How we made it: Centrepoint's youth-led podcast

01 October 2021

These days, podcasts are an unstoppable force. Uniquely situated to fit into our busy lives, giving us… well, anything we want, in an easily digestible manner. Fiction, non-fiction, politics, comedy, political comedy – even the extremely niche world of ballpoint pens – there’s a podcast to scratch that narrative itch.

And the best bit about podcasts? They’re so easy to make: “It’s a lovely medium,” says Tamsin Clements, Senior Case Studies Officer and the creator of Centrepoint's new podcast, Point Made. “It’s cheap and accessible.”

When it came to the right person to create Point Made, Tamsin was a no-brainer: formerly a studio director for BBC radio, she had experience editing for broadcast and panelling audio programmes. “I loved the editing process, but I wanted to do more programme making.”

Since her time at the BBC she has kept that thread of aural storytelling within her grip, running audio workshops in schools, or collecting sounds and “making bits and pieces at home”. Here at Centrepoint, she makes up a crucial part in our communications team – her role involves telling the tales of resilient young people on the Real Stories section of our site, creating strong bonds with Centrepoint residents and making them feel safe to speak their truth.

The podcast was therefore a natural progression for Tamsin, and it turned out to be the perfect medium for the kind of amplification she wanted for those she works with. “It’s a good platform for young people to talk about their views in a non-invasive way. It gives them a voice to speak about the things that matter to them in more depth,” she said. “And it can be quite anonymous – if we’re talking about young vulnerable people with quite complex needs, it’s less public. I think it can be quite empowering.”

Podcasting has been an established forum since around 2004, when MTV video jockey Adam Curry and software developer Dave Winer coded a programme called iPodder, which allowed users to download internet radio broadcasts onto their iPods. And yet, we still consider podcasting to be a relatively new medium. This is because they are constantly evolving; thanks to more intuitive technology, and a breadth of genres that borrow from essays, movies, novels and history books, their ubiquitous nature always feels refreshing.

This timeline of establishment may go some way to explain why 26- to 35-year-olds dominate the podcasting listener demographics (38%), and it’s no secret that millennials love their longform content (hello, Serial). But they are closely tailed in listenership by 15- to 25-year-olds (31%) – the market’s biggest opportunity for growth. And if millennials consume their content slowly, gourmandising episodes and masticating over their meaning, then Gen Z are the antidote, preferring short, snackable content. Their online lives are somewhat ephemeral, reduced to 140 characters and five-second videos. But in their constant state of metamorphosis, it means podcasts can easily keep up with the kids.

With this in mind, it was important to keep the time structure of Point Made easily digestible: 30 minutes allows for a deep discussion whilst also ensuring the listener stays engaged. As a youth homelessness charity, it was important that young people were involved from its inception. “We agreed naturally that it was to be led by young people, about topics that are important to them, but would be interesting to supporters alike,” Tamsin explained. “That’s how we came up with the tagline, ‘By young people, for all people.’ Our audience wants to hear about the people we support and what they think.”

There aren’t many forums where the UK’s vulnerable youth get to talk about what matters to them, so young people were keen to be involved, and wanted the podcast to be a force for change. “Whenever I hear podcasts it's always older people talking about stuff,” says Dylan, who took part in the podcast’s first episode. “It's the same with the news. It's experts or older adults telling us things. Our generation are far more influenced and open to listening to people our own age talking about stuff, and those that have lived experience."

It’s true – society and culture rank highly on podcast subjects of interest for 16- to -25-year-olds, and young people have become a potent influence on people of all ages and incomes.

“What’s coming up in the news? What’s happening in the media? Who can we speak to? Is it going to attract an audience?” Tamsin says of how they choose a topic. The first episode covered the scrapping of the Universal Credit uplift, which is due to come into effect early October. It will be detrimental to the livelihood of so many young people. The majority of young people involved use, or have used UC, and have also recently been working on some peer research on this issue, interviewing people and conducting surveys, so it was the ideal place to start, and the passion was profound.

With ongoing Covid complications, the session took place over Zoom, with Billy, Centrepoint’s Policy & Research Officer, leading the questions. “What’s most important is that we’re diverse and representative. Getting everyone together has been difficult so Zoom was a godsend in that way. We had ground rules on respecting each other, so if you want to say something, put your hand up,” says Tamsin. “They all worked really well and were collaborative.”

It’s clear that all involved in the first episode are riding a well-deserved high. Shannon, another young person who hosted the first episode, said, “I was so proud to hear myself on the podcast. I was really proud of us all!”

For most, it’s conceiving the inconceivable – so many young people that use our services have experienced trauma, and that trauma becomes fertile ground for homelessness. Nowhere safe to stay means education and aspirations fall to the wayside in favour of survival. We often say that the only thing that stands between those who come into our care and success is opportunity. This proves our theory right: given a chance, young people can really thrive in something they’re passionate about.

“You can tell in his voice – he took ownership,” Tamsin says of young person Mitak, who helped with the first episode. “He naturally had that presenting style. Different people will get a chance at presenting.” Her pride in the youth she’s been working with for years is palpable. “They surprised me, but they don’t surprise me. I feel proud of them all the time.”

You can read our Real Stories here.