Jamie McAleny started Liverpool Live TV, a platform for the local performing arts community, in 2012 but it came to a halt in 2017 when his wife died – now he is back. Tony McDonough reports
For many people the COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the darkest periods of their lives – a once-in-a-generation event.
And such has been the scale of the crisis it is sometimes easy to forget there are people fighting battles unrelated to the epidemic. Liverpool social entrepreneur Jamie McAleny is now emerging from a three-year period of turmoil and transformation following the death of his wife, Joanne Nettleton.
Back in 2012, Jamie launched Liverpool Live TV, a not-for-profit community interest company that provides an online video platform, via YouTube, for Merseyside’s artistic community. Musicians, actors, stage performers, artists, magicians – anyone doing anything creative could seek exposure on Liverpool Live TV.
Working alongside Joanne, who also worked as a procurement officer for Liverpool City Council, and another business partner Richard Denton, Jamie created an entity that was of huge value to Liverpool’s creative. community. It was a unique showcase for the city’s diverse performing arts sector.
However, in August 2016 Joanne was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. The prognosis was poor and she died just a few months later in March 2017. Jamie’s everyday life and work came to an abrupt halt.
“If there was some comfort it was in the fact that Joanne didn’t suffer too much before she passed,” said Jamie. “We had been together for 20 years. When it happened I was 40 so she had been by my side for half of my life.
“A few years ago I was diagnosed as being bipolar. She knew me so well and would be aware if I was going to have an episode. So it is hard to express how big a gap she left in my life.”
Aware of the enormity of Joanne’s passing, Jamie realised that a quick return to work and normal life would simply not be possible. He added: “Having to find yourself again after losing someone in that way is such a hard thing to do.
“I decided to give myself two years to work through what I was feeling and try to get back to some form of normality. You could say I took the man’s approach – I gave myself a deadline. But, of course, it is not as simple as that. When the two years was up, I simply wasn’t ready.”
Jamie embarked on a journey of discovery, examining religion and spirituality. He engrossed himself in a number of different religions, including Christianity, Islam, Judaism and other ancient religions from different parts of the world. He even looked at things such as quantum mechanics, adding: “They were strange times.”
In January this year Jamie felt ready to resume his previous mission with Liverpool Live and it was not without its challenges. He explained: “When we first started Liverpool Live I looked after the creative side while Joanne and Richard took care of the business. This time around it is just me.”
When Liverpool Live TV was first launched Jamie received help from Liverpool social enterprise, The Women’s Organisation. Joanne had already had some dealings with them and they allowed him to use space in their building where Jamie could film content for the Liverpool Live channel.
Earlier this year he decided to retrace his steps and approached The Women’s Organisation once again. It was able to offer him support through its role as Local Growth Hub broker for the Local Growth Hub project headed up by Growth platform (the Local Enterprise Partnership).
Through the Local Growth Hub it can offer general information, advice and brokerage to businesses across the Liverpool city region no matter what stage they are at or what issue they are facing.
They helped link Jamie with local funded programmes for advice and COVID support schemes to raise funding of £20,000 to cover overheads that were creating a barrier to progress in getting the business moving again.
“Talking to The Women’s Organisation was a massive help. They gave me the kick up the butt I needed at that moment,” he said.
Despite a three-year hiatus, Liverpool Live had remained a popular platform for people in the performing arts. It’s YouTube channel was still attracting views of around 120,000 a month, which provided a solid platform for its relaunch.
That was originally set for March but then COVID-19 had other ideas and Jamie was forced to sit tight and wait for his moment later in the year. Liverpool Live will look to bring back old favourites such as its Red Sofa Sessions. They began in the room in The Women’s Organisation and bands would come in and perform acoustic sets. The only prop was the red sofa.
“That became a real hit,” said Jamie. “We had an inflatable red sofa and we took it out of the room and would turn up at festivals and interview bands on the sofa. Kids loved coming to sit on it.
“I came from a sales background, I worked in that game for 15 years, so I have always been good at giving each project we do its own USP. Our plan for Liverpool Live was that we would always have enough content to fill a full day schedule.”
As well as arts grants the venture seeks sponsorship from local businesses as part of its business model. It ensures that access for the performers remains completely free, a principle that is really important to Jamie.
New ideas are in the pipeline including content aimed at children using puppets and real-life performers. Jamie said: “We are thinking it will be like a Scouse version of Sesame Street. And we will be working with local children’s authors who will come on and read their stories.”
Another project in the pipeline, and one that relates directly to Jamie’s own experiences, will see him travel around the North West in a camper van with his dog, Luna, talking to other men who have faced challenging times in their lives. It will look at other methods of therapy others may have used such as painting or rock climbing. Jamie will interview people against he backdrop of the region’s stunning scenery.
He added: “The aim of Liverpool Live TV is to support grassroots arts in Liverpool. The performing arts sector has had a really tough time during the COVID-19 pandemic and I think the timing for the Liverpool Live relaunch could not be better.
“Hopefully as Liverpool opens up, we can open up. We are now eager and raring to go.”
To find out more about the business support services offered by The Women’s Organisation click here.