Urban Saints Additional Needs Ministry features on BBC ‘Songs Of Praise’

26th Jun 2024

By Mark Arnold

The recent Father’s Day episode of BBC’s ‘Songs of Praise’, a weekly show each Sunday including inspiring hymns and songs, together with stories of faith from around the UK and beyond, featured Urban Saints Additional Needs Ministry Director Mark Arnold and his son James, who has a range of additional needs. Mark shares some reflections from the experience and some learnings that we can all use to make a difference:

Preparation and planning:

When the production company got in touch to say that they would like to come and film me and James for the Father’s Day episode of ‘Songs of Praise’ I was obviously thrilled at the opportunity for us to share a bit of our story and for James’ voice to be heard, but also apprehensive about how James would react to camera crews, lighting rigs, and everything that goes with filming a mainstream BBC TV programme.

I needn’t have worried; the preparation the crew put in before coming to see us was superb. We had a Zoom call with them so that they could meet James in advance; we talked about James’ needs and how to put him first in all of the planning; we agreed on filming timing and a running order that suited James best; and the crew were incredibly kind and gentle with James when they were with us.

Learning: Putting the needs of someone with additional needs first is vitally important to them being able to fully engage in what is going on, as is showing them kindness.

Preferred activities:

The film crew were keen to get some footage of James and I doing some activities together. To achieve this, we needed to arrange some things to do that James enjoys; we picked doing some baking and creating an art collage. Because James really enjoys these activities, he was able to focus on doing them instead of being distracted by the filming activity that was going on all around.

Learning: Find out what children and young people with additional needs like to do and make sure this is included in our programmes; it will help them focus and not become easily distracted.

Positive messaging:

The film crew took hours of footage, editing it down to about six and a half minutes for the actual programme. I wanted to get some positive messages across about being a parent of, and working with, children and young people with additional needs. As it was the Father’s Day episode, it was also important to make sure that ways for Dads of children with additional needs to get support were highlighted. Thankfully, the edit achieved these aims, in both what was shown and said.

Learning: Being positive matters; so often negativity, and even fear, can stalk children and young people with additional needs; we need to look for, and emphasise, the positives. We also need to make sure that where support is needed, it can be found.

As Aled Jones said in his introduction to our segment of the programme “I know from being a Dad myself that fatherhood has its own unique joys and challenges, but when a child has additional needs, those challenges can be greater.” I hope that our segment highlighted the challenges, but also the joys, of our story, and echoed the stories of families like ours across the country. You can see the episode here (our part starts around 12m 25s in, and we also join in with the prayer towards the end): https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0020c7z/songs-of-praise-fathers-day