Our Story – Radio for Community Wellbeing

Soar Sound, based in Leicester, is a Community Interest Company (CIC) that aims to enrich the local and wider community through radio and media. It seeks to educate, support well-being, foster economic development and employment, and provide engaging and entertaining content. Soar Sound focuses on creating a platform for community-driven media production, offering opportunities for interactive programming, volunteer participation, and involvement in community events and initiatives. It emphasises the importance of inclusivity, interaction, and involvement to connect meaningfully with listeners.

At our first meeting on 2nd March 2024, held at Phoenix Arts in Leicester, a group of volunteers came together to gauge the level of support there might be for establishing a new station, with the aim of serving residents in both Leicester and Leicestershire. About thirty people attended the meeting, many with extensive experience of working in community radio, in addition to IT specialists, public engagement specialists, and broadcast engineering specialists.

River Soar by Mike Watson
The bridge over the River Soar in Abbey Park by Mike Watson

The attendees at this inaugural meeting agreed that the new service would take the name Soar Sound, based on the River Soar that runs through the heart of Leicester, which is a well-known landmark that represents the connection between the city and the county. The Soar has a rich history, dating from Roman times, through to its function as the main transport artery in and out of the city during the industrial revolution. Today the River Soar is increasingly a wildlife haven as the river’s natural splendour connects Birstall and Blaby, Aylestone Meadows and the National Space Centre.

Sour Sound was formally established on 4th March 2024, when the name of the CIC was changed with Companies House, and new directors were appointed. These new directors joined two remaining directors from LCR2, Ian Green and Dee Degnan, to help them develop and promote Soar Sound as an access-based station, with a community mission to support wellbeing, employability and promote economic development. Dee and Ian have been joined by John Coster, Sam Hunt and Rob Watson as directors. Each brings with them many years of experience of radio broadcasting, community engagement, business development, education and research experience.

On Saturday 10th March, the Directors held their first formal meeting, again at Phoenix Arts in Leicester. They allocated roles, confirming the appointment of Sam Hunt as the station broadcasting compliance officer and point of contact with Ofcom. Other roles allocated include: Rob Watson acting for organisation development; John Coster for stronger communities; Ian Green for people and volunteer engagement; Sam Hunt for operations and events, and Dee Degnan for financial management. It was confirmed at the meeting that a change of control notice update had been submitted to Ofcom with the names of the new directors. The station name change was confirmed by Ofcom on 12th March.

John Running a Citizens Eye Session at BBC Leicester 2014
John Running a Citizens Eye Session at BBC Leicester 2014

John Coster, has over twenty years of experience supporting community engagement projects in Leicester, having run Citizens Eye and now the Documentary Media Centre. John said that he sees Soar Sound as “an opportunity to realise the potential of community radio to serve the needs of both its internal community, its volunteers, and its external community, its listeners.”

Ian and Mandy at Radio Gwendolen 2015
Ian and Mandy in the Radio Gwendolen studio

Ian Green, who supported Radio Gwendolyn for many years, said he is happy to see a new station come together so quickly, because people in our communities need cheering up, and need to have friends in their media they can trust, who they look forward to spending some time with. “Hospital radio,” Ian said, “always tried to be a friend who wanted to cheer you up, and that’s what I hope to see with Soar Sound.”

Dee Degnan has been involved with the governance and administration of many community groups over the years. For Dee, ensuring that Soar Sound is run correctly, and that every penny is accounted for, will be essential to proving that Soar Sound can be trusted by our volunteers, partners and listeners. Dee said, “It would be easy to get carried away with the on-air side of Soar Sound, but if we can’t manage our books and pay our bills, then we would be letting the people who depend on our station down.”

Sam Hunt has been involved with several different community and commercial radio stations over the years, and he is happy to bring his technical and business expertise to support Soar Sound. Sam said, “I was reluctant to get involved with another radio project so soon after leaving my last project, but I was persuaded by the passion of the volunteers, who wanted to see a new service flourish. One that they could be proud of.”

Rob Teaching Community Radio in Bangkok 2012
Rob Teaching Community Radio in Bangkok 2012

Rob Watson has been involved in community radio since 2006, running several RSL stations, and then taking DemonFM from a student only station to a community station. Rob said, “I worked hard to complete my PhD in Community Media, and it’s been challenging to find a group of people in Leicester who want to develop a broad-based radio station that bridges across the many communities who call Leicester home.” Rob added, “this is the best chance we’ve got of getting this right, and setting an example for other community media projects around the country in the future.”

All of the Directors of Soar Sound are committed to providing a broad-based radio service that helps people in practical ways, by linking them with different local support services, informing them about upcoming community activities, and inspiring them to learn more about the city and county, and the people that live, work and study here. Soar Sound recognises there are many ways we can all take advantage of the educational opportunities that we all need throughout our lives, then as we seek to improve the quality of our lives, our employability and the quality of our civic engagement.

Rob Watson said, “at a time when BBC Radio Leicester’s services have been cut, with their programmes amalgamated across other stations in the region, and when commercial radio is almost totally brand-led, with no meaningful presence in the city and county, the challenge is to provide programmes and content that helps people, while being entertaining and acting as a trusted good companion.”

Keep visiting the Soar Sound website for more news and information about the work that our volunteers, partners and supporters are doing, as the station is established, and we push the boundaries of what is expected of radio as a platform for local people who care about all communities across Leicester and Leicestershire.