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Photographic response to Jason Tilley

Hillfields photographer Jason Tilley is exhibiting images from his Beautiful People project at the Herbert Museum. WATCH, in partnership with the Imagine Community project, will be organising a community response to the exhibition. To do this we have been thinking about Jason’s work as well as our own project aims.

Jason’s photography is an exploration of Indian identity and activity, seen through a lens created by his own interests in his family’s past as Anglo-Indians, but also through his grandfather’s past as a photographer for the Times of India.

Jason’s archive includes images of Highfield Road between 1999 and 2002 – he could hear the roars of the crowd from where he lived as a child and he has continued to photograph Coventry more recently.

What strikes me is that Jason is a portrait photographer but even his pictures of buildings reveal his concern with identity – such as the Coventry Innit series which captures issues that the Imagine project is concerned with – how the future of an area has been imagined through what people have done. In Jason’s images we can see hoardings against buildings ready for redevelopment (such as this image from Allesley)

Jason Tilley – Allesley Old Road


or the attempts of the local authority to make the Binley Road more attractive:

Jason Tilley – Binley Road flowers


The community response will tackle the issue of how community identity is generated but from the position of how the Hillfields community have attempted to make these changes. We have proposed that five residents who moved to live in Hillfields in the 1970s should team up with five new residents who have settled here recently. Bringing these groups together will be a process of exploring how they imagine Hillfields evolved/ evolving in the few years after they moved in.

To do this we will be using an action research photo voice method (Wang, 1999) which will aims to enable participants to find their voice in non-text formats such as images. This will be valuable as we expect the participants to speak different languages but they will also be able to control the process of exploring their environment and the portrayal of their lives. We hope that the images they produce will influence people and policy.

This project will begin in July 2014.


Update on working with the history group

After visiting Benwell as part of the Durham conference Alice and I came back with a number of publications from the Benwell History Group. They included a very high quality publication called ‘Made on Coal’. This and a few other publications were given to the history group to look at.

Their inspiration led them to think that something might be done for Hillfields, but that ‘Built on Ribbons’ wasn’t the angle to take. Instead the group felt that tackling the poor reputation Hillfields suffers from would be more suitable. Moreover, one of them said that the Imagine project needs some physical outputs. This intrigued me.

Our concentration has been on supporting organisations in what they need, and tailoring what we need to this, so that increased community capacity located wthin the voluntary group leads to better outputs and outcomes for us. For example, digitizing the history group’s images will help them maintain an archive and develop their group, whilst the inclusion of newly-digitized images in the timeline works for our research purposes; improving the interviewing skill of radio presenters through support from me (as an ex-radio producer) produces competent broadcasters to develop the boardcast community at Hillz FM and records interviews for this research is another.

The ephemerality of internet and voice led the history group to want to create the book. Their own physical archive of leaflets and documents represents an earlier age of Hillfields history, and very little else exists, so perhaps their need to produce something physical is to be understood.

To this end we have contacted Culture Coventry to apply for a grant for the publication. The group will apply, with my support, should Culture Coventry give us encouragement. We will see.


Community Radio Workshop

Community Radio – an introduction

According to research by the Community Media Forum for Europe, an umbrella organisation of community media organisations across Europe, there are 2237 European community radio stations (CMFE, 2012). The UK has been a relative late-comer to community radio, legislated through the Community Radio Order (2004); in comparison, France legislated in 1982, Denmark in 1986, and the Netherlands in 1987 (Buckley, 2009).

The UK now has over 200 licenced community radio stations broadcasting full time on FM or AM (to an area of around 5KM in diameter), with a new station launched on average every 13 days since 2004 (Ofcom, 2012). The appetite for community radio in the UK has been described by the Chief Executive of Ofcom, Ed Richards, as ‘insatiable‘ (Richards, 2009 in Hallett and Wilson, 2010:  10).

Community radio in the UK has been developed through a mixture of government policy and grassroots activism, with this hybridity being in part regulated by the Office for Communications (Ofcom) and legislated for in various acts of parliament, and in part by the pragmatism of grassroots activism seeking greater local community broadcasting. A licence is granted for five years, and is awarded to the organisation not to individuals and so may not be sold for personal profit. The stations themselves must be non-profit distributing but nonetheless may be owned by shareholders and not just members.

The broadcasting remit dictated by Ofcom is for public service (termed ‘social gain’ under New Labour to align with wider government policy).  An application for a licence should outline ‘social gain’ objectives and annual reports to Ofcom set out how a station is achieving this. Community radio in other countries has however been legislated to provide a voice for those not represented in the mainstream, and to offer a forum for local debate. This subtle difference has created tensions over the direction community radio has taken in the UK and may have a significant bearing on how a community radio station chooses to function. One such way is in how to fund the work required to accomplish the social gain objectives agreed under the terms of a radio licence.

Core costs are mainly met commercially through training, advertising sales, sponsorship and service level agreements and through funding grants. In 2011, competitive grant funding accounted for around 37% of income, followed by advertising (21%), local authorities (13%) and other public bodies such as Arts Councils and the national lottery (8%). The community radio fund, set up to support community radio and awarded through competitive application, accounts for 3%. In comparison, a government scheme funds 100% of community radio costs in France and 80% in New Zealand, whilst the Netherlands and Switzerland share the licence fee with community radio ( and which Sweden is also considering to support its 1000 community radio stations). Australia and the USA have broadly similar approaches to the UK .

According to Ofcom, in 2011 a community radio station cost £64,500 to run (median distribution) and the mean average income was around £74,000 (Ofcom, 2011: 14-15). However, the income of the four community radio stations, a total of £1.5 million, was equal to the poorest 74 community radio stations. Exclude these four top earning stations and the mean average income drops to £54,500. This suggests most stations operated at a loss. Staffing accounts for around 50% of the cost to run a community radio station. In 2010 an Ofcom survey found that 42 of 161 stations polled had no paid staff.


The stations therefore would not survive without their volunteers to create the broadcasts. Ofcom (2012) estimates the average station has 68 weekly volunteers giving over 1000 hours per month (op cit: 5). In the UK in 2010, community radio volunteers contribute 45,000 volunteer hours producing 15,000 hours of original radio output per week across the 200 licenced stations (Ofcom, 2011: 5) with arts-based stations reporting twice the average volunteer hours per week (ibid: 36). The appetite from volunteers has not diminished: community radio stations who have been licenced for more than five years reported the highest number of volunteer hours, on average (ibid).

Volunteers occupy positions across the organisation from governance to cleaning to broadcasting, often combining many roles. Whilst they come together as advocates for community radio, most volunteers however are solo or pairs of volunteer broadcasters who, because of the voluntary nature of coming in to broadcast on a schedule, plough their broadcast furrow at the same time each week and many over a number of years.

Working with Hillz FM

Hillz FM, located in Hillfields in Coventry, has just been awarded its second five year licence by Ofcom. The studios are located within WATCH, a charity that works in Hillfields across a range of areas, from learning to activism. Hillz FM is upstairs and uses three rooms; two studios and a small office. There is also a larger general area for training, and this is also used by WATCH. It has two part-time staff members responsible for overseeing the radio station and training the volunteers. Salaries are paid from grant funding for training.

In their initial application Hillz FM stated they will broadcast ‘music produced by local artists and musicians, and music for displaced communities in additional to specific genres…and less than 5% will be current chart’. Speech output will ‘broadcast in community languages addressing local community issues’. The station will broadcast live for 8 hours per day. The broadcasters therefore are most likely to be people from Hillfields broadcasting to and with people from Hillfields, although the transmitter reach goes far beyond the boundaries of Hillfields.

Questions I had:

  • Who are the volunteers – are they local or only using the opportunity to broadcast?
  • How do volunteers currently operate at the station?
  • What is in place that can enable me to join in this current practise, rather than set something up within the station myself?
  • What broadcast skills do the volunteers have and how may I enhance these?
  • What can they contribute to thinking about the project?
  • How does my work contribute to the social gain objectives of the station?


I am asking volunteers to alter what they are currently doing to include the objectives of the Imagine project, which means including interviews within their broadcasts. This will involve training in both how to prepare an interview and how to conduct an interview. Moreover, volunteers may want to pursue a particular form of interview: a group interview, or one set across the length of a programme (like Desert Island Discs). They may wish to pre-record the interview rather than live, and edit the interview. Each presents different challenges.

I presented the nature of the Imagine project at several meetings at the radio station. This is re-iterated when helping volunteers develop questions and themes for their interviews, and when discussing how my involvement may develop over the next year.

Working with volunteers requires an approach that starts where they are at, not from where I think they are; a training course would not be appropriate given the diversity amongst the volunteer cohort. Instead I will work with broadcast teams to build a list of potential interviewees and work out how best to perform the interviews. From this base we can determine where skills are needed, what format of interview is appropriate and how time needs allocating. My role will be one of support, asking questions and encouraging volunteers to find the answers for the questions that they have themselves.

To this end I have located myself at Hillz FM for one day a week. This also supports other work with WATCH, including providing support to other aspects of Imagine, including the intergenerational project with ACCOL and the imaging project with the local history group.


Setting up a timeline

The aim of this project is to work with community partners and residents to bring together an extraordinary amount of information about Hillfields in Coventry to examine how it has been imagined over time by residents, businesses and various levels of government. From this, new imaginings may take place. There is also a secondary element in which the methodology of this research and the practices that stem from it have an impact in the community by changing practice and building capacity, and that these changes contribute to changes in academic understanding and practice.

Part of our work has been to create a timeline. The timeline can appear in several methods: as text in a technical-looking spreadsheet and as a visual, interactive map. The spreadsheet might be thought of as a base document. It contains all the themes against which paths my be viewed – local policies, national and regional politics, community action, physical development, voluntary organisations, myths, leisure, ethnic population  are a few mentioned so far – and puts them in a chronological order. The interactive online version will not only present these events but also present relevant data such as images, audio and documents, giving residents a chance to work at their own pace on information presented in the timeline.

In conversations with people at a community level involved in this project the timeline may allow them to locate their thinking in the activities of policy makers, community events and major occurrences. From this they will contribute their memories through interviews, photographs or documents. Residents also see the utility of the timeline as a dynamic project. At a recent conference, contributions as to how the timeline might develop ran to several pages, and the debate on myths could certainly have run on long after the event finished.

The timeline in this project will be a legacy website too with the skills to develop it and add to it located in the community, and within the community organisations in Hillfields. Whether there is someone to do this, and whether they, or another, feel the continued value of the timeline, will be a measure of the success of this project.