As we draw to the end of the decade and the 2010s morph into the 2020s, I thought it would be nice to take a look back on the last ten years and pick out some highlights from my professional life. In this second of two blog posts, I’ve chosen a key event from each year of the second half of the decade, and one that has really shaped me. I started the decade aged 18 and on the cusp of leaving home to move to University. Ten years later I’m still in the same city, beautiful Lincoln, and have carved out a career in media and education. There is still a long way to go, but the journey has been fun – it’s good to take a moment to reflect sometimes.
In 2015, my focus was mainly on my MA in Digital Media. A course I was lucky enough to study on with a scholarship from the Lincoln School of Film and Media. On this course I focused on both the practical aspects of Digital Media, producing an interactive game and an animated short film, Brian the Lion, based on the early British public service films like Stop, Look and Listen. This film, which became my dissertation project, introduced international students to the often tricky minefield that is British culture and manners. It was written, designed and animated in a children’s TV-style and much of my research centred around this genre… I watched many hours of Peppa Pig!
Aside from practical projects, there was a lot of media theory to get my teeth into and we produced a number of innovative installations and exhibits over the course of the year-long programme. One of my favourite experiences was our weekly seminars which took place in the middle of the Collection Art Gallery in Lincoln. At this point, we were informed that by having our seminars in the open gallery while visitors walked around and looked at the art we were, in effect, becoming some kind of performance piece ourselves. It was a fun experience! Another interesting moment, came when we stage an interactive 360 video performance in the Decimal Place gallery on Burton Road in the city. Here we performed a piece on the subject of Media Ecologies and filmed the whole performance in 360 using a series of Go-Pro cameras filming at different angles. The footage was later stitched together back in the media labs, and it was great to get to work with everyone on the programme on this joint project.
I graduated with an MA in Digital Media in January 2016 and it was a lovely day to celebrate with my friends and colleagues – the second time I have graduated in the magnificent Lincoln Cathedral.
The second half of the decade certainly hasn’t been as exciting as the first! In 2016 I was still working hard to push my fledgeling business, Tall Lime LTD, from my offices at Sparkhouse Studios on the University of Lincoln campus. I remember this being a very tough year business-wise, with lots of demanding new clients and a very tough schedule just to be able to make ends meet. However, I learnt a lot in the process and very quickly realised what it would take to run a truly successful business.
In 2016 there were two pieces of exciting news, the first being that Tall Lime was named a finalised in the ‘Best Digital Startup’ category at the inaugural Lincs Digital Awards run by the Lincolnite. This meant promotion of the business in the local press and attendance at the awards ceremony itself – a swanky night in the Engine Shed! Although we did not win the award that evening, we made some really good contacts and a number of interesting projects and new clients came out of it!
The second notable event of 2016, was being asked to work with the Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce on an exciting new mobile app – Yellow Belly Trails. The project was one that aimed to promote the rich and varied food heritage and culture on offer across the county to tourists and visitors. Based on new developments in Ai technology and machine learning, the app would take a series of different trails around Lincolnshire (by bike, car or on foot) and present a uniquely personal trail to each user, depending on where they were starting from. In many ways, it was a similar idea to the radio drama Charlie and the Moon I had co-produced years earlier, with users of the app getting to travel on their ‘choose your own adventure’ style route around Lincolnshire’s food heritage. Throw into the mix the fact that the app included directions for each stage of your journey, digital badges and lots of gamified elements, and I think we were on to a winner!
2017 was truly a year of change and upheaval – in both good and bad ways. For several years, alongside my work through my business, Tall Lime LTD, I’d been working more closely with old colleagues at the University of Lincoln. During my MA I’d spent some time teaching on the Media Production course I’d studied as an undergraduate and I’d realised it was something I had a real passion for. I’d also had the opportunity during this time to design a number of websites for research projects at the University. So, it appeared that more and more of my contractual work was moving in this direction.
Early in 2017, I had the opportunity to join the University on a full-time basis having been successful in applying for the role of Digital Education Developer (or Learning Technologist) in the College of Arts. It was a role that I was really excited about, and I felt that it might be a step into the world of academia and would be an opportunity to gain more experience in teaching. For a short while, I continued to do freelance work through my business, and I still run the company to this day, but in recent years it has moved in a different direction (more on that in 2020).
My new role at the University of Lincoln has opened up so many doors for me and continued a connection I’ve had with the University for most of the last decade. In this role, I support the College of Arts with the adoption of digital tools for teaching and learning. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a broad range of colleagues from across the college to embed digital technologies into their teaching. I’ve also had the opportunity to attend a number of conferences, including the ALT-C learning technology conference in both Manchester and Edinburgh, and the Social Media Education in Higher Education conference in Sheffield. Add to that the range of interesting projects I’ve worked on, including designing and building a social media platform called AM I HIRED which guides students on their use of social media, and the Countdown to Lincoln app which supported new students with their transition from school to University.
Above all, my role at the University has given me the opportunity to continue researching my passion for country music, gain experience in teaching (albeit teaching staff than students!) and really make a start on my journey to teaching at a University level.
Back in 2008, I was invited to be interviewed at local radio station 103 The Eye in Melton Mowbray, having recently won a local New Year’s Honour award for charity work I had undertaken at my school, King Edward VII in the town. Little did I know, that interview would start me on a journey that I’m still on today and I owe a lot to that first visit to the radio station – a few weeks later I was invited back to sit in on the country music show (don’t ask me why I chose it!) and a few months later still, I took over the reins of that programme and rebranded it as Ben’s Country Music Show.
Flash forward a decade, and in 2018 my radio programme celebrated its 10th anniversary. I worked out that in that time, I’d presented over 1000 hours of radio, two-hours every week for ten years! A crazy figure if you think about it! The show was now syndicated on stations across the UK from Hampshire, to Lincolnshire and two stations in Dublin, Ireland. I’d had a lot of wonderful experiences in the first ten years of presenting the show, including a trip to Nashville, interviews with a wide cross-section of singers, songwriters and artists from the UK and USA and coverage of a plethora of country music festivals and events. I still believe that my programme is one of the best independent country music shows on radio, even if I do say so myself, and after all, when I started back in 2008 there were no other truly independent country programmes outside of the BBC!
To mark the anniversary, I wrote and recorded a series of special programmes which aired over the summer of 2018. The first show was particularly special as I managed to hunt down and contact my original co-presenter, Neil Castledine, the man who had given me the first opportunity to present with him on his country show. Neil has a wealth of knowledge about country music and continues to be a fan to this day – if it wasn’t for his job as a fireman, which kept calling him out of the studio during the middle of a show – I believe he’d still be in the chair presenting now! He’s also a great guitar player and we talked a great deal about our passions in this first programme.
The rest of the shows featured some of my best friends and collaborators from across the past decade. There was a great show that featured my good friend Pete James, an aficionado on folk and blues music and we basically recorded a show where we talked about our favourite tracks for two hours and what constitutes real, true country music. Then, on another occasion, I had local Lincoln-based musician Steve Jackson back on the show – one that we recorded in a makeshift studio in my living room in order to give Steve a chance to play some of his own music and talk about his passion for the early pioneers of country, Jimmy Rogers and superstar Gram Parsons.
Out of all the shows I recorded for the anniversary in 2018, we saved the very best for last. John Montague is a musician based out of Leicester who knows so much about country music that what he doesn’t know, isn’t worth knowing! He’s an expert guitar player and has been the cover presenter on my show on more than one occasion! He also introduced me to Texas singer-songwriter Bob Cheevers way back in 2008, a chance meeting that led to a very happy friendship! Anyone who knows me will know that my favourite radio programme of all time is Desert Island Discs and I’ve long harboured a passion to be on the show (I’ll have to get a bit more success under my belt first!). So, with that in mind, John and I hatched a plan to record a special show where he would present and interview me about my ten-year career in broadcasting and I could choose my favourite music to play, ala Desert Island Discs. In the end, it was quite a loose and very easy to record programme, and it remains one of the favourite shows I’ve ever had the pleasure to be involved with… thanks, John!
And so we come to the end of the 2010s.
In this last year of the decade, my biggest professional highlight was graduating with a distinction from my PGCHE teaching course which I studied with the University of Falmouth in Cornwall, via their distance learning platform Falmouth Flex. For me, a teaching qualification directly focused on Higher Education (University and College level) was the next logical step in my path towards being able to teach at an academic level in a University. The course also tied in nicely with my current role as Digital Education Developer for the College of Arts at Lincoln, supporting and promoting the adoption of digital tools for teaching and learning. Working in a University environment is great, as it gives you the freedom to be able to pursue a broad range of experiences, challenges and to better yourself in so many ways. I’ve been lucky to be able to keep up my research interests in the field of American Country Music while working at Lincoln and this was a key focus on my PGCHE course.
The course itself was very interesting and taught me a lot about teaching and learning practice at a University level. Focusing first on the basic approaches to teaching, the key theorists and the ways in which an academic is required to support students from a range of diverse backgrounds, we then moved on to focus on the design and planning of modules and programmes of study – this was something I really fell in love with! I actually find I really enjoy planning, marking and feedback. All of these elements combined together and lead to me designing and piloting a module of my own, Working 9 to 5: The Business of Gender and Country Music. I’m very grateful to my colleagues in the Digital Education Team who gave up their lunch hour to indulge me in my passion for country music and goal to end up teaching one day!
In July, I made a very long trip down to Cornwall to attend my graduation at the Falmouth University Campus in Penryn. It was a really exciting day and I’m glad that I got the opportunity to meet up with some of my lecturers and colleagues from the course. I won’t deny, the main reason I made the journey was to be presented with my degree certificate from Dawn French, the actress and chancellor of the University. She gave a wonderful speech and presented every graduate with a chocolate coin emblazoned with her face!
Another exciting moment in 2019 was being invited to give a presentation as part of the Tower Talks event at Lincoln, where previous and current MA students return to the campus to give a talk about their career and how postgraduate study has helped and benefited them. Of course, I never left Lincoln, but it was nice to be invited anyway! In the talk I focused on my (near) decade in the College of Arts at Lincoln and in many ways it was a great way to reflect on the last ten years and all I have achieved in that time – starting out in community radio in my hometown of Melton Mowbray, moving away at the age of eighteen and making Lincoln my home, continuing to write, perform and play music and taking the first steps on a path that will, I hope, eventually lead me to a teaching role in a University.
The other interesting point about the Tower Talks event is that it threw up the opportunity for a new challenge that will likely keep me busy for much of the decade to come. That evening, they had invited a colleague from the music department to facilitate the Q&A at the end of my talk. As it turns out, the first question I was asked was: “Have you ever considered studying for a PhD”. Interestingly, it was something I’d been thinking about on and off since I’d graduated from my MA course. Several conversations later and I realised that a brand new discipline existing which I’d never heard of before, Ethnomusicology (the study of the history and culture of music). It was like a door had opened and all of the research I’d done for both my radio show and my academic work, fitted snugly inside. I’ve been reading a lot on the subject in recent months, and I hope that in 2020 I might be confident enough to take the leap and put myself first, embarking on what might be the biggest challenge I’ve ever attempted. Still, it would be nice to have my BA(Hons), MA and PhD from Lincoln, wouldn’t it?