HLN meets: Chantal Herbert
HLN’s Faith Richardson speaks to Chantal Herbert about her work in the North East to bring equality and balance to our creative industries.
By Faith Richardson
During the course of the interview, Chantal refers to womxn. HLN is committed to embracing and educating ourselves on diversity and sexism and as a result we wanted to make our readers aware of this term and why it has been used. Dictionary.com, added womxn to its dictionary in 2019, and defines it as an alternative spelling to avoid the suggestion of sexism perceived in the sequences m-a-n and m-e-n, and to be inclusive of trans and nonbinary women.
Founder and director of Sister Shack, a North East platform to promote and support female and Black creatives. Podcaster and audio producer at Tits Up Creative Agency. Young Black & Minoritised Women’s Network Coordinator for The Angelou Centre. She even graduated from her MA in Radio at Sunderland University in the midst of a pandemic. It’s safe to say Chantal Herbert has been busy over the last few years championing both women and Black creatives and making a huge impact on the North East creative industry.
We talked to her about how she got into each of these roles, as well as her experiences in the North East and the changes she wants to see.
Hi Chantal! Tell us a little bit about yourself…
Hi, my name is Chantal and I am a feminist, Dyspraxic, 37-year-old, queer mother of one, who moved to Newcastle in 2003 to attend Northumbria University to complete a BA(Hons) in Media Production. I am a sometimes vinyl DJ, the Founder of Sister Shack and I produce audio features, podcasts and documentaries. I am also the Young Women’s Network Coordinator at The Angelou Centre, which is a new role for me, and I am VERY excited about it. I have also recently started up a Creative company call Tits Up Creative.
I’m also very hyper, forgetful and easily distracted.
Talk us through your job at The Angelou Centre – How did you start working there, what your job role entails, and the people that you help?
I originally made links with the Angelou Centre when I was the DJ at their 25th Anniversary event. I wanted to do an audio project on the centre and asked the director if this was something I could do. From there I recorded lots of audio at the centre and built a really strong relationship with some of the staff and women that attend the centre. I then started officially working at the Angelou Centre in February 2020, working on a young women’s leadership project. As of August 2020, I am now the Young Women’s Network Coordinator and I am setting up a brand-new Young Women’s Network. The network aims to support and empower Black and Minoritised womxn with the skills and tools needed to navigate their way through life. We will offer training, a safe space, opportunities, resources, advice, leadership, peer mentoring, career advice and so much more. The network exists to help Black and Minoritised womxn as they are often left out of many conversations.
Why do you think the North East needs a charity like The Angelou Centre?
Every city and town needs organisations like the Angelou Centre. These organisations ensure that the complex and varied support services needed for the intersecting barriers faced by Black and Minoritised womxn are met. These womxn need a voice and advocacy that is led by women who understand their needs. The womxn who use these services will often find accessing non-speciality support services overly complicated to navigate or fully engage with. This is due to these services not having the specialist staff nor the training, that can navigate such things as immigration and asylum statuses, language barriers, and cultural differences. These services need to be led by, and for Black womxn.
You did your MA in Radio at Sunderland University – what is it about working in radio that appealed to you?
I am more interested in audio production that radio itself, and this course has a lot of elements of that. In fact, the course is now called Radio, Audio and Podcasting. I am very interested telling real life stories by making audio documentaries and podcast features. I particularly love experimental audio, especially in the form of what I call “audio collage”, and my main interest is telling the stories of Black and Minoritised womxn. I believe that audio is the best medium to tell stories, as it has a certain amount of anonymity and a listener can place themselves in that situation or moment without visual distractions.
You currently work as Audio Producer and Podcaster at Tits Up Creative Agency – what kind of things do you like to cover on your podcast, and what’s been your favourite episode so far?
I haven’t actually made a podcast in a while as I have been concentrating on other audio projects, but I do have two favourites. I interviewed Sharon MacArthur about Menopause and learned so much from her. I also always love interviewing Anna Knight; her podcast was the first I ever made, and it taught me a lot about trauma and disability intersection
A lot of your job roles are centred around promoting and supporting women creatives, as well as the Black community and Black creatives – what prompted you to want to take on these roles?
I would not say these are job roles – I started Sister Shack two years ago and as a Black woman, it is only right that I use my platform to uplift people from my community. I have been talking about racism for a very, very long time and I was often shouting into the void. But since BLM became more widespread this year, it’s as if suddenly you are now heard, when before barely anyone wanted to listen or take notice. In terms of supporting women creatives, many of my friends are creatives and seeing them struggle more than their male counterparts, as well as their lack of self-confidence (including my own) really upset and infuriated me, so I decided that my main focus is to uplift and amplify womxn’s voices in everything that I do.
What have been some of the challenges you’ve encountered along the way?
I am a very stubborn and determined person, so I can’t really say I have encountered many major challenges along the way. I guess the main one is how many people want to try and belittle your experiences and seeing how dishonest the creative world can be, but this does not really phase me as I am my own boss and I can say yes or no to things that I deem not worth my emotional energy.
Have you seen a change in the way women and Black creatives have been accepted over the last few years – either locally or globally?
In all honesty, no I can’t say I have. I have seen a change in womxn and Black creatives creating their own platforms to showcase their work. Women and Black creatives are making their presence known via social media, and more women’s networks and support groups popping up, but the acceptance is something I am really yet to see, and this is proven by the lack of diversity in the sector.
You founded Sister Shack – Could you tell us a bit about what Sister Shack does, and what made you decide the North East needed a non-profit like yours?
Sister Shack is a feminist black-led CIC that focuses on working with and promoting women entrepreneurs, creatives, artists, musicians, and DJs. We also highlight and discuss issues faced by women and provide information and guidance. We strongly believe in women’s rights and wellbeing, and we aim to talk about and tackle any subject, including feminism, relationships, nutrition, boundaries, consent and racism; nothing is off-limits. We aim to promote and empower womxn to continue their growth in any area they undertake, and we encourage women to take up as much space as possible. I noticed that the NE had a distinct lack of events where womxn were the focus. From DJing., I realised how soul destroying it was to have men want to tell you how to do your job “better”, sexually harass you whilst you are working and basically knock your confidence. I felt that womxn lacked the self-confidence to push their work without the feeling of not being good enough and I want to tell women that they are badass whilst giving a friendly face to work with that made them feel safe, understood and listened to. It was amazing to hear how many womxn felt comfortable at the events I’ve ran and seeing friendships and business opportunities blossom because of Sister Shack.
What’s been your proudest moment to date – either personally or professionally?
Nearly everything positive in the last two years, I could not pin it down to one moment, there have been too many and I have loved nearly every one of them
What further changes do you think we need to see in relation to anti-racism and sexism in the creative industries?
We need a massive overhaul of so many things. Positions in these organisations needs to be restructured and diversified. We need boards that are not so stuck in the past (currently they are) and we need to decolonise and change mindsets. Patriarchal structures need to be dismantled and womxn need to be listened to, without our narratives being rewritten and spoken for us.
Finally, what are your favourite North East spots? This can be restaurants, bars, theatres, walks, communities – anything at all!
I am obsessed with food. My favourite restaurants are La Yuan and Infusion. I also really love Snack Wallah and I love chocolate from Meraki Cacao. I am not really a bar person but before Covid I did DJ monthly at The Forth Hotel and the staff are real good eggs who are really kind and supportive. I have a lot of love in my heart for World Head Quarters, which provided a safe clubbing space for me for many, many years when I first moved here.
I need to shoutout some of my Sister Shack Crew:
The Crow Factory – @thecrowfactory