Leicester Community Media Network – First Steps

How can community media play a positive role in the Covid-19 lockdown? This was the topic we discussed this morning at the first meeting of the Leicester Community Media Network. Taking place over the internet, using Zoom, a core group of early collaborators was able to talk openly with one another and share their thoughts and ideas about how community media in Leicester can be supported over the coming weeks and months. Taking part was Charan from Kohinoor Radio, Peter from Takeover Radio, Sam from Leicester Community Radio, Tina from Acquire Digital, John from the Documentary Media Centre and Jacob from Leicestershire Cares.

We discussed the need to develop a support network for community media groups in Leicester, which can assist with the integration of the work that each of the individual groups and stations is undertaking, and how this connects with the work of the community, civic and public bodies operating in Leicester. Our discussion identified the need to prioritise immediate support challenges, medium-term challenges and longer-term challenges.

Immediate challenges discussed included:

  • The need to maintain services that meet the Key Commitments and Broadcast Licence obligations of community radio stations as defined by Ofcom.
  • The need to provide support for extended bandwidth and data for community radio stations that are now operating remotely away from their main studios.
  • The need to purchase additional equipment for the community radio studios in order to maintain hygiene standards, particularly for the Covid-19 needs, i.e. microphone covers, additional headphones, additional sanitising equipment.
  • The need to purchase audio equipment for presenters to link to their stations playout systems, such as headphones and microphones.
  • The need to produce shared content that can be played out on different stations that relates to the community activity and support that is being offered more generally by groups like Leicester Covid-19 Mutual Aid, Val, Leicestershire Cares, Reaching People and many others.
  • The need to liaise with the main public support organisations and the civic and community sector to support the sharing of content and information.
  • The need to enhance communication and support between stations and community media groups to share expertise and support – Including technical, administrative, training and content.

We agreed that the strengths of community radio and community media projects is found in their ability to establish relationships between different people in our communities, particularly those who do not generally access mainstream media. For example:

  • Older people who do not feel comfortable or wish to use digital and social media, and therefore rely on radio and television both for information and for companionship.
  • Children do not usually have the option or accessing content that is developed and provided by other children like themselves.
  • Language, faith and culturally distinctive communities who connect in many diverse and different ways, and each have different needs. The challenge is to find ways to share media content that that members of these communities can identify with and relate to.

We discussed how we believe that the strengths of community radio are:

  • The ability to be flexible and creative in the format of programmes.
  • The ability to call on volunteers and community advocates who have strong local knowledge and deep personal experience.
  • The ability to provide access to a wider range of people with different voices who can participate in programming that is relevant to specific communities and neighbourhoods.
  • The ability to supplement the core message channels provided by the NHS, national and local government, and the BBC, by providing content in a form that addresses language, culture, faith and local needs.
  • The ability to create programming that explains in accessible and every-day language what the lockdown means in practice.
  • The ability to allow people to share their experiences and anxieties by encouraging people to talk with, and listen to, other people who are not part of the professional communication networks.
  • The potential to use community media for creative expression and companionship.

We agreed that we are going to look for ways to better support the community media groups in Leicester, and to use our networks, knowledge and experience to support ordinary volunteers to create and share content that is positive and solutions-focussed. This does not mean trying to do what the BBC or the commercial media companies do, but instead, it’s about finding ways to open up the airwaves in Leicester to a wider-range of voices, who can share their experience with everyone that is listening, in responsible and respectful ways.

Community radio is regulated by Ofcom, so volunteers still have to follow the rules of broadcasting. We agreed that training more volunteers would be a priority, so that there is a better understanding of issues like fairness, balance and reducing harm in the content that we share and create. We agree to look at ways to develop online training for community radio volunteers, so that they can broadcast safely and give their listeners a positive and trusted place to share ideas and thoughts.

This doesn’t have to be just information. We agreed that there is a lot we can do to encourage more creative ways to communicate, and to share the skills that are out in our communities in the form of songs, poetry, literature, drama, art, craft, and the many other things that will help people through what will be an intense period of isolation.

The advantage of community radio, we agreed, is that we aren’t bound by a fixed format, or the need to package stories in small chunks. Community radio can follow things up in much more depth, and by including people who would not normally get a chance to take part.

It’s early days for the network, but everyone agreed that after years of underfunding and a lack of civic support for community media, this is an opportunity for us to work locally to show what can be done if we collaborate and work together to make a long-lasting and sustainable difference.

If you have a story that you want to share about the work that is being done to support people in your neighbourhood, or want to get involved with any of the community media groups that are coming together across Leicester, either contact them directly using the links above, contact any of the support networks messaged above, or message Decentered Media and we’ll put you in contact with someone who can help.

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