It was a very happy new year for one Bradford College alumna as she was recognised in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List.
Mary Dowson, a former member of teaching staff at the college, was awarded the British Empire Medal for services to community radio.
The royal recognition came just six weeks after she was celebrated by the college and presented with an honorary fellowship.
Mary’s honours recognise her as being a champion for radio and for her adopted city of Bradford.
A director and founder of the award-winning BCB 106.6FM, Bradford’s Community Radio station, she hails from London but has Bradford in her heart having arrived in the city as a student in the 1970s and stayed on to work as a youth worker in Manningham and a teacher at Bradford College.
She taught communications at the college for five years before emigrating to Italy but returned to the UK in 1990 just before the birth of her son. It was at that point she landed a job in radio, which she described as a dream come true.
“I always had a passion for radio,” she recalled.
“Our TV broke down when I was five years old and we didn’t have a telly for years so radio and music became a massive part of my life.”
In 1991 Mary followed her passion by taking a course in radio production and presentation.
Inspired by the course, she worked with a small team of other enthusiasts to set up Bradford Festival Radio, the forerunner to Bradford Community Broadcasting.
“I started as a presenter but then became a director in 1997,” she said.
“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.
“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. I realised that radio brings people together and develops soft skills as it is impulsive and intimate.”
Mary has steered the organisation to become the pioneering, fulltime community radio station that it is today. Its mission is to serve the community of Bradford by providing a space for voices to be heard who don’t normally get access to the radio.
Currently over 140 volunteers produce new programmes each week. Staff members include former students of Bradford College and some of the volunteers are also alumni of the college.