As a school, we place huge value on playing an active and responsible role within our local community, something which is more important than ever at the moment as we all continue to face the challenges and struggles of a pandemic that has affected so many aspects of our daily lives.
We’ve been speaking to a voice of our local community, Simon Parkin, a presenter on BBC Radio Somerset, to find out what his experiences have been of broadcasting during a pandemic and the light he has found from hearing stories of generosity and kindness.
As a radio presenter, you are naturally quite immersed in news and current affairs, how have you found being on air throughout an incredibly difficult year? Has your approach to your job changed at all?
My working day hasn’t changed that much, in that I’ve been getting up at the same time and going into work at the studio in Taunton every day, which has been brilliant to have that routine and to give me a sense of normality. In terms of my approach, that hasn’t really changed too much either, as whilst there’s been one story that’s dominated the headlines, my job has always been to cover often difficult stories, talking to guests who might be emotional about their experiences and to hopefully make both the interviewees and the listeners feel comfortable. So despite the arrival of Covid and that it’s been ever present since, the nuts and bolts of my job are still the same as they always were.
Has the content of your show changed since the pandemic began last spring?
As you can imagine, everything changed massively at the beginning of the pandemic. Covid dominated all of our output and so it was essential that we got both the tone and the balance right. We had to make sure that the scary statistics and facts were covered sensitively, but also we had to reflect the incredible kindness that you couldn’t move for especially at the very start, with community groups and individuals all going the extra mile to help others. It was so lovely to be able to broadcast positive stories at a time of such sadness and uncertainty.
During the past year, have you felt more responsibility than usual to deliver a show that provides positivity and hope to your listeners?
We’re very lucky at BBC Radio Somerset that we have very reactive listeners who will call up to tell us if they like or don’t like what we’re doing. It’s not an exact science but it’s a useful yardstick of opinion and so my producer Vicki and I knew almost straight away that doing what we normally do, interesting guests, funny stories and a daily quiz were still important to keep a bit of ordinary routine but that we’d also have to cover the essential updates about the virus as and when they came. Hopefully we’ve managed to keep things trundling along with more than a few smiles and sadly a fair few tears along the way too.
With more people spending time at home during the past year, has there been any noticeable change to the demographic listening to your show?
In the first lockdown, when pretty much everything closed, we did notice more people calling up to have a go at our daily quiz or to share their stories on the random phone in subjects we covered. Lots of people who were suddenly home working or furloughed found us and it was lovely that they obviously liked what they heard and wanted to get involved. Thankfully as the months have gone by we’ve heard from them again and so hopefully, despite the world moving on, they are still listening to and enjoying what we do.
Who’s been the most inspirational person you’ve interviewed in 2020?
I’ve been lucky enough to speak to some amazing people whilst doing my job. To single out one is almost impossible…but I’ll give it a go! I had the pleasure of chatting several times to Sue Jones before, during and after she climbed to the International Space Station! She was raising money for a charity that supports victims of domestic abuse, something she knew about from personal experience and she was climbing the 1.3 million vertical feet…or 253 miles if you’d prefer…between earth and the ISS on her loft ladder. She’d had to put cushions around the bottom of it, at the insistence of her daughter, because loft ladders are quite fiddly and you can easily slip. It took her and 66 other people who also joined in several months, but when it was all over it was not just a fantastic fundraising effort and a selfless act of kindness in these unusual times but also recognised as a world first achievement!
How have the logistics of producing a radio show changed during the pandemic?
There are fewer people in the office in Taunton but that hasn’t had too much of an impact on the way the programme works. The main difference is that we now speak to all of our guests via the phone or Skype or Zoom, whereas pre pandemic we’d have been allowed to meet them face to face. On the plus side due to the ongoing “stay at home” message most guests are now always available! But it does mean we haven’t been able to go out for live broadcasts. We had planned to take the programme to Wimbledon and The Chelsea Flower Show but sadly it was not to be.
Have you had any days when you’ve found it really difficult to be on air?
Like most people I’ve had good days and bad days throughout all of this, but I’m so lucky that doing the job that I do, I get to talk to interesting and inspiring people on the air every single day. So even a day that starts with stress, upset and grouchiness ends with a smile and on a much happier note, because of the quirky twists and turns the conversations with the guests have taken and the way the listeners have reacted.
Have you had any moments at work during the past year which really brought home how this virus has changed the way we live?
Talking to listeners who were shielding and hadn’t left their houses for months. Chatting to people who were being paid to stay at home and not work. Hearing from a child who had just finished doing a maths lesson from their living room. Learning that a walking football team were still able to train together albeit apart by doing keepy ups on zoom in their gardens! Pretty much every person I’ve spoken to, has told me something that’s made me think “oh that’s new…!”
What is something you have felt more grateful for during the past year?
My son was in his last year of university when the pandemic struck, so after the first lockdown he moved back into the family home and my daughter had been living in Hull but she got a new job based in Bristol (although she’s working from home) so she came home too. So I’m so pleased that even though there’s been way more washing to be done and use of the tv remote isn’t always granted, as a family to be all together whilst we’re going through this makes us exceptionally lucky.
Do you have any lockdown survival tips?
Make sure there’s always a packet of chocolate biscuits somewhere within reach!