In episode Seven of the IBC’s Changemaker series of Podcasts, Actors and Changemakers, Lisa Kelly, Head of Content Innovation & Development, Children in Need, BBC, speaks to Nadira Tudor about how Pudsey Bear will be stepping into a sim-rig to drive supercars, and dancing his way through this year’s appeal.
Kelly began by sharing her thoughts on young people and technology adoption, which have shaped her approach to the Children in Need strategy. “We have this amazing opportunity, with technology at our fingertips. But for many young people, it’s really difficult for them to even access the internet. We know that the power of social media can be amazing, but it can also be hugely damaging as well.
“The way that the world is moving we have all these open digital spaces that we can be part of but we all need to understand the responsibilities that we have in enabling those places to be safe for young people because - for many - they might not be…”
Kelly’s involvement in the most successful 24 hour challenge ever - the 24 hour Drumathon which raised £3.8 million for BBC Children in Need - was special in several ways.
“I think music and drumming, particularly, is something that really has a special connection with people. We know that the drum beat is the sound of the heartbeat. It’s the very first thing that we ever connect to when we’re first created. I think there’s something very magical about people who can drum together…”
However, the immediate future seems set to be a more digital experience, as gaming has become a key pillar for Children in Need for a host of different reasons. Kelly explained some of the motivation behind the decision.
“We were led by our projects and we knew during COVID lots of our projects couldn’t meet up with their young people, couldn’t do the usual condition checks to check that they’re okay. Lots of them turned to using video games as an amazing place to meet their young people, and while they were chatting to them and sharing that time together, they could also ask them to switch their camera on to check what they were wearing, look at the state of their room to have a chat with them about what they’ve had for their tea and just use it as a real positive way to keep a relationship going when they couldn’t physically see them or go and visit them at home.
“When lots of them were telling us that video games were becoming a real tool for them to not only engage with young people but enable others to come together, we started to wonder what we could do in this space to really promote responsible gaming.”
Kelly was keen to draw a firm line between some of the stereotypical tabloid-style portrayals of gaming and the everyday reality for millions of young people. “We’re all about responsible gaming and we’re all about gaming that’s active and social. We’re really trying to dispel that stereotype and that myth of gaming being somebody on their own, sitting in their bedroom for hours on end.
“For the young people that we support, gaming’s not that, gaming’s absolutely where they meet their friends, it’s how they spend really good quality social time. It’s how they can express themselves and how they can learn social things that they may have missed out on in life - about how to be a friend, how to make friends, how to express themselves if they need support or help, and how to find people that understand them, make them feel accepted.”
She continued to refute some other negative stereotypes that can creep into gaming debates: “I tend to use the analogy of football or rugby or any other kind of sport where we don’t stop our children taking part just because some children might get concussed or some children might get injured. Whatever our children do, whatever they play, we know that there’s meant to be rules, there’s meant to be parameters that we have set.
[Similarly] we don’t advocate gaming for long periods of time, and we do advocate that young people need to understand how to set all the controls and all the permissions correctly when they’re playing games. We do understand that if they’re playing in social environments, [they need to know] how to behave responsibly and how to look after themselves if something upsetting happens to them.
“We also work with lots of projects who create guides not only for young people, but for parents and for teachers as well. We want to make sure that we equip young people to play responsibly and to be able to understand who and where to seek help from if something doesn’t quite go as planned.”
Yellow bear in an F1 car
As a result, the iconic Pudsey bear will be joining in the fun. “Pudsey is going to be racing in the F1 23 video game, we’re taking some rigs around the country, so Pudsey will be racing on those. We’re also playing Just Dance, ao he’ll be getting his dance moves perfected to dance along to that. We’re also going to be playing a game called Hado which is a brand new techno teamsport a bit like dodgeball, but in an augmented reality space.”
Clearly there is considerable fun and entertainment on offer, but the lens of Children in Need emphasises just how vital fun and enjoyment are to young people, said Kelly. “We fund projects where young people might be in long term hospital or hospice care. So gaming for them is not only pain relief and helps them kind of relieve the long hours of boredom, but it keeps them in contact with their friends and their family back home. This way, when they are back in society, they’ve not lost those valuable relationships and don’t have to start again…
“We [speak to] lots of young people with disabilities and they tell us that when they’re playing video games, they can do whatever they dream of, they can be whoever they want to be. So if their disabilities prevent them from being able to run around a football pitch with their friends, they can score the most goals that they possibly want to when they’re playing football, or they can dance, they can fly, they can do whatever they want to do.”
See all Changemakers Podcast Episodes, including upcoming Episode 7: