Giving voice to the Chinese community

When a call was put out asking for volunteers Denise was all for it. “I’d never done any radio broadcasting before,” she recalls. “I really liked the sound of it.”

That was back in 2017 and the Wai Yin Society were partnering with community radio station ALL FM 96.9 to start a weekly programme for the Chinese community in Manchester.

“We were all novices,” recalls Denise Megson, who had recently retired as a lecturer, “and so were given training for six weeks. We learnt how to structure and plan a radio programme; how to find the material and how to present it with lots of laughter and humour.”

Within a couple of months Denise and her fellow presenters were ready for their first show. “We were all a little nervous but we’d practiced beforehand and decided who was going to say what.

The community radio volunteers in the studio, pre-Covid.

“We broadcast in both English and Cantonese and, because I’m the only one in our group fairly proficient in English, I would be the anchor and introduce the show in English.”

The first show went out at Easter time and so there was lots of talk of Easter eggs and Easter bunnies. “I think it’s important there’s a better understanding of each other’s cultures,” explains Denise, “so we talk on the show about the significance of Western festivals and traditions like Bonfire Night or why there’s a Boxing Day.

“And, on the other hand, through the extra things we do outside the radio show, we aim for our community to be more open and visible in Manchester.

“There’s much more to the Chinese community than takeaways and restaurants!”

In 2018, the radio volunteers, known as Radio Sheung Lok, threw themselves into an oral history project about migration. “Crossing the Borders saw some Wai Yin members work with an artist on an exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery,” says Denise, “while we were trained by a playwright in writing shorts plays.”

“We interviewed about 18 people about their experiences of moving to the UK and used their stories to make our 20 minutes plays complete with sound effects. It was a massive piece of work.”

The Wai Yin Society project – funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund – resulted in a book and the recorded interviews and plays are now archived at Central Library.

Denise was also interviewed by her colleagues about her own experiences. “I came to the UK from Malaysia at the age of 19,” she says. “I was taught by Irish nuns so my schooling was based on Western values. Everyone in my family, apart from my parents, spoke English. So, from the age of seven, I’ve never used Cantonese very much. Working with the radio group, I’m now improving my Cantonese so I can get involved in other community activities.”

Since lockdown the group has continued to broadcast using Zoom. “We felt it was important to keep going,” says Denise, “to help people who are isolated and to broadcast the ever-changing health messages to the Chinese community. It’s helped us too.

“Making a weekly programme has given us something to focus on. It’s a been a lifesaver.”

And during this summer the radio volunteers have become a formal constituted group called Dragons Voice. “It means we can apply for funds in our own right and have a bit of autonomy,” explains Denise.

“Already we’re working on a new project to raise awareness, and increase the reporting, of hate crime. And we’ll be starting another soon about Chinese culture, identity and use of the Chinese language since coming to the UK. We’ll be talking with young and old about how they see themselves in the our society. So, lots more to come.”

Dragons Voice can be heard on All FM 96.9 each Tuesday from 11am to 12 noon. It’s then uploaded onto Mixcloud.

Radio Sheung Lok is broadcast monthly on Fridays, and then available on Mixcloud.