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Radio hits the right wavelength

This year's Edinburgh Festival provided a platform for young people who live on the outskirts of the city to develop the skills needed to run a community radio project. Anne Cowan reports.

It started on the first Monday morning of the Edinburgh Festival. Rooms in the Methodist Church Halls in the city's Nicolson Square had been made available by Sacro, the national voluntary organisation that aims to reduce offending. A 14-strong group of 14 to 19-year-olds from the city's outlying schemes met to take part in a community radio project, run by Edinburgh-based company Media Education.

By the Friday, the participants had reviewed fringe shows, interviewed performers and tourists on the Royal Mile, recorded, edited and produced two to three-minute items for radio. The finished work was slotted in to programmes on local stations Central FM, Radio Borders and Moray Firth Radio.

"It isn't just about bringing young people in from Craigmillar, Wester Hailes and Pilton for hands-on radio and media work," says Martin Hutchinson, a youth worker based at Castlebrae Community High School. "It's to get them involved. We want them to experience the Fringe, to feel part of the press pack. Yes, they learn new skills, but it's about boosting self-esteem too." Over the next two weeks women's groups and people with learning difficulties also got a turn.

At the initial warm-up session there is role playing as either interviewer or interviewee. Even when working in pairs, this can still be daunting at first. However, these young people have opted for media education and are motivated. Some of them are easy and natural with the microphone.

The next stage is learning to use recording equipment - the standard digital audio tape (DAT) machine and state-of-the-art Sony mini-disc recorder. Practical vox-popping out in the streets follows, and back at base there are plenty of volunteers to teach editing and mixing.

Throughout the week, opportunities arose to come together in the hall to meet performers, working journalists and local politicians. David Ben Ayreah, an award-winning consultant to CNN and NBC, gave a talk on the ethics of broadcasting. Members of Fringe companies dropped in to perform and discuss. Visitors included the Mapapa Acrobats from Kenya and Jerry Hardin of The X-Files. The group was also shown how to write a review of a show.

Wednesday was the day for picking up press tickets and heading off in twos and threes for the appropriate theatre, exhibition space, studio, church hall or any of 199 other venues. Friday's evaluation sheets, filled in by each of the aspiring reporters, showed this to be the most popular aspect of the work. "Going to the shows", "meeting people" and "talking to people" appeared again and again. The highlight for John Williamson of Craigmillar was simply "being trusted with the equipment".

Fifteen-year-old Charlene Richardson from Greendykes enjoyed everything about her week on the Fringe. "I learned new skills" she said. "I want to keep my options open and see more aspects of the media before making decisions. It made me think."

Mhairi Robertson Eprile (23) from Pilton, and a member of one of the women's groups, took part in week two. "I'm a member of Second Chance to Learn. There's a creche here at Media Education, so my four-year-old daughter was there while I was doing the radio work. I don't want her to walk away from exams as I did. I've loved everything about this week. You get a lot of help. It gives you confidence."

Forty-eight-year-old grandmother Babs Jeeva from Wester Hailes found that interviewing was her forte. "It's my thing," she said. "Being keen on theatre helps." She intends to approach local radio stations with ideas.

The only negative responses on the appraisal sheets were comments such as "editing is boring", "I didn't like hanging about" and one unprintable comment about a show.

Among other projects, Iain Shaw and his team at Media Education have tackled anti-smoking for Dumfries and Galloway and media training for employees of the Greater Glasgow Health Board, tailoring courses to their clients' requirements. With financial cuts resulting in the demise of drama centres, and the cost of bussing pupils to wider horizons soaring, the trend could be towards more schools buying in packages such as those offered by Media Education.

Details of courses and prices from Media Education, 3 Grosvenor Crescent, Edinburgh EH12 5EP, tel: 0131 225 6878.

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