Our reflections on BBC Panorama and telling your story

One month after the release of the Panorama episode 'Am I British?', we reflect on our experiences. 

Stories can be used to empower and humanise debate.  

That’s why it’s important to tell your own story, to be in control of your narrative and share your experiences so that others can be inspired to speak out against injustices.  

 For a young person like me, who arrived in the UK as a young child ,and whose immigration journey was fraught with hurdle after hurdle, It was empowering to see the BBC cover stories which echoed my experience. BBC Panorama’s “Am I British?” told the stories of young people like myself who despite growing up in the UK and having lived more than half their lives in the country are trapped in an intimidating, expensive, bureaucratic nightmare.   Too often our experiences are overlooked, and I hope this documentary is the first step in a change of narrative towards those who are socially integrated here and are the fabric of British society and can lead to reform of the immigration system which is long overdue.     

The film also opened up the opportunity for us to raise We Belong’s profile across the UK so that we could reach young people across the country and inform them of the support We Belong provides in helping them overcome the barriers of their immigration status. Reflecting on my lived experience I was invited to speak 7 national and local radio interviews to help raise the profile and the salience of the issue.  The interviews touched on my journey to the UK as well as my experience of being detained as a child. These were sensitive issues which made me feel vulnerable and uncomfortable to communicate them to large audiences because I had to confront trauma that I had shied away from for a long time. It became easier with practice and the thought that my story might resonate with even one young person kept me going.  

Speaking from lived experiences has its challenges and it’s important to consider the impact on your mental health before agreeing to speak out about trauma.  Stories make serious, complex themes more tangible and relatable and they remind us of the connections that exist between us, that we are all human however different our background or experiences may have been.    

Here are my top tips for young people responding to media exposure:  

  • Prepare. Preparation boosts confidence and the ability to focus on what should be communicated. Practice responses at least 2-3 times and avoid 'urns' and 'ahs'.   

  • Develop three key messages to communicate during the interview, including solutions to the issue  

  • Ask the journalist on advance what questions may be asked: If unable to, think about what topics does the journalist want to talk about and why? This helps to decide what key messages you choose.   

  • Select the parts of your personal story that best match the theme of the story. Think about where the tension lies, the conflicts (internal and external) which the protagonist is up against and the strength of character which helps them overcome  

Sharing a personal story online can be a difficult challenge to manage.

Most of us would have experienced or seen how sharing a personal story on social media can result in unexpected and at times divisive responses. Now imagine that you’re not just telling your story on social media, but to the BBC! When this happens, we do not have full control regarding how our story is presented or how what we say will be edited to make a television episode.  

When sharing your story online, be that on your personal social media accounts, or in collaboration with an organisation (in our case, the BBC,) it is important to remember some top tips: 

  • Firstly, remember that how much of your story you decide to share is entirely up to you. You are entitled to make boundaries when sharing your story, such as deciding not to talk about your family, or deciding not to discuss a particular chapter of your life.  
  • Secondly, remember your audience and the purpose of telling your story. Is the purpose to find solidarity with people in a similar situation? Or is your purpose to engage with policy makers and spark change? Your purpose should drive the way that you tell your story: how personal you are versus how factual you are, and which parts you decide to share.  
  • Thirdly, if you are sharing your story online, especially if you are being interviewed as Tashi was for BBC Asian radio, it is always a good idea to plan what you want to say in advance. Not only that, but practice saying your key points out loud before you share publicly. This can help you decide the key points that you want to communicate so that if you feel nervous when placed on the spot, you do not freeze or end up sharing something that you did not intend to share. It is better to be safe than sorry. 
  • Finally, if sharing your story on social media results in negative responses,  know that you do not have to respond. At times responding can add fuel to the fire rather than bringing peace. Fortunately, We Belong did not receive any negative responses to our feature on BBC Panorama, but as the Digital Communications Officer, I was prepared in case any negative tweets or emails came our way, and knew that even if an individual did not agree with the stories that were shared, it would not be our responsibility to change their mind. We work to showcase the stories of amazing young people in the UK, and so many members of the public, politicians and organisations appreciate what we do. You will never be able to change everyone’s mind, but telling your story can be incredibly powerful when someone finds solidarity, a community, or a cause that they want to be a part of because of hearing your story online. Being prepared with these top tips will make your story even more powerful.


- Tashi Tahir (We Belong Parliamentary Officer) and Ciara Redmond (We Belong Digital Communications Officer)

20 May 2021