Archive for March 2013

Blogging to change the world

Len Grant (pictured below) writes about his blog, Life Without Papers, which won the online category at the first Speaking Together Media Award. This award was presented on International Women’s Day as part of the Migrant and Refugee Women of the Year Awards at the Royal Festival Hall with Samira Ahmed and Juliet Stevenson.

I had imagined ‘Ruth’ with me at the award ceremony, both of us on tenterhooks as the time came to announce the winner of our category.

But for her, an undocumented mother of four-year-old Dyanna, the trip down from Manchester would have been too much. Yes, we could have helped with childcare and taken care of her travel expenses, but she was worried how it might look at her part-time (and yet illegal) cleaning job from which she earns just £70 a week. A tenner of this pays her daughter’s school dinners because, of course, Ruth is not on benefits. She’s invisible, under the radar.

Ruth and Dyanna are the subjects of one of my stories on the Life Without Papers blog where I photograph and write about the lives of undocumented migrant families and young people.

I met Ruth through a small charity that supports asylum seekers. She agreed that I could tell her story and so, for the last six months, I’ve written regular updates about this resilient young woman. And she needs to be resilient: since we met I’ve helped her move ‘home’ twice and she’s about to move again, relying on her friends’ hospitality.

The blog is a commission from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Unbound Philanthropy, part of a wider project to investigate innovative ways of supporting children and young people with irregular immigration status.

Life Without Papers follows on from a successful 12-month blog project about a teenage mother from Manchester’s Moss Side. Throughout most of her turbulent childhood Francis was on the child protection register, but she’s determined her daughter Mia will have a different upbringing. Her First Year tells their story.

Unlike case studies or profiles, my blog style is immersive. I am part of the story. I am there on the bus, at the food bank, asking questions and taking pictures on behalf of the readers who wouldn’t have any idea of Ruth’s situation if they were to pass her in the street.

The reaction to Ruth’s story, and others like it, has been one of astonishment and anger. How dare we allow a young mum to risk imprisonment each time she goes off to work? How dare we regard ours a compassionate society when destitution is only a few streets away?

It’s just one story. For things to change we just need the right people to read it.

Speaking Together: the new award



Sophie Radice, Communications Executive of Women for Refugee Women, discusses setting up a new award for outstanding coverage of women and migration

On International Women’s Day, this Friday 8 March, we are launching the first ever ‘Speaking Together’ Media Award. This will be celebrated at the reception for the Migrant and Refugee Woman of the Year awards, which is part of the Women of the World festival.

There has been a lot of debate about why some of the media are negative towards asylum seekers and how negative coverage of migrants affects government policy. As a journalist myself I know that it can sometimes be difficult to cover these themes well, to tell stories that are engaging without being exploitative, and that appeal to editors as well as readers. But alongside that we know that there are many journalists in the UK who  are determined  and interested enough to cover these fascinating, challenging stories. Rather than look at the negatives, we wanted to celebrate the best of our media.

As the nominations came in for each category – print, online and broadcast – it was exciting to see how much had been filmed and written that more than met our criteria. We wanted to find work that showed that the journalist had made an effort to discover new facts and stories, had used first person accounts where possible and challenged myths and stereotypes rather than following them. One of the difficulties for us was that none of the media work that Women for Refugee Women had inspired could be eligible for the award! So we were sorry not to be able to recognize any of the marvelous journalists we worked with last year, from Anushka Asthana at the Times, to Eleanor Mills at the Sunday Times, to Jane Garvey at Woman’s Hour.

We chose judges who really understand the power of telling stories: Gillian Slovo, who is a novelist and playwright and president of English PEN, Hannah Pool, who wrote a memoir of her own family history and works as a freelance journalist, Julia Hobsbawm, who founded Editorial Intelligence, and Yasmeen Khan, who writes and broadcasts. They were faced by longlists which had a real  mix; some of them were hard-hitting stories which revealed the difficulties that women seeking asylum face and others were positive, even inspiring stories that showed what migrant women could achieve in the UK.

The judges took the longlists down to shortlists of three in each category. When we contacted the shortlisted journalists, we were struck by how many of them told us  how important these stories about refugee women had been for them and how glad they were that their work in this area had been recognised. The judges could easily have given more than one award in each category, and we are really looking forward to Friday 8 March, and to celebrating the outstanding work of all the nominated journalists. And we are already noticing some fantastic work – radio, print, television – which we know will be on the longlists for next year’s award.

Above all, we hope that when you look at these award shortlists you will feel, as we do, that you are enriched by hearing these stories that cross cultures and borders.