A Swindon man has received one of the country’s top awards in the 2018 New Years Honours list. The British Empire Medal, a division of the M.B.E., is granted in recognition of meritorious civil or military service worthy of recognition by the nation.
Martin Parry, one of the country’s longest-serving exponents of Community Media, has been honoured for services to the nation in the fields of Film, Media and Music, an accolade for work that includes rescuing and continuing to maintain Swindon Viewpoint, Britain’s longest surviving community television service, as well as for wider media archive work.
A Swindon resident since 1980, Martin grew up in Herefordshire and after school trained as a Communications Engineer. After a period at Hereford School of Art he studied Sociology and Psychology at the University of Southampton in the late 60s. In the early 70’s he lectured in Communications at a college in Hertfordshire and afterwards trained teachers in Media Studies for the Inner London Education Authority.
In 1974 Martin won an MA scholarship in Psychology and Sociology which took him to Canada, where he next worked as Community Channel Producer for a regional Canadian TV station, developing community programming and among other projects, originating some of the world’s earliest music videos. Following this, his work with the National Film Board of Canada, won him an international award for history documentary.
Returning to Britain in 1979 to raise a family, Martin took up a British Film Institute funded position as filmmaker-in-residence for Swindon. Within weeks, he got involved with Swindon Viewpoint – at the time, the only surviving community cable television experiment of the 5 licensed by the government in 1973. Viewpoint was experiencing financial difficulty and would have sunk into the annals of media history were it not for Martin’s enthusiasm, tenacity and dedication.
“I’ve always believed in the potential of everyone, not just media professionals, to come up with original creative ideas and their right to use the language and technology of communication for their own ends.”
During his early years in Swindon Martin conceived of and initiated Media Arts (lately called “Create”) as a hub for both community and arts-based media practice and it became known nationally as one of the most successful media workshops of the 80s. He fund-raised and secured local authority support and was able to equip the initiative with the assets of Swindon Viewpoint. After Viewpoint was no longer able to access these resources from 1991, Martin, with the help of his family and some of the original staff, nevertheless voluntarily maintained and operated Swindon Viewpoint as a public access TV service for the town, right up to today.
He has preserved, digitised and placed on the internet hundreds of hours of the station’s 45-year video archives as a website – www.swindonviewpoint.com which receives thousands of hits every week and has been a valuable resource for media students and researchers in recent years, as well as a fascinating contribution to local history for the town.
There are now well over 2000 programmes available to view on demand on Swindon Viewpoint. The main body comprises programmes produced by Viewpoint itself, further enhanced by the collection of Western Film Archive (WFA).
Martin set up WFA in 1987, with the support of David Puttnam, to collect and preserve regional film material. Through his diligent (and voluntary) curation work, the WFA has amassed around 500 hours of film and tape in an archive spanning almost 120 years of the region’s film-makers.
In the 1990’s Martin became a freelance film-maker, but has continued to work on a voluntary basis for a number of national media organisations such as the National Training Policy Committee for the Film Industry, the British Video History Trust and as a council member for the Community Media Association.
In Swindon and the local area, Martin has been responsible for the voluntary training of hundreds of local people and community groups across the town in the skills of media production. Through grants from the National Lottery schemes and other grant-aiding bodies, Martin and his volunteers, operating under the Swindon Viewpoint banner have managed the production of hundreds of arts and music videos and almost as many films for community organisations; – representing the interests of groups from refugees to railway workers. Viewpoint continues to work at the cutting edge of social awareness communications and has recently produced a new range of incisive films for local organisations on key social issues of our day, including ethnic, age and gender equality, immigration, mental health and domestic violence.
Martin’s contribution to archives and heritage extends to his own productions. In 2016 he completed a two-year labour of love by finishing and launching an acclaimed hour and a half film about Swindon’s history. Railway Town uses archive film and interviews to tell the story of the remarkable industrial and social experiment that gave birth to Swindon.
“Railway Town is my tribute to the people of Swindon who I have grown to appreciate and care greatly for.”
Martin has plans for 2018 and is currently developing a number of innovative projects designed to enable broader public access to community media resources both contemporary and historic. He also continues to work on the rich heritage of archive films – many as yet undigitised – and to embark on new education programmes around their use within the education system.