My Favourite Lecturer - Chris Hepworth

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The students

Daniel Armstrong and Kieran Hunter are in the second year of a BA degree course in Scriptwriting for Stage, Screen and Gaming and nominate their lecturer and curriculum manager, Chris Hepworth, at Blackpool and The Fylde College

Daniel (19): Chris stands out because of his enthusiasm and an ability to jump into things from different angles – he’ll make you feel enthusiastic even about something you don’t find interesting initially. He’s so full of beans and is genuinely excited and respectful about all the creative work we produce – and that means a lot to us. We’ve been writing a load of scripts lately… and Chris has been taking us through a constructive feedback plan, showing us how to build on and improve our work, and that makes us feel confident and proud of what we have created.

He cares about the things we worry about, such as getting work in on time and achieving good levels. He’s reassuring when helping us get the work done. He’s also good at relieving the pressure and tension of presenting our scripts to others. We often do scene read-throughs, in which every class member assumes different roles in the text, and it’s easy for us – and Chris – to get carried away with various personas, accents and aliases. It’s a lot of fun and, for me, the best part of the course. 

Kieran (21): I was impressed by Chris even before I’d applied – it was how he described the course, his breadth of knowledge and how articulate he was. He doesn’t just teach a topic; he wants a conversation with us about it and is open to what we have to say and bring to the table. It’s really cool to see how he runs lessons and puts complex information across, ensuring we don’t just hear it but that it sticks in our mind – that’s what excites me about his lectures. 

As a genuine people person, he’s interested in our lives outside class as well – he not only cares for us academically but also as individuals. If we near a deadline, he’ll sometimes hold an extra workshop session and tell us all what we really need to know about a particular course module – or he’ll offer one-on-one meetings to focus on our work. It’s a good mix. 

The lecturer

Chris Hepworth joined Blackpool and The Fylde College in 2002 two years after leaving Sheffield Hallam University with a film and literature degree. He first taught GCSE and A-level film and media studies before becoming programme leader of A-level provision. He progressed to writing a wide range of different media-linked degree courses and is now HE curriculum manager and lecturer for script-writing, English, photography, film-making and graphics

Flexibility is key in all I do and I try to install that in my students; I encourage them to take risks and move outside their comfort zone. Creative people need to be multidisciplinary, so it’s about having academic, creative and digital literacy all at once. 

I’ve been in teaching since finishing my degree and taught all the main creative media subjects in our college including film, media, graphics and English. I keep up with the industry by taking part in large- scale community projects where I can involve my students. In a recent Arts Council-funded community scheme called the Rush project, we put together a play focused on Blackpool (after similar plays produced in the north-east and Hull). It set out to highlight the challenges faced by Blackpool and engage local people to tell their story. 

The community spirit was amazing

As the project’s scriptwriter, I ran writing workshops with pockets of local communities from different walks of life – it was one of the most inspiring things I have done. The community spirit was amazing, working with students, older community members, young professional creatives and Syrian refugees living in the area. It reflected our college ethos about bringing communities together.

Part of the project involved the arts organisation, LeftCoast, a local programme of arts, culture and creative activity, also funded by the Arts Council, which undertook an initiative called Left Behind – it highlighted a disenfranchised Blackpool that was suffering from a surge of anti-tourism. It gave our photography students a great opportunity to produce Blackpool-based work that ended up in the public arena. Meanwhile, our scriptwriting and English degree students on a professional development module worked with a local artist producing comic strips and saw their written storylines come to life.

Enthusiasm at the heart of what I do 

Activities like Rush are the practical heart of what I strive to do – using enthusiasm and determination in leading from the front to install a culture of creative problem-solving in all my students so they don’t just work round problems in linear ways but come up with fresh, exciting approaches to learning.

When my colleagues and I design curricula we try to place students at the heart of that progress as co-producers taking ownership – we don’t treat them as passive vessels. To build that ethos I try to embed a culture of peer mentoring and continual group critiques. I tell my students: “Don’t just write in a vacuum and not let anyone see what you’re doing …let’s read your writing out loud and hear it come to life.” 

I'm persistent as well and strive to be a good communicator. I have clear expectations and aim to motivate people – I love witnessing lightbulb moments, watching those who first think they can't do something then realise they can and thrive as a result. I try to encourage them to have their eye on the horizon.

I have a contract with my students

I am aiming always to be friendly, approachable and nurturing. It’s about partnership – I have a contract with my students. I suppose I'm the teacher and have a good foundation of knowledge but the students increasingly develop their own knowledge of professional practice and industry, so I only want to lead initially – my goal is to get them to co-produce. In Rush, I worked collaboratively with the students to integrate ideas, for which they received due credit, and who then got to see what worked in the public arena. I also had performing arts students alongside me plus members of the community.

In our school of creative arts and digital industries, we are all about live briefs – it’s a project-based and problem-based approach to learning. I like negotiating schemes of work so I’ll present students with a module and say this destination is where we want to end up so tell me how to do you as a group want to get there?

Devising degree programmes no one else is doing

I’m very enthusiastic and try to motivate my students by getting excited about their projects. I love designing unique programmes no one else is doing. Our scriptwriting degree for stage screen and gaming has its own structure and design and allows us to do some interesting things. For instance, my students collaborate with an interactive media development programme in the school of computing. We recently held a games jam where scriptwriters, designers, coders and actors had to design a video game in 24 hours. In the end, it’s was all about coming up with a good storyline. 

Colleagues call me Time Lord as I have to be ultra-organised to achieve all I need to within the normal ‘9 to 5’ working hours and then I’ll often go over and beyond. I see my job as a real vocation, requiring genuine passion and commitment. When students are down for any reason, I try to point out to them what’s at stake and find ways to help them find their true worth. Everyone is capable of doing wonderful things! 

Helping students find their own angle

I once taught a GCSE English evening class and one student was angry about having to attend but he needed the qualification. “I don’t like poetry,” he told me so I replied: “So have you read it all?” By the end of the course, he absolutely loved it. He’d literally switched onto it. The job is very often about individualised learning and getting people to find their own angle. 

A good strategy is always to have a clear point of action. We have a strong culture of peer mentoring, which can be quite successful if we can team up less willing members of the group with those more willing but without holding them back. I encourage a culture of sharing and nurturing, and regular read-throughs of scripts, but lay down a set of ground rules saying no one is here to judge or criticise you.

My multi-disciplinary experience of teaching from pre-GCSE English through to degree level gives me the confidence to constantly leave my comfort zone and realise I do have something valuable to pass on to my students.

Interviews by Richard Doughty

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