Radio tuned in to the needs of looked-after children

February 18, 2010

Residents of a London children’s home take to the airwaves with their own radio station

Radio 66 may have no big-name presenters, but it does have the cult of youth. Operating out of a north London children’s home, none of the station’s programme content is produced by anyone over the age of 17. It is radio by looked-after children for looked-after children.

David, wearing a Superman baseball cap and T-shirt, is one of the six permanent residents at the home. One of the founders of Radio 66, ­Nigerian musician Leke Awoyinka, is showing him how to use a drum machine. They are recording stings – the short pre-recorded adverts for a station or programme – and a poem written by Laquita, another resident, who has just been on an outing to a university.

Awoyinka tries to encourage Laquita to read out the poem she wrote about the visit, but she is anxious; last year, she auditioned for The X ­Factor, but says her nerves got the better of her.

All in all, visiting a university was a bit of a shock to Laquita’s system. “The people all looked the same – posh,” she says. “They were shocked when I dropped my fag end on the floor. Don’t worry, I picked it up!”

Eventually, Laquita records her poem. It ends: “My visit has taught me lots about uni life/Makes me want to throw away my knife.” She doesn’t actually own a knife, she explains, but does know people who have been stabbed.

On Radio 66, the teenagers can talk, and sing, about whatever they like. Sponsored by the London borough of Camden, the half-hour programmes are put together and then streamed on the web to other looked-after children in the area. There are plans for a broader licence and live broadcasting.

Although the content is aimed specifically at children in care, Awoyinka says the professional quality of the content is key. “I wouldn’t want to do this project if it was just kids recording some silly songs,” he says. “We make good tunes.”

Standing out, and fitting in, is an issue for all the children at Radio 66. Shantel, who plays trombone with a jazz band and orchestra, has been living at the home for almost a year, but says getting settled takes time. “The hardest thing has been building up my room, getting my clothes, my pictures on the wall, my trombone,” she says. “Whatever people think about children in care, we’re just like other teenagers.”

Her friend, Patrick, agrees. He came to the home as a former rough sleeper, but is now designing the Radio 66 web page. Patrick says he hopes the project will change negative ideas about looked- after children, but adds that that is not the biggest benefit. “The worst thing about living in a home is that everything I do is recorded,” he says. “I sneeze and it’s logged. I have no personal space whatsoever. Radio 66 is my space to record what I want.”

• The names of residents have been changed

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