Coalville in North West Leicestershire is the home of HermitageFM, a community radio station based in the town centre since 2009. As well as a suit of radio studios, the station is also a community hub, combining a busy café with meeting rooms and training facilities. HermetageFM is mostly run by volunteers, but there is support from nine paid members of staff who help to ensure that the community engagement work of the station runs effectively.
On Tuesday 19th March I was invited to the launch of Carillon Wellbeing Radio (CWR), which is a new service that will complement the existing FM services on 1476AM, but which will address the health and wellbeing needs of the people of North West Leicestershire. It was standing room only at the launch event, and with a strong attendance from local politicians and civic dignitaries. Cllr Nick Rushton, the leader of Leicestershire County Council was there, along with the Chief Executive John Sinnott.
John Sketchley is one of the driving forces at the station. John has a background in engineering and technical development for broadcast radio, and was keen to explain that the transmitter was designed and installed by the station volunteers themselves. John’s achievement is in achieving 67% efficiency in signal propagation as verified by the Ofcom technical checks for the transmitting area. This means, according to John, that the station has been picked up as far away as Southern Italy, Scandinavia and the North Pole. So well beyond the target towns of Loughborough,
What is it then that makes the station different from the work of most radio stations? Dr Terri Eynon has been a long-standing volunteer for HermitageFM, and she explained that in her professional capacity as a former GP, that she recognised the need to improve the way that health and social services in the area could talk about and inform people of the services that are available to them.
Terri’s concern is that not enough communication about health and wellbeing matters get through to people, because the way social messages are often carried in the media are limited to spot adverts, press-release based campaigns, and celebrity endorsements. Not enough is done, according to Terri, to engage people in conversations and discussions with people like themselves. Terri wants to combine the power of community radio in which ordinary people have a voice, with the development of a healthy and wellbeing-aware community that knows how to talk about and recognise the challenge of living a healthy life.
Terri explained that she was initially met with scepticism by her fellow health professionals, who let’s face it, aren’t experienced with media and community development, and who rightly want to practice medicine and help people directly. The problem according to Terri, is that doctors and other people who support our wellbeing also need to get their message out into the community. The development of a community radio station dedicated to health and wellbeing is founded, therefore, on the principle that when we recognise the people who are talking about any issues to do with our wellbeing, it is more effective if this person speaks our language, shares the same experiences and lives among us in the same streets and neighbourhoods.
Bringing together public agencies from across the region has been a process of education, both for Terri and the people who support those services. It’s meant dropping the marketing-model of communication and adopting a more social and community-led model that draws on the assets that are already found in the community itself.
The station is dependent on two things, argues Terri. Firstly, the volunteers who want to produce programming for free and who can engage responsibly with the health and wellbeing concerns of listeners; and secondly, the audience members themselves. Terri’s aim is that CWR will become the default radio station in doctors’ surgeries across the region, and that the mix of music and chat will enable a wide spectrum of people to tune in to hear more about the ways we can look after ourselves and one another.
It’s great to see that a project like this has got off the ground because it is largely driven by the passion and the commitment of volunteers who want to make their local communites better places to live. It’s also great to see the founding of close relationship with local government and a clear recognition that community media has a strong role to play in the voluntary and social sector. What we can learn from CWR might be applied in other ways around the country as we learn from one another’s experiences of supporting our wellbeing.