Award-winning Beckenham journalist speaks about the power of writing to change people’s lives

PUBLISHED: 09:59 24 November 2016 | UPDATED: 09:59 24 November 2016

Miss Syal receives her Women of the Future award

Miss Syal receives her Women of the Future award


She was named one of the winners at the Women of the Future awards in London last week

A Beckenham journalist who received a prestigious award at a ceremony in London last week has spoken about the power of writing to change people’s lives.

Chayya Syal was named winner in the media category at the Women of the Future awards on November 16, which was attended by luminaries such as Cherie Blair, Baroness Shami Chakrabarti and House of Commons speaker John Bercow.

The awards were set up to recognise, inspire and offer practical support to the young female stars of today and tomorrow, and they are now in their 11th year.

Twenty-five-year-old Miss Syal, who works at the BBC Asian Network, recently produced a live news programme covering Brexit and the EU Referendum, as well as a powerful discussion about emotional abuse in the Asian community.

She told the Bromley Times: “The award was so unexpected. I have been doing journalism for the past seven to eight years, and I really didn’t think I would get an award just for doing my job.

“When I went on stage to give a speech I was shaking so much and hyperventilating - I was so embarrassed. It is still sinking in.”

Miss Syal moved to Beckenham from Downham when she was nine and attended Langley Park School for Girls, and she still lives in the borough with her father and grandmother.

Coming from a “very stereotypical” Asian family of doctors and lawyers, her career as a writer was an unconventional direction to take.

“I was not very good at science, but I always loved reading and writing and being creative,” she explained.

“When I was younger, books were my only friends and I did writing to get through some horrible times as a teenager.

“I thought I enjoy reading stories and hearing people’s stories, and wanted to give stories we would not hear a much bigger platform.”

The discussion about emotional abuse in the Asian community was inspired by a mixture of personal experience and wider cultural awareness.

“It is something so many people are not aware of,” she said. “It has happened to me a few times and everyone I know has experienced it.

“It is really good that we have given it the platform it deserved.

“We had all sorts of people contributing - we had an older man whose mother suffered abuse, and he said he didn’t realise the impact it had on him as a child.”

Miss Syal launched a blog, Avid Scribbler, in 2012, focussing on taboo issues faced by women from a South Asian background.

“With Asian women especially we have overcome a lot, but there are still a lot of expectations attached to us that make life difficult,” she said.

“The fact that I am doing a career so different to my family and for my family to be ok with it is a good thing.

“It is a good time to be an Asian woman because of all the technology - we can voice our thoughts. We are sharing our stories and it is a much bigger platform.

“Writing down your experiences on the internet is one of the best ways to record the way you are developing. And for a lot of girls it is a real comfort to know ‘there is someone like me’.”

“There is a huge interest from Indians in India. People in previous generations had a tug-of-war identity between British and Indian, but with this generation it is a lot more fluid.”

As well as her broadcasting work, Miss Syal visits schools on behalf of Amnesty International to teach youngsters about the value of human rights.

“Human rights is something I really care a lot about,” she said. “I try to link it to my career. I ask the children to bring in news stories and talk about human rights.

“I am aware that there is a lot of distrust of journalism, but if more journalists get out of the newsroom they can change it.

“I have been talking about Amnesty International’s latest campaign, write for rights, showing people how powerful writing can be.

“People forget just how powerful it is, as we use it on a daily basis.”

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