Talented teenagers in Herts
Success stories are not just for enterprising adults. Pat Parker talks to two Hertfordshire 14-year-olds who have high hopes for a bright future...
Inventor of the Parent Text iphone app
ELLA Walton is only 14, but she has already developed her own iphone app, to help busy parents communicate effectively with their children via text messages.
The Chorleywood teenager, who attends St Clement Danes School, spent months developing the app, called Parent Text, which offers safety, lifestyle encouraging messages, and even jokes to children and teenagers.
‘The app contains a bank of over 1,000 preloaded messages, divided into 50 categories, and within each category, parents can select text messages relevant to their child’s age and gender,’ says Ella. ‘They can also tailor the messages to make them more personal, and even send birthday greetings.’
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'I really enjoyed developing it. It’s given me quite a sense of achievement'
Ella, who has a 16-year-old sister and a 12-year-old brother, came up with the idea after a conversation with her dad, Richard, who works for the police. ‘We were talking about the fact that a lot of teenagers don’t accept or act upon the advice their parents give them, and how they tend to communicate by mobile phone or text messaging, so I put the two ideas together and came up with this!’
Ella is the first to acknowledge that the best way for parents to communicate with their children is to actually talk to them, but she feels the app provides a useful and entertaining back-up, for when parents cannot be around, or when children have to cope with situations on their own.
‘I think that although parents and teenagers should keep talking, this could enhance their relationship still further,’ she says. ‘When teenagers leave the security of their parents and go out into a difficult situation, such as a party or an interview, they can easily forget the verbal advice their parents have given them. So this acts as an extra reminder.’
Ella found or wrote all the messages herself, spending months researching on the internet in between school work. ‘I researched hundreds of websites giving information and teenage support, and wrote them into messages,’ she says. ‘It’s taken me about 18 months, but I enjoyed it. It was great fun. I also learnt quite a bit of useful information myself!’
Ella developed her app with the help of an Indian company which designed the software for her, using the database of messages she sent them. ‘I did the planning, the research and the writing, and they handled the technical side,’ she says. The app, which has been available since October, can be downloaded for just 69p, and Ella is hoping that eventually she will recoup the cost of development and even make a profit.
Her school and friends have all supported her: ‘I sent several messages to friends and their parents to get feedback.’
The messages give advice on a wide range of subjects, from travelling alone to internet and mobile phone safety. It includes help with how to cope with bullying, exams and revision, stress and worry and many other problems, from smoking and alcohol, to dating and money management. And for younger children, there are tips on cycling and how to cross the road safely.
The messages tend to be short and pithy, and often in rhyme, so that they are easy to remember. ‘Hopefully, in that form, children will relate to them more and remember them,’ says Ella.
Inspirational text messages include quotes ranging from Nelson Mandela to Hans Christian Anderson. Some of Ella’s favourites include one from Mother Teresa: ‘We cannot do great things, we can only do small things with great love’. Others include: ‘Today’s preparation determines tomorrow’s achievements’, and ‘If better is possible, good is not enough’. And for young children, she likes the simple road-safety rhyme: ‘A zebra saved my life, it can save yours too. Use zebra crossings, they’re there for you.’
Both Ella’s dad, and her mum Jill, who works for a dementia charity, are proud of their enterprising daughter. ‘They both really encouraged me,’ says Ella. ‘I really enjoyed developing it. It’s given me quite a sense of achievement.’
Singer and Help for Heroes fundraiser
FOURTEEN-year-old Shakila Karim has a musical talent which belies her years. She has a wonderful singing voice, plays several musical instruments, and is learning to write and arrange songs. She released three recordings last year, the latest of which, Heroes, is a charity song which aims to raise money for injured British soldiers.
Shakila, who lives with her parents in Bishop’s Stortford, will not make any money from the song. Instead, funds raised will go to the charity Help for Heroes.
Shakila, who attends Newport Free Grammar School, said, ‘I’m proud of my new song Heroes, because it’s dedicated to all those wonderful people in the armed forces who are true heroes. I appreciate the terrible things they have to do and I also know some of them are coming back with horrific injuries. I want to help raise as much money as possible for these amazing people. Help for Heroes does an outstanding job and I want to do whatever I can to help.’
'I’m proud of my new song Heroes, because it’s dedicated to all those wonderful people in the armed forces who are true heroes'
Shakila’s own life has not been easy since financial disaster hit the family in 2010.
She was born into the Bangladeshi community in London’s East End. Her father, Karim Ullah, left school with no qualifications but went on to work in media sales and later to set up his own Asian business publication in 2007.
But when the credit crunch hit, the business suffered and three years later it was forced to close and the family, who were by then renting a home in Bishop’s Stortford, spent three months in a homeless hostel in Spellbrook.
Luckily, the council found them a small but affordable flat to rent in Stortford, where they now live. But the stress took its toll on Karim’s health and he had to undergo emergency surgery in October 2010 to remove part of his intestine following the flare-up of his previously diagnosed Crohn’s disease, then suffering appendicitis last September.
While struggling to regain his health and to find work, Karim has devoted much time and energy to helping his daughter gain recognition as a musician.
‘Even when she was in nursery school, Shakila showed she had musical talent,’ he says. ‘Every parent evening, we were told how gifted she was musically. She learnt violin when she was four, and went on to play the piano, drums and ukulele.’
Despite his ill health, Karim knocked on doors, and eventually managed to arrange for Shakila, then only 13, to record her first song – a dance track entitled Just Let It Go – at High Barn music studios in Great Bardfield, Essex. She followed this up with Gone Too Soon, a tribute to all the great performers who have died young, from Amy Winehouse to John Lennon, Michael Jackson to Freddie Mercury.
‘Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury are two of my greatest inspirations,’ says Shakila. ‘But I also love Avril Lavigne and Evanescence. I like all types of music – rock, R&B, dance – even heavy metal!’
Shakila auditioned for Britain’s Got Talent at the age of 12, and last year appeared at the Stortford Music Festival, where she performed covers such as Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On and Adele’s Rolling in the Deep. ‘It was fun, but quite scary,’ she says.
Karim wrote both Shakila’s first two songs, but Heroes was co-written, with Shakila putting together the melody to accompany her dad’s lyrics. ‘I played piano on the recording, and came up with all the vocal ideas, including the chorus and harmonies,’ she says.
Increasingly, she’s writing her own songs, and hopes to make it as a singer/songwriter. She can also dance, and is having drama lessons to improve her stage presence.
Because Heroes has been released as a charity song, it was recorded and produced free of charge by professionals willing to donate their time to a good cause. A video has also been produced by Big Buoy TV, intercutting Shakila’s performance with MOD footage of British soldiers in Afghanistan.
Shakila’s school is quite close to Carver Barracks, and several of her schoolmates have parents serving in Afghanistan.
Shakila is planning to release her fourth recording, Friends, and hopes to release another charity record next year, with money raised going to help ill or deprived children.
She would love to sing at the Olympics closing ceremony, representing the Bangladeshi community. ‘That would be my dream,’ says Shakila. ‘It’s such an enormous event, and it would be wonderful to be part of it.’
Karim is still knocking on doors, hoping someone will invite Shakila to take part. In the meantime, Shakila spends several hours a day practising keyboards and singing.
Now working again, Karim adds,‘I’m her biggest fan. Helping her musically has given me an incredible lease of life. I love writing songs for her. She is the most important project in my life, and I will do all I can to help her.’
Shakila’s song Heroes and its accompanying video can be viewed on YouTube.