The Exchange where no subject is off limits

A brand new web series for young people explores issues that matter, but that few are comfortable talking about. The Exchange has enlisted influencers and educators to address taboo subjects in an engaging and informative way. Its first series of webisodes covered topics such as consent, period stigma, body confidence, unconscious bias, revenge porn and gambling. Hannah Dawes, Head of Learning for Life (PSHE) at Oundle School hosts the interviews in each episode. We sat down with her to learn more about the initiative.

What is your new project, The Exchange?
The Exchange is a web series that is geared towards educating teenagers about what I would call so-called ‘taboo’ topics. Things I suppose that I think we should be teaching at schools but so often we shy away from teaching properly. At Oundle School, Learning for Life has been going for the last few years and we have been talking more about these things, but I think nationally there is still this gap in the conversation where we don’t discuss what I would call important, but traditionally slightly embarrassing topics. That isn’t always to do with sex and relationships, but I think it’s also regarding anything where there’s stigma.

What was your inspiration for starting it?
I’ve had this in mind for a few years. I was thinking in my head for a long time about how we could have these conversations with teenagers. Netflix is doing it really well but schools are falling behind. It often feels to me like lessons are great, but that we are not really getting inside people’s minds and having decent conversations. The idea of doing something on social media was quite interesting to me. We know that 90% of teenagers in the world are on social media and therefore it seems like the obvious platform to have these conversations.

Is your target audience the younger generation?
Yes, 13-16 years. Initially I was thinking 13-18, but there is already a lot of content out there that is geared towards older teenagers. For me the ‘forgotten generation’ is 13-16. I think we patronise younger pupils too quickly, and say, “for this topic you have to be 16 to talk about sex or drugs”. And it’s just not true. We need to be educating children much earlier so that they can make informed decisions when they come across these things in life and it’s no good waiting until someone’s 16 or 17 to have these conversations, because by then it’s too late.

Do you think that 13-14 year olds are more likely to face these kinds of problems?
I don’t think ‘more likely’, no I don’t. To be honest, anyone who’s got a smartphone and anyone who’s got the internet will be experiencing and engaging with these topics. So even people my age, perhaps not our grandparents, I guess, but I think anyone above the age of 10 will find these conversations interesting.

How long did this take to set up and take off?
I came up with the plan at the start of lockdown and then Oundle School very kindly backed it and are supporting it. The interview process, setting up the website, setting up the social media channels, having these conversations, I think it probably has taken about three months to put together. I haven’t finished, so I think it will probably take another two months.

How did you go about contacting the social media influencers?
In some cases it has been really easy to establish contact. When there are speakers and activists already wanting to have these conversations, people are really keen to collaborate on projects. But for the format on The Exchange, we’re producing episodes with two people, who can each help explore the topic from a different perspective. For each episode, we wanted at least one guest who had first-hand experience of the topic at hand, and this could be a bit more sensitive, because not everyone wants to discuss the fact that they’ve experienced racism, not everyone wants to discuss the fact that naked pictures were leaked around the internet of them or the fact they were addicted to gambling. Putting this together was a bit of a team effort between me and my producer, Ben Weaver-Hincks. He was amazing. Little shoutout! There’s a lot of emailing and chasing backwards and forwards. It just depends on who’s available at the time, but I think because of lockdown, people were more willing to participate.

Where did you find the technical resources for setting up The Exchange?
My producer, Ben Weaver-Hincks is a friend from uni who’s got great contacts within the spheres of arts and entertainment. He was able to find someone to do the graphics, the website, the social media, the marketing, the PR, all those sorts of things. I can’t take any credit for that, because that was him. So, he was my resource! What I’m realising as I move forward, it’s all about who you know!

What kind of topics do you think you are going to be discussing in the future?
So, I would love to do a series two. One episode that was difficult to find people to speak about was drugs. I’m keen to do an episode about how science should inform the conversation around drug use policy. What we’re learning more and more about is how genetics have a big part to play in the way that your body reacts to drugs and I think we need to be having that conversation more in the classroom, rather than just ‘don’t do drugs’ – people want the facts! I also want to do one on female genital mutilation, which has recently been included in the PSHE curriculum. It’s something that is illegal but still very much happening in the UK, underground. I would also like to do an episode on contraception and STIs. These aren’t things that we managed to do in the first series but stay tuned for more conversations with cool people!

The Exchange is on Instagram @jointheexchange; and Join The Exchange on Youtube.

Priyanka Menon
1 December 2020