The Hospital Radio Tunbridge Wells team

The charity that operates Hospital Radio Tunbridge Wells is facing closure unless it can gain a fresh injection of funds. Today (Wednesday) it launches an on-air appeal for help.

The news comes after the station was forced to move into rented accommodation and the situation has now worsened since it failed to win a grant of £4,000 from the Aviva Community Fund.

Chairman Chris Manser warned: “Sadly, we have just learned that we were unsuccessful with the grant application which means that unless we increase our income we could face closure in September 2017.”

The service has been running since 1961, with the current team of 40 volunteers broadcasting to Tunbridge Wells Hospital at Pembury and Tonbridge Cottage Hospital.

Studies have shown that patients can benefit from hospital radio with song requests and name checks on air giving them comfort and boosting their self-esteem.

The volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds including law, mental health and the Salvation Army.

The financial challenges for the station began in 2011 when they started renting studio space on Grosvenor Road following the closure of Kent and Sussex Hospital. Costs have more than doubled and cash reserves have been hard hit.

Initially, their running costs were around £5,000 a year. Today they are in excess of £12,000 with rent, insurance, electricity and water bills – all previously covered by the NHS Trust thanks to being based within the hospital itself.

The station now needs an additional funding of £4,000 a year in order to stay on air and is launching an appeal under the banner Save Our Service.

The main event will be a 100 hour Big SOS Broadcast, taking place from 12 noon today (December 28) to 4pm on Sunday January 1.

Chris Manser, 50, who is also Programme Controller as well as Chairman, said: “Our volunteer presenters will be broadcasting live and we hope businesses and individuals will make donations via a ‘my donate’ page, which will be accessible through our website during the event”.

He explained how they have had to adapt their fundraising due to their financial predicament.

“Most of the money comes from collections at local supermarkets, organised by our Fundraising Coordinator Chris Woodward. We try to hold an event roughly once a month but it’s in the hands of the stores we visit.

“We also regularly try and take part in schemes such as the Waitrose and John Lewis Community Matters project, where shoppers donate their green tokens to a charity and the store donates a share of the funds to each charity at the end of the month”.

Hospital Radio Tunbridge Wells holds an outside broadcast on occasion, in which a shop in the high street is hired for the day with the programme going out live to the hospital.

“We apply for many grants and in the last 12 months have received support from the Red Nose Fund and Santander via their charitable giving schemes”.

A bedside guide is produced for them by Hospital Radio Publications each year, from which they receive a share of the advertising revenue.

They receive some support from local businesses,who sponsor their shows and features, such as Invicta Motors and Trinity Theatre.

Since running costs have increased, the charity has had to add more collecting events, including some members completing their own challenges. Examples of this include Joe Mendell taking part in a sponsored broadcast and Charlotte Evans completing a half marathon.

“Hospital radios across the country are facing similar problems, as the NHS becomes much more business focussed and space in the hospitals has to be more accountable”, said Chris who has been a volunteer since November 1981.

How the station helps volunteers launch careers in broadcasting

Radio Kent Presenter - Matt Davison
Radio Kent Presenter – Matt Davison

Hospital Radio Tunbridge Wells provides volunteers with training in how to present and produce shows, develop their interpersonal skills and build a path into a broadcasting career.

In the last 55 years, more than 40 local volunteers have moved on to work in the media industry and among them is the current Investigative Journalist at BBC Radio Kent, Matt Davison. He joined the station at 15 before heading off to university in 1989.

Educated at Skinner’s and now aged 45, Matt told us: “Radio was something I really enjoyed and I did have in the back of my mind that it was probably something I’d want to do for a job”.

For three years he produced the Children’s Request Show on Sunday afternoons and would visit the wards asking for music requests.

“What I found nice about that was you got to know children that were in there for quite a long time; you spent a lot of time actually talking to them which I thought was really important.

“I would quite often do stories for the kids in the show, too. I’d gather all the other presenters to play the various parts”, he said.

From Matt’s first-hand experience, he knew that the personal technique had an effect on the patients, despite not physically being able to see them as he was hidden away in the studio.

“I was always really worried that they would ask me to play a song I didn’t have on record, as this was before the days of downloading. But it always worked out fine.

“There were always certain songs I heard every week- the theme tune to Postman Pat I heard every week for three years, but for the listeners it was new. The radio took their mind off things for a bit”.

Matt was able to transfer many useful skills from hospital radio to his new career at BBC Radio Kent.

“Hospital Radio Tunbridge Wells taught me everything I know in radio, to be honest; how to interview, how to then edit that to make it interesting and how to actually use the equipment.

“In particular, they taught me that when you’re on the air you’re talking to an individual person even when a whole ward of people are listening. I would be very sad to see the radio close”.

To make a donation email: info@hrtw.org.uk.

For more information on the charity, visit www.hrtw.org.uk