Junior Paranormal Events is helping youngsters explore the unknown. Gemma Johnson tells DAVID SAUNDERSON why she founded the unique ghost hunting programme for children and young people.
Gemma Johnson, Junior Paranormal Events, Interview
SPOOKY ISLES: Thanks for talking to us today. What a great idea – I wish they had this when I was young! What inspired you to combine your background in education and mental health to create Junior Paranormal Events?
GEMMA JOHNSON, JUNIOR PARANORMAL EVENTS: Children and young people need a safe space to explore their curiosity relating to the paranormal.
There is so much inappropriate content out there so it is important that they have the opportunity to be educated in what the paranormal is, how to explore it safely and have a space where they can connect with others just like them.
Feeling a sense of belonging is really important to everyone’s mental health and wellbeing.
My own children were the reason for the creation of Junior Paranormal Events, they became very interested in the paranormal, my daughter started having her own paranormal experiences from a young age just as I did.
Michael and I would go on adult paranormal events, our children would be super interested to find out about what we had experienced and always asked when they could go on an event.
After a Halloween event in 2021, we researched to see if there was anything for them – there wasn’t so we decided to combine my experience as a teacher, and an educational business owner, along with our paranormal experience to create Junior Paranormal Events.
As you’re a qualified teacher, how do you incorporate educational elements into the paranormal events to make them both fun and informative for children?
We have a lot of fun on events, you have to because the reality is that paranormal investigating is standing around in the cold and dark for a long time. I spend a lot of time researching the venues that we use so that I can find out about ghost stories, strange facts and anything gory – juniors love hearing about things like that.
As well as the history we teach them about the different pieces of kit and allow lots of hands on work. One of the things that we pride ourselves on is teaching them about how things can be faked so that they can be more objective when doing investigations and watching paranormal television.
My background as a teacher means that I am able to understand what children and young people would be interested in and create a plan that reflects that.
You mention that the group was created by children for children. Could you elaborate on how your own children, Finlay and Aubrey, influenced the formation and activities of Junior Paranormal Events?
We had a big chat with Finlay and Aubrey when we came up with the idea of Junior Paranormal Events – we wanted to get their input on what they thought and what they wanted from it.
They are our original Junior Paranormal Ambassadors.
We take them to do site visits before we book a venue so that they can decide if they think it is somewhere that we should go.
They were very clear that they wanted events that were just for them and so that is exactly what we have done. If they find something that they are interested in – a new piece of kit or a new approach – then we explore it.
Why do you believe it’s important for children and young people to have access to paranormal events?
I think it is incredibly important but it is more important that they have something that is just for them.
We are the only group who specialise solely in working with children and young people, we don’t offer adult events at all and so that means that our focus is very clear. There is so much mis-information around in terms of what the paranormal is, whether that be through films, television, social media etc.
If that is all that they are able to access then they are likely to imitate what they see which then means that nothing will change within the paranormal community.
We want to create and support the next generation of paranormal investigators and challenge poor practice, who better to lead that than children and young people?
How do you ensure that the events are not only entertaining but also safe and age-appropriate for the young attendees?
My background in education means that we have rigorous safety protocol in place including health and safety and safeguarding policies.
Every venue has an in-depth risk assessment completed beforehand and we take all necessary steps to ensure that the venue is as safe as possible so that the team, and the guests, can relax and really engage with the event knowing that everything has been done to create a safe and secure environment.
There are certain types of venues that we will not use because we don’t feel that they are appropriate this could be because of the condition of the venue or because of the history that is connected to it. I have specific requirements of team members too in terms of making sure that they meet our safeguarding and health and safety standards.
You’ve chosen a scientific approach to paranormal investigation. What led you to this decision, and how do you think it benefits the children involved?
We avoid using spiritual based methods on our events for a few reasons. We have children and young people with additional needs that attend our events and the concept of spiritual based methods could prove to be too frightening in this instance.
Cause and effect equipment is a simple and safe way to introduce children and young people to the paranormal, we also do experiments using equipment which the children are involved in which adds another element to our events.
What role does your background in mental health and psychology play in supporting and educating junior guests during the events?
I am able to identify junior guests who may need some additional support and ensure that this is highlighted to the team so that we can ensure that all of our guests are able to join in with the event.
It is common for us to have a junior guest who really wants to be at an event but is very nervous, my role here is to use my background to help them feel comfortable so that they are able to participate.
I see myself as the one who tries to reduce barriers to participation so that our events are as inclusive and welcoming as possible.
How do you balance being a non-profit organisation while maintaining high-quality experiences? What challenges have you faced in this regard?
We want to make our events affordable, this is not a money making opportunity for us. We created this for our children and we open events to others so that they can come along and join in.
We aim to use affordable venues so that we can keep our prices low and cover the costs of events but when we first started out this was a huge challenge for us because we were not known, or understood, so we did have to dip into our own savings to cover the costs of events where we were not able to sell enough tickets.
However, now we are more well known, our events are often sold out and so this is becoming much easier. With our goal being to simply cover the costs of a venue, once we have done this we close ticket sales so that this allows us to have smaller numbers which helps to ensure a better experience for everyone.
The first 12 months was really challenging because we faced barriers in relation to venues who wouldn’t allow under 18’s in for paranormal events, being banned from advertising in paranormal Facebook groups, having adult groups try to copy what we we were doing but then getting it very wrong which then further added to misunderstandings about what we do.
The worst was when we had people calling up local authority environmental health teams to complain that we were putting children and young people at risk therefore they needed to have us shut down. We were also banned from running an event – at a location that we had booked – because they said we were engaging in Occult practices.
Could you share a memorable experience or success story that stands out since you started Junior Paranormal Events?
Oh there are so many! The first 12 months of getting JPE established were really hard work, when we reached our 1st birthday it was super emotional. We celebrated with our Access Paranormal Podcast friends and the Trustees of Champness Hall (our HQ). That night we welcomed in 4 new Junior Paranormal Ambassadors onto the team and had the most amazing night investigating Champness Hall – I shed a few tears during the course of the night because it was the first time I could really see our vision taking shape.
Getting a phone call from Paul Stevenson, Haunted Magazine, offering JPE the opportunity to become regular contributors to the magazine was a huge deal for us because of how well known, and respected, the magazine is. We have now contributed to two editions of Haunted Magazine and I still have to pinch myself every time I see us in print.
Being contacted by Brett Jones, part of the My Haunted Hotel Team, asking us if we would like to operate Junior events at My Haunted Hotel to help them provide opportunities for their growing fan base of children and young people who wanted to investigate at the hotel. My Haunted Hotel has a huge following on social media and it really is an incredible location, being the ones responsible for running the junior events is very exciting.
What are your future plans for Junior Paranormal Events? Are there any new venues or activities that you’re particularly excited about?
We are branching out into more areas of the country. In 2024, for the first time, we will be operating events in Wales and Scotland, we are really looking forward to connecting with more budding junior paranormal investigators.
We have a few collaborations that we are involved in behind the scenes, which I am not able to mention at the moment because we are in the very early planning stages, but needless to say it will take JPE in new directions and help make sure that juniors are represented in as many areas of the paranormal community as possible.
We will also be starting to work on filming short episodes for Ghost Planet Network following a very wonderful phone call with Neil Packer of HARPC. This is super exciting because there are no quality paranormal shows for juniors. We will be doing a short series at Champness Hall involving our 6 wonderful Junior Paranormal Ambassadors and supported by our team.
I also run another non profit group call The Creative Youth Company which is for young people aged 11 – 18 and offers them the opportunity to engage in lots of different creative projects.
At the moment they are working on a short film which they have developed. I see more opportunities for Junior Paranormal Events and Creative Youth to collaborate on different creative projects that will support junior paranormal investigators with having more of a presence within the paranormal community.
My goal would be that we have representation at the different paranormal conferences and conventions that take place.
They are brilliant events but they are still very adult focused and so I would love to see our team involved so that we can share our experiences and really take up space within the paranormal community.
Discover more about Junior Paranormal Events at https://juniorparanormalevents.co.uk/