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Merseyside Dementia Friendly Radio station will become the first of its kind in UK

2 months ago

Merseyside Dementia Friendly Radio station will become the first of its kind in UK
Credit: Merseyside Dementia Friendly Radio

A radio station set up to support people affected by dementia is expanding and going digital to become the UK’s first community DAB radio station.

Merseyside Dementia Friendly Radio currently broadcasts content including music playlists to spark memories via an app and its own website.

But founder Nat Gavin has successfully applied for a community DAB licence which means from May it should be much more accessible for older people either at home or in day centres and care homes.

Nat, from Old Swan, launched the station after caring for his own gran in the later stages of her dementia and struggling to find something suitable for her to listen to.

Nat Gavin - Home Studio. Credit: Merseyside Dementia Friendly Radio
Nat Gavin – Home Studio. Credit: Merseyside Dementia Friendly Radio

He explains: “My mum was also diagnosed with dementia before my gran, about 14 years ago when she was in her late 50s, but my gran’s decline was a lot steeper. 

“I was helping to care for her and just looking for an audio resource that wasn’t distressing for her.

“I tried various radio stations but obviously a lot have adverts or news, and either some of the subjects can be distressing or there are people talking over each other so there’s a lot of sonic clutter.

“When people are living with dementia it doesn’t just affect their memory, it can also affect perception and mood, so they can be quick to feel overwhelmed with sensory overload or upsetting subjects.

“I’ve got a background in music, performance and production, and very small-scale niche radio so when I couldn’t find anything I decided to put that to good use.”

41-year-old Nat launched Merseyside Dementia Friendly Radio online in April 2020, bringing forward its original start date because of Covid restrictions that came in a month earlier.

“I’d scheduled it for May or June but then when lockdown happened, because part of what we do is trying to combat loneliness and feelings of isolation, I just wanted to get out there as soon as possible,” he adds.

Nat and his mum Gina Credit: Merseyside Dementia Friendly Radio
Nat and his mum Gina Credit: Merseyside Dementia Friendly Radio

MDFR, which is based in Everton, has been solely online ever since but the community licence will make it receivable across Liverpool City Region on DAB radios. 

Nat has launched a Crowdfunder to support the switch, which will allow the station to reach even more people living with dementia and their families without having to rely on funding from advertising.

As station manager, he currently curates playlists to broadcast 24 hours a day, featuring not only various eras of music but also dementia-related information, local history and events to engage people and hopefully get them remembering and talking.

“At the moment, it’s a series of playlists so for instance there’s an hour of 70s music every day but that will be different each time. 

“With the move to DAB, we’ll still have content going out for 24 hours but we’re going to have presenters introducing the programmes and songs for about eight hours a day. 

“They’ll gently encourage reminiscence by talking about their memories of the song they’re playing so it can spark conversations between people living with dementia and their loved ones and carers.

“When we first launched, we did some research into different eras and genres and asked people for suggestions, and we also looked at something called the memory bump.

Credit: Merseyside Dementia Friendly Radio
Credit: Merseyside Dementia Friendly Radio

“That is the time in our life when things are mostly likely to leave a meaningful impression on us, and it’s usually between the ages of 10 and 30. So, if you’re looking for someone’s personally meaningful music, you can start by finding out what they were listening to in that memory bump period or you could look up popular music from that time.

“People in their 30s are being diagnosed with dementia now, it’s rare but it does happen, so there is a big age range to cover.

“Currently we feature music from the 1930s to the 1980s, there are even elements of new wave and post-punk in there, but obviously that will adapt over time. 

“We want to be a radio station that’s based on kindness, consideration and compassion, and created by and with people whose lives are affected by dementia, rather than just for them.”

The Crowdfunder campaign for Merseyside Dementia Friendly Radio runs until March 16.

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