What it means for Riot Communications to be Blueprinted

Earlier this year, Riot secured The Blueprint diversity mark, which aims to promote racial diversity in PR and communications. In this piece, Deborah Klass, the Finance, Operations & Talent Director at Riot Communications, discusses what it means for our agency to be Blueprinted. Deborah is also the CEO of Croydon-based The Windrush Generation Legacy Association: a registered charity which aims to share the diverse legacy of the Windrush Generation and to support community cohesion. 

What do you love most about working in PR?

My favourite aspect of working in PR is working with such creative people and knowing that, with our Blueprinted status, we have the opportunity to work with colleagues and our clients to make a real difference to the sector.

What has it meant for Riot Communications to be Blueprinted?

One of my first steps, on joining Riot in January 2021, was to challenge the leadership team to really scrutinise our approach to D&I, and to develop a more formal approach to doing it right. As a BME-owned, progressive agency, Riot was already ahead of the curve and had various initiatives in place, but the approach was still fairly ad-hoc. I was hired to assist with the company’s growth and to provide formal oversight of our activities as part of my role as Operations and Talent Director, and D&I champion. 16 months on, and Riot is now a Blueprinted agency – only the sixth agency in the UK to achieve this recognition for diversity and inclusion in all aspects of our business, and certainly one of the smallest! 

We’re incredibly proud to be Blueprinted and to continue being pioneers within the communications industry. Achieving the Blueprint status shows us that what we’ve been working towards, and what we continue to strive towards – true diversity, inclusivity and accessibility – is recognised by an authority that’s leading change. It reassures us that the message we’re giving to our clients and our networks is the right one, one that will support change in our industry and in the work that we do.

What is your favourite diversity project/initiative of the past 12 months?

I know I’m biased here, but my favourite diversity project of the past 12 months has to be Grow With Peter Rabbit, Riot’s campaign for the 120th anniversary of the much-loved children’s brand Peter Rabbit! We’ve been working alongside publisher Penguin Random House Children’s and non-profit garden designers Grow2Know CIC, founded in response to the Grenfell Tower Fire to help unify the community through guerrilla gardening, on a partnership that will see three Peter Rabbit-inspired community garden makeovers take place between now and 2024.  

This partnership is all about creating a positive, social impact and together we’ve delivered a truly inclusive campaign that will bring the benefits of gardening and spending time in nature to families across the UK, as well as delivering a longer-term legacy for the local communities where the three Peter Rabbit Gardens are built.

As CEO of The Windrush Generation Legacy Association, another project I am very proud of is our recent exhibition at our unit in Croydon: an exhibition of Pål Hansen’s collection of photographs, entitled Leave to Remain, which opened on Windrush Day 2022. Pål delivered a moving address at the opening ahead of a series of spoken word poetry, storytelling and comedy performances. Given that our aim is to celebrate and share knowledge of the contributions of the Windrush Generation with young people, the wider community and corporates, this was a fantastic culmination of everything we’ve achieved in the past 12 months. I invite other agencies or individuals reading this to contact me if they’d like to come to visit the exhibition space, or to know more about our work, or even to offer their help.

What event are you most looking forward to in the next 12 months?

Next, I’m looking forward to Black History Month celebrations and the outreach we’ll be able to do, using the month as an opportunity to elevate change and show schools, corporates and consumers how they can incorporate Black history throughout the rest of the year, too. The paperback edition of The Good Ally, by our client Nova Reid, is released in October and we’re planning to use the opportunity to celebrate unsung historical heroes such as Cubah Cornwallis (if you’ve read Nova’s book, you’ll get the reference!). Watch this space!

Registered charity number for The Windrush Generation Legacy Association: 1198341

Riot Communications begins exciting chapter under new leadership

Riot Communications begins a fresh chapter this summer as it comes under new leadership and joins a network of like-minded agencies. Caitlin Allen, a director in Riot’s Senior Leadership team, will take over as Managing Director from Preena Gadher, who co-founded the business with Anwen Hooson in 2009 and leaves the agency to become Managing Director of Penguin General, a division of Penguin Random House from September 2022. 

Allen, who has been at Riot since 2015 and instrumental in the agency’s success, will ensure Riot’s continued growth, much of which has been achieved through the successful acquisition and retention of clients across the culture sector including Aardman, Moomin Characters, The Nine Dots Prize and Penguin Random House. Allen will shape the strategic and commercial pillars of the business while continuing to work with a number of her clients. She will be supported by fellow Riot director, Katy MacMillan-Scott, who has been at Riot since 2016 and who – alongside Allen – has been an integral part of the Senior Leadership Team, helping to shape the direction of the company and coaching and supporting the growing campaigns team. As Creative & Campaigns Director, MacMillan-Scott will ensure that Riot continues to deliver exceptional, creative campaigns for its clients, while maintaining Riot’s unique culture and ethos – particularly around D&I – both internally and externally.  

The Riot leadership team will be supported by a new hire, Jessica Jackson, as Associate Director. Jackson joins on 1st August with 15 years of culture PR experience, having worked with clients both in the UK and in the United States with the likes of Malorie Blackman, Russell Brand, Poorna Bell, Anna Kendrick, Sue Perkins and Bruce Springsteen, to name just a few. She has a particular interest in working on campaigns with purpose, her most recent project being the Imagine Anthology, a creative publishing collaboration for World Refugee Day. 

As part of the agency’s growth strategy, Riot today joins The Splendid Collective, the agency network formed by east London-based consumer comms agency Splendid Communications. Already in The Collective is youth culture and music specialist PR agency Kingdom Collective, who joined in November 2021. The Splendid Collective brings together ambitious, values-led agencies and allows them to share their expertise across sectors and services including PR, social media, influencer, digital marketing and events, in pursuit of more holistic client delivery. As part of this growing network, Riot will retain its identity as a culture and entertainment specialist, whilst benefiting from the support of a Group leadership team led by Splendid Communications CEO Alec Samways.

Also announced today is Director Adele Minchin’s decision to leave Riot to pursue her own creative endeavours. Minchin, who has worked at Riot for the past seven years as part of the leadership team that has grown Riot’s client-base, culture and team into the leading agency it is today, will focus on writing as well as continuing her voluntary role as mentor for The Girls Network, working to inspire and empower girls from the least privileged communities.

Preena Gadher comments: “After 14 years, I have decided to step down as MD of Riot. It has been one of the hardest professional decisions I’ve ever made, but when an exceedingly rare opportunity presents itself, at a time when you know your team is perfectly positioned to take over the successful running of things, it’s the right time for change.

“I am so incredibly proud of how far Riot has come since it began, working with some of the best names in culture and entertainment in the world. I will certainly miss our wonderful clients who have been my passion all these years, and my amazingly talented team. But I know that they are all left in the safe hands of Caitlin and Katy – who are two of the most formidable women I have ever met – and Alec and the team at The Splendid Collective, under whose guidance I know Riot will do even bigger and better things.”

She continued: “My thanks to Anwen Hooson who co-founded the agency with me when we were in our twenties, green but ambitious, and Adele Minchin for her unwavering support all these years.”

Caitlin Allen comments: “I couldn’t be more excited to take on the reins of a business that I know and love so much, having been part of its success for the past six years. I’m delighted to continue Preena’s amazing work and lead Riot in the next phase of its growth, working as part of The Splendid Collective. Riot will continue to do what it is famous for – intelligent, values driven work in the culture and entertainment sector that creates real-world impact for our clients – now with the added excitement of working alongside a group of agencies with different but complementary strengths to help us enhance our proposition.”

Alec Samways, CEO, Splendid Communications, says: “We are delighted to welcome Riot to the network bringing expertise in new sectors to our group, including strong relationships in publishing, television and the arts, as well as a great track record in areas such as purpose and D&I. This partnership reflects our ongoing ambition to nurture and grow a band of like-minded agencies all doing incredible work in their own right, while bringing greater breadth and depth of expertise to the group.”       

Adele Minchin says: “It’s been a great privilege to have worked alongside Preena, an exceedingly talented leadership team and a roster of world-class clients, all of whom I will miss, but I am looking forward to taking the time to follow my own creative pursuits. I wish Preena and the team at Riot every success for the future.”

Splendid Communications has acquired 100% stake in Riot. Gadher will continue to work at Riot in an advisory capacity until 29th July 2022.

Photograph Ⓒ Marc Sethi.

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.