We are now a year into the pandemic, a year in lockdown, a year of not seeing our friends and families; forgetting what the inside of a pub, a café or a cinema looks like. A year of witnessing our mental health and that of others play the yo-yo.


There have been a lot of ups and downs but somehow, we settled and became more or less used to doing everything via online meetings. Even college and masterclasses, even interviews.


In the first half of March, and to mark International Women’s Day, we met with two incredible women for an interview: BBC NI Maggie Taggart, and the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People Koulla Yiasouma.


Two very different women with great careers in a field that mattered to us: the former in journalism, and the latter dedicated to giving young people a voice.


They took the time to talk about their jobs, hear our stories and answer our questions, and as Milo said: “they left no stones unturned.”


“The meeting with Koulla brought me knowledge of what she does and what her job entails. When I heard her title, I genuinely didn’t have a clue what it actually meant, and so it was nice to hear her explain what she does.”


“I got a better understanding of her job, what she does on a day-to-day basis and how she helps people” Josh added. “It was nice to talk to somebody about my own experience of education, about everything that happened, the good and the bad. She gave advice and it felt comforting to be heard.”


During the interview, Ms Yiasouma took notes of what we asked her, especially when we hit some points that directly resonated with her activity as a Commissioner. She told us that she would bring these points forwards and make sure to get us an answer or at least some progress.


“I shared my experience of EOTAS (Education Other Than At School) and how I attended there.” Said Aodhán. “I think it was a good thing that I could express myself and make it clear that I think that a lot of mainstream schools are institutionalised. Sometimes it’s a good thing, in my case it was not. And I think it causes young people with any type of social-emotional behaviour difficulties to lack engagement.


“Sometimes there will be unnecessary punishment or referral from teachers who are trained to help young people but can perhaps forget what they need. EOTAS provide young people with a choice. They give us all the options, encourage us to make mistakes and learn upon them.


“When I was talking, I could see Koulla listening to me, she was taking notes. And I wasn’t the one asking her questions. I would tell her things and she would then ask me questions. She wanted to learn more, she was obviously looking to help, and I really liked that.”


Milo added: “Koulla was quite disheartened about what I’d been through in school. I said to her that after having been physically bullied at school, I found that the verbal abuse was better when it switched from one to the other. But she seemed a little worried that I had to go through either.


“I know you can’t go back and change the past, and I know that there will always be bullies. But it reassures me to know that maybe in the future bullying could be better regulated. Her words reassured me that maybe harsher punishment will be placed on bullies.”


The week before, as budding journalists we got the opportunity to meet former BBC NI Maggie Taggart who helped us prepare for the interview and gave up a very detailed overview of her career.


Maggie took a voluntary redundancy in October 2020 after 40 years in the world of journalism, 25 of which were spent working for the BBC.


“I learnt about the day-to-day routine of what her job would have involved” said Aodhán. “Who she’d be working with, what techniques she would have used. How the BBC now is so much different from what it was when she started. She told us about how the place is getting more diverse, with more women involved. I received some important information on the fundamentals of pre-production and research. She described the BBC as I would have imagined it. It’s a high-pressure environment.”


“Her depiction of the BBC was roughly what I imagined” agreed Milo. “Maggie was very thorough when she described what she covered during her time there. She was very engaging. When we asked questions, she left no stones unturned. She spent a lot of time working for arts and entertainment programmes and I was really pleased to see someone her calibre settling for creative arts.”


Josh added: “Broadcasting is something that really interests me, whether it’s the equipment involved or the amount of people working together, just the whole atmosphere. Maggie made me interested in working in this world of media.”


Receiving first-hand advice from someone who spent 25 years in the UK’s biggest media organisation gave us a real insight, as well as good tips for our interview with Ms Yiasouma.


“I do appreciate the fact that there are people like her willing to come and talk to us and tell us how it was back then. It was quite fascinating, this whole picture she painted” concluded Aodhán.


This article was written by the young people of the Headliners Foyle Bureau: Josh McGeoghan, Milo Quigley, Kieran Townley and Aodhán Roberts, after a short series of events organised as part of International Women's Day. These masterclasses and interviews were made possible thanks to the ongoing support of The National Lottery Community Fund. Thank you for giving our young people tools to shape their future.