Plenary session: Sara Harkins and Maria McGill in conversation with Amy Holdsworth.

Monday 5 September, 2016.

By Gaby Smith and Zoë Shacklock


– Media producers have a huge duty of care: to the audience, to their colleagues, to their participants.

-Discussion around what sorts of responsibilities do we have to talk about death and dying? Questioning what duty the BBC has as a public service broadcaster.

-Working on material that engages with difficult subject matter, both McGill and Harkins single out trust as the most important value when combining care practices with mediated practices


Speaking in conversation with Amy Holdsworth, Sara Harkins (BBC Scotland) and Maria McGill (Children’s Hospice Association), the plenary session commenced with a showreel of current and past projects seen on BBC. This included short clips from Scottish soap River City,  as well as Children in Need, Life Babble, and the CBeebies programme My Pet and Me. Crucially, the television examples all touched upon life and the experiences of children and children’s hospices, who deal with issues surrounding end of life care- as seen on location at Robin House Hospice, near Balloch.

Collaborating with CHAS, the BBC were invited to see what this hospice was all about, when it was founded, as well as understand a bit more about death and dying, and what does this mean for the BBC as a public service broadcaster. More importantly, this raised the important question of how can the two come together?

Realising that there was a duty as a PSB, especially as this is a subject that is not spoken about as much as it could and should be, there was a feeling of entering into this conversation not only for young children but to the wider audiences overall.

Raising the important story of a child dying, is not an easy task. My Pet and Me was one of the first BBC programmes to champion the inclusion of Robin House, and issues faced by children and their families. The programme attempted to show parts of Abbie’s family life, her siblings and her pets albeit whilst in hospice care. Additionally, in telling this through screen drama via the storylines of popular soap River City, presented as an opportunity for Maria and her team to work closely with Sara, as well as other producers and scriptwriters. Making a story that was authentic and true was not only the main objective, but finding a way to show a caring representation helped to create a storyline that would potentially draw a wider audience as well.

With clear pressure to raise funds, there are many different layers to this process. Commenting that she feels a responsibility to the families and the ‘hidden’ children,  McGill views the Children In Need campaign as an opportunity to tell the experiences of a family, whilst highlighting and promoting the charity and their own grant from Children In Need appropriately. Working with the BBC in order to create ethical and excellent services for children was if anything enhanced by Robin House being seen on television. Hawkins too, speaks of the tricky conversation before entering into the filming of My Pet and Me.  An underlying issue was that this particular episode should be run past the family involved but also the involvement of CHAS. The episode, which featured Abbie who with a critical illness and shortened life-expectancy, showed how living a family life that involves hospice care might not be a normal experience for everyone, but for some this is a way of life. Done in a contemporary and playful way, the real experiences shown helped normalise this, whilst offering help and guidance to their wider audience.

What is vitally important is ‘getting out and about’. Sara Harkins mentions that actually visiting Robin House helped break the media bubble and engage with what is actually happening to real families on a daily basis. Maria McGill discusses the shared values and the relationship of trust that is imperative to this process of charity and media engagement.



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One Response to Plenary session: Sara Harkins and Maria McGill in conversation with Amy Holdsworth.

  1. Pingback: Plenary session: Sara Harkins and Maria McGill in conversation with Amy Holdsworth. – bonniesmillar

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