“The things people are scared to talk about are the ones I grasp with both hands”

WRITER and radio producer Bridget Hamilton set up social enterprise Verbal Remedy aiming to destigmatise ‘taboo’ topics  – from mental health to menstruation. Here she explains why no issue is off limits.

I would undoubtedly be the type of person you say has ‘no filter’. From the outside I’m a fairly normal media graduate; I’m 24, I live in Gateshead with my boyfriend Sam, and I’m working my way up – slowly – in the industry.

But the topics I tackle in my work are as far from ‘normal’ as you get – whether it’s producing a documentary on mental health or delivering a workshop on sexual consent, the things people are scared to talk about are the ones I grasp with both hands.

“Disorders such as depression and anxiety do not exist in a vacuum. Better care for people experiencing them will not just improve their lives but improve our workplaces massively as well.”

I was born into a working class family in Gravesend, Kent, 20 minutes from central London. My dad was a taxi driver (although previously a professional actor) and my mum taught music for over 30 years, so it’s no wonder I have a fiercely creative streak.

Things were always loving at home but not always easy – my mum was diagnosed with MS when I was only eight, so I suppose my openness stems from having a lot to get my head around from a young age.

I like to take on topics such as mental health, disability and bereavement to show people that it is ok to talk about them, no matter how scary it may seem at first.

Bridget Hamilton founder of North-East social enterprise Verbal Remedy

Bridget Hamilton founder of North-East social enterprise Verbal Remedy

After moving to the North-East to study English Literature at Newcastle University, I set up a social enterprise called Verbal Remedy. We are a blog, podcast and media production company based in Gateshead and we talk about – you guessed it! – absolutely everything.

I am blessed with a team of around 25 writers who truly get to the bottom of many a tough story, and we were nominated for a National Diversity Award in 2015 for our work across all areas of the community including groups that don’t normally get a voice.

As well as our online work we run several events per year – some of my favourites have been our special screening of ’50 Shades of Grey’ at the Tyneside Cinema, followed by a panel discussion on sex and women in cinema. Our panel included an editor of an academic journal on porn (yes, they do exist!) and a BAFTA-nominated filmmaker, which was a major coup for us!

Bridget Hamilton speaking about the issues Verbal Remedy tackles at a conference recently

Bridget Hamilton speaking about the issues Verbal Remedy tackles at a conference recently

We have also spoken at schools as part of our Consent Campaign, which was funded by Northumbria Police. The questions 16-year-olds ask about sexual consent are as great as you would imagine, although the most fun I have had so far (I say ‘fun’…) was back in August 2015, when I made a three-part radio documentary series on menstruation called ‘Seeing Red’. It was back when arguments about the Tampon Tax were at their peak, and I created a really experimental documentary full of interviews, personal stories and silly blood-related songs to try and understand why periods are still something we feel so squeamish talking about. The finished series went down really well and received national media attention.

Unfortunately the media world is still not an ideal place to be female. In 2013 only 18 per cent of UK television presenters over 50 were women, and further research the year after still showed that women of all ages were vastly outnumbered by men in TV and Radio, both on and off-air.

“The topics I tackle in my work are as far from ‘normal’ as you get – whether it’s producing a documentary on mental health or delivering a workshop on sexual consent, things people are scared to talk about are the ones I grasp with both hands.”

Being female isn’t something that should put you on the back foot when it comes to your chosen career – in fact, a diverse mix of men and women, transgender and non binary people, and those from different social classes, sexualities and ethnicities would be a huge asset to any newsroom.

Verbal Remedy’s diversity is undoubtedly one of its biggest strengths, but we’re not perfect by any means – I’m still on the lookout for more black writers, as well as more men who want to speak about their experiences of things like mental health (perhaps unsurprisingly, men who are happy to ‘open up’ are harder to find). As a whole, the industry is heading in the right direction, but there’s a long way to go.

“I like to take on topics such as mental health, disability and bereavement to show people that it is ok to talk about them, no matter how scary it may seem at first.”

I would like to see a media-wide increase in our coverage of mental health issues, and I’d like to see people with those issues covering them – whether that’s through access to work schemes such as that of the BBC, or simply increased support for employers to help their team with any mental health issues they have.

Disorders such as depression and anxiety do not exist in a vacuum. Better care for people experiencing them will not just improve their lives but improve our workplaces massively as well.

How does it feel to make a difference? It’s hard to say. Unfortunately, I think sometimes women are conditioned to feel inadequate no matter what we do. People may argue that they have never once been made to feel this way, and I would call them extremely lucky. But I’m proud to look at my accomplishments as a young female business owner. On my MA in Radio Production I was the only woman, forcing my way into a field that seems very male-dominated (so, naturally, I used that platform to talk about periods! Apologies to all my colleagues…). It was tough, but when a blog post goes out, when I speak to the media about our work or get to create something truly groundbreaking, it feels extremely special.

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For more information about Verbal Remedy click here

 

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