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24 September 2014
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Greg Dyke


Creativity in the Community speech

2 July 2002
Printable version

Speech given for the launch of Project Merseyside at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts

Press release

In my first speech at the BBC, when I was still Director-General Designate, I spoke about education and the importance I wanted it to take in my time running the BBC.

I spoke of the challenge for Britain to open up the provision of learning and place it at the centre of people's lives and how I believed the BBC could play a significant part in that process.

I also stressed how we were keen to bring to learning people who hadn't so far gained a great deal in their lives from the education system.

Nearly three years on, the BBC has made some progress in the area of education but not as much as we would have liked. Today is another important step in furthering that overall aim.

In the past three years our vision of digital education - that broadband interactive technology can support teaching and help guide everyone from the school pupil to a retiree through a lifetime of learning - has become even more relevant.

But of course three years ago some people even doubted that we would reach the 21st century.

Thanks to Nostradamus's predictions of Armageddon and the Y2K bug it was confidently predicted that none of our public services, phones, electricity, banks or airlines would work and we would be up to our eyes in sewage.

And of course there was also the Millennium Dome.

Now none of the forecasts of doom actually happened - except for the Millennium Dome that is - but the world has certainly changed since I joined the BBC.

The digital revolution in broadcasting is rapidly gathering pace and our industry is undergoing fundamental structural change. Today just over 50% of homes have multichannel television and nearly all of it is digital.

But to my mind the really significant aspect of the digital revolution is not the proliferation of television or radio channels. It's interactivity. And interactivity which instantly transforms communication from one-to-many, to one-to-one.

For alongside the growth of digital broadcasting has been the phenomenon of the internet which reaches nearly 17 million people in the UK. That's around 50% of all homes.

Of course in some parts of the internet economic realities have come home to roost.

The dreams of the rapid growth of interactive television driven through a broadband superhighway that dominated the media just a couple of years ago proved, perhaps inevitably, to be over-hyped - not unlike the venture capitalists and the stock market that funded these ill fated ventures.

However, as the market rose then fell, we just got on with it.

BBCi currently offers over 100 interactive services which have been used by over eight million people in the last year. It's Europe's number one content site on the web and it's also editorially free from the influence of advertisers, something our users say is important to them.

Interactive broadband content that is delivered by high speed fibre-optic two way communications directly into the home is still very expensive and in its infancy.

But it is going to happen and the BBC has a crucial role to play in that process.

I think that it's now pretty self-evident that the market would not and could not have delivered BBCi. The same applies to broadband.

Who other than a publicly funded BBC would be prepared to put the investment into testing broadband which is what the BBC is currently doing in Hull? - more of which in a moment.

To me, these are fundamental responsibilities of a modern public service broadcaster.

These are examples of the special things that the BBC delivers to audiences. Things the market never would.

And the Government agrees - that's why a central condition of the last increase in the BBC's Licence Fee was that extra investment should be made in the development of educational digital and interactive services.

Of course technological or cultural innovation is not always greeted with enthusiasm.

I always liked the response of C.P. Scott, the legendary editor of the Manchester Guardian, to the new fangled invention of television:

"Television?" he is said to have remarked," The word is half Greek and half Latin. No good can come from it."

But that view paled beside the executive at Decca Records who turned down your very own Beatles with the comment, "There is no future for bands with guitars."

Only the BBC can take the risk, both financial and creative, of developing the sort of inventive, distinctive and interactive content you can see here today - and developing that for the benefit of everyone in the community.

Our key goal is to combine digital technology with the needs of our local communities and BBC Open Centres are the focal point for our vision.

And today I was please to join Ricky Tomlinson in opening our fourth Open Centre here in Liverpool.

What is proving to be really exciting with the Open Centres is the emergence of a new kind of interactive learning partnership with local communities.

Wherever we have opened them, and besides Merseyside this includes Sheffield, Blackburn and Stoke, the story is a similar one of success.

Blackburn, our first to open, had 2,000 registered learners in its first year.

But, using digital broadband technology, we are determined to take this further.

Ten months ago Radio Humberside was just that - a local radio station - similar to dozens around the country.

We are now testing our most advanced interactive applications over high-speed broadband connections in Hull: including video and always-on internet access with video-streaming and e-mail. Hull has become Britain's first broadband city.

The potential for learning using broadband is enormous.

Through free broadband links a dozen local schools have access to the BBC Hull interactive services, providing them with a direct route to a wide range of BBC education materials.

Here, with Project Merseyside, we aim to place the BBC and its partners at the heart of the local learning agenda.

We will do so by exploring ways in which we can encourage creative and collaborative skills amongst children, young people, adults and their wider communities.

Driving their interest through the BBC's strengths in media, local history, music and sport, we hope to equip these groups with production skills in TV, radio and online, and showcase the results on our local services.

In particular these activities have been designed to improve key skills for employability - including communications and presentation skills; team-working; and providing routes back into formal learning.

Project Merseyside is a pan-BBC initiative, with input from our Nations and Regions teams, advice from Human Resources and, later in the project, using our broadcast outlets.

We will be working with a range of local partners including Liverpool Community College, the emerging media centre Toxteth TV, and the six local education authorities.

This is, I believe, public services combining to be effective.

Of course, Radio Merseyside is the crucial local hub for the project with our Open Centre and learning activities.

Radio Merseyside is the most popular local station in England with nearly half a million people tuning in each week. It is a station that is firmly part of the community it broadcasts to.

So what will Project Merseyside offer?

Firstly, we will offer a range of learning opportunities to give a flavour of TV and radio production, journalism, digital technologies, DJ'ing and music technology.

These will be informal, aimed at 16 to 24 year olds not in employment or formal education, and will offer the possibility of following-up with further programmes of study.

Secondly, we will also be rolling out the BBC's own respected training and online development materials.

These will be supported by BBC people from Merseyside and Manchester and at a national level, who will run workshops and have-a-go sessions, demystifying the BBC and offering mentoring and attachments.

Thirdly, training and facilitation will be mainly delivered by one of our partners, the Ariel Trust, with BBC staff supporting the skillXchange programme.

Fourthly, interactive skills are being fostered via WebActive, providing resources, tools, templates and a network of support partners to enable individuals and community organisations to become active producers of web content.

Finally, the BBC will be running a radio project.

Using on-site production in schools, youth centres and other community locations, the aim will be to motivate the old and young alike; developing skills and showcasing local talent - part of the BBC's role to champion British talent.

So that's Project Merseyside - a huge opportunity for people to realise their talents and I hope just about everyone will be able to find something which really grabs them and encourages them to get involved.

I'd like also to tell you - and show you - how the BBC aims to develop our learning offering for everyone throughout the country.

As many of you will be aware, part of our broader, education strategy is our proposal for a Digital Curriculum.

Two years ago, the BBC set out its vision for a Digital Curriculum that can ultimately be delivered by broadband to every child in the UK both to schools and in the home.

Now there are those who don't believe the BBC should have any part to play in such a service, who think that it should all be left to the market to supply, and in this area the BBC should just stick to doing what it does so well - making programmes for schools.

Again, that's not how we see it. E-learning has tremendous potential and we know we can make a very positive contribution to this ambitious project which we believe will change the face of learning inside and outside school.

No doubt there are many profit and loss companies who are interested in providing lucrative on-line services in the most popular subjects.

But who in the market will support the less popular subjects and ensure that the curricula of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also receive services which meet their needs? I don't think the market will.

We have an enormous reservoir of experience and expertise; we want to work with others in education and the industry; and we believe teachers and parents would welcome us being there.

Public service broadcasting is not about filling small niches that profit-driven publishers or broadcasters decide are not lucrative enough to bother with.

For us the vision of a Digital Curriculum goes far beyond the bare bones of what would be necessary; far beyond the expectations of the marketplace. It needs to be there for everyone. Our proposals are now with the DCMS for approval.

This initiative is part of our new approach to learning using television and radio in unique ways to engage people's interest, and then encourage them to go further - something perhaps even C.P. Scott might have approved of.

Later this month we will launch the Sport Academy website aimed at increasing participation in sport among 10 to 16 year olds; and to support parents, teachers and volunteers in achieving this aim.

Sport itself is great. Not just in encouraging healthier lifestyles, but as a vehicle that leads to wider learning and training.

As a part of that project we have also launched Go for Wimbledon - with the aim of encouraging more children and young people to play tennis - by creating a series of mini Wimbledon events across the country leading to a day at the Championship itself.

Liverpool City Tennis Club was one of the first to be selected for the pilot scheme and, who knows, maybe there is a new champion ready to be found here in Merseyside.

A second initiative that we have just launched and aimed very much at a young generation is OneMusic from Radio 1.

One Music is a one-stop shop for information, inspiration and expert advice on all aspects of the music business. It explains how the industry works and encourages people to get on and get heard.

It's also a meeting place for musicians and music fans of every kind to get together to talk about their projects and the music they love.

We want to encourage people to keep progressing their talents and their passion for new music. It's our investment now in the best new music of the future.

There are many young people across the country who are writing and playing new music, and we are helping to give them a voice and hopefully an opportunity to progress.

This summer the BBC is also embarking on a major new arts initiative - Blast - in partnership with youth and arts organisations around the country.

Specifically targeting teenagers, Blast hopefully will help them maximise their creative potential in the areas of music, film-making, dance and art.

Ultimately, they are encouraged to stage their own performance or local event to display their talents.

The BBC's role in this is to put young people in touch with a network of organisations, local facilities, contacts and advisers via a dedicated web site and road-shows taking place around the country throughout the summer.

Here they'll get expert advice, support and practical information about making the most of their passion for music, art, dance and film.

Blast clearly illustrates a BBC vision of learning which goes far beyond a formalised notion of a classroom environment.

Perhaps the biggest mission for a public service broadcaster in the early 21st century is to use learning to help extend human experience.

And by realising, above all, that learning should be something we regard with pleasure, with anticipation and as something to enjoy.


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