When Canice joined Headliners in February 2020, he didn’t know that the world was about to get hit by a pandemic and that a month later, the country would enter a lockdown.

At the time, he was finishing secondary school and simply looking for more social interaction.

“It was my mother’s idea that I joined Headliners. I think she heard about the organisation through their Facebook page, and I knew that Adam – who lives across the street – was part of the group.

“I didn’t really know anything about Headliners, just that they had to do with media and newspapers. But I like to keep myself occupied, I do join clubs when I can. So when my mother told me about Headliners I thought, why not join? It sounded interesting and it would get me out of the house. I would meet new people and hopefully make friends.”

Alas, neither Canice nor anyone else in Headliners expected that within weeks, getting out of the house wouldn’t really be an option anymore.


Headliners encourages you to express your creative side: they support you and will encourage you to publish your material and above all, they allow you to express yourself.

When the first lockdown occurred, Headliners (UK) like many organisations had to close their office and start working from home. The transition period was as difficult for the staff as it was for the young people. Parts of what the organisation had to offer couldn’t be achieved anymore and still now, months later, some forms of media that are usually a signature for Headliners cannot be delivered.

But throughout their weekly online meetings, the young people of Headliners worked on developing other journalistic forms. 

“Unfortunately, I joined Headliners just before the pandemic and I feel like I’ve been missing out on many things so far because of the situation. Filming and going out as a crew for example was made impossible. But I feel more confident in engaging with people and asking questions. Working on a podcast was a really good idea and I look forward to doing this sort of work again.”

Canice said that the online sessions also helped with the general loneliness brought by the situation.

“Headliners has saved me from the boredom of the pandemic. It has given me something to look forward to every week, even if it’s just gathering for a chat for an hour. I enjoy my family but after months of being locked down together you really do enjoy having a chat with someone else.”

When asked if Headliners has had an impact on him despite the format being different, and how he globally feels these days, Canice replied:

“I do feel a bit more grown-up now I must say, I supposed that’s time for you. I also feel more relaxed and I feel glad to be part of Headliners. I really enjoy myself there.

“I love the fact that Headliners encourages you to express your creative side: whether it is writing, podcasting, creating videos – they support you and will encourage you to publish your material and above all, they allow you to express yourself.”



In the late summer, Headliners conducted an online creative writing masterclass with emerging author Louise Nealon, which Canice attended alongside other members of the Belfast and Derry bureaux.

“I’ve really benefited from the masterclass and it’s helped my writing” Canice said, “the classes were excellent. I always had a little bit of a passion for writing, but mostly I was just getting ideas in my head without doing much about them. So far I had never gotten the motivation to actually put down words on a page. But this just took off after the masterclass.

“The way Louise taught us to look at movies about writers and observe the way they go about the writing process, and to get inspiration from them was great.”

At the end of the masterclass, Canice decided to submit one of his short stories, Breaking Routine to a competition. With the help of Louise, he entered the story in the Children of Lockdown writing award. 

“The criterium for a story to be considered was simply to write about lockdown. I had an idea, something a little futuristic and dystopian. I thought ‘maybe this Covid thing will end well, and maybe it will end terribly badly. What if the lockdown became a permanent state and nobody dared going out even to do the most basic things?’ It just built from there. I knew what I wanted, how it started, how it ended, and what came in the middle. I just needed to write it.”

The staff at Headliners were delighted when they got word that Canice’s story had been found to be the joint winner by Belfast author Paul McVeigh. 

“I hoped to win it of course. I occasionally get lucky, but when you’re writing it’s not much to do with luck. You do your best and then can only hope. I thought coming second or third would be nice. I’m glad I got first.”

Encouraged to keep writing by Paul McVeigh in an online session with the author, Canice has decided to start working on his first novel. He also said he looks forward to coming back to Headliners’ office after the lockdown.

Canice Cusack is a member of the Headliners Foyle Bureau. If you want to know more about the Children of the Lockdown Award, or read his short story Breaking Routine, just click on the links. Canice has also been involved in the production of a series of podcast created by the Bureau. Listen to The Lockdown Before Christmas.

Thank you to The National Lottery Community Fund for helping us give young people like Canice a voice and for making these stories possible.