PONToon Symposium - A reflection by Hannah Buckingham

Through the talks and workshops I attended, what really stands out to me is the diversity of voices and stories which PONToon has facilitated through its work. PONToon has involved women from different backgrounds and lived experiences, different lines of work, and different cultural environments, yet the similarities which shone through each talk and workshop were the opportunities that digital technology has opened up for each of them.

Amanada Garrie’s poetic talk explored her life journey, recounting the doors which have been closed to her along the way purely because of her gender, and the path this has led her on within her education and professional career. She described how learning to use digital technologies really advanced her career and opened up new, unexpected opportunities such as teaching media studies and inspiring her female students, then being given the opportunity to travel the country training other teachers whilst undertaking a course in paperless learning. Amanda now has an MA with Distinction in Creative Writing and is a part-time lecturer, along with many other accomplishments, which is particularly inspiring having heard her describe the difficulties she experienced in learning to read as a young child. Her village-based education left her unprepared for grammar school and she felt this obstacle cast her back to ‘her inability to perform around the written language.’ My key takeaway from what Amanda shared is her encouragement to reinvent yourself; to not be focused on one goal but to be open to the potential of many and shift focus when things become stale, or doors do not open.

Gillian Young talked about her background working in journalism and media, launching her own independent communications consultancy company, and academia. She drew from her experiences of working in environments in which she could develop communities and explore collaboration, emphasising the importance this has to her, and her ever-growing use of digital skills. The key points I have taken away from Gillian’s masterclass are that networking is extremely important in the digital age, specifically being open to others’ work and being able to honour your own expertise or skills so you can share these with others. She expressed how the internet gives people the capacity and ability to find primary sources both easily and instantly, honoring the importance of lifelong learning and the empowerment which accessible knowledge and connections can grant you.

This links me to Nadine Hagen’s talk about her life, coming to the UK as an asylum seeker, caring for her son who has a congenital disorder of the bowel, attending university at 38 to become a Community Development Officer, and her career path of working with the community, being a learning mentor, a carer, and joining a digital business. Nadine discussed the importance of adult learning, especially as many migrants come to the UK with little or no previous education, this could be for many different reasons such as their family were too poor to afford education or the community they were raised in only believed in educating boys. She highlighted the importance of parents being able to support their children throughout education, and if a parent is unable to communicate with their child’s school or college, how this can impact on the wellbeing of a child, and the path their life takes. With the world continuing to move things into the digital sphere, it is important that women are taught digital skills so they are able to access necessities including online shops, banking, and work opportunities. Two quotes from Nadine I want to share are:
‘Empowering a woman is giving a woman the capacity to earn money’ and ‘when you are empowered that gives you one of the greatest privileges a human being can have, which is choice and decision.’

In the talk by Olivia Craig, she explained how Devon Mind has been working as a partner of the PONToon project to support and upskill beneficiaries and aid them in work opportunities. They have been running group courses which focus on using self-care and compassion to develop women's self-esteem. Many women who partook in the courses have experienced significant traumas and mental health issues in their lives, suffering from low self-esteem and low mood. Many experienced disrupted education growing up and as a result have few formal qualifications which has limited their employment opportunities; often only allowing for precarious employment situations. The first stage of the course focused on creating a safe space for the women to share experiences through a fictional, ungendered character named ‘Sam’ and teaching them CBT based self-awareness. The second stage explored developing self-compassion through mindfulness techniques and grounding, and creating a formulation plan to manage triggers, ensuring the women were taught skills which they could continue to practice after the sessions. They also held drop-in sessions a month after to check in with the beneficiaries and find out how the skills have been helping them. This really shines a light on the incredible impact the work of the PONToon project has had on the women involved, carving a space which allows them to develop skills which will equip them to improve their social and economic situations.

Within Keiken’s workshop on ‘Building the Technological Future of Art,’ the artists Hana, Tanny and Issy explored their art practice which centers around digital art and world-building, and the history of how they came to work as a collective. It was really interesting to hear how they found a way to broach industry having come from Falmouth University, which is far removed from a big city such as London, where they did not have any connections with the wider art world post-graduating. This led them to showcase their work extensively through social media and other digital outlets, which inevitably granted them many exciting opportunities and new connections, proving how no matter where you live you are able to build your own future just with the access to digital software and social media. They also discussed how they have managed working collectively when often living in different countries to one another. Utilising tools such as google drive to share digital files, to do lists, admin, and financing, has subsequently enabled them to adapt very easily when the situation with Covid-19 arose this year. I was really inspired by a focus within their work which is the sentiment that we are ‘ the architects of our own space and time.’


- Hannah Buckingham, PONToon Assistant for Aspex.