Let’s talk – again – about the big issues

Former Radio Cornwall stalwart Laurence Reed pens his first column for the Voice. It’s been six months since I moved on from BBC Radio Cornwall. Have you missed me? I have certainly missed you.

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PACKING A PUNCH: Long-time BBC Radio Cornwall presenter Laurence Reed has joined the Voice to pen an exclusive column – and he wants your help to write it PICTURE: PAUL WILLIAMS

14th April 2021

Don’t get me wrong – since my emotional farewell in October 2020, I’ve been enjoying retirement. I’ve even taken up tennis, in a bid to get healthy; I’m no Roger Federer, more John McEnroe, at least in terms of racket abuse.

But I do miss the no-nonsense discussion of my lunchtime shows – being seen as the consumer champion and holding people to account.

That’s why I’m going to be writing a weekly column in The Voice. I’m a firm believer in local newspapers, and while elsewhere, localism is going out of the window, the Voice titles – in Newquay, St Austell, Truro, Bodmin and now Saltash – are reflecting life in Cornwall, connecting people and making them feel involved, giving them a sense of belonging. I admire that – I think it’s fantastic, and it’s an honour to be involved.

My contribution will be a written equivalent of my radio show – the Laurence character people love, talking about the big (and small) issues that affect people here.

I spent 32 years in radio, first as a tea boy and answering the phones, then studying for a post-grad diploma in journalism and as a district reporter in south-east Cornwall for many years, earning the hard way the right to front a show.

In the lunchtime slot, I made a living out of challenging those in authority, both local and national, from county councillors to prime ministers from Thatcher onwards, and paid officials responsible for making some of the most ludicrous decisions in all the time I’ve been on air.

And of course, we took calls from listeners about the issues of the day. This was the sharp end of journalism: I had no idea what they were going to say when they came on air. We had no time to rehearse or research.

We covered three or four issues every day, and you knew when you had a good show, because the calls would come in. We kept that going for 25 years, miraculously without
ending up in court. It was the most listened-to radio show, not just in Cornwall but in any county, with the largest audience share of any of the BBC’s 40 stations.

We won awards, most recently from the BMJ for our regular mental health special, which began long before talking about mental health became cool, and became more frequent during lockdown.

If radio was the thrill of the unknown, print is no less so for me. In writing, I’m out of my comfort zone, but it’s exciting. And I want to hear from you, the readers, about the subjects you’d like me to tackle. It might be a pot-holed road that the council hasn’t tackled despite campaigning, or street lights that aren’t working; or fears that visitors will cross the Tamar in great numbers, bringing covid in their wake, combined with frustration that we can’t go on holiday abroad.

What about the future of our high streets, as more and more people shop online and have it delivered to their door? I’ve done it myself – I would never have dreamed of doing so before covid, as I love going into a shop and trying a pair of trousers on, interacting with the staff.

What is the future of independent tradesmen, with everyone getting more DIY savvy over the last 12 months? Will we want to pay someone to do the jobs we’ve learned how to do ourselves?

Will we go back to being lazy, back to the same old routine, like covid never existed – or will we be wearing masks for many months to come, for fear of new variants?

Cornwall is a lovely place – that’s why we live here. But behind the picture postcard façade, there is deprivation. The cost of houses has shot up post-covid – Cornwall is the number one place of Right- Move where people want to be. A dilapidated house in Truro that might have cost £180,000 is now £100,000 more.

We are being sold developments like Langarth as a “garden village” that will enhance Truro, but who will buy those houses? I’m not suggesting pitchforks at the Tamar, but so many planning applications today are for home extensions so grown-up offspring can stay in the county, but still have their own space. We’ve gone from the brain drain, to it being acceptable to stay at home, to it being necessary.

Some people may be interested in what’s happening abroad, in places like Myanmar and China. Without wishing to belittle that, it’s the small issues that grate for most people, and it was those I used to tackle on air. They were small victories, like the day care centre earmarked for closure, that we kept open. It would be great to shine a light on those again.

By the time you read this, I will have had my first haircut in five months. With any luck, my next Voice head shot will show me newly shorn. Until then, I look forward to hearing
from you.

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