A few weeks ago I went on a one day course at Cathy Fitzgerald’s relatively new school for audio storytellers, Strange and Charmed. The course I went on was called Voices From the Margins and was taught by Steve Urquhart. It focused on making audio pieces with vulnerable or marginalised people – so we spoke a lot about ethics and how to support participants during and after the production process.
Tl;dr: I had an amazing time and would recommend the courses wholeheartedly – everything from the location (it was so nice getting out of London and taking the train through the beautiful countryside), to all the audio we heard and the brilliant discussions we had over the course of the day. Cathy and Steve were also really encouraging to all of us, and very welcoming hosts.
One of the first things that happened when we kicked off the day was a pronoun check. I really appreciated that because it’s always nerve wracking meeting a new group of people and wanting to tell them my pronouns (he/him), but not being sure how they’ll react. When Steve instigated that, it took the pressure off and I was able to feel sorted and relaxed for the rest of the day.
We listened to lots of audio pieces and discussed the ethical considerations of each one. We also talked about practical things like consent forms – whether to use them, why they’re used, BBC requirements, the nature of consent and how it applies to making radio, and so on.
One thing I found really helpful was talking about what it is that subjects get out of taking part in radio stories. I think if there’s one thing the day revealed to me about my own attitude, it’s that I am quite cautious – I worry a lot about whether I’m putting someone out by asking to record with them, whether it’s all just self-serving, and how to protect a participant’s well being.
Cathy believes strongly in the idea that when you make radio, you give people a chance to be listened to; and that people appreciate that. Between Steve and Cathy, they helped me start to frame things more positively in my own head, and believe more strongly that we have something really great to offer people when we hand them the mic and ask for their perspective.
The biggest benefit of this course was the chance to discuss all the different aspects of working with marginalised people, with a) a radio producer with tonnes of experience doing just that, and b) a group of thoughtful people, who all brought different perspectives and opinions.
The location and environment of Strange and Charmed is also just really special. The room where we had the course was really cosy, so it felt like a proper retreat. And afterwards we took a walk up the hill and the views were incredible.
This course helped me deepen my understanding of the ethics of working with marginalised people, challenged me on my own over-cautiousness, and gave me a lot of practical ideas and approaches that will definitely help me to be a more conscientious radio maker.