Making Lives on the Lines for Greater Anglia during Covid-19
When creating branded audio content, beginning with a rich palette of stories, subjects and individuals makes programme production a joy.
One such example of this happened last year, when Greater Anglia rail's PR department approached my colleagues at Fresh Air Production to develop a series showcasing stories and highlights from along their 6 rural branch lines. As someone with a love of rail journeys, hidden histories and our great British landscape, it was a gift to be able to work on this programme. After those first months of isolation, Summer arrived and Covid restrictions began to relax. Thinking we were on the path to normality, location recording was back on the menu - even if it was now a more complex offering.
A wealth of stories
The diverse landscapes, history and culture of the East Anglian regions presented us with infinite stories. For Greater Anglia and their Community Rail Partnerships, we designed a programme that put individual voices and experiences front and centre. In this way we were able to introduce and explore different locations via the people who live and work there.
The Community Rail Partnerships behind the series work to embed rail in the heart of their local communities. Stretching across Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Essex and Suffolk, these partnerships exist between the rail company, local government and local communities to keep these branch line connections vibrant and relevant. Members of the public also work together on gardening, creative community art projects and station stewardship under the station adoption scheme. This connected us to a wealth of inspiring individuals who were active and passionate about their local areas and willing to share their stories for the series.
Above: some of the places our contributors take us in Lives on the Lines
The puzzle of pandemic planning
The pandemic restrictions added a whole new layer to the planning process. I firmly believe that the sounds and sense of a place captured when recording on location, and the emotion these atmospheres inspire in contributors and listeners make it a worthwhile experience for this sort of programme. Whilst a couple of our recordings had to be done remotely, for the most part the series happened on location. This meant that we had to think carefully about how best to record our contributors safely. Taking most of the interviews outdoors made it possible to maintain an appropriate distance and make our guests feel comfortable. The thrice (or more!) daily regime of swapping and disinfecting equipment, masking up microphones and following the usual covid-clean protocol was an added logistical pillar. We had to build in time for this. And of course we were travelling on specific planned trains to make our interviews and create an authentic sense of a journey happening in almost real-time. Minimising the number of people in recordings and on location was also a key safety protocol and since I was presenting the show too, my brain definitely got a workout hopping from one mode to the next! Fortunately, the easy part was meeting and talking to our brilliant contributors - passionate, interesting people who had so much to share. We gathered so much content it could have been the start of an encyclopaedia on the East Anglian regions.
From fact-filled pelts around Norwich and Ely City Centres that left me with a renewed understanding of the region's history and power, to speaking to a local business owner on board one of her fleet of Broads yachts and finding out how as a teen she had worked for the company as a summer job...
every perspective connected towards a picture of what East Anglia really is.
Rail travel was possible for a while
As part of the programme, you'll hear me travelling on board Greater Anglia's trains, which I have to say was a pleasure to this former city commuter. Not only have they rolled out new trains on some of the lines, but they were cleaner than ever and social distancing meant that everyone on board was considerate and accommodating to each other's space. It was like train travel SHOULD be - organised, thoughtful, well-mannered and hygienic! I'm honestly not saying this to suck up to our client. I've travel on trains a LOT for my work and when you're on the road with a heavy kit bag you don't take comfort for granted.
That being said, writing in February 2021, it feels strange that any of this was possible. Before the highly-infectious new versions of the virus hit, we had been looking forward to vaccine rollout and a gradual return to our old lives. Just a few months ago, many of us were hoping to enjoy half-term days out and breaks with our families this time around, and yet we find ourselves confined to our homes and local parks and woodland once again, patiently waiting for the good days to come!
Taking a journey in audio
When things are a bit rubbish, it's always nice to plan ahead, but even that is hard to do right now. So instead, I hope that listening to this programme will allow many to escape this snowy, cold month via their imaginations.
Whether it is the birdsong haunting the sun-scorched grasses at Sutton Hoo, mighty cathedral bells at Norwich or the swish of rewilded lawns along the Somerleyton estate, it's my hope that these recordings can take you somewhere else.
Perhaps it is the crash of waves in the seaside town of Sheringham, the chatter of a local high street on a sunny market day, or the peaceful sigh of yachts along the Yare.... maybe imagined mighty fossil finds along the Deep History Coast, or the vision of the sea mist creeping up to the shore at Walberswick: These six episodes contain just snapshots of the personality and energy fizzing away in pockets of East Anglia, and as you listen, I hope it also serves as a reminder that although the world is very quiet right now and we may feel very isolated in our homes and localities, community is thriving more than ever. After nearly a year of this uncertainty, I'm aware that observation may be one that feels a little weary, but community is at the very heart of this programme and it continues to be, not just in the special places we visit in the series but in your town and street too.
We haven't seen it all!
What really struck me was that even in the most seemingly quiet village, a little inquiry will reveal the most exciting stories, histories and individuals. Travelling by train, you might pass through some of these stops and wonder like I do what happens here, what's life like there, what do people do for work and what do their do in their free time? And the truth of what you don't know is always quite magical to comprehend: when you think you've seen it all, other people continue to show you new experiences and perspectives. In the rather cynical month of February, with snow on the ground,
I think we need to be surprised and reminded of what we are yet to experience and discover.
That's quite a tall order for one series, but it certainly was my experience in recording it! When we are able to safely and legally travel again, I hope that you will have a big list of adventures waiting for you and your family. In the meantime, please enjoy an audible holiday for free, courtesy of the East Anglia Community Rail Partnerships and Greater Anglia!
Here's the link to listen http://smarturl.it/livesonthelines