One to One interview - Ava Forbes

Ava Forbes is the new community journalist attached to St Margaret's Church, Rainham. A unique role, she will produce a mix of community and church-based news, with the aim of helping to strenghten community. We spoke to her about herself and her hopes for this new role.

(An abridged version of this interview appears in the autumn edition of Diocesan magazine, Together)


Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from originally?

I was born in Scotland, just outside of Glasgow and that’s where I lived until I was five. My family and I then moved to Leicestershire and I grew up in Market Harborough. Nowadays all of my family are mainly based in Derby and the Peak District but home is still Scotland.

My family is made up of my mum and dad, my younger brother, our beautiful ginger cat Pharaoh, and me.


How did you first get interested in journalism?

My dad has always been very political and that had a big influence on me growing up. From there I sort of fell in love with the news and started wanting to be a journalist. I was really quite young when I decided I wanted to be a journalist, like 12 or 13 and I think that taking part in the BBC School Report which is now called something else really cemented the idea for me (I still have my little pretend press card). I’m 23 now so I really see it as a decade long ambition that I’ve finally achieved which feels wonderful.


What’s been the story you have been most proud of so far?

The story that I’m most proud of is the documentary I made for my MA about my little brother. He was in the football academy system from the age of 6-16 until he developed a stress fracture in his spine. I produced it with very limited resources during lockdown and even several years later, it was something that our family hadn’t really discussed as a group. We are already very close as a family but it brought us much closer and although it isn’t published (yet), I think it's had the most impact out of anything I’ve done.


Who has inspired you growing up?  

It’s difficult to answer this question without sounding really cheesy but I’m going to go ahead. I am fascinated by women in the workplace, particularly mothers. In a time where women can be seen at the highest levels in almost every sector of work, its easy to forget that there is still a lot of work to be done.

I really love telling stories of women in male-dominated workplaces. My final piece of work for my journalism undergraduate was on mothers in journalism and I recently produced a short radio documentary on female black cab drivers in London which was so much fun!


What are you reading/listening to at the moment?

I’m not the biggest “reader”, not because I don’t enjoy it but because I rarely find the time to sit down and do it. If I am going to sit down then it's usually to play a video game or a TV series. Most recently I finished watching Pose on BBC iPlayer and have been playing quite a lot of Animal Crossing.

More than anything I like to listen to stuff. I am a self confessed music snob and I really love podcasts and audiobooks. Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Laura Marling’s latest album, ‘Song For Our Daughter’ and was put onto a Radio 4 programme called ‘The Patch’ which uses a postcode generator to prompt a local story which I find really motivates me and my own work.

I have just started listening to the fourth book in Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Stories series, ‘Sword Song’ about the conflict between Saxons and Danes and christianity and paganism in England during the 9th and 10th century. It’s been adapted into an amazing TV series on Netflix called The Last Kingdom and I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.


Have you ever been given a particularly good piece of advice? What was it? 

A piece of advice that I keep coming back to since starting at St. Margaret’s and that I received when I was just starting out is “everyone has a story”. In my experience, most people don’t realise that they are incredibly interesting not just to me but to everyone. There is always something that everyone in their lives takes to be normal but to everyone else it is absolutely fascinating.

I think people in Medway are so used to life here that they don’t realise that to an outsider it is an extremely weird and wonderful place. I can’t wait to explore that.


How do you like to relax or let off steam?

Food. I’ve always loved cooking and it helps ground me. There is nothing I love more than cooking a huge meal for a crowd and getting to sit down and enjoy it with them. My partner is French and this time next year she will have moved down to Kent to join me here so I’m using the time apart to master my French cooking.

I also really love a good pub and conversation over a pint. A few weeks ago I went back to the Peak District to visit my family for the first time since I moved here and it was so lovely to be able to finally sit down together in our local.

Walking is also really important to me, I think it is the only thing that kept me sane during lockdown.


What’s your favourite food? 

Being a massive foodie, it is hard to have one favourite food. I think I have three favourites. I love a carbonara, it is my ultimate comfort food especially because it is so quick to make. I also love anything Indian, especially a vegetable samosa and I am a sucker for a simple burger and fries.


Do you have a favourite place to be? If so, where?

My entire family is from the west coast of Scotland and we all have an affinity with the Isle of Arran. My grandparents live in Saltcoats on the mainland and when you look out to see its all you can see. I went there last year for my birthday with my partner who had never been and she is just as in love with it as I am. Its nickname is “Scotland in miniature” and has everything you would want from a Scottish getaway - mountains, glens, waterfalls, whisky. It's perfect.

My family (including my aunt, uncle and cousins) are all planning a pilgrimage there together sometime soon and I’m so excited!


How do you think your friends would describe you? 

I’m very loyal and have always been the “mum” friend. I’m always making sure my friends are well fed and watered and not doing anything too irresponsible. I’m famous for my risotto

They would also say that I put my foot in my mouth a lot and that my biggest weakness is indulging a little too much in the finer things in life.


What was reaction when you saw a church advertising for a community journalist?

I dismissed it at first to be honest. It came through on a mailing list that I subscribe to called JournoResources and not being a christian, I brushed it off. I was at the end of my MA and was taking a look down the list of jobs advertised in this email and decided to click on the job at St. Margaret’s out of curiosity.

That’s when I realised that it was a perfect fit for me as a job. The next day I phoned Nathan and the rest is history.


What are you looking forward to most in your new role? 

During lockdown, Rainham has really come together through its Facebook community page. There is such a sense of community and generosity between the people of Rainham that I really don’t want to go away when things can go back to normal. St. Margaret’s and the town have made me feel so welcome and I really hope that my journalism can keep bringing the town together in new ways.

I think that Rainham has been so desperate to express itself and be heard. There is so much going on and so many projects in the woodwork. Its a really exciting patch to cover.


Why do you think community journalism is so important at this time?

COVID-19 has forced us all to look at what is immediately in front of us, and certainly in the case of Rainham, really brought the community together.

I also think that it's really important that people see themselves reflected in the news and that is where I think community journalism comes into its own.

So often news takes such a holistic approach that it is hard to fully understand how events are affecting you. At the same time this approach means that areas like Rainham or Medway or even Kent are generalised in the eyes of the wider public.

Before I moved to Kent the words that came to mind were “Brexit”, “Farage”, “Vote Leave” but being here I can see that it is a lot more complicated than that and it just hasn’t been channelled into.

Taking a huge story and bringing it down to a really small scale allows the diversity of an area to really shine through and that’s what makes good stories and makes a stronger and more engaged community.

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