Two events celebrating community radio took place in Leicester this weekend. On Friday Radio Seerah launched on 1575AM, and on Saturday Leicester Community Radio celebrated the contribution of its volunteers and celebrated broadcasting on 1449AM. I am grateful to Sam Hunt for inviting me to both of these events, as they gave me an opportunity to see first-hand how important community radio has become in Leicester, and what it means for volunteers to be making radio programmes that serve the different communities of Leicester.
The launch of Radio Seerah took place at the Melbourne Community Centre, which is in the east of Leicester. As well has having the local police Chief Inspector and local community leaders from the Muslim community, the Leicester South MP Keith Vaz and the Mayor of Leicester, Sir Peter Soulsby also came to give their support.
This was an opportunity for the supporters of Radio Seerah to give thanks to those who have supported the efforts to run RSL stations over the years, and to underpin how important it is to have an ongoing voice in the city that nurtures interfaith and intercultural understanding.
This was the message that was reiterated by Sir Peter, who was supportive of the role that community radio plays in bridging divides and fostering understanding in the city, especially at a time when others want to focus on divisions and the fear of change, and how Leicester is an example of community cohesion that has worked to reduce those divisions and challenges. There is more that needs to be done, argued the Mayor, and community radio, in his view is a positive way to help foster more understanding between Leicester’s many communities.
I was fortunate enough to be able to speak briefly, and I explained a little about the role of community radio across the U.K. and the work that the Community Media Association does to support participation in media. I always say three things at events.
Firstly, I quote the psychoanalyst C.G. Jung, who said that if we deny people the chance to tell their stories, then evil will prosper. Radio, I suggested, is one of the best ways to tell our stories, and for us to listen to each other and share our experiences, and that we have a responsibility to make radio in an accountable and creative way that brings people together.
Secondly, I always like to paraphrase John Ruskin, when he argues that the reason for us to undertake projects of this kind is not because we are going to get something for it, but because of what we become in doing it. In a world that is fraught with bitterness and division, being able to focus on enriching our human experience should be the goal of our contribution.
The pride and warmth that was expressed by all the speakers, the readings of scripture and the message of understanding, respect and peace that was shared by all the speakers is certainly a message that needs to be heard in our mainstream media as we face some of the cultural and political challenges of the moment.
On Saturday I was invited by Sam to attend a get-together of the presenters and volunteers of Leicester Community Radio, which has slowly grown to be a popular online radio station in Leicester, and which is now broadcasting on AM.
Leicester Community Radio has two distinctive approaches which complement each other. Firstly, in the evening shows are driven by DJs who share their passion for music of all genres and styles, but which reflect the interests of the African and Caribbean community in Leicester. Soul, R&B, Reggae have always been popular in Leicester, though most other stations would never play them except in specialist shows.
In the daytime the station is more talk-based, and aims to allow presenters to talk in more depth about topics that they find interesting, but which don’t get much overage in other mainstream radio stations. The range of topics includes relationships, spirituality, ecology, wellness and mental health, sexual and gender identity, and many other topics that are of wider interest to people outside of the narrow expectations of lifestyle and public service broadcasting.
It’s amazing what a celebration of volunteering can do, and the awarding of certificates for volunteering and contribution to the station brought everyone together. Its amazing what a bit of clapping for one another does to the spirit. There’s the mutual recognition of each other’s work, and a strong sense that comes from this recognition that while producing content for radio can be challenging, that we all have a role to play and that our contribution is valued for what it is.
Community Radio in Leicester seems to be at a turning-point. More community groups are seeking to get on air and to widen the range of voices and points of view that are represented across the city. Leicester is such a diverse place to be that having this additional layer of broadcast media, that makes people feel welcome as neighbours, is great to see.
There is a lot more work to do to support this movement, but the more that we can get each other talking and sharing our stories, the less afraid of change we will be.