5th May 2021
Manchester-based Reform Radio are an award-winning 24/7 online radio station and arts organisation. Through courses, workshops and support they provide young people with the skills, confidence, connections and training to get employment in the audio industry.
In 2018 they won an Audible’s Audio Production Award for this impactful work. The leadership team - Rachel, Sam, and Jemma - joined the Thrive: Access to Employment accelerator last year to develop the organisation even further.
The heart of their work involves putting young people in the driving seat of making highly creative and powerful radio shows. The catalogue of what they have made is vast and diverse: podcasts, dramas, music, talk-shows, phone-ins and concepts that combine these together.
Reform Radio have been committed to continuing the work in lockdown. Young people created “Lockdown Link” with a brief set by Reform Radio ambassador, Annie Mac, to create 3-5 minute podcasts from lockdown. For Earth Day the station ran 24 hours with 24 DJs in 24 countries. Rachel said that creating a global show in this situation inspires people, “this is what you can make, this is what you can be a part of.”
Their track record shows that these experiences are hugely impactful: over 80% of young people on their programme go on to work, education of further training.
As a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, the UK is now facing unemployment of over 3 million in 2020, with young people hardest hit, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility. As a new recession is predicted, it is clear how important Reform Radio’s work is going to be, “some people just got their first job last year, and this happens - it can be very hard to bounce back”, says Sam.
During lockdown, we’ve seen how social entrepreneurs always put the social mission at the heart of all their decision making, and Reform Radio exemplify that. They know that what people need isn’t just skills development, but staying safe, positive, and understanding what is happening in the world. In response to COVID-19, Reform Radio added a Wellbeing Manager to the team to directly support young people with the mental health impacts of the pandemic.
When Sam went to university, the promise had been that graduates were going to be able to get a job automatically. But graduating in 2009, he was faced with the last recession, and struggled with unemployment for a year and a half, describing the experience as what it feels like “to slowly lose your confidence”. During this time, he says volunteering at his local radio station was “the only positive thing”. His experience was part of the inspiration behind the venture’s creation.
When he moved to Manchester and met Jemma and Rachel, Rachel was working at Sure Start, with vulnerable families and Jemma was trained in creative interventions, using drama and theatre in communities as a springboard to positive change. In 2013 they combined their skills, experiences and knowledge into creating an amazing social venture.
Now they are looking around at the current situation, and see young people once again facing at a recession. Rachel said they constantly ask themselves how they can do more with the business model they have, “what other industries can we be supporting?”
For example, they are launching “Podcasting with Purpose”, hiring out their skills to produce podcasts for others. This adds another income stream and supports young people to get a start in the vibrant podcast industry too. They are expanding opportunities and training in other parts of the audio and radio business - such as in marketing and promotion.
All of this means those who participate in their workshops and courses are able to approach potential employers with tangible skills, and impressive products they have created.
The arrival of COVID-19 and lockdown in the UK took them out of their physical studio. This timing was particularly frustrating given they had just spent a lot of money to build the space and taken a couple of years to get it set up and were welcoming young people in to use it. But they demonstrated their adaptability - creating a studio in their house, and in a couple of weeks they had put all the workshop activity online.
But the team are looking forward to getting back to the studio soon, working out how and when to do so safely and they have ambitious visions for the content itself, pushing for innovation all the time. “There is no blueprint to it,” Rachel says, “everything is new, the challenge to us is thinking ahead for challenges before they arise.”
Reform Radio came onto Thrive: Access to Employment, UnLtd’s accelerator programme in 2019, which helped them put in systems and structures to help them grow their impact. It gave them the time to nail down questions they had been struggling with for many years. Rachel says that the one to one help from their Support Manager was “just amazing from the very beginning – the knowledge she had to support us to the next step was amazing”. And if their Support Manager didn’t know something, she always found someone who did.
Find out more about Thrive and UnLtd support here.
*Check out Reform Radio and listen to their shows at www.reformradio.co.uk
This article is based on an interview recorded in Summer 2020.*