Aodhán, Foyle Aodhán Roberts first contacted Headliners in September 2019 and tip-toed around the idea of joining the organisation for a few months before finally reaching us in person in January 2020. He joined Headliners as a self-made man, having arisen from a particularly difficult upbringing. Between educational struggle and family tragedies, Aodhán fought his way through to help establish and secure his future in the world of journalism. “I was in college, working away at media, and I was always seeing Headliners’ work on Facebook. I knew that Milo went there, and I thought that it would be really good to get involved with them. But I wasn’t too sure, so I kept focusing on college for a while. But when I did join it was kind of a good mixture because it benefited my studies – it worked well, studying media and doing media outside of school too, being able to use the equipment with a group of people who all had similar interests.” Aodhán is a media student in the North-West Regional College, Derry/Londonderry. At 17, he has already established himself as a practising journalist through his social media news page Derry Footage which gathers over 10,000 likes. Now a well-known figure in the city, he received in 2020 the Derry Credit Union Young People’s Award for Business and Entrepreneurship. When asked how Headliners helped him develop his skills and initiative, Aodhán said: “Headliners is great, not only for me but for everyone who attends. It gives young people a voice that they need. Their programme is absolutely brilliant, it allows young people to research and develop stories for publication on the website. To broadcast, inform and talk to people in the community about issues that concern them. It gives people a chance to take social action online about things they think should change or be added to the community and it gives people a good platform to highlight issues. That’s the best part about Headliners – it gives you the recognition you need. “For example, with Testimonial Tuesday I was able to put my statement online with my picture and talk about what I like to do and the things I’ve been through. People who never knew what I had done were then aware. For me, to be able to get out there and have people read what I’ve done is great. I won an award recently and Headliners has been great at promoting it and supporting me. Headliners has had a major impact on my well-being – not only by being physically there once a week; they also showcase your work and I think this is the sort of things that benefits a young person in the long run.” With a rough start in life, Aodhán’s story is one of success, where a young person struggling in the education system battles to get his voice heard. Suffering from dyslexia and social-emotional behaviour, he always found himself getting in trouble in school. His reports described him as “completely disengaged from any form of education.” Aodhán was referred to occupational therapy and had a full-time learning support teacher. He was being monitored by a Special Educational Needs Coordinator, needed supervised rest breaks and was diagnosed as clinically depressed.With over 70 referrals and eight suspensions, Aodhán was eventually withdrawn from the mainstream school system and placed into EOTAS (Education Other Than At School), a laurel centre based in Maydown making educational provision for children with social, emotional, medical or other issues who could not otherwise access suitable education. Placed there until compulsory school leaving age, Aodhán however made a complete U-turn, to everybody’s astonishment: “EOTAS really helped me overcome my problems. I was on track to get no GCSEs and yet by the beginning of fourth year, I was back in the mainstream system. All support workers and education coordinators said I was a miracle case.” However, things were not going to get easier from there. In January 2019, Aodhán’s mother was diagnosed with stage 4 cervical cancer; and her partner who had been badly suffering from kidney stones for months eventually found out he had pancreatic cancer, one of the hardest forms to diagnose in time. He died 21 days after the diagnosis. A few days prior to his death, Aodhán’s grandmother suddenly passed away from deep vein thrombosis. Though he was old enough to understand and accept death as being part of life, Aodhán struggled from anxiety and depression as a result of this series of traumatic events occurring within such a short timeframe. It is at that time that he joined a Creative Media Production course in the North-West Regional College (NWRC) and opened his channel on both Twitter and Facebook @DerryFootage. Quickly, Derry Footage caught the public’s attention and his audience grew rapidly. Aodhán’s been reporting on everything happening in the city: “Some of the events I report are positive, some are negative… but the main purpose of what I do really is to bring change in the community, support other people, change attitudes, strengthen the community bonds and raise awareness. I want to use media as a platform to inspire others.” His initiative brought him recognition as he got involved with big names such as the BBC, the Belfast Telegraph, Sky News, RTE, CNN and Channel 4. But as things started to pick up for him, his mother was getting sicker and sicker. She was very weak and confused, sleeping more and socialising less. “It was devastating to see her like that. She ended up being placed in Foyle Hospice and we knew the end was near.” For weeks, Aodhán would spend his days at the NWRC and his nights at the Hospice, commuting endlessly between the two places until October 25th, 2019 when his mother passed away as he arrived. “My grandparents have passed away. My father left when I was young and my mum’s partner passed away along with her. It’s only me and my siblings. I’m 17 with no legal guardian and no consistent source of income.” Even though Aodhán confessed that this made him hit the lowest point, he did not let tragedy crush him and somehow managed to push on. He joined us in Headliners at the beginning of 2020 in the hope that we could help him build a portfolio and acquire more practical experience. “I think it’s great that Headliners gathers people to research productions, and then help us direct and produce them. I’ve been here eight months and I’ve been involved in a lot of projects – Testimonial Tuesdays, Life in Lockdown, a series of podcasts. I also interviewed the former CEO of Headliners before she left. During the lockdown, we spoke about relationships, the sense of community and educational needs. It was excellent because it doesn’t matter whether things are normal or not, Headliners still goes ahead whether in person or online, and as a young person you will have something to do every single week. “Headliners is also registered with BBC Young Reporter which is a very good partnership and it means that people from the BBC will be able to see the work we’re doing, which opens doors. "The organisation is also inviting people from the industry to come in and teach us reporting and media techniques, and I think that’s great. “Headliners looks great on my CV and it gives the opportunity for people to get qualifications. It furthers your personal progression and development through the programme. They support diversity of backgrounds and experiences and will be good for you as a person as well as they’ll help you develop yourself as a professional. “I’ve been able to use a lot of the work I did with Headliners for the College. Some of my modules are entirely made up of Headliners work because they cross-reference each other, so it means that I’m not doing college work only in college – Headliners helps you make quality material you’ll be able to use.” The organisation is now making plans for the new school year and is getting ready to deliver masterclasses and OCNs. Headliners will also be bringing industry professionals to conduct workshops on topics that might interest them and help them acquire new skills. We asked Aodhán what direction he would like Headliners to take as life enters a new form of normality. “Headliners now is a lot different from what it used to be – obviously it’s because of different funders, but I think we could do a lot more in terms of journalism. Since I came along, Headliners has been producing a lot of media content but not so much in terms of straight-forward journalism, and I’d like to do a bit of both on a regular basis. We could spend more time in pre-production too, as you would if you were working on a professional project. I’m sure other areas could be improved – just like for everything else it’s not perfect; but I think it’s pretty good already.” During the lockdown, Headliners has continued supporting young people via online sessions and has encouraged them to get creative: “I believe I’ve done three podcasts, taken part in conversations, written some articles. I’ve done a lot during the lockdown and Headliners has definitely been helping – getting involved in the podcast for example, that was something to look forward to every week. I knew we’d gather and we’d be able to talk about what was happening. They were strange times; you never really knew what was going to happen, but I was able to write about how it was affecting young people from my own perspective. I also got to talk about how the lockdown was affecting mental health.” “Everything was online, and that was a strange thing. Even Headliners was taking place online. I did my full-time course over Google Meets – that’s pretty strange, but I was able to write about it. “Was it worth it? It absolutely was, because I’ll be able to look back in a few years’ time and think ‘those were the days, when I was a wee 17-year-old’. In 10 years’ time it will be really interesting to read how the Coronavirus pandemic affected me.” Aodhán Roberts has been a member of the Foyle Bureau since early 2020. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, he produced a lot of media content with Headliners, exploring different media forms You can listen to Aodhán's podcasts here and here and read his interview with Headliners' former CEO Fiona Wyton. Aodhán also took part in a debate regarding the reopening of pubs and wrote about life in lockdown, one month through. Thank you to The National Lottery Community Fund for helping us give young people like Aodhán a voice to be heard.