Belfast Telegraph

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'When you're eyeballing people who have been through hell, it is harrowing but also hopeful ... a woman who had been gang-raped was the most spirited person I'd ever met and I was determined to help'

 

By Stephanie Bell

Frustrated as a journalist by the many good news stories that don't make the headlines, Judith Hill decided to give Northern Ireland its own platform of hope. For the past 10 years the UTV news reporter and her friend Claire Harris have been going into local communities in their own time to seek out the positive stories and people that most of us don't get to hear about.

Bringing people together to talk and filming their stories, the girls then post them on a special website called Tell It In Colour (TIIC).

For Judith, it fulfils so many of her passions in one go. She feels strongly that youth should have a voice, she is proud of Belfast and how far it has come (so much so she won't consider leaving the city) and of course it is an extension of her job, which she loves.

Judith has been a journalist for UTV for nine years and before that worked in local community radio, putting news programmes together and working as a roving reporter.

She lives in east Belfast where she has a close circle of friends. She grew up in Templepatrick, with her younger brother Rick, who is a youth worker.

Her parents Jane and Brian are now retired but her dad also worked with young people. She also has two nephews.

Always encouraged to follow her dreams, Judith realised while at Antrim Grammar School that she enjoyed English and writing, but it wasn't until she went to Queen's University to study for a degree in English that she decided to pursue a career in journalism.

She says: "It was a gradual burner. I was always interested in journalism at school and definitely thought about it. I was always fascinated listening to people's stories and also enjoyed writing, and at Queen's it crystallised for me. I decided to take a gap year to travel and then did a post-graduate course in journalism at the Ulster University.

"I applied for a ton of jobs at the end of that course and a radio station in Cookstown, Mid FM, called me.

"I thought I was going down for an interview but they told me I could start the next day and that's how it started. It was a brilliant first workplace."

Judith spent a couple of years at the station and then worked with the Q Radio network in Ballymena and Coleraine for three years.

After that she applied to UTV and was offered a job as a freelance news reporter, but was soon taken on full-time and has now been there for almost 10 years.

The company recently marked the end of an era when it left its headquarters at Havelock House on the Ormeau Road, where it has been based for over 60 years, to move to the City Quays 2 building in the Harbour Estate.

The first news bulletin was broadcast from its new studio at the start of this month, and it was a big move for all of the team.

Always looking on the bright side, Judith says: "There has been a lot of build-up to it and it was good to be part of something like that. I always think change is good. The views of the Lagan outside the office are outstanding and I think people are going to get a bit sick of us all tweeting photographs of it."

Looking back on Judith's time with UTV it is perhaps not surprising that the stories which stand out for her are the ones where she reported on young people. Again, too, it is people overcoming adversity who have had the biggest impact on her.

"I love the diversity of my job," she says. "I love hard-hitting stories and stories about people, especially young people coming together to speak out, whether its on the subject of mental health or an issue that unites them. I love people being given a voice and taking a stand.

"I did an interview with a woman who was battling cancer and she had kept a photography journal, and she was one of the most amazing people I have ever interviewed.

"Also, I have done a lot of interviews with Kevin Bell's parents, Colin and Eithne (who founded the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust following the hit-and-run death of their 26-year-old son Kevin in New York in 2013 and have since helped bring home the bodies of hundreds of young people).

"When we were called to interview the winners of the EuroMillions I had no idea it was them.

"It is moments like that you don't forget. I've also been to Brussels a couple of times reporting on Brexit."

It was her passion for giving young people a voice which led her to set up Tell It in Colour.

On her website TIIC is described as being "passionate about hope, stories and change in Belfast and Northern Ireland" and that pretty much sums Judith up.

She says: "It really is about telling the stories of people in communities in Belfast and beyond who think they are labelled. Many of them think that the reputation their community has is all that people on the outside see and people don't get to hear of the good work that is going on in these communities.

"As a journalist going into a local community to do a story, you are just in and out and don't get a chance to build relationships. I wanted to hear the stories more fully and create movies to publish online.

"It's been brilliant. It's definitely changed my perspective and it has made me passionate about young people's voices being heard in this country.

"Our most recent project was about women at an interface in Belfast and it was amazing to meet them and discuss their journey.

"Many of them had never had contact with people from the other community and it really opened my eyes to discover that some people never had the chance to do that.

"It also feeds into what I do as a journalist and I've found it eye-opening. As a journalist you are just parachuting in and then you are out again and I don't like that. I want people to know I do care about what they have to say.

"It has made me proud and passionate about Belfast and Northern Ireland and what change is happening here. I have come to care a lot about this place. In your career, you can stay or you can go and I feel like my journalism is very tied to here."

And it is not just here in Northern Ireland that Judith has found time to help other people. She has travelled overseas several times both as a reporter and on her own with local charities.

Her latest trip last year, to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), left a mark on her and she returned home determined to help the people she had met there.

Judith and some colleagues from UTV ran the relay in the Belfast City Marathon and raised over £2,000 to fund work with victims of the conflict in the DRC. One of the world's most fragile states, since 1999 six million people have died as a direct or indirect result of the ongoing civil conflict.

Judith visited last September for three weeks with the charity Tearfund to record the stories of victims of the conflict. One in particular left a big impression on her. Indeed, she describes it as the most heartbreaking story she has ever been told, but one which is ultimately about hope.

She says: "It's a country where people suffer much and where that suffering often goes untold. I got to travel there last year and encounter the most harrowing, but hopeful stories I've ever heard in my life.

"I was with the charity Tearfund, which has a group of guys on the ground. I was pretty edgy about going as it is a really volatile country. I've been to Africa a few times but I found going to the DRC was the most life-giving trip of all and that's why I had so much energy about it when I came home.

"Every 60 seconds a woman is raped there and I was meeting people who were choosing to tell their stories. It is a taboo and women don't talk about it. It is so commonplace there is almost an acceptance of it.

"When you are eyeballing people who have been through hell it is harrowing but also hopeful.

"One woman I met had been gang-raped over several days and she wanted to tell her story to encourage other women to break out of the silence. She was the most spirited person I have ever met.

"I carried her story back with me. She had found hope and faith in her ordeal and that really stuck with me.

"I feel passionately about it as it is very under-reported. There are more people being displaced and losing their homes there than even in Syria but we don't hear about it."

Such was the impact on Judith that she couldn't just forget about the trip when she came home and felt compelled to do something to help.

Although she enjoys cycling in her free time, she isn't a runner, but decided to take on the relay at the Belfast City Marathon this year, along with colleagues from UTV, to raise funds and awareness about what is happening in DRC.

For Judith, it was a challenge. "I don't run. I actually have really bad memories of running. In grammar school on sports day I was talked into doing the 800 metre race and I was lapped in front of the entire school on what was a two-lap race. I know a lot of people who are really enthusiastic about running and I always have to ask 'How can it be that addictive?' I don't see the pleasure in it.

"When you haven't run before and you are pounding the pavements, struggling for breath and trying to keep your pride intact, that's challenging.

"I did enjoy the buzz and the traybakes afterwards, though! It was good to have a cause to do it for."

Judith also volunteered with the local Habitat for Humanity charity to build a house for a family in Delhi a few years ago. And she has also been to Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique with Concern, reporting for UTV.

She says: "Delhi was pretty life-defining as well.

"The family we were building for was so excited to be getting a new house that they were in tears every day. It meant so much to them.

"I've found all the trips to be expansive experiences - just to visit somewhere and see what people are going through is so humbling. "

When Judith is not thinking of others or volunteering to help others through TIIC, she says she enjoys spending time with family and friends and taking her bike out for a long cycle.

She is happily single at the moment and is content with her life.

She adds: "I love what I'm doing. I am really passionate about news and reporting and I just want to keep doing what I'm doing.

"I love news and features and having the chance to tell the positive stories of this place, and one day I would also love to write a book."

Getting to know you... a few of Judith’s favourite things

What’s your favourite book?

 There are two which come to mind — I loved them both and just can’t choose between them: Wild — a Journey from Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed, which is about a young woman’s impulsive decision to walk alone the 1,100 miles of the west coast of America after her life fell apart (it was made into a film in 2014 starring Reese Witherspoon) and In the Shelter by Padraig O Tuama (the Corrymeela Community leader who is a poet, theologian and group worker), which looks at ideas of shelter and explores gentle ways of living well in a troubled world.

And your favourite song?

Call It Dreaming by Iron & Wine. I adore the lyrics and the music chills my soul.

Favourite film?

Lion or Notting Hill. (Lion was released in 2016 and was a biographical drama film based on the book A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley. It was the true story of how Brierley tried to find his family, 25 years after being separated from them in Burhanpur. The film starred Dev Patel, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman. Notting Hill was the 1999 romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts).

Favourite shop?

I’m a sucker for H&M.

Favourite food?

Anything sweet!

Any pets?

No.

Biggest regret — or do you not believe in them?

Well, I would say that this would be over-plucking my eyebrows at the age of 15!

If you could do anything else other than what you do, what would it be?

I’d be a tour guide in Belfast — I love pitching the place to people. I’m proud and passionate about our city and it’s amazing to see the change that’s happened here.

Favourite holiday destination in Northern Ireland?

I would choose Murlough Bay. This year’s holiday is Ibiza, so I am excited for that.

Best thing ever happened to you?

Living with a family in the Manila slums for two months during a gap year changed my life.

And the worst?

Watching people who are close to me battle pain. I would also say that dealing with personal disappointments is one of the worst experiences you can go through.

Person you most admire?

I admire youth workers in inner city Belfast who devote their lives to helping young people.

And if you could invite three guests to a dinner party, who would they be (can be living or dead)?

The voiceover guy from Love Island whose banter is brilliant, my aunt Vina who died when I was young who was my heroine and then my nephew Noah who’s just got the best wee one-liners.

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