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Over 2 million interactions with Local BBC Radio stations since lockdown

Chris Burns

Head of Audio and Digital

In the strangest of circumstances, 2020 continues to be a landmark year for Local BBC Radio stations. While behind the scenes we have had to adapt our guidelines to protect staff, our stations have never been more in touch with audiences.

The data shows this is true too. At the start of Lockdown all 39 stations across England launched Make A Difference - a virtual notice board for those offering help and those needing support. We have recently recorded that since then the stations have received over 2 million interactions from audiences.

The number of calls we continue to receive shows the power of community and the contribution local radio can make by getting closer to its listeners.

Radio has the power to bring people together and while COVID-19 is a global pandemic, its impact had been very localised and local radio has been uniquely placed to respond.

This has been particularly important with local lockdowns and now the tier system.

When Leicester became the first city to go into a local lockdown we extended the smart speaker news update service to Leicester, to help people there. We expedited the launch of a news service into Leicester in both English and Gujarati language. All news bulletins from BBC Radio Leicester were made available on-demand on Amazon Alexa-enabled devices to anyone who asks for the “BBC Radio Leicester Update” or “BBC Radio Leicester Gujarati Update”.

When the Liverpool City Region became the first area in the UK to go into Tier Three, BBC Radio Merseyside brought the Government press conference direct to listeners along with practical information on what the rules mean.

Our teams are cutting through confusion making sure listeners are both informed and given a platform to share their opinions.

The stations have stepped up in response to local unemployment too. BBC Radio Nottingham was the first station to launch a job campaign. Working in collaboration with the Department of Work and Pensions, and an army of career advisors and recruitment experts the station pledged to help find £10 million worth of work across Nottinghamshire. Since 16 other stations have followed promoting job vacancies and helping people find work.

Beyond the news, as well as plenty of entertainment, we have ensured listeners of all faiths have the opportunity to feel peaceful with weekly Hindu, Sikh and Islamic reflections and church services.

The Make A Difference across all the stations has become a touch point for heart-warming moments and the kindness of strangers.

It was the BBC Three Counties Radio Make A Difference team who first shared the story of Captain Tom Moore. He captured listeners’ hearts when he set out to do 100 laps of his garden before his 100th birthday to raise money for the NHS.

Soon, the rest of the world was cheering him on too, helping him to raise over £33million. In June, thousands of listeners showed their thanks by submitting a selfie salute in honour of Captain Tom Moore, to create a unique mosaic picture gift for his 100th birthday. The photos were uploaded from across the UK via the ‘Make a Difference’ website. Captain Tom was presented with a framed copy for his home.

In Essex a couple and their five pets were left camping out in the garden after their house caught fire, after a call to their local BBC station they moved into a house that evening.

On Radio Devon a key worker named Bob phoned in and said he was down to his last pair of decent shoes after walking five miles a day to work. With no internet access or shops open, he couldn’t find a new pair but a listener soon called in with a pair of size 12s to drop off for Bob.

Companionship has always been at the heart of BBC Radio but this year it has been more so than ever. That’s why earlier this month we launched our Pledge To Talk day. All 39 BBC stations across England asked audiences to make a pledge to talk to someone they haven’t spoken to recently.

There was the Cambridge student left feeling isolated in her first term at university who was reunited with her best friend from overseas. There was Sue in Worcestershire who told the story of our campaign reminding her to call her terminally ill friend and what it meant to have that last conversation with her. Presenters and reporters backed it too, even BBC Radio Surrey’s James Cannon catching up with his old pal from Capital Radio days - Tony Blackburn!

This Christmas that will be more important than ever. Our teams are already packing the station’s schedules with lots of surprises and opportunities for everyone to keep pulling together and helping out in their hometowns.

This year we have learnt a lot of lessons, and I am very glad that one of those appears to have been that, no matter what, you can always turn to your local BBC radio station.

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This week at the BBC: 24-30 October 2020