Tijan or ‘TJ’ is a 23-year-old from Africa. We met TJ through a partnership with the West End Refugee Service, a registered charity supporting asylum seekers and refugees in Newcastle Upon Tyne. We offered members of the service the opportunity to participate in our ‘Tynesiders’ project, learning photography and media skills to tell their unique stories of migration.

When we met TJ he was at a crisis point in his life:

I was homeless, wondering what to do since life was not worth living. I was always in a low mood when WERS told me about the photography course.

TJ already had a basic knowledge of photography and was very keen to expand on this, pouring all of his energy into exploring and improving his craft. From the beginning of the course, he was very hands-on with the equipment, asking lots of questions and producing some excellent images. He learnt quickly about different composition techniques like the rule of thirds and applied them brilliantly in his photographs. When asked what his highlights of the course were, he had high praise for our project worker and one particular trip to visit the ‘Discovery Museum to see an exhibition called 'Destination Tyneside', focusing on migration to Newcastle and surrounding areas:

The motivation of the tutor inspired me to take photography as a career. He pushes me from my comfort zone to know more than what I thought about photography. He exposes me by ensuring we visit museums that I have never had the chance to get into. My tutor is such a motivational speaker; he inspired me a lot and always asked if I'm OK. The course has given me a career which I'm so passionate about. Each time I took a photo and send it to Jacob, he always guided me and most time compliment. This has improved my confidence and most times when I send my photos on social media, I got lots of likes and nice comments.

During the project and the subsequent move to online delivery due to the coronavirus pandemic, TJ continued to attend sessions and recognised the benefit of connecting with the other group members during lockdown. When asked during Mental Health Awareness Week if he has any tips for managing mental health he said:

After working hard on a final photography project, due to be shown in public areas around Newcastle, TJ is now looking to the future:

My challenge now is to choose between being a YouTube blogger or mainstream journalist. This course has helped me from depression and help me to have a better understanding about photography.I remain grateful to all those who have helped me to reach this level especially the manager, tutor (Jacob), WERS and colleagues.

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