Mary Dowson

Director of local radio station Bradford Community Broadcasting (BCB), Mary taught at Bradford College in the 1980s.
A former board member and Chair of the Community Media Association, Mary played a significant role in achieving the licensing of community radio stations nationally. Passionate about her adopted community, she serves on the board of Bradford City of Film, Manningham Mills Community Association, Yorkshire Culture, City Learning Centre and Bradford Peace Festival.

Mary grew up in London, where even as a teenager she was interested in politics and social justice. After her A Levels she spent a year doing admin and research jobs and travelling around America on her own before coming to Bradford to study at the university. "Peace Studies was just beginning and it seemed to incorporate so many things I was interested in, though lots of the more radical ideas spoken of, such as lecturers and students sharing wages, never happened! During my third year I worked in London as a youth and playworker, mostly supporting childminders. I then went travelling to America and Mexico before returning to Bradford where I worked at Playscape in Manningham. I was very interested in young people and education so I did a PGCE at Huddersfield.

I first came to Bradford College on my placement but then got paid work in what was then Access & Preparatory which was based in the Alexandra Annexe. I spent five happy years at College, teaching communications as part of all the technical courses; for instance to civil engineers, mechanics, builders, beauty therapists. I taught a wide range of students from sixteen year olds to those studying at HND level; from day release brickies to mums returning to the workplace. The aim was to widen the perspective of students doing vocational courses and help them place their studies in a broader context. We serviced provision across the whole College so it was very stimulating and gave me a really good grounding of working with varied user groups. A highlight was bringing women from all over the country who were working in massively male dominated environments in the motor industry to Ilkley for a residential course. I bumped into one of my former students from an access course for women in science and technology the other day. She had gone from being a full-time mum to doing a degree and she now teaches maths at St Joseph's College.

This was a time of many changes in post-16 education and we were in the first wave of looking at competency based assessment. It seemed that as soon as you got used to one arrangement the government introduced a different one. I believe that you should be able to bring your own creativity to teaching and that box ticking can get in the way of personal development. The thing I loved about teaching was seeing the changes in people once you had helped them view the world in a different way; particularly those who had missed out on chances to learn before. I left College when I took the opportunity to go live in Italy for a couple of years, coming back to Bradford to have my son. I was approached about teaching a women's development course at Windhill Community Centre when I was still in hospital!

I enjoyed the intellectual stimulus this teaching gave me and decided to fulfil a long held ambition to do a course in radio production. This gave me a taste of something I loved and a few of us got together to set up a temporary radio station for Bradford Festival . This first broadcast in 1992 and again the following year. In 1994 we decided this had real potential and developed Bradford Community Broadcasting (BCB). I started as presenter but then became a director in 1997. As an organisation we have been able to grow incrementally, bringing in different people of all ages and backgrounds, trying to respond to changes in Bradford and recognising everyone's contribution and giving everyone a voice. This is my dream job, combining communication and what inspires me.

The very first broadcasts featured us and people that we knew, ordinary Bradford people, broadcasting without needing anyone's permission. Most of us are passive consumers of media and BCB is about changing consumers to active broadcasters with support and training. It is about looking beyond the obvious and beyond outreach and telling people they have a right to be on the radio.

Bradford College were incredibly supportive of us in crucial early days, becoming our partners in match funded training programmes. We now provide second chance training and enable people to get a foothold in the industry. The media is still the preserve of middle classes and is very difficult to break into. We can assist by providing training, broadcast experience and skills so people can approach and envision themselves in these careers. Radio is also a great medium for self-development.

We have big role to play in community cohesion, enabling people to appreciate each other's views, cultures and music, putting it in a local context. Rather than a reporter coming in from the outside, we have someone from the inside telling it like it is. It is not just what we broadcast. What happens within our building is also important, as over two hundred volunteers meet people in a meaningful way, compare perspectives and build relationships. For instance, we always do a broadcast for International Women's Day and I was working with an Asian woman, interviewing a girl who had self-harmed, an issue not talked about in Asian communities. My co-presenter was able to offer an entirely different perspective and we were able to have a much richer programme because of this. We are all finding new ways of living our lives and I feel really privileged to act as a conduit for discovery and fostering significant relationships."