Thanks for listening! How we brought our council podcast to life

By Rosie Heaton, Senior Media Officer, Customer Transformation, Wigan Council

Back in 2003, Wigan Council published its very first residents’ magazine, Borough Life.

With a population of 323,000 residents, it soon became a constant in the lives of local people, dropping onto the doormats of every household in the borough several times each year.

Fast forward 20 years and while many of its messages have remained the same – I’m talking recycling, fostering and adult social care – at Wigan, we’ve always been keen to keep these messages as fresh as possible, delivering them in a way which is both cost effective and in line with current trends.

Borough Life is a magazine that everyone in our team is really proud of. We write and design all of the content in-house and aim for it to be more in line with a lifestyle magazine than something produced by a local authority.

Over the years, we’ve developed an accompanying digital offer, Borough Life Plus, reflecting both that our audiences are more online than ever before and that our team has developed more storytelling skills, such as video/audio production and animation.

At a time when local government resources are stretched and residents’ magazines are considered a luxury, adding these additional channels is not only helping us to unlock new audiences, but is also contributing to our savings target.

The volatility of paper prices and inflation led to the decision to cut down the number of magazine editions to two a year – saving us £20k. Having access to new channels means that we haven’t compromised our communications offer.

Through Borough Life Plus, we had tasked ourselves with finding new ways to keep our residents up-to-date and entertained. But, never ones to become complacent, the next natural step was to expand it further – and so the Borough Life podcast was born!

In recent years podcast listenership has exploded and according to YouGov, this trend is set to continue well into 2023.

In a survey at the beginning of this year they found that while 13 per cent of UK respondents said they would increase their podcast listening this year, 12 per cent expected to reduce the amount they read in magazines and newspapers.

Following some excellent training from comms 2point0 a few years earlier, we wanted to explore this prediction further. So, with a couple of microphones and some basic editing software, we got to work with recording our very first episode.

I’m no Radio 4 presenter and so getting behind the microphone has been a brilliant way to get out of my comfort zone, albeit doing my favourite thing – chatting!

We’ve tried to keep it as interesting and human as possible; our guests are people from both inside the council and within the local community with fascinating back stories.

As co-host, I’ve been lucky enough to speak to inspiring young women from our youth cabinet about International Women’s Day, listened to local poets performing love-letters to the borough as well as digging down into tougher issues like digital inclusion, the rising cost of living and our responsibility to tackle climate change.

The podcast is, from start to finish, created in-house with everything down to the adverts (promoting council services, naturally!) recorded by our public relations team.

Because of this full creative control, paired with the fact we’re quickly learning what does and doesn’t work, we’re able to reflect our learning with every new episode and try something slightly different in a cost-effective and simple way.

It’s early days – we’ve recently finished recording our sixth episode – but our listenership is steadily growing with almost 1,000 listens across the podcasts so far.

We’re always exploring different ways of promoting the podcast, including getting in front of the camera to produce video trailers and taking the podcast on the road to broadcast live from events.

Starting the Borough Life podcast has given us as a local authority a unique opportunity to speak directly to our residents and we’re excited to see where this journey takes us!

Listen to the BoroughLife podcast here.

Read Borough Life magazine here


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