist, speaker, content creator and published author enabling me to share and tell multidimensional stories on multiple platforms using digital creativity. A hybrid approach to carefully crafted content, creatively aligning a variety of mediums online and offline, may just be the solution to engage and change the universe for the better.
Hence why, “Uniting Creative businesses across the North and encouraging them to come together, to unite, share their experiences and collaborate will be extremely powerful in helping to shape the future and create change,” explains Sarah Novotny, of GC Business Growth Hub who is hosting the Creative Leaders Festival which aims to connect, inspire, and energise Creative Industry professionals from across the North of England, such events will also “play a key role in the recovery of the UK economy.”
At Creative Leaders Festival, I'll be discussing the evolving media world and the future of the theatre with the likes of Northern Ballet, Sparkle Influencer Community, and politicians. In Summer, I’ll also be sharing more seldom-heard stories and my own lived experience at the Institute of Community Reporters event.
Book for both events for free, go to:
There are not many journalists who can say that their most powerful stories to date stemmed from back bending on the floors of Shisha Bars as a professional bellydancer, and it's something I always felt embarrassed about when presenting as a guest lecture in front of the next generation of journalists.
These blurred lines between personal and professional from a paid hobby as a performer to my professional life as a journalist and business owner used to make me comfortable as I struggled to fit in whether it be in the entertainment world where most people were from private acting schools unlike me who shimmied her way through community groups and funded courses for the “under-represented” or in the media world where it is also not always what you know but who you know.
Somehow, I managed to navigate my own way through the side door of the stage.
But I would secretly straddling roles as I tried to hide my multi-faceted life as an aspiring woman in the media who loved (and needed to earn the cash to fund my efforts) performing as a dancer. My multidimensional life became even more complex as a young mum with classed ‘disabilities’ and in one day alone I would drop my daughter off at nursery en route to a social enterprise course to fund a community magazine, before quickly changing into student clothes for a postgraduate journalism lecture, before a business meeting, then changing into a bellydance costume to perform that night before returning home to care for my daughter and then the following morning I would reappear in smart clothes on the news desk of a national newspaper before collecting my daughter and my long commute to home to tend to housework and admin for my journalism, businesses, hobbies and life.
I felt less superhero and more like a Quick Change Artist, my scarcity mindset of “where there’s muck, there’s brass,” meant I was always hustling trying desperately to reach this ‘other world’ of a career as a journalist. Ironically, rather than asking to be paid for my endless ‘work experience’ stints, I would try self-fund my dream and make ends meet elsewhere.
In recent times however we have all been forced to accept and celebrate the spectrum of humanity we come into contact with via video call ‘unveiling our professional masks’ with so many others are working flexibly from home.
It was during a video call with my life coach Emily of Quantum Coaching where I had the realisation that I too was responsible for transforming my mindset rooted in my own past and me subconsciously trudging a ‘rags to riches’ fairytale, when in fact we are one world and the ultimate transformation comes from within, as Emily said: “Most of those money sayings are outdated and only serve to keep us in our past. If how we feel about ourselves is determined by anything external, we give away personal power. If something outside of ourselves has the power to make us feel worthy, valued and happy, then it has the power to take that away too. But when we love ourselves unconditionally and hold our value high, money is welcome as an expression of love, gratitude and appreciation.”
With a rekindled fire in my belly and the new found confidence of speaking up on Zoom for myself and others from the comfort of my own creative home office, I realised that ‘true empowerment’ and inclusivity, means that to truly inspire the next generation and myself that we need to pay for people’s skills and services, because of their background, not just promote a more diverse world, we need to cherish and cheerlead it.
By Sophie Mei Lan
As I clutched my phone talking into the camera, as if it was a silent therapist, I choked up as I attempted to breathe and make sense of a panic attack. It wasn’t meant as anything other than an expressive diary, but I decided to eventually post this raw vlog footage, showcasing a not-so ‘insta-perfect’ snapshot of my life. It was shared widely, reaching two billion online because these days we tend to opt for content that’s a mirror of our own reality which resonates.
But it was a small child-focused theatre show which depicted “butterflies” in your belly which captivated the minds of my young daughters when they needed to explain that they feel nervous about something.
Are these two parallel worlds or can we merge content creation online with the arts and theatre offline?
After pauses away from social media “we were on a break,” I brace myself as I tap on the all- too familiar app icon brightly piercing through the screen, I know I need to reply to messages, post content for work and check the news but it feels like I am stepping out of the house I have been isolated in, into a fast-paced noisy world.
Yes I can step back inside at any moment but social media algorithms are built to keep us ‘connected,’ or hooked inside their platform. I know that by creating content rather than just dull scrolling is much better for your mental wellbeing but I have learned the hard way to unleash the power of digital creativity prior to posting, otherwise the excessive noise of trolls or even echo chambers can stifle your creativity.
Granted, social can inspire ideas, issues that are prevalent to an array of communities and has been my way of communicating and sharing my work as journalist, mental health and wellbeing author and even passion for dance so I can’t berate it or stay inside my isolated home but I have been learning to cut through the noise and do it on my own terms.
In many ways much like reality TV, which was also a platform for me as a young dancer shimmying hard to make it in the media and entertainment world, another culture which also consumes audiences through voyeurism, escapism and another useful tool of expression which comes with its aspirational promises and underworld too. Whilst many who enjoy more snobbishly-called ‘high culture’ oppose this ‘low brow’ stuff, for a lot of us social media and TV has been a lifeline to connect and schedule our lives, especially throughout this last year. But it certainly does not replace the arts, theatres and creative outlets that we’ve become accustomed to in recent years whilst bringing my own daughters up in God’s Own County in which our local creatives, musicians and creative groups have gone above and beyond prior to the Pandemic to make the arts more accessible. From free workshops at Yorkshire Dance to Child friendly ballet shows at Northern Ballet Theatre to Rock n’ Roll Panto at City Varieties and community projects at Leeds Playhouse and en promenade performances at Theatre Royal Wakefield and Sheffield Theatres, we have been mere public transport rides away from this whole other fantastical world.
Whilst I take pauses from the social media scroll hole for more work on my soul, I cannot berate the platform which has connected more people than ever before in recent times, and has meant wider audiences have accessed online learning and cultural experiences from culinary workshops to immersive zoo experiences, free theatre shows and vital community support… plus there are those of us who earn a living online too.
So, as we emerge from this murky period, I am excited for a new hybrid approach where ‘cultures’ no longer collide or compete but join together to engage and attract wider audiences to the core beauty and freedom of the creative arts. My daughters and I have been connected to the arts through Zoom art sessions, live shows streamed online, and we have danced a long to a number of YouTube classes not to mention shimmied to Strictly!
For me, the core of creative communication is individual expression and we need to support our region’s artists, pioneering venues and creative groups of all sizes to continue inspiring, creatively connecting and providing a special sanctuary open to all minds. I chat all things mass media and straddling social media in this week’s Recovery Road Mental Health podcast with ITV Presenter Christine Talbot and blogging daughter Beth who experienced Panic Attacks whilst at University. Download Recovery Road from all podcast stores or read more at: thesparklecoach.com or follow me @thesparklecoach or read: mamamei.co.uk
MY JOURNEY TO THE BBC IN THE DARK AND BACK IN THE DARK OF YORKSHIRE AGAIN
By Sophie Mei Lan
Stepping into the chilling pitch black of the morning, I carefully navigated myself and my four-month-old daughter into the car. I secured her tight into her car seat as she attempted to suckle the cold air searching for my bosom, her mother’s skin and milk.
She had been by my side feeding all night, I was exhausted, and I longed to pass away the rest of the morning in bed. But like most mornings, it was a military operation, we had to be up before sunrise to go on our journey together from Wakefield, West Yorkshire to Salford, Greater Manchester and were always at the mercy of the M62.
We were off to MediaCityUK, 'the Theatre of Dreams’ for northern journalists, as it was the new home of the BBC, some of ITV and where I thought I could ‘get my foot finally in the door.’
So, for now without a clear route to get inside the secure glass BBC buildings, I had opted to study journalism at University of Salford in MediaCityUK, even though it was far from my Yorkshire home where there are some incredible universities, I was determined that after years as a freelance journalist managing mental illness (mostly on ‘work experience’ except for paid work as a local newspaper reporter and investigations for Channel 4 News) and now young mum, that I would become an inspiration to my daughter as well as the "impoverished community" I was brought up in Sheffield.
I had actually discovered I was pregnant whilst undertaking work experience at The Guardian Newspaper in London after a stint at The Sunday Times, all unpaid, whilst continue to hustle hard back home, working as a dancer and starting a range of businesses to supplement my income and fund my passions as I could barely afford the travel down to London let alone eating when I was there or even the expensive pregnancy test! If my work placement over-ran, I would stop on a friend’s floor or when I had an interview for ITV, I caught the overnight bus down and rocked up, hoping my flask of coffee and mental preparation on the journey, would plaster my lack of sleep. It was all worth it, as I could see the glow of my ‘dream,’ changing the media for the power of the good. My life-long purpose is to show that no matter what your background and how you present, that you deserve to be heard and treated equally.
Now, with a newborn baby and managing severe mental health problems, unable to relocate with my support network all in Yorkshire, I could not afford the mental and financial cost of chasing my dream.
I am fiercely proud of where I am from, I thought it could be fate that MediaCityUK had landed up north. This could be my big break. I could show the world that despite my abusive past, despite my disability, despite being a mama, that you can still aspire to make waves and have an impact on your own life but most of all those of others who get shunned.
So off I went to university with my daughter in tow, our long commute, where I would drop her off at 6am as the doors opened to her nursery inside MediaCityUK.
I didn’t want to be separated from her so young, but I thought it was the sacrifice I had to make, and at drop-off I would see all the other parents enter, many beckoning BBC and ITV staff badges. I would sometimes allow my head to get the better of me, and I felt inadequate, not only were their children older as they had had paid m/paternity leave but they also had the rights of employed parents and the comfort of knowing that they were getting paid for what they did.
By this time, I had already won awards for some of my human rights reporting I had carried out, but awards didn’t mean a ‘job,’ nor did it mean that the industry was ready to hire someone like me. I was over-trained for many schemes, under-connected with those at the top and I didn’t have enough money to endure many more years of work experience and still having to earn from an eclectic range of side hustles.
I had Yorkshire grit and passion and was grateful for any opportunities, yet becoming internally depleted by the false hope these bright lights which many media schemes offered.
By this point, I had already studied one degree whilst battling a severe eating disorder, having time off as an in-patient at Seacroft Hospital in Leeds and I somehow managed to do regular work experience for BBC local radio and newspapers. I had even been offered the odd job in the industry but most of the roles required me to relocate down South.
The only way to get close to the new media hub of the north was for me to study next door to it, hoping I could bump into the right people.
But the more time I spent in the fake world of MediaCityUK, the more the novelty wore off and it just felt excruciatingly close yet further than ever to wedge my glass slipper in the door. Not to mention, that without an invite you wouldn’t have a chance to get inside the high-security buildings, unless you were an audience member for a gameshow.
I managed to discover the odd project with the few people that really did have a passion for northern people, but the structured system and community schemes weren't set up to truly include those who can’t conform to the London-centric vibe.
Every opportunity I discovered following university involved reams of application forms, a sharing of my thoroughly researched story ideas which had been acquired following years of living, volunteering and working within the ‘diverse’ communities I am from. Most of the time my investigations were appreciated and utilised as a 'scoop' but not credited or paid for and the very few low paid national ‘jobs’ I could have secured always involved me relocating or travelling far from my home and my vital support network in Yorkshire.
Yet, I was always grateful that the industry was showing an interest in acquiring “diverse talent” like me, they saw my depth of interest, colourful life and the fact that I would normally have been a ‘case study’ in one of their documentaries, meant that I had “insider info.” But the industry still hadn’t changed to include and fully embrace people like me who still live in “adversity” and the older I was becoming, the more confidence I gained that I couldn’t conform. I was never stubborn, I would still complete work experience placements and free projects if I thought they would serve the community. But my health deteriorated and so did my finances as I struggled to bring up, now two children without adequate leave... I answered calls during labour through fear of not proving I was dedicated enough. I went above and beyond to up-skill myself and prove my worth despite my perceived flaws.
As I dropped off the cliff of the ‘18-25’ age bracket, the harder it became to secure any work, I was too old, too qualified now and too experienced and yet not experienced enough to get a ‘proper job and especially not one on my own terms to suit my location, disability and family life.
On the surface however, I had become a beacon of hope for aspiring journalists, inspiring others with my “award-winning scoops,” setting up a popular blog and YouTube channel during my battles with mental illness. Yet I was rarely paid, still hustling, as I struggled to conform to the status quo and just serve as another tick-box exercise on diversity forms. On reflection, my online platforms and side hustles, have been a brilliant tool for me to change the way I work but that's because my deep desire to work as a journalist on my own terms has been dwindled, so I make the most of the free tools available... I have a Yorkshire grit so whatever I put my mind to I can do, if it is just down to me, not a huge corporation.
Freelancing is obviously tougher than ever these days, it requires you to have a lot of unpaid time to build, develop and sustain relationships, not to mention the fact that most commissioning editors are hard to reach in person, the time it takes to research and pitch ideas, keep on top of briefs and the news. Whilst I am definitely not in journalism for the money, I have thick skin for knock-backs and it is my life’s vocation, you get to a point where it is hard to afford to carry it out mentally without a supportive team or the financial ‘backing.’ If it was just a case of it being about my actual work, I can take that, but the issue is institutional, and it is easy to exploit people like me who are optimistic, hard-working and grateful for any glimmer of hope.
I understand Lockdown has meant it is exceptionally more challenging than ever before with paid work sources drying up left, right and centre for everyone and, I have tried to keep a positive mindset and take part in the opportunity which national news outlets have invited me to participate through watching their commissioning briefings and training online. But I have spent weeks in Lockdown on a variety of different briefings and training ‘opportunities’ with national and global news outlets, yet following a pitch and sharing of ideas there is no feedback, no new contacts or relationships formed and at best an email address to send ideas to.
I am realistic. I have failed lots. And I am OK with that. But there is deep fire within me that knows I am being utilised to tick their 'diversity boxes' just so they can prove that as publicly funded broadcasters, they have tapped into ‘local talent.’ Better still for them, I tick most of their boxes, other than not being young enough now to hit their youth quota.
But I am depleted by grand moves up north. My faith has dwindled because I have experienced the stark reality of it all.
Whilst I am a largely optimistic person, there is an air of cynicism now each time there is a ‘ground-breaking’ media move announced such as Channel 4 coming to Leeds and even more so with BBC coming to the north.
Many mean well and offer exciting ambitions, but the reality is they are relocating the same bubble of people, ideas and it’s just another gesture to tick more boxes.
It actually feels closer yet further than ever when it comes to real opportunities for those of us who don’t fit the institutional setting, yet have the talent, knowledge and skills to truly shake up draconian institutions.
I rarely share my views on the issue as I fear of losing any possible work-related opportunities, but now I have the hindsight to know that there are rarely that many real opportunities anyway. I am building the confidence to not try and 'fit in' anymore as I am not simply straddling two worlds or a rag to riches tale - we live in one world; one region and such a huge institution has the responsibility and money to truly invest in us rather than exploit our nature.
I am attempting to live congruently with my values by writing this to truly begin to empower the seldom-heard of us to be properly heard and valued.
And, to truly ‘empower’ us institutions need not just appreciate the beauty of what diversity looks like, they need to adequately pay, nurture, include and harness ‘diverse talent.’ Actually, become part of the communities we are living in through partnerships, adequate funding and deeper change… I have had enough of exciting headlines and initiatives.
This isn’t a blame game for me, I realise that I am part of the picture and I am working on my own ‘poverty mindset,’ building my self-esteem so I can appreciate my unique talent, and most of all charging what I am worth so I can honestly empower others, rather than just recite verbal statements, half-hearted gestures and get energised by campaigns from the powers that still be.
But I am fed up of always side hustling, being dangled carrots and exploited for my background.
To truly empower “us,” we need to be truly valued in the same light, if not sometimes higher esteem for our ‘grassroots’ work as 'local talent,' local media... all of which those at the top could learn from.
To truly get inside our hearts, minds and most of all, create a change in the world. This isn’t about just the institution, it's plea to give us northern folk genuine opportunities because "our BBC" could actually help to transform the future lives for many of us.
Read more from Sophie on her personal blog:
https://www.mamamei.co.uk and her professional work at https://evokemediagroup.co.uk
Business - Media Consultancy @TheSparkleCoach
Journalism - Author/Presenter @SophieMeiLan
Health & Mindset - Personal Blog/Vlog @MamaMeiBlog
HOW-TO DO YOUR OWN PR: Get featured in Newspapers, Magazines and on TV/Radio- PR tips from a publicist and journalist
Beat the scroll hole of social media by creating evergreen content, gain credibility by getting featured in the press and most of all share your story to have the greatest impact.
But how do you get into newspapers, magazines and acquire online articles and features?
I’m Sophie Mei Lan, an award-winning journalist who has worked for local and national TV and newspapers and I continue to work from home as a newspaper columnist, author, documentary maker and PR coach/Media Consultant aka The Sparkle Coach (https://TheSparkleCoach.com).
I am far from anti-social media - I have amassed an online following of 100k plus across platforms and utilise social media as one of the fundamental keys in sharing my own stories and building my businesses. But too often, I see over-stretched business owners, brands and influencers flog their guts and mental health over creating and consuming micro content… and overloading their brains consuming all the information being churned out. Whilst I love social, it is just one pillar of marketing (granted, there is always the exceptional story of someone going viral, but often there is more to it than just a simple tweet or social post, so I would always begin by creating the macro content (e.g. the newsletters/mail-outs, press releases, blog posts, vlogs, podcast episodes etc..) and then break this one piece of macro content down into micro content for social media.
As social media is increasingly competitive, many of us are already creating huge valuable chunks of content which could be slightly refined and used as macro content then broken down into snippets.
Further still, if your content is featured on a website, online blog/newspaper or YouTube channel, for example, this can serve as evergreen content which keeps reaping you rewards rather than getting lost in the overpopulated world of social.
Here are some PR tips to get you started:
Try not to feel defeated by the social media algorithms, up your game, they are also marketing companies with an agenda, so utilise it but swap scrolling for brain naps and get laser focused on speaking your truth and building your brand for life!
For more focused help, email: email@example.com
and read https://SparkleUpNorth.com and EvokeMediaGroup.co.uk’s blog post.
Or follow me @TheSparkleCoach on social media
or go to my new site (coming soon) at: https://TheSparkleCoach.com
Identifying yourself as a leader
By Sophie Mei Lan
Now etched onto my wall, shoved in between my littering of positive affirmation cards, are my certificates. I certainly didn’t get trained in DIY by the way I have wonkily hung my array of qualifications and awards.
I shudder at the thought of someone seeing this collection inside my home office, not because of my ‘creative’ hanging skills but because I wouldn’t want to look boastful.
And then I remember why I hung these frames up. I need to remind myself daily to stop ‘downplaying my potential’ because I do have the knowledge, experience and even awards to ‘put myself out there’ as a professional, as a woman.
“I’m not really a business, I just do bits of work for clients,” “I’m not qualified enough to do that role,” “I’m just juggling home, work, life and family the best I can but not doing anything well.” Those are not just the statements in my head I have been conditioned to hear, but so many women I cheerlead, have this inner thought process which holds them back not just in their confidence and the feeling of ‘imposter syndrome,’ but it prevents them from achieving their dreams, simply because they don’t identify as leaders. Not to mention, the fact that we need more female leaders driving this world forward, shaking up the status quo and to inspire other women to be part of the growing movement to challenge gender bias, pay disparity and celebrate women’s achievements.
This week which marked International Women’s Day calls for these necessary strides forward, notably during a pandemic which has exposed huge inequalities, not to mention a huge variety of females in tech, science, media and on the front line who have steered us through the Covid crisis.
But whilst it’s easy to focus on the end goal, this journey to a more equal and powerful world for all starts from within and acquiring the skill of confidence, which is easier said than done if you’ve grown up in a world of being prejudiced against explicitly and faced unconscious bias, by others and even ourselves.
Here’s how I’ve done it and still do it when I have my lapses.
So firstly, let’s unapologetically recognise our own achievements and remind ourselves of them, even if it comes from sticking up certificates and jotting down our achievements where they are visible. Then begin to connect with women you admire who also respect you and support your core values. As you consume more content or spend time with these women who cheerlead one another, that’s where you can start to discover or even build communities who can campaign together to create this much needed change.
I too have pledged to be part of this change after surrounding myself with ‘cheerleaders,’ albeit virtually in Lockdown, who give each other strength to ‘show up’ through the highs and lows of running businesses and a home. One of those is fellow entrepreneur Amy Downes and we decided to launch our lockdown-made initiative Sparkle Up North Magazine this International Women’s Day to celebrate the stories of female run businesses in the north of England and to foster a community of like-minded women. And written in one of my last cards from a heroine in my life my Aunty Didi who passed away last week, which was sent during a challenging time in Lockdown One: “We all need you. Don’t let all the hard work you have achieved be blown away.” That’s your rallying cry too when you have another hurdle to strut over. Look how far we've come and how far we can go!
To get involved with our new magazine and initiative, go to: sparkleupnorth.com
and follow @sparkleupnorth or you can find me @thesparklecoach https://thesparklecoach.com