Monthly Archives: August 2020
A lot can happen in a year
It’s a strange time to be writing a review of the past year but, let’s face it, 2020 has been a strange year! August is also a month of anniversaries. I’ve worked four years consecutively for the BBC, (a bit longer in total but I left, came back and also freelanced for a while) and I’ve spent the past year of that service with BBC Radio Cumbria.
It was a tough decision to leave my previous station, BBC Radio Lancashire. I’d worked in most roles in the newsroom there, my last substantively was producing the drive time programme. I had a great working relationship with the presenter; we were a small and effective team of two, who reformatted the programme. It was going down well with listeners and that was reflected in the listening figures.
I feel like I ‘left on a high note’, as the idiom goes, which is always good to do. The team gave me a brilliant send off and I’m still in touch with many former colleagues. Another saying is ‘life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans’ and my life was taking me further north. The time was right for my fiancé and I to live together, so moving base coincided with moving home to beautiful Cumbria.
Carlisle’s a historic city: on one side of the studios is a castle and the other a cathedral. It has a particularly familiar feeling for me because of the aroma that comes from the nearby McVities factory. I grew up close to a biscuit factory near border of Stockport and Manchester. There’s nothing quite like it! The scent is very reminiscent of home. Even though the two are more than 130 miles apart.
After my first day, I was reporting in Kendal about work on Victoria bridge. As I was recording that report news broke that a lorry had hit a nearby railway bridge and I ended up being one of the first reporters on the scene, which demonstrates how important it is for news outlets to have a local presence.
I’ve enjoyed getting to know a new patch and developing contacts. In the months that followed I did a range of shifts. Filming and editing social media videos was something I’d never done before joining BBC Radio Cumbria and that’s been a useful skill to develop in an ever increasing multi-media industry. Here’s one of them… (Post continues below.)
Producing the overnight election programme in December has been a highlight – powered by pizza and coffee! I worked with two experienced presenters who took direction well, with a team of talented reporters based at counts across the county and inserts from political experts. Even the technology worked well. As a producer, you can’t ask for much better than that.
I’ve stood in for the news editor, covering the comings and goings of the news desk and I’ve read bulletins. I can recall when coronavirus was in the running order when I was on shift on New Year’s Day. I knew it was a big story but I didn’t realise then how life-changing it would eventually become for us all.
The week before I began working from home I was the early morning producer of the weekday breakfast show. A career milestone for me, as it was something I hadn’t done done before and I enjoyed having overall editorial responsibility for the programme. Covid-19 was high up the news agenda then, as the first cases of the virus had been identified in Carlisle.
Shortly after that I started working from home, which I’ve documented on this blog previously. I’ve been doing that for 20 weeks now. When it began I never thought it’d be something that would last for five months, but here we are! I actually thought I’d be back in the office so quickly that I almost left my headphones in my locker. I’m glad I did think to bring them with me because I use them everyday.
While I obviously don’t have the range of shifts available than the likes of what I’ve described above, I’m classed as a key worker. It’s felt like an important time to make a contribution to the radio station, during the pandemic. Mostly as ‘late prod’, the afternoon producer of the breakfast programme. I can also edit audio from home too, so I’ve been able to record audio remotely on my computer and package it up.
My first year with BBC Radio Cumbria has been amazing, I packed a lot into the seven months I was in the newsroom and the five months of working from home have been a learning curve that I’ve adapted to. There’s exciting things on the horizon as well. I’m part of BBC England’s Diversity Group North which focuses on inclusivity and equality, an area I am incredibly passionate about.
Other than that, it’s quite difficult to predict what the future may hold. Could there be a second wave of the virus? What will happen to the radio industry in this uncertain time? A lot can happen in a year and if this past one’s anything to go by, it has reinforced my outlook to take it a day at a time and not take anything for granted.
A-level results day: my first time on radio
I had a wonderful time at college and each year that A-level results day comes around it brings back fond memories. Thoughts of the choices that lay ahead, the nerves, the anticipation. It was also the first time my voice was ever heard on the radio. Yes, I was one of the students who opened their results envelope on-air. It was August 2007 at Parrs Wood Sixth Form in Didsbury, Manchester. As well as the usual hustle and bustle in the common room, there were also a lot of journalists gathered.
The circumstances why were tragic; A member of our year group, Kesha Wizzart, had been murdered in her home a month earlier, along with her mother and brother. I didn’t know Kesha very well but we had both been awarded the same scholarship to study at the University of Manchester and I got to know her through that. I went on to study English language, linguistics and film studies, whereas Kesha would have studied law. After news of the 18-year-old’s death broke, it sent shockwaves among our tight-knit student community. Kesha was never far from our thoughts on results day – she had taken her exams but never got to find out the results. Balloons were released in her memory.
That’s why there was a lot of media attention, as well as covering the tribute to Kesha, the journalists also collected vox pops from students, like me, opening their results. I was interviewed on my local commercial radio station in Stockport, Imagine FM – a station I actually freelanced at years later. There were so many people being spoken to that day I never thought a clip of me would even be included in news bulletins. Then, as I was driving home, off to celebrate with a few friends, my name was introduced and a clip played. It must have only been short – I couldn’t really make it out – because there was so much screaming from everyone I was with! Meanwhile, my mum managed to record my 15 seconds of fame onto a cassette tape, which is a memento of the day she still has.
In my career, I’ve had the chance to be on the other end of microphone on A-level results day. I’ve reported live on location into programmes for 2BR and The Bee in Lancashire. As a journalist, I love the buzz about results day – all the excitement and expectation. It’s been a privilege to be small part of the students’ memorable day. I wonder if, like me, any of the students I spoke to will end up working in radio one day? I hope so.
A-level results day is something that comes round each year and is a challenge in newsrooms in terms of how to keep the storytelling fresh. The colleges, understandably, want to showcase the year’s high achievers but I think we need to try to keep it as representative and realistic as possible, in terms of how we portray attainment. Not every student studies A-levels; there are a range of other vocational further education qualifications. Of course, there are a lot of happy people on results days – and congratulations to them. However, not everyone achieves the grades they wanted and that’s also absolutely fine too. Exam results do not define us as people, it’s what we do with or without them that counts.
This year’s coverage of results day will be different and there’s no disputing where the story will go in running orders. Due to coronavirus, students weren’t able to sit their final exams and grades have had to be based on predicted results and other formula. That’s why I’m sure we’ll remember the class of 2020 in years to come – I wish them all the best for the future.
Drive-in kite display
It’s a sign of the times now that some entertainment is offered drive-in style. Concerts, stand-up comedy gigs and movies, like Danny and Sandy go to in the film Grease. Well, this past weekend, as well as the one before, I went to a drive-in kite display at the Westmorland Showground in Cumbria. It’s been a good opportunity to build up confidence again, as I ease out of lockdown.
This display was organised by the company SmileFactor10, which is based nearby in Preston Patrick. The same people behind the St Anne’s kite festival, something I know about from my time with BBC Radio Lancashire.
With another radio connection, I came across the most recent event when setting up a piece for BBC Radio Cumbria about an alternative Westmorland Show that’s being held at Crooklands, near Milnthorpe, instead of the usual event that can attract crowds of about 30,000 people. While researching the piece I found out there was some drive-in kite displays coming up.
The event had to be booked in advance on the website and upon arrival at the showground gate you showed your QR code and it was scanned through the car window. Each parking spot on the field was five metres wide, which allowed for space beside the car for a picnic at a safe social distance from others.
The first weekend was so enjoyable it prompted a visit again the week after. One thing you can’t plan for though is the wind speed and this was stronger the first time around, which enabled bigger kites to take to the skies. Giant teddy bears, Chinese dragons and big manta ray fish, for example. The second weekend allowed a glimpse of some smaller and more delicate kites including Little Red Riding Hood and Superman.
Whatever normality is, being at the kite-display felt a bit closer to that. It was good to be out and about again, even though it’s a small and tentative step it feels like a step in the right direction. A way to support local businesses and feel the sunshine… I even have a sunburnt arm to prove it!
Coronavirus: Shielding paused
Guidance for people who have been shielding throughout lockdown changed at the beginning of August. In summary, this means that:
– You can go to work, but should carry on working from home wherever possible.
– You can go outside as much as you like but you should still try to keep your overall social interactions low.
– You should continue to wash your hands carefully and more frequently than usual and that you maintain thorough cleaning of frequently touched areas in your home and/or workspace.Source: UK Government.
If you’ve followed some of my posts this year, you’ll be aware that I have underlying health conditions and took the decision in March to self-isolate during the coronavirus pandemic. I’m classed as “vulnerable”, rather than “high-risk”, but have been following shielding advice as a precaution.
For almost five months, I’ve tried to make the best of the situation. As a key worker, I’ve also been able to work throughout lockdown producing content – and sometimes broadcasting – from a home office set up for BBC Radio Cumbria. I never take a day that I work in this, an ever shrinking, radio industry for granted. I’m grateful to be able to make a contribution to the station’s output during lockdown.
I always do my utmost to make sure that my quality of life is on a par to that of everyone else around me. Feeling ‘different’ has never really been an issue for me, until the pandemic hit. I was reluctant to work from home initially, because I didn’t want to be treated separately to most of my colleagues. In hindsight, the decision to work from home, that was made at the beginning of lockdown, was absolutely the right one for me.
This Tweet by fellow journalist Lucy Webster sums my thoughts up well and, judging by the amount of engagement the thread has had on Twitter, many others feel the same way too: (Blog post continues below.)
After a chat with my manager, not much will change for me going forward and I won’t be returning to my main base in Carlisle yet. I’ve adapted to working from home very well and have everything I need at my fingertips. More and more meetings are being held virtually, I used Microsoft Teams for the first time last week too, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out on much.
Although I would like to build my confidence up again, I don’t intend to venture out much either. Of course, I want to get back to life as close to normality as possible but I will do so at a time and rate of change that feels right for me.
We’re in the middle of the school holidays at the moment, so there are a lot of people enjoying Cumbria’s beautiful landscape. Some will be having staycations after cancelling foreign holidays this summer. Therefore, I will probably wait until it’s a bit quieter around the Lake District before I reacquaint myself with the local area.
In terms of further afield, the majority of my family and friends are included in the tighter lockdown restrictions that have been brought in for all of Greater Manchester and parts of East Lancashire. This means that any potential visits are now, sadly, postponed for the time being too. (Blog post continues below.)
There are two perspectives to the approach of shielding being paused, which I was able to garner for the breakfast programme. We spoke to a lady who had been shielding her 89-year-old mum and didn’t feel comfortable changing anything. On the other hand, there was another lady who celebrated her birthday during lockdown and was going to see her daughter for the first time since February – she was looking forward to getting out and about again.
Neither of those perspectives are right or wrong; these are personal judgements that we all have to make on a daily basis. The government has issued guidance on shielding, rather than rules that are enforceable. Everyone’s personal circumstances are different and we all must assess the level of risk that each individual situation poses, while coronavirus is still being transmitted in society and may well be for sometime.
A nice side note to end the post on though: Since working from home, my office faces a window looking out to the back garden. Usually, in pre-coronavirus times, I wouldn’t be at home on weekday mornings let alone facing the back of the house. It’s usual to see wild rabbits and an array of birds here in south Cumbria. However, this past week, I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a deer that had jumped over the wall in the daytime – it’s one of the advantages of living next to a wood. I’d been keeping my camera close in anticipation of a moment like this and I was able to capture it, as you can see in the snaps below.
A gentle reminder that a greater appreciation of the nature that surrounds us is at least one of the good things to come out of time spent in lockdown, for me personally, and hopefully many others too.