Andrew Mickel reports on how ITV Fixers has given young people with troubled backgrounds the chance to be heard
“I don’t remember exactly what age I was when my father started abusing me. It first happened in a caravan on some land that he owned. He began by asking me some questions about sex, curious to know how much I knew about it. He closed the door, and locked it, to make sure that no one would know, and the first incident occurred… one of many. Afterwards, confusion was the first thing I remember feeling. What the hell did he just do? Then, we went to the shops and he bought me fish and chips.”
Talking about painful memories is always difficult. Doing so publicly about something as taboo as sexual abuse is particularly brave. But Siobhan, an 18-year-old from Southampton, has gone even further and has chosen to waive her right to anonymity in order to help other young people in similar situations.
The quote above is from Siobhan’s website which eloquently details how her father’s abuse became a grim part of daily life, and how she eventually managed to tell the rest of her family.
Translating her decision to go public into a fully functioning website was not something Siobhan would have been able to do alone. That is where ITV Fixers – a project independent from the broadcaster – was able to help.
ITV Fixers provides the creative tools for young people to communicate an idea to an audience, and often documents what they are doing on local regional news bulletins thanks to a relationship with news teams in the Meridian, West and Westcountry ITV regions. The project aims to secure funding to roll out nationwide in the next few months.
Siobhan started working on the Second Chance website when she was 17, and couldn’t legally be identified. “When ITV Fixers came to my college and asked if we had any ideas, I asked for a private word and we agreed to set something up,” Siobhan says. As well as writing all the content for the site that ITV Fixers then built, she appeared anonymously on a local news bulletin to promote public awareness of child abuse.
Funded by the volunteering charity V, which encourages volunteering for young people aged 16 to 25, the project is run by the charity the Public Service Broadcasting Trust. Trust chief executive Margo Horsley says of Siobhan: “It was difficult to start with, but we tried to let her individuality come out. We’ve been building it up slowly because we didn’t just want to hand her over to the media. But she’s been amazing. Her confidence levels have gone up immensely since I met her, and she’s just blossoming.”
Since turning 18, Siobhan has waived her anonymity, and publicly spoken to a group of young people about abuse – although the site still doesn’t bear her name. “There were people at ITV Fixers who were worried,” she says. “But everything has been positive. E-mails have come in that are really positive.”
Staff from ITV Fixers typically work on a project alongside young volunteers for an average of four months, building websites, making videos and engaging other young people.
Horsley says that how the individual projects work is guided by the young people themselves, and the fixers just provide the skills to make their ideas happen.
The young volunteers then have to be able to show that they have done something with their end product. “The project’s about giving them a public profile,” Horsley says. “They can’t just make a music video; they have to show it to an audience and see if it’s changed people’s minds about something.”
The Second Chance website, meanwhile, has so far drawn more than 10,000 hits, and Siobhan has received more than 20 e-mails responding to its content.
She says that she wants to maintain her current media work for as long as possible to help other people deal with their histories so they can get on with their lives. She has also started studying for an international baccalaureate in order to move on with hers.
Jennii Booth, from Cornwall, was in the care system from the age of 10 to 16. Now 17, she contacted ITV Fixers after seeing a poster in her local Connexions centre.
“At first I just wanted to see what they did,” says Booth. “I knew I wanted to do something through music, but not what about.”
After a first meeting, she decided to rap about her time in the care system, aiming to write a “big shout out” for those in care.
“It’s about my experiences, looking back and thinking about things. It gives an insight into how things happen, but also the message is that you have to move on. You have to deal with things when they come.”
ITV Fixers helped to work the lyrics into a workable form, and then make the video, which has since been featured on ITV Westcountry News. Booth was also invited to perform it at an awards ceremony to celebrate the achievements of young people in care by Plymouth Council.
“Young people in foster care need to know that no matter what you do, choose the right path and you’ll do well,” she says.
Published in the 18 June 2009 Community Care under the heading ‘Making airwaves’