#BrixtonBonus – Featured group of the month: Media Community Network Limited

Every month the Brixton Bonus provides revenue for the Brixton Fund, our new micro-grants scheme in Brixton for projects looking to create employment, challenge injustice and create community benefit.

Media Community Network Limited, a charity that lets young people speak through film about the issues they face, is the sort of group that would be eligible to apply for funds. Click here to donate to MCNL.

According to founder Laverne Hunt, Media Community Network Limited gives a voice to those who would not otherwise be heard, attracting groups in schools or communities by the excitement of using film as a tool for learning. Using documentary film projects, they aim to engage young people of all types, helping them to explore matters that are of concern to them in a constructive way. Each project facilitates dialogue between peer groups who would be unlikely otherwise to talk openly to each other. The exposure generates an overall positive influence due to the shared nature of the film product – leading to increased self-esteem and improved ‘citizenship’ within a school or community and dispelling prejudices. Comedy adds humour and sets the tone of engagement for both the audience and participants. Valuable skills are acquired: communication, working as part of a team, carrying out research, executing instructions, understanding different people, cultures, viewpoints, making a difference in the community through personal contribution.

B£ caught up with Laverne to hear more about MCNL and the work they do.

“I set MCLN up 10 years ago. I have degrees in sociology and psychology & media, and after graduation completed a Raindance infamous Producer’s Course.  I was inspired by Steven Goodman’s articles on teaching youth media literacy and the ability to change challenged children’s lives through film  – so much so I flew to the EVC head office in New York and did his summer course for teachers. I had two small children at the time and if it wasn’t for the support of my parents none of this would have been possible. Films just bring people together by default. So I took up the challenge to trial this unique model using documentary and comedy – I set it up as a charity, put an ad in The Times, and it went from there…”

“In our programmes, young people contribute from the beginning. We want to empower, not objectify them, so we don’t want to use them as examples or film subjects – they are the filmmakers. We do encourage them to use comedy. Documentaries are so often very serious, and seem to only be directed at “documentary people”, they’re not exciting for people outside of that circle. We also don’t want to make films that are stacked against anyone, but rather ones that bring people together. They are usually short, researched films about issues that matter to the young people involved in the filmmaking.”

One of the films we did was with a special needs school in Kent. The school got in touch because they felt like their students were not represented enough in the community. We did a brilliant film with them called “Butt Out” about the smoking ban, where they were interviewing their teachers about smoking and health. But they also wanted to include this surreal sequence in which an alien is landing on school grounds, smoking a cigarette. So effectively there was a film within a film! It was really hard work for the participants, but everybody was useful in some way, there are so many things to do around the film – music, design… And they absolutely loved the final product and wanted to show it to everyone. And it’s not just them – NHS wanted to use the film in colleges. It’s really amazing to be able to show just how much you can learn from children, particularly those with special needs who might not be given as many opportunities as they deserve.”

Another film we did was with the Latin community on the Aylesbury Estate. We did a film about regeneration, but also a mini film inspired by Charlie Chaplin and his quote: “All I need to make a comedy is a park, a policeman and a pretty girl.” Another one was about peace and cohesion we did with Peckham youth. The best part of it all is to see how these experiences change the young people’s lives. If I was growing up in London now, I’d be scared and intimidated. And so much can be gained from digging around culture. We’ve had so many other ideas, but lacked funding to get them off the ground. We wanted to make a film with young Muslim men telling their stories, another one with deaf children about their lives and challenges, or a project on faith and identity in Tower Hamlets against the backdrop of the Olympics. It’s all different from the stuff you’d see on TV. And all of films we do are about a resolution of some kind.”

Helen Lederere and professor George

Helen Lederere and professor George

“The film we’re promoting right now is called “Cool To Be Kind”. It tackles low-level bullying in primary schools. There aren’t any bullying prevention or detection programs, so we want to look at that, but also change the culture in the classrooms. As an antidote to bullying, we want to actively promote five acts of kindness per day, all chosen by participants and achievable, and for which they get non-monetary rewards, like a school trip or plain clothes day. We hope it will help us explore issues of friendship and conflict, particularly between girls. We’re forging support from lots of people, including comedian Jo Brand, former Labour cabinet member Tessa Jowell, Prof. Rosalyn George, who researched bullying at Goldsmith’s university, as well as a Harvard medical sociologist Nicholas Christakis who believes that kindness is contagious. I’m meeting him in November to develop a toolkit to measure the outcomes of this project.”

Bullying V4 export smaller (1).mp4 from Laverne Hunt on Vimeo.

“The video of the experiences of the girls at Brunswick Primary School is available to watch online now, and I would like to use it as part of an awareness campaign in schools. Comedian Helen Lederere participated in the film for free, whilst Ninder Billing, Executive Producer at the BBC organised music and music editing for free too. The film is founded upon my original methodology and directed by Marshall Corwin (Award winning Panorama Director). It was partly inspired by Bernadette Russell’s book Do Nice, Be Kind, Spread Happy and her project 366 Days of Kindness where she pledged to be kind to strangers every day for a year, as a response to the 2011 riots. If we’re successful this could be huge! We’re raising funds to turn it into an app to promote the five a day acts of kindness in other schools. But we need a solid prototype to get the kids excited about it. That’s our biggest challenge – to make it something interesting, something the kids will want to use. Part of the funds would go to focus groups for young people so we can get it right.”

“This project is important for MCNL, and could be a turning point for our credibility if all goes to plan. We are about local projects of national interest, but like so many small charities we suffer because infrastructure is weak as the charity is reliant on donations and volunteers, the big organisations take up all the resources while they could be brilliant mentors for small charities, particularly where there is synergy.”

“We have a big fundraising event coming up – so watch this space! – but even before that I’m trying to do as much fundraising as possible: I’m running a half marathon in October, and will be doing a fundraiser quiz at work. In my day job I am a secretary in an investment bank – I have two teenagers, and I was funding MCNL films myself, I needed a proper job. So I somehow manage to run the charity in my spare time – it’s a miracle. I grew up in Stockwell, but we live in Sydenham now. My daughters are 14 and 17. The older wants to be a human rights lawyer, and she’s already rocking the boat at school, always advocating for those who need support.”

MCNL is much more than just making films, what we do is about the human condition and human rights, and about integration and integrity. We’re not “film people” who treat people as subjects and don’t give anything back – we want to build communities of like-minded people, increase representation, have young people tell their own stories. The reason we’re using film is because it’s a way of seeing yourself in everyone and anyone.”

To support Media Community Network Limited, go to https://www.justgiving.com/Laverne-Hunt1/ or get in touch with Laverne via Laverne@mcnltd.org.

Whenever you buy a Brixton Bonus ticket, you will be contributing to the Fund, which will then support groups like Media Community Network Limited. One more reason to get involved!