Radio serves community for more than 40 years

Cathy Barnett (middle) with some of the volunteers at the Mid Downs Radio studios. Picture: Steve Robards
Cathy Barnett (middle) with some of the volunteers at the Mid Downs Radio studios. Picture: Steve Robards

It all began in a broom cupboard in the historic Cuckfield Hospital where it broadcast to people in bed.

Forty years later, Mid Downs Radio still continues to serve the Mid Sussex community and now attracts more than a thousand listeners from across the world.

Cathy and Paul Barnett

Cathy and Paul Barnett

It broadcasts on 1350AM 24/7 from studios in the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath.

Around 30 volunteers present programmes to the patients, staff and visitors.

Five years ago it went online and listeners can now tune in via their computers, ipads and mobile phones. People can also listen in their car.

Paul and Cathy Barnett, who live in Burgess Hill, have been volunteering at Mid Downs Radio for more than a decade.

It is about bringing a bit of happiness to people and to make them feel relaxed.

Cathy Barnett, chairman of Mid Downs Radio

Cathy acts as chairman and is in charge of events and fundraising and Paul handles production and also acts as treasurer.

Cathy started in 2002 as a request collector, where she would go onto the hospital wards to ask for music requests.

Her musical appreciation began at the old St Francis Hospital – when she used to help patients choose records to bring back memories.

“It is about bringing a bit of happiness to people and to make them feel relaxed in hospital,” she said.

Presenter DC Rogers in action. Picture: Steve Robards

Presenter DC Rogers in action. Picture: Steve Robards

“We also try to let people know what is happening and try to get people involved with the outside world.

“And we try and find things to make people laugh too. We are both passionate about it and enjoy it and would encourage anyone to do it.

“You feel like you are helping a little bit with the community – we have both always been community minded.

“We look forward to steadily improving our standards of broadcasting and also our contribution to the well-being of the community of Mid-Sussex and its environs.”

Cathy Barnett. Picture: Steve Robards

Cathy Barnett. Picture: Steve Robards

Cathy’s husband Paul calls her ‘Mrs Burgess Hill’, due to her variety of roles in the community.

As well as chairman of the radio station, she acts as chairman of the reunion group at the old St Francis Hospital and chairman of Burgess Hill in Bloom.

Paul, who Cathy says has a ‘voice for the radio’ and a ‘voice for the BBC’, still works at home for the Department of Health.

He played in a band in the 60s and brings his enthusiasm for music and in-depth knowledge to Mid Downs Radio.

“Some hospital radios will play music from ten years ago – people in bed don’t want to get bored, they need a mix of music to listen to,” he said.

“We try and keep it modern but also play many old records – you can never assume what people like.

The Mid Downs Radio team at a community event

The Mid Downs Radio team at a community event

“It is about reaching out to people, bored, lonely in hospital, and to get out and be part of the community.

“It brings the community together and brings it to the hospital – which makes people not so frightened about going into hospital.

“Radio is also therapy for people who have retired, cannot work or are disabled. It gives some of our volunteers a focus and makes them feel like they are a part of something.

“I was interested in musical therapy, and also that it shouldn’t just be about music. It should be helping people with information, about health, transport, and things going on in the community.

“A lot of the time our volunteers want to give something back and we have dedicated volunteers who come back again. New volunteers and presenters are always welcome.”

Cathy and Paul have been married for 30 years. They have known each other since the 70s and met when they were writing pantomimes at the old St Francis Hospital.

Cathy has two daughters and a son, as well as two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Paul has a daughter and son, and three grandsons. As well as volunteering, the pair enjoy travelling whenever they can.

Mid Downs Radio provides a mix of music, from country, pop, reggae, classical, to folk and soul. It also provides health and helpful information through interviews and its programmes.

Patients can access the radio station via their bedside Hospedia units. It can also be heard from speakers in all waiting areas in the hospital.

And it has recently started a new project – broadcasting to GP surgeries in the area and plans to get into more surgeries.

The community radio station has remained popular over the years due to its dedicated following at the hospital and its variety of output from its keen group of volunteers, who come from all ages and backgrounds.

Its oldest presenter is in their 80s and its youngest is aged 18. The radio station’s longest-serving presenter is Mavis McLaren, who is in her seventies. She was there when it all began in the hospital broom cupboard.

The cost of keeping the radio station on air each year is around £5,000 and this is met entirely by fundraising, such as teddy tombolas and swimarathons. This amount also includes the hire of the studios.

Its main income is its Outside Events Unit, when willing volunteers go to many events throughout the year, such as Burgess Hill Festival, the Christmas lights switch on, school events and football tournaments, to raise funds.

It has also received two grants from the Big Lottery Fund, and has had support from both Haywards Heath Town Council and Burgess Hill Town Council, Burgess Hill District Lions Club and the League of Friends.

The radio station also has a training programme and takes on youngsters who are trained by experts to gain extra skills for their CV.

It also boasts success stories, with students who have completed a work experience placement at the radio station, going on to work for the BBC.

Not to mention its impressive interviewees which have included World War Two forces’ sweetheart Dame Vera Lynn and famous musician Raye Du-val.