SuppHER is a Manchester-based supper club powered by women, which has been running events around the city for the past two years.
Founders Anna Søgaard, sous chef at Erst and Kim McBride, former sommelier at Erst and The Creameries and now support worker in the Social Care sector, wanted to create a platform for celebrating female talent in the hospitality industry, whilst also using their skills to raise money for charities supporting women.
We recently caught up with Anna and Kim to find out about creating spaces for women in hospitality, supporting communities and what people can expect from their upcoming International Women’s Day event.
What inspired you to create SuppHER?
A: When Kim and I met while working at Erst, we would often speak about issues affecting women in our community. Eventually we decided to throw a charity dinner to support Trafford rape crisis which is where Kim was volunteering at the time. We wanted to use our skills to bring people together over food and wine and shed light on the issues we cared about while trying to make a difference in any way we could. Later on, SuppHER grew into the collaborative events that they are now that allows us to showcase the many female talents in hospitality.
You donate your profits to a number of women’s charities, can you tell us a bit about the charities that you’re raising funds for?
K: We donate predominantly to small, local women’s charities. When we started SuppHER I was volunteering for Trafford Rape Crisis and just wanted to tell the world about the amazing work that they do, that’s why TRC were the first charity that we donated to. Since then, we have raised money for MASH, who support sex workers in Manchester with provisions, counselling, a needle exchange and so much more. We have donated to Women for Women International who support female survivors of war to rebuild their lives; HostNation UK who are a refugee-befriending charity and our IWD event will raise money for Manchester Women’s Aid who support victims of Domestic Abuse.
One of the main goals of SuppHER is to create a space for women, who are the some of the women you would like to platform?
A: After the first couple of supper clubs we hosted, we had a huge outpour of women contacting us asking if they could get involved. I think that says everything about the women in our industry. They all wanted an opportunity to support not only the women struggling in our community, but also each other. We were so overwhelmed by it and that’s when SuppHER became collaborative dinners. It’s amazing getting to show people how much female talent our industry has. Women in general are so often overlooked and don’t get the same exposure that men do in hospitality.
Can you tell us about the supper clubs you have hosted to date?
K: SuppHER started out as just me and Anna serving 15 guests at Trove but it instantly grew when women in hospitality offered to help out. The wonderful Maya from Breadflower and incredibly talented Jane Walton volunteered at our second event and then women wanted to collaborate with us from Where The Light Gets In, The Creameries, Flawd, Erst and so many other fabulous restaurants and bars in Manchester. As SuppHER has grown we have managed to maintain the initial ethos; we bring talented women together to create a space where they can shine, whilst raising money and awareness for issues affecting women.
What can people expect from your upcoming International Women’s Day supper club?
A: This will be our first all day event. We’ll be hosting a series of hour long workshops with some of our favourite local creatives. Then in the evening we will be serving a four-course dinner with wine pairings. We’ve put together an incredible line up of chefs in Manchester doing amazing things. They’ll each be doing a course. I’m extremely excited for this menu. Anna Carmichael, Zara Hussain, Caroline Martins and I have put a lot of thought into how we can make this one extra special. And Kim has put together a wine list along with two other talented women in wine, Meg Williams and Emily-Rose Lucas. Well be showcasing some very exciting wines made by some pretty impressive women. All of our profits for this event will go to women’s aid.
Can you tell us about the workshops at your supper clubs as well?
K: At our event for International Women’s Day, we have an afternoon of workshops planned by some of our favourite female creatives in Manchester at the minute. At 11am Hannah Elizabeth Flowers is hosting a wreath making workshop using gorgeous dried flowers, at 1pm Kat Wood is hosting a printing with plants cyanotype workshop, at 2.30pm Meg Beamish is teaching a group to make their own plant pots and at 4.30pm Jo Payne from Platt Fields Market Garden is going to teach her group to save tomato seeds, sow them and grow them.
Hospitality is often presented as a male-dominated industry, but there are many talented women within it, do you think supper clubs such as SuppHer have the power to reset the balance?
A: Our hope is that SuppHER and other women-led projects like this will have an impact on the imbalance in power in our industry. We would love for it to have a ripple effect and that exposure will lead to more women in senior roles in food and wine. Until we have more women leading kitchens and restaurants, the industry continues to be a place of inequality that is built from the male view point which simply isn’t sustainable.
What can we expect next from SuppHER?
Honestly, who knows?! We have more exciting supper clubs in the planning for later in the year and we sell wines for local delivery through our website. We both really just want to keep on supporting women and perhaps we will start taking SuppHER outside of Manchester soon too.
I still don’t really think of myself as a carer. I’m not sure whether that’s because sometimes it doesn’t feel like I ‘do’ enough, or because my brain hasn’t really bought into the idea we’ve been sold of carers being someone different from us. It’s taken me a long time to process all of this and get to the point of setting up The Caring Collective.
My mum first became ill in 2017, and since then we’ve dealt with the lowest lows depression and anxiety have to offer. When my mum first became ill, I was 25, and had some big plans on the horizon, which I delayed until mum was back on her feet. Sitting down now to unearth some of those ideas again after five years, I’m struck by how much of a journey I’ve been on. A mostly painful one if I’m honest, but one that’s really made me think a lot about where we stand as carers and how I’d like to contribute to changing that.
The first time I really stopped to think about it and admit I might need some help to manage everything that was happening, I remember picking up my phone at 2am, sleeping in my childhood bedroom, and feeling slightly humiliated as I typed into Google ‘caring in your 20s’. I felt even worse when I saw that the first two pages of results were variations on how to find the right skincare routine, and how to take care of my ‘youthful figure’, and quickly diverted to Instagram to remind myself what I should be doing instead. It didn’t matter that I was exhausted, lost and terrified — I got the memo that these weren’t things I should be thinking about right now.
Being a ‘young adult carer’ (a term so bland I despair) is hard enough when you’re battling the narrative of ‘do it while you’re young’ and ‘make the most of this time to yourself’, without the extra guilt of trying to figure out whether you should even be talking about this stuff at all. Was there any wonder that in the five years I’ve been looking after mum, I’ve only met a handful of people in a similar situation. If 1 in 4 of us have a mental health illness in our lifetime, how come we haven’t heard from any of the people supporting them?
As I grew slightly more confident in recognising what my role in our situation really was (not just a good daughter, thanks guys), I then stumbled into the second barrier that carers, and especially those who are younger, encounter all the time. My identity was tied to another person, and in accepting I was a carer, I had to accept that my experience of this situation was deeply rooted in someone else’s reality. In reaching out for support and saying ‘hey, this is difficult’, was I undermining my mum’s own struggle, and even worse, was I betraying her trust by speaking up and asking for help?
One of the big things I wanted to deal with when I started writing about our experiences — my experiences — of what happened to mum was starting the messy task of separating what was happening to me, from what was happening to her. It felt impossible to try at first, and the self censoring was so real it had me reading back old diaries going ‘but, it probably wasn’t as bad I made out, maybe I was just being dramatic’, lest I accept that sometimes doing an inherently good thing, motivated by love, can feel totally, utterly hideous.
In the end, that was the realisation that made me believe there is a place for something like The Caring Collective.
It’s not a place where I claim to have all the answers (or in fact any on some things) but it is a place where the mixed middle of being a carer is brought out of the shadows. These are complicated feelings, never ever made any easier by a vow of silence we’re expected to take for fear we might say something that doesn’t fit with what we’re told: caring for someone you love is the easiest thing in the world, they’re the only thing that matters, and ‘you shouldn’t be worrying about something like that at your age’. It took me too long to realise that there are no rules with this stuff, it’s messy — but hearing so can be hugely helpful.
When I think about the power that something like The Caring Collective could have for liberating us all from the idea that you can’t talk about things like this, I feel incredibly hopeful — and for someone with experience of managing complex mental health issues — that is no small thing.
It’s likely that I will be caring for my mum in some capacity for a very long time, if we’re lucky. I don’t want that side of my life and everything I’ve learnt to be condemned to the pile of ‘not relevant’ just because it might not fit with what we’ve come to expect. Instead, I want everyone who sees themselves in some of what I describe to know it’s ok to want to share it. It’s ok to take up that space, and I’d actually really love it if you came and joined me.
Kate Oliver is a writer and charity professional, originally from Rotherham in South Yorkshire. Despite migrating south, she still spends a lot of time in the North supporting her mum, who is her inspiration for setting up ‘The Caring Collective’ and sharing her experiences of being a carer. When Kate isn’t in transit, she spends as much time as she can in cold water (but draws the line at the River Don).
This week we talk to Manchester-based creatives Laura Frances Heitzman and Foxanne about navigating freelance life, female friendships and working in North.
Lovely to speak with you both, can you tell us a bit about yourselves, what you do and how did you meet?
L: I’m from Manchester, I’m a freelance illustrator, mural artist and designer. I currently work from home, but I’m hoping to get into a really cool studio sometime soon.
F: I’m also from Manchester, I’m an artist, illustrator, designer, just an all round creative gal. I always find it weird to introduce myself, if its creative, I’ll give it a go! I currently work from a studio and my little doggo studio assistant, Luna, comes with me.
L: We met online through Instagram. We slid into each others DM’s!
F: A few weeks after meeting on Instagram, we realised we both lived down the road from each other, such a small world!
The podcast sounds like a great idea, how did you come to the decision to make one?
L: Well, we realised we had so much to talk about. We were always talking in depth about the creative industry as we are both freelance designers, problems we’ve faced and great things that have happened to us. We also had loads in common and talked a lot about our lives and realised we were having a LOT of deep chats, so we thought why not have these conversations on a podcast.
F: We wanted to try something new together and we feel like we could help people who are just starting out in the industry. We’re both very open, sometimes too open haha! With being very present on social media, I’ve gotten used to speaking to an audience on my Instagram stories, but I felt like we had a lot to say so long-form content felt like the next step. I’d wanted to start a podcast for a few years now but after a deep FaceTime chat with Laura we both thought it would be nice to do it together.
What would you like listeners to get out of the podcast?
F: When I’m in the studio by myself I stick podcasts on so I feel like I’m not by myself. Working for yourself can be quite lonely. I find educational podcasts super helpful, but sometimes it can be very info heavy, I struggle with my attention, I can’t casually listen to informational podcasts, I have to actively listen to them. But I wanted to create something that is Laura and I waffling about our lives and our careers with little educational tips that people can subconsciously take in.
L: For me, podcasts help me to feel less alone whilst I’m working at home by myself because being self employed can be really lonely. It would be really lovely to know that we could be that for other people in the same situation. We want to be as honest as possible, and for people to know that they will get full transparency when they listen to the podcast so it can be comforting to know that it isn’t all rosey and we have ups and downs too.
What have been some of the positives and drawbacks of making a podcast?
L: For me, I feel like the biggest drawback is the time it takes to plan, produce and edit etc. Its very time consuming but it’s definitely going to be worth it for sure. I’d say the most positive thing is being able to connect with so many people. We’ve already connected with lots of creatives and business owners, and that list is only going to grow, especially when we get more guests on board.
F: Following on from Laura, the content creation and the planning is very time consuming as we produce, film, plan edit, schedule everything ourselves. Me and Laura are chatting everyday on voice notes about our lives or the podcast. Because we spend so much time together now I really think it has helped our friendship blossom. Crazy to think we only met each other in real life less than a year ago! The positives are definitely meeting so many people through it. The community we are already building through our podcast honestly makes the long nights and frantic FaceTime calls worth it. I couldn’t of chosen a better friend to go on this journey with.
What individual perspectives do you bring to the podcast?
L: We both have different design backgrounds. I studied fashion design at university whereas Foxanne studied contemporary art. I worked in the industry as a designer working for a supplier for two years before going freelance, and Foxanne went straight into freelancing so its great we have those different experiences.
F: Laura creates sassy illustrations of powerful women in fashion, which she then sells products in her shop, whereas I focus more on typography and funky random illustrations and I work with a lot of businesses on their branding, product design, surface pattern design etc. With us both coming from different starting points, Laura with her fashion and me with my painting and contemporary art I think we both give different perspectives. I’ve never worked ‘in industry’ so I find myself invalidating my skill which we’ve found a lot of freelance artists who have never worked in industry feel the same way too. It’s great to have us both share our own views on things.
Outside of that, what are you both currently working on?
L: I’m working on some new products for my shop. I’m also booking in for lots of markets around Manchester too, I want to make sure I have at least one booked every weekend because I love meeting customers and other small business owners, its great to get that social element to the job. I’m working on some t-shirt designs with a new brand that’s soon-to-launch in the next couple of months, I cant wait to share what we’ve been working on soon. I also have a potential mural design in a bakery which is really exciting.
F: I’ve recently shut my online shop after two years to focus on client work. So scary yet so exciting. I’m currently working on my rebrand for my business and I’ve got a few branding projects for clients on the go plus repeat pattern designs for some international clients. I’m also trying to learn how to create art for me again, a big switch up in styles is happening. Its all go go go in the world of Foxanne at the mo!
Both Manchester-based, what are some of your favourite things about the city?
L: Where do I start! I just love it here. It’s a very friendly city, I’d say. Most northern cities are I think. There’s a very arty vibe in Manchester which I love, the street art is incredible. There are loads of really cool independent businesses here. The Northern Quarter is my favourite, there’s so many cool bars, restaurants, coffee shops, vintage shops and boutiques there. I just love it, its amazing.
F: I don’t think I could ever move out of Manchester, when I have days out in different cities by the end of the day I just want to get back here. I love the people, omg the people are so nice! I think Laura has summed it up nicely, there’s something for everyone. There’s so many people from all sorts of walks of life and we all have lobby chats over a nice cold pint of craft beer.
Laura, you recently created illustrated calendar depicting a range of women in different parts of the city, do you find Manchester an inspiring place, creatively speaking?
L: Yes, I feel like every time I walk around town I feel inspired. Like I said earlier, there’s so much street art and there’s so many fabulous people wearing fabulous clothes too, everyone is encouraged to be an individual here. I love the architecture too, which is why I really enjoyed creating the illustrations for the calendar.
How about you Foxanne?
F: Manchester forever inspires me. Manchester celebrates art like no other city (imo). Nothing ever stays the same, I’ve lived here all my life but each time I go into town I always see something new.
Where do you think are some of the best creative places to hang out or work in Manchester?
F: Kiera and Aimie who founded the Feel Good club are amazing. I used to go to the Freelance Fridays they used to host when they had less than 10k followers. What they have built is amazing and if you are in Manchester do go and visit! Everywhere in Manchester is so inclusive and so calming, I suffer with social anxiety but whenever I go anywhere in Manchester I feel like people get it? Myself and Laura have our face-to-face meetings in Sale Foodhall, they always have cool independent food places and they allow doggos. So my little Rescue staffy luna comes along.
What’s next for you both?
L: We actually just released a podcast episode about our goals for 2022. Personally, I want to focus on growing my mural and window art portfolio this year, along with growing my shop and working on a consistent income for myself so I have more stability.
F: I’m really manifesting big things for 2022. This is a big goal of ours but we would love to do a live show of one of our podcasts and have a panel of guests on. How cool would that be????!! Personally, I plan to work with some big brands and add those to my portfolio, I would love to go back to my routes of painting and do some murals, but 2022 is going to be about making money, making friends and building a community we can be proud of.
You can listen, like and subscribe to Laura and Roxanne’s podcast here, and check out their work here and here.
This week we talk to Kohenoor Kamal, a designer and illustrator from the North West on the highs and lows of freelancing, what sparks creativity and her favourite spots for inspiration across the North.
Can I start by asking you a little about yourself, where are you from and what do you do?
Hey Jenna! I’m an illustrator and designer based in the North West of England. I have been freelancing for a few years now and enjoy making bright, colourful works, which are influenced by my passion for colour, texture and detail.
I grew up in a Bangladeshi household surrounded by delicious Bengali food as well as the beautiful culture that comes with it. I think a lot of this has had huge influence on my work, from the intricate and detailed clothes my family wear to the food that my dad (a chef) cooks.
Growing up with a traditional Asian background as a first generation Bengali meant that I grew up with a lot of pressure and expectation of what kind of career I should have been looking at. The kind of person that I am always wanted to reject these expectations and pursue my own path of working in the creative industry.
I had many battles with my family about them supporting me on this journey and I think they found it quite difficult to accept that I wanted to pursue this venture as they are from a working class background and their main focus was to make ends meet. I think since then I have been very fortunate that they have been able to witness my passion for creating art and the work that I have been able to get off the back of this, which I am grateful for.
When did you decide that you wanted to be a designer and illustrator?
I have always been a creative person, but it was only when I went to university that I felt like I could use that creativity and work within the creative field. The good thing about the university that I went to was that I was able to explore different specialisms outside of design, some of those things included animation, illustration, photography and art direction.
At university I felt like I had the tools and knowledge on how I could pursue working as a designer and illustrator. Even though I had trained and studied within the realm of graphic design, I always had an interest in subjects outside of this, especially illustration. I would go on to embedding this into projects using my knowledge of design principles and experimenting with how I could play around with this hybrid of specialisms and use creative problem solving to answer briefs and produce artwork.
My course emphasised the integration of the contextual nature behind projects and this framework helped form the decisions behind my work, such as thinking about how I can make a meaningful impact with a design with the consideration of aesthetics too. In the past, I would make pieces of work that were visually appealing, but I think this extra consideration has helped me make more meaningful pieces of work.
How did you go about getting into the creative industries?
I think the key thing for me was integrating myself into the creative scene, particularly going to events (even virtual ones) and talking to different people. I used to find this nerve wracking, so to help me get out of my comfort zone I asked a friend if they would want to attend events with me to make things a little less anxiety inducing.
Social media has played a huge part in where I am now and the kind of work that I have been able to get. Whether that’s posting new work on Instagram or connecting with different pages that promote people’s work or creative resources where I have shared my own personal experiences on how I got into the industry.
How would you define your design style?
My design style is a combination of things , I like to embed texture into my work wherever I can as well as using bright and engaging colours. I have also incorporated illustrative features into my work to resonate with my differing creative qualities that I enjoy working on and combining all of these lovely things.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
At the moment, I’m working on a number of projects whilst I have the availability. Last year, I was juggling a number of projects, which was really exciting but also quite time consuming so I am now focusing on developing and experimenting with illustrations of food, portraits and animation.
I have a project that I did early on in the year with Root-ED and I was able to exhibit some of these food illustrations. Here, I illustrated an array of key ingredients featured in recipes which people had contributed to them. After doing this project I played around with more of this in my spare time, such as illustrating a recipe card of my own, which includes the ingredients to a special recipe of mine which my parents had taught me.
Animation has also been something that I have been playing around more with since working with Leeds Inspired to help them produce Call to Action artwork for their grants and website. There is something very fun about working out the logistics behind simple graphics and figuring out how to make something move fluidly.
What have been some of the career high and lows so far?
I am proud of the fact that I have been able to establish a career in an industry which can be quite cut throat especially having had obstacles in my way and out of my control, such as finishing my degree throughout the first lockdown and graduating into a pandemic, which left me and many of my peers with so much anxiety and uncertainty about whether we would be able to pursue this.
I’ve also been able to transition from one industry to another as well as be able to go back and forth between the two. With illustration and design, for a good amount of time I didn’t think I’d be able to pursue any illustration-based work but I think this was more about my lack of self-esteem. With time I’ve started trusting my process and seeing the engagement that I’ve received has proved that I can do both.
Something that I didn’t expect from working as a freelancer, is how much work can fluctuate from one extreme to another and managing my own expectations and setting boundaries. It can make me quite anxious when there are periods where it’s very quiet because it feels as though I won’t pick up any more work, but something that I’ve learnt is to look at this in a more positive light and utilise this time by working on more personal projects and refining my skills.
Also, I didn’t expect how reliant I would be on social media for getting new clients and also putting myself out there. It can be a double edged sword using social media as a freelancer and in your spare time, as well as the blurred lines between being on Instagram all the time and checking how much engagement you might get on a post or stories. I think it can become quite consuming when you fall into that state and I know that many people, myself included, still feel this way. But, I’m still thankful for having access to things like Instagram and Twitter where, even though I don’t have that many followers, I’ve been able to find so many more creative friends who are dotted all over the place.
I think another aspect I’m really quite proud of is the fact that I’ve been able to transition from one creative industry to another as although I studied a graphic design union, I actually wanted to study illustration but I wasn’t able to get onto this course at my university so I made use of what things I could learn on my course and then carried this through to what I was actually passionate about and I ended up creating this sort of hybrid of illustration work, which has subtle tones of design principles behind it and I think that’s what makes my work stand out. I’ve always found it tough to pinpoint myself because I have this multidisciplinary practice, which is inspired by so many different creative fields and it’s hard to say oh yes I’m this one particular thing but I think that’s just the nature of creativity.
What inspires you as a designer?
I feel like at the moment I am fluctuating between lots of different things I would love to work on or people I would like to work with. I have always admired the work of Studio Moross and I have been following the work of Aries Moross since I was in college. I love their use of experimental components using colour and texture. As well as this I love the work of Sha’an d’Anthes. The friends that I have made over the course of this journey have also played a large part into what I’m inspired by as the work they do motivates me to see the kinds of things that they are getting up to.
What would be your ideal project to work on?
My ideal project at the moment would be to work with more musicians. Whether that’s in the capacity of producing albums or single artwork or being able to work on print-based ephemera, as I have always had a passion for tactile things such as screen printing and making things with my hands. I think something that I’ve found since making the transition to making more work digitally, using programs such as Procreate, is that I don’t use many handmade processes anymore but this used to be something that was the key focus behind my work.
Could you tell us a bit more about the poster you created for In Good Company Leeds’ poster campaign?
Being able to work with Laura Wellington, my good friend George Brown and Kate Phipps on producing this poster design, as well as being able to see it large-scale plastered all over the UK to celebrate key workers — this poster design was probably one of the most exciting projects that I worked on last year.
I wanted to highlight some of these key workers and I illustrated a few people from mine and George’s family who are key workers. For example, I included a small illustration of my mum into this project and as a nod to many key workers who have worked really hard throughout the pandemic. In the design I wanted to portray a sense of empowerment and feeling proud that these people have worked really hard, and all sorts of colours are used to make it eye-catching so it could be visible in a variety of environments. I’ve actually had nurses, paramedics and teachers get in touch saying thank you for being part of the design.
At the time, George and I had just graduated from the same course and while both of us are very passionate about the work that we do, we were finding it hard to land design roles and jobs because of the uncertainty during the pandemic, so we were really grateful to have this opportunity to work with Laura and to make this poster design because it’s not often you get to go straight from university to having your work displayed on a mass scale, whilst also raising money for a good cause.
How has the North shaped you both personally and professionally?
I think the people have definitely had a huge influence over who I am today. I have met so many wonderful creative people in all kinds of industries and being able to learn about different people’s perspectives has only helped me become more open minded as a person as well being there to push me when I’ve needed it to pursue a project that I’ve wanted to do and put off.
As well as this, going to university in Leeds where there is an amazing network of creative people as well as the city in itself. I regularly go to exhibitions and meet up with creatives who are based there. Leeds has been the apex for a lot of things for me and I consider it a second home for me just as it has allowed me to find the confidence I needed to push the boundaries of what I could make and beyond.
Where are some of your favourite places in the North?
There’s too many to count but some of my favourite things to do in the North include popping into local independents to do some work and also catching some downtime with friends. Some of my favourite restaurants in the North can include Bundobust, Cafe 164 and Rudy’s Pizza as well as galleries such as The Whitworth and Yorkshire Sculpture Park, where I go to get inspiration for new work.
What do you like to do outside of work?
This is a tough one as a lot of the things I love doing surround creativity in some form or another. I think my favourite thing is to go exploring or to see friends. Working as a freelancer, I find that often I’m either swamped with work or I have much quieter periods, so I like to use the most of my time to catch up with friends and go to galleries, cinemas and restaurants. I also enjoy cooking when I can. I grew up with Bengali food with my dad being a chef and I think that’s where I get my love for food from, I find it the most soothing thing to do when I feel stressed.
This week, we speak to Kelly Bishop, Musician and Editor at Confidentials about growing up in the North, the women who have inspired her and her favourite places to eat in Manchester.
Could I start by asking you a little bit about yourself, where are you from and what do you do?
I was born in Lancashire but have lived in Manchester now for nearly 24 years. I’ve tried to leave many times, but it lures me back like a siren every time. It’s truly an addictive city. I’m Executive Editor at Confidentials which is a fun, irreverent, hyper-local lifestyle website covering mainly food and drink but also news, property, events, arts and anything else relevant and interesting in the local area. We have individual sites for Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds. We are also just about to launch Confidential Guides which is a curated and super helpful restaurant directory that will eventually cover the whole of the North West.
I’m also an indie musician and have played in bands for about 25 years. I sing, write songs and play bass and guitar and rudimentary piano. My current band is a fuzzy, 90s alt influences power trio called The Empty Page. You can find us on Spotify.
What are your memories of growing up in the North?
Sitting in the back of my parent’s car driving down to Blackpool in the rain to see the illuminations – all the more dazzling through a drizzle-flecked windscreen at night. Walking, ruddy cheeked in the rolling, cut grass and manure scented Lancashire countryside with my dad and the dog.
My first visit to Manchester with my mum and being absolutely mind blown by Affleck’s Palace and The Corn Exchange, resulting in a lifelong love of incense, rosewood oil and tie dye.
Hanging out with punks on the monument that used to be on Market Street. Record shopping for hours on end at X Records, Bolton. Many breathless train rides after legging it to catch the train from platform 14 at Piccadilly. Playing some of my sweaty palmed first gigs at The Roadhouse and The Met in Bury and spending half my life in a musty scented rehearsal room plastered with posters of Bob Marley and cult films on an industrial estate in Radcliffe. Almost fainting as I lost my shit about seeing the firebrand Courtney Love in her torn nighty and smeared lipstick with her band Hole (and many other bands) live at Manchester Academy when it was quite a bit smaller. I could go on.
Which women have inspired you as a writer and a musician?
The aforementioned Courtney Love whose intelligence, confidence and massive talent left an indelible impression for life. Kate Bush when I was tiny, listening to my dad’s copy of Hounds of Love and yodelling along. Whitney Houston who taught me to belt my heart out via much hairbrush/mirror practise. Patti Smith whose poetry gives me shivers and whose androgynous cool empowers me. The holy trinity of the 90s: PJ Harvey, Bjork and Tori Amos for their absolute commitment to being their authentic selves. Skin from Skunk Anansie for reinventing what a rock frontperson could be and bringing ballsy political fire into the Dawson’s Creek schmaltz of the decade.
I was also a big fan of Sylvia Plath, Poppy Z Brite, Elizabeth Wurtzel and Margaret Atwood growing up. Later on, discovering Charlotte Perkins Gilman whose book The Yellow Wallpaper massively inspired me lyrically. As far as food writers go, I love Marina O Loughlin’s scathing and sarcastic Scottish tones and who doesn’t adore Nigella?
Do you see yourself as a creative individual?
Yes. I don’t like being too tunnel visioned and most of my life I have had at least two jobs at once for variety and flexibility around my music life. I like to escape as often as possible; few feelings are better than being in a van or on a train heading somewhere, anywhere. That gets the cogs turning. I often write on trains. I was a creative kid that spent a lot of time alone, reading and making up songs. For a long time, I didn’t have the opportunity to utilise my creativity at work, but I definitely do now. Looking after four websites and a large team of writers as well as writing myself as much as possible keeps me busy and allows me to push myself creatively. I try and write non-work stuff at least weekly if not daily too. I think it’s a good habit to be in. Creativity is a really transferable skill in the workplace and should not be underestimated.
How did you first get into journalism?
It wasn’t so much journalism that interested me, more creative writing. What I do now I guess is a light form of journalism but there’s not as much pressure as if I worked for a newspaper and I have a lot more freedom of expression. I had a pretty sketchy CV – because I mainly focused on my music for my 20s and early 30s – but I knew I had writing and creative skills so I started doing a bit of freelance copywriting to show my ability. I actually wormed my way into the place I work now by taking on a minimum wage Xmas internship calling up restaurants to ask about their upcoming January deals. I was in my 30s and working as an EFL teacher at the time. I didn’t enjoy the call-centre type role at all but I slowly got to know the team and kept pestering the then editor to let me do some writing. It’s funny because in my interview I remember him saying, you never know, you might be editor one day. And I laughed, thinking, I’ll be lucky if they even publish any of my writing. Well, the rest is history.
Did you ever have a mentor or someone to help you get into this field of work?
I didn’t have a journalistic or writing mentor, but I had a few friends that were much more experienced than me in getting “proper jobs”. My friends Sam and Issy taught me how to make my CV pop and how to fill in the gaps in experience or skills by doing some courses or getting a bit of work experience. They taught me that all my transferable skills from doing band stuff for years were really valuable in the workplace. They were basically amazing cheerleaders and helped boost my confidence at a time when I wasn’t feeling too great actually. The best kind of female friends. After that I suppose it was all me pushing to prove myself to myself as much as anyone.
As Executive Editor of Manchester Confidential, what does a typical workday look like?
Days vary quite a lot, but I usually start work before I get to the office, checking a few emails and Trello and doing some social media posts. At the office, I check in with my core writers and freelancers to see what they are working on and where they are up to, giving them whatever support they need.
If I have time, I try and do as much writing as possible myself too because I love it. Daily tasks can include brainstorming ideas, editing and subbing writers’ work and giving constructive feedback, making calls about which of the many, many stories that come to our inbox should be covered that week and which ones should be prioritised. Keeping an eye on Google Analytics and other stats. Social media. Lots of meetings. Editing and resizing photos. Several times a week there are restaurant or bar launches to attend – sometimes on the hoof – and we try to get out and about as much as possible to see what’s happening in the city. My team and I also spend time interviewing people that are doing exciting things in the North. Another big part of the job is restaurant reviews which we all do once or twice a month. It’s a pretty varied role to say the least.
What do enjoy most about working in journalism?
I just really love writing, so wherever I get to flex my creative muscles on that front I am happy. I’m also hugely passionate about food and wine (I am Level 3 WSET qualified) so I consider myself ridiculously lucky that a large part of my job involves eating everything from burgers to Michelin tasting menus and drinking everything from coffee to cocktails.
The hard part of being a critic is that people react really emotionally sometimes in response to reviews and all of our writers have had personal attacks on social media whenever they have published a particularly critical restaurant review which can be hard to process sometimes. But it’s really important to us to be honest when we review a restaurant. We pay our bill, don’t announce that we will be coming and have an experience like any random customer would have. Sometimes, that’s unfortunately not a good one and our readers trust us to give them the truthful lowdown. In a world of endless PR gush, I’m proud that we tell it how it is and that we have high standards of writing that make everything we write entertaining in some way too.
What are you most excited about doing in your new role as Executive Editor?
I’ve been in this role for four months now so not much is going to change but I am excited that the pandemic is starting to seem like it could be in the rear-view mirror soon. So much of our job is social, it’s been tough not having that side of it for 18 months or so. I’m excited to be able to move around the country a bit more, get over to Leeds and Liverpool more, things like that. What also excites me is finding new, talented writers. I’m always on the lookout for more of those and I love mentoring them to be the absolute best they can be.
Who will you be working with?
A lot of people think Manchester Confidential is a load of dusty old blokes because we have been around for almost 20 years now as a publication and our published Mark Gordo Garner has, shall we say, a strong personality.
Actually, my current team is largely female. Aside from me, there’s Vicky Andrews who is our Liverpool Editor. Vicky had freelanced for us for several years but when we decided to take on a full time Liverpool editor this year, she was my first choice. I was so pleased she accepted the role and she is absolutely smashing it.
We also have Sophie Rahnema who was brought in to be the editor of our new Confidential Guides site. She looks after that and also contributes to Manchester Confidential as a restaurant reviewer and feature writer. Sophie is a presenter on our video reels too. She’s doing a cracking job too in such a varied role, nothing is too much trouble for her. A real can-do gal.
Lucy Tomlinson is our News Editor and one of the smartest, sharpest women I know, she manages to balance motherhood (she has two kids under five) with eyeballing Andy Burnham, reporting on societal issues and waxing lyrical about baked goods – we’re so food focused that everyone has to write about food too. Lucy has been a restaurant reviewer for Confidentials for many years and her reviews always make me laugh, without fail. Our office in general is full of big, varied, diverse personalities. We have a lot of fun.
How do you balance your work as an editor alongside being a member of The Empty Page?
To be honest, I haven’t been able to tour since the pandemic started so it’s hard to say how difficult that balance will be now I have more responsibility at work. I’ve always managed by using my holiday allowance to go on tour or play one off shows so not much is likely to change on that front. I’ll just probably be checking emails in the van a bit more than I used to. My employer is really supportive. I’ve been in the recording studio for the past few weekends which has been a massive tonic after a year of not much music action but I do tend to burn the candle at both ends so my main focus is to stay healthy and not completely wear myself out.
When you’re not working, where can we find you?
At home in my city centre apartment watching John Waters films with my two cats and long-suffering partner. Watching live bands at one of the many cool music venues in Manchester or further afield. Rehearsing or playing live with my own band. Doing a bit of yoga, weights or cardio down the gym. Cooking far too much food on a Sunday afternoon. Having breakfast with my mates whenever we can synchronise diaries. And hopefully travelling the world again when it’s allowed.
In your opinion, where are some of the best places to eat and drink in Manchester?
THAT is a really difficult question because I could list 50 or so easily and because new places are opening every week. I’m a massive fan of Erst’s inventive, perfectly executed small plates, I love Indian food so cafe Marhaba for a fresh naan and old school rice and three or Mughli, Asha’s or Bundobust for something more modern, The Creameries for comfort food and great wine, Tast Enxaneta for a special occasion, Siam Smiles for face melting Thai food, Ca Phe Viet or Pho Cue for restorative broths. But this really is just scratching the surface. There is a preposterous amount of good food here.
If you could tell your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
You never have to get a normal hairstyle or start wearing grey suits to get a good job – do things on your own terms. Stop dropping out of college, your brain is a great asset and studying is fun if you pick the right subjects. Travel, read, make music, dream and don’t worry about being ‘grown up’, it’s overrated.
Interview: Jenna Campbell Band images: Debbie Ellis/A Supreme Shot
Since its launch in October 2020, Northern Writers Studio — a resource bringing writers together through workshops, groups, networking and events — has reached hundreds of established and emerging writers based in the North of England.
The writing platform and support network was created by Sarah Davy, a writer, maker and facilitator living in rural Northumberland, who was driven by a desire to help those who felt left out or disconnected from the writing and publishing world due to physical location or background.
We recently spoke with Sarah about how she came to establish Northern Writers Studio, her goal to grow a community of writers who can offer workshops, advice and mentoring to others and why its important to provide supportive spaces for people at all stages of their career.
How did you first get into writing and publishing?
Writing is something I’ve always done, but never taken seriously. I got my Literature degree with the Open University while working full-time and took a creative writing block. Everything fell into place and I started slowly sending work out. I won my first writing competition in 2018 and have been working towards being a writer since then.
What support did you have when carving out your own career path?
It worked like stepping stones, one thing leading to another then another. So after I won the writing competition, Susie from Hexham Book Festival asked me to lead a workshop at the festival. This boosted my belief in myself which then led to me building links with Helen at Forum Books. When she asked me to be writer in residence it was like I’d been given permission to take myself and my writing seriously. Building an online community alongside this, mainly on Twitter, has been so valuable is finding like-minded people and opportunities.
Why did you create Northern Writers Studio?
When the pandemic hit, I had a busy year of workshops and writing gigs planned, but they were all cancelled. I wanted to find a way to keep working and to bring people together. Writing can be a solitary task, but I don’t think you have to do it alone. People still needed to feed their creativity and be able to bounce off other writers. It just felt like the right thing to do especially with the future being so uncertain. And as well as helping everyone who has joined in, it’s given me a purpose and a new focus.
What does Northern Writers Studio provide in terms of support and events for those working in publishing in the North?
The Studio works with writers of all abilities and the main focus is getting people together to create a sense of support and community. I run Zoom writing sessions, regular writing groups and spoken word evenings where people can share their work. I also wanted to create paid work for writers, so I engage Northern writers to lead workshops on all aspects of creative writing. There are also regular discussions where I learn what people need so I can develop new events and resources to help people find the right support and place for their work.
What has the response been like so far?
It’s been really lovely, participants are a mix of brand new, emerging and published writers. There have been some lovely events; a poetry collection launch for Caroline Hardaker where Chris Riddell live illustrated; a spoken word fundraiser for East End Women; inspiring and often emotional workshops; and an overall growing sense of community and mutual support. Since launching in October 2020 over 200 writers have taken part in the events programme. And not just from the North. Although everything is led by Northern writers, people take part from across the country and the world, which is the joy of being online!
Do you think there is a discord between publishing in the South and the North?
Yes! Publishing is very London-centric, and this is a barrier to people who want to work in the industry and to Northern writers who feel like opportunities and connections are not open to them. It’s also about class as well as geography, and there are some deeply entrenched behaviours and expectations that need to change. The gatekeepers of the publishing industry don’t represent the voices who need to be heard.
In your opinion, what can be done to make the publishing industry more equal and inclusive?
There’s already brilliant work being done by New Writing North, the Northern Fiction Alliance and a host of indie publishers. Some big publishers are opening regional offices, but this just isn’t enough. A huge shift in the way we work and who we work with is needed. There’s a great report here by Professor Katy Shaw, which talks about the need to decentralise publishing and to include diverse voices from across the North and the entire country. I do think we’re leading the way in the North and hope that we can keep up the momentum and make meaningful, long-term change.
Who are some of your favourite authors from the North?
There have been some brilliant debuts in the last couple of years, my favourite is Saltwater by Jessica Andrews, which included locations I know from childhood. It’s the first time I’ve recognised a place so deeply in a book and it was really transformative. I loved My Name Is Monster by Katie Hale and have Boy Parts by Eliza Clark and Exit Management by Naomi Booth on my reading pile. I’m also hugely looking forward to Test Signal from Dead Ink books, a new anthology of Northern writing which has a brilliant line-up.
Why is it important for you to support your fellow Northern writers?
In my own writing journey, I often felt left out or left behind or just not good enough when looking at opportunities, primarily because of the London and often middle class focus of publishing. I want to make sure others don’t feel like this. We have so many rich voices, and unique stories to tell and I hope that by helping people work together, we can enable and amplify Northern writers.
What is next for Northern Writers Studio?
Even as the world starts to open up, my plan is to keep going as an online platform. There is a programme of workshops and a summer school as well as our regular Zoom writing sessions. I’m hoping to offer mentoring from September and just want to continue to reach people who might otherwise feel left out or alone. Getting this off the ground and seeing how much it’s meant to people has been a silver lining to lockdown, and one I’m holding onto.
Reading was my first love, thanks in most part to my older sister who would pass on books to me. I read everywhere and anywhere, always fully immersing myself in those worlds. This passion for reading led me to writing, resulting in notebooks filled to the brim with short stories and in-depth interviews with family members. Since then, I have always said that I wanted to write and be a journalist, and have explored all the options open to me.
Truthfully, I didn’t know what a journalist was. I didn’t see anyone on the TV who sounded like me. There was very little Northern representation and even less information about how to break into the industry. When you don’t know anyone within the media, getting in is incredibly different.
As was the case for many people last year, my plans somewhat changed. The gap year I had planned disappeared so I needed to find something else to focus on. That’s where writing came back into the picture. Lockdown meant more organisations were offering free online workshops, giving everyone across the country the opportunity to network. From that I connected with a group of incredible women, who, like me, wanted a space for women to write about anything they wanted to and not worry about stress or deadlines. So Empoword Journalism was born.
Throughout the past year, I never felt like my Northern roots were holding me back. The question I always asked in any workshops was “do you think it’s possible to get a job in the industry without moving to London?” and I always got a resounding yes. However, I am still seeing so many journalist jobs that are based down south with no option of remote working.
I spoke to some of the women I have met through Empoword Journalism about how they broke into the industry and what they think needs to happen to make it easier for people in the North to break into the journalism industry.
Mads Raine is a journalist from Hartlepool, and her love of journalism began whilst working on her student newspaper. “The North is definitely represented, but it is not well-represented,” she says. “Most of the action happens in London and if you decide to stay in the North you are cutting off a lot of opportunities.”
Adding: “Neither my school nor my college had their own paper. I didn’t have these creative outlets at my fingertips that so many of my friends had. Throughout my education – until university that is – I was lacking in creativity and I don’t think being at a state-run school in a high-poverty area is a coincidence.”
Mads wants people to realise that the North has so much more to offer and wants to see “more jobs and more internships brought to the North of England”.
Beth Kirkbride founded The Indiependent in 2014 as a way to give journalists from across the county the opportunity to get their work published and get constructive feedback from editors. Beth, like me, has wanted to write for as long as she could remember. She believes that even though the pandemic has shown that working remotely is possible the media is still very London-centric.
“When it comes to applying for journalism work experience or graduate schemes being from the North has been a disadvantage,” notes Beth. “These opportunities mean uprooting my life and moving to London, which has a much higher cost of living than the North of England. This is definitely an access and diversity problem in the media industry.”
Beth also wants to see more paid work experience opportunities that allow Northern journalists to gain experience without having to foot their travel and accommodation costs themselves.
Lauren Mcgaun is a student with a passion for current affairs and the world around her. She echoes both Beth and Mads belief that there needs to be better work experience for people in the North.
“I would also welcome more work experience applications that are CV based, which consider your journalistic skills and ability (similar to the current spectator scheme), so that your location and education doesn’t act as a barrier,” she says.
Shahed Ezaydi, is a freelance journalist and Deputy Editor for Aurelia Magazine. Although Shahed has always been fascinated by writing she never saw it as the career for her because she “never really saw someone like me in that world”.
For Shahed, being from the North has given her a “unique voice in journalism”, as she explains: “Being a Northern woman means I can offer different perspectives or add more nuance and depth to a range of discussions, from race, religion, to local issues.” She continues: “You can always tell when an article or report that’s covering a Northern issue has been written by a journalist who isn’t Northern or who hasn’t lived in the North. I find it lacks the depth and substance.”
However, she warns that she doesn’t want to get “boxed into just writing about identity or race and religion”, because “we as journalists (and people) are more than that”.
In terms of improving Northern representation, Shahed wants to see more roles moved up North, but recognises that that isn’t always possible. “Not every company can just move, so publications should also offer their roles on a remote working basis to recognise that not everyone is in a financial position that would allow them to move to London and live there long-term.”
Bethan McConnell is originally from Newcastle but relocated to London for University. “There always seems to be jobs central to London, in both music and journalism, so I figured that I would experience more opportunities and work if I lived in London,” she explains.
Bethan is now a music journalist and photographer and runs Safe and Sound, a music and culture publication curated by creative women. “For me, the most important thing is stepping up arts and culture funding in low-income areas, as those classes could inspire our next generation of journalists, musicians, and authors,” she says.
Adding: “From my own experience the music education I received from school was the thing that motivated me to pursue this career path and without it, I’m not sure what sort of job I would be doing now.”
Evie Muir is a domestic abuse specialist and freelance journalist. Evie began pursuing a career as a journalist because she felt there was a gap in reporting on gender-based violence. “From a survivor’s perspective, often stories telling our experiences of abuse, exploitation or assault are anonymised,” she says.
“As both a domestic abuse practitioner and survivor, it felt like “if not me, who?” I had stories to tell – my own included – I was angry, tired, passionate and, most importantly, informed.”
Evie became a freelance journalist through an unconventional route. “I studied Sociology and Gender Studies at undergrad level and International Development and Gender Based Violence at univeristy, and have worked in the Domestic Abuse Sector and Charity Sector more broadly for over seven years. So, I entered journalism as an expert in my field and used that to my advantage.”
When writing about topics that can be potentially triggering for you, Evie advises “putting coping mechanisms in place. If this means taking sick leave then do it”.
Evie’s advice for women entering the industry is to find a support group. “I’d like to mention too that there is such a great network of Northern journos up here who I feel a deeper connection with than I do in more nation-wide networking groups – despite having not met many of them in person!”
She continues: “It feels like a very nurtured community with shared values of intersectionality, inclusion and the celebration of northern women voices.”
Evie wants to see an increase in remote working opportunities and she wants publications to take a closer look at the experiences of women in the North. “See the value in Northern stories and we will tell you them. Give us a platform to share the stage and we will speak with you.”
Speaking to these women is the best reminder of why I want to be a journalist. For the North to be represented we need people to start breaking down those barriers because where you are from should never negatively impact your future.
Humans have a unique capacity for adaptability. This is often seen as a trait, something you either have or you don’t, an asset to put on your CV that hopefully not everyone believes themselves capable of, giving you that extra edge. If anything though, this past year has proven just how quickly we are able to become used to something and how easily we are able to adapt to a new definition of ‘normal’.
If I think about how I was feeling a year ago, I can identify that things are very different now. The early months of 2020 filled me with anxiety; I was particularly fearful of the discovery of this new form of Coronavirus in the world. I diligently read the news, falsely believing that if I had all the information then I was being provided with some kind of assurance or security. As the news broke about the effects this disease was having across world, I became more and more anxious. I saw no way that the UK could be prepared for its arrival.
I was baffled by the lack of action from authority figures, exasperated by the fact that it seemed for several years they had been trying to find any excuse to close the borders and now, when we could finally use our island status to our advantage, this was negated. So, come March when we finally entered into national lockdown – although we were thrown into a scenario that seemed entirely alien and completely dystopian – it did not take long for me to feel a great sense of relief and ultimately joy at not being asked to do anything that may pose a risk to my own, or my loved ones’ health.
April 2021 brings to the fore a very different set of feelings. The vaccine rollout is going well, although I worry about the effectiveness of something that hasn’t yet undergone long term testing. I don’t think this is unusual, and it hasn’t stopped me from getting my first jab. If there’s even the slightest chance that this will make us safer, I’m happy to oblige. News about potential blood-clots frightened me, but the risks involved with taking the contraceptive pill are far greater, yet that’s never been a national conversation, but that’s a piece for another time.
I had quite an extreme reaction to my first vaccine, but this doesn’t appear unusual amongst young people and in the weeks following I have thankfully been fine. It was strange though, getting my first vaccine; I didn’t feel excited and in turn, that made me feel guilty. Getting my vaccination hasn’t posed a change in any of my behaviour. Those with vaccinations are still susceptible to getting the virus and passing it on to others, but hopefully the risk of its effects is minimized. I’m scared that having had the vaccine I could still pick it up and be asymptomatic, posing more of a threat to people I love.
Similarly, I’m struggling to summon any excitement for the roadmap out of lockdown. The self-critical voice in my mind is inclined to call me cynical but the rational part of me thinks its realism. We have been here before. It feels like over the last year the country has been plunged in and out of different forms of lockdown. The rules have been unclear, the use of the word guidance is vague, and I would argue that the North is one of those areas that has suffered disproportionately.
Some have decided to make their own rules and others have diligently stuck to what has been suggested. Within all of this it hasn’t felt like decisions at a governmental level have been sensibly made. This apparent insistence to get the economy going again has consistently harmed the defence against the virus on numerous fronts. I’m reminded of one of the definitions of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. For a large part of the past year this seems to be what has been happening, the same tactics over and over again with the expectation of different outcomes.
I’m to be forgiven for not being too excited about large swathes of the economy reopening on Monday. I will not be visiting a food and drink outlet to sit outside and endure a meal. I will not be clambering to get myself onto public transport in order to meet six friends outside for a long overdue catch-up. I will not be traipsing round retail outlets just because I can. I’ve never been to and do not intend to start going to a gym. I’m not even that upset about the fact I haven’t been able to get my hair cut for nine months. Lockdown has helped me to learn what it is I really need in my life and a lot of what was considered part of my ‘normal’, I don’t necessarily miss. I’ve become extremely attuned to the world we now live in.
However, as with everyone, there are some things I ache to do. I want to see my grandparents, having not seen them for over a year, even if our regular FaceTimes do provide me with a level of entertainment I didn’t think possible. I would love to go to a gig. I misslive music and the rituals surrounding it. My boyfriend and I miss being able to go out for food – that was one of our regular treats. And I know there’s the opportunity to do that now, however the anxiety I feel is high.
I don’t think I’m alone, but particularly for my age group (mid-twenties) I feel there’s pressure to be raring to go again, like there’s this insistence that we can’t wait to get back in pubs, see our friends and travel to the workplace. I feel the media have created a narrative where it is young people who are most likely to break lockdown rules and that we’re the age group who are the most fed up with restrictions. But if I look honestly at my own feelings, and if I listen to my peers, then this doesn’t seem to be the case. Yes, there are things we all rightly miss but actually the anxiety around getting the virus is real. And most of the time I don’t think my age group are worrying about what would happen to them should they contract it (although it seems that nobody knows just how different peoples’ bodies will react), but are more concerned with contracting it and passing it onto a loved one.
Many people have had massive changes in circumstances due to the pandemic. A lot of young adults have found themselves back in the family home for a variety of reasons; losing work, not wanting to isolate alone, needing support, or finding that they need to offer support themselves to other family members. Many young adults are finding themselves living with people who may be more vulnerable even if they are not.
This narrative of having a carefree attitude and just wanting to be able to get on and do what we want is simply that – a narrative. I currently live with my mother, who has an underlying health condition. The nature of her condition means her immune system can be easily compromised, however there has been little advice from the medical community on how Coronavirus may affect it. As a family we have been meticulously careful about Coronavirus for over a year now. Journeys that would usually require public transport, I have walked. I did not visit a bar or restaurant when they reopened last summer. I have done any non-essential shopping online and found innovative ways to celebrate birthdays and Christmas. We as a family have been so careful, it is nonsensical to change that now.
I sometimes wonder if my response is still disproportionate but if there’s anything my twenties and the last year are teaching me, it’s that it doesn’t matter if anyone believes I’m overreacting, it is only important how I feel. Five years ago, I lost my uncle to seasonal flu and so my response to the pandemic has been different to what it may have been before that happened. I have a real fear of losing someone to an illness like this, as I’ve seen it happen. And I’ve seen it happen extremely quickly. I was abruptly introduced to the world of intensive care units and ventilators and last year’s reporting on the pandemic quickly started to bring up all those feelings again.
My story isn’t unique. There will be many people who have had loved ones suffer from difficult illnesses, those who have lifelong underlying health conditions and those who have lost loved ones in traumatic and unexpected circumstances. It is okay that I feel the way that I do. I wanted to write this because I was feeling isolated. I had a conversation with the job centre on Tuesday in which I came away feeling panicked and pressured. I am genuinely fearful of the consequences of being ‘in’ the world.
I am of the mindset that we should all just try and be that little bit more patient. The reopening of areas like hospitality on Monday is of little consequence to me when I am still unable to travel the length of time I would need to in order to visit my grandparents. It seems like extremely poor compensation. I still have friends who work in that industry (I am lucky in that I left just over a year ago) and I really feel for the levels of anxiety they’re experiencing and the confusion they feel over being asked to do certain things that aren’t expected of everyone.
I’m really fortunate in that my year of practical unemployment has happened to land at this point in everyone’s lives and I’ve been consistently grateful that I haven’t had to put myself in any compromising positions. But I know plenty of people who have. The argument that the economy must be restarted favors some members of society over others. All those employees on minimum wage, often doing the jobs that are the most high-risk, aren’t necessarily going to reap the benefits of that.
If I had it my way, I would wait until every member of the adult population had been offered their first vaccination. As a country, we’ve come such a long way from where we were last year. There has been intense loss, major sacrifices and it does now look like maybe we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I just know I’d be far more comfortable if we were given the opportunity to wait until we were firmly in that light, instead of still tentatively taking our final few steps through that unfamiliar dark.
For everyone, it will take time to adjust to whatever it is the world wants us to do next. Some people may feel naturally inclined to return to previous behaviour and for others, like myself, that transition will be much harder. The simple act of socialising with people I love requires far more energy now than it used to. For some people, the act of being forced to return to work on Monday may be a terrifying prospect.
I don’t know when I will feel safe meeting people in a public place like I used to, maybe it will be a case of when I’m forced to re-enter the world as I get a job then that will be when I have to face it. Maybe the choices that I currently have the privilege of making are keeping me locked in an element of fear. I don’t know. What I do know is that for me the route out of lockdown will be taken with care. I will not be throwing myself into situations I don’t feel are safe. I will be trying to push through this last part having thankfully not experienced this virus in anyone close to me.
I also know there are things I have learned and experienced over the last year that I want to keep. I have found so much joy in the act of simply being without the pressures of what society used to consider ‘normality’. I have spent more time outdoors and more time with myself. Even in amongst all the madness and turmoil that parts of the past year have brought I have actually been the happiest I have ever been. However long it takes me to feel comfortable returning to those elements of ‘normal’ we are destined to keep, the happiness and the sense of calm I have experienced through large parts of the last year are the things I intend to prioritise. If we are being offered the chance to find different ways of living then I want to embrace that, and surely, I’m not the only one.
Saffron Rain lives and writes in Stockport. She was born and raised around Manchester, only moving away to get her degree and subsequent MA in English Lit in Sheffield. During this time she wrote ardently on the North, particularly female writers and filmmakers.
Her preferred form is the personal essay and she enjoys writing about topics that she connects to on a personal level. Some of these have appeared in independent publications and she shares longer pieces on her own blog. She loves to read, particularly women, and will take any opportunity to crowbar Joan Didion into a conversation.
After losing her dad suddenly in 2017, Hannah set up the supper club, Grief Eats, as a way to meet other young people who were grieving whilst honouring her Dad’s love of cooking. Here she explores grief in the digital age, the online platforms offering support networks and the Northern women helping others understand and talk about loss.
It is a well-known fact that what you see on social media is often a veneer; a curated selection of life’s best moments that contribute to an aesthetically pleasing grid. For many, social media – and Instagram especially – offers a slice of escapism; a place where you can go to dream up brand new wardrobes and future sunny getaways, or lust after interiors you cannot afford. While it can be extremely easy to whittle away time getting lost in perfection, sometimes what we actually crave is something much rawer, more un-filtered and fraying at the edges. Something that represents our everyday lives.
Grief and loss are topics you might think do not have a rightful place on Instagram but in reality, it is quite the opposite. Grief – in whatever form it may take – is something that will affect us all at some point in our lives and, unfathomably, the pandemic has meant many more young people are experiencing it too soon. To read or write about grief in the presence of strangers on the internet may seem strange or daunting, but for many it is a much-needed cathartic outlet, serving as a platform that provides a safe, supportive space when traditional bereavement support is limited. During a lockdown where so many of us do not have a shoulder to lean on when we need it most, it seems like the perfect place.
The area of Instagram dedicated to grief is the one I find to be most authentic. There are no guises, no attempts for perfection. People talk openly about their losses and experiences of grief in a way that is entirely refreshing. For the majority of us who have sadly lost someone too soon, we feel angry, upset and isolated – even more so during this past year. The platform allows us to come together and to share our day-to-day experiences, although not just the sad ones. We may be grieving, but we also find ourselves inspired by each other’s resilience and discover a collective comfort in sharing past memories. We can laugh together at the terrible, misjudged comments we’ve received over the years.
Back in December 2019, I came up with an idea to start up a supper club series in Leeds, for people navigating loss in their 20s and 30s, calling it ‘Grief Eats’. After losing my own dad at the age of 24, I felt like this sort of thing was missing – and especially in the North. Both eager and nervous in equal measure, I held my first sold-out supper club in my own home in February 2020 (albeit a bit rustic and makeshift – it was my first go), and I was so excited for it to turn into something bigger, and for young people to realise they weren’t alone in what they were going through. But as the pandemic took hold and thus no way of hosting supper clubs, I quickly realised that I would need another avenue. Instagram seemed like a suitable place to continue with Grief Eats in the interim, and perhaps even open up an opportunity to write about my own journey with grief.
In all honesty, I never envisaged nor felt a personal need to create a space on Instagram to talk about my experiences and felt convinced that face-to-face interaction would be more meaningful than online. But as I began to share my thoughts and musings on the topics of grief, food and anything else that came to mind, I found myself taken aback by the reception. In turn, I have discovered an entire online community and area of Instagram that represented something I didn’t know I needed.
While I don’t intend to post on social media forever and feel excited to get back to the original plan for Grief Eats, the ‘grief’ space on Instagram really has been a lifeline at times, and I hope my posts have helped others in their journey too. I would also like to mention a number of other inspiring women in the North who are similarly opening up the conversation around grief and loss, and who I am lucky enough to share this online space with. When I lost my dad at the age of 24, I didn’t know anyone my age who had been through something similar. These women, having experienced their own losses, are bravely ensuring this doesn’t have to be the case:
Jo Ritchie and Faye Dawson: Projecting Grief
Projecting Grief is a portraiture and interview project which explores the use of creativity to help heal from loss. Jo started this project after losing her own brother in 2017, and photographs those who are using creative skill as a distraction, a relief or an expression of their grief. The beautiful portraits are accompanied by the person’s story, written by Faye. Jo and Faye are based in Leeds.
After taking a break from her art practice, Gwen has now returned and has found that it has provided her with a space to process her thoughts around grief. Gwen lost her dad in 2004 and her mum in 2017. Her collages are thoughtful and expressive, and often capture feelings of grief you find difficult to put into words. Gwen in based in Leeds.
The Everyday Fertility
Kate, based in Manchester, started an Instagram page during lockdown seeking to normalise the conversation around infertility and baby loss. Kate has been extremely brave to share her own journey and is supporting others going through the same by opening up the conversation on fertility issues.
Words: Hannah Borkin Feature image: Courtesy of Projecting Grief
Although the industry is still overwhelmingly dominated by men and the number of women studying engineering courses remains low (just one in seven), for those who have pursued their passion for STEM and engineering, such as Krystina Pearson-Rampeearee – a chartered engineer from Liverpool who works as a Senior Flight Systems Engineer – brighter skies may be ahead.
After being inspired by a family trip to see an airshow as a child, Krystina went on to become the first engineer in her family and now volunteers as a STEM ambassador and mentor to promote diversity and inclusion in the industry and encourage more women to consider engineering as a profession.
Last year, she set up her own business AviateHer selling accessories to further promote this goal and inspire young women to consider STEM careers and push past gender stereotypes. Late last year, we spoke with Krystina to find out a little more about her career to date, the change she would like to see and why she founded her own business to pave the way for future generations of female engineers.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I was born and grew up in Liverpool where my parents moved to after emigrating from Mauritius. I’m now a Senior Flight Systems Engineer working at BAE Systems in Warton, Lancashire and living in Liverpool, the city that feels like home to me.
What made you want to pursue a career in this field and what does a typical day at work look like for you?
I was inspired to study a Masters degree in Aerospace Systems Engineering after visiting an airshow with my family one summer whilst in school. I still remember the feeling of awe I felt on that day and that was the point I can trace back to where I knew that I wanted to be a part of the Aerospace industry.
I began working at BAE Systems six years ago as a Flight Systems Engineer on various projects. My current role involves developing new technologies for a future combat air system as part of the Tempest project. For me a typical day varies, I could be working with various suppliers, liaising with other specialist disciplines or carrying out my own tasks, all with the goal in mind of looking at how new technologies can be integrated onto a future platform.
Growing up, did you feel like a career in STEM was accessible to you as a woman?
Growing up, I saw my parents in STEM careers, although not engineering, and I did feel like a career in STEM was open to me. There was a disparity in my physics lessons at school yet the gender disparity was blatant when I started university as one of only two women on my course. Going from my school experience to this was jarring, especially in the first few weeks. This did not overshadow my experience at university though, my coursemates became my teammates, and gender was not an issue.
When did you first know you wanted to work in this field?
I always enjoyed creative classes when I was growing up but my favourite lessons were physics and maths. Engineering was always a top choice for me, even though my parents wanted me to pursue a different career path. However, I wasn’t aware of the various types of engineering until I went to the airshow and started researching the Aerospace industry.
What challenges did you encounter on your journey to become an aerospace engineer?
Following my four years at university, I struggled initially to find a job due to my lack of real-life experience in engineering. When I was looking at my options following school, apprenticeships were not highlighted as an alternative option to university therefore a degree qualification seemed to be the natural next step to take. I persevered and got there in the end.
As a STEM ambassador and founder of AviateHer, what do you want to change in the industry?
I want to inspire more young women to consider a career in STEM, more specifically engineering. There is currently a shortage of engineers in the UK. Companies are realising that a diverse workforce brings a lot of advantages such as more innovation, which is an important part of engineering. This means that there are opportunities out there.
I also feel that stereotypes in society play a part as well. Boys and girls are brought up with targeted advertising or gender roles which encourages gender biases. Young girls may feel embarrassed about enjoying physics as there is the perception that it isn’t cool.
Leading on from that, how can those changes take place in a tangible way?
I believe that changes can be made with more visible role models. I see amazing women in engineering in my network but the stereotype of what a typical engineer may look like isn’t relatable to young girls.
There is also the awareness of engineering itself. Engineers can make a difference and there are so many paths with an engineering career! Showing young people how engineering has been used in everyday life and how it can be used for the future will definitely help bring about change. When I was younger, I didn’t realise how many different career options there actually are in engineering. For example, I didn’t even know the job I am in now existed until I came to searching for jobs after university.
Have you seen more women enter the industry in recent years and if so is this due to greater mentorship and encouragement from other women?
I have seen more women enter the industry and this is absolutely due to encouragement from other women and mentorship. I think women are actively striving for change and are more than willing to support young women who are considering future careers in STEM.
Selected as a Northern Power Woman Future List 2020 and winner of WeAreCity Rising Star Award, how did it feel to be given this recognition of your work?
It was such an honour to receive the recognition alongside a brilliant group of women! It meant even more to me personally as I had only recently returned from a year’s maternity leave in 2019. To come back to work and go on to receive the recognition I have done has motivated me to open the door to more opportunities to push diversity in engineering, and showcase my experiences to young women.
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice about life, what would it be?
If I could give my younger self a piece of advice it would be not be so scared to put myself out there. I suffered from a lack of confidence when I was growing up which held me back from networking and getting involved. This changed once I had my little boy and started ‘winging’ motherhood. My confidence grew and I’m now saying yes to opportunities and trying not to be so afraid of failure!
During the first lockdown you started a business selling enamel pins to highlight diversity in STEM, how was it received and why is it so important to you to further this cause now?
The response was fantastic! I hadn’t expected such an amazing reception and the messages of support I’ve received have really inspired me to continue. The cause is perhaps more important now than ever because the Coronavirus pandemic is disproportionately impacting women’s careers and it’s so important that we retain women in STEM.
Which charities are some of the proceeds going to and why did you select these particular causes?
Lockdown rules permitting, how do you like to spend your spare time?
In my spare time I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, volunteering as a mentor and STEM Ambassador and travelling all over the world (when possible!). I really miss attending live music events and festivals at the moment so I hope we can get back to those soon.
Where are some of your favourite places in the North?
My home city of Liverpool has some of my favourite places such as Sefton Park, the Docks and Lark Lane for delicious food! I also enjoy visiting the Lake District and the Northern coastal areas as I love being near the sea.