Peter Spafford has spent the last 30 years writing plays and poetry, with a particular interest in writing about groups of people, and giving them a voice by encouraging their own creative writing. He has worked in community and arts centres, schools and prisons.

For the last 13 years he has worked with Chapel FM Arts Centre, where his impressive job title is Director of Words. This week he came to talk about the Centre.

 The radio station Chapel FM has grown from a two week pilot project at John Smeaton School in 2003. It has morphed into a permanent community radio station for the people of East Leeds, broadcasting locally occasionally on FM, and permanently as a digital/internet station for four days a week. This means that it is available around the world.

 To listen to the station, just click on the link. Chapel FM – The greatest Arts Centre in East Leeds

 When ‘on air’ there will be a ‘Listen Now’ button. A wonderful feature of the station is that all previous content from many years of broadcasting remains available for instant listening on a ‘show pages’ tab.

In time this will be a great resource for historians. Peter told us that during lockdown, for three months the station broadcast locally on FM for three hours a day. One useful programme was ‘the shopping forecast’ which informed listeners when there were supplies of toilet paper at Tesco, no doubt useful information in those early days of panic buying. Suitable programmes are shared with the British Library, including all the programmes made during the pandemic, potentially giving future historians a real insight into the community of East Leeds.

Peter estimates that in a year, as many as 50,000 people listen in to the station. That said, the main purpose of the radio station is to empower local people to make their own programmes, and share things they feel passionate about. Audience figures are not a big worry when a station does not depend on advertising revenue.

The radio station now has its permanent home at the old Wesleyan Chapel in Seacroft, a crumbling old building rescued and lovingly restored in 2014, complete with old pews and the original organ dating from 1878. Volunteers applied for grants to save the building, obtaining £300,000 from the Arts Council and other trusts such as the National Lottery.

The Chapel FM Arts Centre is more than a radio station; it now has studios and a theatre, and following fund raising for an extension, has a café and a hall for choirs and brass bands. Peter described it as ‘a really lovely space’, and Rotarians are urged to pay it a visit.

There is a regular writing festival with a changing resonant theme, called Writing on Air. All programmes are made by local writers and groups, particularly young people.

Peter described the breadth of work undertaken.

Along with music, creative writing and acting, volunteer broadcasters of all ages learn technical aspects and basics of journalism including being curious and nosey, how to interview and edit. There is even a Polish language programme entitled ‘Beautiful Yorkshire’. Peter fosters confidence in quiet and shy youngsters to engage in conversation and to become comfortable in speaking out.

Last Saturday he participated in a Readathon where twenty people read out loud on air from 8 pm to 8 am. Working with a group of 12 year olds, he plans to publish a printed anthology of their writing.

He reported that last year they completed eight days broadcasting on FM, 156 days on the internet and ran three separate broadcast festivals: the 24-hour Musicathon; Writing on Air; and No Bystanders.

Finally Peter told Rotarians that they have a need for new board members with business and accountancy skills. Any volunteers?

In giving a vote of thanks, Rtn Caroline Noh expressed the hope that in a future collaboration our young writers could use the resources of Chapel FM to get their talented voices heard. Something to think about.

Get in touch with Roundhay Rotary Club:

0113 266 6203