We’ve been incredibly impressed with the way so many Co-ops and Community businesses have managed through the Covid-19 situation and lockdown. The commitment to serving their communities and the resilience and ingenuity they have shown has been amazing!
We’ve spoken to a number of our clients about how they have managed – here we share the story of Sheffield Live! after speaking to Sangita Basudev in December 2020, before England went back into lockdown in January.
What was your immediate challenge?
The first thing was around our radio station – we have over 200 volunteers so we had to work out very quickly how we could manage this, so they were safe. Many are in vulnerable groups, so we had the challenge of saying to people, ‘please don’t come into the studio’, while at the same time finding the most reasonable way possible to get equipment and software to people so that they could make programmes from home.
Some people – like our DJ’s – had equipment already, but quite a few people whose programmes are very important to the diversity of what we put out don’t have that kind of facility. So, we had to get the equipment to them, and then train people to use and set up the software and hardware, so they could make their own programmes remotely. We didn’t have enough equipment to do that with everyone – so we were also trying to raise funding to make up kits for people to produce from home. This has all been done with a very small team, which was made more difficult as one of our staff became quite ill from Covid. From mid-March to the end of June, just two of us were coming into the studio and doing everything that was needed to keep the operation going.
What did you do?
As well as equipping our radio volunteers to make programmes at home, we had to start looking at our TV programming and our news bulletins. At the time of lockdown we were airing news five days a week. It’s now gone up to six. We have been interviewing local people about how the pandemic has affected them. We’ve also spoken to local politicians, councillors and public health officials and we’ve worked hard to make sure we get those stories out about what has been happening in the city. There have been so many amazing stories of people working on the frontline or pivoting their business to producing PPE for example. We also joined up with a community broadcaster in Brighton – they have a local TV channel too and for 6 days a week we’ve carried a joint half-hour magazine sharing Covid stories from around the country, with a few European stories too.
What support did you access, including from CCF?
We were very lucky that we have a very supportive Chair – a volunteer – who helped to make sure we could carry on broadcasting. He was there on a daily basis, at the end of the phone. That support was key at the beginning to help to focus those of us coming into the studio. We got a rates reduction and were able to access the Business Support Grant via our local authority. We also secured a Bounce Back Loan. We appreciated the support of Co-operative and Community Finance (CCF) who kept regularly in touch with us, but we didn’t need to take up the capital holiday that was offered on our CCF loan. There seem to have been a lot of grant opportunities but often with very short deadlines and needing to be spent quickly. We were pleased to get a grant towards core costs from Power to Change.
What are you doing now?
At the moment we are been more or less operating as we have been since we went into lockdown in March and then later into tier three, so it doesn’t feel like we’ve really emerged yet from the pandemic. All the workers are back but most of our volunteers are still based at home – we’ve managed to get a few more of them kitted out, to be able to record from home, which is great. A big part of what Sheffield Live! is about is bringing people together – people who might never meet each other in normal life. We’re a really diverse organisation, broadcasting in seven languages and with programmes by and for people with disabilities and from the LGBT+ community. A lot of these people just wouldn’t come across each other without the station and while it’s difficult to replicate that interaction remotely, we’ve had some socials via zoom so people can be in touch.
What are your plans moving forward?
Mainly, we are planning to carry on as we are for now, as we are still in tier three lockdown, however, we want to be able to get enough good equipment, to equip more people, so that they can record from home.
We are also involved in a really new exciting project, small scale digital audio broadcasting (DAB). Traditionally, DAB has been owned by big private media groups, but there’s now a chance in the UK where smaller organisations can get licences to be on DAB and can bid to operate the local DAB transmission. We have an ambitious plan to put up to 25 radio stations on to DAB in Sheffield and Rotherham. We’ve linked up with other community radio stations in the area and between us we want to be further diversify the services available and increase their social impact. The application is now with Ofcom, so wish us luck!