CMA Chair's Letter, March 2021

Prior to 6th March, our last AGM was 15 months ago. With all that has happened, that now seems a long time ago, almost a lifetime away.

Covid-19 has brought huge challenges to all our lives and the lives of the communities we serve. It has been amazing to see how community media has responded to these challenges. All over the UK local radio has stepped up in the national crisis to provide a crucial communications platform as well as directly intervening to help their fellow people.

Naturally, this has been a busy time for the CMA. Like so many of our members we are under-resourced and over-stretched but we thrive on the goodwill of our volunteers and staff to make things happen. Early in the pandemic Danny and Bill responded to the needs of members by requesting the Community Radio Fund was re-aligned as an emergency fund. They were also instrumental in securing the additional £200K from DCMS to create a third round of the Fund. This year has also seen working with BBC Local Radio enter a new stage of collaboration with the addendum to the 2015 MoU signed at the start of lockdown in 2020. This has enabled greater content sharing to the advantage of local radio audiences.

The CMA is a force for good and it is great hearing how the CMA has positively impacted on the work of those organisations I visit on my travels round the UK. The CMA, as far as I am aware, is the only organisation that employs someone to support community broadcasting. We need to value that, nurture it and protect it. Bill is an extraordinary resource for us that we should all appreciate. From the calls I get and the conversations I have I know so many of you do.

While the CMA has an encompassing agenda that supports members, and the fees are under-priced, in some sense the annual subscription is like paying for car insurance. You feel the pinch when the money leaves the account but boy are you grateful you did if you need to make a claim. Having someone on the end of the phone with 20 years experience in the sector to help steer and advise you when things go wrong is of immense value as we all face the challenges of delivering grassroots media. I was therefore absolutely delighted that the trustees of the Radio Academy recognised Bill’s unique and fundamental place in the radio industry by awarding him the Fellowship of the Academy.

I have been working in this sector for long enough to understand that there will always be people who prefer to focus their energies on knocking the positive contribution of others. At the CMA were are an open and tolerant organisation that respects the diversity of opinions and views of our members. We embrace and thrive on constructive criticism. What we do not tolerate is vexatious behaviour and the deliberate orchestration of time-wasting activity. The first duty of Council members is to safeguard the wellbeing of the organisation and those who work for it. Over the last year, it has emerged that the work of the CMA, and Bill’s work in particular, has been the subject of vexatious behaviour. This has directly affected our capacity to help others. No organisation should have to endure this. Council has seen fit to take the unprecedented action of removing an individual’s membership. This, in itself, was a lengthy process but one that was carried out within the guidelines of our constitution. As far as I am aware this action is unique in the history of the CMA and I trust the particular circumstances of this case means it will remain unique. While this has been an unpleasant business that we could all have done without it does show that Council is clearly prepared to act robustly in dealing with this kind of behaviour.

The CMA is serious about its work. We are refreshed and have a new Council of dynamic thinkers. I believe this Council will work in unison to build the capacity of the CMA so that it can do even more to help facilitate community media. The CMA has been going through a long period of readjustment from past times when it was resourced and structured differently. We need to now seize the initiative and embrace opportunity. There is no question in my mind that we need to increase our staffing resources and relieve Bill of shouldering all the responsibility for a national representative organisation. Here are the priorities I see for the next year:

  • Build a new and better-resourced staff structure for the CMA.
  • Create a new 5-year plan to replace the CMA’s 2016 Strategy. This will be a roadmap for growth.
  • Help rollout SSDAB and support our members to make the most of this opportunity.
  • Help secure the Community Radio Fund for the next 5 years and lobby for an increase in the amount the fund has available and enable it to fund and support projects for more than 1 year, so for example, 3-year business plans.
  • Build the proposition for paid PSAs through a national strategic approach.
  • Develop collaborative working with the BBC.
  • Work with DCMS to develop credible narratives and impact measurement of audiences and social impact.
  • Continue the process to convert to a Charitable Incorporated Organisation.
  • Put together an online spring event
  • Put together the annual community media conference later in the year to include online participation.
  • Introduce monthly Zoom sessions for members’ support.
  • Build the membership of the CMA with an inclusive approach to young people and emerging creative talent.

We will keep members updated with progress on these developments. I look forward to leading the organisation and working closely with Council and Bill to drive this exciting and positive agenda.

I would like to thank the retiring Council for the faith they put in me by electing me as Chair when Danny stepped down in November. This is my second stint as Chair and I return to a very different range of challenges for the CMA, its members and the sector. I am passionate about driving social mobility, inclusion and collaborative working. I see my role chairing the CMA working in unison with my work as a Radio Academy Trustee and chairing the Audio & Radio Emergency Fund. I look forward to building new partnerships that add to the social value and resilience of community and grassroots media.

I would like to pay tribute to my two predecessors who were also my two successors.

In 2015, Lucinda Guy stepped up and offered leadership at a crucial time for the CMA and without her lead, I don’t think we’d be around today. Lucinda stimulated a strategic review of the CMA and brought in a 5-year work plan. Danny Lawrence built on this stability and significantly influenced the CMA in being an outward-facing organisation. I welcome that Danny will continue to be central to our work as a special advisor to the CMA and helping manage our relationship with Ofcom.

A few others to mention. Janey Gordon is retiring from Council and as our Vice-Chair. I would like to thank Janey for her hard work and dedication. She has been instrumental in getting our charity application together and representing the interests of our members on the DCMS Audio & Digital Review which will soon be reporting. Janey will become one of our special advisors. Gloria Khamkar is retiring from Council after two years of service. Gloria has been a pleasure to work with and we wish her well with all her valuable work. Earlier in the year, we also said farewell to one of the CMA’s stalwart’s, Lol Gellor. Talking about Lol is beyond the scope of this report – most of you who know him would agree he probably justifies a report dedicated to just him! However, suffice to say with his sagacity and knowledge, I am proud to call him a mentor and will be calling on him for advice in his new home in Wales. From the previous Council Javed Sattar and Richard Hilton, who are long-serving members, will continue to contribute to the new Council. Both are invaluable to the organisation and I very much look forward to continuing working with them.

And there we have it. On the threshold of our renaissance, we have an exciting new Council that will be instrumental in building new opportunities for the CMA and our members over the next few years. Let us all work together to make this happen.