Learning about queer lives for Pride month and beyond

Learning about queer lives for Pride month and beyond

Earlier this month, my colleague Tessa and I were lucky enough to see The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs at Soho Theatre for Pride just before the end of its run. Written by Iman Qureshi and featuring a fantastically diverse cast, it was both hilarious and heart-breaking in its look at continued biases and the lack of shared spaces for Lesbians: from painfully relatable Lesbian stereotypes (hello feminist poetry collections, rescue cats and Doc Martens…) to the shocking reality that even to this day – despite all the progress – finding a space where you feel truly comfortable to be your most authentic self is difficult.

Queer culture has moved into the mainstream, but it can often feel like rainbow washing and performative activism – usually marked by a Pride flag put up for the 30 days of June. Entering popular culture isn’t necessarily a bad thing – most homophobia exists because of fear and lack of exposure – but, at Riot, we believe that consuming more queer culture all year round will help combat this in the long-term. Just look at the impact of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Queer Eye and Heartstopper. Engaging with cultural experiences and content that is representative of our shared experiences and identity is so important.

Here are my top three recommendations exploring and celebrating queerness, to be enjoyed both in Pride month and beyond:

  1. Read queer writing

I recently discovered a little gem, Queering the Green, in Gay’s The Word, the oldest LGBTQ+ bookshop in the UK. Curated by an independent Irish publisher Lifeboat Press, it documents the poetic queer voices of the 20th century. This collection not only amplifies the voices of established poets, but also the newer, up-and-coming ones too – we absolutely love this kind of thing here at Riot!

Learning about queer lives for Pride month and beyond
Queering the Green: Post-2000 Queer Irish Poetry Edited by Paul Maddern

On the subject of poetry, we also recently had the pleasure of working on Penguin Random House’s annual company showcase – Penguin Presents – whose amazing line-up included poets Mary Jean Chan and Andrew McMillan, curators of the new anthology 100 Queer Poems. Published this month, it’s a collection of exploring the blossoming of queer poetry over the past few decades, and the poets who came before and challenged the norm. In the introduction, McMillan says: “An anthology like this asks a necessary but difficult question: What is a queer poem? I wish I knew.” With chapters on ‘queer childhoods’ and ‘queer futures’ and everything in between, there is a poem for everyone.

  1. Visit queer spaces

There is a great range of queer spaces in the UK – coffee shops, bars, nightclubs, bookstores, festivals, theatres… you name it, it exists. One of our favourites is London-based Mighty Hoopla, the UK’s most fabulous extravaganza that showcase emerging and established LGBTQ+ artists and performers to have a space. This year’s line-up included Crayola the Queen, who ran a session for the team last year on the importance of pronouns.

Learning about queer lives for Pride month and beyond
Right to left: Emily and Crayola The Queen at Mighty Hoopla, Mighty Hoopla 2022 line up poster, Tessa at Mighty Hoopla

We’d also recommend a visit to Bishopsgate Institute near Liverpool Street, home to the biggest LGBTQ+ archive in the country – it’s free to visit! Last year, our team supported the sold-out event, Dragging the Archives, which highlighted and celebrated the contribution of drag kings to LGBTQ+ culture. If you want to really understand the day-to-day lives of LGBTQ+ people, these archives are a great first step.

Finally, Bristol Pride is taking place on July 9th if you fancy something outside the capital. This year’s line-up is amazing – ranging from the Queer Vision Film festival to Cabaret to a dance performances stage and a Circus tent – and, with Carly Rae Jepson headlining, it’s one you won’t want to miss!

  1. Consume queer content online

With many of us time-poor and stuck in our own echo chambers (not helped by algorithms online), it can feel daunting to try to find the time to read about others’ experiences. However, there are lots of TikTok and Instagram content creators who make this easier by creating short, sharp and deeply personal content that is sure to open your eyes to all sorts of new perspectives. A few of Riot’s favourite queer content creators include:

  • ellaellaw – Ella is a TikTok content creator who shares the reality of being a queer, non-binary autistic person. Their sketches and ‘audition tapes’ are a lot of fun, balanced with a lot of informative content on the intersection between unmasking and coming to terms with their identity.
  • You Look Okay To Me – Jamesha is a journalist who has created a digital space for chronically ill people. They have such informative content on what it is really like to live with a chronic illness and reminds us to all be a little gentler with ourselves. They also create a monthly Spotify playlist which is a favourite.
  • Lamarodofficial – Rod is a best-selling author, a Buddhist minister, activist, and more. His content focuses on grief processing through meditation and practicing freedom. He talks in this post about how he practices freedom by not buying into how others think of him – something we could all do a little more of to help us live more authentically.
  • Katie_budenberg – Katie is an Instagram and TikTok content creator who promotes self-love and compassion. Katie (and her gorgeous cat, Sammy) is normalising everything from soft tummies and body hair to sex toys and awkward period encounters. She talks in this post about the heteronormativity of our society and shares that no matter where you are in your journey, your sexuality is valid.

It’s not about being an expert in all things queer and learning everything all at once – everyone makes mistakes, everyone is learning. It’s about the openness to discuss, be corrected and learn. If we worry less about getting things wrong and more about being compassionate and empathetic, we can go a long way.

Encouraging and understanding differences is a key consideration for us as a Blueprinted agency. After all, if everyone we worked was a cookie-cutter replica, we wouldn’t have those moments of creative excellence, the out-there and wild ideas that win awards, or the people to challenge, disrupt and innovate. Anyone can start this journey by diversifying the content we consume, exploring new spaces, and listening to the voices of the people with the experience – not just for Pride month.

Celebrating Windrush Day 2022

Celebrating Windrush Day 2022

22 June 2022 is the fifth national Windrush Day, and 74 years since the SS Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks in Essex in 1948, carrying the first Caribbean migrants to the UK. 

Deborah Klass is Finance, Operations & Talent Director at Riot. She is the CEO of The Windrush Generation Legacy Association, an organisation which aims to celebrate and share knowledge of the contributions of the Windrush Generation with young people, through exhibitions, seminars, and events. To celebrate last year’s Windrush Day, Deborah shared this piece detailing her mother’s experiences of immigrating to the UK. This year, we’re sharing the experiences of Julian Bertrand’s parents, Daphney and John Bertrand.

“My mother and father were both born in Grenada and had four sons. My mother says the British government were asking people in the West Indies to go England with the promise of opportunities for them and their family. In July 1960, they travelled from Grenada to England on a cruise ship called the Ascania, with close friends and some family. When they arrived in London, they stayed with family for a couple of years while they found jobs and saved money.

My mother says that when she initially arrived in England, she didn’t like it because the weather was cold and English people were unwelcoming, but as more West Indians arrived, they formed friendships, communities and banded together. The community had many gatherings and parties to get to know each other and keep their spirits up. 

My father worked on a building site, where many other West Indians worked, and my mother worked for a textiles company, sewing. Because of whom they worked with, they did not experience as much racism as some of their peers, but they heard horrifying stories from friends and family over the years.  They made quite a few Irish friends, because Irish people were treated similarly to black people at the time, by the English.

Once my parents had saved enough money to purchase a home, they sent for their sons 2 at a time. My mother explained that while she found it easy to find work, the wages were very low, and it was a struggle bringing up children. She explains that once they owned their own home, my parents were able to house other people arriving from the West Indies. She said that generally black people stayed with other black people, because many English people did not want to rent to them.

Generally, my parents missed Grenada a lot and wanted to go back. In 1978 they returned to Grenada, 18 years after they arrived in England.”

The Windrush Generation Legacy Association is opening a new portrait exhibition featuring Pål Hansen’s ‘Windrush – Leave to Remain’ photographs at 1036-1037, the Whitgift Centre, Croydon, from 23rd June 2022. Contact info@thewindrushgla.co.uk, 020 3772 4545.

5 tips for better business practice this Earth Day

At Riot, we’re committed to being a sustainable business. We might be a small agency working in culture and entertainment – less culpable than some industries when it comes to carbon footprint – but that doesn’t mean we’re off the hook. Collective action is real and impactful, so every business and individual has a responsibility to tackle the climate emergency and hold each other to account. 

As a values-led company, we’re proud to work with changemakers like environmentalist Dr Mya Rose-Craig (Birdgirl) and design critic Alice Rawsthorn (Design Emergency), and socially-responsible brands such as Moomin Characters and Rebel Girls. We’ve got a #RiotRecommends reading list with something for all tastes and ages, which you can see over on our Litalist Earth Day shelf

However, we’re fully aware that the sustainability journey needs constant reassessment and that there is always room for improvement. It can be difficult to know where to start, but we wanted to share a few of the high-impact changes we’ve implemented at Riot. We’d love to hear yours!

Switch banks
Every penny we spend is a vote for the type of world we want to live in, but what about the money sitting in our bank accounts? Much of the banking industry succeeds by investing customers’ savings into a variety of businesses, so it’s worth taking a closer look at where your bank is investing your money. For example, Barclays is the fifth biggest investor in fossil fuels in the world – if you bank with Barclays and believe we should be moving away from a fossil-fuel market, it’s worth taking your money elsewhere. In 2021, Riot switched its bank to Co-op, which is the UK’s highest rated street bank for ESG (environmental, social and governance).

If you’re unsure where your bank currently stands in its sustainability, start with this list from New Money on the top five ethical banks, and three to avoid. It’s also worth remembering that banks are some of the best organisations in the world at greenwashing, so take any ‘green values’ page on a bank’s website with a pinch of salt!

Look at your pension

As with banking, do you know where your pension is being invested? On average, every £10 put into a pension is contributing £2 to deforestation. Make My Money Matter is a campaign founded by film director Richard Curtis to encourage people to really look at their pensions and how that money is being used. Many pension providers offer ethical and sustainable pots, but these often aren’t the default, so it’s certainly worth exploring where yours is currently being invested, and change it if it doesn’t align with your values.

Riot uses the People’s Pension, which considers the environmental impact of its investments, specifically avoiding any companies who do not meet their minimum ethical criteria. Our employee pensions are currently weighted to favour low-carbon and ESG funds.

Change your shopping habits
Every individual and business is a consumer, but how often do you question exactly where your money is going when you purchase goods and services? Look into the sustainability and ethical practices of the companies you buy from, as they may not align with your or your company’s values. There are a wealth of options when it comes to buying everything, so it’s worth digging a little deeper to find out where your money is really going, and if there’s a better place you could be spending it.

As an organisation that often needs to order books, Riot has recently switched all of our book purchases over to Bookshop.org, which financially supports local, independent bookshops, and has just been awarded B Corp status.

Donate
Sometimes, donating to causes tackling climate change can be the most effective way of creating meaningful change. Organisations like GivingWhatWeCan have already done the hard work for us, and can guide any donations to the most impactful places.

Riot has recently signed up to regularly donate to Ecologi, a Gold-standard, BCorps organisation that funds carbon reduction projects all over the world.

Recycle more – but use it as a last resort
Thanks to initiatives like TerraCycle, almost everything is recyclable these days. Question how much you are sending to landfill and explore alternatives. Soft plastics are often taken at local supermarkets. Walkers has their own nationwide recycling scheme for crisp packets. It might take a little extra effort, but if every individual and business changed their mindset from disposable to reusable, we could make an enormous difference.

At Riot, we work in a building where 75% of our waste is recycled. We work closely with our building manager to ensure that our sustainability goals align, and our landlord is currently committed to reducing the building’s overall carbon emissions to align with the IPCC’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C by 2030.

Just remember, recycling should always be a last resort in your sustainability plan. Reduce, re-use, recycle – in that order!

Illustration of Mya-Rose Craig © Julia Kuo.

Penguin Random House Children’s hires Riot for Peter Rabbit 120th anniversary campaign

Penguin Random House Children’s has hired Riot Communications to support the development and delivery of a socially impactful campaign to mark 120 years of the much-loved children’s brand Peter Rabbit. 

On behalf of Frederick Warne & Co. (owners of The World of Peter Rabbit™), Riot Communications has been working alongside Penguin Random House Children’s and non-profit garden designers Grow2Know CIC on a partnership that will see three Peter Rabbit-inspired community garden makeovers take place between now and 2024. 

The Grow With Peter Rabbit initiative will draw on Peter Rabbit’s playful nature and bring the benefits of gardening and spending time in nature to families across the UK. The three gardens and a series of bespoke How-To videos – for families to follow at home – will be designed and delivered by Grow2Know’s founders, including: semi-professional footballer, community activist and TV presenter Tayshan Hayden-Smith, garden designer and TV presenter Danny Clarke (aka ‘The Black Gardener’), and Ali Yellop, agriculturist, chef and herbalist. 

The first community garden is in development in a disused plot attached to a primary school in Kensington: the borough in which Grow2Know was founded in response to the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy in 2017, and where Peter Rabbit’s creator, Beatrix Potter, was born. It will be opened in Summer 2022 and available to pupils and the wider local community for workshops and events.

Families across the UK will be encouraged to Grow With Peter Rabbit from home during National Children’s Gardening Week 2022 (28th May to 5th June) when the How-To series will be released via www.peterrabbit.com. Supporting the campaign on social media will be TV presenter and farmer JB Gill and married couple Jake and Hannah Graf MBE, named by the Guardian as one of the UK’s most influential LBGTQ couples. Their families will be joining in to demonstrate how easy and fun it is to grow your own vegetables at home, using simple, upcycled objects and a packet of seeds.

Katy MacMillan-Scott, Director, Riot Communications, said: “This was a dream brief for us: to take a much loved, heritage brand, and to develop its core values – of mischief, of play, of the joy of being in nature – into a collaboration with integrity, legacy and real-world social impact. It’s been a joy to work with the hugely talented teams at Penguin Random House Children’s and Grow2Know to develop this campaign, and we cannot wait to see the final garden reveal. In the meantime, we hope families across the country will get growing with Peter Rabbit this May.

Izzy Richardson, Global Brands Director, Penguin Random House Children’s, said: “As custodians of The World of Peter Rabbit and publisher of Beatrix Potter’s tales, we’re in the unique position of being able to use Beatrix Potter’s timeless stories to affect change and drive positive, social impact. We were both encouraged and impressed by Riot’s credentials in this area and felt confident they were the right partner to work with on this important and exciting campaign. We are really proud of what we have managed to achieve together, and the team at Riot have been collaborative and supportive throughout.”

To find out more, get inspired, sign up for video content and grow with Peter Rabbit, visit www.peterrabbit.com or follow @officialpeterrabbit on Instagram and Facebook.

Are your comms inclusive?

Many companies have rightly put D&I at the top of the senior leadership agenda, thinking about ways in which to make their organisations more inclusive. As the owner of one of only six comms agencies in the UK to have been Blueprinted (an excellence in diversity mark), I am cautiously optimistic about real change. However, one thing I have noticed that often gets overlooked, is the communication around D&I.

It’s all well and good having an accelerated diversity action plan, an accountability charter, an internship programme or a next generation leadership programme, but if the language and tone you use to communicate these ideas and initiatives is not thought-through, your well-intentioned plans could actually do more harm than good.

In my experience, the organisations executing D&I strategies in the most robust and authentic way, are those who think about it holistically – that is, not only the actions they are taking, but how to roll out the message both internally and externally.

We have worked with a handful* of organisations, advising on D&I communications strategies. It is our job to help companies think through and create a clear and sensitive plan, identifying not only what needs to be said, but how, to whom and when. We think about the choice of words and how a message might land – does it sound sincere or cynical and more like a box-ticking exercise? Have the right stakeholders / employee groups been consulted or informed internally? How frequently and transparently should progress – or lack of – be shared? Is it a company-wide email or a press release to the trade press?

Careful consideration of how you talk to your audiences is an essential part of any organisation’s D&I plan. It requires time, thought, and investment in expertise. There are no short cuts to doing it right, but those that do invest – evidence of sincerity in and of itself – will see the greatest return in the long run.

 

*We only advise clients when we believe the charge for greater inclusion is authentic and coming from the very top. We don’t expect organisations to be perfect, but we do expect to see a genuine will to change.

Reflections on mentoring on International Women’s Day

On this International Women’s Day, I’m reflecting on the mentoring I’ve been doing with The Girls Network for the past four months. The Girls Network is a charity whose mission is to inspire and empower girls from the least advantaged communities by connecting them with a mentor and a network of professional role models who are women. In October last year, I arrived at a secondary school in Tower Hamlets, one of the most deprived boroughs in London, with several other aspiring mentors to be matched with a mentee. With some trepidation, as we faced a school gym full of vibrant young women, we sat down for some speed dating that quickly turned into lively conversations about hobbies, favourite school subjects, hopes and fears, exam stress. I was immediately transported back to my teenage years when the world felt enormous and full of possibilities, yet small and concentrated around dynamics of friendship groups, school work, whether my hair had enough hairspray in it to withstand the rain! I now know how privileged I was to be white, from a working class but aspirational family living in south Wales and surrounded by role models who I could draw inspiration from – a friend’s activist mother, the lady at the bookshop who nurtured my love of books, my hardworking, humble Nan who handmade everything. Facing bias as a result of their gender, ethnicity, background, parental income and after two years of major disruption to their education and uncertainty for their futures due to the pandemic, the girls we were meeting were in no such privileged position. 

According to reports from the Office for National Statistics, there are 106,000 more young women than young men who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) and economically inactive. Statistics from Teach First show that 50% of 16-year-olds from the poorest backgrounds achieve no GCSEs above a 3 (grade D). As a PR agency proudly led by a team of phenomenal women from very different backgrounds, we have supported the work that The Girls Network does for several years. We are all keenly aware of the barriers to entry, particularly to a professional role in the culture and entertainment sector, and work to break down those barriers. For example, we’ve recently been awarded the Blueprint diversity mark for our work to promote racial diversity in PR and communications. Riot’s MD, Preena Gadher, who is a passionate advocate of women in business and the arts, especially women of colour, and has mentored for BME PR Pros PR Week mentoring scheme, says, ‘Being a brown woman in business is sadly still a disadvantage in the UK and so starting my own agency in my twenties was a massive risk. I’m super proud of having defied the odds and proved some early nay-sayers wrong. Mentoring programmes that help people see themselves in contexts that are not always obvious can only be a good thing.’ 

I’ve learnt a lot from my brilliant mentee over the past few months. I hope she’s picked up a few tips from me too and felt empowered by our meetings, but mentoring is definitely a two way street. We’ve had fun navigating London’s public transport to help her become more independent and to expand the area where she might find work experience or part time work. She’s shared some beautiful stories of her family bonds that have made me go home and reevaluate my priorities. She’s reminded me of the importance of dedication and determination. I’ve wanted to be the best I can be for her. No matter the age gap or the difference in backgrounds/circumstances, two women coming together to share their experiences, their worries, their dreams and discovering solutions, devising plans, having ideas is a powerful and wonderful thing. 

So on this International Women’s Day, I salute the work of The Girls Network. I salute my mentee, who is defying the odds to realise her ambitions and self-worth. I salute my brilliant colleagues at Riot Communications working to shape a better tomorrow. 

#breakthebias #genderequity #thegirlsnetwork 

Nova Reid hires Riot for personal PR brief

Thought leader, entrepreneur, author and public speaker, Nova Reid, has hired Riot Communications to manage her personal PR.

With a career that has spanned acting, mental wellbeing and teaching people to unlearn racism, Nova is uniquely placed as a facilitator and curator of conversations around race equity, collective healing, and the use of self-agency to role model change. Through her passionate advocacy and powerful public speaking, writing and storytelling, she has become renowned as an agent of change, selected as one of Black Magic Network’s Top 100 Black British Women and receiving a Precious Award for Social Impact.

As an anti-racism expert, she has worked with a variety of organisations including BT and Bloody Good Period. She has appeared regularly on BBC News, Sky News, and BBC Radio as an expert on race relations, written for leading publications including Vogue, Stylist Magazine and Refinery29 and, in 2018, was invited to attend the Royal Wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to provide expert media commentary. Her powerful 2019 TEDx talk on microaggressions – Not all superheroes wear capes – was upgraded to a TED talk in 2020 following huge engagement from viewers.

Nova’s first book, The Good Ally, was published by HQ Stories last autumn in hardback, ebook and audio editions, with a paperback edition of the book published this autumn. Her popular video and audio course – Becoming Anti-Racist with Nova Reid – is available online. Along with the journalist and writer Reni Eddo-Lodge, Nova will be honouring the life and legacy of feminist thinker bell hooks in conversation with Jude Kelly at the Women of the World Festival this Saturday, 12th March 2022.

Riot will work closely with Nova’s team, as well as international partners across publishing and TV, managing her media and event appearances and growing her profile as a thought leader, storyteller and content producer in the UK and overseas.

Katy MacMillan-Scott, Associate Director, Riot Communications, said: “Nova is a true trailblazer who we have admired for years: a creative who uses a mixture of curiosity, courage and professional experience to deliver meaningful change. Whether it’s through her online course, her book and podcast series or live events, Nova creates space for courageous conversations that change the way we think and behave as humans. At Riot, our mission is to use culture and entertainment to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. We are honoured to have joined Nova’s team, and excited about what the future holds for this extraordinary woman.” 

Nova Reid said: Finding a PR company is easy. However, finding a PR company who is creative, socially conscious, anti-racist and likes to shake up the status quo, is a lot harder. It was imperative for me to sign with a socially conscious PR company who have equity at the core of their values to handle my profile management. It was clear early on that Talent wellbeing is at the centre of Riot’s ethos, which is rare and vital. They are also really fun and exceptionally skilled at what they do. It was a no brainer. I am excited to have Riot on my team and am looking forward to forming a long-standing relationship together.”

The Kids by Hannah Lowe named 2021 Costa Book of the Year

 

The Kids (Bloodaxe Books) by poet and university lecturer Hannah Lowe has been named the Costa Book of the Year 2021. The Kids is the ninth collection of poetry to take the overall prize and the second Book of the Year win for independent publisher Bloodaxe Books, following Inside the Wave by late author and poet Helen Dunmore in 2017.

The announcement was made this evening (Tuesday 1st February) at an awards ceremony at Pan Pacific London hosted by presenter and broadcaster Penny Smith.

BBC News journalist and broadcaster Reeta Chakrabarti, Chair of judges, said: “After a long and passionate discussion that reflected the quality and complexity of all five books, one winner emerged. Hannah Lowe’s The Kids is a book to fall in love with – it’s joyous, it’s warm and it’s completely universal. It’s crafted and skilful but also accessible. Words from the judges were ‘insightful’, ‘empathetic’, ‘generous’, ‘funny’, ‘compassionate’, ‘uplifting’. You will love it!”

Chakrabarti chaired a final judging panel that included: writer, broadcaster and Literary Salon founder Damian Barr; author Jessie Burton; poet and copywriter Rishi Dastidar; novelist, memoirist, and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo; author Smriti Halls; tennis coach Judy Murray; broadcaster and Editor in Chief of The Frank Magazine Melanie Sykes, and novelist, biographer and journalist Andrew Wilson.

Lowe beat the bookmaker’s favourite – bestselling novelist Claire Fuller, and her fourth book, Unsettled Ground – to win the overall prize of £30,000. The other three category Award winners in the running included: journalist-turned-author John Preston for Fall: The Mystery of Robert Maxwell, a biography of the media mogul and former MP, British-Ghanaian short story writer and photographer Caleb Azumah Nelson for his first novel, Open Water, and actor, director, charity founder and children’s author, Manjeet Mann for her second work of YA fiction, The Crossing. To mark the 50th year of the Awards, each author received a bespoke certificate specially created, designed and produced by leading letterpress studio, The Garage Press, featuring traditional hand-printed elements using a vintage press merged with digital production techniques.

The Kids is a book of sonnets about teaching, learning, growing up and parenthood. It draws on Lowe’s decade of teaching in an inner-city London sixth form during the 2000s, as well as on her own coming of age in the riotous 1980s and 90s and concludes with poems about her young son learning to negotiate contemporary London.

Jill McDonald, CEO of Costa Coffee, said: “On behalf of all of us at Costa Coffee, many congratulations to Hannah Lowe for winning the 2021 Costa Book of the Year in this, the Awards’ milestone anniversary year. For many of us, our reading patterns have changed since the pandemic. We’ve had the opportunity to read more and appreciate the joy of reading a good book and the escapism it can bring, especially when accompanied by a great cup of coffee. The perfect partner! Being named Costa Book of the Year is a terrific achievement and I wish Hannah and the book every continued success.”

Since the introduction of the Book of the Year award in 1985, it has been won 13 times by a novel, five times by a first novel, eight times by a biography, nine times by a collection of poetry and twice by a children’s book. The 2020 Costa Book of the Year was The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey.

The Costa Book Awards is the only major UK book prize open solely to authors resident in the UK and Ireland and uniquely recognises some of the most enjoyable books across five categories – First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children’s Book – published in the last year. 2021 marks the 50th year of the Awards. Originally established in 1971, Costa Coffee has been running the UK’s most prestigious book prize since 2006.

Many of the books celebrated by the Awards over the past half century have gone on to be enjoyed by a huge number of readers. Sales figures of the Book of the Year (introduced in 1985) winning titles since 1998 are in excess of 7 million copies. 

The five 2021 category Award winning books have seen an average sales increase of 367%* since being announced on 4th January. [*Nielsen BookScan]

L.E. Yates wins the 2021 Costa Short Story Award

Also announced at the ceremony was the winner of the 2021 Costa Short Story Award. L.E. Yates, a London-based writer and lecturer, won the public vote and £3,500 for her story, Sunblock. Two runners up – Matthew Hurt from London and Lindsay Gillespie from Lewes – received £1,000 and £500 respectively.

Over 800 entries were received for this year’s Costa Short Story Award, now in its 10th year and open to both published and unpublished writers, for a single, previously unpublished short story of up to 4,000 words written in English by an author aged 18 years or over.

Established in 2012, the Award – run in association with the Costa Book Awards but judged independently of the main five-category system – is judged anonymously. Recent winners include: Tessa Sheridan (2020), a Palme D’Or-winning screenwriter and director; Anna Dempsey (2019), a Florida-born educator and writer based in London; Caroline Ward Vine (2018), a former magazine publisher from Kent, who recently completed her first novel, Stolen Threads; Glasgow-born primary school teacher Luan Goldie (2017), whose debut novel Nightingale Point was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020 and whose second novel, Homecoming, was published in the same year and Jess Kidd (2016) from Surrey, the author of three adult novels, the first in 2016, and one children’s book, who is now developing her own original TV projects.

The shortlist of three stories was selected by a panel of judges comprising: Sarah Franklin, founder of Short Stories Aloud and Senior Lecturer in Publishing at Oxford Brookes University; BBC Radio 2 Book Club producer, Joe Haddow; literary agent, Simon Trewin, and bestselling authors Adele Parks and Kit de Waal, herself a finalist for the Costa Short Story Award in 2013. The stories were then made available on the Costa Book Awards website for the public to download and read, and then vote for their favourite. 

Riot Communications secures The Blueprint status

Specialist culture and entertainment agency Riot Communications has become the latest agency to secure The Blueprint diversity mark.

The Blueprint diversity mark aims to promote racial diversity in PR and communications. Awarded agencies sign up to a series of commitments aimed at encouraging diversity from training to boardroom to staff culture to recruitment and retention.

Riot became the sixth agency to achieve the highest recognition for their diversity and inclusion work, gaining full Blueprint status after completing the 40-question application form. Riot’s submission was marked by an independent panel of judges: Henry Rowling (founder, Flying Cars innovation agency); Sasha Daly (advocacy and influencing consultant); and Nyree Connell (healthcare policy manager and Blueprint strategy advisor).

Founded in 2008, Riot Communications exists to create a better world through the promotion of culture and entertainment. The agency, with a 30% Black, Asian, Mixed Race and Ethnic Minority (BME) workforce, has a longstanding reputation for creating inclusive work and promoting D&I in the cultural sector.

The agency’s Blueprint application revealed a deep and broad commitment to diversity, equality and inclusion and a high level of diversity literacy. In the last year, the agency overhauled their recruitment policies and procedures to directly speak to a diverse audience; updated their diversity strategy; updated staff contracts and handbooks to strengthen the D&I focus and went through the Investors in People certification securing a ‘Gold’ standard with diversity cited as a key strength. Furthermore, staff at Riot Communications attended extensive training courses aimed at promoting inclusive work and an inclusive workforce, and senior management have played a crucial role in promoting diversity and inclusion across the industries they work including hosting a cross-sector roundtable for senior leaders on improving access to culture.

Led by co-founder Preena Gadher, Riot Communications is the first BME-owned agency to become Blueprinted and the only agency to be successful in the latest application round.

Elizabeth Bananuka, Founder, BME PR Pros; Founder/CEO Blueprinted, said: “Riot Communications’ Blueprint application was a sheer joy to read. One of the smallest agencies to ever apply for The Blueprint, their size belies the incredible work the team do to promote diversity, equality, and inclusion in their workplace, in PR, in culture and entertainment. Aside from the number of policies and procedures the agency has put in place and the creative solutions they have found to make a big impact with a tiny workforce and limited budgets, what impressed the judges more than anything was the level of diversity literacy. They set a gold standard. A group of people that completely understand the invisible systemic barriers and inequalities that can impact the careers of talented BME PR and comms pros, and they are committed to dismantling each one. It’s an honour to award Riot Communications The Blueprint diversity mark.”

Preena Gadher, Managing Director said: “I am beyond thrilled that Riot has been awarded Blueprint status. The process has been stringent (rightly) and the excellent framework that Elizabeth and her team have created for the accreditation has been an invaluable tool. I had a sense Riot was already thinking along the right lines when it came to D&I, knowing first-hand what it is like to not belong, but the process has really challenged us to be more robust and pushed us to be more innovative in our practises. Blueprint accreditation for us, means the continuation of an on-going journey to be ever better.”

The Blueprint diversity mark has four application rounds a year and applications are judged by an independent panel who have taken part in a Blueprint diversity workshop. The deadline for the next round of agency applications is midday on Thursday 3 March 2022. Applications can be requested via the website.

The diversity mark will open to in-house teams in 2022.

Costa Book Awards 2021 category winners announced

The Nation’s Favourite Coffee shop Costa Coffee today announces the Costa Book Awards 2021 winners in the First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children’s Book categories.

The Costa Book Awards is the only major UK book prize open solely to authors resident in the UK and Ireland and uniquely recognises some of the most enjoyable books across five categories – First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children’s Book – published in the last year. 2021 marks the 50th year of the Awards. Originally established in 1971, Costa Coffee has been running the UK’s most prestigious book prize since 2006.

The five winning authors – one of whose books will be named the 2021 Costa Book of the Year on Tuesday 1st February – are: 

  • Short story writer and photographer Caleb Azumah Nelson, who wins the Costa First Novel Award for Open Water, a book that has been praised by fellow writers as ‘a love song to Black art and thought’ (Yaa Gyasi) and ‘a lyrical modern love story’ (David Nicholls), and which the judges said was ‘… like nothing else we’ve ever read’. 
  • Claire Fuller, a bestselling author whose writing career only started when she turned 40, who wins this year’s Costa Novel Award for her fourth book, Unsettled Ground: a novel of resilience and hope, of love and survival, that explores rural poverty in its portrait of twins living on the fringes of society. 
  • Writer and former newspaper arts editor John Preston whose books The Dig and A Very British Scandal have successfully been adapted for the screen – who takes the Costa Biography Award for his seventh book, Fall: The Mystery of Robert Maxwell, also being adapted for television by Working Title. 
  • Poet and University Lecturer Hannah Lowe who wins the Costa Poetry Award with her third collection, The Kids: a book of sonnets drawing on a decade of teaching in an inner-city London sixth form during the 2000s, as well as her own experiences as a teenager and a mother, the judges said ‘made us want to punch the air with joy.’
  • Actor, playwright, screenwriter, director and charity founder Manjeet Mann who wins the Costa Children’s Book Award for her second book, The Crossing, a verse novel about two teenagers from opposite worlds inspired by hope, grief, and the very real tragedies of the refugee crisis.

The authors, each of whom will receive £5,000, were selected from 934 entries and their books are now eligible for the ultimate prize – the 2021 Costa Book of the Year.

Jill McDonald, CEO of Costa Coffee, said: ‘Here are five fantastic books for readers to explore, recommend and share, ideally whilst enjoying a great cup of Costa coffee! We’re celebrating a milestone 50th anniversary year for the Costa Book Awards, and the range and breadth of this year’s category winners illustrates the Awards’ longstanding appeal, as the home of enjoyable reads to suit all tastes. Congratulations to all this year’s category Award-winning authors.’ 

The winner of the Costa Book of the Year will be selected by a panel of judges chaired by Reeta Chakrabarti, journalist and broadcaster, BBC News, and comprising category judges Jessie Burton, Rishi Dastidar, Xiaolu Guo, Smriti Halls and Andrew Wilson, and joined by writer and broadcaster, Damian Barr, tennis coach Judy Murray, broadcaster and Editor in Chief of Frank Magazine, Melanie Sykes and will be announced at an awards ceremony hosted by Penny Smith on Tuesday 1st February 2022. The winning author will receive £30,000.

Since the introduction of the Book of the Year award in 1985, it has been won 13 times by a novel, five times by a first novel, eight times by a biography, eight times by a collection of poetry and twice by a children’s book. The 2020 Costa Book of the Year was The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey.

The winner of the Costa Short Story Award, now in its tenth year, is voted for by the public and will also be announced at February’s ceremony. Voting is open until 14th January, until which time the identity of the three shortlisted authors remains anonymous.