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Over the past year, Reform Radio has held a series of MC and lyrical workshops across the North West; a new leg of our rap collective project, HERchester. HERchester, led by world-class Manchester rapper, OneDa, was formed three years ago in answer to a need to nurture a safe space open for, but not exclusive to, female and non-binary spoken word, hip hop and grime artists. Following the cohort’s recent Northern workshop tour, we have released a behind-the-scenes documentaryrecording the participants’ progress towards performing at Manchester’s Blues Kitchen for an exclusive cypher, platforming marginalised voices within the UK rap scene..

Since its formation in 2020, funded by Arts Council England, HERchester has welcomed tens of aspiring MCs and rappers to the collective, offering them peer support, guidance and mentorship through the likes of workshops, performances, and more. The project has continually held a place-based approach to its creative sessions, with Reform Radio partnering with organisations across the North West to hold safe hubs for the collective to meet, create and collaborate in key cities. Since 2021, HERchester has had presence in Manchester, Sheffield (in partnership with Rite Trax), Blackpool (in partnership with House of Wingz), and Morcambe (in partnership with More Music). Year on year, the project has established itself as a vital contributor to changing the narrative regarding diversity within the scene.

Throughout the project’s biggest year yet, we filmed HERchester’s workshops and members to find out more about the individuals behind the movement, and to witness their progression first-hand. Thus, forming a 20 minute documentary of the programme. It soon became clear that HERchester was not only a hub of musicianship for its cohort, but it also provides a safe and social space in supporting them through their personal journeys.

“For me, being in HERchester and being in that space… I don’t feel this pressure to be the best or perform… it’s more so about being in a space, having freedom to write and create and connect with other people, hear what they’re doing, and just uplift each other. ”

– FREEQUENCY3 – HERchester member

Within the documentary, viewers get to meet each member of the cohort and gain insight in to how HERchester has impacted them both professionally and personally. From supporting musicians to offering safe spaces for women, queer and gender non-conforming artists to express authentically, to building confidence, resilience, social skills, and more within individuals, the project provides a well-rounded network to elevate the voices of all those involved in all capacities.

“We saw a huge lack of female and non-binary representation across hip-hop and rap lineups and we wanted to make a difference. In answer to this, we partnered with OneDa and Arts Council England and HERchester was born. We are already seeing the legacy it has created, with greater diversity across the North, more female and non-binary artists coming through and getting paid for their artistry. We want to keep changing the narrative, and keep the number of these artists getting recognised in the industry growing”

– Jemma Tanswell, Co-Director of Reform Radio

2023 has been a great year for HERchester, with the collective bagging performance slots at the likes of Manchester International Festival and Beyond the Music, alongside hosting their own residency on Reform Radio, and featuring as BBC 6 Music’s Spotlight artist.

Both the documentary and cypher mark HERchester’s ambition to grow from HERchester Up North to HERchester To The World. The course of workshops and their closing cypher make a nod to the necessity of amplifying marginalised voices in rap and altering the narrative on diversity. It is also a moving motivation to those considering beginning their journeys in music. HERchester aren’t stopping here, however; they intend to continue making a storm with their inspiring work across the North West.

“Our ambitions for HERchester going into 2024 are to move into new cities, new territories, as well as keeping the cities that we’ve got under our belt. We want to get the collective into production too alongside working on cypher material… this will further empower them to be independent well-rounded artists through their craft”

– OneDa, Manchester rapper & HERchester leader

So, the quest continues and we can’t wait to see what HERchester have up their sleeves for the new year. For now, you can support the cause over on their socials @herchester here, and follow Reform Radio on socials to keep up to date with where the project is heading next.

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