STEVEN Toner, a broadcaster from Enniskillen, has recently won a prestigious student journalism award for his radio documentary about the life of his late mother, Varena Toner, who passed away in 2019 after a brave battle with cancer.

A graduate of Goldsmiths, University of London, Steven was announced as the winner of ‘Best Radio Documentary’ at the BJTC (Broadcast Journalism Training Council) Awards 2020 on November 10 for his programme, ‘Varenaphilia (Or How I Tried to Learn to Stop Worrying and Cut my Beard)’.

Although surprised to have won the award, Steven told The Impartial Reporter that he was happy to have won it for a programme that was about his mother.

“I was glad I managed to win an award for something that was about my mum, because that made it a bit more special,” said Steven.

“In the times that we live in now, especially, I think it is beyond my comprehension at times that my mum isn’t around, when she brought so much goodness into it.

“If ever a woman was supposed to have lived to be 100, it was Varena Toner! I think often about the joy that she would have continued to bring into it now. She would have been a tonic! The world was short-changed by about 30 years, in my opinion,” he added.

Growing up in Enniskillen, Steven attended Portora Royal School before going off to initially study a BA Film Studies degree at Queen’s University Belfast in 2004.

Following his graduation, he worked in Belfast in a record shop, played in bands, worked as backline crew and tour manager for a number of touring bands around the UK and Ireland, before moving to London in 2014, where he worked several menial jobs in bars and teashops.

He then went on to study a Multimedia Journalism Diploma at Lambeth College, where he graduated with a distinction in 2017. Steven was then accepted on to the MA Radio degree course at Goldsmiths.

“I was about to do my Masters, and that’s when my mum got sick,” said Steven, explaining that he was able to defer his place and made the decision to move home to Enniskillen in 2017 to spend time with and look after “the best mum in the world” following her terminal cancer diagnosis.

Around this time, Steven had started volunteering at a hospital radio station. He decided to continue this in his spare time whilst he was back in Enniskillen, bringing recording equipment home with him from London.

He explained that at times he attempted to record his mother, to capture memories.

“It was brilliant to have that time with mum, but it was tricky, because I did try to record her a few times but it was never as natural as you’d want it to be.

“It’s never easy to take things out and record people if everything’s great, but if it’s in the circumstance where you’re trying to record somebody because they don’t have much time, it’s probably even more of an awkward one,” said Steven.

“I was really enjoying being at home with mum, and it was a real bonus to me to have got that time, because I think I definitely could have been hard work for her at times.

“I said to some people at the time that it was kind of like getting to meet her again,” he added.

After Varena sadly passed away, Steven moved back to London, and started his Masters degree at Goldsmiths in September 2019, graduating this year. It was during his course that he created the award-winning radio documentary.

“This piece of work that I ended up doing and submitting for the BJTC Award was the last thing I did [on the course]. I just wanted to do something that was human and real, so I thought doing a programme about mum was where to go with it,” said Steven.

Through ‘Varenaphilia’, Steven attempts to explore the importance of recording our loved ones whilst we still have the chance, while at the same time dealing with the pain of loss.

The programme comprises some of Steven’s family and friends talking about his mother, which he described as “the next best thing to having her talk herself”.

“There were so many times that mum would have had people around, near the end, and the chats were great.

“I was seeing a lot of stuff that would have given a lot of people joy, but if I took a camera or microphone out it would just kill the moment.

“This was kind of just me trying, in a way, to make up for that and just try to put the idea in other people’s heads that whilst I’m definitely not up for trying to record everything, I think if you can somehow get a good balance, and get to the point where you can record things without it being obvious to people, it’s definitely worth having stuff to remind you of things,” said Steven.

He added: “It was nice to hear people talking about mum as well. I was glad that, in some way, it has kept her memory alive.”