Culture means different things to people; from art to sport, music, theatre, dance and much more. In our series of 'Our Community' interviews, we introduce you to some the many Sotonians who have helped to keep culture alive in our city throughout the recent pandemic.
Today we caught up with Ali Beg, Project Manager at Awaaz FM Community Radio. Awaaz FM caters for communities from India and Pakistan within Southampton and for specific tastes of music from North India (Punjabi), Afghanistan (Pushto), Pakistan (Urdu) and English, as well as for traditional Bollywood music (Hindi).
Tell us about yourself and your links to Southampton.
I was born and bred in Southampton. I went to school here and I went on to the Universities of Sheffield, Central Lancashire, Brunel University and Middlesex for my further studies. I spend my spare time with family. My recreational interests include swimming, squash and long distance driving. I once drove from Southampton – with friends – to Dover then through Europe to Istanbul and back in 15 days!
I have good ground knowledge of the needs of the local BAME community and my aim is to pursue continuous improvement and excellence in local health and social care services.
Why is Southampton special to you?
Southampton is special to me for several reasons: it’s where my family first arrived in the 1940s, and my parents in the 1950s, so it has sentimental value. It's where I grew up, and I've seen many changes, so it has emotional value. And it's where I chose to start Awaaz FM Community Radio. Today we are officially the biggest ethnic and multi-language, multi-cultural community radio station in Hampshire. The city where I get sentimental, emotional and financial value all in one place – well… you have to call that city home, don’t you?
What’s your favourite place in Southampton?
I cannot really say that I have a single favourite place, as so much has changed over the years. But my parents would often take me to the Royal Pier and The Common park and I would go there later with my siblings . Usually because something was always happening, or you could simply go to relax and enjoy an ice cream! Delicious!
What does culture mean to you?
Culture to me means everyone in the city. It’s as much about the history of our city as it is about the people who live here. Our outlook, attitudes, values, morals, goals, and customs are shared. Southampton has world excellence in the fine arts and humanities and our culture inspires and stimulates creativity, innovation and ideas.
Culture is as much about the appetite of dynamic and contemporary people as it is about our history, with a space to look towards the future. We are lucky to have such a diverse and welcoming population. If you try the food from every culture based in the city you will definitely have already visited every continent across the globe!
How has lock down affected the work of Awaaz?
Lockdown has been a challenge. One minute we were ticking along nicely and the next minute we were thrown in at the deep end, as the government wanted us to help educate the masses via our radio platform. We suddenly found ourselves working closely with several government departments from the Cabinet Office to Public Health and much more. Although a challenge, we coped well, collaborating with many agencies across the city. Its great to know that there are many agencies across the city who step up when its most needed.
Our presenters started working from home and we supported them with the latest technology. I think this was our ‘stress test’ and we’ve passed with flying colours!
Why should Southampton be named UK City of Culture 2025?
It’s a city that has been cited as one of the happiest in the country and it has much to offer. We have everything from the arts to entertainment, from world foods to traditional markets. The city is full of history and there are passionate people waiting to tell you all about it. You can take a tour or just relax at the library and read all about it. By the way, the library is based inside the Civic buildings and Southampton was the first in the country to build a Civic building for the local Council – that’s a fact. We’re also the birthplace of fish fingers!
Personally, I have long argued that Southampton is the Cultural Capital of the South, outside of London, and this is something I believe in.