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People Powered Change – Media Trust

27 March 2012

Over the next few days we’ll be publishing guest blogs from projects we funded 12 months ago under the banner People Powered Change. Today we hear from Gavin Sheppard at the Media Trust about its newsnet project.

 

A year ago we started working with the Big Lottery Fund on the People Powered Change initiative with a view to unlocking the potential of local stories and community reporting to bring about positive social change in our communities.

Gavin Sheppard

Media Trust's Gavin Sheppard

The rise of People Powered Change throughout the Arab world is well documented and attributed in no small part to social media. Giving people the power to communicate, to express their wishes and aspirations and to connect with like-minded individuals is undeniably awesome when it gathers momentum.

And even in a western world where we have come to take this power in our pockets and at our fingertips for granted, many were astounded at how quickly the paradigm shifted. But whilst overthrowing a long-standing dictator might grab the international headlines, there are numerous examples of People Powered Change at home.

When the Butcher’s Arms in Lyvennet was closed due to ill health of the landlord, The Lyvennet Community Trust decided to form a co-operative to purchase and re-open it. The community rallied around a blog that was set up to champion the cause (lyvennetcommunitypub.wordpress.com) and in August 2011, in the ownership of a new cooperative of 300 local residents, the Butcher’s Arms was open for business. OK, so there’s not exactly a strong smell of revolution in the air, but for the residents of Lyvnnet this was a triumph of people power that changed something that mattered in their lives and brought about a positive social change for themselves and those around them.

It’s a picture that could be repeated around the country. And one which local newspapers and radio stations may have once championed. But therein lay a fundamental challenge: local media is in serious decline. As local newspapers and radio stations close, many remaining outlets regionalise and reduce their journalistic footprint. The result is a worrying vacuum of hyper-local news and views, within which it is exceptionally difficult for communities to come together, form a consensus about the change they want and find a vehicle around which to congregate and campaign.

Research we commissioned in July 2010 by Goldsmith’s Leverhulme Media Research Centre into the news needs of local communities confirmed what many of us with an interest in the role of communications in community engagement had feared. It reveals “an explicit relationship between local and community news, local democracy, community cohesion and civic engagement” and a “crisis in the provision of local news”.

And that feels quite serious if you’re in Poynter Street and up in arms about a council bin confiscation scheme and the problems that followed. Thankfully their case was taken up by the local Blog Preston (blogpreston.co.uk) and the council stepped in and cleaned up the affected area.

Media Trust believes that the experiences of the residents of Poynter Street and Lyvennet are typical of a movement of people powered change around the UK and that with some coordination and support for local people to learn how to tell their own story, connect with others who can help or share their views and experiences and share their news with others, many more communities can come together to create a better future for themselves and those around them.

That’s why, with the support of the Big Lottery Fund, we launched newsnet. It’s the latest in Media Trust’s news projects, bringing charity and community stories to new audiences, inspiring positive social change around the UK. Our online and on TV Community Channel is showcasing the best community content from around the country, led by our groundbreaking UK360 and London360 programmes, our Press Association partnership Community Newswire is giving charities and communities direct access to the national and regional media and now, thanks to funding from the Big Lottery Fund, our newsnet project is providing all the connections and support to empower everyone to play their part in creating and sharing their local stories.

We want to bring together communities from around the UK with an interest in creating positive social change through the power of citizens, whether a hyper-local website, blog or Facebook page, a community radio station or a printed newsletter, and give them the tools and connections to change their worlds. We’re pretty sure that bringing local stories to a wider audience, by working with the mainstream media to bring a greater depth and diversity of voices, we can inspire many more people change their communities for the better. Good news.

Gavin Sheppard

Marketing Director

Media Trust

gavins@mediatrust.org

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