Learning Self Worth | Cyfannol Women's Aid Photographic Project

“I stamped the word ‘safe’ on the back of the bracelet, so that if I get scared I can rub my fingers over the letters and remember that I’m safe”

I am proud of myself. Five seemingly simple words we don’t often say and they are not heard often enough in our teenagers’ world. I make no secret of my own parenting challenges around raising a teenaged girl. Constantly scrambling around for the right words of encouragement and wisdom and regularly feeling like “ you just don’t get it mum.”

While I watched these five words, along with words like ‘safe’ being engraved on the inside of bracelets, made by girls of similar ages to my own daughter, I felt certain parallels in her life to theirs. But I also know that the dynamics of their family lives are so very different to her own.

“I sometimes get anxious so be having these words close to me it reminds me that I can achieve anything”

It was several years ago that I joined a Women’s Aid organisation to photograph some of the support services for women and children who have experienced domestic abuse. Watching these courageous women and their children become empowered as they began realising their self-worth has, without doubt, shaped my approach over the years to the relationships I witness and form within the communities I photograph. By seeking out the can do’s and the shall’s gives me a connection and a visual to the hope that I want to portray in my work.

So as the legacy of that project has continued over time, it was earlier this year that Cyfannol Women’s Aid asked me to make a series of photographs to illustrate some of its incredible support groups.

The first group I attended was a girls’ summer jewellery-making workshop, where they each created a silver bangle over a few weeks. With the talent and creative support of a local silversmith and the emotional and guiding support of the group facilitator, I watched as these bangles took on their layers of meaning and ownership. Holding each girl’s story as they wove them intrinsically and intentionally into beautifully crafted silver bangles.

It was in this space that we all got lost in the art of making, owning stories and celebrating them with their chosen words to remind them not only of their friendships and self worth, but that they also each created their own legacies that day.

“ I know there are many others like me, but everyone’s journey is different and that’s why I chose these words on my bracelet”

The gentle chinking of these letters being immortalised on these silver bangles, was the affirmation and daily reminder that the wearer is safe, that she is powerful and that she is proud of herself.


Two Languages From The Start | Our Journey into the Welsh Language

Dwy Iaith O’r Dechrau    Two Languages From The Start

Tucked away on a residential road in Caldicot, South Wales is a little primary school. It’s what you might call a hidden gem, especially as it lies on a border Wales-England town close to the banks of the River Severn. As it is a place where the children who go there, take part in lessons and playtime through the medium of Welsh.

Ysgol Gymraeg Y Ffin, meaning Welsh School of the Border, was the school we chose to send our daughter to and it will always hold a special place in my heart.

I will admit initially, it was a brave step into an unknown for us, choosing to educate a child in a language neither of us spoke at home. And I won’t deny, it also raised a few eyebrows for some friends and family, asking us why two non-welsh speakers  – we’re what you might call life-longer learners – could have made such a choice.

Along the way we’ve faced the questions, such as “how will you help her with homework?” Or statements like “well I think you’re brave, as I’d want to know what my kids are saying about me behind my back!” To answer the first, she’s pretty amazing at translating her school work between two languages when she needs to and to respond to the second, well… don’t they talk about us in any language?

To give some background, we were some part convinced that this was the way to go as she approached pre-school. Mainly due to her father, who was born in Montreal Canada and who went to a French-speaking school for the first few years of his school life. He has maintained his French having not lived there since he was 10 years old.  Also I have older nieces, who I’ve watched in amazement as they grew fluent so quickly and are using their Welsh not only across Wales but in other communities across the world. To give the opportunity, a gift of another language for our own child, was an easy decision in the end. She’s now been bilingual since five years old.

However, there is more to the reason than this and this bit is really quite special, as I know that many schools and home-educating communities across the country offer positive learning experiences for children and families alike.  So to watch our little girl walk into a school with a deep-routed passion for the Arts and for the Welsh culture certainly helped create the trust and belief we needed. With smaller class numbers and wellbeing right up there with these children’s academic learning experience, it became a journey we embraced rather than the original leap of faith we held. The teachers genuinely know and take pride in all the children and their unique achievements.

This is also a little school where we’ve made the best of friends. Not just people that have grown up living in our community, but people from all over the country and world that have lived elsewhere for years and have now returned to Wales with their own families. Not always Welsh-speaking, there are those who see something familiar and fitting from within their own international culture that links in so well. Quite often Welsh or English aren’t the only languages you’ll hear at the school gate.

The positive effect of seeing these children take care of each other is profound. They are walking, talking voices of reason. I’ve spent time over the years volunteering at this school, enough to see beyond the magic of classroom learning. There’s kindness and respect between these kids which speaks volumes. Whether they openly hug and console on mass, someone who’s fallen on the playground, or the times they’ve spoken up with a  zero-tolerate approach to a mean remark to another child they barely know. I also remember with fondness, how she’d come home and talk animately about a tribe of infant kids she’d just become an adopted ‘school mum’ to!

Bore da – good morning

Nos da – good night

Hwyl fawr – goodbye

Diolch yn fawr – thank you

Croeso – welcome

The Welsh word, hiraeth (pronounced hear-rithe) has no direct translation. It’s a bit like the Danish word, hygge, only it’s more a feeling than a way of being. It’s a feeling of nostalgia, a yearning and a sense of longing. Imagine that it’s not necessarily connected to a physical place, but that it can be of a yearning for an era, a person or even somewhere you’ve yet to experience. Your spiritual home.

I’ve experienced the the magic of my daughter becoming bilingual from a young age, I’ve watched her embrace her Welsh culture with friends she’ll have for life wherever she goes in this world. Hiraeth explains the feeling to me well. I have nostalgia for Ysgol Gymraeg Y Ffin and I truly hope that others will get to feel this for years to come.

Featured in the Spring 2020 issue of JUNO Magazine

Photographing Community Stories

Community Connections

There’s a saying that it takes a village to raise a child and I believe that this is the perfect metaphor to link with the communities I’ve been honoured to photograph over the years. Although no two communities are the same there is a common heartbeat, a strong connection that runs across them all. It’s the gathering of people with the purpose of supporting, offering refuge and educating those who want and need them. It is this that continues to draw me in to community storytelling.

It feels right to be seeing out this year’s Natural Connections features in JUNO Magazine with a little more insight and a huge amount of gratitude to some of the amazing groups I’ve been incredibly lucky to observe, connect with and photograph. Gaining deeper understanding of the support they offer and the celebration they give for the many walks of life.

In a time when news stories are mainly negative, often highlighting the vital global issues, disasters arising from climate change and the daily struggles of human plight. These communities really are the unsung heroes. Keeping the hope, opting for action and showing humanity in its best light.

Father-of-four Tariq Khan co-started the group, Help The Homeless Newport & Cardiff around two years ago. Having once been homeless himself, he works with endless energy, thinking up innovative events and ideas, with a group of dedicated volunteers, to continually raise awareness and offer support to Newport’s homeless and vulnerable communities.

Photographing Science Week at a Monmouthshire school

Future astronauts, rocket scientists, engineers and bio-chemists were busy performing death defying, life saving and heart racing experiments across this Welsh language primary school in Monmouthshire, South Wales. For taking part in British Science Week last month.

The energy and enthusiasm around the school was infectious, as I joined in to photograph the children running their different experiments. From exploding Coke bottles that had been detonated with Mentos sweets, through to erupting volcanoes and finding out how our immune systems work.

"I reckon this is exactly what real life astronauts have to learn when they go to school!"

There were intelligent, from-the-heart debates as groups of badgers, hedgehogs, children and construction workers each gave their valid views as to why a main road should or shouldn't be built alongside their village - a truly wonderful roleplaying exercise from a representative of the Gwent Wildlife Trust. The school also experienced extreme weather systems and climate change from a meteorology expert.

It was a week full to the brim, of learning science in the most exciting and dynamic way. But what really touched me, was how these budding astronauts and bio-chemists pulled together and guided their peers through the many activities on offer.

The amazing teachers of this school and the equally amazing scientific volunteers, helped to empower the older children by letting them demonstrate many of the experiments to the younger years.  Adorning protective eyewear, clothing and gloves, these kids gave their younger peers a "there's no room for error" and "please stand back for your own safety" drill before each eruption and explosion...  I must say that I'd feel in safe hands heading up into Space with these lot!

Science Week Jo Haycock Science Week photos Jo Haycock Science Week experiments Science Week photography Science Week school playground photos Science Week Science Week Science Week photography by Jo Haycock Science Week photography Jo Haycock Science Week Monmouthshire Science Week photos Jo Haycock Learning through science Jo Haycock Jo Haycock Photography Science Week Monmouthshire