A guest post by Khaliq Meer, Commissioning Executive, BBC Sounds Audio Lab
Back in early 2020, during the chaos of Covid, confusion of Lockdown and groundswell of anger following the death of George Floyd, any certainty to be had felt short-lived and the p word (pandemic) was starting to take hold in unimaginable ways. I still find it hard to revisit that time but thankfully, our collective desire to keep it moving saw us adapt and evolve in all kinds of ingenious ways.
Podcasting grew new branches to accommodate the ‘stay at home’ majority – easily accessible to budding story tellers, important new voices and fresh perspectives.
Some of the questions BBC Sounds was already busy answering pre-pandemic took on greater importance, such as, how else can we reflect the lives of BBC audiences across the UK? And how to continue to support new talent with diverse experiences for the benefit of the whole sector? I don’t need to remind anyone that if we want to attract new and future audiences to our platforms and channels, our slates and activities need to mirror more of their worlds…
It led us to Audio Lab – a new space from BBC Sounds, designed to incubate distinctive ideas and accelerate production skills. We awarded grassroots podcasters and emerging audio creatives ‘supported commissions’ they couldn’t otherwise get, either due to not having enough professional experience or had been previously turned off by hurdles they had little chance of clearing.
We decided to go all in by teaching; mentoring and creating ‘on the job’, and most importantly, committed to publishing everyone’s ideas when they were still a few words in an application form. Our point of difference to everyone else’s “Lets wait and see if you can…” was “Let’s make sure you will…” and they didn’t disappoint.
Six months later, Tommy Dixon was awarded the ARIA Gold for Best New Podcast - 2023. It was humbling for Audio Lab and a massive shot in the arm for Tommy’s vision for Colouring in Britain. Take a listen and also check out Blossom Trees & Burnt-Out Cars by Talia Randall; The Film We Can’t See by Adam Zmith; The Reset by Jade Scott; Who was Michael X? by Hamza Salmi and The Museum of Bad Vibes by Hanna Adan. Once again, many congrats Tommy and all our first year trailblazers!
Now, I’m thrilled to share the new group with you - chosen from hundreds of applicants earlier in the year.
One of the many developments this time sees us embed each creator with production partners - across the UK. They’re expert audio and podcast teams, already making some of the nations most listened to audio. Welcome to BBC Scotland production, BBC Long Form Audio in Salford, BBC Audio Pop & Speech production in London and first time BBC audio commissions for two independents – Three Arrows Media in Manchester and Mags Creative in London.
May Robson joins BBC Scotland to develop The Commons (w/t) - meeting people embracing ‘collective ownership’ to improve their lives and communities, including the transforming abandoned streets into homes they spite to live in and turning a former pub into a safe space for an LGBTQ+ community.
George Powell is supported by Long Form Audio, part of BBC News in Salford. This Field Remains (w/t), explores the impact of Stanlow Oil Refinery on Ellesmere Port in the Wirral. 2024 marks the centenary of oil refinement in the area. Is it still an essential local lifeline or more of a failed industrial project?
Taqwa Sadiq and the BBC Audio Speech & Music team in London join forces for Sacred Money (w/t), exploring the concept of ‘zakat’ - a compulsory charity donated by Muslims all over the world. Can it change how the UK views wealth and sharing that wealth around our communities?
Anouska Lewis joins Mags Creative for Hometown Boring? (w/t), spotlighting undesirable towns and cities. Do their recent histories paint a different picture and is popular opinion popular for the wrong reasons?
Seun Matiluko and Three Arrows Media come together over Talking Drum (w/t), paying homage to the much-loved West African instrument – used to accompany storytelling. What will it tell us about the lives and legacies of Africans in Britain today?
I can’t wait to hear these ideas as multi-episode series by the end of the year. I’ll be sure to return with an update but for now, you’re invited to hear what the ARIA judges described as “refreshing, invigorating, thought-provoking and very timely” over on BBC Sounds. I’d love to know what you think?
Commissioning Executive - Audio Lab