BBC Radio 1's Big Conversation
What do you get if you take 70 young people and put them in a room for 3 hours?
The answer to this is not a protest, a civil uprising or even a hint of trouble. In fact what we got was a diverse range of views, thoughts and opinions and perhaps even a small step towards a rebranding of the much-maligned 'youth of today'.
On Tuesday 13th September in London’s City Hall, we held Radio 1’s first ever 'Big Conversation'. It was based around 70 young people, from a wide range of backgrounds, recruited by The Prince’s Trust, V-Inspired and The British Youth Council. They were invited along to share their ambitions, issues and concerns about the future. Also in attendance were 20 'influential adults', including Simon Hughes MP, Tim Loughton MP, Michelle Mone OBE, Jamal Edwards (founder of SB:TV) and the CEO’s of assorted youth organisations.
At the start of the year, Ben Cooper (Acting Controller of Radio 1) and I started planning how we could use the power of Radio 1 to really give young people a voice. We are rightly proud of the unique relationship Radio 1 has with its young audience, reaching nearly half of them every week. And yes - we interact with them constantly. But how could we harness this power and give them a real platform to share their views with the people who might actually be able to make a difference?
This formed the basis of the Big Conversation and, as the events of the summer unfolded, it felt ever more pertinent that we were giving young people the chance to challenge some of the media stereotypes that were being bandied around.
On Tuesday we broke our group of 70 into 8 groups to discuss a range of themes including employment opportunities, education choices, media portrayal, inspirational figures and where best to get advice. We had a further 2 'virtual tables', allowing the wider Radio 1 audience to participate via Twitter and Facebook. We’ve subsequently heard that, unprompted by us, whole classrooms got involved as part of their lessons.
After sharing stories, thoughts and opinions, our groups were challenged to condense their thoughts into a newspaper headline summing up how they felt and what they would do if they ran either Radio 1 or the whole country for the day.
'Degree or not degree' was undoubtedly my favourite headline– but behind that pun was a real desire to be given more options. Given the spiralling cost of a university education and the lack of guaranteed work at the other end of it, they were keen to explore other credible career paths.
Aside from this, other themes came through loud and clear as we went through their presentations: the young people in the room wanted a voice, inspiration, and most of all they are keen to be judged on individual actions – not as a homogenous group.
Finally they made it very clear that it was not enough for Radio 1 to have facilitated this discussion and to have heard what was said. They want us to act on it too.
We are therefore making a commitment that all of Radio 1’s social action work over the next 12 months will be guided by the output of the Big Conversation. The shape of this activity will be announced on 9th October, as part of Radio 1’s Teen Awards.
I actually told a small lie at the start of this blog. There was a hint of trouble, entirely caused by me. With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps providing trumpets, football rattles and vuvuzelas to liven up the feedback wasn’t the best idea. I can only apologise to all 8 floors of City Hall for disturbing their afternoon’s work.
Piers Bradford is Commissioning Editor, BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 1Xtra