I made the decision to dedicate myself to photography just over a year ago having toyed with the idea for ages. The decision involved me giving up what had been a long and successful career in the communications industry in order to pursue a passion. An exciting but is some ways daunting path and a big life change. I applied to take a BA Photography course at the University of Westminster, that commences at the end of this month. It's a four year course giving me time for photography projects alongside 'learning'. It quickly became clear to me that making my way as a photographer presented a chicken and egg situation. To get access to opportunity one needs credibility and to gain credibility 'access' helps a lot. In exploring ways to establish myself, a network, and to gain opportunity I came across the Media Trust and the
Media Matching Programme
. In a nutshell the scheme offers charities access to support from individuals with specific media skills by matching their needs to such individuals registered on the scheme. I volunteered my services as a photographer. Since then I have worked with six varied charities across the country. The experience has been awesome both in terms of taking me out of my comfort zone photographically, and therefore improving my skills/experience, and also in opening my eyes to a whole range of people and problems that frankly I had no idea about. The experience is therefore fulfilling broader than just the photography benefits.
Each project I have undertaken has been different - from shooting the opening night of Interfaith's exhibition in Islington to running workshops and producing twelve massive portraits for a Womens Group in Oxford formed by Ugandan refugees thirty years ago. In this blog I want to share some photos and information about a charity called
. I've now been working with Foundations since March so it's not been just a single shoot. In fact I'm begining to feel as though I'm part of the Foundations team and I have to say that's a good feeling! Foundations founder and CEO, Mary Wood, is passionate about prevention and proactive projects that educate young people, their families and a far broader church. Foundations is all about educating young people about nutrition and exercise, in particular to address eating disorder problems. Eating disorder's causes are far reaching and complex and that is reflected in the breadth of projects that Foundations supports.
The project portayed below is Adventures in Eating. Volunteers spend an afternoon each week working with youngsters with learning difficulties in West London. The youngsters have the option to join in an afternoon of food preparation, cookery and then the opportunity to consume what they have prepared. As you can see the kids take the activity seriously. It became clear to me just spending one afternoon there that without the volunteers doing this these children are unlikely to ever be exposed to fresh food and cookery.
In total contrast another project is centered around martial arts/self defence. Volunteers run a prgramme in a West London school for teenage girls. Again it's an option. For those who choose to join there are so many benefits. Of course the self defence ability but also the by product of enjoyment through exercise, self esteem and self confidence. Again I found this an eye opening experience, spending an afternoon in a massive school and seeing first hand the benefits the kids can get plus the difficulty of initially gaining their interest. I also learnt a lot about using flash in a gym with a polished floor!
Staying in West London but this time on an estate in the school holidays. Vigor boarding is what's on offer through this project. Two 'cool' looking volunteer coaches, a representative from the estate community association along with Mary and I were on hand at 1100 on the first day of the programme during this summer holiday break. Again, as with all of the programmes, participation is voluntary so I'm sure I'm not the only one who was nervous that there would be no prospective 'boarders' show up. Gradually kids arrived, some returning from having attended the same scheme at Easter others having a look for the first time.
A Vigor board is like a skate board based on a bendy bus design. You can therefore propel yourself by sort of wiggling and generating energy through the board to the wheels. Boards have either two or three sets of wheels, I never got to the bottom of which was hardest or why (I was there to take photos) but it became clear to me that this was 'exercise' for sure.
Below are some more boarders, the coaches oh, and a lad who insisted his Dad came along and joined in - they both appeared to really enjoy the day.
Last week I shot another project, Countryside Breaks. Austistic children from London spend a day in the countryside with an organisation called
Hope Thru Horses
. Jo Corfield runs this organisation in Taston near Chipping Norton. I think it's commonly known that spending time with horses can be marvellous therapy. I had heard that horses can positively influence people suffering from autism by breaking down some emotional and communication barriers. To witness it was simply amazing. I of course am no specialist, and have little undersanding about autism, so can only comment on what I saw. The lad below, I'll call him Bill, was on his second visit to Taston. He loved the ability to run in the open spaces and immediatly spent time with one of the four dogs also taking part in the day. I tried communicating with Bill but as is usual with autism there was little if any eye contact and words were little more than grunts which may or may not have been affirmative. The wonderful carers there could read him and his two friends more than I could. Yet after we had a picnic lunch and the horses and ponies were brought over, Bill was quick to take charge of Comet, one of the larger horses.
When with Comet Bill was transformed. His facial expression changed and he gave the horse clear, assertive, vocal instructions. I have no idea how or why this bond appears but it was such a pleasure to see the impact spending time with horses had on these kids.
Below a lad plucks up courage to stroke a pony. I guess we had been at Taston for around three hours before he got to this point. Earlier on he had stroked dogs and Shetland ponies. Soon he was leading this pony over hazards and around the vast open fields. Not yet as confident as Bill but obviously making progress and deriving much pleasure.
A third lad didn't get this far on his first visit but by the end of the day progressed to brushing a pony. It may look like slow and small progress but it's massive for these children. I was told of a lad who took a whole afternoon just to pluck up courage to get out of the minibus - but the fact that he did, and of his own accord, was a really big step forward.
This and the other projects that Foundations support are of immense value to a whole range of disadvantaged and at risk people. It is only through the help of volunteers and the charities beneficieries that Foundation UK can continue it's tremendous work.
Info on Foundations UK click
Info on Media Trust click
A blog from earlier this year on the charity
I'm a Person Too click