Founding members of Northern Visions have been involved in community media since the 70s. In 1986 Northern Visions successfully applied to become a ‘franchised film workshop’ funded by Channel Four which recognised companies which had an integrated practice within film making: production, exhibition, training and distribution. The workshop was given special dispensation by the ACTT union to make films for broadcast in a flexible manner bypassing the usual demarcation lines within film production and using what was then termed as ‘non-broadcast’ formats in programme production. However this relationship with the broadcaster could never accommodate the many films and diverse issues that were being produced. The more usual route of pitching programme ideas to television broadcasters was also seen as restrictive. It was decided to investigate setting up a local television service to allow greater freedom of expression and access to the communities which felt traditionally disenfranchised from mainstream media and lacked a voice. In February 2004 NVTV began broadcasting on the analogue signal from but this ceased with the digital switchover. Northern Visions was at the forefront in lobbying for provision of local television on the digital Freeview channel. Today there are 34 local television stations throughout the UK.
Through a competitive selection process run by Ofcom, NVTV has been licensed for 12 years beginning 29 September 2014 as a local public service television channel broadcasting on Freeview Channel 7 and on the Virgin network throughout N. Ireland. Northern Visions won the competitive bid for the license on the basis that “Community relations is a cross cutting theme across all development and economic regeneration strategies in the locality. Our programming will complement Peace Plans supporting regeneration, tourism, education, cultural initiatives.” Like public broadcasters we aim to Inform, Educate and Entertain – but to this we add Change – a channel that exists to drive social impact.
NVTV is a participatory network, quite different from traditional TV channels. It is self-producing and supports others to self-produce. Projects are created by the public who are involved in all aspects of creative work – production, distribution, exhibition, promotion and archiving. Creative control belongs to the creator, a framework that is at odds with an ‘auteur’ mainstream film process. In filmmaking Northern Visions aspires to the community arts tenets of access, participation, ownership, authorship. Our ethos is to inspire and mobilize, and turn content into action. Our key success measure is not reach, income or audience but social impact. We know media can be a powerful force for change and the common good. The content produced is a valuable opportunity to put people in touch with what is happening in their local area and to demonstrate the difference that people‘s activities can make on the ground.
Northern Visions values the contributions made by our community constituency, the majority of them working in areas where the impact of poverty and inequality comprises many dimensions – lack of voice, poor heath, low educational attainment and exclusion. We strive to push the boundaries of arts and digital media in our communities and support ongoing work to alleviate poverty and disadvantage. Northern Visions remain one of the few open access infrastructural organisations in Northern Ireland where any member of the public can become involved (from entry level and no experience/qualifications to advanced level), in participating in all art forms – eg: creative writing, music, film, drama, documentary, cinematography, set design, graphic design and digital media.
Each year we aim to deliver an inspiring artistic outreach and training programme, working with cultural and community organisations, women’s groups, children and youth groups, disability groups, older peoples’ groups, minority ethnic groups, victims of the Troubles across the city.
Northern Visions over the years has built a valuable archive charting the progress of peace building, gay rights, women’s equality, Irish language, Ulster Scots culture, community action, community arts, ethnic minorities, victims groups and older people.
Currently Northern Visions is funded by the Irish Language Broadcast Fund Trainee Support Scheme, The Ulster Scots Broadcast Fund and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. The abundant productions outside those funding categories are created through flexible staff and crucially the dedication of volunteers and partnerships.
What insights do we in the North have of the work of local communities in Cork or Dublin? There exists a network of local community television stations and producers in Dublin and Cork, broadcasting on cable and the potential for greater co-operation and understanding between Belfast, Dublin and Cork, but sadly that network is largely dormant due to a lack of financial support.
At NVTV we see the benefits of local television in Belfast and throughout the U.K. We currently exchange programmes with UK local television stations, but we also aspire to sharing the ideas and experiences of Northern Irish communities with people across the island of Ireland. The Dublin and Cork community television stations are licensed by The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland.
Independent television producers could sight Dublin and Cork Community Television as their broadcaster when competing for programme funding from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland Sound & Vision Broadcasting Funding Scheme. However successful applications were not envisaged to sustain a stations output or support the infrastructure needed for community involvement.
The BAI have recently produced a policy document acknowledging the important role of community media and have ring fenced funding for local community station but in itself not enough to provide the bedrock for local community stations.
Arts projects at Northern Visions are generously supported by: