BBC Cymru Wales: A New Vision

Rhuanedd Richards writes about her vision for the BBC and promises to ensure it continues to play a vital role in supporting Wales as it emerges from the pandemic.

At the height of the pandemic, when the people of Wales were isolated at home in the uncertainty and confusion of their first lockdown, I took a phone call that I will never forget.

I was scurrying around the office at the time, ordering pieces of kit to allow our radio presenters to broadcast from home.

On the other end of the line was an elderly Welsh speaking woman from the Swansea Valley.  She’d called to tell me that the voices of our radio presenters on air were the only voices she had heard for many weeks.  

The caller wanted to say ‘diolch’ – to tell us how grateful she was for our companionship, for our news and information service, and for succeeding, against all odds, to keep our usual radio schedule on air.

The familiarity of the voices had brought her comfort during these unsettling times – the music and the stories of others had helped her escape the loneliness.

It was at that moment, I fully understood why what we do can mean so much.

We must make more impact and become more relevant to more people rather than super-serving the same people.”

I understood the privilege, and felt the responsibility, of being asked by audiences, at a cost to their pockets of £13.25 a month, to provide services which are critical to the way they live their lives and the decisions they make.     

During this time of uncertainty, the people of Wales have turned to BBC Wales’s TV, radio and online content more than at any other time since the turn of the century. At no other time since the Second World War has public service media felt as critical or as close to its audiences.

In BBC Wales, we have worked to be there when Wales needed us. We have continued to provide high quality news and public information, education services, entertainment, sport, culture and comedy in both English and Welsh, throughout it all. 

We’ve held governments to account, challenged authority, given a voice to the most vulnerable, brought diversity of thought and perspective to a world and a Wales which, at times, has felt polarised by opinion and events.

Audiences have tuned to our news in record numbers as increasingly they’ve come to appreciate the divergence in decision making between Wales and Westminster. And our recent coverage of the Senedd election results reached around half the adult population of Wales.

We have also sought to provide as much support as possible to the wider creative sector, commissioning  more content and working in partnership with organisations across the nation to assist our independent production companies whilst ensuring a pipeline of fantastic programmes to keep us going during the pandemic.

This past year has caused untold damage to our nation’s social and cultural life. 

Societies, clubs, choirs, theatres and musical groups from Caernarfon to Chepstow closed their doors; a vast voluntary network shuttered and silenced.

My fervent hope is that as we recover, BBC Wales can play a part in helping that healing process through a renewed spirit of collaboration and innovation, leading to even greater value for the audiences we serve. 

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As Wales reopens and reunites, we will be ready to fire the imagination of the nation and do even more to reflect the lives of our audiences on screen, on radio and online.  

And as well as celebrating what unites us, we will also celebrate our differences – the cultures, the backgrounds, the identities which enrich our experiences of life in Wales and we’ll ensure that the diversity of our communities is fully reflected across our services.

I want us to speak to the whole of Wales.  I live and have grown up in communities in the south Wales Valleys where for many people  the cost of living is a struggle which has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Having reported for BBC News in areas such as Newport, Ceredigion, Llandudno, Wrexham and Swansea, I know that across the nation, for many households difficult choices have to be made in dealing with everyday living costs.

These are the very people for whom we in BBC Wales should be providing even more –  empowering them with relevant information and entertainment, and reflecting their lives, their daily challenges and their hopes. Our services must be universally accessible and unmissable.

We must make more impact and become more relevant to more people rather than super-serving the same people.

Our workforce must be reflective of  audiences in Wales. This is how we truly create a sense that BBC Wales belongs to all.” 

  I will prioritise this by ensuring that our online and radio content, in particular, is targeted more effectively to areas and communities that we are currently not reaching. 

On TV and on the BBC iPlayer, we will ensure that across the breadth of our programmes we will also portray and represent the interests, localities and personalities which make up our diverse nation. 

The recent series of Keeping Faith attracted over 50 million streams on the BBC iPlayer, and The Pact hits screens across the UK this week.

We want to go further, which is why over the coming years  another priority will be to work with colleagues across the UK in order to increase the number of programmes created by BBC Wales on the network, and co-invest in titles which make even more noise from our nation.

We must tell the story of Wales and its people in a genuinely inclusive way.

Our programmes and services must reflect the distinctiveness of our national community, whilst also embracing the diversity of our people and reflecting the many cultures, identities, backgrounds and ethnicities which enrich our society and the BBC’s services. 

The same principle must apply to the recruitment of our staff.

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As a young girl growing up in Aberdare, even admittedly from a middle class family, I wouldn’t have dared to dream of pursuing a career in journalism through the BBC. 

It felt impossible, until, thanks to the encouragement of a school teacher, I was encouraged  to apply for work experience at the corporation  before later gaining a BBC scholarship to study broadcast journalism. 

I want young people from any community and all backgrounds, who have  a passion and skill for storytelling, to be able to believe that they too could thrive in BBC Wales.

Our workforce must be reflective of  audiences in Wales. This is how we truly create a sense that BBC Wales belongs to all. 

The BBC plans to double its commitment to apprentices, supporting 1,000 across the UK by 2025/26 and I fully expect that to mean that we’ll be significantly increasing the number of apprentices in Wales too.

We’re under no illusions as to what lies ahead. As the pandemic recedes, it will leave deep scars: bereaved families, economic disruption and a likely legacy of mental health issues.

“The need for public service broadcasting – the BBC along with others, such as ITV Wales and S4C – has never been greater.”

Society will have changed, but the need for public service broadcasting – the BBC along with others, such as ITV Wales and S4C – has never been greater.

We want to embrace our role as a critical part of public and democratic life in Wales – a key component of a complex civic infrastructure and provide that network for a diverse family of communities. And we will be ambitious and outward looking. 

We want to share our stories and the incredible talent both on and off screen across the UK and beyond like never before, doing even more to reconnect our audiences with the BBC, and our communities with each other. 

As BBC approaches its centenary, our aim will be to continue to make you proud of what your BBC Cymru Wales offers to audiences across the nation – of our contribution to creativity, of our value to the economy, of our support for the Welsh language and the standard of our content for audiences.

History suggests that the pandemic will be more than a footnote.

Let’s use this turning point to renew, regather and reimagine the next chapter for public service media – and shape how your BBC Cymru Wales does even more to serve audiences across the nation. 

All articles published on the welsh agenda are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

Rhuanedd Richards is Director of Content and Services for BBC Cymru Wales.

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