This week in our Community Media Discussion, we’ll be chatting about what 2022 meant to us as community media makers, and what we are hoping to achieve in 2023. Reflecting on what I worked on last year, it’s clearly been a busy year. After the pandemic interrupted my freelance opportunities, I’ve been rebuilding my relationships across a variety of community media projects. There is a thread that connects them – why wait for people to make better media for us, when we can get together and make what we want ourselves.
The last year has felt busy and fast-moving year. After the pandemic disrupted everyone’s way of working, it’s been curious to re-engage with people again, and do more work with colleagues in person and face to face. Getting to grips with being a freelancer in the present economic climate remains challenging, but I’m enjoying the variety of work I’m that is coming my way. I enjoy that I can do things that are related to my values, particularly my advocacy of democratic forms of community media. Even though the financial reward for doing them isn’t spectacular, it’s much more fun than I expected.
The work I’ve been doing over the last year has been satisfying because it enables me to put into practice the concepts and the values that I’ve been writing and thinking about for many years now. I’m a passionate advocate for community media, which, I think, is one part of the answer to many of our social challenge. Having the ability to share and discus our concerns, on platforms that we run ourselves, by active citizens in their communities. Being the Media is an essential aspect of media reform for me.
I’ve found that it’s best to take a practical rather than an ideological approach to this reform. So, I’ve been doing a lot of training with people to make podcasts and become community reporters. I’ve also been helping people applying for community radio licences, and I’m in the process of setting up a new digital radio station in Leicester. I’ll be talking about Radio Lear much more in coming weeks. So, I realise I have plenty of plates to spin, and while there’s not much of a safety net if things go wrong, but the freedom to be my own boss and to take on these challenges is both daunting and energising.
In 2022, I’ve had the pleasure to work with Professors Dave Ward and John Scott at De Montfort University, supporting the development of the International Network for Criminal Justice. We started during the pandemic, using online teleconferencing to bring academics, policymakers and criminal justice professionals together to share their expertise from around the world. Over three years, we’ve been building an inclusive network that fosters collaboration and knowledge exchange. During that time, expectations have shifted about the role of online working, and it’s easier to get inclusive international events set up because using Zoom and MS Teams has become so common.
It’s also been great to work with Professor Edward Cartwright at De Montfort University. We ran a project that was funded by the Alan Turing Institute, to train community reporters about what it’s like to live in Leicester as it becomes an increasingly Smart City. Training ZamZam, Amrin, Bindu and Madina was really nice because they have a strong commitment to helping underserved communities in Leicester find their voice. The community reporters approach to public engagement that I’ve been developing has a lot of potential to be used for public consultation and engagement. Getting to work with Carl Quinn of Solvers Studio was a highlight, as he demonstrated how we can use creative engagement techniques for public consultation.
The need for enhanced community media and news in Leicester also came to the forefront of my work during 2022. Independent local news in Leicester is sparse and needs some attention, so I’ve been helping the Evington Echo develop their website, and training for volunteers as community reporters. After forty years the Echo is going strong, even joining IMPRESS, the independent media regulator. It’s been great to work with Helen and Harkesh to contribute to the renewal of community news in Leicester. The Echo will be celebrating its fortieth anniversary in the new year.
Working with the Echo has come at a good time, especially because we will shortly be seeing the launch of the Great Central Gazette, a new co-operative news platform for Leicester. The Gazette is being guided by Reece and Emma, who are passionate and enthusiastic about news that is relevant and accountable. I’m delighted to be helping them to get the Gazette up and running, as we desperately need new ways to foster sustainable and independent community-focussed journalism in Leicester.
Beta-X was another highlight of 2022. Even though Beta-X has proved to be temporary, it’s been a great benefit to Leicester. Beta-X has provided an additional creative pop-up space for interaction between designers and artists of many different types. I was able to do some podcasting work, capturing audio material for different Beta-X related podcasts. Being able to host extended discussions about design and creative arts was really fascinating, and I learnt a lot from Jonny Prest of Seed Creativity and Ady Alexander of Zander Events.
Podcast making seems very fashionable at the moment, and I’ve enjoyed helping with podcast recording sessions with Russell Todd of Grow Social Capital, and helping the team at Leicestershire Cares to learn how podcasting can help the young people they support. When people first try out podcasting, something clicks, and they get a sense of how important audio and radio can be for community development. Taking part in podcasts does not require any great skill, and no one needs a carefully crafted persona. We just get on and chat.
Podcasting can also be whatever you want it to be, which is something we experimented with in Norfolk when we visited for the Y-Heritage project, taking young people to learn about museums and heritage spaces. It was great fun to work with Juliet, who is so enthusiastic about turning young people’s expectations of themselves around when they might be low. There is something direct about recording a podcast that you can’t get with video. People like to talk and listen, which bodes well for dealing with some of the social challenges we have to face in the future. The more we get chatting, the better.
I’ve also been helping with the ArtWorks Alliance, which is a network of participant arts organisations, freelances and advocates. I like ArtWorks Alliance because everyone involved understands and has experience of the role of participation in both the community and the cultural development process. It was interesting that the DCMS MPs committee noted this year that there needs to be greater focus on Cultural Placemaking, and a stronger connection between public arts and culture policy and levelling up. This is something that I noted when I spoke at the House of Lords DCMS committee on the future of the BBC, that there seems to be no connection in government policy between levelling up and the social purpose of our media or culture.
Talking of local media, it’s been a busy year for helping out with the launch of Small-Scale DAB, both in Leicester and Coventry. Being part of two successful teams that applied and won these licences was very exciting. I’ve gained a lot of insight into the Ofcom licencing process, both for digital stations, and the multiplex operations. The reason I think these have both been successful is that they are community-focussed and not-for-private-profit. I enjoy working on projects that have a social benefit, and return any surplus to the community that is being served. I think there is a lot of support needed to rebuild local radio and community media here in the UK back to the point where we can be satisfied that we are serving our local needs, especially at a time when the BBC are slashing their local radio services.
I’m a great believer in not just talking about the importance of developing community media, as I really like the challenge of setting services that fill gaps in local provision. I’ve spotted a need in Leicester that I can’t see being catered for presently, which is for an arts-focussed station. I’m really grateful that Ryan and Owen have both jumped in to help develop Radio Lear. The idea is that we will support emergent arts, civic discussion and sharing community stories as a DAB+ station on the new SSDAB multiplex. I’m starting the process of fundraising at the moments, and will soon be working on bringing in potential contributors and volunteers to help run the station and share content. You’ll be hearing a lot more about this in the coming weeks. You can get involved by subscribing to our Patreon account.
Finally, I want to express my sincerest gratitude to everyone who has supported the Community Media Makers Discussion group that we’ve been running this year. Each week, we have a chat on Zoom and discuss the challenges and concerns that we have running our community media projects. It’s been great to share insight, wisdom and experience in some challenging conversations. I’m looking forward to our new discussions, and to the new people who will be joining us on Tuesdays’ from 6pm. Subscribe via Patreon for updates.