Cliff Manning, Radiowaves (Spotlight Project)

What is your project about? How long has it been running?
Radiowaves is a safe website and online community for 5-19 year olds to share their videos, podcasts and blogs. It allows young people to safely connect with others and report on their world in their own words. Membership is available to any school or group working with young people.

We started with a small project in 2002 which we wanted to make scalable and replicable for all schools to benefit from. Radiowaves won a BETT award for innovation in 2004 and since then the community has grown to over a thousand schools across the UK and also overseas. As well as schools we also work with local authorities, museums, football clubs, government departments and charities to help them consult with young people and involve them more fully in projects.

Describe your role on the project?
My own role currently is Communications Director but as a small company we have all had to wear many hats over the years from techy, to trainer to interviewee!!!

My main task at the moment is to let more people know about Radiowaves and all the fantastic content that is being made by young people everyday. It’s amazing, we have over 30,000 audio and video pieces on the site and so many people haven’t heard any of them yet.

As well as Radiowaves we also run NUMU and Teaching Music so my other role is to try and coordinate activity between them all – but it can be a bit like herding cats at times!!

What is the aim of your project?
Our big vision is to become the young people’s broadcasting channel. At its heart is an aim to use new technology to enable young people’s voices to be heard. We realise that this can only be done with the support of great teachers and practitioners so we try to make things that are genuinely useful and usable in education/community settings – we don’t let the technology get in the way – it should be fun not geeky.

How are children and young people involved in your project?
Radiowaves gives children and young people a safe place to be heard, meet others and share ideas. We want them to have as much control as possible so they have their own page where they can post blogs, pictures, and multimedia stories and get comments from others. All the content on the site is made by young people and we don’t put any restrictions on what they do apart from making it appropriate for the community and for use in schools etc.

We are starting to involve young people much more in the running of the site too – we are building a team of Radiowaves stars who act as mentors to others, help moderate content and design graphics and things. I think this is a really exciting development and an essential part of Radiowaves’ growth.

In September we are launching the Radiowaves Online Anti-bullying Club in partnership with the Mentoring and Befriending Foundation – this will mean young people can safely connect to a trained team of peer mentors and get access to support from other young people – which is great positive way to use technology when you hear so many negative things about young people and the web.

What has been the key outcomes/ learning from the project so far?
We’re learning new things every day from young people and from teachers/practitioners – particularly as technology changes so quickly and there are so many new education initiatives. But I think the main outcomes so far have been to learn how social media can be used in a positive, safe way and see how responsive and creative young people can be when given the chance to have their say.

What are the key success factors of the project?
Young people being engaged and being creative is huge factor. Another equally important one is for teachers and practitioners to feel confident and also to have fun using Radiowaves. In terms of the community we want all young people, schools and education groups to be able to benefit from being part of Radiowaves – that would be a huge success for everyone I think.

What have been the key benefits of the project to young people?
There’s something quite transformative about just asking a young person what they want to say and giving them a real audience to hear it. When a young person picks up a microphone or video camera for the first time you can see their confidence grow – especially if you then let them loose to interview an adult!!!

As well as developing core skills like speaking, listening literacy, team work etc everyone on Radiowaves also benefits from developing their online, social media skills. This is a whole new area of life that didn’t exist a few years ago and we’ve no idea where it’s going to go but by using Radiowaves and being part of a safe, positive community young people and teachers can build the skills they will need to take advantage of this new environment. It’s an exciting thing to be part of.

What barriers have you experienced when setting up and delivering the project and how were they overcome?
We started Radiowaves long before itunes and podcasting, iplayer and facebook and all that so initially the barrier was just explaining the concept to people. Now that is changing fast but we still find teachers and practitioners are scared about giving young people control, or allowing them to be as creative as we would like. We want to be innovative so that we stay relevant to young people so we will always have barriers to face I guess.

In your opinion, what has been the most significant thing about this project in terms of engaging children and young people to participate in decision-making/ have their say?

The negative stereotyping of young people is so strong these days it’s depressing – but Radiowaves and NUMU have over 20,000 young people from all over the world who are working together everyday to create dramas, music, animations, campaign for change and learn from each other. This shows that they are engaged and do have valuable things to say if we want to hear them.

If you could give your top tip to anyone who wants to develop a project in this area what would it be?
There’s a few things which I’ve found are useful over the years: Don’t get geeky, put young people at the centre but make sure the teachers and practitioners get just as much love, work very, very, very hard, be prepared to learn lots and have fun!

For more information or to join Radiowaves contact or call 0113 2469989.

Participation Works is a partnership of…
British Youth CouncilChildren's Rights Alliance for EnglandKIDSNational Council for Voluntary Youth ServicesNational Youth AgencyNCB