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Training Matters: Why bursary is a ‘step in the right direction’

Picture: Daily Mail.Gemma Louise Hodgson is currently studying for the NCTJ Diploma in Journalism as part of her MA in Sports Journalism at St Mary’s University, Twickenham.

She works as a volunteer media officer for the Rugby Football League (RFL), is a contributor and editor for the Wheelchair DanceSport Association blog and works as a sports reporter for Radio Peterborough with the hope of going into broadcasting and raising the profile of para-sport in the UK media once she has graduated.

Here Gemma gives her account of how the Journalism Diversity Fund and the Thomas Read bursary has helped her to realise a life-long dream.

She is pictured left receiving the bursary award from Kevin and Carolyn Read. (Picture : Daily Mail.)

Waiting in the lift as it steadily counted up to the fourth floor at Northcliffe House on Tuesday I felt every bit as nervous as a premier league footballer waiting in the tunnel before a big game.

Tonight was the night when the work of the Journalism Diversity Fund and the achievements of myself and other diversity fund recipients over the past decade would be celebrated.

As a wheelchair-user I still find the prospect of being centre stage when you’re used to life on the sidelines quite daunting.

But thanks to the support of the team behind the Journalism Diversity Fund, the Read family and my course tutors I am already a much more confident person than I was just six weeks ago.

When I first rang up Dr. Daragh Minogue, course leader of the MA in Sports Journalism at St Mary’s University on a rainy day in November last year to ask whether it was realistic for an ex-dancer to train in sports journalism I would never have believed I would become the first recipient of a newly found bursary in memory of Thomas Read, a talented young journalist who passed away in January 2015.

The Read family were among the first people I met at the event and it was clear from speaking to them, as well as Thomas’ colleagues at Sky Sports News, that his passion for sport and determination to succeed in journalism despite his disability was second to none.

This really struck a chord with me. Being a victim of disability hate crime in the past, I have also developed this determination, or my ‘stubborn streak’ as my mother calls it, to prove to everyone that I can still fulfil my ambitions to become a journalist and broadcaster despite my diagnoses of Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.

But one thing stood in my way.

The cost of training is a barrier, especially for those with disabilities. Moving away from home and the additional costs of care and accessible accommodation can deter people from taking that chance to study at some of the best journalism training institutions in the country.

This is why I feel the introduction of the Thomas Read bursary, aimed at aspiring journalists with disabilities, combined with the Journalism Diversity Fund is such a positive step in the right direction and hopefully will lead more disabled people to consider careers in the media.

Six weeks ago I could never have imagined myself being pitch-side at a Rugby World Cup final or reporting from a major wheelchair rugby event, these were all just dreams but thanks to the help I received from both the Journalism Diversity Fund and the Thomas Read bursary these dreams have now come true.

And I am reminded of what paracyclist Alex Zanardi said at London 2012: “If you have a horizon to look into, happiness is just around the corner.”

That’s how I feel right now.