The launch of the Inspired Festival is important in creating inspiration within the university. In addition to the graduates, there are several members of staff who are active beyond their roles at BCU. In particular, Kelly O’Hanlon, a Senior Lecturer in PR, runs a successful blog, To Become Mum, in addition to her 15 years of working in the PR industry. We spoke to Kelly about what inspired the creation of her blog, how she finds motivation to share her personal thoughts, and the most surprising aspects of her blogging career.

Where did Kelly find inspiration for her blog?

During the pregnancy of her first son, Kelly was looking for a support network as none of her friends or family were at the same stage in their life. Hoping to share updates about her pregnancy journey with loved ones who lived across the country, Kelly decided to create a blog as a creative outlet, hoping to share something about herself and to connect with other people.

Working as an academic is Kelly’s full-time job and so she made the decision to have her blog as a hobby, as a creative outlet where she could explore her interests and life separate to what she does as a job. 

To Become Mum was created to reflect the journey of becoming a mother, including navigating maternity fashion as the high street didn’t seem to cater for pregnant women. However, it has also expanded as Kelly’s own interests have expanded over the years, now encompassing a bit of everything.

Another inspiration for the content Kelly has shared is body positivity. Kelly has been very vocal about her journey with psoriasis and she felt it was incredibly important to share photos as it would have supported her if she had come across similar content in the past.

“I thought it’s important to show I do go out with short sleeve tops on and when I’ve gone on holiday, I’ll be wearing a swimming costume even though people have stared, and I’ve heard people ask questions to one another about it. [I do it] because I have to live my life and I thought if I share those pictures then other people will perhaps feel a bit better about themselves”.

How does Kelly find motivation to continue making content?

Being a full-time academic and parenting two young children makes for a demanding schedule. Kelly also sits as the Vice Chair on the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, Midlands Committee, and she is the Marketing and Recruitment Lead for the Birmingham Institute of Media and English.

“That takes a lot out of you. And then having two children as well and doing two different school runs because they’re different ages, that’s obviously very demanding, and very rewarding as well”. 

While juggling such a busy lifestyle, Kelly emphasises the importance of having a space where she can remember what it was like before having children, not to pretend they don’t exist but to have a space where she can just be herself and not be ‘Kelly the lecturer’ or ‘Kelly the mum’.

“I was trying to find a new way of doing things and I thought other people will be as well, so I’ll just share the things I’m doing”.

Has anything surprising or unexpected happened because of Kelly’s blog?

To Become Mum is set to reach its nine-year anniversary in November and this journey has come with many memorable experiences for Kelly, such as working on creative campaigns with brands she’s genuinely a fan of and being a Blogger Ambassador for several brands she loves. It has been incredibly rewarding for Kelly to know that there’s somebody out there listening, and this has in turn benefitted her professional job as Kelly gets to talk to her students from experience.

In particular, working as a Blogger Ambassador for places such as the National SEA LIFE Centre and Center Parcs, and the brand Epaderm was the most exciting. Epaderm is a skin care range for people with skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis; Kelly has suffered with psoriasis for 10 years and she won a competition to be their Blogger Ambassador.

“That was great to have people recognise the types of things that I was sharing but also to feel like I was helping other people who were going through something like me. It wasn’t necessarily so commonplace or talked about”. 

Another rewarding aspect to come out of the To Become Mum blog is the engagement with her audience, such as when people leave comments about how they have enjoyed her content or that it’s made some kind of difference in their lives. Kelly has received comments from people thanking her for sharing her story, saying things like ‘I remember following you during your pregnancy of your first son and now I’m pregnant’ or ‘I’ve really loved watching your journey, I love seeing all of your pregnancy updates’.

“It was nice when people go out of their way not just to like your photo but to send you a comment and say thank you for sharing this, saying it helped, or asking for guidance. That’s what’s really lovely, when somebody comes out of the woodwork like that to say they’ve enjoyed your content”.

What’s next?

After running the To Become Mum blog for almost a decade, the next challenge for Kelly is to make the blog a space that still does the things it was originally created for but to evolve it with her journey of not just becoming a mother, but her journey of being just herself again.

“I would like it to be utilised a bit more to reflect my life and my life beyond children… I do have some thoughts about what happens when your children get a bit older – will it be embarrassing for them to see themselves online? Do I start to fade out their inclusions on it and move it on a little bit? I would like it to be utilised a bit more to reflect my life and my life beyond children.”

To be part of Kelly’s journey of navigating motherhood and her journey to finding herself, follow her blog on To Become Mum.

BCU has a strong line-up of academics who have successful, creative outlets outside of university. One lecturer who stands out is BCU’s Sports Journalism lecturer, Chris Lepkowski, who co-hosts the unofficial, fan-driven West Bromwich Albion podcast called THE LIQUIDATOR. Chris tells us about what inspired him to co-host the podcast, how he finds motivation, and the most rewarding parts of hosting the podcast.

What inspired Chris to co-host the podcast?

THE LIQUIDATOR podcast was first created in April 2020, right at the beginning of the first lockdown in the UK due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With a large percentage of people on furlough and stuck at home, everyone was bored, including Chris and Adrian. With these restrictions in place, it seemed as good a time as any to tap into a captive audience that was around because circumstances dictated they would be.

“It’s a bit of fun really. We try to have a bit of a laugh on there but equally we do try to express ourselves, give insight and give people something a little bit more. There is a market for people wanting to know what’s going on, and maybe wanting to hear from two people who aren’t afraid to tackle awkward subjects and cast a critical eye. As journalists, neither of us has time for the nodding dog attitude that everything we’re told is necessarily as it is. As someone who has worked in journalism and Comms, I know how the industry works. If you’re told it’s Tuesday, check the calendar. Don’t just believe what you’re told”.

As a well-established journalist in the field, Chris enjoys the thrill of chasing a story, and THE LIQUIDATORpodcast allows him to do just that. He also enjoys the aspect of a challenge, both in terms of challenging the football club they support but also in terms of challenging each other’s opinions.

“It’s given me a voice to do something different but also to tap into areas that I know and have an insight into”.

How does Chris find motivation to keep working on episodes?

Having a news-driven podcast has helped Chris stay motivated to continue working on the show as his background in sports journalism has provided Chris with the editorial judgement needed to know if a topic or an episode is going to sound good. As football is a transient landscape, it’s always moving and so being driven by the news agenda makes it a lot easier to find content. 

His passion for representing fans’ voice, combined with his journalism background, are the unique selling point of THE LIQUIDATOR podcast, and this is what Chris wants to be reflected in their show. 

“I didn’t want us just to be two fans discussing it and, likewise, I didn’t want us to be two media [professionals] with close links discussing it. We try to find a middle ground where we can have a laugh and a joke as fans but actually we do cover some serious topics and subjects”.

What has been the most rewarding part of hosting ‘THE LIQUIDATOR’ podcast?

The greatest thrill for any journalist is the buzz of breaking a story that nobody else has. Even if the news is the smallest of things, the knowledge that they are the only people who have the information has given Chris the same thrill he used to get as a journalist when he had the back page for local and national press. 

“Even more so now because it’s not my job so the pressure for a boss isn’t there anymore. I don’t have to break a story, I don’t have to reveal information that nobody else has got. That I may choose to, or be able to, is because of my background and because I never lose that instinct for wanting to be first with a story of any sort. As a journalist it is your instinct to tell people something they don’t know”.

As a fairly new podcast, Chris and Adrian had to work hard to make people take their show seriously as nobody really knew what they were about or what they do. Breaking several stories on their show made people realise they are offering the kind of insight that can’t be found elsewhere. The podcast has a unique insight as Chris previously used to cover the club for a newspaper and then he worked for the club as Head of Media, and this has undoubtedly increased the show’s listenership which is another rewarding aspect for him. 

“With football, it’s extremely tribal where people’s emotions go from high to low in the space of a week or so and when people are in a bad place they don’t necessarily want to talk or listen to anything about their club but equally sometimes you get people who do want to know more because actually they’re fed up and they want somebody to blame and they know that we might open up a broad discussion about something”.

Advice for graduates

Having a strong passion for your subject and having a journalistic instinct should be at the core of every journalist. Chris emphasises that any good journalist should want to break a story and want to be first to break a story over someone else – but also to be industry relevant. Chris advises to look at the market, conduct research, find out what is out there and to do something that nobody else has done before.

“There are stories absolutely everywhere and I don’t think you can ever struggle to find [a story] and if you’ve got an instinct as a journalist, you should never be struggling to find a story. But you need to keep with the times. The role of a journalist will continue to evolve as technology and social media develops. The key is to stay ahead of that apex and react to that change. Now, more than any other time, journalists need to be all over industry trends to ensure they stay relevant.”

What’s next?

With their 60th episode having just been released, Chris is content with the progress and growth of THE LIQUIDATOR podcast. Both he and Adrian have no plans to reign it in or call it a day. To download or listen to THE LIQUIDATOR, make sure to follow the podcast on streaming platforms such as Apple Podcasts

As part of the upcoming Inspired Festival, we spoke to BCU’s very own Fashion Business lecturers Sophie Johnson and Laura Arrowsmith. They tell us all about their inspirations for creating their charting podcast, The Fashademix Podcast, as well as the most shocking aspects and how they find motivation to keep going.

What motivates Sophie and Laura?

We all have moments where we inevitably struggle and feel down. Sophie and Laura find that having outlets like their podcast is not only a positive distraction from what is going on in their own lives, but they find voicing their opinions and venting about topics they are passionate about is therapeutic.

They both find that being stagnant is boring so they are motivated to keep growing, something which they acknowledge is a positive when it comes to being lecturers as they always want to keep learning more so they can educate their students further.

With a friendship dating back to their own time studying at university, both lecturers express that their motivation for working on the podcast is each other.

“I’m shy. It’s ridiculous because I’m a lecturer but the thought of public speaking terrifies me, yet I do it anyway. I wouldn’t have done it without Sophie, and I think there’s so many things that I wouldn’t have had the confidence to have done either. I feel like she brings out the better side of me” – Laura.

What has been the most shocking part of making the podcast?

Creating The Fashademix Podcast has presented its hosts with many shocking factors. For Laura, getting to number three on the iTunes chart by their sixth episode was completely unexpected as she thought it would take them at least two years to reach such a feat, and so their success spurs them to keep going.

Similarly for Sophie, she didn’t expect the podcast to take off and do so well. The whole experience has taught her to trust what she believes in, trust what she knows, trust that her voice does matter, and that people are interested in that.

Another big shock for them is the amount of people who agree to guest on the podcast despite it being new, with even the vice president of the fashion company Reiss in the USA (who also happens to be Sophie’s former manager at Topshop) planning to come on the show.

What inspired them to create the podcast?

There are several avenues from which Sophie and Laura found inspiration to create their podcast, with their key inspiration coming from their desire to build their profile within the university. The show has a two-way approach – it helps with marketing for the university, but it also helps to build their own reputation in the industry to help them get recognised. 

In academia, it’s crucial for lecturers to be at the forefront of research and conversation around their subject matter so Sophie and Laura felt they needed to be in the media and commenting on things to create a strong reputation. Their end goal is for a listener to come onto the Fashion Business course wishing to be taught by them.

“You want to get your name known further in the university; you don’t just want to be a payroll number in a department somewhere. You want your head of institute to notice you, your head of faculty” – Sophie.

Although there are people in the market who are doing fashion podcasts, Sophie and Laura found that these people only talk about fashion or marketing – there isn’t actually anything from an academic perspective. The odd episode that Laura listened to of somebody speaking academically she found hard to connect with.

“I found it quite dull and hard to connect. To me, that doesn’t have a click through rate. I’m not wanting to be a returning customer” – Laura. 

To modify this, both lecturers were inspired to make a podcast that is casual yet informative. As Sophie and Laura have different opinions on things, they successfully manage to balance ideas and feedback off each other, and this is something they find works really well.

“We just feel like we can be a voice for people, especially because we’re not just two random girls that like fashion – we’re both educated around fashion, we’ve both got experience. That’s the unique selling point of the podcast because we’re talking from experience and expertise, not just gossiping about retail and fashion” – Sophie.

Advice for upcoming graduates

Graduating through a pandemic can be a daunting experience for students. With a great emphasis on working on the projects you love, Sophie and Laura encourage graduates to embrace everything around them as the skills gained by students during the pandemic mean they are more resilient, more adaptable and they will be better at crisis management, ultimately increasing their employability. 

As big advocates for mental health, Sophie and Laura stress that although there are positives and negatives to everything, everything is a learning curve and where there is room for a learning curve, there is room for growth.

What’s next?

With such an incredibly successful podcast under their belt, both lecturers/hosts have broad visions of what’s next, with the ultimate goal being to feature on TV. Similar to the ‘Inside Missguided: Made in Manchester’ documentary produced by Channel 4, they would love to have a film crew follow them around university, see them lecture and film them recording the podcast in order to increase their presence in a fun way.

“That’s like years down the line, if it ever got to that, but if stayed as a podcast and we made that impact in higher education, and in colleges, that would be amazing” – Sophie. 

They also wish to broaden consumers’ mindsets and connect more with their audience and with the industry by doing tours around colleges and universities. They would also like to host webinars to discuss not only their podcast but to talk about fashion in terms of fashion business as people at college might not be aware that there’s more to fashion than just design. 

With a great team at Brum Radio at their backs, the team have discussed increasing the international growth of The Fashademix Podcast as they have entered the charts in countries outside of the UK, such as Norway, Australia, Ireland and the Netherlands.

“If we keep going and we grow in the way we want to, I think we might come under that category of an influencer with purpose where we can educate people, we can teach people, we can hopefully inspire people” – Sophie. 

To listen to the latest debates within the fashion industry, tune in to The Fashademix Podcast on Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle Podcasts or on Brum Radio.

David Massey, Senior Technician in Film, TV and Radio, is well-known in the School of Media for his exemplary career in broadcasting. Some of you might not be aware that he also has a highly successful, award-winning career as a novelist. We speak to David about his inspirations for books, his motivations for writing and the most rewarding part of his career.

How does David find inspiration for his books?

David’s inspiration for his stories derives from experiences he has had in life or from things he witnesses in the media. In particular, the inspiration for his first YA novel TORN came as a result of the Romanian Revolution. As the revolution was coming to an end, David organised a trip to take aid to Romania and he had been asked by organisations such as the Red Cross to find any orphanages there due to hearing some horrific stories they had heard.

After arriving in Timișoara, where the revolution had started, the first person to come up to them was a young, scruffy street kid and he showed David’s group where people had been shot in doorways and other shrines where people had been killed just a couple of weeks prior. The horrific reality of the war ultimately inspired David to write TORN as nobody was telling the story of what happens to civilians on the ground and what happens to the children they are with, hence why children are featured a lot in this novel.

Another big inspiration for David was the cover of National Geographic where a photographer had captured an image of a young Afghan girl with piercing blue eyes who had been bombed out of her house in Afghanistan and had to flee to Pakistan. This whole encounter make David think about kids in war environments, what they go through and the fact that nobody tells their story. He hopes readers can learn compassion and to think about things from different perspectives because it’s easy to judge someone without walking in their shoes.

What motivates David to keep writing?

The primary motivating factor that keeps David writing is receiving feedback from readers because, regardless of whether they like the books, he enjoys hearing other peoples’ thoughts. In fact, he loves it when people don’t like his stories because it helps him think of how to improve and this motivates him to continue writing.

“It’s really interesting because, until you get published, writing is a very solitary career. It’s only you or your closest who read your stuff and you never hear real criticism coming back”.

The feedback from readers has also motivated David to stand his ground more in the publishing process. In his second YA novel, TAKEN, there is a scene where a character sees their star sign written in the clouds but the editors requested the scene to be removed, claiming it was unrealistic and unbelievable for readers. However, this is something that David had actually experienced in real life; his wife came out with a camera on a sunny day and written in the clouds above their heads was written ‘Leo’ in capital letters. She said, “wouldn’t that be funny if that was your star sign?”. It turned out that it actually was his star sign, so she took a picture of David and he thought “I’m going to put this in a book someday”, hence why it’s included in a scene in TAKEN.

Has anything surprising or unexpected happened in his writing career?

Winning several awards and nominations for his work was a complete surprise for David. His first novel, TORN, won the Lancashire Book of the Year in 2013, and it was long listed for both the Branford Boase Award and the Waterstone’s Children’s Book PrizeThe novel was also nominated for the Georgia Peach Award 2014/15. His second novel, TAKEN, was nominated for the Carnegie Medal and won the Dudley Teens Book Awards.

David received criticism from some readers regarding a storyline for one of his characters; the critics claimed it was completely unrealistic for anybody to be a medic at eighteen and on the ground in Afghanistan. However, during a fan signing, a young girl aged seventeen came up to David saying she loved the story and was in fact training to be a medic. With her eighteenth birthday coming up, she was about to go on tour to Afghanistan, which was a bizarre experience for David.

Another surprising experience occurred during research for TAKEN. The premise for this novel focused on injured soldiers who had lost limbs in Afghanistan and were organising an around-the-world yacht trip which goes badly wrong. As part of the research, David visited Headley Court, a rehabilitation centre for injured soldiers, and met a major who was part of the rehabilitation team.

He asked the major whether people with injuries could man a yacht and strangely enough, the major had just returned from taking a group of injured soldiers on a yacht trip to the Arctic. He shared how he helped a double amputee off the boat and onto an iceberg to fulfil his ambition, explaining how these people would be able to operate a yacht. The whole encounter was surreal as somebody had accomplished such a feat at the same time David was planning to write a story about the same very thing.

Advice for students

David emphasises perseverance is key for success because there will be a lot of rejection in a saturated market, and to not expect to make major money out of writing unless you have that big break.

“Self-belief is much underrated. Everybody has a talent. I’ve seen thousands of people over the years, lots of whom don’t believe in themselves, and I can guarantee they will have the talent they can develop and take to another level”.

What’s next?

Given the impact of the current lockdown in the UK due to the COVID-19 pandemic, David has seen a lull in his motivation to write due to the uneasiness around the whole situation. With that being said, he is currently working on a new novel. The premise is based on identity and it’s set at a time where the atmosphere is seeded but people can choose their identity to an extent, which is a big trend in youth culture at the moment.

To find out more about David’s work you can visit his website. Alternatively, his books are available to purchase on Amazon.

Before moving to the UK, Adriana Braje launched a successful YouTube channel which now has 103K subscribers and over 24 million views. Now working as a BCU lecturer for Digital Marketing and the current School Marketing Lead, Adriana opens up about her experiences and inspirations in hopes to motivate graduates for the Inspired Festival.

What inspired Adriana to start her YouTube channel?

During her teen years, Adriana used to pursue athletics professionally, however, she suffered an injury in her first year of high school and she consequently had to stop her passion for athletics. Due to a conflict of schedules, she also had to stop playing the cello and so the abrupt ending of everything that felt familiar created a void for Adriana. Making YouTube videos ending up being the perfect avenue to fill this void as creating content allowed Adriana to be creative and have fun again.

One of the breaking points when she was looking into different avenues for creating content was when she started to really struggle with acne in her teen years. The dermatologist put Adriana on heavy antibiotics, and she began researching other people’s journeys who were on these medications, such as how it affected them and whether there were any side effects, however nothing came up.

After realising that there could be countless people who are in the same situation, she realised how important it was for her content to be useful for others, and so she started to document her journey.

“I thought it was necessary to be seen by the community so we build this tolerance and understanding for someone else’s journey, someone else’s position and feelings, and be more appreciative of all the diverse cultures we have”. 

What motivated Adriana to keep going despite starting off with a small platform?

Just like a lot of teenagers, Adriana was very conscious of her body image at a young age and didn’t feel comfortable in her own skin, finding that it was turning into something very unhealthy. Fortunately, she had her YouTube channel which created a safe space and helped her to not worry about anything.

“I didn’t feel the most confident, I didn’t feel the most beautiful, I didn’t feel like I fit the pattern. YouTube kept me going and it just kept me happy. It was just a little world of my own that nobody can take away. I think that was probably the main reason why I stuck with it for such a long time”.

Adriana’s channel began to see a massive growth with her step by step tutorials, especially with her ‘How To Apply Eyeliner Like a PRO!’ video reaching 17 million views and ‘How To Apply Gel Eyeliner! Brushes, Tips and More!’ reaching 2.5 million views. Yet, even with the hate comments that all YouTubers are bound to get at some point, Adriana found that the hate (which was usually about her eyebrows) helped strengthen her mental health rather than knock her down which was her main motivation to keep making videos.

What was the most surprising experiences in Adriana’s YouTube career?

Adriana started off with only 20 subscribers for her first two years of filming. It was never about the numbers for Adriana and so without any expectations for her channel, she simply used the platform to keep herself sane through her teenage struggles. She found it was different from school and from anything else out there at the time, providing her with her own little world. 

One of the most surprising experiences to come out of this was being invited by YouTube to attend their exclusive ‘Unlock the Space’ event in London, an event where selected YouTubers are granted premium access to their facilities and training sessions.

“I remember first I thought it was a scam email, I didn’t think it was real”.

Adriana also joined a competition for the next up and coming creators, a competition in which thousands of people in the UK applied for, and Adriana managed to be one of the top candidates. The whole event was something Adriana never thought she’d be part of, during which she met top creators like Marcus Butler and even attended editing workshops with high profile names, such as the editors of Star Trek.

Another huge achievement for Adriana was being able to join the recording of a documentary for YouTube which was filmed by a TV station called ARTE who flew out to Birmingham and filmed with Adriana for a few days. All of these experiences opened up a lot of doors for Adriana and allowed for collaborations which drew more attention to her channel.

How has YouTube helped Adriana?

Living in a digital era has many benefits; we have the potential to be more connected than ever. Through YouTube Adriana was able to get a digital marketing internship that turned into a full-time job. Young educators are fairly uncommon but because of her channel, Adriana was able to progress quickly through her career.

“There’s no way I would be here and be a lecturer at BCU if it wasn’t for that courageous 15-year-old that just took that camera and started filming. I owe a lot to that little teenager”.

Advice for graduates

A key piece of advice from Adriana is to follow your gut regardless of what your friends or colleagues might say as you won’t know until you try. 

“Everyone started small. No one grew to a million [subscribers] overnight. You just need to keep with it, make it your own, and make it fun for you. If you’re constantly burdened by this need to grow and prosper and generate revenue, there’s no way your channel or your profile is ever going to be successful”.

What’s next?

Part of the reason why Adriana decided to retire from YouTube was that she never felt too comfortable with the influencer crowd because of the weird energy that comes with people considering each other competition. 

Now that Adriana is in her twenties, she has developed her own consultancy business throughout the years and started lecturing. With time, she feels like both she and her audience have outgrown her channel a bit and she now uses teaching to satisfy her creativity. 

“I might continue doing it but I think now I would be more open to trying out a different platform, so maybe playing more with Instagram reels or maybe going to TikTok or something like that so watch this space.”

To follow Adriana’s journey into the world of beauty, hair and skincare, you can watch her YouTube videos here.