The new series of young people’s mental health podcast The Rez – produced by University of Brighton lecturer Lance Dann – is the first podcast to be accredited for teaching in schools.
The latest outing for The Rez – beginning on 1 November – has received groundbreaking accreditation this month from the PSHE Association, which allows it to be used in schools as part of the Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) curriculum. Within a week of accreditation, more than 100 schools had asked about integrating the podcast into their lessons, and the production team are having to do a second production run of the accompanying comic after initial stocks ran out.
One reason the podcast is striking a chord is that characters and storyline themes in the series are suggested by The Rez’s young audience themselves at workshops run by the production team in schools. A rolling programme of further workshops taking the podcast into the classroom will run over the coming winter months.
“Kids really love the show,” said producer Lance Dann. “It’s exciting, funny and a bit naughty. That means that teachers can use it to discuss wellbeing almost by stealth. It uses bright characters and stories to say serious things in a fun way.”
Set in a distant future, The Rez sees two teenage friends, Preen and Sav, trying to outsmart the wicked AI (JEF) that runs their world. On the surface, the future looks shiny and bright, but Preen and Sav discover things are not as great as they appear when they find an old phone that allows them to communicate with the kids of the distant past – the kids of today – who introduce them to wild new ideas like “kindness” and owning your mistakes, and offer insight into a world where technology wasn’t the answer to everything. But when Preen and Sav try to help people think and do for themselves, JEF will do anything to stop them.
In Season Two, our heroes battle a bigger and badder AI in a world of social division, exclusive privileges and the allure of consumption. The 15 new episodes are supplemented by a new comic book and an interactive app at JoinTheRez.com, both designed to support kids’ understanding of kindness, positive relationships and mental wellness.
Season 2 also features an all-women writing team led by UK Comics Laureate Hannah Berry, while its diverse young cast includes Bafta-winning actresses Emily Burnett and Juliet Aubrey, as well as Karl Queensborough, who recently played Alexander Hamilton in the West End Musical version of Hamilton.
Dr Lance Dann, Senior Lecturer in Digital and Audio Media, said: “With the COVID-19 lockdown triggering mental health crises for millions of young people, the critically important mission of The Rez to continue supporting mental wellness in an immersive and entertaining way couldn’t be more timely. Designed as a laugh-out-loud balm for today’s kids, the series combines dynamic storytelling, immersive sound design and top actors with the voices of real young people.”
On the heels of passing the 200,000 download mark this month, The Rez also won a Lovie award for the Best Fiction Podcast in Europe. Lance, meanwhile, won a personal Gold in the 2021 Audio Production Awards for Best Entertainment Producer for Season 1 of The Rez, while the podcast bagged Silver for Best Comedy Production. The Rez was also nominated in the 2022 Webby Awards for Best Kids & Family Podcast, and in the British Podcast Awards for Most Creative Podcast.
Lance leads a production team on The Rez that also features Brighton colleague Dr Mark Wright, who lectures in Developmental Psychology. Other key collaborators are comic book guru Tim Pilcher, plus podcasting and youth media expert Professor Martin Spinelli and ‘Professor of Kindness’ Robin Banerjee, both from the University of Sussex.
Professor Banerjee, Lead of the BBC’s Kindness Project in addition to his role at Sussex, said: “The kindnesses we give to others are the foundation for making and keeping positive relationships, the bedrock of good mental health and wellbeing.”
Follow Lance Dann on Twitter: @LanceDann