Burnley student Natasha champions foster children in powerful new film
"I've always had friends whose parents warn them notÂ to go near me," said film-maker Natasha Hibbert. "But I wanted to prove people wrong."
Burnley student Natasha has faced discrimination since she was just six-years-old - simply for growing up in foster care. All her life, people have painted her as someone who means trouble.
But now she is the picture of success, having this month completed a Masters degree in film production at UCLan, Preston. What's more, as part of her studies the 22-year-old has created a documentary about her life called Vacant which looks at foster children not through the lens of prejudice but with empathy and understanding.
She said: "I've always had friends whose parents would tell them to watch out for people like. Growing up, people have said I'm too emotionally unstable and the kind of person you need to be cautious of.
"But I wanted to get rid of that image, live my dreams and prove people wrong. My aim is to offer an insight into what it's actually like to be in care and the affect on children who go through it.
"Vacant is extremely powerful. I didn't want to create a film that would shame local authorities or fosterers. It's more about empowering foster children by telling them they are not defined by a label and can be their own person."
And Natasha's success is testament to that: once a quiet and vulnerable child, she has transformed into a brave, passionate and determined film-maker. In fact, her graduation will be a double milestone - for it also marks her release from care.
"Making the documentary is a nice end point, as the experience has given me new confidence," she added. "My friend, Connolly Steen watched a rough copy and straight away said he would donate Â£150 to become an executive producer. My tutor was absolutely amazed by it and UCLan has even offered to pay my entry fees to the Royal Television Society Awards next year, so that's a real hope for me."
The aspiring director also hopes Vacant - a hybrid documentary and 15 minute indie film - will help vulnerable people feel less alone.
"I've spoken to many social workers and found all foster children have had a similar path, so it would be nice for them to hear they are not the only ones going through it," she said.
"There isn't any other film like this out there. Others show what the care system is about but not how it actually feels to be in it."
Natasha, who grew up in Barnoldswick with her foster career, Margaret Greenwood, and attended both Gisburn Road Primary School and West Craven Technology College, Barnoldswick, has bounced around the North-West before eventually settling in Burnley and studying at university.
Having finally found a home where she can put down some roots, Natasha said she has fallen in love with the town. No doubt, then, the backing of Burnley people would mean the world to her.
"They wouldn't just be supporting me but every single foster child who has experienced the same struggles," she said. "If people stood behind my film, it would mean foster children are not being judged or seen as stereotypes.
"I've achieved more than was expected of me and others can do so too if they adopt the same thought process. That's why we need to help foster children, not step away from them."
Given her background, it's no surprise Natasha's love affair with cinema deepened when she realised its power to help change the world.
For as she said: "You can enlighten people by showing them a world which is different to their own."
But with little self-belief as a child, she never took her passion seriously.
That all changed one day when she walked into Burnley College and asked to be put me on any course which was available at the time.
Fate was on her side - for it turned out to be the first step towards her dream career as a globe-trotting editor of movie trailers.
"It worked out I was good at creating films and went on to achieve one of highest marks on my university course, and now I'm on track for the same in my Masters degree," she said.
Vacant is a monologue which is split into 10 short stories, with several children playing different roles and a local cast and crew who Natasha cannot praise enough.
In one scene, for example, 11-year-old Burnley girl Jessica Fay stars in a moving scene of a child being taken away from her family.
"Jessica's footage was definitely the most powerful," Natasha said. "She's been absolutely brilliant and her standard of work has touched everyone. It brought them to tears."
Her team has worked with her for free, she added, simply because they believe the documentary could make a difference.
And so the filmmaker hopes to reward them by showcasing their talents at a screening.
"Due to the touchy subject, it's been hard to recruit people, so I'd like to say a massive thanks to everyone who has helped me," she said.
"I was shy at first but this assignment has boosted my confidence. I used to feel alone without any family to back me up. But now my crew has become like my family and it's been amazing."
If you have a venue which could screen Vacant for free please contact Natasha on [email protected]