A Saturday morning kids show made and presented by young people themselves without adults telling them what to do … free-flowing chats on literary, philosophical or any number of themes … a hugely varied range of music … to whatever YOU want to come along and contribute – a small taste of the varied, community-created bowl of trifle that is Soundart Radio.
I met their Artistic Director Lucinda Guy at their Dartington Space studio.
“We have a full schedule of programmes, about 100 volunteers who come regularly to make the shows, using their own guests and content. That might be a stack of records, a guitar, a friend, or a pre-recorded interview they’ve done. We have a very light touch. We try not to put any barriers; we don’t make people go to a big training course or anything like that, but we do offer support for people who want it, and mostly there’s a volunteer supervisor here, as well as the volunteer program-makers, so that people can help each other out.”
“We do the schedule by magic”
“We do the schedule by magic” she confides with a jokey smile. “If someone needs a particular time in the week, say 2 o’clock on Monday, then usually the next day whoever else is doing 2 o’clock on Monday will say “I need to change”.
Dartington Ethos Lives On
Soundart grew out of Dartington College of Arts as the college’s own radio station, but they had a baptism of fire: “The week we were launching with the college licence was the same week we all learnt about the college leaving Dartington, so it was this really strange time where we had to submit this huge licence application, hadn’t been on air at all, and heard that the whole thing we were building on was going to fall apart underneath us.”
Just a week ago, Soundart Director Sarah Gray, the last Student Union president, was the organiser of a reunion festival – Stream – for college alumni. She spoke briefly about her involvement with the radio station, the Stream festival and some artistic activities the station is involved in.
After first launching under licence with the college, Soundart transitioned onto the community radio licence for the town, but influences from the college style of doing things live on.
“It really came out of that way of thinking” Lucinda explains, “that kind of creative learning and trust that was the ethos of Dartington College of Art, and this wonderful location. So in some ways we’ve been the last little bit of the college that stuck it out on the site here and found new ways to work with the other groups and organisations that are also based up here at Dartington and around Totnes.”
The Elmhirst-Dartington spirit of trusting and generously allowing people the freedom to create things is core to their ethos. “What people actually want to do is probably the right thing,” Lucinda explains.
finding new ideas and a place where new ideas can grow, and people can meet and interact and test them
….in social media… …they can share their opinions, but we’ve seen the harm that can do as well.”
Community Media vs Social Media vs Mainstream State/Corporate media
When we get onto different types of media Lucinda points out that almost all mainstream media is produced by people who’ve come through certain rather privileged and narrow career pathways to those positions, while there are a lot of people in society who are wondering how they can tell their story. “We’ve now got this rather superficial vehicle for doing that in social media, in which everyone feels they’re speaking out and being heard, that they can share their opinions, but we’ve seen the harm that can do as well.”
“I see social media as being I suppose ‘channels’ that are owned by very large companies, often multinational companies, so in a way they mirror those traditional media structures where you’ve actually got quite a large profit-making company behind it.”
In a way, it’s the opposite of social media.
“Community media is needed more than ever because it provides structures where people come together, learn together, create content together, talk to one another in person while broadcasting, or sharing that content online or publishing. So there’s a very different process to what goes on with social media.”
“Another big difference is that in community media mostly we’re talking about small grass-roots organisations owned by the people based within them. So those might be the listeners, the makers, producers, board members, and you can move very fluidly between those roles. It’s not like Facebook where you’re allowed to make an account, post something, but actually someone else is making a profit, monetising that content, and there may be other agendas going on behind the scenes, as we’ve found out.”
“In a way, it’s the opposite of social media. It’s interesting how we use the words ‘social’ and ‘community’ because they both mean people coming together, but with ‘community’ we understand more the sense of community building, so more and more people creating community through shared interests, rather than just social which is sort of like “Oh, I’m in the room with someone else; I might get a drink with them; I might chat with them. Social is that more superficial level I think.”
“In community media, we’re grassroots organisations, we tend to be small and locally-based, though that’s not the only definition. With something like this, an FM community radio station, we’re regulated by Ofcom, we have to work within quite a tight legal framework, just like the BBC or anybody else. It’s not a kind of free for all, but in many ways it is because anybody can walk in, they can collaborate, and we can have lots of different opinions, but they’re still working within a very accountable structure. So there are a lot of differences between what we do and what people might do on a social media site.”
Space to …
Lucinda again: “The space the studio is in and how that feels to come into and what you see through the window and what’s stuck on the wall and all those kind of things really affect how people speak when they’re on the radio. Just because the audience can’t see it, it can be neglected: it really affects the way that presenter is going to be and present the show.”
Space Studios is a great place with enough hi tech gadgetry on the inside, and in a beautiful location, with views over the Dartington Hall estate and South Devon from the windows and balcony.
Every Child Has a Voice
A new strand of work which Soundart has received some funding from the Arts Council for is called ‘Every Child Has a Voice’. Shelley Hodgson explained: “the vision is that every single child growing up in our local area will be on the radio throughout their childhood! We’re designing a structure that will allow that to happen.”
“The plan will be to work in every reception year of every primary school every year at the beginning of their educational careers, at the point in their lives when they’re starting to identify with community as well as with family. So we’re currently designing fun creative things to do with really young children, but in a really safe way.“
“From this autumn we’ll be starting some work in schools, starting with a couple, and we’re also going to be running a children’s Saturday Club here that’s going to Ofsted registered where kids can come and do Arts and Media activities and live broadcasting, host their own radio shows, all that kind of thing”
Re older kids, Soundart are designing different activities for all the different stages of childhood. “For the youngest children, even for preschoolers too with families together; and then from reception year and above. And they don’t have to be in mainstream school, we work with independent schools, home educators, and once they’re over 8 they can come to our Saturday clubs and holiday clubs which will go right through teens.
“By next August (2019) we might be in a position to dedicate all our daytime programming for the month to be made by children, and the adults will still come in the evenings. We can do some quite exciting things with that.”
They also offer the Arts award which is a qualification for young people: “I’m working with a student at the moment who is doing his silver Arts award, which is GCSE level. They develop their own creative projects; it’s a very interesting way to learn because it’s up to the child to say I want to learn this stuff, or I want to put on this kind of event, so the student I’m working with has recorded a song, and is now putting on an event related to that song, so it’s really the young person who completely takes the lead. That suits how we work and blends in with all these children’s activities.”
Be A Part of It!
Soundart Membership is open to absolutely everybody in the community and is about agreeing with and supporting the ideas of the radio station: “It’s not a commitment for people to volunteer or give their time, it’s really about being part of it. Over the years our members have tended to be the people who make the shows, but what we’re quite interested in moving towards having more members who are the listeners, and we value the sense of the whole community owning its media, and actually the importance of that in the world we’re in now, which is where communities can come together and create their own media, a bit like you are doing with Totnes Pulse, people coming together making their own media”.
To become a member and support the goals of the station: http://www.soundartradio.org.uk/join/
Listen Live here – http://www.soundartradio.org.uk (click Listen!)
Want to get involved? – http://www.soundartradio.org.uk/community/get-involved/
On an actual RADIO in the local area you can listen on 102.5 FM