The Chapel FM arts organisation in east Leeds is literally giving a voice to its young people and communities

It started out as a project to let the community know what its local secondary school was doing but 18 years later is the biggest arts project in east Leeds.

Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, 6:00 am

The origins of Chapel FM began with a group of students from the then John Smeaton school having a go at a radio broadcast from the back of Tesco’s in Seacroft.

Since then more than 12,000 people have come into its broadcasting studios, which are now in a 174-year-old renovated Methodist chapel.

While most grass-roots community groups exist to give its members a platform - this really does give a voice to the people of east Leeds

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Tony Macaluso , Co-Director Chapel FM /Heads Together Productions, with some of the young people he has been working with. (l-r) Juwairia Junaid, Johan Thompson, Gianluigi Van den Eikhoff, Aaran Dawson, Jake Pollard, Ellie Thompson, Seren Delaware Chapel FM Community Arts Centre, Seacroft. 1st March 2021. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Operating in the heart of what is considered to be one of the more deprived parts of Leeds, the work of East Leeds FM as a radio station, is bringing together teenagers and pensioners to do radio broadcasts which vary from talking business, to poetic collaborations with funeral directors, to stress busting songs for Sundays, women's liberation and a look at what’s on at a museum.

Katy Hayley, a participation manager at Heads Together, a group established in 1986 which also encompasses East Leeds and Chapel FM, explained: “The school was struggling to communicate to the community and have a positive connection so it was about linking the school premises in the community. There were a number of broadcasts in the community, like at Tescos, Cross Gates and other places. They were FM broadcasts to build upon that relationship and people finding out and being aware and coming on board. Moving forward we needed a base and ended up getting the old rent office at Ramshead Hill shops.”

It became apparent that the building wouldn’t be suitable long term and, after a 24 hour music marathon in a derelict church, the team they knew they had found the ideal venue.

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Chapel FM Community Arts Centre, Seacroft. Juwairia Junaid and Gianluigi Van den Eikhoff in the studio. 1st March 2021. Picture Bruce Rollinson

There are now 50 secondary age young people regularly working on and broadcasting shows.

Ms Hayley said: “The people that broadcast at the moment will have gone through training with us, looking at all the elements of broadcast, and through that have developed programmes. The consensus behind it is, teams and groups of people come together to put on broadcasts, a few put on their own, but the idea is that is that it could be inter-generational and a mix of different people from the community with a like-minded interest.”

Katy said: “One of our mission statements is working with young people in the local area as change makers of the future. It is about giving them the opportunities and getting them to have the confidence to come through the doors. That is why it is important to connect with schools. If we do a project there, they understand what we are about and offering, so making that step to come in is not quite as scary.

“It is still young people whose parents support them - they are the ones that come. There are still hundreds of young people across east Leeds that won’t take that opportunity but it is part of our job to encourage that and find ways to work with them.”

Tony Macaluso , Co-Director Chapel FM/Heads Together Productions. Chapel FM Community Arts Centre, Seacroft. 1st March 2021. Picture Bruce Rollinson

They want to show young people that the world of work and opportunities is wide open, regardless of education or background.

Tony Macaluso, co-director, said: "We have taught them something that wasn’t even on a career radar. We want to give them confidence to talk to other people, ask questions and to know it is okay to have a go at something and it doesn’t matter if it is not great. One person has been working with us for five or six years and has just been hired by the Jamie Oliver Foundation to produce social media content and podcasts and that is by using skills he learned from quite a difficult situation.”

When lockdown is lifted there will be new events and a chance for people to see the latest renovations that have been taking place at the chapel during the national restrictions, including the cafe, which will be open as an informal space for teens to gather. On Friday afternoons and evenings, the show will be live and is the 'Red Kite' project which looks at how do young people from east Leeds and beyond see the world in unexpected ways?

The Yorkshire Evening Post has teamed up with Leeds 2023 to launch a new campaign aimed at showcasing the very best of what it means to live in our brilliant city.

Tony Macaluso , Co-Director Chapel FM /Heads Together Productions, with some of the young people he has been working with. Tony in the studio with Seren Delaware and Ellie Thompson.

Over the coming weeks and months we’re going to be shining a spotlight on the remarkable communities and organisations that help to make Leeds so special. We’re going to be reintroducing you, our readers, to different parts of the city every week and we will focus on those who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make a difference.