“Being involved makes a difference” … “it gives me confidence and takes my mind of other stuff”… “it gives me focus”. These are comments from people living with mental illness who have found their voice – literally – on Support in Mind Scotland’s radio station, Radio Stafford 103.

Like the dedicated group who are the driving force behind it, Radio Stafford has been on quite a journey since it was first mooted in 2011-12. A group of people attending the Stafford Centre, our Edinburgh resource centre in Broughton Street, Edinburgh, were discussing new projects and out of one inspired lightbulb moment Radio Stafford was born.

It was a daunting prospect, but from very humble beginnings, the radio station has forged its own identity and gone from strength to strength, and is now hoping to grow its audience and profile and, by doing so, increase mental health awareness.

“We started off with just a table, a chair a microphone and a mixing desk,” explains Mike Staley, who in his guise as ‘Lord Sir Dj MOG’ has become one of the main faces and voices of Radio Stafford since its inception. “It was a very basic operation at the start, but as we picked up new skills and equipment the station began to grow into something we are all really proud of.”

The title ‘Radio Stafford 103’ comes from the Stafford Centre’s roots (it was originally based in Stafford Street in the 1980s) and the building number the centre occupies in Broughton Street.

DJ Mog adds: “The idea of having the radio station was for us to challenge and break down the discrimination and stigma often associated with mental illness and to spread positive messages and mental health awareness. I think we are succeeding in doing that.

“The station helps us publicise the work of Support in Mind Scotland and the many important activities that take place in the Stafford Centre.”

As the station took shape, a rudimentary radio booth was constructed. Buoyed by the progress, people using the centre started to volunteer to become presenters and DJs, and after being shown the ropes by their peers, they were soon broadcasting to listeners from around the world via the internet-based platform.

A visit in 2016 from Forth One breakfast show duo Mark ‘Boogie’ Bouglas and Arlene Stuart gave the radio team even more encouragement. The pair offered invaluable advice and pointers for the volunteer presenters, and recorded some soundbites to be featured in their shows. The station has also been visited by a number of MSPs and featured interviews with SiMS charity ambassadors such as Scott and Jenny Hastings.

A game-changer for Radio Stafford’s fortunes came later that year when Support in Mind Scotland was able to secure funding from oil and gas exploration company Cairn Energy. Their generous donation allowed the station to move from the broom cupboard-sized booth it first occupied to a bright and welcoming radio room, kitted out with new equipment.

Plans are now afoot to join the radio room to the centre’s music room, which would allow live sets to be broadcast.

“It’s an exciting time for Radio Stafford,” said rock show host MOG – who explains that his acronym stands for ‘Man Of Genius!’ “We have a fresh new line-up and are always exploring new ideas. Some of the people just want to play music at first, while others are comfortable speaking over the mic. It gives them a chance to express themselves through music.

“There have been people who, when they first came into the centre, were too unwell or too shy to speak to anyone. But in time – and with support - they have found the confidence and voice to do radio shows. It gives a lot of pride, and we do everything we can to look after each other.”

“We are always keen to engage with other local charities and organisations and hope they will listen in and make connections with us. We have listeners in the US, Germany, Australia, Canada and many other countries, so it’s nice to be part of a worldwide community.

“We get a lot of good feedback on social media, and our ‘listen again’ feature does well. We upload our shows to the Mixcloud on our website - and people can listen to them as a podcast.”

Frances Simpson, Chief Executive of Support in Mind Scotland, says: "Radio Stafford embodies everything we are about – giving people a voice, developing confidence and skills and creating opportunities for people to take control of their lives.”

The ultimate dream for Radio Stafford would be to secure an FM licence and be rolled out across our mental health services nationwide. For now, we are keen to make links with other charities and organisations, so if you are interested please contact us at: [email protected] or call the Stafford Centre on 0131 557 0718

You can listen to Radio Stafford at: http://www.radiostafford103.co.uk/

* A version of this article appeared in The Scotsman on 21 August, 2018. You can read it online here: https://bit.ly/2MroQK7
* Main picture by Scott Gosz