Digital Voice for Communities, a Gateshead based community interest company providing a range of bespoke media projects for communities across the North East, was established in 2007. Comprised of 30 freelance associates and 12 volunteers, Digital Voice works under the ethos of harnessing the power of the media to motivate personal development and to provide a voice, specialist support and fair access for groups often excluded from media participation. This generates approximately £100,000 per annum through contracted work.
The social enterprise works under two main strands – ‘Learn Hands On’ projects, which provide individuals and communities with a storytelling experience whilst encouraging the development of vocational and personal skills such as team working, and its ‘Communicate your Message’ projects, which involves Digital Voice working with a variety of organisations and community groups to get their message across. They offer OCN (Open College Network) accreditation courses in some of their media production courses and Facilitation Skills for Media Professionals.
Founders Olwyn Hocking and Julie Nicholson share their wealth of experience alongside their dedicated freelance team and volunteer base to bring together a tailored team for each project Digital Voice delivers, which provide a voice for under-represented communities and increased the skills of communities across the region.
Digital Voice’s recent projects have included ‘media4me’ which saw the enterprise, in partnership with Gateshead Council’s Ethnic Minority and Traveller Achievement Service, work with Traveller families in Gateshead over a two year period, providing the equipment and skills to help them produce a range of media, including short films, animations, photo stories and photo stills, depicting their way of life.
As part of Truth About Youth, a Co-operative Foundation funded project run in partnership with the North East’s Regional Youth Work Unit, Digital Voice has worked with groups of young people, aiding them in the production of a video and animations that explores perceptions of youth with the aim of challenging negative attitudes and stereotypes about young people.
The enterprise’s ‘A Digital Voice for Gateshead’ project, a year long programme funded by the European Social Fund, involved Digital Voice working with ten priority groups in Gateshead, including female refugees and asylum seekers, BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) groups, people with learning disabilities and young parents. The project provided workshops in multimedia skills, such as photography and VJ (video jockey) performance, with the aim of increasing employability and teamwork skills and culminated in a live performance at Gateshead’s Old Town Hall.
Digital Voice’s work has gained recognition for its benefit to communities – in 2008, Julie and Olwyn were short-listed in the North East Women Entrepreneur of the Year Award Best Newcomer category. More recently, in March of this year, Digital Voice was awarded the Social Enterprise Mark, becoming the first media company in the region to be awarded the Mark. The social enterprise attributes its success to the sound business advice it received from Gateshead Council’s Economic Development Service in its start-up phase and further advice in strategic planning from Business Link. Yet what really contributes towards Digital Voice’s success is in its belief of seeing itself as any other small business – as its scale of operation has grown to working with thousands of individuals, the enterprise has found it invaluable to have in place proper project management, back office and capacity building systems.
In the coming years, the enterprise hopes to build on its ‘A Digital Voice for Gateshead’ project and work with more adult groups to provide employability skills. “We have found it very rewarding to help put people on the path back to work, and due to the success of past projects are confident that this initiative can make a difference”, says Olwyn. Overall, Digital Voice looks forward to working with more and more diverse communities across the region, furthering its aim of giving the disadvantaged a voice.
Julie Nicholson on 01207 438 718/07905 737 393