Local Faces: Mary Clarke, Outreach Manager of Together FM.

By Hayden Moore

RADIO has a certain magic to it, opening a direct line of communication between communities, and Together FM has its finger on the pulse.

Ballyfermot is home to the online radio station that was born out of the fall of West Dublin Access Radio, but they also take in a lot of the surrounding areas of West Dublin too.

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Mary Clarke (Image: Aidan O’Neill)

 

They have a motto in Together FM that sums up what they are all about; “our community is our station”.

Outreach manager with the station, Mary Clarke, is known as the welcoming party of the station.

“The idea of a community radio station is to give a voice to the marginalised, to those who wouldn’t necessarily get an opportunity on commercial radio,” says the Ballyfermot native, who now lives in Lucan.

“We do a lot of work with people who may be struggling a bit in confidence or otherwise, bring them in and show them the basics of radio, maybe have them produce their own programme.

“It gives people a sense of belonging and when they hear their show on the radio, the pride rises through that.

“I’d hate to say it empowers people. People empower themselves through radio, we just give them the tools.”

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Mary Clarke, Mary O’Sullivan and Damien Clarke (Image: Aidan O’Neill)

Mary’s job is to round up the troops, and she has done exactly that as they have assembled an army of volunteers, involved in programme making, that stands 30 strong.

“I’ve been involved since the very start,” she says to The Echo.

“West Dublin Access Radio closed down and over the space of about six months after that we starting discussing starting Together FM.

“Gerry Ryle from the BCA gave us a room to start up and a lot of the old volunteers from the old station came on board.

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Damien Clarke

“A lot of the volunteers have gone on at this stage but what we’ve found is that it is used as a stepping stone for entry to further education.”

Mary was made redundant after 26 years in the catering business at the same time West Dublin Access Radio went off the airwaves.

Her husband Damian was the outreach officer of the station that went under and together with Mary O’Sullivan, the three of them started making the steps to get a community radio station back online.

Today, Together FM is based out of Ballyfermot Community Civic Centre and has recently celebrated its fifth anniversary.

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Mary O’Sullivan

However, they were closed at the time they turned five on May 1 because they could not facilitate social distancing in their offices.

“We only have a small office and studio. We would have people working with us who are vulnerable, so we thought it would be safer to close,” Mary says.

“We would hope to get a bigger office down the line but at the moment, we’re hoping to be back operational within the next fortnight.”

The team in Together FM prides itself on the inclusiveness of their volunteers.

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Mary Clarke (Aidan O’Neill)

“We have great pride in the community and the people in it. We’re very much involved in social inclusion and we’re open to people of all abilities and disabilities.

“One of our volunteers Joe Feely, who has high-functioning Down syndrome, we call him the Lord Mayor of Together FM.

“He’s brilliant, he speaks like David Norris. He is on top of everything, if a show is in the wrong place in the schedule or anything, he’ll spot it and he has a fantastic range of music. Joe is very much the heart and soul of Together.”

Reaching five years in operation is a big deal for sentimental reasons of course, but the milestone is also significant because Together FM feel they can now start the process of going for a broadcast licence.

The schedule for Together FM runs on Friday and Saturday, and the team have the goal of expanding.

“We want to be able to go a full week,” Mary told The Echo.

“The main aim is to get the licence to go on the air. One of the problems with only being online is that people have to look for you. When you’re on the air, people can just tune into you in the car or wherever they listen to the radio.”

As Mary went on to explain, the process of obtaining a broadcasting licence from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland is detailed and has multiple stages before they can be granted a full 10-year licence.

Students from the media schools in Rathmines and Ballyfermot College’s have gained experience in Together FM over the years.

They are always looking for volunteers, particularly for news and sports programmes, and are hoping to hold their open day in September.

“We’re all very proud of what we do, the five years round off the first stage,” Mary said.

“People didn’t think we would be there in a year, but we are, and it took a lot of work to prove that we’re here to stay.

“Thanks to all our volunteers and our two Tús workers, James Scully and Terry Brock, they do endless amounts of work to keep the station going.”

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