Participatory research with KCC LIVE

Post written by Dr Bethan Evans

Last week Dr Joanna Long, Dr Matt Benwell and I had a tour of the studios at KCC LIVE, a youth-led community radio station based in Knowsley, which is on the outskirts of Liverpool. KCC LIVE was originally founded in 2003 (9 years ago) as a college radio station for Knowsley Community College and following great success was granted a 5 year FM community license in 2009 and now broadcasts across Knowsley on 99.8FM (you can also pick up the station in some parts of Liverpool and listen online). In 2010, the station was awarded ‘Best Station in the North West’ by the radio academy, and in 2011 was nominated for ‘station of the year’ (with <300,000 listeners) at the national Sony Awards.

I have followed the station since it was founded as a small college station. When I first visited KCC LIVE it had one studio on the edge of a kitchen/social area. The transformation I saw on the tour last week was fantastic – it now has three high-tech studios, is run by three full-time members of staff and 90 volunteers, young people aged between 10 and 25, some of whom are college students but a lot are just members of the local community.

The station is doing fantastic work – not just broadcasting high quality youth-led radio 24 hours a day (as the tagline says, ‘Boss music, no ads’), but also provides a fantastic opportunity for young people to produce media content, to learn vital broadcast skills and to develop a host of transferrable skills important during the current period when youth unemployment is at an all time high. The station also does important work producing content that is inclusive and has anti-bullying and anti-racism messages at its core.

So why were we, as geographers, visiting KCC LIVE?  Our visit was part of a growing relationship between the station and Geography at the University of Liverpool. Human Geographers in the Power, Space and Cultural Change research group at Liverpool are involved in a whole host of ways in what is called ‘participatory research’. In fact one of our colleagues, Dr Pete North, is the chair of the Participatory Geographies research group at the Royal Geographical Society and Institute of British Geography.

Participatory research is research that involves communities in all stages of the research rather than having a hierarchical relationship between researcher – who collects data – and research participants – who are studied. Instead, participatory research involves working with community groups and involving participants as researchers. This helps make sure that the research is of interest to the communities involved and that the research relationship has benefits for everyone – not just the researchers.

The radio station is of interest to us as geographers in relation to how it works with young people (Children’s Geographies is an important area in the discipline) and the ways in which radio can facilitate different forms of community connections between groups of people who might or might not share physical space.

Our visit to KCC LIVE was to discuss two research projects that we have been fortunate to get funding for that will start in the next couple of months and will involve volunteers from KCC LIVE as participatory researchers. Both of these projects will also involve the production of a radio documentary to communicate the results of the research so that this is accessible to the public.

Project one is funded by the British Academy and is a project which will involve youth volunteers making a radio documentary about their opinions of the riots that happened in Liverpool in 1981 and 2011. The researchers involved in this project are the three of us who went on the tour, along with Dr Andy Davies and Prof. Richard Phillips.

Project two is a PhD CASE studentship funded by the ESRC North West Doctoral Training Centre which will look at how the station benefits and connects communities of young people within Knowsley. This will be a longer (3 year) collaboration with the station.

As these projects unfold we will post updates on this blog. We are very much looking forward to working with KCC LIVE and the fantastic staff and volunteers at the station.

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