Edward Cartwright and Rob Watson at Decentered Media are leading on an AHRC-ESRC funded project ‘Community Radio and Lost Voices’. The project, funded through a scheme to encourage public engagement with the census, will use community radio to inspire households from disenfranchised communities in Leicester to engage with the Census. The project involves a number of local partners including radio stations Leicester Community Radio, Kohinoor FM, Radio Seerah, Radio2Funky, EAVAFM and Ramadan Radio, as well as voluntary organisations, including The Race Equality Centre, Leicester Healthwatch, Leicestershire Cares and Reaching People.   

The Census provides an incredibly important snapshot of the UK population which will inform policy for at least 10 years. It is vital, therefore, that the snapshot be as accurate as possible. Completion rates, though, vary across communities and may be particularly low in households whose first language is not English, have low functional literacy skills, distrust central and local government, and are not able to afford digital resources. While great efforts are made to correct for missing data there is no perfect substitute for people accurately filling in the survey.

Community radio is a tested way to build community trust, identity and companionship. Thus, it provides an ideal medium to engage with households from diverse communities and encourage them to complete the census. This project will be centred on Leicester which is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the UK. It is also a city with high levels of poverty and disengagement with the mainstream, which has been very badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Project partners include, amongst others, Kohinoor FM who serve the Sikh community, Radio Seerah who serve the Muslim community, and Leicester Community Radio who serve both the African-Caribbean Community and the white working-class communities on the outskirts of the Greater Leicester Area.

The project will engage with audiences in culturally appropriate ways, highlighting the need for ‘voices to be heard’ to inform economic and social policy. To inspire households to engage we shall use a positive narrative based around the DMU Community Solutions Covid-19 Project (CSP). CSP is actively engaging communities across the city, with the support of the City Council and the Mayor’s Office, to formulate and deliver a plan to ‘build back better’ after the Covid-19 pandemic. CSP has been highly effective in ‘giving voice’ to people across the city. It provides, therefore, an ideal example of how community voices can be heard, and can positively influence policy. The project will also highlight the importance of the census for informing policy, particularly around the challenges faced in the city such as overcrowded housing, poor quality jobs and traffic congestion.

The ‘Build Back Better’ project, based on United Nations disaster recovery modelling, will be used as a positive example of community action. De Montfort University has taken this approach as it is a United Nations Academic Impact Hub for Sustainable Development Goal 16; Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. It positions the university as a conduit between community and authority as a way to allow marginalised voices to be represented. This approach will not only encourage engagement in the census but pave the way for continuing community engagement in the City, something that is vitally needed to tackle deep structural problems. The project will prioritise aural, spoken and sound-based content that can be creatively adapted to suit the cultural needs of different language communities. Crucially the content will be created by six community reporters who are embedded within their respective communities and can give unique insight on life in Leicester and the positive benefits from engaging in the policy debate.

While the project is centred on Leicester, our open-learning approach, with a live journal, means the impact can be wider. In particular, resources and insights will be shared through appropriate channels to inform similar initiatives elsewhere. The project will also live on beyond the census through a new initiative called ‘Leicester Stories’. Leicester Stories will provide a platform for community reporters within Leicester to generate content and tell personal stories of life in Leicester. This will give voice to communities so that they can generate their own narrative to inform and engage across the city.