The green shoots of recovery are starting to poke through in Austerity Shropshire. Entrepreneurial creative workers are moving to plug the gaps left by organisations who have cut back during the double dip recession.
In recent years, the BBC and ITV are two organisations who have both been forced to re-imagine their budgets in the face of huge cuts. Their once daily diet of televisual Shropshire news and features has been one of the victims – but that has created a gap in the market for a new Shropshire-only station, called County Channel TV.
Co-founders Robert Harper and Geoff Ward are keen to pick up some of the stories and features that the Beeb and ITV no longer has the resources to cover. Their aim is to serve up regular content that is just as good as the programming offered by the nation’s biggest stations.
Robert said: “Geoff and I noticed that the big channels could no longer afford to send camera crews and presenters to Shropshire to cover really interesting stories. We live in an amazing county, which looks great and is full of people doing interesting things, so we decided to launch a TV station just for Shropshire.
“County Channel TV went live in September and the response has been great.”
It doesn’t try to compete with terrestrial channels, nor with local newspapers. For one thing, the investment required would run into the millions – money that Robert and Geoff simply don’t have. Instead, they have focused on an internet-only set-up, which provides online viewers with a taste of Shropshire Life.
They are working with new presenters, editors, cameramen and crew to produce high-end programmes. They shine the spotlight on the work of community groups, arts organisations, sports enthusiasts and others.
Robert added: “Both Geoff and I have backgrounds in TV and performing arts. I trained as an actor and had a good career, doing plenty of voice overs and theatre as well as working on sitcoms, programmes like The Bill and The Bench, and also being part of the BBC Radio Drama Company for a year, in London.
“My wife and I moved to Shropshire to found a big mail order company but in recent years I decided to move back into media. I met Geoff last year, who has a background as a TV cameraman, and since then we’ve been trialling the County Channel.
“We’re really doing it because of the lack of proper local content on our TV stations. There’s no longer any regular programmes that are specific to Shropshire. The majority of the broadcasters are letting go of local regional content because they can’t afford to send crews from London or Manchester, Birmingham or Edinburgh.
“When people think of local TV, they think of a lower standards. But County Channel is rigorous about being as good as anything else out there. There’s a niche for high quality programmes and they could easily be syndicated to national stations.”
County Channel steers clear of local news: it can’t compete with the region’s daily newspaper in providing an up-to-the-minute stream of content to viewers. Instead, it focuses on human interest stories about local people.
One programme looked at the importance of volunteers to the local community by looking at the importance of work at Attingham Park. Another featured south Shropshire blacksmith Roy Abbot who tested his metal in a programme about the age-old craft. While a third programme featured wildlife artist and writer Ben Waddams, who began a regular exploration of the county’s wild places by searching for one of Britain’s most ferocious predatory fish, the pike.
County Channel also focuses on Shropshire’s movers and shakers. In one programme, it showcased the community film group, Noise in Oswestry, who produced a portrait of local letter cutter John Neilson.
Robert added: “The programme about Noise In Oswestry was a really good example about how we work. We want people from the county to be involved because there are some really talented folk out there.
“We got in touch with Noise in Oswestry and gave them a helping hand. They came back with a really interesting programme about local arts. We’re very keen to collaborate with similar groups. We want to work with people across all sections of society; from young enthusiastic students to seasoned professionals who find themselves with time on their hands.”
In coming months, County Channel will turn its gaze to other on-going stories, including the long-running saga of the Condover Mammoth. It will also host a huge event at the Lord Hill Hotel, in Shrewsbury, in September, in a bid to raise £25,000 for the Lingen Davies Cancer Fund.
Robert said: “We are planning a live six-hour telethon at the Lord Hill Hotel, featuring plenty of local entertainers, presenters, guests and features. We’ll have a headline slot from Fight The Bear, the Bishop’s Castle band who played at Shrewsbury Fields Forever, plus more besides.
“The programme will be broadcast from 7.30pm to 1.30am on November 30.”
People with ideas for programmes or who would like to be featured can contact County Channel via its website at www.countychannel.tv and viewers can also tune in to the station’s telethon at that address.
The channel’s new programmes are previewed in the Shropshire Star’s Ticket supplement on a Friday.