Former CANDI student wins Jack Petchey award for Sixth Form College podcast

A former City and Islington College (CANDI) student has scooped an award for a podcast with an ex-teacher about her book of poems that later won a national prize.

Gabrielle Okonkwo, 18, won a Jack Petchey Achievement Award for her interview with Hannah Lowe in December 2021 about The Kids, a collection of sonnets on teaching, learning, growing up and parenthood.

Hannah, who taught English at CANDI from 2002-12, went on to win the Costa Poetry Award in January this year and the Costa Book of the Year the following month.

Gabrielle and former CANDI student Adam Njai, 20, who is now studying for a BA (Hons) History at the University of Bristol, spoke to her for the college’s podcast The Jam.

The Jam was initially launched as a way for students to share their experiences during the COVID pandemic and comprised three episodes called Voices Lost in Lockdown and was featured in an article in TES magazine.

Gabrielle said: “I wasn’t expecting the award and was humbled and grateful to receive it. I enjoyed making the podcasts, but I didn’t do it alone. I headed up a team of 5-10 students who came when time allowed and made sacrifices, like with any commitment, and this is the reward for everyone’s hard work. It was definitely a joint effort.

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Gabrielle achieved an A* in English Language and Literature and As in History and Politics in her A Levels this year and is now studying for a BA (Hons) in English and History at the University of Warwick.

She added: “My mind was blown when I had the opportunity to speak with Hannah Lowe. I would recommend to everyone to give her book a read. It’s a real honest and sometimes funny account of her experience and is so beautifully written.”

The Jack Petchey Achievement Awards recognise around 12,000 outstanding young people aged 11-25 at schools, colleges and youth organisations across London and Essex each year.

Gabrielle received £300 in prize money for the college, which was used to fund the appointment of a student intern over the summer to develop ideas for The Jam and other student activities.

A Level History and Politics teacher Debbie Bogard, who started The Jam and put forward Gabrielle for the award, said: “Gabrielle was a wonderful student who put in so much effort into both researching and co-hosting the episode of The Jam with Hannah Lowe. I am absolutely thrilled that she received this award, which she thoroughly deserved, along with her fantastic A Level grades in the summer.

“We decided to spend the money to grow The Jam and were delighted to appoint former CANDI student Rae Ferner-Rose, who is currently studying for a BA (Hons) Liberal Arts at the University of Bristol. Rae has done an amazing job over the past three months helping build a community of ex-students and creating creative opportunities for students to be involved developing ideas for the Jam.”

The latest episode of The Jam was a book club hosted by Rae Ferner-Rose on The Secret History by Donna Tartt featuring Debbie Bogard, current students Renae Carter Campbell, 17, Alana Stephenson, 18 and former student Kiera Wasage, 18. Listen to the podcast here.

Hannah Lowe left CANDI to complete a PhD in Creative Writing at Newcastle University and now lectures in the subject at Brunel University. Her other works include Chan (2016), Long Time, No See (2015) and Chick (2013).

Listen to The Jam podcast on The Kids here.

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