Image of Knowle West Media Centre's main building
Knowle West Media Centre’s headquarters, built out of straw bales

How can we make democracy work better? What are some practical improvements that we can put into place? These are questions that the Practical Democracy Podcast hopes to answer.

Carolyn Hassan is the founder and director of the Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC), a charity and all-round fascinating organisation that uses the arts and technology to empower, engage and enrich the lives of residents in Knowle West. It’s one of the most deprived areas in Bristol and was once kindly described as ‘the Beirut of Bristol’ by a local newspaper.

Carolyn moved to Knowle West about 23 years ago for a photography residence project and never left. In this episode of the Practical Democracy Podcast she talks to Ben Fowkes about how KWMC came to be; hyperlocalism and the wider world into which it fits; and how the arts are needed for democracy to thrive.  Listen to the episode on Buzzsprout, or via the embed at the bottom of this post.

Here’s a rough breakdown of timings:

0:00: Introduction + the history of KWMC

Carolyn talks about her personal journey from young photographer, training against a background of second-wave feminism and the gay liberation movement, to director of a unique and pioneering organisation. She gives us the history of Knowle West Media Centre, from its origins as a photography project that she ran from the Knowle West Health Association in 1996 to today.

18:59: Co-designed projects

One of KWMC’s core principles is that of co-design: by harnessing the collective knowledge and experience of local residents, KWMC can run projects that benefit the whole community and beyond. Examples of these projects are KWMC: The Factory (22:27), a space that can manufacture things like furniture as well as provide training on how to do so; and We Can Make Homes (28:19), an initiative that seeks to help solve housing inequalities in Knowle West by supporting citizens and communities to create affordable homes when and where they need them.

38:00: Scaling up hyperlocalism

Carolyn takes us through some of the ways in which the learning from working in such an intensely targeted can way be applied nationally or globally. Things like sharing experience from projects with other neighbourhoods which can then scale up to whole cities, and how starting locally with big issues like climate change can get more people onside in the long run.

1:04:52: On local democracy

The work KWMC does necessitates constant community engagement. Carolyn talks through some of the things she’s learned about local democracy (councils, take note), like how providing feedback is empowering to disenfranchised citizens as it demonstrates how they influenced a decision, and how the arts can be a vehicle to increased response rates and quality of responses.

KWMC is a charity and needs support to continue the wonderful work it does. You can become a supporter here

Practical Democracy Podcast: Episode 1 with Dr Rebecca Rumbul from mySociety

Practical Democracy Podcast: Episode 2 – #NotWestminster Special (part 1)

Practical Democracy Podcast: Episode 3 – #NotWestminster Special (part 2)

Practical Democracy Podcast: Episode 4 – Democracy in a time of misery with Dr. Nicole Curato