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Meet a Mentor: Polly and Jennifer

Working with Create Jobs, we're proud to deliver Meet a Mentor: Behind the Lens; a four-month mentoring programme, funded by ScreenSkills.

Here's what Polly, a poet and student radio station manager and her mentor, independent writer, producer, director,  Jennifer Lunn had to say about their experiences on the programme far...

Polly Denny

Young woman in a black t-shirt smiling

Polly is a young creative working mainly in spoken word and other audio formats. At seventeen she was awarded the title of Young Poet Laureate for Bath, and just a year later she was working with the BBC and Roundhouse.

She has run workshops for children and young people across the South West’s libraries, schools, and universities, and directed and produced events for various festivals, and performed in venues such as the Royal Albert Hall in London and The Tobacco Factory and St Georges in Bristol.

Alongside her degree, Polly has been working as a creative writing mentor for the Cheltenham Literature Festival encouraging and cultivating young talent and recently branched out into radio and podcasting.

Polly has been working as the Deputy Station Manager for her student station, Xpress radio, and was shortlisted for the SRA Spirit of Student Radio award for her contribution and co-runs the podcast ‘Level Up’ which discusses sits down with those working in Wales at the top of their field to discuss their successes and challenges.

Why have you signed up to the Meet a Mentor programme?

The creative industry can be a tricky place to navigate, especially for a freelancer. I have reached a point in my career where I am able to get one off gigs, or short-term contracts on a semi-regular basis, but I’m finding it difficult to progress past this.

Being unable to move beyond this early, entry level work has lead to a sense of stagnancy, making it difficult for me to consider myself a professional, and made me doubt my ability.

By signing up to Meet a Mentor, I hoped to gain more practical and experiential knowledge about how to move through these early stages and into a more professional and steady chapter.

I want to be working with greater responsibilities and on bigger projects, hopefully alongside other people, and I hoped a mentor would be able to help guide me through this.

What have you gained from the programme so far?

Having the opportunity to work with Jen has been incredible. More than anything, being able to discuss pressures and insecurities that come with freelance work has been great. It’s helpful to have someone who has already been through this process to talk to and work through any issues or concerns with.

Who is your mentor and what have they helped you with? 

My mentor is the amazing Jennifer Lunn, who has been so supportive and honest throughout our sessions. One of the biggest things she has helped me with so far has been how I define my work.

While I started my career as a poet and performer, I have since branched out into production, education, radio, and activism. Before Meet a Mentor, this broad range of interests and experience felt messy and confusing, but working with Jen - who is involved in most of these areas already, alongside many others - helped me to see how these interests can all work cohesively - and in many ways overlap and enrich each other.

Jen has been wonderful at fielding my many ridiculous questions and the occasional valid query! We've done some really useful practical skills development, such as finance structuring and creative CV building, as well as working on confidence in more professional settings.

What are your hopes for the rest of the programme and how might it help you with your future career?

For the rest of the program we will be continuing to work on these practical skills, and as well as that we are looking to try and expand my networks across the south west and south Wales.

Another goal is to try and gain some work experience, and other practical experiences like workshops and courses, across areas of the industry that I am interested in, but haven’t worked in yet in order to get a feel for how the creative industry works on a wider scale, and where I want to be within it.

Jennifer Lunn, Mentor

Jennifer Lunn smiling holding up an award for writing

Jen Lunn is an independent writer, producer, director and facilitator based in Cardiff/ London. She writes, produces and directs theatre - from storytelling shows for children through to touring musicals. She is Head of Production for Ellie Keel Productions in London and an independent producer for live artist Victor Esses and for theatre company ClerkinWorks.

She is Writer in Residence at Theatr Clwyd this year and her play 'Es & Flo' is being produced by Wales Millennium Centre in the summer of 2021. She also works as a storyteller and gatherer with children in hospitals.

Jen has produced festivals and outdoor work including live gigs and cinema at Somerset House in London and was Head of Projects and Events Production at the National Theatre in London from 2015-2017. She has also worked on a range of immersive projects including street theatre games, immersive dining experiences and interactive storytelling shows.

As a dramaturg and creative development consultant Jen supports a range of emerging artists. She has taught Innovation in the Creative Industries at MA level for WaterBear Music College and is a longstanding mentor for a range of creatives including writers, comedians, producers and performers.

Why did you sign up to the Meet a Mentor programme? 

It's always great to meet and get to know the next generation of creatives and in the current climate it feels more vital than ever to be able to offer support, advice and connections to help them navigate the early years of career building.

My previous mentoring experiences have all been great and have more often than not led to future collaborations or working relationships so I always view mentoring as a great way to be introduced to the exciting new people I will hopefully get to work with in future.

What have you gained from the programme so far? 

It's been fantastic getting to know Polly and hearing about her work and plans. It's really inspiring to work with someone who has similar goals and interests to my own whilst also learning from her about her work as a poet.

Being part of the community of Meet a Mentor has been a real positive during the strange times of 2020, being able to come together to discuss and celebrate our industries and to look towards a future where all these brilliant mentees will be making waves and becoming the leaders of tomorrow.

Who is your mentee and what have you supported them with?

My mentee is Polly Denny and we have focussed on a few things so far in our time together from broad discussions and planning about long term career planning right down to much more detailed discussions about her current projects.

Polly asked specifically for support around the financial aspects of being self-employed (which no-one ever teaches you!) and it was great to really spend some time looking at the day to day aspects of running your own business as an artist which can feel incredibly daunting.

I hope that I have also been a firm but encouraging voice reminding her to believe in herself and to see the value in all that she is doing.

What have you learned from being a mentor and would you recommend it to others?

I would always recommend mentoring to anyone. It is a wonderful opportunity to connect with someone just starting out and to be able to use all the skills and knowledge you have to help them take their next steps.

It is always through mentoring that I am able to best self-reflect on my own career and to remember and re-evaluate my own experiences. It can serve as an amazing reminder of how much you have achieved and learnt in your time and how much you have to offer.

Professionally it can also be a really interesting way of evaluating your own work. As a producer, for instance, I can learn a lot from hearing about mentees experiences of working with producers on other projects, and can then bring that learning into my own work.

Find out more about Meet A Mentor: Behind The Lens.