Francesca in action
Could you give us a little background on where the idea for the podcast came from?
We set it up to explore the different sides of Hackney - it's one of Britain's poorest places but culturally one of its richest and most exciting. We wanted to combine local politics, environmental issues and everyday lives with art, literature and music. Part of it is about experimentation - we're professional programme makers and the Hackney Podcast provides a space with no rules, a platform to push the boundaries of traditional programme making. In our Kingsland Road edition and in the latest water-themed edition, we used sound design, environmental recordings, new music, poetry, readings, and commentary to allow residents to hear their neighbourhood in a completely different way.
How difficult was it to set up, and to keep the monthly momentum going?
Technically it’s extremely easy to set up a podcast. For the online bit we use iWeb which has a podcast template that we’ve tinkered with which sends the programmes automatically to iTunes. Creating the audio is also pretty straightforward. We record using our own microphones with hard disc recorders and we edit on a variety of sound editing programmes on our computers at home. Making quality podcasts isn’t expensive or difficult, you just need good microphone technique and a novel way of approaching a subject.
Keeping the momentum going isn’t hard either. Hackney has endless stories and interesting characters to interview. The problem is less material, and more finding time to do it. We could make a weekly programme easily, but we fit it around our full time jobs!
It's beautifully produced, and I know you have a producer's background, but do you use a professional studio to make this?
None of the material is recorded in a studio. It’s part of our philosophy for the podcasts. The programmes are about the borough so all material should have the sound of the area. All “links” (the formal bits of radio shows that tell you where you are and why) are recorded “on location” (ie out and about in the area).
What has been your most rewarding experience putting the podcast together?
It’s always most rewarding talking to everyday people. Stopping people on the street to interview them can be daunting but can lead in to unexpected and interesting conversations. It’s a real opportunity to engage with our local community, ask questions that without a microphone you would never dream of asking. Then there is the sense of real community action, or creating meaningful dialogue, when we manage to take these concerns to the decision makers in the borough and hold them to account as we did with fears of the Ridley Road market traders who wished answers from our Mayor Jules Pipe.
Do you have any plans to expand beyond a local podcast? For example, a community website/forum for Hackney residents...video podcast...etc.
As online local communities grow we’d like to grow too. It could be in the way we collect and produce audio (we’re keen to get more professional radio and podcast producers involved in the programmes) or it could be the kind of content we are generating. Our only criteria is innovative and high quality content.
And geographically, it'd be wonderful to see similar podcasts for the other 31 boroughs. Do you have any plans to expand to other areas? If not, any advice for someone who might be interested in recreating your idea elsewhere?
We’d love to see other boroughs in London creating their own podcasts. In fact we’d like to see a global network of local podcasts. It’s outside our capacity to produce more content at the moment but we’d happily work with other teams. Our main piece of advice is the same advice for any good journalism. What story are you trying to tell and how can you best do that?
Good London podcasts are a rare thing. Can you recommend any others?
Visit London and the Guardian are producing six travel podcasts this autumn which will be insider guides to the capital. The series kicks off next week with a tour around Vyner street’s art scene with Jessica Lack.
Despite all it has to offer, many Londoners will not have been to Hackney. Can you suggest three things in the borough that everyone should visit?
The hide at Hackney’s Waterworks is not just for bird fanatics. It’s a peaceful place to spend an afternoon, peering out at the herons and moorhens (although they claim there is far more exotic birdlife to be found there) and the surrounding Hackney marshes provided vast quantities of blackberries this year.
Hackney Wick’s new impromptu flea market gives you an undercover glimpse of the art scene. I found quite a nice striped teapot there last weekend, it’s also an interesting area for fans of industrial architecture.
We love Cafe Oto, the music programming, its Berlin vibe, and are pleased it’s started to serve food.
And tell us one piece of trivia about the area that not even Iain Sinclair would know.
Studio A at The Premises on Hackney Road is solar-powered
Have you ever been sick on the Tube?
No, there are no tubes in Hackney. Everyone cycles!
The Hackney podcast is produced monthly, and is available via iTunes. The next podcast will go live at the end of October, tackling betting in Hackney (with an interview with mayor Jules Pipe and photographer Stephen Gill), a bat walk around Hackney Marshes, and a London Review of Breakfasts review of the Bruncheon Club, one of the areas 'underground resteraunts'.